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Crane Count Week 8 - 4/3/2024

Hey all,

This week on April 3rd, we saw 392,000 +/- 55,000 Sandhill Cranes between Overton, NE, and Chapman, NE. This is around a 24% decrease from what we saw last week. However, we saw a substantial increase in the western segments, specifically between Kearney and Gibbon. A fraction of the increase could be accounted for by flying over these sections of the river earlier in the morning before more cranes left the river, but essentially half of the cranes between Odessa and Gibbon were densely packed in the fields before sunrise. On the flight back to the airport, between Chapman and Hastings, we spotted at least 10,000 cranes in the fields about 5km off our survey route, just southeast of Phillips. I included these cranes in the count for this week but they were not officially part of our survey as they were out of our line of sight.

With all that said, it is now April and there are still an extraordinary number of cranes in the river valley. We are actually back to beating some records, as the previous record for week 8 (March 31st-April 6th) is 310,000 in 2003! This was fairly unexpected as we had record numbers here very early in the season. However, our peak was extended over many weeks rather than one week with massive numbers followed by a sharp decline. A gradual peak is actually preferred as it allows cranes to spread out over space and time, decreasing the chance of disease transmission due to overcrowding. Anyone having flashbacks to social distancing?  

We have some calmer winds today than we have had in awhile but they are still from the north which would be a disadvantage to the northward bound cranes. They are forecasting southern winds Friday through Sunday morning, leading me to predict that we will have a large decrease in cranes by next flight.

The graph shows the previous record (Max #, dark blue), previous low (Min #, grey), average (light blue) for 2002-2023, and this year’s numbers (2024, green) by week. This year seems to follow the “average” trend line… but higher by just a few hundred thousand!

Once again, we will see what next week brings!