Sandhill Cranes at Jasper-Pulaski

This is my last day of the long weekend before I go back to work tomorrow. However, going back might be more of a challenge than usual. There is purportedly a blizzard approaching. The radar confirms this, I’m afraid. And although it will start out as rain this morning, apparently overnight it will turn into a raging onslaught of wind and snow, and the thought of waking up to that, trying to shovel myself out and walking to the train which, given the failing infrastructure, may or may not be running – I’m putting off reality as long as I can.

So-called Black Friday, the day we went to see the Sandhill Cranes, was perfect, if cloudy weather. By perfect, it was not cold. Usually this is a more-than-frigid outing. And the wind is always present as nothing stops it for miles out in the middle of flat fields. But I left my long underwear at home and never regretted it.

Red-Tailed Hawk

On our way, not far from Jasper-Pulaski Fish & Wildlife Area, which is where Lesa and I were to find the Sandhill Crane viewing platform, we made a wrong turn, and sure enough, there was a hawk sitting on a power line, so we got out and took a look. Facing us he looked extremely light-colored with a dark head, so we weren’t sure what he was. Of course he flew, but when he did, his red tail gave him away. He then landed in a tree, moved again and we got some good looks. 

We got back in the car and headed toward our destination. When we arrived, a few people were already on the platform or wandering around. The cranes had not started coming in yet. We had seen some fairly close in the farm fields as we drove but the farm roads had no shoulder to pull off on, and we might have startled the birds anyway. The huge area at Jasper-Pulaski was empty except for a herd of grazing deer. The cranes were due to approach at sundown. We waited. And waited. On a cloudy day it’s even harder to tell when sundown occurs. But then, the birds started streaming in. And so did the people coming to watch them.

It was difficult to get a close shot of any of them, compared to visits from previous years, and the lack of light was a challenge, but I really can’t complain. Seeing these birds in such great numbers and hearing their calls gives me a measure of hope for their future and ours.

There was a distant Whooping Crane that I could barely capture with the camera, and enlarging the photograph doesn’t help much but you can use your imagination. If nothing else, this is a very small segment of the crowd on the ground. Someone posted on ebird a count of 24,000 for the flock that day.

This is my first attempt at writing a post in the new editor format of WordPress. I was quite comfortable with the old format. I don’t know why software designers feel like they have to keep “improving” things but maybe it’s just as well…I suppose the ability to go with the flow and respond productively to change is all that matters lately. Whatever it is, it seems like I can’t go back to the old format, so I better get used to this now.

Here are a few more shots. And a scan with my point-and-shoot and a very short video at the end, just trying to get a sense of the immensity of it all.

Here’s the video, such as it is. More amazing is that I figured out how to get it into this post.

Sandhill Cranes at Jasper-Pulaski

Sandhills-11-29-14-8152We got a break in the cold weather this weekend, so it was imperative to spend some time outdoors, as it could be our last chance for warmth for awhile.

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Yesterday I gladly joined my friends Linda and Eddie and Linda’s brother Dave, on an excursion to see the Sandhill Cranes at Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area near Medaryville, Indiana. I have been to this location perhaps three or four times before, to watch the cranes come in at night to this staging area as they prepare to migrate farther south.

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It’s an hour later in Indiana so we left around noon to get there around 3:00, which is about when the cranes were just starting to come in. Along with the cranes came clouds which made it harder to see any color on them. But the spectacle soon negated any complaints. Within twenty minutes or so, groups of cranes began to arrive from everywhere. There seemed to be more coming from the southeast than from where we stood on the northwest corner of the observation platform. The near field looked as if it had been tilled and puddles had formed where ice had melted. In previous years, they have gathered in the nearer field which is right below the platform. Unfortunately this year the cranes were in a distant field to the southwest, which explains the gray mass in the pictures above and below.

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It was cloudy and windy but I managed to get some pictures anyway, and a little Sandhill Crane soundtrack to go with them.

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Earlier last week, over 20,000 cranes had been counted. That was right about the time people were reporting seeing them flying in vast numbers over the Chicago area. A few days before we went to see them the number was just over 12,000, with a Whooping Crane sighted among them. I kept scanning for a Whooper but did not find one. I think the first or second time I went to Jasper-Pulaski years ago, there was a Whooping Crane, which was easy to spot, being at least twice as large as the Sandhills and all white.

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When they come in from different directions and jockey for a place to land it looks chaotic to us on the ground but the cranes somehow have this all choreographed to perfection.

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Sandhill Crane Migration

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Taking a break from the Brazil photo project, I went with friends yesterday to Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area in Indiana to witness the annual fall Sandhill Crane migration/gathering at their staging area. Reports were of 28,000 birds present yesterday. I don’t know how you count 28,000 birds, but there were an awful lot.

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The weather was an additional perk this year: unlike previous visits, I could stand outside and watch the entire dusk display without feeling any pressure to run back to a warm vehicle. Memories of this event in previous years always conjures up visions of dealing with extreme cold. But yesterday it was almost 70 degrees Fahrenheit. It seemed almost sacrilege to be so comfortable.

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It was cloudy but hard to complain. I think the cranes were enjoying the mild temperatures too.

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Ballet of Sandhill Cranes

Sandhills flying past

Yesterday, a visit to the Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area in Indiana was an encounter with the ethereal. Sandhill Cranes floated in from everywhere, small specks turning into hoards. Thousands of birds congregate in the field here in the early morning and again at dusk to socialize.

Sandhills arriving

The sound of the cranes flying in was beautiful to hear. They are not songbirds, but their very existence is musical, from their high-pitched cries to the balletic way they float down from the sky.

Sandhill Cranes floating down to earth

Once on the ground it is hard to imagine anything tethering them; all they have to do is open their wings and the least bit of wind picks them up again. Sometimes they dance. Occasionally a Whooping Crane is mixed in with the crowd. There was no Whooper yesterday, but the sight of so many Sandhill Cranes was special enough.

When we first arrived and there was still some light, the congregation was sparse. As darkness fell, more birds gathered. In past years I have seen more than 10,000. Perhaps there were a little over half that yesterday, but still enough birds to be mind-boggling.

According to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, the Sandhill Crane is not endangered in Indiana.