Friday, May 30, 2008

Sandhill Crane

Sandhill Crane

One of the most unforgettable times birding with Guy Monty was a trip to northern Vancouver Island. Guy was surveying a large bog for the presence of breeding Sandhill Cranes and invited me along to help. We drove up to Port Hardy, enjoying the Black Bears, as they casually grazed the roadside fringes along the way. After a good nights sleep and a hearty breakfast of eggs, bacon and toast, we set off for the helipad.

A clear-cut top up
            The last time I had been up in a helicopter was 1989, during my time in the British Army;,  this trip was definitely going to be less stressful! We met with our pilot and boarded a 206 Jet-Ranger. Guy sat up front with the pilot, using his GPS (Global Positioning Satellite) to coordinate the search, while I sat in the back with a very simple job description: spot Sandhill Cranes! Sandhill Cranes are a big bird, similar, but larger than a Great Blue Heron, and have a gray plumage with dull red skin on their crown. Vocally, they are unmistakable, making a gar-oo-oo call when in flight; a sound I was very familiar with from living in Alberta.
Sandhill Crane nest

Sandhill Crane eggs
            Our day was spent running transects over a large area of bog and on our second sweep  I spotted a flying crane and pointed it out to Guy and the pilot, receiving a big thumbs-up! We circled the area but were unable to see a nest. The remainder of the day produced more sightings and Guy spotted a nest with two eggs. We landed the helicopter, took some record photos and recorded GPS coordinates at the nest site. The only small technicality we faced that day was that we did not have the correct wrench at a fuel station that was located in one of the clear-cut areas. Luckily, our pilot contacted another helicopter that was working near us and within thirty minutes we were on our way.

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