[In 2018 I did a blog that was partly about these cranes, but I had no decent photos. So this is a closer look.]
Sandhill cranes, Antigone canadensis, are majestic birds, up to 4ft 6in tall with a wingspan of over 7 feet, that gather in vast flocks in parts of the USA, and sometimes wander calmly around golf courses and subdivisions. But around us in Maine, they are novel and exotic creatures, still skittish near humans, having only established themselves as a breeding flock in the neighborhood fairly recently.
They seem to be attracted by an area of rich flat farmland with fields of turf grass, corn (maize) and occasionally sunflowers, where they forage in the daytime. When I wrote this in early November these fields had recently been harvested, perfect for gleaning.
The young are called colts, maybe because of those long spindly legs? They lack the red foreheads of the adults.
At dusk, they fly a mile or so north to a fen at the edge of the lake where they spend the night. This flock numbered about 30 birds.
They make rather charming sounds, surprisingly like small chickens, as they fly in. I failed to capture this, but you can hear it on this video:
The best view of their evening passegiatta is from the lake, but if they see you they abort their landing and divert to an alternative roosting area.
We tried hiding under camouflage nets, but they still saw us. Last year, though, they landed in the gloaming, and settled in:
My friend Heinrich Wurm, who invites me out on his boat from time to time, took this wonderful photo:
Soon now they leave for New Mexico, where they spend the winter in their tens of thousands in the poetically named Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge.
Back at the farm, a lone ultralight aircraft floats above the farmlands, searching in vain for the departed cranes:
PS It is not only Maine that loves their cranes. The world has 15 species of crane. The Black-necked Crane, Grus nigricollis, winters in the Phobjikha valley in Bhutan, arriving in early November 2010:
They are sacred to the Bhutanese, so their arrival is celebrated at the Gangtey monastery with the wonderful Crane Festival. These children are doing the Crane Dance:
Here they are in close-up:
watched by the monks (and the whole village).
and nowadays by a goodish number of tourists. The cranes need all the love they can get: there are only around 10,000 left.