McGinnis in the Rain

Rain, rain...

Rain, rain…

Let me get the disclaimer over with. I planned on posting last night but my laptop apparently decided I had been taking it for granted, perhaps after hearing the washing machine had decided Saturday morning that it had had enough too. But it hasn’t been all bad. I took off from work on Friday because I had a ticket to Steely Dan at Ravinia and there was really no way I could envision driving that far after working half a day. I was also rationalizing I could make up for not birding last weekend after the water heater staged its own rebellion.

Stormy Sky

Stormy Sky

Friday, the forecast was for scattered thunderstorms, but you can never tell where they’re going to scatter, so I got up as early as I my body would allow, and I managed to get to McGinnis Slough at 7:10 AM, whereupon a little rumble of thunder turned into a downpour. I sat in the car and waited for it to stop. Which it did, and then it started again. I must have gotten in and out of the car five times before I finally managed to take off for more than a few feet. And even then I had to stop and open up the umbrella. McGinnis got a good soak.

Rain starts again...

Rain starts again…

I think she might have stayed for the photo if the rain hadn’t suddenly picked up again…

Blackbirds drying off

Blackbirds drying off

When it seemed like I might yet be able to see a few birds, I took the shortest route to the south end of the preserve, stopping to admire the first Rose Mallow blossoms.

Marsh Mallow - not "Rose" - I'm hearing "Rose Darling" by Steely Dan...

Rose Mallow. But I’m still hearing “Rose Darling” by Steely Dan…

I wasn’t seeing as many birds as I heard, Marsh Wrens and Song Sparrows singing in between cloudbursts, Blue Jays calling from everywhere. But then I heard something different yet quite familiar. Sandhill Cranes. I followed the sound and found a pair of Sandhills and two young Great Blue Herons. Only one heron fit in the frame with the cranes.

Sandhill Cranes with a Great Blue Heron

Sandhill Cranes with a Great Blue Heron

A closer view of the cranes.

Sandhills  8-2-13 1I2A0800

There was a break in the clouds, finally, so I ventured to the farther, northernmost side, where there were predictably a lot of Great Egrets. This group constitutes perhaps a third of the total I counted.

Great Egrets

Great Egrets

And one managed to fly by ever so slightly closer.

Great Egret 8-2-13 1I2A0829

I left shortly after the sun was finally starting to shine, almost three hours later. When I got home I was a bit dismayed to find it had not rained at all on my garden while I was gone. But the quiet of McGinnis with the rain stayed with me and served as the perfect meditation to take a slow day off, nap, do a few chores and then go to Ravinia. Fagan, Becker and the excellent musicians that share the stage with them delivered another memorable concert. I have been singing their songs ever since.

Great Egret 2 8-2-13 1I2A0830

Sandhill Crane Migration

Sandhill Cranes at Jasper-Pulaski IMG_7735_1

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.

Sandhill Cranes IMG_7717_1

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.

Sandhills IMG_7752_1

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

Sandhills IMG_7753_1

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.