Thursday, March 24, 2011

Sandhill Crane Sightings!

In the 1990's I was working at a local gun store. One of my customers told me about a big bird that was spending the winter in his fields and horse pasture. He said that it was a stork. I figured that it was a Great Blue Heron and I never took him up on his offer to show it to me. Early that spring he came back into the store and said boy was he glad that that bird had left. He said the carloads of birders was driving him crazy. That's when I knew that I blew it!

A few years later a friend said that he had a huge bird eating his dog's food. He took a photo. It was a Sandhill Crane! I have since been able to piece together the history of this bird. According to Clay Sutton's book, "Birding Cumberland" in 1993 a Common Crane was seen in Cumberland County. It was believed to be an escapee from some zoo. By 1995 it had attracted a Sandhill Crane as a mate and was bearing young. This little tribe of the Common Crane, the Sandhill Crane, and their hybrid young attracted more pure Sandhill Cranes. This mixed flock spread throughout Salem and Cumberland Counties. They are now seen in the fields around Bostwick Lake, near Husted's Landing and at the Rt. 45 Salem River Wildlife area.

This time of year the ones at the Salem River Wildlife Management area are highly visible. They are easy to find if they are calling. Their calls sound like a really loud woodpecker drumming. The call carries a distance. As you can see Jeff White has gotten some wonderful photos of the local pair. Once the mating season passes they will be almost impossible to find. When they are quiet and hold their necks upright, they look exactly like phragmites. Also once the reeds start growing you won't be able to see past them.

So keep your eyes and ears open when visiting anywhere there are fields or marsh habitats. Please remember that this special bird only stays around if it feels safe. Harassing it will make it become secretive or make it leave the area. - Marilyn Patterson