Foam Lake Birding No. 183

No. 183
            The warm summerlike weather has cooled and to the chagrin of many the rains have come.  We had a late spring and now it looks like we are getting a late fall.  As of this writing we finally have had our first frosts but most of the leaves are still on the trees.  Moreover, the skies around here seem to have a constant flow of waterfowl. 
            Although most waterfowl breed locally Sandhill Cranes do not.  They nest further north in bogs and marshes.  Prior to the arrival of Europeans Sandhill Cranes and Whooping Cranes apparently nested throughout the prairies.  Perhaps they will do so again.  At present they are common here only in the spring and fall during their migration to and from their wintering grounds in the southern US and central Mexico. 
            Sand hill Cranes were somewhat scarce until the 1950s when their numbers started to expand.  By the late 1960s a short hunting season (from September 1 to the second Saturday in September) was opened.  Even with new hunting pressure the population has continued to grow and presently the hunting season is open from September 1 to December 31 annually.  In addition, Sandhill Cranes are hunted during the winter in places like Arizona and New Mexico. 
            There are all kinds of derogatory stories out there about the palatability of the Sandhill Crane.  Having eaten a variety of species of goose, duck and grouse and even coots I found that the Sandhill Cranes are the most palatable of the bunch.  However, perception is a powerful force and prejudices die hard. 
            The Sandhill Crane is one of our tallest birds with a mature male standing over four feet high.  Colour varies from a whitish-grey to a dark grey with juveniles being quite brown.  Adults have white chin straps much like Canada Geese and naked red foreheads which has resulted in them being incorrectly called  "wild turkeys" by some people.  In flight the neck is stretched straight out like a goose or duck but much longer.  When flying it flaps its wings with a quick smart distinctive upstroke which could be described as flipped or snapped upwards. 
            There are two subspecies of Sandhill Cranes in Canada, the Lesser and Greater.  The Lesser nests on the Tundra while the Greater nests in bogs and marshes south of the Boreal Forest.  Except for size, the three foot Lesser and four foot Greater are very similar in all respects.  Both are territorial when breeding but band together in large flocks for migration unlike their close relative the Whooping Crane that is territorial all year round. 
            I took this week's photo several weeks ago just north of Foam Lake.  On the way home while driving on highway 310 we had to stop for a doe refusing to move off the road.  While waiting for her to move we noticed some movement in the ditch near the car and saw three fawns standing there looking at us.  Cute.  I tried to get a picture but they were skittish and bounded away into the bush on stiff legs the way only a Mule Deer does.  I tried to get a picture of the doe but all I got was her behind as she disappeared into the bush after her young.  So, this week's photo also includes a Mule Deer's backside.  Enjoy.