Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Sandhill Cranes

My buddy, Carroll, and I agreed that it was time for a road trip. The Sandhill Cranes were reportedly in residence at Wheeler Wildlife Refuge in Decatur, Alabama, so that became our destination. We arrived at 9am, which was perfect as the sun rose over the treeline illuminating the wetlands beyond.

We saw them flying high overhead toward the fields so we hastened down the path to the observation building. Silently approaching our ears were treated to their unusual trumpeting which is described as deep, rolling trumpet and rattling. Once you hear it you'll never forget it. Carroll and I stopped, overwhelmed by the beauty of the sound around us and we both had tears streaming down our faces. We've been dreaming of this moment and were overwhelmed by the gift. Entering the observation building and heading straight to the glassed walls we stopped, dumbfounded at the sight beyond. Across the wetlands in every field standing in every range of our vision stood hundreds and hundreds of Sandhill Cranes. Their trumpeting and calls were so loud we could clearly hear them though the glass.

These birds are quite large, with wingspan of up to 80 inches, or close to 7 feet. Their red foreheads could be clearly seen, and there were a lot of juveniles as well. They mate for life and can live up to the age of 20. These are tall, gray birds of open grasslands, meadows and wetlands who tend to migrate south as a group. Their summer range is Alaska and Canada, eastward to western Quebec and southward to northern United States. They reside as well in Florida and Cuba. We are fortunate enough to have them winter here at Wheeler Wildlife Refuge. The common name of the bird references habitat like that at the Platte River on the edge of Nebraska's Sandhills in the Midwest.

They are omnivorous, eating grains, seeds and berries, some insects and even some invertebrates and small vertebrates. Fields are prepared here for migrating birds within the refuge. Their habitat is open marshes or bogs, and in wet grasslands and meadows, and nests tends to be either a large mound of vegetation floating or attached to vegetation or a scooped out area in the ground, lined with grasses. The young are called "colts."

But enough of that. All those facts came from the Cornell and Wikipedia sites, so please check them out if you're interested to know more. For me and Carroll, our pleasure came from listening to their beautiful trumpeting sounds and watching them in flight. We dubbed them the Botti Birds after our favorite trumpeter, Chris Botti. I'm sure he'd be pleased to know that!

There we other birds milling about with the Sandhill Cranes yesterday. Northern Shovelers and Common Goldeneyes and the ubiquitous Mallards were everywhere. Lots of gulls and doves were also flying about. Yesterday's temperature was in the low 60's, sunny and calm. The birds were everywhere. We left the WWR happy and content in the knowledge that we finally saw our Sandhill Cranes. Today, I took my mom to see them as she loves cranes of all kinds. I'll update the blog with those photos maybe tomorrow. In all, I took over 300 photos but only a few are okay. The birds were pretty far away.

Oh! The husband changed my computer around, adding a third monitor and updating some software. While I am completely grateful that he did so all three monitors need to be color calibrated - each one is slightly different. One is too pale, one has a greenish tint and the other has a grayish tint. All that to say I processed these photos as best I could so let me know if they look okay. If so, I'll know which monitor is the best until such time as corrections can be made. Many thanks!


tina said...

I think all the photos look great. The cranes must've been quite awesome just like you described. Couldn't imagine it all-definitely overwhelming I'd wager. What an experience!

You all have a Happy New Year!

Anonymous said...

I like your Sandhill Crane flying photos the best. It looks like you took them towards sunset. The colour looks great. Thanks for sharing your cool trip with us.

Anonymous said...

Over the past few weeks, I've been seeing and hearing the Sandhill Cranes flying over our area. I've gotten a few pics, but they're not very good. I love the sounds they make!

Wishing you and yours a very Happy New Year!

Bo said...

Marvelous post and photos. I love the sandhill cranes. They are in my area in the summer, but I've never been close enough to hear them - what a treat!

Anonymous said...

What a sight to behold Debi. The photos are great. I envy your access to birds I only see as majestic motifs on Asian textiles that I adore.

P.S. I'm loving The Dreaming Tree cut from DMB here. I've never taken the time to listen to him but will now that I've heard this beautiful song.

Happy 2009!


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