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October 17, 2012 5:10PM
The sandhill crane migration, one of the most impressive wildlife spectacles in the Midwest, is passing through Northwest Indiana, and two special events will focus on these majestic birds.
They are the Kankakee River Sandhill Crane Paddle, and the Crane Cruise Bike Ride.
† The Crane Paddle starts at 10:30 a.m. Sunday. This event is family- and beginner-friendly, said Dan Plath, founder of the Northwest Indiana Paddlers Association. And, you don’t even need your own canoe or kayak, as rentals are available with advance arrangements.
“We paddle a real nice stretch of river from English Lake to Dunn’s Bridge, about 8.6 miles,” Plath said. “It’s pretty shallow with a sandy bottom. There aren’t lots of meanders, but lots of long, straight stretches due to the straightening of the rivers over a century ago, so it’s great for beginners.
“But it’s a nice place for anyone to paddle because it’s pretty wild and heavily forested, so you’ll only see a few houses, and there are so many birds.
“But what’s also nice about this time of year is that there are few mosquitoes — the Kankakee River has a lot of them in the summer — plus, fall coincides with the cranes. More toward the end of the paddle, you’ll see shadows as flocks of three to 10 birds fly over as they head to Jasper-Pulaski (Fish and Wildlife Area) for the night.”
These 3-foot-tall cranes with up to 7-foot wingspans are impressive. This year, they began arriving in mid-September after leaving their breeding grounds in wetlands of Michigan, Wisconsin, southern Canada and northern sections of Indiana, Illinois and Ohio.
They flock to Jasper-Pulaski, near Medaryville, where they congregate in large numbers to roost at night, then disperse to feed in harvested farm fields during the day.
The DNR Jasper-Pulaski website showed a crane count of 6,424 on Oct. 9. The site said numbers will peak in late November or early December. More than 20,000 cranes, including stray whooping cranes, have been seen at peak migration.
When they leave Indiana, they head south to their wintering grounds in southern Georgia and Florida.
“We suggest that folks bring a bag lunch for after the paddle, or we may have a food vendor on site,” Plath said. “From there, we caravan a less than 10-minute drive to Jasper-Pulaski. We try to get there between 4:30 and 5. The cranes are still flying in for the night; it’s so impressive to see.”
Paddlers should register online at www.nwipa.org. Check-in begins at the Yellow River Public Access Site at English Lake at 10:30 a.m. Paddlers will leave their boats, then drive to the finish at Porter County Park’s Dunn’s Bridge site to leave their vehicles.
Paddlers will be shuttled back to the start, courtesy of Coulter Farms, which also will give participants a voucher for a free hayride and small pumpkin at the farm in Westville.
Those interested in a canoe or kayak should contact Chicago River Canoe and Kayak at (312) 823-3384 or email@example.com to arrange a rental in advance.
A suggested $5 donation is requested to support NWIPA programs.
“NWIPA is partnering with other local organizations to develop a two- to three-day destination for paddlers along the Kankakee River,” Plath said. “In fact, we’ve just signed a memorandum of understanding with LaPorte County to develop a paddle-in only camp on one of their properties along the river.
“The Kankakee has been called ‘The Everglades of the North.’ When developed, this will be one of the only multiday paddling destinations north of the Suwanee River.”
He said funds raised at the Sandhill Crane Paddle will go toward projects like developing the campsite and buying “chickees,” small screened-in camping huts for paddlers to the site.
† The Crane Cruise Bike Ride on Saturday, Oct. 27, is another event that combines a unique way to see the cranes with a good fundraiser, for the Medaryville Lions Club.
This ride also is known for its good food at “SAG stops,” where friendly volunteers have delicious homemade baked goods and other foods and beverages for the riders.
Cyclists can choose rides ranging from 12 miles, a good length for beginners, to 50-mile routes. Most of the routes are on flat, rural roads, where cyclists are treated to occasional sightings of flocks of cranes flying overhead or feeding in nearby fields.
Participants are invited to drive to the Jasper-Pulaski roosting site after the ride for a program about the sandhill cranes, just as impressive numbers of the birds are settling in for the night.
To register for the ride, mail the form from www.crane-cruise.com with a check for $16 per rider or $35 per family. Registration also is accepted at the ride start, the Lions Building in Medaryville, just off U.S. 421, from 7 a.m. to noon CDT.
Crane watchers can see the birds into December from the free observation area at the Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area. The site is off U.S. 421, about 30 minutes south of Wanatah. The most impressive viewings are at sunrise and sunset.