Saturday, March 01, 2008

Migrating Sandhill Cranes

Even though the calendar says it's only March 1, it must really be spring. The Sandhill Cranes have arrived at Ewing Bottoms, near Brownstown, IN, and it's worth the trip to see them. Last November, none of the anticipated Cranes stopped here on their way south, due to the drought conditions, we were told. Well, there has been plenty of rain this winter, and the White River has already overflowed its banks and left standing water and mud in all the bottom land fields. Perfect conditions for the Sandhill Cranes attracted thousands of these gregarious birds with red foreheads, all calling back and forth as they circled the fields, landed for a visit and a snack with their friends, then took off for other fields.

The first thing I noticed was the noise! I can't decide which is the noisiest bird - Canada Geese, Snow Geese or these Sandhill Cranes. Actually, I don't want to be the judge in a battle of the noisy birds contest. They arrived in straggling V's wandering across the sky, looking for a likely landing field. Somehow they all managed to congregate in the middle of the muddy fields and spent the morning chatting with their friends and relatives. We dared not leave the road for fear of sinking up to our elbows in mud. It was a challenge to get photos close enough to tell what kind of gray birds these were from a distance. Since there were so many, plenty of opportunities for good shots presented themselves.

We hoped to see the Cranes dancing, but no luck on that. Their flying skills are incredible though, and they let down the landing gear when coming in, so it looks like they are dancing in the air itself as they descend over your head. The persistent calling may also warn the others that someone is coming to join them from above. We also saw five Bald Eagles, one of which was sitting on her nest of eggs near Medora, IN. A new nest is under construction, but the pair must have gone back to Home Depot for supplies, since we did not see either of them. Only one Harrier came by, but there were several Red Tail Hawks and Kestrals to be found. Northward bound ducks included a Hooded Merganser and some Red Headed ducks, Buffleheads, and Ring Necked ducks at a beautiful lake in a residential community. I wouldn't mind living in this neighborhood! The Horned Larks swooped by faster than I could follow. I did see one in the field, and if it hadn't moved, I would not have found it at all, they are so well camouflaged.

The Weather Channel predicts more cold and snowy weather coming, so we must believe that these early birds know what they are doing, and won't be hurt by inclement conditions. We couldn't help but wonder if the farmers hosting these large birds ever stopped to look at them in awe and appreciation. If nothing else, they must put their fingers in their ears in annoyance, trying to block out the raucous calling of the Cranes each time they stepped out their doors.

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