by Rex Rowan
On Wednesday, January 23rd, at the Tuscawilla Prairie, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service captured a 3½ -year-old female Whooping Crane wearing blue-over-yellow leg bands. Born in Lake County in 2015 – one of only a few Whooping Cranes hatched from a wild nest in Florida – she was about a year old when she found her way to the Evinston-Micanopy area. She remained there for the next two years, occasionally making brief forays to local crane hangouts like Paynes Prairie or the Kanapaha Prairie, and she was often seen by drivers on US-441 as she foraged among the marshy potholes of Tuscawilla. Because her chances of finding a mate there or anywhere else in North Florida were nil, it was decided to relocate her and some other unmated Florida Whooping Cranes to White Lake Wetlands Conservation Area in southwest Louisiana. There she’ll join a population of non-migratory cranes that currently numbers 59, and there, hopefully, she’ll find a mate and get down to the important work of making more Whooping Cranes. White Lake Wetlands, which is more than three times the size of Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, supported a breeding population of wild Whooping Cranes as recently as the 1940s. It seems a promising place for such a project.
Our other resident bird, identifiable by blue-over-silver leg bands and known to biologists as “1644,” was also a female. She was hatched in 2006 in Lake County by captive-reared cranes that had been released in central Florida in the 1990s – like the Tuscawilla bird, she was the product of a wild nest. She visited Alachua County for the first time in 2009, and liked it so well that she returned every year thereafter. In spring 2015 she decided to stick around. Beginning in June of that year and continuing through February 2017, she could be seen almost every day from the observation tower at the end of the La Chua Trail. In March of 2017 she relocated to Sweetwater Wetlands Park, where she spent the month thrilling visitors at very close range. And then … we don’t know. A crane was sighted near the Paynes Prairie visitor center in April and June, but its identifying leg bands could not be seen, so it might have been the Tuscawilla bird. There have been no positive sightings of 1644 since April 11, 2017. We can only hope she’s still alive somewhere.
As for Tuscawilla, we wish her many more years of life and many offspring. But it’s sad to realize that, for the first time since June 2015, Alachua County’s resident Whooping Crane population is zero.
Gainesville Sun story on crane relocation: https://www.gainesville.com/…/whooping-crane-may-be-relocat…
Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Whooping Crane page: http://www.wlf.louisiana.gov/wildlife/whooping-cranes
White Lake Wetlands Conservation Area: https://en.wikipedia.org/…/White_Lake_Wetlands_Conservation…