Migration is in full swing for birds. Shorebirds and ducks seem to be the first birds to head north to their breeding grounds, followed later by the songbirds.
Our ponds are starting to fill up with ducks that are just passing through. I’ve noticed that ducks which spent the winter on the open water of the Shoshone River have moved on. I saw Pintails, Gadwalls, Common Goldeneye and Teal all winter and now am just finding a few Mallards (of course!), and American Widgeons.
The Coots are back, though. Lots of folks don’t particularly care for Coots, but I like them. I love their squat little bodies and white bill – pretty unmistakable and I appreciate that when I’m out birding.
The Sandhill Cranes are also back in full force, arriving a couple of weeks ago. The established-pair adults arrive first, leaving last year’s chicks to straggle in a few weeks later. Those first year migrators stay on their wintering range a little longer and also are less inclined to leave their stop-over spot as quickly as the adults. Our Sandhills winter on the Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico and then spend two to three weeks on the Alamosa/Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge in the beautiful San Luis Valley of Colorado. Cranes on the Central Flyway spend their winters in Mexico and Texas and then they hang out for a month on their staging ground along the Platte River in central Nebraska.
If you’ve never experienced the Sandhill Crane migration in the spring, put in on your bucket list. This is a must for anyone interested in wildlife and especially birds. Even if you’re not terribly interested in birds the sight and sounds of 20,000 cranes in a concentrated area is like nothing you’ve ever experienced.
Last week I drove to Billings in a blinding snow storm and saw a flock of about 100 cranes in a corn field. Leaving the stalks of corn or other grain is a great wildlife practice by farmers. This is a much needed food source in the spring for migrating birds like that flock of cranes. They got some extra nourishment while waiting out the storm before continuing north.
More about Sandhill Cranes later.