Sandhill Crane surveys 2023

The Nicola Naturalist Society and the Kamloops Naturalist Club are the joint custodians of the Douglas Lake Plateau IBA (Important Bird & Biodiversity Area), which is the largest in British Columbia. The IBA was established primarily because of its importance as a stop-over for migrating Sandhill Cranes. Every spring thousands of cranes stop to feed and rest in the marshes, grasslands and hayfields of the plateau, before resuming their northward migration.

Sandhill Cranes taking off on their northward migration – 17 April 2023. Photo: © Loekie van der Wal

Using public roads, our club organizes outings in late April to monitor the numbers of cranes resting and flying over the Douglas Lake area.  Individual club members also venture up there at this time and our neighbouring naturalist clubs also participate (Kamloops Naturalist Club and the Central Okanagan Naturalists from Kelowna). The number of cranes encountered can vary greatly from day to day but on several occasions in 2023 we encountered flocks of over 1000 cranes on the fields.

A large flock of Sandhill Cranes on the Douglas Lake Ranch lands – 19 April 2023. Photo: © Diana Grimshire.

Getting reliable estimates of the numbers of cranes is sometimes difficult with large flocks. Taking high-resolution photos and then manually counting the cranes works well.

Counting cranes from photos – 21 April 2023. The counts were made from high-resolution photos (these are just low-res copies), dividing up the flocks into sections for easier counting. Photos: © Leanne Cleaveley

This approach can also be applied to flocks of cranes passing by overhead.

Counting Sandhill Cranes in flocks passing overhead. Again, the counts are made from high-resolution photos and this is a low-res copy. Photo: © Leanne Cleaveley

Around 10 AM the cranes take off to resume their migration. Having hundreds of calling cranes swirling overhead is a memorable experience, and one of the best wildlife events one can witness in British Columbia.

A flock of over 140 Sandhill Cranes circling overhead – 16 April 2023. Photo: © Alan Burger

Hundreds of Sandhill Cranes circling overhead as they gain height to head north – 21 April 2023. Photo: © Leanne Cleaveley

Sandhill Cranes leaving the Douglas Lake grasslands – 16 April 2023. Photo: © Alan Burger

Preliminary results from our 2023 surveys show over 10,000 cranes tallied.Given that we visited the area on only a few of the days during the migration season, it is reasonable to assume that between 20,000 and 30,000 cranes used the Douglas Lake Plateau area for their spring migration in 2023. The ranchers and Upper Nicola Band that manage the land on the Douglas Lake Plateau are commended for maintaining these critical staging grounds for this iconic species.

Sandhill Cranes foraging among the cattle, Douglas Lake Ranch – 16 April 2023. Photo: © Alan Burger

Sandhill Cranes taking off from the Douglas Lake grasslands. Photo: © Leanne Cleaveley

Sandhill Cranes leaving the ranchlands. Photo: Loekie van der Wal

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