My pursuit to see Sandhill Cranes…
Ever since I started seriously birding a little over a year ago I have wanted to see Sandhill Cranes. There was just something about them that drew me in. Maybe it was their adorable colts or all the pictures I had seen of the large numbers that congregate in Nebraska during their stopover while migrating? Whatever it was, something bit me and I knew I had to see one! So imagine my excitement when I started hearing about seven of them right here in North Carolina! They weren’t that far away – I mean I can get to either end of the state in under 4 hours. I quickly started to devise a plan and was even able to convince my youngest (19 years old and not terribly interested in birding) to accompany me on this adventure. We set out early for Pocosin Lakes NWR, more specifically Pungo Lake, and spent the next 3 1/2 hours talking about school and life, just catching up (sure do miss her when she’s not around). I’ll admit, we were also hoping to find some of the large black bears that call the refuge home…but no luck! We were, however, greeted by thousands of Tundra Swan and 7 Sandhill Cranes! I actually squealed with delight when I saw them! Mind you, when I have a target bird I am not always lucky enough to find it so I tried my hardest not to get my hopes up on the way there! But I saw them and was even able to get some fairly decent pictures of them even though they stayed towards the back of the impoundment.
My time watching the cranes turned out to not be enough for me! I was set on going back to see them again and was able to convince my husband to accompany me this time…I called it his birthday trip! He can be a really good sport sometimes! Only this trip wasn’t going to be a quick drive out and back. I planned a whole weekend of birding along the coast and he was game for it! I booked us a place in Plymouth, NC so we could get an early start for Pungo Lake since Plymouth is only about 30 minutes away from the lake. We arrived around 8 am and drove along D-Canal Road; I was hoping to find a bear this trip but no luck again! But, I’ve decided to try again in the spring when they are a bit more active. We then drove along West Lake Road where we saw otters playing in the canal and hundreds of Tundra Swan (that’s for another blog post!), but no Sandhill Cranes.
I was told by another observer that they had flown out of the impoundment but would be back. I guess that must be their MO?! But lo and behold, they did return and I was able to observe all 7 of them in flight, coast in for a landing and hang out in the back of the impoundment (again!).
Since the cranes had decided to avoid all the paparazzi near the road, I decided to show my husband the rest of the refuge and took him to the observation deck on the lake. I was shocked how the numbers of swan and ducks had changed in just the two weeks since I had been there. I know birds don’t sit still and the swan and ducks had been flying in and out but the numbers on the lake had really dropped. Hopefully the warmer weather hadn’t tricked them all into an early migration back north. We decided to return to the impoundment and see what was happening there. On our way back we were sidetracked by a wandering mink! I had never seen a mink in the wild so imagine my delight, pretty sure I let out another squeal! It was fast and tried its hardest to avoid my camera!
Whe we arrived back at the impoundment, I let out another squeal! The cranes had moved much closer to the road and I was very happy! They were in a great place to observe them, too bad they were mostly just grazing and kept their heads down a lot of the time! But they were still a sight to see! Sandhill Cranes feed on land or in flooded fields. They are omnivores and their diets consist of seeds and cultivated grain crops, but they will also eat berries, tubers, small vertebrates and invertebrates, insects, snails, reptiles, and amphibians.
My husband sat back and let me click away and I was as happy as could be! I am already itching to go back and see them again because I know soon they will start their journey north to Canada and the Arctic to begin their breeding season. Some Sandhill Cranes start mating at the age of 2 while others wait until they are older. They mate for life and stick together year-round. Their young are able to leave the nest and swim at only 8 hours after hatching and hang with their parents for about 9 months. I hope these beauties return next year! After observing the cranes for quite some time, we decided to move on to our next destination of the day…Lake Mattamuskeet but that is a story for another blog post. Besides the Sandhill Cranes and Tundra Swan, we actually did see other birds: hundreds, if not thousands of Red-winged Blackbirds, a Northern Harrier or two, Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, Black Vultures, a Gray Catbird, a few hundred American Robins, a Belted Kingfisher and we even had a Wild Turkey run across the road in front of us!
Categories: sandhill cranes