My adventures in the woods, streams, rivers, fields, and lakes of Michigan

Cranefest 2012

I’m going to take a break in the Lonesome George series for a while, I have so many photos to sort through that I want to post some of other subjects to make my job of sorting easier.

And, I’m starting a new series with this post, things to do and see in Michigan, so I am also going to do a new format for this one, to help people who may not be familiar with these places, as far as when the best time to go is, and how to get there.

What: Cranefest

The Festival was started to raise awareness and appreciation of our natural heritage, and to support ongoing educational and conservation projects of the Michigan Audubon Society and Baker Sanctuary.  CraneFest is a jointly sponsored event between the Kiwanis Club of Battle Creek and Michigan Audubon; the festival site is the Kiwanis Youth Area, overlooking Big Marsh Lake.

When: October and November yearly

Please note that the Kiwanis Club park opens at 4 P.M. on weekends only, there is no access on weekdays. The Bernard W. Baker Sanctuary is open during daylight hours during the week, but you won’t have access to Big Marsh Lake, where most of the cranes are.

Where: The Bernard W. Baker Sanctuary and the Kiwanis Club of Battle Creek Youth Conservation Area

To get there, locate the intersection of I 69 and I 94, just east of Battle Creek, Michigan. Go north on I 69 to exit 42, turn west to 15 Mile Road, turn right to go north on 15 Mile to the Bernard W. Baker Sanctuary, and the Kiwanis Club Youth Conservation Area.

Why: To see thousands of sandhill cranes returning to Big Marsh Lake to roost in the evening, and the other wildlife present there.

Links to more information:

www.cranefest.org

Michigan Audubon Society

Price: Free admission at both the Bernard W. Baker Sanctuary and the Kiwanis Club Youth Area, although all donations would be greatly appreciated.

If you go:

I would highly recommend that you bring binoculars and/or a spotting scope if you have one, and the longest lens that you have for your camera. Much of the wildlife to be seen there will be seen at a distance. When I was there, the interpreter from the Audubon Society was graciously allowing others to use his spotting scope, as were a few of the visitors, but the event does attract crowds, so if you have your own, it would be to your advantage to bring them.

My visit:

It was October, I had just picked up my new 2013 Subaru Forester two days earlier, and I wanted to break it in, so where to go? I had read about Cranefest before, and since I love sandhill cranes, it only seemed logical to see Cranefest for myself. So I threw a couple of bottles of water and a snickers bar into the daypack that I keep ready for such trips, grabbed my camera, and off I went.

I had no problem finding the Bernard W. Baker Sanctuary, it is very well signed.

Bernard W. Baker Sanctuary

Bernard W. Baker Sanctuary

I took a quick (too quick) check of the information posted near the parking area.

Trail map of the Baker Sanctuary

Trail map of the Baker Sanctuary

And I set off for a pleasant walk on a magnificent Michigan autumn day. I had just gotten started, when I heard the warbling croak of the sandhill cranes, as a small flock flew overhead.

Sandhill cranes in flight

Sandhill cranes in flight

That set the tone for the first half of the day, I saw dozens, perhaps hundreds of cranes flying overhead, all headed for a marshy area that I could see off to the north. I would watch the cranes spiral down into the marsh, I could hear them, but I couldn’t see them.

I did shoot many photos of songbirds as I was walking, and here’s a couple of them.

House finch

House finch

American goldfinch

American goldfinch

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

As well as a few other colorful things I saw.

Butterfly

Butterfly

Since the trails there at the sanctuary are only around two miles long, I walked them all in one direction, then turned around and walked them again in the other direction.

To tell you the truth, I was somewhat disappointed at this point, I had seen a great many cranes, but all flying overhead. The sanctuary is a very nice place to walk, but the trails are limited, and I wouldn’t rate them as worth my having driven 75 miles to walk there.

At the Bernard W Baker Sanctuary

At the Bernard W Baker Sanctuary

For residents of the area, I would say that it would be a very good place to spend a day. If I lived closer, it would be one of my regular stops.

I got back to the parking area just as another couple arrived for a walk, and I talked to them for a few minutes. They told me that the place to see the cranes was at the Kiwanis Club Park, just up the road, and they pointed out that information on the backside of the sign that held the map that I included earlier in this post. Well, that’s what I get for not reading everything!

It really wouldn’t have mattered anyway. The Kiwanis Club Park doesn’t open until 4 P.M., and only on weekends. Looking at my clock, it was just before 4, so I set off to the Kiwanis Club Park, arriving just after the gates had been opened.

I was the fourth person to arrive, the other three were members of the Audubon Society who donate their time to be at the park to answer questions visitors may have, not just about cranes, but all species of wildlife present.

The Kiwanis Park is very nice! They have a pavilion there, and a couple of viewing areas where you can look out over Big Marsh Lake, and some of the surrounding marshes. There’s also a very nice network of trails, I did walk some of them, but it was too late in the evening for much exploring, besides, there were thousands of cranes there, of course most of them were across the lake from the viewing area.

Sandhill cranes in the distance

Sandhill cranes in the distance

There were a few on the near side of the lake, but they were somewhat hidden by the marsh plant life.

Sandhill cranes

Sandhill cranes

I could see that I wasn’t going to get any close-ups of cranes on the ground, no problem! There was a steady stream of cranes arriving at the lake to spend the night, giving me a lot of practice shooting the cranes as they circled the lake before landing.

Sandhill cranes in flight

Sandhill cranes in flight

Sandhill cranes in flight

Sandhill cranes in flight

Sandhill cranes in flight

Sandhill cranes in flight

Sandhill cranes in flight

Sandhill cranes in flight

Sandhill cranes in flight

Sandhill cranes in flight

Sandhill crane in flight

Sandhill crane in flight

Sandhill crane in flight

Sandhill crane in flight

It was great watching the cranes coming in for a landing.

Sandhill crane in flight

Sandhill crane in flight

Sandhill crane in flight

Sandhill crane in flight

Sandhill crane in flight

Sandhill crane in flight

Sandhill crane in flight

Sandhill crane in flight

DSC_4533

Sandhill crane in flight

Sandhill crane in flight

Sandhill crane in flight

Sandhill crane in flight

Sandhill crane in flight

Sandhill crane in flight

Then there was this odd fellow!

The four legged, four winged sandhill crane

The four-legged, four winged sandhill crane

My biggest problem was picking out one crane and sticking with it, there were so many all around, it was hard to choose which one to photograph.

Cranes weren’t the only species to be seen, here’s an eagle soaring past.

Bald eagle in flight

Bald eagle in flight

Then, to top all that, my first photos of a northern harrier, commonly know as a marsh hawk!

Northern Harrier in flight

Northern Harrier in flight

Northern Harrier in flight

Northern Harrier in flight

Northern Harrier in flight

Northern Harrier in flight

Northern Harrier in flight

Northern Harrier in flight

Northern Harrier in flight

Northern Harrier in flight

Notice the white band at the base of its tail..

Northern Harrier in flight

Northern Harrier in flight

Northern Harrier in flight

Northern Harrier in flight

Northern Harrier in flight

Northern Harrier in flight

The northern harrier is about the size of a red-tailed hawk, but you can easily tell the two apart by the bright white band just above the tail of a northern harrier. I know that these photos aren’t great, but I included as many as I did to display the acrobatic flight of the northern Harrier, so much different that the flight of a red-tailed hawk. The harrier would hover, dart, dive, and look as if it were doing cartwheels in mid-air as it hunted for prey in the marsh grass. That alone would have made the trip worthwhile, but there were the thousands of cranes there warbling away as well.

Sandhill cranes everywhere!

Sandhill cranes everywhere!

I get closer to sandhill cranes on a semi-regular basis…

Sandhill cranes

Sandhill cranes

That photo was taken a couple of years ago, however, seeing a few cranes at one time does not match the sight and sounds of seeing thousands of them gathered together in huge flocks, along with all the other waterfowl there, that up until this point, I never even mentioned.

How’s this for an abundance of wildlife, a sandhill crane gliding in for a landing, above a northern harrier, with thousands of waterfowl, and thousands of cranes in the background!

Abundance

Just a small part of the abundance

Like I said earlier, I probably wouldn’t return to the Baker Sanctuary just for that, it’s a very nice place, but I wouldn’t be able to justify the drive for the few miles of trails there. However, I could see making Cranefest a regular event for me, not every year, but every few years.

There are several other areas around the country that host events similar to Cranefest here in Michigan. In fact, the Michigan Audubon holds one near Jackson, Michigan, and there’s a chance of seeing a whooping crane there, but that would be another 60 miles for me to drive. However, my point is, you may want to check to see of such an event is held near you. If not, you’re always welcome to visit the great state of Michigan, and check out our version of Cranefest. I think that you’d be glad that you did.

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!

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9 responses

  1. These are do awesome! The second cranes in flight is wonderful how the 3 crane’s wings lined up. And the Harrier – what a great find.

    January 9, 2013 at 3:16 pm

    • Thank you, it was a very good day, even if I couldn’t get as close as I would have liked.

      January 10, 2013 at 2:23 am

  2. LOVE the sandhill cranes, its so good to be back reading my favorite blogs. Awesome story and photos, as usual!!

    January 9, 2013 at 3:35 pm

    • Thank you, glad to have you back!

      January 10, 2013 at 1:42 am

    • Thank you, glad to see you back as well!

      January 11, 2013 at 2:09 am

  3. Great collection of pictures.

    January 9, 2013 at 5:58 pm

    • Thank you!

      January 10, 2013 at 1:58 am

  4. I’d say it was worth the drive! I like the shot of the finch in the rose bush.
    I’ve never seen a crane-they look to be about the size of a great blue heron. I’m going to have to see if they ever come east to New Hampshire.

    January 9, 2013 at 7:21 pm

    • Thank you! The sandhill cranes are taller than great blue herons, but I don’t know how the two compare as far as wingspan or weight. If you don’t have the cranes there yet, you probably will. Hard to believe that they were extremely rare in Michigan when I was a kid. Their courting dance is something to see, one of these days I’m going to catch some within camera range while they perform the ballet.

      January 10, 2013 at 1:50 am