I charted a heading and aimed the bow of my
ship truck toward the Gulf of Mexico on January 3rd, 2024. My intention was to collect treasures from the Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge near Gautier, MS. Below are entries from my preparations.
I researched the species and found some interesting tidbits. Sandhill Crane are in the same family as Rails, Gallinule, Coots and Limpkin. I was expecting a connection with Herons and Egrets.
I also discovered there were sub-species of this animal that doesn’t migrate at all. That intriguing fact prompted my quest because the rarest of the species is located near my home. After reading about and seeing all the great Crane photos and stories from folks here, I had to explore further. More information is expounded in a previous diary of mine. The link:
The following illustration by David Sibley would allow me to identify the two major groups that make up Sandhill Cranes if I encounter one or both.
It is obvious that the bill size and shape is different as well as the configuration of the crest feathers. Another identifier (not always available for comparison) is the bulk of one species over the other. It is best seen in the following photo from the California Ricelands Waterbird Foundation.
“Meet Kirby”, the ranger at the office said (of the bird in the title photo). He happened to be at the feeder closest to the welcome center at the Sandhill Crane Wildlife Refuge when I arrived. I was thrilled at my luck.
Let’s look at his features for classification of sub-species. Kirby is a Greater with the longer bill and receding “hair line” (suddenly I felt a kinship to this bird). One note about Mississippi Sandhill Cranes is the distinct white marking under the eye accentuated by the grey feathers covering the auriculars more prominently. I had to look that word up. Auriculars are the feathers below the ear and on the cheek that direct sound into the ear canal.
Kirby was not alone and I was directed to the closest observation tower to see other Cranes. The height advantage was wonderful but I still had to shoot through glass to keep from disturbing the animals. Here are a few shots. Each bird has a different leg banding combination. I learned that not all bands are numbered.
This Crane is about two feet in front of the fence. The standard wire enclosure has squares measuring 2 inches wide by 4 inches tall. If the Crane was next to the fence it would be 10 squares tall or 40 inches. Greater Sandhill Cranes usually stand about 48 inches tall and weigh more than the Lesser Cranes. The Mississippi sub-species Antigone canadensis pulla is the smallest of the Greater Sandhill sub-species.
I arrived at lunch time (for humans and Cranes) and departed two hours later (as did the Cranes). The Ranger could not guarantee that the Cranes would return the next day (or when). So I felt lucky to have captured the short time I had with the magnificent birds. I did spot Kirby again before we both left the scene.
With this part of my mission completed, I explored other sites for hidden treasures (as any good pirate should). Those reports will be revealed at a later date.
The Daily Bucket is a nature refuge. We amicably discuss animals, weather, climate, soil, plants, waters and note life’s patterns.
We invite you to note what you are seeing around you in your own part of the world, and to share your observations in the comments below.
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I will submit this teaser. The following photo is of a Florida sub-species of Greater Sandhill Crane — Antigone canadensis pratensis. This species migrates laterally across the Gulf Coast and into the same area as the Mississippi Cranes. I am not sure about cross breeding but hope the presence of more animals means a stable ecosystem is prevalent.
Please share your own insights or observations today on any topic that spikes your interest.