MEDARYVILLE, Ind.--The sandhill cranes numbered in dozens. In a few weeks, there will be thousands at Jasper-Pulaski Fish & Wildlife Area, one of the great stops for sandhill cranes.
In recent years, the fall migration count has topped 10,000 at the peak. The highest official count was 34,629 on Nov. 26, 2002.
The sandhills are just beginning to arrive. On Wednesday, Oct. 1, the official count was 1,225. By Tuesday, Oct. 7, that had jumped to 3,086.
Even with migration just beginning, I was within a few miles Sunday morning and made a detour and enjoyed a nice break.
This photo was taken in the fields around Jasper-Pulaski a few years ago when I took the Crane Cruise, a fund-raiser for the Medaryville Lions Club, with my oldest boy..
Sunday, I saw the first ones in a cornfield as I turned west from Route 421.
I never know whether to describe the big birds (they have wing spans that top 6 feet) as gangly or graceful because sometimes they look like both at once
Even with the migration just beginning, in a mid-morning stop, I saw some in the air, and a couple dozen feeding and fanning in the fields from the observation tower. Some were quite close to the tower, others required looking through the binoculars and spotting scopes.
Jasper-Pulaski is wonderfully set up for viewing the big gray birds. The tower is a short walk from a parking lot with dozens of spots.
One motion I thought was new sandhills turned out to be three does spooked from a distant wood patch.
But the croaking of sandhills, even with only dozens around, was easily heard. Thje Cornell Lab of Ornithology more richly describes the sound of sandhills as ``a deep, rolling trumpet and rattling.''
After a half hour or so, I ended my break. As I walked down from the tower, a red-headed woodpecker flew across.
It was time.
Jasper-Pulaski is about 40 miles south of Valparaiso, just west of Route 421. The address is 5822 N. Fish and Wildlife Lane, Medaryville, IN 47957. The phone is (219) 843-4841.
To listen and watch sandhills at Jasper-Pulaski, go to http://www.in.gov/dnr/fishwild/4223.htm
The Crane Cruise is Saturday, Oct. 25. Ride lengths will be from 12 to 50 miles on flat, paved rural roads (helmets are required).