20 August 2014. Glen Morris, ON. Not too far from home, there is a marshy and bog-rimmed lake which rose to fame a few years ago when a pair of Sandhill Cranes were discovered to be nesting there; they’ve returned to breed every year since. It is an uncommon species in the southern half of Ontario, but quite widespread much further north. This pair and the other two plus young that I found a week ago may very well be evidence of the species’ range expansion.
The lake is close to a very large dry field, home to five towering radio masts and a blocky service building, but otherwise unoccupied. This field was the summer home of countless Savannah Sparrows, Eastern Meadowlarks and Bobolinks and the grass was left to grow to seed, but has since been mowed and all those grassland birds have left. It looks as though the grass was left uncut long enough to allow birds to complete nesting; and for that I (and the birds) are thankful; too many fields are scalped for hay or silage in June or early July.
I introduce those two habitats to set the scene for our encounter today. We scanned the marsh for a long time looking for anything of interest, including the Sandhill Cranes should they still be around; they weren’t and very little was moving in the thunderous summer heat. Moving on, we scanned the grass field, but it too was quiet. No sparrows at all, but a few Mourning Doves picked away at the dry ground, a Red-tailed Hawk and an American Kestrel both sat watching for a meal from up high on one of the many guy wires that keep these radio towers standing. Then, far way on the other side of the field, we spotted three Sandhill Cranes, two adults and a juvenile, doubtless the family from the nearby marshy lake. We were able to approach much closer and eventually walk up to a fence line within a few metres of them. The youngster and one of the adults kept their distance while the other adult moved past us, its improbably long and articulated legs stepping with deliberate, mechanical precision, it scarcely gave us a second look.
The Sandhill Cranes were undoubtedly Birds of the Day, but we enjoyed other interesting sightings including: several Hooded Mergansers, Wood Ducks and perhaps a Pied-billed Grebe or two on roadside ponds. Barn Swallows lined up along overhead wires and countless, always cruising, Turkey Vultures dipped and wheeled across fields and woods looking for a cheap meal.