By Dave Coulter
Late last week I heard Sandhill Cranes flying over Oak Park. It took some doing to spot them. They were way up high and flying fast, riding the winds, bearing northwest-to-southeast. There were maybe fifty birds spread out in two loose flocks, and they were gone before I knew it.
Depending on where you are there are times when these cranes are elusive. I heard my first cranes passing over town over a week ago, but their cries were faint and soon drowned out by the competing muffled roar of a passing jet. I didn’t see the cranes or the jet, but even with my below average hearing I knew they were up there somewhere.
The winter birds are coming through. There was quite a flurry of excitement over the weekend on the local birding list servers over the sightings of a Snowy Owl down by Montrose Harbor and Whooping Cranes in DeKalb County. The sight of either creature would be a lifetime achievement as far as I’m concerned and it’s all the more remarkable that these winged apparitions are so nearby. A couple years ago I saw a lone Whooping Crane flying south with a flock of Sandhills over Woodfield Mall. So I guess if it can happen there it can happen anywhere?
Yesterday we went hiking around Volo Bog. E and I both have a soft spot for cranes, and we were not disappointed. We saw a group of cranes taking off maybe a quarter mile away. In the binoculars I saw a dark wing tip, and E saw a flash of white wing. Did we see a Whooper? Don’t know. Too far away to be certain, but like the DeKalb visitor, there are some passing through.
It’s a wondrous thing and our hike was more than rewarded an hour later when a flock of Sandhills buzzed low over us, croaking like Pterodactyls, as they looked for a landing spot in the marsh. They were so close that E could see their beaks open as they called.
And while charismatic cranes and opulent owls are on the wing the less flashy birds - Juncos and American Tree Sparrows - are back in town now. Low to the ground, and as accessible as ever. The leaves may be down but there are still lots of reasons to keep looking up.