This spring a pair of migrating Sandhill Cranes stopped over in Heron Park in Vermilion County (IL). Finding the place to their liking, the cranes proceeded to court one another. By late April the birds had constructed a nest. By May 14 Brian Stearns had photos of the Sandhills tending an egg. (See: http://bit.ly/9FVe5F).
These two birds are the first nesting pair of Sandhill Cranes in east central Illinois in nearly 140 years!! The last record was in neighboring Champaign County (IL), way back in 1872 (see: http://bit.ly/bvx8ty, page 134 of the PDF, page number printed at the bottom of the page on the source document says page 120). These birds are also now the southernmost nesting Sandhill Cranes in the state of Illinois in modern times. Heron Park is approximately 110 miles SSE of the previous southernmost nest, in Grundy County.
Unfortunately, rising stormwaters flooded this nest on the night of May 17/18, and the cranes abandoned it. Although the cranes abandoned the nest, they remained in Heron Park, and continued to be seen by visitors. Bud Lewsader took this nice photo of the birds on the morning of May 26: http://bit.ly/aMl4cN
Now the Sandhills are tending a new nest! Veteran Vermilion County birder Bob Schifo noted the following in a June 2 post to the local birding e-mail list:
"Well it appears the the Heron Park cranes have done it again! There is another nest, and it seems they are incubating something! It's probably not a Cowbird egg, so evidently, last weekend, sometime, she laid another egg. It's only on slightly higher ground than before, and with weed growth, it's much harder to see, but they are taking turns sitting on it. The nest is a little east of where it was before. Bud Lewsader found it over the weekend. The water was very high Monday, but they were still on it Tuesday evening. Let's hope for dry weather!"
Heron Park was established in 2004, and is managed as a county park by the Vermilion County Conservation District. The wetland/marsh area where the Sandhill Cranes have been hanging out is about 120 acres. It is situated where the Vermilion River meanders into the northern end of the 1,000 acre Lake Vermilion. With the standing dead trees and snags in the marsh, the Great Blue Heron rookery in the northwest corner of the park, and the wooded bluffs surrounding the park, one feels far removed from the flat cornfields of east central Illinois
A 950 foot floating boardwalk allows visitors to feel like they are out in the marsh. An observation tower has platforms at the 8 and 20 foot levels, giving viewers different perspectives of the marsh. The observation tower was built in the fall of 2003 by the International Timber Framing Guild. The timber framed tower is constructed of bur and white oak with a cedar shingle roof. Timber framed construction uses no bolts, nails, or metal connectors. All joints are tenons and intricate notches joined together with wooden pegs.