This past Friday, as most any night during fall migration, was not a quiet evening at the Big Salt Marsh (BSM). Nevertheless, a Whooping Crane family, two adults and a juvenile, found a quiet place to lodge on the flats north of NE 170th St. There are two ways to find this endangered species: 1) [...]

This past Friday, as most any night during fall migration, was not a quiet evening at the Big Salt Marsh (BSM). Nevertheless, a Whooping Crane family, two adults and a juvenile, found a quiet place to lodge on the flats north of NE 170th St.
There are two ways to find this endangered species: 1) Look for large, white forms in the distance, which contrast well with the gray-brown-blonde of the fall/winter landscape at Quivira; 2) Pull up beside a vehicle (or two) parked in the vicinity of the BSM, roll down your window, and ask if there are Whoopers present.
Both of these methods worked for us. First we spotted white, indistinct birds in the distance and then noticed a man from Sedgwick County parked along NE 170th St north of the BSM. We asked him about the white birds on the distant flats. He said he had been at the refuge all afternoon, tracking the birds, and, yes, those white spots in the distance were Whooping Cranes, which he said flew in with a group of Sandhill Cranes just a little earlier.
Soon, another car pulled up, asking us about Whooping Cranes. Yes, there they were, we said, pointing to the beautiful white adult birds and rust brown-tinged juvenile.
A 72 year old man who got out of the car told us that he had wanted to see these birds since reading in his local newspaper in Virginia in the 1950s that there were only 14 Whooping Cranes remaining. This was his first ever sighting. The man said this as the car which had been carrying him sped away. The vehicle soon returned and out popped several members of his extended family, including a man from Kansas.
A spotting scope was set up, and we all enjoyed a close up view of the Whooping Crane family, hunkering down with backs toward us as the sun performed its grand, and dramatic, finale for the day. Another truck also pulled up nearby, its occupants emerging with binoculars in hand.
We met the Virginia man and his entourage a short while later at the south end of the Wildlife Drive, overlooking the Big Salt Marsh. We talked birds for a while with a 13 year old boy (and avid birder) from North Carolina, and then all quietly listened to the chatter of tens of thousands of snow geese and Sandhill Cranes.