Along the Natchez Trace

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Sandhill Cranes .... Waaaaay Overhead!

I saw my first sandhill crane in 2001.  We had started out on our new adventure - traveling in our RV - and were on our way to Alaska for the summer.  We left Ohio in March, but had some time before our scheduled ferry departure in Washington, up the Inside Passage, so headed to New Mexico.   We visited Bill's sister, but even more prominent in my memory, we visited the Bosque del Apache NWR in central New Mexico.  This was the very first National Wildlife Refuge that I'd even heard about, let alone visit.

We drove the auto tour and saw a lot of birds...  but the sandhill cranes, that winter there, had long since departed.  They go back to Idaho, Nebraska...  and even Alaska...  their nesting grounds for the spring and summer months.

We arrived in Anchorage, Alaska near the end of April, and headed south to the Kenai Peninsula where we were to be campground hosts for the summer.

A snow and ice storm hit late in the season...  so late in the season that those overhead traffic warnings were lit with this .... "Spring is Here...  Have a Nice Summer".  There were no road crews working.

The road to the Kenai was closed and we made an unscheduled stop at a state park office, just before heading into Turnagain Arm.  We stayed in their parking lot for 3 days before the road was passable.

Apparently the cranes didn't know that spring would arrive late that year, because they, too, had arrived in Alaska.  We walked a lot and saw quite a bit of wildlife.  Bill came upon a moose blocking his path on one of his walks.  But it was the ponds along side the road where we saw so many birds.  I saw my first horned grebe there, and if I were to get out my journal, I'm sure I could list several other "firsts".  

I saw my first sandhill cranes there....  not many...  but seeing the first small group will forever stay in my mind.

Since then, we've been fortunate that we've "lived" close to the cranes in the different flyways.  We did eventually volunteer at the Bosque NWR and even worked the Festival of the Cranes a few times.  In Louisiana we had the opportunity to go with a crew that was tracking cranes who wear transmitters.  They track the radio signals to locate the cranes.  We even helped hold a crane who was injured and needed transported.  Let me assure you...  they are one BIG bird...  with one HUGE beak!

Once you've heard the call of the cranes you'll never forget it.  When they're migrating they catch a thermal and are so high in the sky it's very difficult to see them with the naked eye.

But...  you'll hear them.
This flock of about 80 flew overhead a few minutes ago.

We're about 50 miles SW of Ft Worth, Texas.
I don't know where this group is migrating to, but know that we've seen flocks of them frequently in the couple of weeks we've been here.

Another fairly large flock was right behind them.
Even using my 300x lens and doing some cropping, it's still difficult to get a good photo.

Often we hear them but seldom locate them as they fly over.

But, we hear them talking to each other...
Possibly giving directions...
Or maybe just telling ancient crane stories they learned from their ancestors.

I hope every one of you get to hear the cranes flying overhead someday.

You'll never forget it.

That's All For Today!


  1. Those cranes are probably going to South Texas for the winter. Check out La Sal del Rey early in the morning or just before dusk...they roost there!!!

  2. I'm waiting for the winter sandhills to arrive here at Okefenokee so I can revel in their haunting calls!

  3. Wow, what a birding log you must have. I saw a local news report of a bunch of them stopping over in a Wisconsin corn field near here. That flock winters in Indiana. It's wonderful that they are flourishing the way they are!

  4. What a sight to see! You have been fortunate to see so many wonders of nature. When you hear them talking to one another do you think they are asking who has the GPS???

  5. We had a family of sandhills who live in our neighborhood year round in Fl. We were on acreage with lots of wetlands. They were friendly, liked to eat our bird seed out of the feeders, would even eat out of your hands. Around Valentine's day you would see the newly hatched chicks at the edge of the wetlands, they look like baby chicks, takes a few weeks to get the grey coloring and by 6 months you can't tell them from their parents. But, during mating season they would venture up on our deck and peck on the glass of our French doors-----they thought it was another bird instead of their own reflection. Now that I live in the NW we don't see any, just Canada geese.

  6. I live in NE Nebraska and hear the cranes every spring & fall as they fly over. A very distinctive sound.

  7. We have sandhills here in the summer--I love to hear them "talk."

  8. Thanks for 'craning' my neck to look up!

  9. Speaking of Cranes, I just happened to step out the back door the other day and I could hear them. They were almost straight above me, and not that high. It's always a thrill to hear and see them.

  10. One of our "jobs" at Laguna Atascosa is to conduct waterfowl counts every Wednesday. The first place that we set us is on a fenceline along the southern edge of the refuge. We arrive while it is still dark and wait for the Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese to fly out to their daytime feeding areas. They are still reasonably low as they fly over us, but we have to count fast as we get one line after another. Not nearly as impressive as the fly-out at Bosque del Apache, but not a bad way to start a day!!


  11. Speaking of cranes I have a pair that come in my yard and check out my bird feeders then make a loud sound then I come out and give them some I can get right up to them and put the feed down ..they'll give me their look and eat...yes, they even tapped on my window if I wasn't out and about. Might say they have me trained. I call them "Hecliff and Gertrude". Hahaha. Have a great day. God bless. Zeee and critters 3

  12. It IS an amazing experience. As for what they're saying... "I told you we were supposed to turn left over the yellow farmhouse! What the hell are we doing over Fort Worth?!?" "There were three yellow farmhouses! You never said which one!"