Last Saturday was the annual Sandhill Crane Count which I’ve participated in for a number of years. My count area is a small area call Gilbert Creek Wildlife Area. Counting means being at the count area by 5:30am so it was an early start to the day.
I didn’t see or hear any cranes while it was dark out but I could hear some Canada Geese taking off. Once the sun was up I found a couple of cranes walking in a pasture and later heard them calling. Later in the morning I found this lone crane out on a walkabout. As I mentioned in an earlier blog I had seen a couple of cranes mating in the area so it’s possible one was on the nest.
There were some other birds around. I found the Pied-billed Grebe all alone in a small pond.
As I mentioned I had heard some Canada Geese take off early in the morning. There were still a few around but none of them appeared to be on nests.
I managed to get a rare shot of an American Robin. Given the large number of robins around I’m not sure why I not have a lot more photos of them.
More photographs from Gilbert Creek can be found on my website.
I’m still looking for Sandhill Cranes around the area. There seem to be more cranes around this year than in past years but they could just be passing through.
We found this crane in a local wildlife area. On an earlier trip the crane was chasing the Canada Goose but they seemed to be coexisting this time.
I stopped to photograph a couple of cranes walking through a wildlife area when they started mating. This was a first for me. I have a photo of a couple of Bald Eagles mating and a couple of Elk mating this was the first time for cranes.
These two were in a small pond so we stopped. We might have been a little close because they took off shortly after we arrived.
The Pussy Willow season is just about over. They are starting to turn green in the wetlands around here.
This time of year there is not a lot to photograph. The snow is gone, the flowers aren’t up and the butterflies are in short supply. One thing we like to do is to search for nesting Sandhill Cranes. Last week we found a pair in a local wildlife are. Unfortunately I didn’t have my camera along and so I couldn’t record their antics as they walked along together.
Early one foggy morning we drove back to see if we could find them again. Unfortunately all we found were Canadian Geese. We were just about to give up when I heard some cranes but couldn’t see them in the fog. All of a sudden they came flying in and landed in a small pond.
We watched them for quite some time. At one point one of the Canada Geese was a little too close and the Sandhill Crane started running after the goose.
Believe me getting up at 5 am is not on my to do list this time of year. I’m retired and usually don’t drag myself out of bed until after sunrise. The lone exception is the morning of the Midwest Sandhill Crane Count which runs from 5:30 am to 7:30 am. I’m fortunate that my counting area is only 5 minutes from my home so I just need to drag myself out of bed and grab some coffee. This is also the only day of the year that I treat myself to two long johns which I bring along and devour during the count.
As I drove down to the Gilbert Creek Wildlife area, where I count, I noticed a couple of trucks parked in fields with their lights on. I couldn’t figure out who would be up this time of morning and out in a field and then remembered that the Wild Turkey spring hunt was underway.
As I drove into the valley I could see there was quite a bit of fog although it was perfectly clear up on the ridges. The Gilbert Creek Wildlife Area is strung out and surrounded by roads so I’m usually able to do my counting from the car. Normally it is cold out for the count but this year it was almost 50 degrees out. I usually drive around the area stopping at various locations to listen for the cranes calling. This year, for the first time, the frogs were out and the noise was so loud I don’t think I could have heard the cranes even if they were calling. This is a shot of one of the Canada Geese taken earlier in the week. It is making a path through the thin ice for its mate.
Sandhil Cranes switching places on the nest
I never did hear any cranes but the frogs, blackbirds, geese and ducks were making quite a bit of noise. I’ve counted in this area for about 5 years and never have heard any cranes calling. Normally I see cranes in one small pond and this year was no exception. Just as it was starting to get light out I noticed a bird walking in the water. At first I thought it was one of the Canada Geese but soon noticed the distinctive walking gate of the Sandhill Crane. There were two of them walking among the grasses. It was too dark to take any photos of the cranes. This was taken on another visit.
After the crane count I came home and sat it my bird blind for a couple of hours watching a pair of nest building Eastern Bluebirds. This was followed by a three mile hike on the Red Cedar State Trail. Lunch at Culver’s with a two for one coupon for turtle sundaes. With my five cups of coffee, two long johns and a turtle sundae I am ready to crash this afternoon. This is a shot of a Mallard also taken earlier in the week. It was able to walk on the thin ice.
I drove around to some of my favorite locations for viewing wildlife to see it there was any activity now that spring has arrived. My first stop was Gilbert Creek Wildlife Area. Bird activity was in full swing. I first noticed a couple of Bald Eagles in a tree. One was mature and the other immature. The Redwing Blackbirds were active among the cattails. Canada were starting to lay claim to nesting spots. Mallards were active in a small open water area. I also saw a Common Merganser in the area. I mentioned seeing Sandhill Cranes flying a couple of weeks ago and there was a pair of them at Gilbert Creek. The water is still frozen in the pond and they were not nesting yet.
I then drove out to Hoffman Hills Recreation Area to check out the Wetlands and Prairie areas. The first bird I saw was a Male Eastern Bluebird perched on a Common Mullen. The same bird was flying between the wetlands and prairie areas. There were a couple of Canada Geese on the larger of the two ponds. The trails are still covered in snow in spots but the snow should be gone by the end of the week. The ponds are starting to melt but are still frozen. There were a number of other birds around including Northern Cardinals, Blue Jays and Juncos. The pussy willows are also starting to bloom.
I also drove past the Red Cedar Waterfowl Production area and noticed a number of Canada Geese and a couple of Blue Herons.
Things are really starting to pickup with the early spring birds arriving.
Sandhill Cranes and friends
I was out working at the birdfeeder this morning when I heard a familiar sound, one I haven’t heard since last fall on a visit to Crex Meadows. It was the sound of Sandhill Cranes. I looked up and there were a pair of Sandhill Cranes circling above. This is the earliest I have seen cranes in the area. It seems a bit early considering we still have a foot of snow on the ground. Normally I don’t see them around until the end of March or the first week of April. This is a shot taken a couple of years ago at the Gilbert Creek Wildlife Area near my house.
Sandhil Cranes switching places on the nest
For the past 5 years I’ve participated in the Midwest Crane Count. I count in a small wetlands area near my home. For the last two years a pair of cranes has nested in a wetlands area that can be seen from the road. This year the nest is close enough to the road so that I can photograph the nest and can even see the eggs in the nest. On this particular day I visited the area around sunrise and had a chance to observe the pair changing places on the nest. Yesterday I took a series of shots showing the nest change. For some reason the bird taking over the nest had difficulty getting things just right so it took a number of tries before he/she settled on the nest.
There are a few more shots on my website.
Every year since 1976 volunteers have counted cranes in the Midwest. The crane count has grown over the years and there are currently over 3,000 volunteers counting cranes in the Midwest. This year the crane count is on April, 17th from 5:30am to 7:30am. If this is something you would like to become involved in you should contact the International Crane Foundation.
I have been counting at the Gilbert Creek Wildlife Area which is about 10 minutes from my home. Gilbert Creek is not a large area so there are not large numbers of Sandhill Cranes. The most I have counted over the years is 3 pair but typically I’m able to count only a single pair. In an earlier post I mentioned there is a nesting pair in the area. This year They were the only cranes I saw or heard. I was able to watch them change shifts around sunrise. As the relief crane walked up to the nest the crane on the nest got up and walked toward the relief crane. They called briefly then the relief crane tidied up the nest before taking its place on the nest.
In the past I’ve been able to see or hear Pheasants and Turkeys during the counting period but this year I did not hear a single bird.
More shots of the area on my website.
The Gilbert Creek Wildlife Area is located about 7 miles west of Menomonie, Wisconsin and is my favorite local area for photographing spring birds since it is only about 10 minutes from my farm. The spring birds started arriving several weeks ago. Canada Geese and several types of ducks frequent the area although there doesn’t seem to be as many birds as in past years. I’ve seen three mature Bald Eagles in the area recently. This year, for the first time, there is a Trumpeter Swan frequenting the area. Several weeks ago the Sandhill Cranes returned and I noticed a pair is now nesting fairly close to the road.
More Gilbert Creek photos on my website.