Cranes at Grand Pass

Yesterday, I visited Grand Pass Conservation Area, northwest of Marshall, Missouri.  Stretching south from the Missouri River, this refuge attracts large flocks of waterfowl during the spring and fall migrations and it is during those seasons that I have visited in the past.

Entering the refuge, I found that most of the ponds had been drained and were now covered by grasslands and various crops.  What few shallow pools remained attracted a fair number of shorebirds, dominated by least sandpipers; killdeer, some Baird's sandpipers and a few sanderlings were also present.  Other birds on the refuge included the typical mix of summer species such as cliff, barn and bank swallows, dickcissels, indigo buntings and eastern kingbirds, joined by a host of permanent residents.

The highlight of my visit was the sound of sandhill cranes; uncommon migrants through the western half of Missouri, cranes first successfully nested in our State last year, at Squaw Creek NWR, along the Missouri River south of Mound City.  The birds that I heard yesterday (two or three at the most) remained hidden behind a grove of trees but their distinctive vocalization belied their presence.  A few sandhill crane migrants have been visiting Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area, in central Missouri, every spring in recent years and I suspect that they, like American white pelicans, will become increasingly common migrants in our region.  Whether a summer population will become established in Missouri is yet to be determined but the current trend appears to favor that development.