We were excited to see sandhill cranes feeding on the farm lands on our way to Caballo Lake State Park, so we decided to camp there. Later that day we saw a flock of sandhill cranes flying over the campground. I was told by an elderly man that sandhill cranes feed on the farm lands near the campground. But we didn’t see any sandhill cranes for several days other than sea gulls and other waterfowls on the lake. So we decided to search for sandhill cranes around the park.
We went to the lower campground – Riverside Campground in the morning. It is a quiet park by the Rio Grande River. The noise of our feet walking on the crunchy fallen leaves scared away a bunch of ducks, an egret, and a heron. Water level was low because of the dam. Only a few sandpipers stayed feeding by the river. The egret landed on the slope of the hill. Small birds popped up here and there in the trees and flew around. Western bluebirds, a phainopepla, quails, sparrows were among some of the birds we saw. The heron reappeared in the downstream. And it flew further south down as we walking along the road by the river. It finally landed on top of the hill and blended in the surrounding. It might be a tricolored heron because of its white belly and yellow beak.
We kept walking down the road. Suddenly, a big flock of sandhill cranes took off from the ground accompanied with their unique ethereal voices and landed shortly on the ground behind the bushes. A truck was driving on the farm land kicking up clouds of dust and scared away the sandhill cranes. We were thrilled to see the cranes! The field is close to the highway. This might be the place where we saw them when we drove up to the campground. We walked across the field getting closer to the cranes but they were blocked by the tall grass and bushes. The truck drove towards this way and the sandhill cranes took flights in every direction. It was a chaotic scene. They circled low crying and finally landed on the far corner of the farm land. We were so glad to find them here.
As if that was not good enough for our birds sighting for the day, I heard the distinctive sounds of sandhill cranes while I was preparing dinner. I hurried out and saw a flock of sandhill cranes flying northward along the waterway by Caballo Mountains. It was about 5:20 p.m. and the sun was setting. There were more groups of sandhill cranes flying by. They might be going home for the day. I wondered if they would fly by tomorrow morning to the corn fields. To our delight, they did fly south before sunrise the next day. In the late afternoon, we walked to the lake and waited for their return. At dusk, the sounds of sandhill cranes were heard, and a line of moving dark dots appeared in the distant air above the waterway. The shape of the line changed constantly. Shortly they were above Caballo Lake flying home sweet home. More and more sandhill cranes flew passed the lake.
It was a feast to the eyes seeing sandhill cranes flying in different formations. They fly in V formation most often. They appear as tiny dark moving dots in the distant sky, and the dots change positions moving along. Not until they got closer can you tell whether they were flying in V formation or in a line. Sometimes in the morning, a few sandhill cranes flew back north against the flow. I wondered if they joined the wrong group and were looking for their group. Another time, I saw a couple of sandhill cranes returned and joined a flock that was flying south.
Every morning, despite the freezing temperature, I went out and watched sandhill cranes flying to the corn fields. Then I watched them flying home in the evening. I said goodnight to sandhill cranes on the last day of year 2017, and greeted them on the first day of year 2018. That was the secret of Caballo Lake State Park – the passage way of sandhill cranes in winter.