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Sandhill Cranes at Windmill Marsh

Published August 15, 2013
Tags: Life List Happenings, Sandhill Crane, Peregrine Falcon, Solitary Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper, Semipalmated Plover, Lesser Yellowlegs, Greater Yellowlegs, Bald Eagle, Belted Kingfisher, Wood Duck, Green Heron, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Eastern Kingbird, Cedar Waxwings, Common Yellowthroat

Sandhill Cranes!  Wahoo!  I finally got to see them after trying pretty hard for the last two years at each reasonable report and opportunity. Celeste Morien, Doug Happ, and I went out to Windmill Marsh last night, where it was a pretty safe bet that we'd be successful. We weren't disappointed. We were privileged to watch the full pageantry of the Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons, and yes, Sandhill Cranes coming in to roost for the night. Amazing. Beautiful. Breathtaking.

We only saw a limited assortment of shorebirds, though, mostly consisting of Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs, Semipalmated Plovers, Solitary Sandpipers, Semipalmated Sandpipers, and Pectoral Sandpipers. We suspect the shorebirds were keeping their distance because a Peregrine Falcon was stalking the marsh. I haven't seen a peregrine since January, so I really enjoyed catching some very nice scope views of him!  The shorebirds, on the other hand, felt otherwise, I'm sure.

Another raptor we saw was an adult Bald Eagle who was perched out past the marsh near his nest.  He was quite far and the photo doesn't do his regal presence justice but I'm including the photo anyway.

At least 150 Great Egrets had come in to roost by 8 PM. And it was around this time that I was beginning to lose hope of seeing any Sandhill Cranes. The light had faded quickly and there was little left several minutes later when we watched, enthralled, as two Sandhill Cranes finally came gracefully flying in over the tree tops and landed their magnificent forms over to the right of the Great Egret congregation. Scope views revealed a third crane walking near the two newcomers.  Did we miss its entrance?  We're not sure, but a total of three were present amongst a modest 150+ Great Egrets, 8 Great Blue Herons, 20 Green Herons, 30 Wood Ducks, 5 Blue-winged Teal, and 30 or so shorebirds.

Scopes are equipped with such great optics, allowing more light into the viewing range, which presents beautifully enlarged and well lit subjects. I couldn't have had better looks at my first Sandhill Cranes last night. The red triangular caps on their foreheads, white faces, long, dark beaks, and gray bodies were so beautifully displayed, it was if I was only a few feet from them.

This was a night  I will remember forever. Thank you for the opportunity, Celeste!
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Very poor image of 2 of the Sandhill Cranes. You'll have to look hard to find them!
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Peregrine Falcon
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Peregrine Falcon flying over the marsh
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Peregrine Falcon flying over the marsh
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I believe this was the 1 Greater Yellowlegs we saw
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Greater Yellowlegs
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Solitary Sandpiper
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Solitary Sandpiper
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Bald Eagle
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One of three Eastern Kingbirds at the back end of the marsh.