A Sandhill Crane approaches (Photo Earl Harrison)

A Sandhill Crane approaches (Photo Earl Harrison)11/11/11 was indeed an auspicious day for trip leader Mike Flynn and 13 (lucky) participants. Our group visited Jasper-Pulaski in western Indiana to marvel at thousands of Sandhill Cranes en-route from their northern breeding grounds to more comfortable winter climes.

Friday evening we traveled to watch these magnificent birds gather to socialize in Goose Pasture. Just like the cranes, our Columbus Audubon group then dispersed for an evening of rest. Unlike the cranes, though, instead of resting in a marsh overnight, we retired to a lovely home on nearby Lake Maxinkuckee for an evening of dining and getting acquainted.

Just like the Sandhills, our “gigantic flock” of birders rose early for a hearty breakfast and flew from our roosting area to arrive just before sunrise. A glowing full moon, clear star-filled sky, November chill, and the first isolated calls of the Sandhills returning to the pasture greeted us at Jasper-Pulaski. As the sky filled with gentle pre-dawn light, their numbers increased as pairs and family groups flew in to begin their morning socialization. Then, a very large group of over a thousand of these incredible birds appeared in unison on the horizon. In their awkward, yet ironically graceful descent, these birds raucously joined the extended family reunion already on the ground. By mid-morning, pairs and family groups of cranes left the pasture to feed – as did we.

Immature Sandhill Crane (Photo Earl Harrison)At Kankakee and the lake house, we were fortunate to find a multitude of dabbling ducks, bald eagles, horned grebes, loons, and more. After a homemade meal and pies for dessert, the fourteen of us shared stories, laughter, and beautiful photographs.

Participants in the 2011 Columbus Audubon Sandhill Crane TripOn Sunday morning, with warm pumpkin waffles and hot coffee on board, we migrated back to Ohio. We left with a renewed appreciation of the Sandhill Cranes’ awesome biennial spectacle that has continued throughout the millennia and eager anticipation of future opportunities to enjoy avian miracles and to foster new and lasting friendships through Columbus Audubon.

Check out the Columbus Audubon 2011 Sandhill Crane Trip photo gallery.