Tracking Birds part 1 – 5 Sandhill Cranes

3 11 2009
Sandhill Crane - Gary Howard

Sandhill Crane - Gary Howard

It was fascinating to be a small part of what has turned into something of a phenomenon across the Northeast. At about 2:15pm on Thursday October the 29th Stefan Martin picked up a small flock of large birds heading Southwest towards the hawkwatch. To our collective amazement it was a group of 5 Sandhill Cranes – a pretty decent east coast rarity and a group of 5 would be pretty much unprecedented in the state (at least in recent times) I believe.

The fun continued when Don Morgan noted on the CTbirds listserve (link) that these birds had been seen out in Wareham on Cape Cod and had been seen departing earlier in the morning at 9:30am. Later in the Morning they were picked up en route to Quaker Ridge by Paul Champlin who had seen them first in Fall River MA and then followed them down into Rhode Island to Portsmouth. From there the birds next sighting was at our humble little hawkwatch, and it was a watch and life bird for Stefan which was even better. I’d already had two Sandhills pass by me at the watch earlier in the season and had picked up my first state birds at good old Allen’s Meadows last fall. After their brief appearance they were discovered over in New Jersey almost at the PA border as they took off from Merrill Creek Reservoir and flew past the guys at Scott’s Mountain Hawkwatch.

Pretty amazing to have a flight and timeline of these rather distinctive group of birds. I have attached links of photographs taken of the group by Frederick Wasti in Wareham (here) and the one snapped at Scott’s Mountain (here) and I have put together a little map showing roughly the sighting points along the route (here). Anyway interesting (at least to me) to see just where these Quaker Ridge birds come from and where they are going to.

I guess it’s pretty easy when you have a distinctive group of birds like this. It gets harder when it’s just one hawk amongst many, although this year we did manage to spot a Bald Eagle (amongst the 159 so far) that had something very distinctive about it that we are hoping might allow us to find out more about where the birds that pass by Quaker Ridge come from and go to. More about that in the next post….

EDIT: It seems that there is a possibility that the group of five birds was picked up on their way through Georgia, (thanks to Sara Zagorski for passing on the information) however I am not sure that the evidence that it is our particular 5 birds is very strong. Here’s the Massbird posting on the issue out of interest s you can form your own opinion (here).



7 responses

4 11 2009
Chrissie T

Stunning looking birds, Luke. Clearly there are some consolations for those grumpy making days!

4 11 2009
Sara Z.

In a MassBird posting on 11/4 it was reported that the Fab Five were seen in Georgia yesterday, 11/3. Probably in Florida by now.

4 11 2009

Hi Sara,

That’s awesome – thanks very much for the update!


4 11 2009
Chris Lovell

I am heading to Orlando today! I will have my eyes to the skies! But they aren’t too rare in FL unfortunately.

4 11 2009

Hey Chris,

Good luck in Orlando.


11 11 2009
Dave Gaffney

I spotted 3 sandhill cranes in Pleasantville, NJ yesterday 11/10/09.
Sorry, no photo

16 11 2009
Dawn Fine

How exciting! sure puts the pieces of the puzzle together nicely.

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