Sandhill Crane Adventure at the Reifel Bird Sanctuary

Squawking Sandhill Crane(for J & C – You know who you are!)

Last Sunday I went to the George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary in Delta BC.  I spent about 3 hours wandering around watching birds and taking pictures of anything interesting. In the end, however, about two-thirds of the pictures were of Sandhill Cranes.

It wasn’t that there were hundreds or thousands of them and almost nothing else – in fact, there were only about a dozen or so I never saw more than 4 in a group. No, the real reasons that I took so many Sandhill Crane pictures were that:

  • Several of the cranes were relatively tame and did not fly away when I approached.
  • It is a lot easier to take pictures of a crane than a chickadee.
  • The cranes were in my way, blocking the path in the direction that I was going.

One quick side comment:  During my visit I watched people feeding both cranes and chickadees right out of their hand (the chickadee had to land on the hand first which – obviously – the crane did not do).  Personally, I would feel safer feeding the chickadee. Up close, a crane bill looks like it can deliver a pretty hard poke.

Anyways, when I showed up at the sanctuary, I didn’t really expect to see Sandhill Cranes at all. I had been there a week earlier with a photography group that I recently joined and we had only heard a single crane calling (which we didn’t even get to see). Imagine my surprise when, walking one of the paths through the middle of the sanctuary, I ran into a group of cranes along the path ahead of me. Here are two of them:
Sandhill Cranes

These two were but half of a posse of 4 adult birds blocking the path. Here are 3 of them checking me out. You can just see the fourth hidden behind the foliage on the right.
Sandhill Cranes

I must not have been very threatening as they proceeded to turn their backs and head back along the path in the direction that I was hoping to go (though I would have preferred a less leisurely pace).
Sandhill Cranes

I finally made it around the bend in the path.

Hey, nice ‘digs’!

Apparently they were squatting in one of the prettiest parts of the sanctuary.
Sandhill Cranes

All I needed to do was get past these three who did not appear to be paying me much attention.  How about along the edge of the pond?
Sandhill Cranes

Hey! You’re not cranes! This story is supposed to be about cranes!  Still, pretty cool. It was two mallards, one leucistic (missing some pigment making them look white – not albinism though).
Leucistic Mallard ?

Anyways, back to sneaking past the cranes…

Drat! Spotted!

They may seem tame but there’s no point in getting too close. Time to backtrack and go around.
Auto Tone-1030316

I turned back and went up the North edge of the sanctuary past the viewing tower. I watched some Dowitchers and Yellowlegs on my way by one of the larger ponds and then headed South briefly spotting my nemesis bird, the Marsh Wren, who was no doubt sticking his tongue out at me as he dove into the long grass.

I had walked most of the way down the West edge of the sanctuary when I encountered 2 more cranes, even friendlier than the first 4. The crane on the left was cleaning up a spot on the ground where I suspect someone had dropped a handful of crane-food – some kind of coarse seed mixture. The crane on the right was keeping an eye out – whether for threats or treats was unclear.
Cranes blocking the path

What was obvious was that they were quite tame allowing me to get close – really close.
Crane (with Long Grass)

This must be a good snacking spot. At one point a trio of people showed up and one of them offered the cranes a handful of something – more crane kibble probably – that they seemed to like a lot as they took it straight out of the person’s hand.

I imagined the crane thinking: “A teensy nip, he drops the goods and no-one gets hurt” (or is that “hoit”?).
Cleaning up after messy humans

So maybe it was an ambush spot too! There we were, blocked by a pair of ruthless sandhills forcing all passers-by to empty their pockets.

There was no way that I was giving up my bag of cashews.

Lucky for me, there was a distraction – a group of three sandhills flew overhead heading out into the marsh that separated the sanctuary from the open water of the Strait of Georgia.
Sandhill Cranes in Flight

A short time later, a second group of 4 flying cranes appeared. This group, however, let out a group call as they passed overhead. I must say, these are pretty loud birds with quite a bit of lung-power behind their calls. It was clearly some kind of message because the two birds not 10 feet ahead squawked in return.
Crane Duet 3/5

They got in a couple of rounds of noisy calls before the flying group were out of range.  It was an award winning performance.

Envelope please!

… and the winner of the Squawky goes to …
Crane Calling

The squawking was over and the people with crane-kibble in their pockets had left.  I finally slipped by and headed for the exit and that was the end of my Sandhill Crane Adventure.

More on Sandhill Cranes at the Sanctuary

The Sanctuary has resident Sandhill Cranes that live there year round (and has had for about 30 years).  While other groups of cranes will come and go, when the breeding season comes around only the resident pair will remain to nest and try to raise a family.  Last year (2012) they had one chick that unfortunately died.

The sanctuary has lots more pictures and information on their Sandhill Cranes page.

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