Lanky visitors from above
Thursday, August 14, 2008
Jim Bergens never tires of his noisy neighbors.
Every fall, 16,000 to 20,000 Sandhill Cranes set up house at the Jasper-Pulaski State Fish and Wildlife Area in Indiana, where they roost, court, loaf and raise a ruckus with their dry rattling calls until they feel good and ready to head south for the winter. The peak population is in mid- to late-November, but the cranes begin arriving in groups of five to 20 as soon as the temperature chills and the days shorten.
"We’re in the right place," Bergens says simply about why the lanky cranes, which weigh about 12 pounds and stand 3 to 4 feet tall, chose this Northwest Indiana stopover in growing numbers over the past 60 years.
Sunset is the best time to see the cranes, says Bergens, who has managed the wildlife area since 1981.
At peak times, up to 8,000 cranes might mingle in Goose Pasture, where a handicapped-accessible viewing stand is set up, before flying into the wetlands to roost for the night. Sunrise is a good time to catch the birds leaving the wetlands to feed, he says.
If you go
Admission is free and the area is open sunrise to sunset. Dress for the weather and bring binoculars.
At the self-service headquarters at the entrance, visitors must sign a waiver of liability and an activity sheet. A few picnic tables and flush toilets are also available at the headquarters, which is about a quarter mile from the viewing stand. Portable toilets are placed at the viewing area in October and November.
The Jasper-Pulaski State Fish and Wildlife Area is located off U.S. 421, midway between Lafayette and Michigan City, on Ind. 143. It is about two hours from Chicago. To check the status of the cranes, go online to in.gov/dnr_old/fishwild/publications/jasper.htm.