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To the Dakotas last week went an urgent message from the National Audubon Society—"WARNING: The first four whooping cranes to migrate this fall are now approaching your area.... Their lives must be spared...to help bolster the ever-threatened existence of the species." This week a like bulletin will go to Nebraska as anxious wildlife fanciers follow the so few remaining whoopers from their summer nesting grounds in the Canadian wilderness to winter quarters on the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas, a refuge enlarged in 1956 by the closing of 4,640 additional acres to hunting to prevent careless or malicious wildfowlers from further diminishing the flock.
Last spring 25 of these great birds winged north. One sluggard elected to summer in Texas and an injured female now graces San Antonio's Brackenridge Park Zoo. How many will return is so far an unanswered question. Instead of nesting as usual in Canada's Wood Buffalo National Park area, the Cranes vanished above Great Slave Lake in the Northwest Territories and no nesting census was possible.
The four whoopers who should now be at the Platte River Basin in Nebraska are the vanguard and did not nest. Behind them is a pair with one youngster. The rest have yet to appear, but last season the whoopers hatched eight chicks and the average is four. This fall the outlook is bright. The fact that no other young cranes have appeared as yet may indicate busy rearing activities by the adults who pushed so unusually far north.
The greatest hazard confronting cranes on their current 2,000-mile trek will be the hunter. The migration may continue into December, wildfowl seasons along the route (see map) are opening, and despite relentless campaigns to familiarize the laity with whoopers, mistakes have been made. Cranes have been taken for snow geese and other large birds, and since 1939 30 have been shot. Yet, the whooping crane is distinctive enough so that a reasonably cautious gunner should be able to avoid potting one.
A mature crane is 5 feet tall and has a wingspread of seven feet. It is white except for black wingtips and a red-crowned head, and normally flies high, emitting a trumpetlike call. The hopefully awaited four- or five-month-old whoopers will be on their first southern junket, and, though almost the size of adults, are buff colored, mottled with white.
The whooping crane can be saved from extinction, but nature can ill afford the loss of even one.
A TIME FOR HUNTING
The fall is young. Greens are dissolving into a splash of color, and, as winter probes a finger here and there, in high country a bit of white sets off nature's yearly brilliance. So, across the nation and in Canada, hunting seasons begin to open, and, though the angler has water yet to cast, game too becomes quarry.
Woodcock, the elusive timberdoodle, are in Nova Scotia alders now, and last week the northern counties opened to upland hunters. Their bag limit is eight, but few have filled it and many wait for the southern county opening this week when the long-billed birds will congregate in Queens, Shelburne and Yarmouth counties before moving south.
In Maine the goose hunter is out, and one thinks of Merrymeeting Bay, where the plump honkers gabble to one another and sneak boating is an art. The Canadas are there too, and guides report a fine opening.