I know there are sandhill cranes in Lawrence County and I know they’re easier to find in winter, but for years I’ve avoided searching for them because I am so disappointed when they elude me, and they usually do.
You’d think that gray birds nearly four feet tall with a 6.5 foot wingspan would be hard to hide – until you start looking for them. The area to search is 15 square miles of rolling countryside, fields, thickets and wooded swamp. During the day the cranes feed in the corn stubble with their heads down. All it takes is a dip in the landscape to make them disappear from view. I usually miss them entirely and my disappointment ruins an otherwise good day.
So it was with some uneasiness that I headed for Plain Grove, PA yesterday even though I knew 40 to 50 cranes had been seen there last week. As I drove north on Interstate 79 I told myself, “You will not have a goal today! Do not set your heart on seeing a particular bird!”
As I turned onto Old Ash Road I saw a good omen. Four eastern bluebirds flew over and perched on the wire. Things were looking up.
I drove slowly northwest looking out both sides of the car. A hawk flew on the left. Could it be a rough-legged hawk? No, just a red-tail but Whoa! What is that white lump at the edge of the field? Is it a snowy owl?
I pulled off the road and studied the bird. It didn’t move but it was so far away that the heat shimmers confused me. I got out of the car and looked and looked and looked. It didn’t move. It was a plastic bag.
“Well,” I said to myself as opened the car door, “You might as well look behind you. You never know.”
And there they were. Fifty-nine Sandhill Cranes.
(photo by Chuck Tague)