Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas Cranes

It's the Monday before Christmas. I cut my yoga class to help give meds at the Raptor Center, and started writing down everything that needs to be done before Christmas - final gifts, wrapping, groceries, laundry, menus, etc. Then I receive an email that says "We have about 4,000 Sandhill Cranes and several Whooping Cranes with them. Anyone who wants to see them should join us tomorrow morning." Well, I can't pass up an opportunity like this, can I? I'll get the Christmas stuff taken care of, eventually...
Ewing Bottoms is in the flood plain of the East Fork of the White River, near Brownstown, IN. My fellow Crane watchers were two of my expert buddies, with Swarovski scopes, and another man who lives nearby. Apparently, the Cranes did not stop here when he was a boy, only starting to arrive recently. We discussed what might have caused this change, and decided that farming practices made the difference. About 10 years ago, the farmers started to harvest the crops using machinery that stripped more of the plant stalks out of the field, while allowing seeds to drop to the ground. When it rains and the fields get muddy, the Cranes are delighted and land for a rest during migration.
They didn't seem as loud this time, although they talked constantly. We saw much more dancing than the last time we went to Ewing Bottom though. The weather changed from hazy to clearing to windy and cold. The light was never what we needed for good photos, and the cranes preferred the center of the fields, about 3/4 of a mile away from the road. No close shots today! The Whooping Cranes were the real excitement. Through the scope we could see two, three, and sometimes four Whoopers out in the field. When they took off, the Whooping Cranes were distinct, with much larger wings and black primary feathers against the white. A person from the International Crane Foundation in Wisconsin drive across all the little roads around the fields, trying to find them with her radio antenna. Apparently their transmitters were broken, or the batteries had died. What a way to visit Indiana!
It was a great day for raptors too. I must have seen 12-15 Kestrels during the day. Just try to take a photo of a hovering Kestrel, while driving down a country lane, trying not to lose the guy with the good scope who leads the caravan!
We sighted a Merlin in a treetop - a lifer for me - who was chased away after a few minutes by a Kestrel who wanted that branch for himself. Several Harriers quartered the fields, and a Bald Eagle kept an eye on everyone. And yes, there will be enough time to prepare for Christmas festivities!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Robin and the Holly

December is not a time when I expect to see flocks of Robins. The male Great Horned Owl showed up with a girlfriend last Sunday, and it was wonderful to hear them hooting sweet nothings to each other as we prepared to attend the church choir concert. The owls could have been singing Christmas carols, such as Whoo, the Herald Great Horned Sings, Oh Little Owl with Pointed Ears, Oh Come All Ye Hoot Owls, or Hoot Owls We Have Heard On High. No offense to Handel, but I smiled all evening thinking about Owl Carols. I've been waiting for them to come back so I could record a movie with them, but haven't heard them since.
The Robins are all over though. Normally, we have holly berries all winter, and the Robins eat them in March on their way back north. For some reason, this year they have stripped all the berries from my bushes already. The neighbor's driveway is covered in red berries shaken down by the Robins. They eat from one branch, then fly off to another to see what's on the menu there.
My berries must be the tastiest though, because other trees in the neighborhood are still covered with crimson holly berries. After a filling lunch, they come to our creek for an ice cold bath in the stream. Brrr!