I've become a fan of cranes over the years. Growing up in Wausau and Hazelhurst, I'd never really seen them before-just the leggy, folded neck in flight Great Blue Herons (Shy Pokes, my grandfather would call them) which were pretty common. I think the first Sandhill Cranes I'd noticed were in Clark County, near Neillsville, where I took my first teaching job. That was back in the early 80's, and even then, their numbers were few. Fast forward to 2011 and each fall, the gathering of hundreds of cranes in the area begin. I think one big draw was the construction of the Winx Flowage, just west of Neillsville-that, and the attraction of spread corn from a nearby farm for many years, which also brought in thousands of geese. The corn and many of the canadian geese are gone now, but the cranes continue to show up each year, with greater numbers. Two years ago, we were also treated to a pair of Whooping Cranes, who hung out with their gray cousins for several weeks before migrating south.
Living outside of town provides a chance to see the birds gathering in nearby farm fields.
A recently cut corn field drew both young and mature cranes each day for a week or so. I decided to crawl out into a nearby ditch, with long lens in hand and wait before work. Like clockwork, they arrived around seven, although in fewer numbers than the previous days. I managed to get a few shots as some passed by, while the others lit on the far end-apparently a better looking breakfast setting for them. As we head into October, the gathering will grow and the their select fields will grow louder with the croking of the Sandhills' calls. Just another reminder that fall is indeed here-my favorite time of year!