I had to be in Plattsburgh at the beginning of the week and so I took the opportunity and a beautiful day to go birding in the area in the afternoon. My goal was to check out an immature Sandhill Crane which had been found a few days earlier. The bird was discovered hanging out along Moffit Road a little north of Plattsburgh, feeding in some recently plowed farm fields.
When I arrived the bird was feeding right along the road in a grassy field, probing here and there for food. I watched it for a while and it didn’t seem to pay me any mind as I stood there taking photos. The crane has been of interest in the birding world since cranes are not often spotted in the region. However, sightings of cranes in the area seem to be increasing as earlier this summer and fall a few Sandhill Cranes were found stopping over on the fields around Gabriels, along Route 86 on the way to Paul Smith’s.
Sandhill Cranes nest across much of the upper Midwest and in various places out west all the way to Alaska, but they are not common in the east outside of Florida where two populations of cranes can be found. Most Sandhills in Florida are overwintering birds which breed up north while there is also a year round non-migratory population in the state as well.
The breeding range of northern cranes stretches across Ontario into Quebec and it is likely that the birds which show up in New York State come from these populations. In The Second Atlas of Breeding Birds in New York State, Sandhill Cranes were noted in 9 blocks of the state (after none were noted in the first atlas project) – and two of those locations showed confirmed breeding.
The best place to find Sandhills in New York State is the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge Complex west of Syracuse, and Sandhills are a happy conservation story in that their populations across their range are generally stable or on the rise. The increase in crane sightings in the North Country has many folks excited about continued sightings of cranes and also has them wondering whether or not cranes could ever be found breeding in the region. Only time will tell.
I watched the crane for a short while longer and I took photos whenever it moved closer to the road. As I stood there, I heard several American Pipits fly overhead – attracted to the farm fields as well. They were difficult to pick out against the clear blue sky and I only managed to see a couple dark specks. I also spotted a Peregrine Falcon racing through a farm a few hundred meters away. The bird was evidently attracted by the farm’s Rock Pigeons. It shot out of view and I wondered if its attack was successful. After watching the crane a few minutes more, I noticed that the falcon was sitting in a bare tree – but sadly without a pigeon meal. Oh well, hopefully it will catch a pigeon next time. With that I headed to look at the Snow Geese at Point AuRoche State Park. As of the last report I’ve seen, the crane was still regularly visiting the same place where I found it.