We got up at o'dark thirty Saturday morning to go birding. Well, we're really not birders but we'd made reservations to tour the Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge in Mississippi at 8am and since it was a 2 hour drive plus the 15 minutes they asked us to arrive before the tour start, we had to be on the road before the sun was up. Our buddies Carol and Dr. Dale were game for the adventure with us so off we went.
We learned a lot in our time there. The Mississippi sandhill crane is highly endangered and the numbers were down to only 30-35 birds when the refuge was established in 1975. These cranes live in wet savanas, boggy grasslands dotted by pine trees...a perfect description of large parts of the Gulf Coast before development and commercial forestry changed the landscape. Thanks to the refuge and the efforts of dedicated biologists the population now totals 120.
The birds typically lay two eggs but only hatch one chick so naturalists keep close tabs on the birds and borrow one of the eggs to incubate and hatch in a separate facility. The young birds are tended to by individuals in an elaborate costumes to conceal their human-ness and when they reach the appropriate age, they're re-introduced to the wild.
With only 120 birds on a reserve of almost 20,000 acres they're a little hard to find but we managed to see five. Interestingly enough, four of them weren't in the refuge at all but in neighborhoods surrounding it. The birds don't know the boundaries; they're just going where there's food. The cranes mate for life so we saw two pairs and the single we saw was thought to be too young to me interested in the opposite sex.
I think we all expected we'd be taken to some observation deck where we could look out over a swampy expanse and see hundreds of cranes so it was a bit of a disappointment that we were required to stay in the van used to chauffeur us from one section of the refuge to another. Given that, Wayne did a pretty good job getting the photo above through the glass and from a considerable distance. Now that we know just how endangered these birds are, we understand why they want to keep humans as far away from them as possible. The birds were leery of the van as it was; I can imagine how they'd react to people moving around and talking.
After the ride through parts of the refuge was over, we walked a short trail that started at the visitor's center, enjoying some welcome sunshine and the warm temperatures. This photo gives you some idea of the terrain, including a little Spanish moss hanging from the trees. It wouldn't be Southern Mississippi without it.
We wrapped up our stay at the refuge in time for the short drive over to Newk's for lunch with Brad before starting for home. And when we got there, I took a nap. That bird-watching will wear you out. : )