More Cranes at Sunset

Looking over the photos from our recent trip to the west coast, I remembered I had shot some video clips of the Sandhill Cranes arriving at their overnight roost on the Rio Grande floodplain at Bosque del Apache, New Mexico.

It was an all-too-brief encounter, but the video will give you an idea of what it was like…

They have an impressive wingspread when you see them up-close.

Sandhill Cranes, Bosque del Apache, NM

out on the prairie

We spent the weekend in central Minnesota taking photos of different stages of prairie restoration.  Prairie grasses are above knee high already, and there are quite a few perennial forbs flowering — injecting some highlights of color into that huge expanse of green.

prairie-flowers at Lake Johanna Esker

Tall stems of timothy grass stand behind the lower herbaceous perennials on the Lake Johanna Esker prairie.

Many thousands of years of growth of perennial prairie grasses in this area resulted in a several feet thick layer of black, organic-rich soil — perfect for farming.  But as a result, less than 2% of the original 19 million acres of native prairie remain.

prairie vs cropland in central Minnesota

Any prairie that could be plowed (not too dry or wet, not too steep or rocky) was converted to cropland over a hundred years ago. But here, pasture (on the right) is being returned to a prairie, while the hill in the background (too steep to plow) has been heavily grazed. In the absence of fire or heavy grazing pressure, prairies are easily invaded by trees.

Where there are large acreages of prairie or grassland landscape, we can usually find some of the native prairie animals and plants that live there.  What a treat to drive down one gravel road that dead-ended in a soybean field and find a family of Sandhill Cranes walking through the meadow grasses.

sandhill cranes-

This pair of Sandhill Cranes tried to distract us from finding their two chicks by walking up the hill away from where the chicks hid in the longer grass.

sandhill crane chick

One of the chicks was a little less than half the height of the adults — with no tail yet.

sandhill cranes-

I suppose they thought we might follow them up and over the hill, but as we backed away, they flew back toward the chicks.

Flyaway

A few minutes after a couple of Canada Geese took off from the marsh yesterday, I heard a really eerie call and turned around to find these two birds taking off.

sand-hill crane

sand hill cranes

sand hill cranes

And they sounded just like this…as they flew away. It’s not a sound you easily forget.

These birds may have bred near here this summer, but will soon be on their way south as well, to wintering grounds in Florida, Texas or northern Mexico. For more information about these birds, see “Dance of the Cranes“.