Warm weather has cranes moving late through Kansas; hunters required to take ID test
PRATT — Whooping cranes are moving through Kansas late this year, with sightings in only three counties as of Nov. 7. On Oct. 22, two whoopers were spotted at Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area, in Barton County. On Oct. 29, two more were spotted in Mitchell County, and on Nov. 2, two were spotted at Quivira National Wildlife Refuge, in Stafford County. Approximately 70 whooping cranes have been reported migrating southward through North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas, according to the latest report from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Unofficial reports indicate that 21 adult and four juvenile whooping cranes have successfully completed the migration to winter breeding grounds near Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the Texas Gulf Coast. Approximately 290 whooping cranes migrate through the Central Flyway, so a greater surge is expected as weather cools.

Whooping crane migration provides a special opportunity for bird watchers to view this rare and magnificent bird, but it also presents a challenge to hunters. Sandhill crane season opened Nov. 10 and runs through Jan. 6. Sandhill crane hunters (and all migratory bird hunters) should expect to see whooping cranes and be sure of their targets before shooting. All sandhill crane hunters are required to take an online crane identification test before purchasing a sandhill crane permit. The test may be found by going to the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks (KDWP) website, www.kdwp.state.ks.us, and typing “sandhill crane” in the search box at the top of the home page. Then click the link titled “Online Test for Sandhill Crane Hunters.”

Whooping cranes use the same habitats as sandhill cranes, and Quivira National Wildlife Refuge and Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area are two of their favorite stops in the Central Flyway. As of Nov. 10, Quivira was closed to all hunting due to the presence of whoopers. Throughout the sandhill crane season, all or portions of these areas will be closed if whooping cranes are present. All hunters should check with public hunting areas before planning a hunt. The Cheyenne Bottoms phone number is 620-793-3066, and the Quivira number is 620-486-2393. Hunters who see a whooping crane are asked to report it to the nearest KDWP office.

Shooting hours for sandhill cranes are one-half hour after sunrise to 2 p.m. through November 30. On or after Dec. 1, shooting hours are sunrise to 2 p.m. The bag limit is three with a possession limit of six. More information, as well as photos of both species, can also be found in the 2010 Kansas Hunting and Furharvesting Regulations Summary, available at the KDWP website or wherever licenses are sold.

Whooping cranes passing through Kansas are part of the last remaining self-sustaining wild population of 290 birds known as the Aransas/Wood Buffalo Park Population. They breed at Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada, migrate through the Central Flyway (North Dakota, South Dakota, eastern Montana, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma), and winter at Aransas. Whooping crane numbers — including a migration population started in Wisconsin, non-migratory birds, and birds in captive breeding programs — total about 600. The fall migration begins in mid-September, and they normally reach their wintering grounds by early December.