Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Sandhill Crane migration at Paynes Prairie State Park

Sunday January 18th. We headed back home after going to the RV show and decided to see if the migrating Sandhill Cranes had arrived Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park. We had been there to see them a few years ago, but had always missed them. We first went to the main park entrance and were told that the cranes had arrived, but were at the La Chua Trail area of the park. You can get a map from the volunteer, or head up 441 to 4th street then 15th street. It costs $4.00 to enter the main park but there is no charge for this trail. With the state budget cuts, it would seem a small charge would be in order. It was certainly worth a few bucks. There were some volunteers with "Friends of the Priarie" there and we donated a few dollars. The place was crowded due to an article in the local newspaper about the migration. We walked about 1/2 mile on a trail on the prairie before we finally saw the masses of Sand Cranes. You could hear them a long time before you could see them. They were mostly feeding but there was a little mating/fighting? activity and also a few flights and landings. It was extremely windy and their landings were interesting to watch. There was also a banded pair of Whooping Cranes right with the Sand Cranes. We found out later that they are a non-migrating mating pair.
The Whooping Cranes decided to take a short flight. It was very windy and one got airborne but the other one didn't. The one in the air kept calling for his mate and circled around until he/she finally managed to take flight. It was kind of interesting to see that they were going to stay together! They made a short flight to another part of the prairie. It was extremely windy and I had trouble getting focused so I was unable to photograph both flying. I almost missed this one but did get this one shot.
There is a group trying to breed and start a new colony of migrating Whooping Cranes. They raise the chicks and then escort them to their winter grounds in Florida. They actually made their way to St. Marks National Wildlife Preserve on Saturday the 17th. A lot of people went to watch the flyover, but we made the decision to head to Tampa for the RV show instead. Operation Migration is a non profit group trying to save the endangered Whooping Cranes.
Seeing the masses of Sand cranes was quite a site. These cranes seemed a little more gray then the ones we used to see all over town in Tampa. After doing some research, I found out there are several different types of Sand Cranes, some are brownish, some gray and they also come in different sizes. One of the volunteers told us they estimated there were 6,000 to 8,000 Sand Cranes. I did some reading and discovered when the migrate to North Platte, Nebraska there may be 500,000 birds! That is one place we have to see! My friend Carol used to live there and said it is quite an incredible sight. They are everywhere around town.
We walked out to the end where their is a viewing tower. You could see a good way out onto the prairie. There are wild horses and buffalo on the Prairie, but we didn't see them this time. We have seen the horses from a distance and one year we actually saw the buffalo up close at the viewing tower at the park. It was incredible. We were 10 feet from them You could tell exactly where the cranes had been because the prairie grasses were decimated. I'm sure they left plenty of fertilizer though and the grasses should recover. We have camped at this park several times and it is one of our favorite campgrounds. They have an interesting educational center with a movie about the history of Paynes Prairie. It seems that sometimes it is a large lake, but that the lake can disappear overnight leaving the fish stranded! It is quite interesting. The campground is nice, there is a large lake you can boat/kayak on, and there are nice trails. It is a great place to camp. Our favorite time was winter.

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