Only a month from now, the astronomical event known as the autumnal equinox will signal the official change from the lazy days of summer to the cool nights and colorful days of inspiration, reflection and the fall migration of the Sandhill cranes.
Small numbers of Sandhill cranes have stayed in areas of northern Illinois and Indiana through the summer, and a few pair of the great birds have successfully nested. Soon though, there will be a big push from points north, as much cooler temperatures become apparent in Canada and the Upper Midwest.
The spectacular migration will fill the eyes and ears of the fortunate with the amazing sights and sounds of southbound Sandhills heading for their staging areas of the Midwest.
The cranes will amass in flocks of thousands, where they will spend their days feeding, resting and dancing throughout the next few months.
A well-known and wonderful place to view the concentrations of Sandhill cranes is a little more than 50 miles east of Kankakee at the Jasper-Pulaski Fish & Wildlife Area in Indiana, on U.S. Route 421, several miles south of the village of San Pierre.
Crane numbers peak in mid-November. Magnificent, noisy flocks can be seen at Jasper-Pulaski from mid-October through mid-December.
The best times to see the cranes are at sunrise, when gigantic flocks rise and fly out of roosting marshes to the Goose Pasture, where an elevated, handicap-accessible observation area is located, then as they fly out to feed in area agricultural fields and margins. The huge flock begins returning to the Goose Pasture about an hour before sunset, where they socialize and perform mating dances before returning to roosting areas in nearby marshes.
By late December, as winter tightens its grip, most of the Sandhills will have continued south, where food can easily be found in the unfrozen fields and marshes of a much more tolerant climate of the southern United States.
Last year, 3,848 cranes were reported at Jasper-Pulaski the week of Oct. 10, and numbers rose to 13,475 on Dec. 5, and 14,240 with one whooping crane the week of Dec. 14. The last report of the season stated that 8,891 remained on Dec. 19. By Dec. 27, most of the cranes had headed south, but a few thousand remained at the nearby NIPSCO generating station, just south of the Kankakee River.