I got an early start for the 3-hour drive to southern Indiana for a wildlife adventure with my sister Barb.
All winter long I've been wanting to go down to Goose Pond to see the birds that migrate through there. Finally, I made it...just in the nick of time before the huge flocks disappear for the summer.
We had hardly left the Visitor's Center when we came across a field full of sandhill cranes.
In the 3 hours we were at Goose Pond, we saw literally thousands and thousands of sandhills!
While any wildlife adventure is filled with surprises, I did have a couple of "hopes" for the day. I knew we'd see lots of sandhills, which are always a thrill. But I was also really hoping, and thought we'd have a good chance to see:
1. Whooping cranes...which I have NEVER seen in the wild and are still very much endangered and rare...
2. Eagles. I have seen a few eagles in Indiana, but very few and I know there are several in the Goose Pond area.
3. Plus, of course, anything else God saw fit to place in our path!
After we prodded her, the gal working at the Visitor's Center told us the general vicinity of where both had been recently spotted. She warned us that they may not be there that day. Duh...yeah, we know there are no guarantees...but it was a good place to start looking.
We saw an area with 3 different eagle nests, but no eagles to be found. So we headed out in search of whooping cranes.
Barb was a good spotter and saw the majestic pair, about 1/2 mile or more off the road.
Wow!!! It gave me goosebumps (appropriate at Goose Pond, don't you think?!) to see them.
Whooping cranes are very slowly making a comeback from the brink of extinction. In 1941, only 16 whoopers were known to be alive in the world. 16! Obviously they were easy hunting targets and popular trophy birds back in the day. Between the hunting and loss of habitat, their numbers dwindled to a handful in the world.
Through captive breeding programs and conservation efforts, whooping crane numbers are now estimated to be several hundred. Still, seeing them in the wild is a very rare treat and one I never thought I'd have.
There are only 2 crane species native to North America and we saw them both that day...the sandhill cranes and whooping cranes. While sandhills are 3-4 feet tall, whooping cranes are nearly 6 feet tall. And, as you can see, absolutely gorgeous coloring!
We waded a ways through some marshy, muddy ground but they were still a distance away, so these are the best photos we could get with our limited zooms. But still, thrilled to get some shots!
We hated to leave the birds, kind of hoping they'd lift off for us, but they didn't and we still needed to try and find our eagle.
Walking back through the marshes...
...we spooked several groups of sandhills that we couldn't even see. They took off just a few feet away from us!
We got back in the VeraCruz and drove a little ways, coming upon this charming old iron bridge.
But what was that hanging from the beams???
SHOES, of course! Lots of athletic shoes...from tennis shoes to track shoes to baseball and football cleats, all hanging there!
No doubt some sort of teenage tradition in Greene County...
There was even an air freshener...of course, with all those stinky, sweaty shoes!
The bridge spanned a small creek.
A barn with a view of the stars at night...
As I was driving, Barb spotted an unusual bird flying alongside the dirt road.
Upon closer viewing, we realized it was an American kestrel--the smallest falcon native to North America.
This beautiful bird followed us down the road. What gorgeous markings!
He was one of our bonus sightings!
Trivia question: What is a group of coots called?
A cover of coots. We passed a cover of coots...plus a lone canvasback with his brown head and light-colored body.
Even though we tried to be stealthy (a tall order for us!), it didn't work and we scared a mallard into the air....
A cover of coots taking flight. Can you imagine how hard it is to take flight from a sitting position in the water??? I just couldn't do it....
Too far away to get any good photos, but a gaggle of snow geese in the pond...
There had to be thousands there! Just wish they had been closer to us.
Still searching for the elusive eagle...but still passing plenty of sandhills along the way....
The nest in the tall dead tree, but at first glance we didn't see any eagles around.
But wait...there WAS a white head sticking out above the nest!
We waited awhile to see if there would be any action, but no. We did meet a couple of old birders (they were quite a bit older than us, so you know they were OLD!) with humongous zoom lenses on their cameras. They chatted with us and gave us some tips on finding short-eared owls in the area. That's an adventure for another day, as our time was running out.
Our first sighting of red-winged blackbirds for the year...true harbingers of spring! Lovely creatures...
One last glimpse of sandhills before we headed home...
And the kestrel followed to see us on our way.
What a great day of birding at Goose Pond!
Whoopers, an eagle, and plenty of other avian delights!