It was cold and drizzly this morning when Leonard and I went on our daily hike. We could hear coyotes singing on the nearby butte and several formations of swans flew overhead. Before long the sun peeked out revealing a full-arc rainbow. Then, much to our surprise, we heard the loud, unmistakable call of sandhill cranes (Antigone canadensis). Since I began keeping records of their spring arrival, January 28th is the earliest, by about a week, that the sandhill cranes returned. February 10th to 17th is when Leonard and I usually first see the sandhill cranes in the spring with February 4th in 2015 being the prior date of their first appearance.
According to the Audubon website, sandhill cranes show a trend in recent years toward migrating earlier in the spring and later in the fall. My unscientific observations support this pattern. They are also overwintering further north over time.
I recently learned that sandhill cranes get their common name from the sandhills of Nebraska. Over 19,000 acres of grass-stabilized sand dunes are near the Platt River and other areas of Nebraska that are some of the most important stopovers on the migration routes of A canadensis.
I did not have my camera with me today. This sandhill crane pair was photographed last spring near the Ash Creek Wildlife Area Headquarters (Lassen County CA) close to where today’s sandhill cranes announced their arrival.
The return of sandhill cranes always signals spring to Leonard and me. Will we have an early spring?