I stopped by Heron Park in Vermilion County (IL) yesterday afternoon (5/31) to see if I could relocate the historic pair of resident Sandhill Cranes. I use the word "historic" here because these birds represent the first nesting Sandhill Cranes in east central Illinois in nearly 140 years!! Last known nesting was in neighboring Champaign County (IL) in 1872.
According to Illinois Natural History Survey biologist Steve Bailey, Heron Park "is quite a ways south of the most southern known Illinois nesting right now…at Grundy County's Goose Lake Prairie State Park." Heron Park is approximately 110 miles SSE of the Grundy County site!!
I saw the cranes from a distance on my last two visits to the park on Tuesday (5/25) and Wednesday (5/26). Bud Lewsader also took some great close-up photos of them earlier in the day on 5/26 (see: http://bit.ly/aMl4cN).
After spending quite a bit of time yesterday (5/31) fruitlessly scouring the wetlands from the boardwalk with my binoculars, I went up onto the observation platform. After 25 minutes of false alarms (Canada Geese, Great Blue Herons, tree stumps, snags, etc.) I finally spotted what looked like a Sandhill Crane far to the south, on the other side of the river channel. Or maybe it was a tree stump...it was at the outer limit of my binoculars.
Very fortunately, Bob Schifo showed up with his scope just as I was leaving Heron Park. I borrowed Bob's scope to locate the crane/stump/snag from the observation platform, and Bob confirmed that, yes, it was a Sandhill Crane and not a tree stump or snag. Bob's confirmation made me feel a little better about my bird ID skills. :-)
One cool thing about this sighting is that I have now seen or heard the Sandhill Cranes at Heron Park every time I've been there this May.
Bob also mentioned that someone had reported possible re-nesting activity by the Sandhill Cranes (their original nest was destroyed two weeks ago by rising water levels).
Heron Park is always interesting!! Great place to hang out!!