With the arrival of February Leonard and I begin to listen and watch for the sandhill cranes (Grus canadensis). Usually we hear the far-carrying, loud, guttural bugling of the cranes before we see them.
So far this year February has been bitterly cold with snow covering the ground. Although the sandhill cranes usually arrive between the 13th and 18th of February, with February 6th the earliest return I recorded, as of yesterday they still were not here. We joked that no sane sandhill crane would migrate back to such unwelcoming weather.
This morning Leonard and I went across our road to the Ash Creek Wildlife Area (Modoc County CA). Much to our surprise we saw ten sandhill cranes probing in the fields. We saw them before we heard them this year. The sandhill cranes probably arrived overnight. As we hiked around their calls began to fill the air, we saw more sandhill cranes and several flocks of cranes flew overhead.
Sandhill cranes are diurnal while migrating, often flying high in V formations or in well-spaced lines. They migrate in flocks, pausing at traditional stop-over points. Young cranes learn the migration routes from their elders. Their migration routes are not instinctual. Although many of our spring visitors move further north for the breeding season, a large number of sandhill cranes remain throughout the summer and breed here in Big Valley.
Even though our landscape remains covered in white, the return of sandhill cranes signals spring.