Of dancing sandhill cranes, sox hops and other mysteries on annual trek to see sandhill cranes

The adventure by Dale Bowman and John Vukmirovich brought the usual joy and fresh insights.

SHARE Of dancing sandhill cranes, sox hops and other mysteries on annual trek to see sandhill cranes
Sandhill cranes flying overhead at Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area.

Sandhill cranes flying overhead at Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area.

Dale Bowman

WHEATFIELD, Ind. — We spotted the first sandhill cranes in recently picked corn outside of town. It inspired me to drive around the quadrant northwest of Routes 10 and 49 with John Vukmirovich on our annual fall trek for sandhills around Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area.

It’s a ritual for me, yet I learn something every time. This year, hundreds of acres of solar farms going in stunned me. What will it do to sandhills?

We went two weeks earlier than usual, hoping to spot a whooping crane. (We did not.) Many crops were unharvested. I enjoyed seeing sandhills, on stilted legs, standing in unharvested soybeans.

Then, we circled the power plant as usual and saw many dancing in the wind, a cool sight through our binoculars.

That’s one basic: Bring binoculars. Second, dress in enough layers to adjust. Third, allot time to drive around see them packed in miles of fields, rather than just driving to J-P and climbing the viewing tower to watch them pile in the hour before sunset.

Their dancing made Vukmirovich crack, “Look, it’s a sock hop out there.”

Sandhills have the gangly look of teenagers at their first dance, yet they have the grace of ballerinas, too.

Because some corn was being picked as we drove around, I could not fathom why some fields were favored. My pondering triggered Vukmirovich.

“As for human-logic and crane-logic. ... Too many people enter nature and try to understand it, to ‘analyze’ it, in regards to human terms, human nature,” he emailed later. “As to why the cranes were not in fields where we saw them before, and why they were in different ones, really doesn’t concern me. Or if they prefer corn over soybeans. (An interesting theory on your part.) It was enough that those other fields were filled — to the brim — and we got to see them. The cold, crisp air, the sun on our faces, thousands of cranes—and so too at the end of the day as they filled the sky at the viewing stand! And those heart-stopping moments when we thought we saw `white’! Those were quality moments, and that’s more than enough for me; I accept what nature gave us.

“And that red-headed woodpecker!”

A cameraman from Cincinnati was sharp enough to spot and photograph the red-headed woodpecker hammering a dead tree, so I asked about his equipment: Canon 1DX3 with an 800mm lens.

It was time.

Jasper-Pulaski FWA is an hour and 45 minutes southeast of downtown Chicago. Fall counts, done Tuesdays (Thursdays if weather is bad), are at in.gov/dnr/fish-and-wildlife/properties/jasper-pulaski-fwa/sandhill-cranes/.

Illinois hunting

It will be one of the coldest first portions of firearm deer season Friday through Sunday. I could use reports of conditions opening morning. Check stations during the firearm seasons for hunters in the counties with chronic wasting disease may be found at bit.ly/2022CWDcheckstns.

Stray Cast

Baseball is reeling in a flathead catfish on a summer night; football is snagging a king in November. 

The Latest
With no explanation, the two men abruptly refuse to take their parents’ calls.
The Ramblers (38-0) came back and won the IHSA Class 4A state championship 44-40 over Nazareth, but not because of their lethal offense. They won because they got gritty on defense.
The lowly Jackets — who have won only 18 of 58 games this season against teams other than the Hawks — cruised to a 5-2 victory Saturday, outscoring the Hawks 12-5 across their two meetings this season.
The Fire look good in their new kits, but they’re still winless after 2-1 loss.