Spring Sandhills


We just returned from a trip to Wisconsin, where we picked up a new dog. It’s a Wachtel, of course (see my last post). Her name is Neva and she’s a real cutie, like almost all puppies are.

There were a lot of dead deer strewn along the highway (such carnage!), many of which were just emerging from under the snow. I’d say we saw about the same number of live deer as dead ones. Many of the live ones looked to be in sad shape.

We also saw turkeys, a few raptors (especially harriers), one dead possum and a few other mangled bodies that were hard to identify. Lots of geese about and a fair number of ducks. Other wildlife sightings included a bear, a cottontail, gray squirrels, cardinals, mourning doves and an assortment of common birds such as red-winged blackbirds and common grackles.

One field was covered with a large flock of sandhill cranes. Apparently, Wisconsin has been considering a hunt for sandhills, but there is opposition to it, despite the fact that populations are robust and growing rapidly. Some jurisdictions – the Canadian provinces of Manitoba and Saskatchewan, for example – have a hunt for sandhills, but others, like Wisconsin and Ontario, don’t. In Wisconsin, opponents are concerned hunters might shoot endangered whooping cranes if sandhill hunting was authorized. Seems a bit of a stretch to me.

I’ve never hunted sandhills and have to admit I have no real hankering to do so. Apparently, they taste good, as they eat mostly roots, bulbs, grains and corn, which they are said to be particularly fond of. As one would suspect from a bird with a long, dagger-like bill, they also catch, kill and eat the likes of mice, frogs, snakes and such, but “not in sufficient numbers to make it’s flesh ‘strong'”. Their bill is deadly, and sandhills are well know for their ability to badly injure hunting dogs sent in to retrieve wounded birds. Another reason for me to admire them, but not hunt them.

It’s good to see their populations thriving. For a while, it seemed they might be the only crane left in North America, as the extinction of their close cousin the whooping crane was once believed to be imminent. Fortunately, whoopers have hung on, and while their total population is only a few hundred individuals, that’s a lot better than when they were down to only 19 or 17 birds.

I’ve yet to see a whooper. Maybe someday.


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