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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.



City Visitors…Part One

Field Sparrow

Field Sparrow

While wading through weekend photos and recordings, I’m overdue getting caught up with the workday bird visitors who have proved so astonishingly cooperative. Whatever is this Field Sparrow doing hanging out with House Sparrows in the nicotine-stained bushes of the Thompson Center?

Field Sparrow Thompson Center IMG_5823_1

As I recall, he flew away when I first noticed him, and then after I stood there awhile, he came back and started finding excuses to forage close to me. I had to step back a bit to get these pictures.

The Chicago Loop/Lakefront welcome mat isn’t out like it used to be. The former Daley Bicentennial Plaza now looks like this:

Daley destruction

Daley destruction

Millennium Park is under heavy maintenance, particularly in the bird-friendly areas, so that’s not a destination anymore. Northerly Island was designated habitat for a while, but the “temporary” Charter One pavilion is now being expanded to a concert arena for crowds of 22,000 people. Where’s a migrating bird to go, let alone a birder?

This Ring-Billed Gull was faring pretty well the last warm day I walked through Millennium.

RB Gull IMG_6286_1

There are other areas along the lakefront north and south of the city, of course, but they’re no longer part of the stretch that included downtown.

So on the way in to work I still stop by 155 North Wacker Drive. It has not been incredibly birdy lately, but there have been a few migrants, like this eager-to-please Common Yellowthroat (his initial reaction was the same as the Field Sparrow’s, and then he got curious, I guess).

Common Yellowthroat IMG_6198_1

Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroat IMG_6215_1

Common Yellowthroat IMG_6228_1

Directly outside Union Station a few days ago, I saw this Wood Thrush.

Wood Thrush

Wood Thrush

I didn’t get to go out today for lunch, giving in to the threat of thunderstorms which have not occurred, a sudden burst of activity at work, and the need to leave early (thunderstorms be damned) to attend a DuPage Birding Club meeting. So I’ve spent my lunch finishing this post.

More to come from Lake Shore East Park, which has become my lunchtime refuge (and that of a couple crows I know as well).

Crow IMG_5896_1

A South American flycatcher’s Earth Day in Chicago

Elaenia Species

This little bird has attracted a lot of attention in Chicago recently. It’s about 7,000 miles away from home. It’s part of the Elaenia genus, that much we know. Elaenias are flycatchers from South America; or at least this one is most likely from that far away. There has been a lot of discussion as far as trying to determine which Elaenia it is. The bird has likely been observed by over 100 people, maybe it’s more like 200 by now, as people are flying in from out of state. I don’t make a habit of chasing birds, but I live maybe 20 minutes away from the park where it is being seen.

I contacted my friend Lesa (by now we felt like the only two birders on the planet that had not gone to see the Elaenia, with work, other commitments and the need to get a good night’s sleep getting in the way) and we went to Douglas Park on the west side of Chicago to look for the bird and see some other, more expected migrants.

Hermit Thrush

I got pictures of some of the more predictable species. There were several Hermit Thrushes. There was a Swainson’s Thrush right at the beginning of our walk but I did not manage to capture him.

another Hermit Thrush

Pied-Billed Grebe

There’s a water feature which had some Blue-Winged Teal, this Pied-Billed Grebe and several species of swallow. I managed to get on a Northern Rough-Winged Swallow.

Northern Rough-Winged Swallow

The Elaenia was likely catching some of the same bugs with several Ruby-Crowned Kinglets, so it was perhaps inevitable I would manage to get a picture of one of them.

Ruby-Crowned Kinglet

After walking around the perimeter of Douglas Park, trying to stay warm on a chilly if sunny day, we went to Columbus Park, another beautiful park on the west side of Chicago, and here is where my memory blurs on what birds we saw where. I think I got most of the next photographs here.

Palm Warbler

Palm Warblers are in town. I usually see them on the ground foraging, pumping their tails as they poke around, but this one was in the trees until he flew.

Palm Warbler

At one point we came upon a convention of Chipping Sparrows, there must have been at least 20 of them. But I couldn’t get close enough to take a group shot of such small birds so you’ll have to settle for one of many.

Chipping Sparrow

Predictably, Yellow-Rumped Warblers were out in force. Even one showing his yellow rump.

Yellow-Rumped Warbler

and another

Y _ _ l _ w-Rumped Warbler

Making it easy for you.

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.