Photo : Fabrice Cahez


Migration and wintering – season 1999/2000


Common cranes, the most famous migratory birds, give rhythm to Men's seasons. Their long migration across France is followed by numerous enthusiast bird-watchers. In order to know more about the migration, the Champagne-Ardenne League for the Protection of Birds organized the French Crane Network, a network which links different organizations and associations all along the migration lane. This document summarizes the major points of thousands of observations collected during the season 1999/2000
The earliest birds - 29/08-15/10

We only notice one observation of migrating birds in Augustt: 14 on 29th in Ardennes and 5 cranes soon arrive on the lac du Der-Chantecoq on 7th. September is very quiet:
only 7 days provide observations of migrating cranes : we can notice for instance 345 birds in 2 nights on 16th in Yonne and 30 on 17th in Vaucluse. Beginning on October 3, the migration, though still shy, appears to be daily and concerns several hundreds of birds between 9th and 13th. Curiously, about 10 Bights are heard during the night of lOth to 11th in Loire-Atlantique! There are only 27 cranes left on the Lac du Der on 14th and 15th. These first movements represent a total of 3,260 birds..
The first great wave - 15/10-21/10 All begins at the end of the day of October 15, when the first flights are noticed around 8 p.m. in Meurthe-et-Moselle and 11 p.m. in Ardennes. This first phase, which is very important and dense for the period, lasts almost without any interruption until the night of 17th to 18th and concerns an amount of at least 30,510 cranes. Then 24,970 cranes reach France all day long on 16th and during the night of 16th to 17th. The counting of October 17 reveals us that half of them stop on the lakes of Champagne-Humide: 11,330 on the lac du Der and 1,300 on the lakes of Aube. The other birds fly across France, and they are seen along the usual migratory lane. We can thus notice 11,360 birds in Nievre, 8,350 in Creuse and 9,380 in Haute-Vienne. That very day, there are already 13 cranes in Baie de I' Aiguillon on their wintering site and 34 pass the pyrenees by the Basque pass of Liziarreta. The 17th, until the end of the day, the last cranes in migration of this wave (still at least 5,540) end to fly across our country while at least 9,470 birds leave the Lac du Der in the morning. However some birds again stop in Champagne since on 18th we count 6,990 cranes on the Der and 1,400 on the Lac du Temple. These cranes don't stay for a long time since that very day at least 4,340 birds keep on migrating south-west where they are seen in Cher, for instance. In Cher , 3,000 cranes stop at I'etang de Craon. Then from October 19 to 21, a second movement appears: at least 10,750cranes reach France and most of them stop on the great lakes in Champagne (10,890 birds on the Lac du Der in the evening of the 2Ith). On 19th, 5,220 birds pass the pyrenees by the Basque pass of Organbidexka and a part of them (3,000) reach Gallocanta where they are already 9,950. In 7 days this first great wave concern at least 41,620 cranes.  


Lesser movements - 22/10-03/11 Since October 22 until November 3, even if the migration B still daily, the movements concern less cranes. The birds resting at I'etang de Craon in Cher (with a maximum of 3,000 to 4,000 on October 23 and 24) progressively leave the site from 25th to 27th. They quickly pass the pyrenees in relatively great number. OCL thus count 18,400 cranes on its 3 Basque passes in 3 days (from October 24 to 26). In Champagne, the leavings are balanced by the arrivals, especially on October 30 and November Ist: there are 12,450 cranes on the lac du Der on November Ist. At last, again 4,000 leave the Lac du Der on November 3 and they are seen in Aube. These 13 days of movements concern at least 14,770 cranes.
Map: Total number of common Cranes of the 15 to October 21, 1999

The second great wave - 4 and 5/11 It is very dense and occurs in 2 days, concerning at least 22,460 cranes! Most of the birds stop on the great lakes in Champagne as it is proved by the morning countings when the cranes leave their dormitory site: 3,420 on the lakes of Aube on 5th and 24,990 ( highest number of the season) on the lac du Der on 6th. Just before, at least 4,090 cranes had left the Der on 4th and had Down over Aube. On 5th, there are only 3,500 cranes at Arjuzanx in the Landes.
At last, during these last 2 days, only 480 cranes are counted by the bird-watchers of OCL on their 3 studied Basque passes.
Massive leaving of Champagne - 06/11-10/11 The cranes of the second great wave doesn't stay in Champagne. for a long time and on November 7, at least 17,000 cranes are seen flying in the centre of France: 17,000 in Nievre, 14,070 in Allier and 13,050 in Correze. The observations in Correze are the proof of a more south-east migratory lane compared to the usual one, usually centered in Haute- Vienne.
On November 10,85 cranes are noticed in Baie de I' Aiguillon, Vendee.
At last, concerning those 5 days we must add at least 1,040 birds which seem to come directly from Germany.
The third great wave It more especially occurs on November 11 and 12 with another lesser movement (1,660 birds) on 15th and 16th. The wave concerns at least 28,620 cranes and more than a half fly across France very quickly. Thus 9,600 cranes are noticed in Nievre on 12th.
On 13th, 17,040 are counted in the morning leaving the lac du Der, some of them already leaving to migrate during the day (for instance 2,020 are seen in Charente).
Thanks to the north-east wind of the period, some cranes are noticed in Mayenne, Loire-Atlantique and Maine-et-Loire. The site of the Baie de L' Aiguillon in Vendee also sees its number of cranes increase: 184 are counted on 16th! 
Map: Total number of common Cranes of the 11 to November 16, 1999

End of the movements and pre-wintering After november 17, movements clearly slow down. They are still daily until 24th then become irregular until December 24. After December 26 until January 16, migration become quite regular again but few cranes are concerned. Those last flights represent at least 2,500 cranes in 2 months. The West-European population which has crossed France in the autumn is then estimated to at least 113,910 cranes!
Concerning the movements of the 2 last months, it almost concerns leavings of cranes of the lac du Der  and also of Lorraine, Lac do Temple and Baie de I' Aiguillon which are forced to go south more because of the decrease of food resources than because of colder weather. Those birds probably reinforce the wintering population on the Aquitaine sites.
Curiously, at least 1,010 cranes leave the Lac do Der on January 16 and are noticed in the south-west (Aube, Nievre, Creuse, Haute-Vienne).
To end, we mustn't forget those 5 cranes (2+3) seen in Haute-Corse on the eastern coast on November 28, birds which seemed in migration.


Once again the record is beaten this year with about 37,200 cranes on 17 sites, compared to 31,330 in 1999 and 28,000 in 1998! Thus France count in winter one third of the West-European population.
Aquitaine Aquitaine is more than ever the first French wintering region with about 27,360 cranes that winter (a record), which represent 73.5% of the national population. The reserve of Arjuzanx in the Landes count about 18,690 cranes (compared to 16,870 in 1999 and 15,000 in 1998). The camp do Poteau at Captieux count 7,880 (though 4,350 in 1999 and 6,270 in 1998). Cranes also winter in 3 other sites in fewer numbers: le Muret-Ychoux (540 cranes), Saint-Martin de Seignant (220) and I'etang de Cousseau (31).  


Champagne Record also beaten for this region with about 8,850 cranes (8,760 in 1999) shared on the 2 usual sites: Lac do Der-Chantecoq (8,550) and Lac do Temple (300). It seems that wintering reach its summit probably due to a limit of available food resources.
Lorraine Lorraine also reaches a wintering record with about 820 cranes on 5 sites. Meuse attracts the main wintering groups with 400 cranes at Billy-les-Mangiennes, 320 at I'etang de Lachaussee and 20 in the Meuse valley. In Moselle, we notice 50 cranes at I'etang do Bischwald and 27 in the Nied valley.
Others  5 other usual sites in 5 different regions also attract some cranes in winter: 75 in Baie de I' Aiguillon (Vendee), 73 at the Lac de Puydarrieux (Hautes-pyrenees), 23 in the Val d' Allier (Allier), 6 in Camargue (Booches-do-Rhone) and 1 young at I'etang de Forge-Neuve (Haute-Vienne).
Map: Localization of wintering sites

First movements - 17/01-19/02 The pre-nuptial migration begins as soon as January 17 with flights seen in Marne, Haute-Marne and Meuse. Until February 3, the migration is very shy. Flights become daily after February 4. Those nights concern in fact cranes from French wintering sites. Thus Arjuzanx in the Landes decreases from 18,690 cranes on January 14 to 12,700 on January 26, 8,150 on February 4 and 6,260 on February 15. In Champagne, there are only 3,640 cranes left on the lac du Der on February 12. That same day many cranes are noticed with at least 1,160 birds Dying across France. However those movements also concern cranes wintering in the Iberian Peninsula which By back towards their nesting areas mostly after February 9 (at least 3,200 birds). For instance there are still 8,280 cranes at Gallocanta on January 27 but already 29,340 on February 17, a sign of future important movements.  



The great wave 
20/02 - 27/02
It begins on February 20 with 20,000 cranes leaving Sotonera and reaching the pyrenees in the afternoon ( 5,000 counted until 9 p.m. and all night long at Captieux in Aquitaine). However some of those birds directly cross France as show us the 4,130 cranes seen in the afternoon in Charente. On 21th, between 16,000 and 17,000 cranes migrate north-east after a rest at Captieux. On that last site, between 10,000 and 20,000 arrive at the end of the afternoon from Spain. Migration is mainly noticed in Limousin with 18,400 cranes in Haute-Vienne between 3.30 p.m. and 10p.m.
The 1,380 birds seen in Aube in the afternoon are probably part of those arrived in Aquitaine the night before. On 22th, a new leaving of the Aquitaine sites occurs which concern at least 12,460 cranes: 6,000 of them leave Captieux at the end of the morning.
Like the day before Limousin is the best region to notice those movements: 12,410 counted in Haute-Vienne between 3.30 p.m. and 5 p.m. In Champagne, 10,000 cranes migrate over the Lac do Der without stopping and 5,000 reach the place in the evening.
So at least 23,570 birds By across France that day, and 20,000 others leave Gallocanta to By north. On 23th there are 12,730 cranes on the Lac do Der which is due to the migrants of the day before, and there are more than 10,000 at Captieux. The nights noticed in Yonne and Champagne enable us to estimate the continuous migration of the birds which left Spain the day before. On the Lac do Der, 12,200 cranes go back to migrate and join the 5,300 which pass without stopping. We must even add 10,000 cranes which reach the Lac do Der in the evening to have a rest. Thus there are 13,500 cranes on the Lac do Der on 24th but migration slows down in France (at least 450 birds), which is probably due to bad weather. At Gallocanta, 22,350 cranes are counted that day, 4,650 leave the site to migrate north and 13,400 others arrive from the south! February 25 is also a quiet day with at least 1,940 cranes in migration .
On 26th, a second great wave begins concerning at least 11,240 cranes, from which at least 8,050 leave Aquitaine in the morning.
On 27th at last, that great wave reaches its end with still at least 18,800 birds (18,100 leave Aquitaine in the morning and are seen in Charente). They are still 11,880 in the morning on the Lac do Der .
Those 8 days of migration thus seem to have concerned at least 95,320 common cranes (with 81,320 coming from Spain!) The last movements have been very quick and dense, a phenomenon never noticed for the species.


Carte : Total number of common cranes of the 20 to February 27, 2000

Lesser movements - 28/02-07/03 After February 28 until March 07, we notice in fact the end of the preceeding movements. These ones are quick and regular too but concern less birds: at least 12,570 common cranes for the 9 days.
The usual sites of rest are very fewly occupied for the period. On March 2, there are only 2,790 cranes left on the Lac do Der and 5,810 on 5th. At last, on March 2 and 3, we must not forget an interesting migration of birds by the eastern pyrenees: on 2nd, 745 pass by the east coast of Aode from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and on 3rd, 250 are seen in pyrenees- Orientales and 800 to 900 in Aude again.
End of the migration - 09/03-17/03  During this period migration clearly slows down but the flights are still daily. These 9 days concern at least 1,740 cranes. On March 12 they are still 3,810 on the  lac du Der 
The late birds - 19/03-24/04 After March 19 until April 24, migration becomes very diffuse. Only 9 days register movements for a total of at least 590 cranes: probably non-breeding immatures not in a hurry to go back to further-north territories. Some cranes even take advantage of the situation to stay a time on unusual sites before migrating again. The last nights of active migration are noticed on April 16 in Ille-et-Vilaine (4 birds), on 17th in Meuse (127 birds) and on 24th in Haute-Corse (2 birds). 
The last observation maybe concern a part of the cranes seen in the island in autumn.
We must underline that the total number of common cranes noticed in pre-nuptial migration in France reach 136,620 (including the wintering 37,200) Such a number puzzles us and several theories can explain it: the most probable is the over-estimation of some important flights during the great wave and/or a double counting of birds along the migration lane. The West-European population is estimated to 120,000 cranes by our German colleagues. However it could perfectly correspond to reality, since it only represents a rise of 14% compared to 120,000. The average of the figures of the two migrations in France reaches 125,270 common cranes, which probably more corresponds to reality .
The French Cranes Network 
Managed by the Champagne-Ardenne League for the protection of Birds, the French Crane Network groups together all the French organizations and associations which are more or less interested in the cranes.
Its aim is that the members exchange all the pieces of information concerning the migration of this species in order to be able to tell the general public and the media about it.
The members of the French Crane Network :  ALEPE, Association des amis de la réserve d'Arjuzanx, CEEP, Charente Nature, CO Gard, CSL, Eure-et-Loir Nature, GEOR, GNFC, GODS, GONm, GOR, Indre Nature, Limousin Nature Environnement, LPO Alsace, LPO Anjou, LPO Aquitaine, LPO Aude, LPO Auvergne, LPO Champagne-Ardenne, LPO Charente-Maritime, LPO Cher, LPO Haute-Savoie, LPO Loire, LPO Loire-Atlantique,  LPO PACA, LPO Tarn, LPO Touraine, LPO Vendée, LPO Vienne, LPO Yonne, les Naturalistes Orléanais, OCL, ONCFS / RNCFS lac du Der-Chantecoq, Picardie Nature, PNR des Landes de Gascogne, ReNArd, Hautes-Pyrénées Tourisme Environnement (lac de Puydarrieux), la Route des Grues, SAIAK, SEPOL, SEPN 41, SOBA Nature Nièvre
Ringed Cranes : What to do ?
Les bagues

Each year, many cranes are ringed in their nesting areas, but also where they winter in Spain. Each crane thus receives colored rings which will enable us to recognize it individually.

If you see a crane with rings, don’t forget to write down :
- Colour and place of each ring
- Date and time
- Village and department
- Age (adult or young)
- Natural surrounding (cultivation, meadow...)
- If there are other cranes, if it is a familly (famillies remain together during whole winter), or if the birds have no familly links.
- The position of the metal ring when it is visible (it can help to identify a crane whose code would be incomplete).
- Any other interesting clue : distance of observation, equipment used, weather and luminosity conditions.
- Send your readings of coloured rings to your local association which send them to the LPO Champagne-Ardenne, the National association in charge of the data.

The received data by the Network Crane France permit to visualize the main passageway of migration. It is presented below on the map.

This document couldn’t have been realized without the financial help of the Direction Régionale de l’Environnement (DIREN) Champagne-Ardenne and Electricité de France Gironde.