Whooping cranes spotted near Aulne

Staff writer

Those traveling down Quail Creek Rd. near 140th Rd. may have noticed some large strange looking white birds. Those who noticed the birds for what they were could not get home to get their cameras fast enough.

There are only around 600 wild whooping cranes according to Cornell University Lab of Ornithology, nine of which stayed to rest in a disked milo field near Aulne. The landowner, Eugene Just, had sowed oats in the field.

“If they are eating the oats, I won’t have any oats left,” Just said.

Local bird enthusiast Lloyd Davies of Marion said the birds stopped to eat grain as they made their yearly migration from Texas to Canada.

“They basically make a jaunt from Texas to here, fatten up, and fly the last leg north,” he said. “Since there are only 240 in this flock and only 500 in existence, it’s pretty rare.”

He said most of the flock will travel to the sand hills outside Kearney, Neb., where they will stay for nearly six weeks before completing their trip to Canada.

The cranes were still near Aulne Tuesday, but Davies said they will only stay for a short period before continuing their trek north. Trackers on many of the birds help researchers inform local birdwatchers where the cranes are located.

Davies said this is the first time he has seen the birds in Marion County, but he witnessed three or four outside of Manhattan a couple of years ago.

He noticed that several of the birds were banded and thought they were juveniles, which he said is a good sign of population growth in the right direction.

Mike Carroll of Marion said he was on his way home from church when he saw the cranes in the field.

“My first guess was they were a swan or a crane; they were just too tall for snow geese,” he said. “I saw Lloyd’s post on Facebook and had to go back out there with the camera.”

Carroll returned to the field with his brother-in-law to take photos of the birds.

“I felt quite privileged to have seen them,” he said. “It’s like the first time you get to see one of the eagles at one of the lakes. It’s just really cool.”

Carroll said he is not an avid bird watcher but found the cranes to be too good of a photo opportunity to pass up.

“I just find it interesting to see different birds not generally seen here,” he said.

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