After many trips, cranes are abundant as Othello Sandhill Crane Festival nears

Sandhill cranes frolic near Othello.

Sandhill cranes frolic near Othello. Don Davis

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We mounted a recent foray deep into the Columbia Basin between Mesa and Othello. The effort foreshadowed the annual Othello Sandhill Crane

Festival which takes place this weekend, (April 5-7; Google: Othello Sandhill Crane Festival 2013).

Primarily, Darlene, Nora the Schnauzer and I hankered to spot some of the thousands of cranes that visit the area at this time of year.

We do this every spring.

Well, maybe.

This will be the 16th Othello festival, and I’m not sure we sought cranes there 15 previous springs.

Sometimes, however, we went more than once a year.

Alas, we haven’t often seen thousands or even hundreds (maybe not even dozens) of the tall, grey, red-capped birds. Neither, alas and alack, have we managed many close-up sightings that allowed detailed photos.

I remember one time when we drove within 20 yards of three of the big birds that browsed in a harvested cornfield. They tolerated us as they picked at fallen grain.

Well, our trip last week proved somewhat different.

We passed through Mesa on Highway 17, and at the hilltop turned left toward Basin City and into what we considered sandhill crane territory. I turned right onto Bart Road, and we soon spotted a cloud of the huge birds off to our left.

We stopped and watched from inside the truck with the windows up as the cloud floated overhead. We could hear the cranes’ soft, melodious chirping. Nora and I stepped out onto the dirt road and I snapped photos of the birds as they circled and landed in a cornfield ahead of us.

We drove along the cornfield and spotted cranes by the dozen (maybe by the hundreds?) too far away for detailed photos.

Back on the road to Basin City, we turned right onto a road with signs announcing public fishing and public hunting access. From the road we could see hundreds of cranes in a green pasture off to the right.

I stood on the road and snapped photos.

Then, I parked at the public parking area at the end of the road. Nora and I walked along a pond and saw several ducks and coots.

Then we crossed a field where a line of trees kept us from the view of the cranes. We drew within 100 yards without disturbing them. I snapped a few photos of them browsing. Some jumped and danced ritualistically at one another.

Then we worked our way north on rural roads through farm and pasture land toward Othello.

Flights of cranes circled in the distance, but none stood along the roadsides.

Finally, we crossed Highway 26 onto Thacker Road and spotted a view of the waste ponds at Othello.

“Wow!” I said.

A long grey carpet of cranes lay along the edge one pond. We drove a few yards down a dirt road and stopped 80 yards away. I snapped photos as flights of cranes floated gently onto the rippling carpet. Individual birds hopped high into the air and settled back softly.

So, on that trip we saw thousands of cranes — hundreds a least. We didn‘t get any really close-up images, however.

Nevertheless, one out of two is a .500 average, and that ain’t bad.

Contact Don Davis at darleneanddon@msn.com. More of Don’s photos can be found online at www.tripper.smugmug.com .

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