Monday, March 30, 2015

Looking for Cranes

Over the weekend my husband took me to the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge in Othello, Wa. to look for Sandhill cranes. Every year at this time they migrate through central Washington and stop in this unique refuge to rest and eat as they continue on to their nesting grounds further north. The refuge is a staging area for many birds during migration and is an important nesting area for waterfowl.
The refuge is a shrub-steppe desert with wetland potholes. It was carved out during the Ice Age as massive glaciers scoured the land as they moved leaving basalt cliffs, gouging out coulees, creating gravel bars, depressions and nooks for water to pool in. Add to that man-made irrigation and reservoirs and this unique habitat was born.
Great Egret - Columbia NWR  Othello, WA
After traveling through the refuge we finally located a small flock of cranes resting in Marsh Unit One. They usually head out to feed in the surrounding farm fields in the morning and evening and rest in the refuge during mid-day, but the wind was howling at 25 - 30 m.p.h. making it difficult for the cranes to fly so they were holding in secluded areas out of the wind. We were never able to see them very close and not without the aid of spotting scopes or binoculars, but seeing them at all was a great treat.
Sandhill Cranes

 Before we left three large flocks battled the wind to land with the others in Marsh Unit One. As they circled above us we could hear their unique call all around carried on the stiff wind. I was able to get some photos, but even with my super telephoto lens it was a challenge as they were a good distance off and the wind made it difficult for me to stay steady. Still, I left there grinning from ear to ear and even my non-birder husband had enjoyed the show.