, , , , , , , ,

On Saturday, I was gone most of the day and never even got on the computer. (Gasp!) I apologize to those of you who missed me replying to their comments. For some reason, my comment-reply archive didn’t want to load.

Today, though, I want to detail what I did on Saturday. We went out west and were gone all day to see the sandhill crane migration.

For some birders, this is like a yearly pilgrimage to Mecca or Jerusalem or wherever else the extremely devout who can draw themselves away from the monster known as Real Life escape to for a soul cleansing. However, for me, this was my first time–ever–seeing a sandhill crane, and it was quite the experience.

My camera ran out of battery--gah!

This is probably the best shot I got of the cranes flying.

First, we met at the Nature Center I often volunteer at, leaving at 9:30 to head to the Crane Trust. We got there, hiked for a while (the sandbars on the river were magnificent! Also fun to hike on.), then ate lunch at a couple of picnic tables in the back. (Potluck is awesome and delicious, for those who want to know. For future reference, as well as forks, knives, spoons, disposable dishes, and whatnot, salt and pepper are also handy! We ate the hard-boiled eggs unseasoned!) After that, we met up with a ranger who was very into birds and went out to look at water fowl and some other species. We saw green-winged teal, snow geese, Canada geese, ring-necked ducks, red-headed ducks, mallards, among several other species of waterfowl, and northern flickers (actually a kind of woodpecker,) killdeer, horned larks, lots of robins, sparrows and grackles, a few late juncos, goldfinches, bluebirds, house finches, swallows, and many other birds as well. I was fortunate enough to get to tag along with the ranger (everyone else wanted to hang out together, so I went in the other car) and learned quite a bit about cranes, and general tips for bird watching. One of the things that I learned is that I need a good camera with a decent zoom… the one I have is compact, but pretty crappy. I was also interested to learn that male cranes are called “roans”, while the females are “mares” and the young are “colts.” I was going to erroneously call them chicks! Also, I was interested to hear how cranes have adapted so that most of their diet (eighty to ninety percent, in fact!) is waste corn, rather than what they originally ate–invertebrates and some plant matter. It was quite the learning experience for me… though everyone else seemed confused that we were stopping so often to look at every single bird.

At one of the wildlife sanctuaries we went to, people had reported seeing a whooping crane that morning. Apparently, this is a very rare occurrence in the state that I live in. We had fun in the blind, watching the cranes arrive and the finches at the feeders, but we never saw the whooping crane.

Then, on the way back from bird-watching, we were heading out to Subway for dinner, we saw thousands of cranes in a field just off the highway. Naturally, we pulled off the highway to watch them. They are such magnificent birds, and huge as well (by comparison to other birds. They weigh approximately eight pounds, as opposed to ostriches, which can weigh up to 320 pounds, but the cranes are among the largest birds in North America.)

The cranes were landing by the pond, and taking off, and performing bits of their courtship dances... magnificent.

The cranes were landing by the pond, and taking off, and performing bits of their courtship dances… magnificent.

For me, this was one of the highlights of the trip. It was about the closest we ever got to the cranes. Unfortunately, my camera battery gave out shortly afterwards, so I didn’t get to take many more photos…

The wind was something fierce, and I found myself wishing I had worn my winter coat and long underwear, though that wouldn’t have done much to alleviate the chill, since I would have needed wind pants to combat the wind.

Anyway, after that we set out for the river, where the cranes would roost that night. They use the water almost like a security system, to protect against predators.

We have a saying about this river here–“miles wide, and an inch deep.” It’s pretty rare for it to come up over your knees, if you were to wade in it. I wouldn’t without water shoes–you never know whether there’s sharp glass under the silt, but going on.

That morning, while we were birdwatching, we selected the best point to watch the cranes as they came in to roost after dark. There had been cranes on the water–already–which, according to our bird-watching friends, they had never seen before–in the morning. (I tried to point them out to Sprite, but his binoculars weren’t properly focused. Pity… I had mine set up to counteract my deficiencies in sight. Yes, you can do that.) But after dark, they really began to come in, flying in scattered formations, which formed dark speckled bands across the twilight sky. Their whistling, almost honking chatter could be heard even though they must have been at least half a mile–perhaps more–away from us. It was at this point that I wished the hardest for a really good camera and a telephoto lens. Slowly, the sun sank beyond the horizon, sending bright streamers of color across the sky, and in unison the moon rose, incredibly bright. If you have never been far away from a city and beyond the reach of light pollution, you have no notion how bright the moon can be. We scarcely needed the flashlights that we had brought along in preparation in order to see the path. The moon path on the water was a sight to behold. Unfortunately, I couldn’t even get my camera to turn on momentarily, the battery was so depleted.

The cranes continued to come in until well after 8:00 p.m., but we were too cold and the wind chill was too much, so we did not stay the entire time. Fortunately, the weather was nowhere near as miserable as it could have been. This is the way our state is in early spring…

It was well after 10:00 p.m. that we got home, after dropping off a family friend. It was hard to believe what we had just witnessed. I personally hope to go see the cranes again this fall, and possibly next year as well.

Oh, and for those who were wondering: I have other pictures. Notably an oriole nest…

It was very soft--almost like felt. Not quite woven, and not quite felted, either. Quite the marvel of engineering.

It was very soft–almost like felt. Not quite woven, and not quite felted, either. Quite the marvel of engineering.

And the nest of another water bird…

This is the best picture I got... *sigh*

This is the best picture I got… *sigh*

Then there were some of the beaver chew Sprite found, but he’s in that photo, and most of the others I took have people in them, so I can’t really post those. I still wish I had gotten more photos…

Anyway, here’s hoping that you enjoyed this post and love cranes and birdwatching as much as I do! Thanks for reading, and God Bless!