Sunday, March 22, 2009

Sandhill Sighting

Today began as a rather lackluster day birding -- a few mallards, Canada geese, and American coots at a large pond a few miles south of home, then more coots, mallards, and a song sparrow along the Provo River. The real treat, however, came when driving home through an agricultural area. I saw several large, reddish gray birds lurking in an old corn field, obviously feeding on the leftover grain from last autumn's harvest. After an abrupt stop (luckily this isn't a very busy road) and a few minutes of observation, a new species flew onto my life list: the Sandhill crane.

These tall birds can appear mostly gray, or their feathers may be stained a reddish or brownish shade from iron salts and other deposits in the water when they preen. They have a bold red cap on the head, a dark, sharply pointed bill, a white cheek streak, and drooping feathers that overhang the rear. Once spotted, they're quite easy to identify, and it is the spotting and finding a new species that is always so rewarding.

Just as we may come to gradually overlook our backyard birds and miss surprise guests, we may also overlook unique visitors to our area because we're looking where we want them to be, not where they want to be. Birds aren't always in the riparian corridors, forest glades, and marshy wetlands where we go searching with our binoculars and field guides. They can be in untended fields, in drainage ditches, along landfills, and in many other places that are just as useful and suitable for them. As birders, we must always be willing to look everywhere, and more often than not we'll be rewarded with another feathered friend. Migration season is upon us, and now more than ever we can find more birds all around us.

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