|Adult Common Crane|
The Common or Eurasian Crane Grus grus is one of only four species of crane that is not threatened. In fact, it is increasing in Europe, and currently has a total world population of around 500,000 individuals. In Spain we found them at a major wintering ground at Lake Gallocanta. This lagoon in the south west of the province of Zaragosa is the largest staging area for migrant cranes in Europe, with perhaps 80% of the entire western European population using it on passage in both winter and spring. Left over grain and
The Gallocanta area is a large inland lake and the surrounding areas are used for arable and grazing. Cranes use the area for roosting in the lake which gives protection from predators at night. The birds feed in fields in the surrounding areas on leftover grain and invertebrates. While Common Cranes are secretive when nesting they are much more tolerant of people outside the breeding season and are often seen feeding in fields. Even during the breeding season, many cranes are now using much smaller wetlands close to human habitations than in the past. Although the bulk of the Common Crane population is still centred in Scandinavia and eastern Europe, they are currently recolonising their former breeding range in Western Europe and the wintering population in Spain is growing exponentially. For example, the western wintering population in the late 1970’s was around 50,000 birds, and today it is around 160,000+.
|Cranes feeding in field at Lake Gallocanta|
When we first visited the lake in the morning we were a little disappointed to find only a few hundred individuals. It appeared that migration was late this year as a result of the mild autumn weather and they were still further north. When we revisited the lake at the end of the day the numbers had considerably increased to perhaps several thousand. They were still rather flighty, so it seems they had only arrived during the day.
|Cranes flying in to roost|
To see so many cranes at once is always a magnificent sight. In the UK I was fortunate to be present when the first crane fledged in Norfolk after their extinction as a breeding bird 300 years ago. Today I do not have to travel so far to see them, as the reintroduction project in the Somerset levels has been very successful. The Norfolk population has also grown and spread. Today Cranes are breeding or attempting to breed in Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, Yorkshire and East Scotland – all derived from the Norfolk colonists – and also in Somerset, Gloucestershire (including at the WWT reserve at Slimbridge), Wiltshire, Oxfordshire and Wales. The latest figures are 48 pairs attempting to breed in 2016 and 14 young raised to fledging. The total UK population is now around 160.
Images Wikipedia, my own.