Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Return of the Cranes

Crane Pair on Cliff's Farm
Growing up in central Wisconsin, I can’t remember ever seeing a crane-Sandhill Crane to be specific.  That was the 60s and 70s and the largest birds I’d encounter while fishing or hunting were “Shy-Pokes” as my grandfather would call them (Great Blue Heron).  It wasn’t until after college and settling down in Clark County did I start seeing cranes.  Quickly I grew to be amazed at their size and loud raucous call.  The Neillsville area and points just south, seem to be a gathering place in the fall before migrating.  The harvested farm fields drawing them together in staging for the long flights to our southern states. 

The Reed Farm Cranes
On the return in the spring, it’s always exciting to hear those first vocalizations as they start setting up courtship and nesting sites.  It's then I know spring is truly here.  Over the years here, I’ve grown to appreciate what a unique species they are and it’s always a treat to see them and have them in the neighborhood. In the early morning light, whether in a turkey blind or out photographing waterfowl, the cranes are usually the first to signal the start of the day.  Sometimes their call will echo even before the toms start gobbling.  I love that-a sound that cuts though the darkness and preludes the wisp of wing beats overhead.

The Tiny Island Crane
Many of my “neighborhood” cranes this year have already set up their nesting site, or are in the process of picking one.  I take part in the annual Spring Crane Count, and selected the parcel of territory nearby.  By the time of the count, the breeding pairs and singles are already pretty familiar in the area, which is a mix of farm fields, woods and wetlands.  Just within a square mile of my home, there are 3 pairs and a couple sub-adults.  One pair is already nesting on a tiny man-made island on a friends pond down the road.  I understand cranes can swim, so hopefully the young will be able to make it to land after they’re hatched in a few weeks.

The Ochre Plumage
Some legislators are proposing a Sandhill Crane hunt, and currently advisory voting in the spring hearings approved the idea.  Populations of the once endangered species perhaps biologically can justify a hunt, and there are arguments that can be made both ways.  As a hunter myself, personally…I just don’t see the need to hunt them after a long recovery process.  Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should and I’ll be happier if our lawmakers stay out of the wildlife business.  I know the Lesser Sandhill crane is hunted in the Central Flyway, where I’ve seen them while waterfowl hunting in the Dakotas, but here, for me,  I’d be happy if our birds could continue to recover unimpeded and to amaze me each time I see and hear them.

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