Approximately 250 wild whooping cranes nest in northern Canada and winter in south Texas, flying 2,500 miles annually between these two distinct havens: the coastal marshes of the Gulf of Mexico and the boreal wilderness on the border of Alberta and the Northwest Territories. Through twists of good fortune, each of these terminal migratory places is protected from human encroachment—by a U.S. national wildlife refuge on the one hand and a Canadian national park on the other. This last remaining natural flock of the species, its numbers small but slowly increasing, has thus become known by the names of its sanctuaries: Aransas–Wood Buffalo.
On the flock’s wintering grounds at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas, photographer Klaus Nigge has captured the daily activity of a single family over several weeks in two separate years, documenting their life in the salt marshes of the central Texas coast and, in one year, the happy arrival from the north of twin adolescents, itself an unusual event. Then, with the backing of National Geographic magazine, he received unprecedented permission from the Canadian government to photograph the cranes’ summer nesting sites in remote areas of Wood Buffalo National Park. To obtain these unique photographs, he sat in a cleverly constructed blind for six days and nights, watching as a chick hatched and the adults cared for their young. There he witnessed both the peace and the perils of the cranes’ summer haven.
In three galleries, each containing portfolios of images of these magnificent birds in their natural habitat, Nigge captures the beauty and essential mystery that have led humans the world over to include cranes in their earliest myths and legends. Additionally, Nigge has written vignettes to accompany each of the portfolios.
Krista Schlyer provides an introductory text that affords an overview of crane history. She chronicles the monumental efforts by humans to ensure the survival of the species and has added a profile of Nigge, outlining his extraordinary entry into the world of wild whooping cranes in order to acquire these breathtaking photographs.
About the Author
KLAUS NIGGE’s photographs can be seen in the National Geographic Image Collection and on his website, www.nigge.com. He is a fellow of the International League of Conservation Photographers and a former president of the Society of German Nature Photographers (Gesellschaft Deutscher Tierfotografen, GDT). Nigge resides in Luenen, Germany.
KRISTA SCHLYER is a Washington D.C.-based photographer and writer whose articles have appeared in National Parks Magazine, Defenders Magazine, and Wildlife Conservation. A member of the International League of Conservation Photographers, her current work documents the disruptions to both animal and human life caused by the construction of the fence along the U.S.-Mexico border.