I hear the first Sandhill Cranes as we got out of the car at Kiwanis Youth Conservation Grounds situated on the ridge on the west side of Big Marsh Lake. It’s about an hour before sunset and the light is already soft. The fall colors, brilliant a week ago, are now fading. Most of the orange and yellow leaves are gone, we're left with those that rusty brown, but in the soft light they’re lovely. We walk along the bank, scouting out photo angles while swatting mosquitoes. It may be October and it’s getting cooler, but there are still a few hardy ones out for blood. In an old tree in the distance, in the middle of the marshy lake, a pair of bald eagles is perched. I wish I’d brought a longer lens and a tripod! A few Sandhills Cranes come overhead, heading for a spot out in the middle of the marsh. Flying, they keep their legs stretched out behind them, but when they arrive at their nesting spot, they drop their tail and feet downwards, which causes a quick reduction in altitude. As they fly and even after they land, they make a guttural sound. The birds pair up as a couple and together they sing; the female issuing two calls to the male’s one. There are things that tend to remain the same across the animal kingdom.
|Click to enlarge: Bald Eagles in the bottom right|
A few more birds fly in, I hear the horn on a train making its way up from Battle Creek on the old Grand Trunk Western Line, a part of Canadian National’s tracks that run from Ontario to Chicago. At each of the rural crossings, the locomotive gives off a lonesome cry until it fades in the background as heads toward Lansing. To the north of us, on a farm, a steam tractor is being displayed and on occasion we hear the steam whistle adding its sound to the symphony. The Canadian Geese, with their honking, often drown out the cries of the Sandhills early in the concert, but as more Sandhills come in, from all directions, the geese take to skies and head elsewhere. Six Tundra Swans fly in and land, then swim along the water, moving away from the mass of cranes. They’re making a stop from their breeding grounds in the Arctic down to the Atlantic Coast. As the light fades, more and more birds arrive. Blackbirds by the hundreds also take to the sky, their chirps barely heard over the Sandhill Cranes. In pairs and triplets, in groups of a half a dozen to a dozen or more, the Sandhill Cranes continue to arrive. After the sun drops beyond the horizon, they come even faster and at a greater number. At times, a hundred or more birds are flying and landing where hundreds, maybe already a few thousand, have already landed. Their cries fill the air as the evening symphony rises to a crescendo.
As we leave in the dark, the birds are still singing. The symphony season will run another week or so, when the birds will continue their migration south.
|Big Marsh Lake just before sunset|
|Sandhill Cranes arriving from area corn fields|
|More Cranes: These birds may look small but each one has a wingspan of 5 feet or so|