February 27, 2007

Migration day

62 snow goose
63 ring-necked duck
64 northern pintail
65 lesser scaup
(total on this date in 2006: 60)

FEB. 19, EAGLE BLUFFS, sunny, 60—I'm tired of writing descriptions of bird sightings, though it's tempting this afternoon, a day that feels like the first true day of spring. Canada geese, snow geese, and white-fronted geese cross the sky in all directions, and more than a thousand mallards rise in unison from a flooded cornfield. Today is all about the noise and movement of migration.

Whooping cranes now migrate in the eastern United States (between Wisconsin and Florida) for the first time in more than a hundred years. First-year birds are trained to follow ultralight planes south to Florida and find their own way north and south after that. Last month a tornado in Florida killed 17 of 18 first-year cranes. But there are 60 others, the oldest now old enough to breed. Later this month you can follow each day of northward migration here. The whooping crane is so tall—North America's tallest bird—that Audubon painted it reaching down to snatch a salamander.


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