Foam Lake Birding No. 100

No. 100
It is hard to believe that this is already my hundredth article on birds. To mark the event I wanted to write about our official provincial bird emblem, the Sharp Tailed Grouse, but I have not seen one for several years plus I do not have a picture of one. Therefore, plans had to change.
As luck would have it something extraordinary happened that provided me with a topic. Two adult Whooping Cranes were reported to be feeding north of Sheho on the Invermay grid road. My wife and I drove out there for three days in a row and for all three days the Whoopers were there in the same slough. Unlike Sandhill Cranes that often feed in fields, Whoopers are pure carnivores feeding on items like crabs, crayfish and frogs (no fish),and therefore are almost always near water. I took about forty pictures but none of them turned out very sharp. The distance was in the 800 metre range and I simply did not have enough camera to get good quality shots, but good enough to positively identify the birds. In comparing size the cranes certainly dwarfed the Canada Geese scattered around them. I was lucky enough to catch the cranes "dancing" something which is usually part of the spring courtship ritual. Perhaps these two were practising for spring? Most likely they were simply releasing some pent up energy. The black wing tips do stand out and are diagnostic but are only visible when the wings are extended. For a more detailed review of the Whoopers see Article No. 35.
On the way home after the first day of viewing cranes, we saw two moose fairly close to the Trans-Canada highway between Sheho and Tuffnell so we stopped and took some pictures. The quality of the photos was much better. Even though this is a birding article I thought I would include the moose as well since their presence around here is an unusual event also, although by all accounts they seem to be getting more common.
The sighting of these two Whoopers brought to mind the very first time that I had seen them. It occurred in the spring of either 1954 or 1955 as a group of us public school kids were on our way home after school. Three large white birds with black wing tips were flying low over a field not too far off the road. By chance we had just finished studying about the plight of Whoopers in school so they were relatively easy to identify. As we watched them we discussed the field marks then continued on home as the Whoopers flew away. Of course, the next morning we reported to the teacher that we had seen Whooping Cranes. Without saying as much she absolutely did not believe us, but we persisted and created a wee bit of doubt in her mind. Without saying a word she went to the phone and phoned long distance (to the DNR as it turned out). As she talked the look of amazement that crept over her face was something to behold. The person on the other end of the line informed her that there were in fact three Whoopers in the area and that they were being monitored by the DNR. Our sighting was confirmed.
What I still find humorous about that event is that at the time the sighting was no big deal. After all, there were a reported twenty one Whoopers in total and we had seen only three, therefore there were still eighteen more out there somewhere! Now that there are about 300 Whoopers in the wild seeing just two locally is a really big deal. How age changes one's perspective on things.

John Senkiw