Not that long ago, in February 2019, I wrote about the Sandhill cranes that overwinter on the Columbia Land Trust property on the Lower River Road in Vancouver, Washington. They were exciting to watch, especially as it got closer to the time of their northward migration to their nesting grounds. Dancing, flybys and their family behavior were absolutely mesmerizing and very entertaining.

Well, the Sandhill cranes are back for another winter adventure on Lower River Road and I was able to have “coffee with the cranes,” thanks to an invitation from the Columbia Land Trust. So I was up at the crack of dawn, coffee in hand, to watch the cranes fly in overhead. What a sight to behold! The weather didn’t exactly cooperate — everything was enshrouded in fog. It didn’t matter, though, to me and the 20 or more others who were also enjoying coffee with the cranes.

By 7:30 a.m. hundreds of ghostly shapes began to fly over and then slowly descend onto the cornfield that had been harvested a few weeks ago. It is their favorite daytime habitat in which to rest and feed, at the moment. The Sandhill cranes drifted down onto the fields in one area, while the Canada and cackling geese landed together in other spots on the fields. Even in the fog, I could see the earth come alive as the birds feasted on the tasty snacks provided. The cranes were constantly moving, poking and probing in the dirt for invertebrates, rootlets, worms, etc. Sandhill cranes, we were told, “will eat almost anything.”

The least disturbance, such a fly over by a bald eagle or even a red-tailed hawk, will cause the flocks to rise up into the air. For all the world, they look like a huge cloud floating up, and, then back down again. Once down on the ground again, they continue their feast.

Sandhill cranes are one of the coolest birds on the planet, in my opinion. By the 1940s they were almost extinct, but efforts to conserve their habitat and a ban on hunting has resulted in a comeback for this species. The Columbia Land Trust is doing its share by providing the best wintering habitat a Sandhill could ask for. It manages a little over 500 acres on the Lower River Road for the cranes. At their peak, 2,500 Sandhill cranes will over winter there, along with about 20,000 snow geese and 10,000 Canada geese. In addition, hundreds of thousands of assorted species of ducks and hundreds of cackling geese will also find refuge in the cornfields.

So, the show has begun once again. The curtain has risen and will stay up until sometime in March or early April. One of the best times to witness this spectacle is early morning around 7 a.m. but 3 p.m. is equally as good. I highly recommend that you fill your thermos and take yourself to Lower River Road in Vancouver so you too can have “coffee with the cranes!”

”Common Birds of the Long Beach Peninsula,” by Kalbach and Stauffer, is available from the Chinook Observer, Bay Avenue Gallery, Time Enough Books and the Long Beach Peninsula Visitors Center.

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