This past Saturday, Mahoosuc Land Trust lead a field trip to Fryeburg, ME to see Sandhill Cranes (photo courtesy of USGS). As I wrote in a recent article, Sandhill Cranes have begun breeding in the fields around the Saco River in Fryeburg. Doug Albert hosted our group of 33. It was a beautiful day and, much to our delight, Doug took us to a freshly plowed field where 28 of these three to four-foot-tall birds were feeding.

A little research suggests that these birds may have recently broken off from a population of 30,000 – 60,000 birds known as the Eastern Flyway Population. An offshoot of this group first showed up in New Jersey, moved into New England and now breed in Maine. Doug says there have been at least two pair which have nested along the Saco and his fields for the past five years. These birds represent a success story in conservation. Farmers, landowners and conservationists have worked together to help these birds make a fairly strong come back after being nearly extirpated by the 1930s.

Prime habitat for Sandhill Cranes consists of standing wetlands along agricultural fields. The large birds retire to the standing water during the night but feed in the fields during the day. During the fall, they congregate in groups where they rely on waste from harvested corn or other grain fields. According to Doug, these birds will stay until the first snow. Many of these birds are suspected to spend the winter in Tennessee or as far south as Florida.

The birds we spotted were across a large field. We could see them through binoculars but wanted a closer look. We parked our caravan of cars and approached on foot. While still a few football field lengths away, the birds took flight giving loud bugling calls as they made a wide circle before heading off to other parts of the valley. We spent the morning looking for them with no luck. At least we had a nice but distant view of this newly returned resident to Maine.

If you are interested in viewing these birds, check the fields off Fish Street in Fryeburg. My advice: take binoculars, stay in your car and view them from a distance. They are skittish – probably because some states where they winter have recently allowed limited hunting.

James Reddoch, of Albany Township and Boston, leads birding events for the Mahoosuc Land Trust which celebrates 30 years conserving the natural areas of the Mahoosuc Region. Visit Mahoosuc Land Trust at 162 North Road, Bethel, ME or at www.mahoosuc.org. To learn about upcoming events or to contact James, send your emails to [email protected]

Sandhill crane. USGS photo

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