Quivira National Wildlife Refuge To Host Celebration of Cranes Nov. 3

Quivira National Wildlife Refuge To Host Celebration of Cranes Nov. 3

TOPEKA – One of America’s top wildlife-watching events is happening now in central Kansas, as huge clouds of sandhill cranes, along with a few endangered whooping cranes, pass through and rest during their annual southward migration. This amazing spectacle will be observed on Saturday, Nov. 3, during the “Celebration of Cranes” at Quivira National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) in Stafford County. Audubon of Kansas is sponsoring the event and invites anyone interested to view and learn about cranes with the help of expert guides.

“Basically, we’re wanting to draw attention to Quivira at this very special time of the year,” said Ron Klataske, Audubon of Kansas director. “It’s a time when one can rely on there being thousands of sandhill cranes at Quivira. It’s also one of the very few places where one has a reasonably good chance of being able to see whooping cranes. It may be at a distance, but it’s always such a special event when you get to see one.”

As they have for centuries, sandhill cranes are currently migrating from nesting grounds in Alaska and northern Canada to wintering grounds in southern U.S. and Central America. Tens of thousands pause for several weeks in central Kansas at the world-class marshes at Quivira NWR, Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area  and the Nature Conservancy's Cheyenne Bottoms Preserve in Barton County. The mid-continent population of sandhill cranes was estimated at more than 1 million birds last spring in surveys on the Platt River in Nebraska; a record. With numbers like that, viewing opportunities at staging areas can be fantastic.

Whooping cranes, which number just more than 400 in the wild, are doing the same. A large percentage of those birds will stop in Kansas during migration, and several have already been spotted at Quivira NWR this fall.

Every year some of America’s top wildlife photographers and bird-watchers make long treks to enjoy both species at the refuge. Still, Klataske said it’s rare to see a dozen vehicles on Quivira when the birds are in.

He is hoping guided van tours will make a wildlife-watching trip to Quivira easier for the public. Experienced guides will take guests to pre-scouted spots to show them the birds, and give valuable advice on how the public can come back and enjoy such wildlife shows on their own at Quivira.

“These days we have so many families and kids who just don’t get out and experience nature,” said Klataske. “That’s a shame because we have some very, very fine places where people can go enjoy watching wildlife in Kansas. It’s free and it’s actually very easy once you learn where and when. If we’re going to keep these places, like Quivira, it’s important that people learn to cherish them, and to support them.”

Saturday’s tours begin at 8 a.m., from the Quivira Headquarters/Visitors Center. The refuge is about 30 miles west of Hutchinson, a few miles north of Highway 50, with signage pointing the way. Klataske requests people RSVP at aok@audubonofkansas.org, so enough tour vans can be available. All is free.

Tours are scheduled for two hours. Late in the day Saturday, Klataske and others will gather on the refuge’s Wildlife Drive, by the Big Salt Marsh, to watch the sandhills return in sizable flocks silhouetted against the sunset. When it’s dark, he’ll stay a bit longer to listen to the loud sounds of thousands of calling sandhill cranes and geese in the darkness.

“It’s such a wonderful experience, it really is, that usually only a very few serious birders ever get to enjoy,” he said. “We’re really hoping we can change that by sharing. Ideally, this will become an annual event. There’s no question it’s more than special enough for that.”