The process is incredible to watch, according to Bryerton. Because they are large, striking creatures, they are easy to observe.
“You can see them coming in groups from every direction to land on this one field and socialize with other sandhill cranes,” he said. “Visitors will get to see these cranes fly in and out in large numbers, vocalize and possibly see some courtship-like behaviors such as dancing and throwing grass up in the air. They are really not courting this time of year, but they still go through some of these behaviors. The noise from their calls is very loud, and they seem to be catching up with each other. It’s like a big crane party that is ongoing, with more joining in all the way until sunset.”
Having a wingspan that can stretch as long as 6 feet, these ruby-headed travelers can fly 25-30 miles per hour at maximum altitudes ranging between 3,000 and 5,000 feet. And, while migrating, a sandhill crane can cover as much as 200-300 miles per day. So, a rest from time to time is probably well deserved.
At the Indiana wildlife area, “you can see the cranes coming in from miles away in groups that look like little clouds over the marsh and the faraway treetops,” Bryerton said.
Most of the cranes at Jasper-Pulaski congregate about 100-300 yards away from the viewing platform, but some move in even closer – perhaps to get a better look at the people watching them.
“Some cranes will get within 50 yards and there is definitely a chance for photography with a good camera and a long lens,” Bryerton said. “We have even taken shots through our spotting scopes with a camera phone. While it may not be the best quality, it gives visitors something to remember the day. But with so many cranes in the field and flying over, there are a lot of opportunities for a good photo.”