Bird Watching with Your 4 Foot Tall Friendly Crane Neighbor
(You Never Knew You Had!)
When I was a kid, my dad used to call me outside to listen to the cranes as they passed over our house. It only happened a couple of times, but it’s a sound you don’t really forget. Throughout my life, there have been a few more occasions, whether walking the dog, or even putting groceries in my car, that I’d stop what I was doing because I heard that familiar sound. You can’t always see them, but you know a flock of migrating sand hill cranes when you hear one.
So when I saw on visitlakecounty.org, that there was a Sandhill Crane Count, and they needed volunteers, I knew that would be a great way to spend a day with my dad. So we planned it all out, went to a very informative and fun training session at Volo Bog, and on the morning of April 12, 2014, we were ready to go.
The Count Begins!
Thank goodness we scouted out the location the day before, because let me tell you… it’s not easy finding your way through unknown woods at 5 o’clock in the morning. I figured the sun would be up by then… but it turns out that I don’t know a lot about sunrise times because it was pitch black. So, he picked me up, handed me a thermos of coffee because he’s awesome, and we headed out to Lakewood Forest preserve.
“A Snap Shot in Time”
Let me give you a quick low-down of how this whole thing works. Every year on the second Saturday of April, people are assigned to specific locations where counts have taken place in the past. This way, they can track populations of cranes and see what’s happening over time. From 5:30-7:30 in the morning, people all across the Midwest are observing these locations to provide “a snapshot in time” of the crane population. That way, the same cranes aren’t being counted twice. You fill out a sheet explaining how many cranes were in your location and that’s it! You’ve helped with conservation of the endangered Sand Hill Crane! (Your good deed of the day is finished, and you can now go home and nap.)
First of all, can I just tell you… these things stand almost 4 feet tall! They’re not your average goose. Due to habitat destruction, the Sandhill Crane population was once below 1,000 birds. Can you believe that? And somehow, through the immense conservation efforts of people and organizations, their future is looking pretty bright.
What Did We See?
Well… you have to go into this knowing that you’re not going to a zoo. This is a hit or miss situation boys and girls. But luckily… after waiting for the sun to rise from our location up on a hill overlooking a marshland, a crane suddenly called out and was only a few yards away from us! This is NOT a normal little bird call. (It’s more like that scene from Jurassic Park where the raptors go inside the kitchen and call out for each other.) It echoed like crazy! It sounded like something from a different planet and it shut us right up. (not that you’re supposed to be talking out there… silence is golden for bird watching!) No wonder it sounded like a modern day dinosaur, according to savingcranes.org, a fossil of a Sandhill Crane from 10,000 years ago, perfectly matches the modern version, making it the oldest living bird species on our earth! (#thatscrazy)
We tried to get a visual of our crane friend, but never did. We ended up seeing a Red Tailed Hawk, being serenaded by a Mocking Bird for about a half hour, and we successfully heard 3 different cranes in that area.
So we didn’t see a crane. I honestly didn’t even realize that until someone pointed it out to me, because being out in the forest preserve to watch the sunrise, and seeing white tailed deer strolling through an early morning meadow, and being so focused on the environment around us, was well worth the sleepy eyes. And it’s something we’ll remember forever. We’re already planning out what we’ll do different next year, and hopefully, I’ll be able to include some pictures that I took, of these beautiful and elusive birds that have been calling Lake County home since long before I was here.
Until then, we always have our beautiful Lake County sunrises.