Sunday, November 6, 2011

Sandhill Cranes at Sherburne NWR (Video)

I was itchin' to go birding somewhere today while the weather was still mild, and thanks to a couple of blogging friends who mentioned sandhill cranes recently (see Dan Tallman's Bird Blog and Nature Knitter), I'd heard that the cranes have been congregating in large numbers in places like Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge in central Minnesota and at Crex Meadows in Wisconsin. We decided to head to the closer of these, Sherburne NWR, to see if we could spot some cranes. The refuge is north of Elk River and Zimmerman, to the northwest of the Twin Cities metro area, about 90 minutes' drive from Northfield.

I've seen sandhill cranes before -- here and there in fields in central Wisconsin last month, for example, while driving to visit our daughter at Lawrence University -- but only a few at a time. The idea of seeing them congregating in large numbers, staging for their upcoming migration south, was an exciting prospect.

The Sherburne NWR website has a nice guide to where to view sandhill cranes, and it was right on target. We started to see some in the air, and then came upon a field where many dozens were foraging, joined almost every minute by new groups of anywhere from three to eight or more gliding in from the east. At a conservative count there must have been at least 300 cranes there while we watched. Here is a short video of some of the cranes on the ground and others flying in. I love how their long legs dangle as they come in. Toward the end of the video you can hear their calls.


 Here are some photos as well.

We also saw a pair of swans fly by.

This was my first trip to Sherburne, and I look forward to exploring it further when it's not deer hunting season. We saw a lot of trucks pulled over and quite a bit of blaze orange hunting gear. We stayed in our car, needless to say.

We've talked about going to Nebraska's Platte River Valley flyway to witness the spring migration of half a million sandhill cranes, considered one of the most amazing experiences in birding anywhere. Dave's seen it, and I'd love to. Getting just a taste of it today has whetted my appetite for that trip even more.