Friday, October 28, 2011

Big Beautiful Birds - An Accessible Michigan Outing

Just back from a family trip to Michigan and I am pleased to share a positive report on accessibility in my home state. My mom, brother and I took a trip 30 minutes west of Ann Arbor to the Waterloo Recreation Area in hopes of seeing Sandhill Cranes.

Sandhill Cranes are in migration right now, congregating in open fields and wetlands in south central Michigan to rest and fuel up on remnants of corn and grain left on the ground after harvesting, as well as a wide array of insects still kicking in these last days before deep frost. The land was once prairie, but now patches of forest dot the open country too. The 4 1/2 foot high cranes are easy to spot from your car (car birding being one of the most accessible forms of birding!) or as they come in to roost in known locations in the evening. Although I've seen a few Sandhill Cranes over the years, mostly on golf courses in Florida in the winter, I was excited by the possibility of finding them in a more natural environment so close to where I grew up.

We went to the Eddy Discovery Center for a helpful presentation and checked out the accessible viewing deck where serendipitously people with disabilities were among those enjoying a magnificent view of an autumnal wetland. It was a gloriously warm afternoon so cranes were dispersed - we were told that the adults were likely high in the skies with their young, teaching them how to ride thermals. We drove though the Waterloo Recreation Area using a map highlighting spots where cranes had been recently seen and didn't find any on the ground. Undaunted, we went to nearby city of Jackson to fly kites and have a bite to eat, then returned to the Phyllis Haehnle Memorial Audubon Sanctuary nearby to join others in an evening crane watching vigil. As we sat on benches with the sun setting behind us illuminating a vast marsh, we found ourselves enjoying the purity of the spot in the company of others, even though we saw just one pair of cranes fly by. This year's high water has given the cranes many more places to roost in the shallow water they prefer, and our timing was not right for achieving the view of hundreds, even thousands, of cranes that will use this particular location in drier conditions. Such is the nature of birding.

The next morning I woke early and drove back out to another crane roosting spot marked on the map. Before it was even light out, I had located the open wetland along the roadside and set up my scope. Peering through at barely visible sleeping Canada Geese, I panned the scope horizontally and came upon many larger light color shapes in the pre-dawn light and realized I had found cranes! As the day grew light, some seventy cranes came into view, and began to wake, stretch and preen. Soon they were calling - a kind of trilling honk - and flying out in family groups of 2, 3 and 4 birds to feed in nearby fields. As I drove along the farm roads back towards Ann Arbor, I ran into them everywhere, scattered across the harvested fields.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has a strong commitment to access for all and been working hard on park system access in recent years, with a strong focus on outdoor activities including hunting, fishing, and sports. Check it out here!

Thanks to Tom Hodgson, Chairperson of the Publicity Committee for The Phyllis Haehnle Memorial Sanctuary for sharing his photos of cranes. 


gherlashdawn said...

I love Michigan because of the changing seasons the great lakes; Ann Arbor, and its close proximity to Canada. Most locals complain about the cold winters, but I'm happy with it. American citizen gives individuals the right to fully participate in the US democratic system. Snow is beautiful and heat is overrated. At the end of the day, I love SE Michigan because this is where I grew up and this is where I want to stay.

Articles on Outdoors said...

Michigan is one of the best places for outdoors. I have been in Northern Michigan way back.There are lots of great destination in the said place that will cost us no higher than $30. Two of them are Boyne's Avalanche Park and Grand Traverse Lighthouse.