Friday, February 2, 2018

Florida Sandhill Crane

While walking a dike in Circle B Bar Reserve in Lakeland, Florida, a restored marsh system, I spotted two large gray birds with conspicuous red patches on their heads. I got a rush of excitement, realizing I was seeing my first sandhill cranes
I visited Circle B twice in one day, once in the morning, then later in late afternoon, after I'd visited St. Petersburg. I found the cranes both times and each time I sat down and watched them, perhaps for 20 minutes or so each time. 
On my second visit it was getting dusk and most of the people had left the Reserve. It was very quiet, in a wilderness sort of way, except for the mixture of occasional duck quacking and other assorted bird calls. Then the joint trumpeting of the two cranes shattered the silence. In my close proximity it was immediately jarring and then hauntingly beautiful as it echoed in the distance. The only previous experience I can recall that had such a magical quality to it was when we listened in the mist to Roosevelt elk bugling in Olympic National Park in Washington. This link to a Youtube video of sandhill cranes bugling catches the haunting echo to some extent, but not quite the ecstatic feeling I experienced. 

The Florida sandhill crane is a subspecies of sandhill crane found in peninsular Florida up to the Okefenokee Swamp in southern Georgia. It is threatened because of habitat loss and only about 5,000 remain. Unlike most other populations of sandhill crane, this subspecies is non-migratory. It is gray with long legs and a long neck and has a bald spot of red skin on its forehead and white cheeks. 
Particularly during mating season, much of their plumage can turn an ochre color. The pair I saw had some of this ochre color mixed in with the gray. 
They are monogamous and as I witnessed, mated pairs engage in "unison calling," where they stand together and call in a synchronized duet where the female makes two calls for every one of the male. 

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