Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Sandhill Cranes Kentucky Stopover

It's such a thrill to hear Sandhill Cranes calling ka-roooo from high in the sky as they migrate over Kentucky. If you look online, most of the articles are about the Greater Sandhills which gather in such large numbers along the Platte River in Nebraska.
Decent numbers of Lesser Sandhills migrate on an easterly path over Kentucky and Tenneessee too, and many are now stopping in Hardin County, KY, just south of Louisville. It's an easy hour's drive to see them.  The small community of Cecilia has a bank, two churches, and railroad tracks running through the closely clustered houses. When you reach the firehouse, you are in Crane Country!
Kentucky has a Sandhill Crane hunting season and 96 Sandhill Cranes were reported killed this year (Dec. 13 – Jan. 11). 400 are permitted by law. The Cranes have always know to stick to the middle of the fields. A good birder friend says you won't see them in soybean fields, so we looked more in the corn stubble. These fields aren't particularly marshy, and Cranes favor wetlands. You can usually find them around drainage ditches between the fields though The problem is finding a safe place to stop your car. The local folks drive pretty fast, and there aren't any shoulders on most of the roads. Of course, you can't pull into someone's driveway either, since that's private property. One year I got lucky and they were right up next to the fence and I could get close photos without leaving my car.
Dick and I speculated about how the Cranes decided to forage in one field instead of one right next to it. If it were sunny, I'd guess they might see kernels of corn shining in the sun. But it was cloudy and very windy on Sunday. Maybe they just remember from year to year. The omnivorous birds dine on grains, plant tubers, mice, snakes, insects and worms. Farmers like them because they probe into the soil and aerate it. If they are migrating, how do they know when or whether to move farther north. We haven't had any snow to speak of, but it's deeper nearer the Great Lakes. I guess they'd go south for a while if the food supply became frozen here.

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