The colder weather and shorter days are keeping most of us inside. But for a group of volunteers it’s the perfect time to head outdoors. They’re putting on their gloves and setting up their spotting scopes to go out and watch one of their favorite birds get ready for the long trip south. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mark Brush reports these birds gather by the thousands before migrating:
The colder weather and shorter days are keeping most of us inside. But
for a group of volunteers it’s the perfect time to head outdoors. They’re
putting on their gloves and setting up their spotting scopes to go out and
watch one of their favorite birds get ready for the long trip south. The
Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mark Brush reports these birds gather by
the thousands before migrating:
(Sound of cranes)
It’s a dreary and damp evening next to this marsh in rural southeast
The dampness has that edge of cold to it that’s hard to escape.
And while most people are heading to their warm homes for the day –
things here at the Haehnle Bird Sanctuary are just getting started as
volunteers count cranes:
(sound of cranes flying overhead and volunteers)
“I got a whole line of coming in over the flats out there – oh, man – It’s
startin’… how many?”
“Thirty-four.” (sound of clicks)
With the help of a clicker, three volunteers from the Audubon Society
count the birds.
Fortunately for them, the birds they’re counting are… really big.
The Greater Sandhill Crane is one of the biggest birds in the region.
They glide into the sanctuary by the thousands with their gangly legs
dangling behind them.
They’re counting the birds for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
This is part of a wider effort in the region to get an overall count of the
They have one night to count – and tonight’s the night.
Gary Siegrist is one of the volunteers. He says the birds come into this
wetland after a day feasting in the farm fields:
“They’ve been out feeding all day… and they stage… this is one of two
places in southern Michigan where they stage. And when they get to a
point where they have enough fuel in their bodies enough fat built up, and
their food supplies are gone, and maybe the mud lake is frozen over, then
they’ll find a favorable wind and head south.”
The gathering is an instinct for these birds. During the summer months
they spread out across the region in pairs. But when it’s time to migrate
they get together in big flocks before they head to Florida. And when they
gather in large numbers – it can get noisy.
Gary Siegrist says the bird’s call is one of the things that draws him here
to count the birds year after year:
“People don’t realize that it’s the oldest living bird species. They’ve got a
relative that goes back 35 or 65 million years – it’s the time of the
dinosaurs…the bird is fantastic and if you can hear the call, you
can hear it in the background, it kind of sends shivers down your back. It
reminds you of a different time.”
(sound of cranes flying by)
The volunteers also spend their time chatting with people who visit the
Sanctuary. And even on a cold night like tonight – people have come out
to see the birds.
Phil DeLang drove with his wife and grandson two and a half hours just to
watch the gathering… and they do it every year:
“I think all of nature is precious, I me an it’s really precious when you
think of things becoming extinct, like the passenger pigeon, what a
tragedy, it never should have happened. I’m just glad there’s places like
this. People have taken the effort to give these birds a home.”
(sound of counting)
The birds continue to arrive by the hundreds as the sun begins to set. As
darkness falls – the volunteers tally up their final number:
“Twenty nine seventy five. Tweny-nine seventy five? Yeah. O.k.”
The count for the evening is over. And by their calculation nearly 3000
birds are settling down for the night.
(3 seconds of sound at night)
The volunteers head home to double check their math – and send in their
(bring up morning birds)
The next morning at the sanctuary the birds are waking up and heading
into the farm fields.
We caught up with Ron Hoffman here. He’s the guy who coordinates the
official crane count for this region. And between all the volunteers that
counted last night – they spotted 4,600 cranes.
Ron has been studying these birds since the 1960’s when they were just
coming off the threatened species list. And he’s seen the bird’s population
grow steadily over the years.
But Ron Hoffman and the other volunteers see a pattern developing in this
area – a pattern that could threaten the number of cranes that use this
sanctuary. The Haehnle sanctuary is surrounded by spreading housing
developments. They fear these developments would use up farmland,
which is important to the birds:
“I’m sure we’ll always have cranes, but at the same time if this area within
ten fifteen miles of hear is so built up that there’s not the food reserves
here for the cranes to feed, then the number of cranes using this would be
But no matter how many cranes are out here, you can bet Ron Hoffman
and the other volunteers will be counting them year after year.
They care about these birds.
While we were talking, he interrupted to watch a young bird fly by:
“This guy is really lost – look he’s coming back over.” (sound of little
bird) Did you see him craning his neck and looking? He’s trying to find
Hoffman says his biggest hope for the Greater Sandhill Crane is that the
population will remain stable, so that he and others can continue to
experience what he calls one of the wildlife spectaculars in this region.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Mark Brush.
(sound of cranes)