Coralee, Harmon, & I began last Saturday morning around 3:30AM. (I think Harmon actually woke up closer to 3:50AM.) Coralee was registered to attend an Iowa Young Birders event to count Sandhill Cranes with Bremer County Conservation as part of the Annual Midwest Crane Count along with over 1,000 other volunteers throughout the Midwest. Unfortunately, we got word Thursday evening the trip was cancelled due to most of the young birder registrants being either sick or cancelling for other reasons. But we are tough birders, the Bodekers, so Coralee & I decided to go anyway & emailed the Bremer County Naturalist ourselves Friday morning. She sent us directions to a fire number on the southern boundary of Sweet Marsh State Wildlife Management Area. We were to meet up with a seasoned crane-count volunteer at 5:30AM the next morning. The drive would take us over an hour & I had no idea where it was, hence the 3:30AM wake up.
I made much coffee at 3:30AM.
This is Sweet Marsh closer to 6:30AM (I think sunrise was officially a bit after 6:40AM on Saturday). The gravel on the right leads to the dike which is where Coralee was officially placed as a counter. Marsh is to the left of the dike.
We were in site 2.
The count takes place every year around this time in roughly 90 counties in an effort to survey both Sandhill & Whooping Crane numbers. Whooping Cranes are endangered, Sandhills are not, but both are equally beautiful & worthy of protection in my opinion.
Harmon slept most of the drive north from our house, woke up screaming when we arrived to the parking lot on the edge of the Marsh, in the PITCH BLACK, then fell asleep again about 10 minutes after Coralee took off to count (nursing to the rescue). The count officially took place from 5:30-7:30AM. We arrived at 5:20AM to the lot. The other volunteer arrived shortly after. It was a bit awkward to get out of the car and approach her in the dark…I worried I would spook her or she wouldn’t actually be who I thought she was…although, I figured, who else would be out here in the middle of nowhere at this hour…she turned out to be an amazing count companion for Coralee. She is a teacher (a Talented & Gifted teacher like me) and extremely personable. Coralee took off down the dike with her, binoculars & clipboard in hand, to count cranes (by sight and/or by sound) at promptly 5:30AM. I tried for a selfie with Harmon when he woke up in order to document something, apparently his nose itched. 😉
Then he looked at books.
He also ate an almond butter sandwich & spilled water all over the car. At least it wasn’t coffee.
Coralee & her count companion saw three Sandhill Cranes, heard none, which is apparently strange. We are not sure how many in total were submitted from the entire count site yet, but last year our site submitted 63. Coralee & I definitely want to visit Sweet Marsh again in the next several weeks to bird. It is amazing habitat amidst a sea of corn. I didn’t see much from the car, obviously, but upon leaving we spotted a Sandhill Crane flying low near the Marsh, so at least I added my FOY Sandhill Crane to my 2017 birding list.
Brian, Merritt, & June were at Merritt’s first soccer game of the spring season on Saturday morning. Upon arriving home later, Coralee & I ate an early lunch & then went to bed. I think Harmon & I slept for over two hours. Good napping & good birding.
Edited to add: Numbers are in–64 this year!!! One more than 2016!