I visited Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually NWR on Friday hoping to catch a glimpse of the new Great Horned Owl babies and to simply enjoy a sunny day at one of my favorite places.
The great thing about a place like Nisqually is you never know what you’ll see.
I was walking on the fabulous boardwalk that crosses the estuary and saw a couple of photographers focused on something on the tidal flats.
“Did you see the Sandhill Cranes?” one asked me.
No, I replied. And honestly, I might not have noticed them because they were backlit and looked like some of the remains of trees dotting the mud.
What a treat. Seven of them – possibly five adults and two young cranes. They’re rare visitors to Nisqually, and it appears that these alighted only for a brief time. A master birder who frequents Nisqually told me that they usually make a "one day wonder visit" once or twice a year.
The accompanying photos were taken in terrible light and rather far away, but it’s interesting to note in one how they're all looking up. I’m not sure if it was simply due to the gulls circling overhead or if they caught sight of one of the Bald Eagles making a hunting foray. Another photo shows one adult with two young cranes.
Sandhill Cranes can be seen in the thousands in certain areas of the United States during the winter including Bosque del Apache, New Mexico, and Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge, Texas. Thousands also make a stopover near the Platte River in Nebraska during spring migration. The greatest number in Washington State can be seen in March and April near Othello.
Although the cranes were signaling that they might be preparing for flight, i.e., lifting their heads up, flapping their wings, and generally facing the same direction, it was hard to tell if they would actually fly and I got distracted by a Greater Yellowlegs. After a few minutes, I looked up and saw all seven in the air. They flew in a line with a leader and then arranged themselves in a row, flying wing tip to wing tip. They were probably heading north to Canada or possibly even Alaska to their nesting grounds, part of the great spring migration.