Sandhill Crane Reunion
By Nicole Hamilton
I thought I’d do a posting about this Sandhill Crane adventure because it’s such a wonderful story of diverse people and organizations coming together to help a bird.
The video from Saturday is here on YouTube (http://youtu.be/V0VzqMGnlG4) but the story is bigger than Saturday so I’ll share what I know below but there are others who were involved or otherwise touched by this crane and I hope that they will chime in here too.
On June 2, I saw a posting on a friends facebook page…..Sandhill Crane walking through neighborhood in Ashburn. I knew that wasn’t good. Later that day, I heard that Loudoun County Animal Control picked up the Sandhill Crane and brought it to Belinda Burwell at the Blue Ridge Wildlife Center (http://www.wildlifevetcare.com/). That was good.
That evening, Belinda sent over an email asking if I knew why the bird was here. The only thing we can surmise is that somehow it got lost.
Belinda evaluated the crane and saw that it had a good fear of humans and although it had an elevated lead level, it was healthy overall. The next question was, where to release it? Belinda called various places and Joe Coleman and Laura McGranaghan checked the local birding reports. Nothing promising popped up. The Sandhill Crane, named Kevin by the residents who found it, was lonely and not eating much.
So what other options were there? My husband, Gil, and I have a small plane, a Cessna Cardinal. He is the pilot and loves to fly as much as any bird I know. I knew this Sandhill Crane needed a lift, so I asked him, “Are you up for an adventure?” Without hesitation (especially since flying was involved) he said yes. So I told Belinda we could fly the bird where it needed to go.
Still the question remained…where exactly? You can’t just look in a field guide and check the range maps. You need to know exactly where a flock is – exactly. So we turned to Cornell’s eBird database (http://ebird.org/content/ebird/). This data is from sightings by birders across the country who go out birding and come back and check off what they saw. It’s real-time information on where birds are and it can be narrowed down to just the current month. Joe Coleman pulled up the granular species data and sent that to me. I zoomed in on Michigan and Ohio as they were the closest places with flocks of Sandhill Cranes.
Next step….groundtruthing. The eBird data helped us see hot spots but we still needed specifics. So I looked at the areas where the most sightings popped up and pulled up the Audubon Michigan (http://www.michiganaudubon.org/) and Audubon Ohio (http://oh.audubon.org/) websites. These are big states but luckily they have Chapters within them responsible for specific parts of their states. Comparing the eBird hotspots to the chapters, I started emailing the Presidents of these chapters: “We have a wayward Sandhill Crane here in northern Virgina….” At the same time, Donna Quinn posted a note to the Birding Ohio facebook page.
Next, the ideas started rolling in – for locations in both Ohio and Michigan. As emails and comments rolled in from the birding community (Sherri Smith, Lathe Clafin, Ron Hoffman, Gary Siegrist, Mike Sefton, Nora Ebie, Stan Searles, Liz Clingman, Joe Brooks and many more), The Howell Nature Center in Michigan (http://howellnaturecenter.org/) became the favorite location for where to take our wayward traveler. The nature center has a wildlife rehab center, 2 non-releasable Sandhill Cranes and 3 Sandhill cranes that were being cared for and prepared for a summer release! And, there are wild flocks around the area that they can be released into for fall migration.
We were in business! So, Belinda talked with the people at the Howell Nature Center and got the green light from the US Fish and Wildlife Service for us to do this.
Next, Gil checked the weather and readied the plane. This is a very large bird so the question was what size carrier could we fit in the plane? By removing the back seat, we had plenty of room.
Saturday, June 14th had a forecast of beautiful weather here, along our flight path and in Howell, Michigan so I coordinated with the volunteers at the nature center and the plan was in motion.
On Saturday, we met Belinda and Jim at the Leesburg Airport at 7:30am, transferred our special passenger to the plane and by 8:15 were taxiing down the runway. I texted Ron Cleveland, the volunteer at the Howell Nature Center, and let him know that we would arrive at about 11:30am and off we went.
The flight was calm and smooth the whole way, and our Sandhill, while it had to stand hunched, was calm as well.
Three hours later, we arrived on schedule and Ron was there to greet us. We transferred the carrier to his van and rode to the nature center. Ron drove back towards the flight cages and was met by an intern, Andy.
Because Sandhill Cranes can imprint easily with people, the rehab center is very careful not to allow many people near the flight cage. As a result, Gil and I had to stand outside the area while Ron and Andy carried the cage in. As they went in though we gave them our cameras to record the reunion, and we are so glad we did!
At first, everything was quiet and Gil and I wondered what was happening but then all the Sandhill Cranes sounded off in a joyous chorus! It was magnificent! I can only imagine how this Sandhill Crane, lost and lonesome, for who knows how long, felt to be reunited with it kind!
It is now in the care of the Howell Nature Center, being fed mice and other foods fit for Sandhill Cranes, and bonding with its new friends. We hope to hear updates and maybe even see photos of the final release back into the wild!
Gil and I flew this wayward friend to Michigan but as I started out this story, there were so many people involved in making this reunion possible. Thank you all!
The Blue Ridge Wildlife Center is a phenomenal organization. We are so thankful for all the work they do!
Learn more about Sandhill Cranes (and check out their range map…with Virginia obviously blank and the challenge we faced): http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/sandhill_crane/id