A small number of sandhill cranes visit the Creston Valley in spring and fall.

Out There: Sandhill cranes are a gift of autumn

Web Lead

The world out there is getting well into autumn. Just a few more frosty nights will sweeten up those apples still hanging from the trees. Juncos are already appearing more commonly in the backyard, while Steller’s jays and blue jays are lurking around backyards and country roadsides seeking out tasty filbert and hazel nuts. The once bright yellow flowers of golden glove stands are bent down, displaying brown, bedraggled petals. Plant capsules are full of seeds, assuring plants for the next growing opportunity.

Of all the changes this time of year, bird migration gets the greater share of attention from us onlookers. (Some of us would like to participate.) It means birds are moving about, some of them long distances and some just down the mountain. Birds leave and birds come. Is our loss some other bird watcher’s gain? But we cannot deny that we have more birds in winter than some other areas like Saskatchewan, which I am told can have a total of eight wintering bird species.

One of autumn’s gifts to this Kootenay valley is a small number of sandhill cranes. (A very small number are reported to nest here.) It was some years before I realized and observed with my own eyes that sandhill cranes frequented here in the spring and autumn. A large bird comes sailing over the dike. “Hey, that wasn’t a heron! That dark bird with outstretched neck and legs and a red cap was a sandhill crane.” My glimpses of sandhill cranes have been rather few, but each siting has always been a nice surprise.

When I see sandhill cranes, it makes me think I am on the prairie, although that isn’t their only stomping ground. But, then we have a “prairie” right here, on the Kootenay River flats. It is like a “great divide” lying between the Selkirk Mountains to the west and the Purcells to the east. The cranes, like many other birds, make it through those eastern mountains by following valley flyways where there are occasional fields and wet areas to rest and feed.

A couple of days ago, we watched two cranes as they foraged in a field on the flats. According to books, northern sandhill cranes, for food, seek out frogs, insects, small mammals and other small critters found in and out of the water. But like robins, who will divert from their diet of worms and eat berries in winter, sandhill cranes, in winter, have been observed feeding on spilled grain. The two in the field could have been feeding on grain roots as one had small, white clumps of something sticking to the bill. Southern populations of cranes tend to be herbivores. In fall, winter and spring, sandhill cranes frequent open prairie, fields and marshes; however, they choose remote swamps, bogs and marshes for nesting.

You probably won’t spot a crane in town. That bird you saw was probably a heron, beating its way to someone’s pond. But you may spot sandhill cranes on the Kootenay River flats. Take a morning drive along fieldside roads and see if one of those large birds is looking back at you. Take binoculars, but, while you are driving, keep your eyes on the road!

Ed McMackin is a biologist by profession but a naturalist and hiker by nature. He can be reached at 250-866-5747.

 

Just Posted

RDCK calls for reversal of Sinixt extinction

The board opposed a land transfer to the Westbank First Nation this week

Creston police kept busy with unwanted guest complaints

Creston RCMP responded to 59 calls for assistance

Forecasters promote avalanche safety awareness

Avalanche Canada advising backcountry enthusiasts to get proper training and equipment.

Rural residents could face higher fire protection costs

Erickson and Arrow Creek property owners will pay more for fire protection

Brewery workers claim more job losses

Interior Brewery Workers Local 308 says that Labatt Breweries of Canada is manipulating data to justify the loss of jobs at Creston’s 50-year-old brewery.

VIDEO: Rare comic showing Superman’s 1st appearance to be auctioned

The 1938 comic features Superman hoisting a car over his head

‘An officer and a gentleman’: Const. John Davidson is laid to rest

Thousands attend memorial service for slain Abbotsford Police officer

VIDEO: Coquihalla closed both directions near Merritt

Detours are available via Hwy. 8 and Hwy. 1

VIDEO: The Last Jedi is going to be the longest ‘Star Wars’ movie yet

Newest movie in the franchise will beat Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones

REPLAY: B.C. this week in video

In case you missed it, here’s a look at replay-worthy highlights from across the province this week.

PHOTOS: Procession and funeral for Const. John Davidson

Thousands attended celebration of life for Abbotsford police officer

Apology to Canadians persecuted for being gay coming Nov. 28: Trudeau

Thousands were fired from the military, RCMP and public service because of their sexual orientation

LIVE: BC Liberals kick off leadership debate in Nanaimo

Candidates’ forum is at noon at Vancouver Island Conference Centre

WATCH: Thousands gathering in Abbotsford for Const. John Davidson funeral procession

Celebration of life to follow at Abbotsford Centre at 1 p.m.

Most Read