Updated: November 11, 2013 11:57AM
By car, by bus, by bike, and by canoe or kayak, thousands will flock to the Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area in Medaryville over the next couple months.
They are going there to see the thousands arriving by air: Sandhill Cranes. These majestic birds will be stopping in northwest Indiana in one of the most impressive wildlife spectacles in the Midwest.
The Sandhill Crane is a big bird, standing up to 3½ feet tall and with a six- to seven-foot wingspan. It flocks to Jasper-Pulaski in big numbers, over 25,000 last year, to gather and feed before continuing their southward migration.
The most interesting time to witness this spectacle is in late afternoon as the sun is going down. Then, groups of birds return from all directions to roost for the night at the marsh at Jasper-Pulaski. They call. They extend their huge wings and stretch their gangly legs as they glide to an open spot on the ground. Often, if you watch closely, you can witness a crane “dance” between a pair once back on the ground. Sometimes you might even see an endangered Whooping Crane.
The best place to watch the birds are from the viewing platform at Jasper-Pulaski. Early birds can also see impressive numbers of cranes at sunrise before they disperse from the marsh. The can also be spotted in the area throughout the day as they fly to and feed in swamps and harvested farm fields.
† By car, the Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area is about a 30-minute drive south of U.S. 30 from Wanatah on Highway 421. Turn west on Highway 143 and follow signs to the observation parking area. A trail with signs with interesting interpretive information about the cranes leads visitors from the parking lot to the viewing area. Admission is free.
† By bus, register now for the naturalist guided Indiana Dunes State Park Sandhill Crane Field Trip on Saturday, Nov. 9.
“A few years ago Outdoor Indiana did a piece on the top 20 things to do in Indiana. Seeing the Sandhill Cranes at Jasper Pulaski was ranked number 1 as Indiana’s largest wildlife spectacle. This guided bus trip is a great opportunity to see it,” said Brad Bumgardner, interpretive naturalist at the Indiana Dunes State Park.
He said past tour participants have included area residents who had heard of the crane migration but hadn’t gotten there yet or weren’t sure of where to see it, as well as visitors from Chicago and as far as Ohio.
The trip includes a presentation before leaving, a guided tour, the bus ride and refreshments. Seats are limited, and tickets are $20 for adults and $10 for youth under age 18. To make a reservation, call 926-1390.
† By bike, cyclists can join the 15th annual Crane Cruise on Saturday, Oct. 26.
Routes range from 12 miles, a good length for beginners, to 50 miles, on mostly flat, rural roads, where cyclists are treated to occasional sightings of flocks of cranes flying overhead or feeding in the passing fields, and to stops with homemade snacks prepared by ride support volunteers.
“After the ride (at 4 p.m. CDT) the Jasper-Pulaski property manager, Jim Bergens, gives a nice talk at the crane tower that a lot of the riders stay for and seem to enjoy. After that we just sit back and watch the cranes,” said Mick Capouch, ride organizer.
The Crane Cruise is a fund raising effort for the Medaryville Lions Club. Register by mail with the form found online at www.crane-cruise.com and send a check for $16 per rider or $35 per family. Registration is also accepted at the ride start, the Lions Building on Main Street in Medaryville, just off U.S. 421, from 7 am until noon CDT.
† By canoe or kayak, paddlers can join in the Kankakee River Sandhill Crane Paddle on Sunday, Oct. 20.
This approximately nine-mile paddle on the Grand Kankakee River is billed as family and beginner friendly, and you don’t even have to have your own canoe or kayak, as rentals are available with advance arrangements by calling (312) 823-3384.
Check in is from 10:30 a.m. until about noon at the Yellow River public access site at English Lake, where participants leave their boats, drive to the take out point and ride a free shuttle back to the starting point.
Paddlers should register and get complete details online at www.nwipa.org. A suggested $5 donation is requested to support NWIPA efforts. Participants are encouraged to stay for food and then to join in a car caravan to the crane viewing platform to view the sunset spectacle.