On April 9, 2022, 20 young birders, parents, and grandparents gathered at Sweet Marsh Wildlife Management Area to assist with the annual Sandhill Crane count organized by Bremer County Conservation Board. Our very knowledgeable local guide for the morning was Heather Gamm, Naturalist for Bremer County Conservation Board. Before heading out to the marsh, Heather first shared with us some information about the area and about Sandhill Cranes, whose populations have been increasing in and around Sweet Marsh for the past several years according to their count data. We were excited to contribute to this important effort!
Arriving at the marsh, we were greeted with a cacophony of bird sounds. After only a few minutes, we already heard Sandhill Cranes calling from a distance and had a flock of Greater White-fronted Geese fly over. While looking at Northern Shovelers, Lesser Scaup, Ring-necked Ducks, and American Coots at our first stop, 5 Trumpeter Swans stole the show by flying directly in front of us. Some even saw a single Ruddy Duck at this stop and a handful of Green-winged Teal, which ended up being our most numerous duck species of the morning.
Despite the fantastic waterfowl show, we were anxious to find those calling Sandhill Cranes. As we hiked farther into the marsh, it didn’t take long to find them. It’s amazing how well such a large bird can conceal itself in marsh vegetation! What started as 5 heads peeking above the cattails grew to approximately 12. After a short time, the birds decided to venture into the open allowing us some great views through the spotting scope. From this location, we also saw some Canada Geese, Blue-winged Teal, and American Coots as well as Red-winged Blackbirds perched on cattails throughout the marsh.
We continued into the marsh, stopping at locally-known Martin Lake to watch a large flock of American White Pelicans loafing at a distance. We talked briefly about the nuptial tubercle, an ornamental bump atop the pelican’s beak which is used for display during the breeding season. Also on Martin Lake were Lesser Scaup and more Trumpeter Swans as well as a Horned Grebe, a new species for many on the trip.
The remainder of our hike through the marsh yielded a single Great Egret, several migratory Lesser Yellowlegs, Killdeer, Wilson’s Snipe, and a pair of Northern Pintail. We finished the morning with a total of 30 Sandhill Cranes along with 25 additional species which included 13 species of waterfowl. Spring is obviously a great time to visit your local marsh!
Many thanks to Heather Gamm with Bremer County Conservation Board for leading us on an extremely fun hike and for sharing the local Sandhill Cranes with us! And as always, thanks to those who attended! You can view photos of our morning adventure here and a species list here.