Nature Notes

Surprise Visitors

At the Iris Garden pond, I’m surprised and delighted to see two sandhill cranes walking methodically among the dried reeds. Of the world’s fifteen species of cranes (large, long-legged, long-necked birds), the sandhill has been particularly successful; a nine-million-year-old crane fossil found in Nebraska was structurally identical to the modern sandhill crane.

By Holly Einess

It’s a bright, breezy, cold March day, and I head into the Dayton Wildflower Garden to see if any early spring flowers are coming up. There’s no new growth yet, but there are patches of green on the snow-free forest floor. A number of Minnesota plants hang onto their leaves throughout the winter, including some sedges and ferns, as well as wintergreen.

Sedge, wintergreen, and fern

The streambed that will soon be flowing with water is currently leaf-filled and dry. The charming rustic fence that meanders through the garden has recently been refreshed with new twine.

Garden fence

As I make my way to Green Heron Pond I spot several nuthatches, a red-bellied woodpecker, and many chickadees. The chickadees are particularly lively, calling back and forth, fluttering from branch to branch, and congregating in shrubs.

Black-capped chickadee

Both Green Heron Pond and the small pond beneath the Snyder Building are covered with “rotten ice” and are no longer safe to walk on. In the mostly brown landscape, the stems of red-osier dogwood provide welcome color. Two Canada geese wade through open water in the marshy area near the boardwalk. Pussy willows are breaking bud, their silvery fur shining in the sunlight.

Red-osier dogwood and pussy willows

At the Iris Garden pond, I’m surprised and delighted to see two sandhill cranes walking methodically among the dried reeds. Of the world’s fifteen species of cranes (large, long-legged, long-necked birds), the sandhill has been particularly successful; a nine-million-year-old crane fossil found in Nebraska was structurally identical to the modern sandhill crane. These are big birds, standing around four feet tall, with a wingspan of six-to-seven feet.

Sandhill cranes

Some distinguishing features of sandhill cranes include their red crown, orange-red eyes, and gray plumage. They preen iron-rich mud into their feathers, creating a deep rusty brown hue that lasts through spring and summer. They have a distinctive bowing courtship ritual that consists of dancing, calling, and stick tossing. Their loud, rattling bugle calls, given both on the ground and in flight, can be heard up to 2.5 miles away.

Sandhill crane close-up

These birds spent the winter in the southern US or northern Mexico; they may choose to nest here in Minnesota or continue heading north to breed. Personally, I hope this pair decides to stick around!

Holly Einess is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer

4 comments on “Surprise Visitors

  1. My daughters and I saw a couple yesterday in Westfield Park ,Vadnais Heights. It was a beautiful experience.

    • Holly Einess

      I agree! Every encounter with these amazing creatures is magical, I think 🙂

  2. Sandhill Cranes! Spectacular, Holly.

    • Holly Einess

      Thank you, Larry! I was SO excited when I saw them!

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: