Northbound Crane Migration

White-naped crane from Poyang Lake vsmall

White-naped crane from Poyang Lake © Mike Endres

The passing of winter and prospect of spring brings a northbound migration of Cranes, en route to breeding grounds. Updates from dedicated crane conservation groups and volunteer monitors across the region provide valuable insights into the crane movements alerting conservationists to any significant changes and threats.

It is with keen attention that the members of the KCCC (Kagoshima Crane Conservation Committee) count crane numbers every day from 9am to midday during annual migration, passing through Kagoshima, Japan.  The counts of Birds leaving Kagoshima are as follows:

  • February 23rd : 4 Hooded Crane, 127 White-naped Crane
  • March 2nd : 24 Hooded Crane, 94 White-naped Crane
  • March 3rd : 9 Hooded Crane, 111 White-naped Crane
  • March 4th : 279 Hooded Crane, 110 White-naped Crane
  • March 6th : 361 Hooded Crane, 21 White-naped Crane, and 2 Sandhill Crane

According to these figures, a total of 4,121 White-naped Cranes took off on their northerly migration, and KCCC report that nearly all of the White-naped Cranes are gone. As testament to the careful consideration migratory birds take to weather conditions, no migration was observed on the March 7th, which was reportedly very windy.

On March 11th 2,468 Hooded Crane, 2 Sandhill Cranes, 3 Common Cranes, 2 White-naped Cranes left Izumi in the morning, it is anticipated they will arrive in Korea before moving onward.

In Korea, conservationists monitored bird numbers in February:

  • February 22nd: 176 White-naped Crane (71 at Gimpo/Goyang and 105 at Yeoncheon), 675 Hooded Crane (Suncheon Bay (plus 2 hybrid)), 143 Red-crowned Crane (23 at Ganghwa and 120 at Yeoncheon)
  • February 23rd: 4,056 White-naped Crane (3,984 at Cheorwon (with 1 Eurasian Crane), 54 at Paju and 18 at Junam Reservoir), 124 Hooded Crane (3 at Cheorwon and 121 at Cheonsu Bay (with 1 Eurasian and 3 hybrids)) , 730 Red-crowned Crane (726 at Cheorwon and 4 at Paju)

Almost 4,000 (3,984) White-naped Crane were recorded in Cheorwon alone, the highest number in the last 11 years. But even this is thought to be a conservative count as the entire site was not surveyed, it is also noted that 355 were red-banded.  The number recorded in Paju and near the Han River (Gimpo, Goyang) is lower than expected, and could be due to development in the area.

The northward migration of Hooded Crane was noted. The 121 Hooded Cranes from Cheonsu bay could be added to by another 34, as 151 were counted earlier in the month and were perhaps roosting elsewhere on the 23rd February. It is assumed they have travelled north from Suncheon Bay. A further 6 Hooded Cranes were seen on 2nd March at Cheorwon.

As for Red-crowned Cranes, 873 was lower than 891 birds in late-January and less still than 969 birds recorded in early-January.  With almost 100 birds missing (mostly from Cheorwon) it is possible some could have moved to roost on the marsh or riverside of DMZ during the warmer spell which likely thawed the ice.

Further surveys of the numbers on 3rd March at Yeoncheon added a further 18 Red-crowned Crane and 36 White naped Crane to the figures presently in Korea.

Avid crane followers eagerly await news from colleagues in China and Russia as to the safe passage of Cranes to their breeding grounds.


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