The first time I saw a Sandhill Crane, I was riding cross-country on a bus. I don’t know what state. It was flat, probably Kansas or Nebraska, and the big, gray bird was the tallest thing on the prairie. I was a budding birder and struggled to contain my excitement.
The next time I saw a Sandhill Crane (photo by Steve Emmons) was 10 years later on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. A subspecies of Sandhill Cranes resides there. At the Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge, I watched a 3-foot tall mother striding through the grass. She was gray with brown highlights and a crimson patch on her forehead. She probed the high grass for insects and frogs. As she moved my way, I saw she was followed by two colts - Sandhill Crane chicks. They were rusty brown all over. When their mother probed the ground, the colts would rush to see what she had found. I couldn’t believe my good fortune to be able to watch this magnificent bird so closely. Sandhill Crane populations had been hit hard and few were found along its eastern flyway when I was young.
I’ve seen them a couple of times since. The last time was on a trip to Alaska a few years ago. But for me, this bird has always been an example of the adventure that birding offers. These are birds I have always had to go elsewhere to find. Sandhill Cranes spend most of their time moving around the interior of North America where, during migration, they congregate in massive numbers. Due to conservation efforts, even cranes in the east have started to recover. Even so, they aren’t known to nest in abundance in New England.
Well guess what. . .According to Doug Albert, that has changed. Doug’s family runs the Maine Turf Company in Fryeburg. He reports that cranes now nest routinely on islands in the Saco River. The Turf Farm is managed as a bird and wildlife friendly, and Doug monitors the area as an official nesting site for Sandhill Cranes in Maine.
Doug and his family have invited us to come view Sandhill Cranes October 26th. Last year 36 cranes congregated at the Turf Farm in advance of migrating south for the winter. We are hoping the same will happen this year and give us good views. To join us, please call the Mahoosuc Land Trust at (207) 824-3806 for details.
James Reddoch, of Albany Township and Boston, leads birding events for the Mahoosuc Land Trust which celebrates 30 years conserving the natural areas of the Mahoosuc Region. Visit Mahoosuc Land Trust at 162 North Road, Bethel, ME or at www.mahoosuc.org. To learn about upcoming events or to contact James, send your emails to firstname.lastname@example.org.