Sandhill Cranes Still Captivate; by J. Martino

Sandhill cranes captivate By: John Martino Last week I noticed something interesting. While a small gathering of friends stood outside talking, six Canada geese flew low overhead emitting their familiar “honk.” Only one person offered a casual glance skyward as they flapped by. But several minutes later the rattling calls of sandhill cranes could be heard in the distance and everyone craned their necks looking for the high flying birds. “There they are,” said Jeff Preston, pointing to the western sky. Why did my friends pay no mind to the geese but the cranes caught everyone’s attention? Sandhill cranes grabbed my interest years ago. Their great migrations serve as harbingers of winter and spring. Over the past several weeks flocks of these gregarious birds have passed over Indiana on their way north. Most people would never notice them if it wasn’t for their loud calls which pull people’s awareness from the ground to the distant horizon. Besides their great size and distinctive calls, sandhills are known for their unique dance moves. Among one of the most unusual of avian displays their dances have been celebrated and in some cases mimicked by cultures around the world. Even more than their dance steps cranes are most famous for their loud, distinctive voices. Some have described them as rattling, bugles or trumpet like sound. For me personally it more resembles a “roarking” noise. But for the majority of people it is this sound that first draws attention to the birds. Because of their exceptionally long neck and windpipe their voices seem to be amplified, being heard from up to a mile away. From the day I first learned what their unique sound was I always take notice when they fly high overhead. So do others. Their primal screams and huge flapping wings draw everyone’s attention. People invariably stop what they are doing to look skyward. These birds seem to pull us out of our normal routine and into a much larger world that few other birds do. The great migrations of sandhill cranes are a sure sign of the change of seasons. In the fall they fly south, signaling the start of our coldest months where they spend winters in Georgia, Alabama and Florida. As the air begins to warm they will fly north to their nesting grounds in Minnesota, Michigan and Canada. Indiana is fortunate in that one of their greatest layover spots on their long journey is located at Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife area, located about an hour drive from Kokomo. Standing nearly four feet tall on pencil-like legs, these birds sport a red forehead, white cheeks and long dark pointed bill. Their wingspans push seven-feet, making them one of the largest bird species. The best place to view the sandhills at Jasper-Pulaski is from the handicapped accessible observation towers next to an area known as Goose Pasture. Although they can be seen throughout the day, the best time to witness their huge numbers is a few hours after dawn and at sunset. At sunrise cranes leave the resting marsh in gigantic, noisy flocks to gather in Goose Pasture where they mingle and gab loudly before taking flight on their huge wings for short flights to nearby feeding areas. About sunset, they return on full bellies to socialize before flying off to roosting areas. One of the birds most striking and peculiar behaviors is the dance they perform. The humorous sequence begins with the bird bowing low then jumping into the air. The crane then settles back to the ground, sometimes throwing leaves and small twigs over its shoulder. This routine is amusing especially when they decide to perform the dance with their own shadow. Scientists believe this routine is a form of creating new friendships or reaffirming existing ones. The Jasper-Pulaski FWA is located in a region once famous for the vast Kankakee Marsh. These wetlands consisted of more than one million acres of reeds, ponds and bogs. In the 19th and early 20th century the marsh was drained to make way for agriculture. Today, only 8,142 acres remain. Revenues used in land acquisition, development, operation and maintenance of Jasper-Pulaski, as well as other fish and wildlife areas are generated from the sale of hunting and fishing licenses. Funding also comes from the federal Pittman-Robertson and Dingell-Johnson programs to promote and aid fish and wildlife restoration. These funds are derived from taxes levied on hunting and fishing equipment. This is just one area where Indiana hunters and anglers stand proud to provide this property for the enjoyment of all people. If you are interested in watching the birds unique behaviors, information, including daily migration numbers are updated weekly and can be found on-line or by contacting Jasper-Pulaski FWA at (219) 843-4841. SoreMouth Tackle hosts grand opening SoreMouth Tackle, Kokomo’s newest and only full time tackle shop will host their grand opening today from 6 am to 5 pm. The locally owned and operated full line tackle shop is located at 1500 N. Reed Road, inside the Kokomo Event and Conference Center. The store will offer a complete line of the finest fishing tackle for pro anglers as well as modestly priced equipment for the beginner or children. SoreMouth Tackle will also carry many types of live bait. Owners Aaron Hochstedler, Ty Kendall and Jason Kiser will be providing store hours in the upcoming week. Details will be provided in next week’s column.