Unexpected Visitors | Chesapeake Bay Magazine

Timothy Hill

Scarce sighting in Jug Bay marshes

A waterbird study team at Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary designed a discovery this wintertime that has the birding local community really psyched.

Around the end of December 2022, a study crew at Jug Bay in Lothian, Maryland, noticed 4 uncommonly significant birds by means of high-energy recognizing scopes at the park’s marsh ignore. There were four sandhill cranes calmly locating foods amongst the brown marsh vegetation. The pay a visit to was transient and the group flew off about 8 a.m.

But then they came back again.

January 12, 2023, I was there when the study team once once more noticed four sandhill cranes along the shoreline of the western branch of the Patuxent River. Yet again, at all around 8 a.m. the birds flew off to the northeast. Nonetheless this time, at 10 a.m. the flock returned to the marsh. 

Simply because of their rarity, Greg Kearns, a naturalist and chook specialist with the Maryland Nationwide Money Park & Arranging Commission at Patuxent River Park, was alerted. Kearns was ready to validate the identification of the birds from an forget at Mount Calvert Historic Park in Upper Marlboro. Kearns stated that the final identified sighting of sandhill cranes about Jug Bay was about 35 several years ago. 

Standing 4 feet tall and with 6.5-foot wingspans, sandhill cranes are quite large birds. The grownups are grey and the younger birds are light tan but all have a scarlet cap on their heads. They fly on extended wide wings and can soar very easily over very long distances. Their monthly bill is dark yellow-brown and dagger-like. 

Sandhill cranes undertaking mating dance in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Sandhill cranes are noteworthy for their springtime bonding dances between pairs, who mate for life. They will nest in marshy spots and usually raise two colts which will remain with their mothers and fathers for about 20 months. 

The cranes are omnivores and use their pointy expenditures to forage via their favored habitats: marshes and fields. They consume grains, fruit, tubers, bugs, worms, reptiles, amphibians, fish and tiny mammals. The canes probably find Jug Bay’s wetlands to be an considerable meals resource. Tons of wild rice blanket the marsh in the winter and tubers and compact animals are concealed just about everywhere. 

In North America, there are numerous subspecies of sandhill cranes. An isolated population that now subsists on the pine grasslands in Mississippi is critically endangered. After hitting a nadir of 125 in 2016, they have somewhat recovered as a result of managed reintroduction. 

On the complete, the population has elevated by 3% given that 1970. The major subspecies flock has an approximated 500,000 folks which observe a central flyway as a result of the Platte River flood plains in Nebraska into Alaska and northern Canada. According to Smithsonian Journal, 80% of the world’s sandhill crane population funnels by an 80-mile stretch of the Platte. A smaller flock of about 30,000 birds winters in Florida and follows the Mississippi flyway by means of Michigan. There is a non-migrating subspecies that is a 12 months-round resident of southern Florida. 

The cause their visual appeal in Maryland is unconventional is that there are no important crane flyways that adhere to the Japanese Seaboard. In the summer months, for a number of many years now, small teams of sandhills have been noticed in farmlands in Maryland and, this summer, one fowl hung all around Galesville for a week. This year, a prosperous nesting pair was located in Garrett County—a initial-at any time for Maryland. Why they are displaying up in Maryland is remaining debated but coincides with a intense multi-12 months Midwestern drought. The Platte River absolutely dried out this summer season.

Seeing these huge attractive birds in the area is exciting. Naturalists and birders seem ahead to observing what will transpire if the region receives hefty snow. Will the cranes adhere all around into spring and will we get to witness their amazing spring dancing? Birders will be observing and ready. 

Dr. Wayne Bierbaum is a retired medical professional, avid birder and photographer residing in Anne Arundel County, Md. He beforehand penned a weekly column in CBM Bay Weekly known as Creature Attribute.

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