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Unlikely summer visitor seen in the Lehigh Valley

A Sandhill Crane like this one was spotted twice in Trexlertown this week. It is rare to see one in our area, especially in the summer.
A Sandhill Crane like this one was spotted twice in Trexlertown this week. It is rare to see one in our area, especially in the summer.
Maureen Leong-Kee

This past week on two different days a Sandhill Crane was spotted and positively identified in Lehigh County. The crane was seen next to Weilers Road which is between the Route 222 Bypass and the Bob Rodale Cycling and Fitness Park in Trexlertown. They are rarely seen in eastern Pennsylvania and then only during migration periods in March and April, and occasionally during November through February, not in mid-July.

On the first occasion the crane was seen walking in a grassy area and on the second occasion spotted along a tree line. The area has grasses of various heights and a large cornfield which has some low wet spots.

The Sandhill Crane is a large wading bird which looks similar to a Great Blue Heron. It has a gray body, white cheeks, white chin and a distinguishable bright red cap. It has a dark bill, yellow eyes and black legs and feet. They can vary in size but can reach 4 feet tall with a wingspan up to 7 feet.

Sandhill Cranes are mainly herbivorous, but they will eat various types of food, depending on availability. They often feed rooting around for seeds and other foods, in shallow wetlands with vegetation or various upland habitats. Cranes readily eat cultivated foods such as corn, wheat and sorghum. Among northern races of Sandhill Cranes, their diet is most varied, especially among breeding birds. They will feed on berries, small mammals, insects, snails, reptiles and amphibians.

Sandhill Cranes typically breed from Siberia and Alaska east across Canada to the Hudson Bay and to western Ontario. There are some isolated populations in the Rocky Mountains, the northern prairies, the Great Lakes, in Mississippi, Georgia and Florida. They typically winter in California and in warmer areas from Arizona to Florida, preferring marshes and prairie ponds. They are also found on prairies and grain fields during migration.

They are not usually seen in Pennsylvania, especially the eastern part of the state, though one was seen at Green Pond in Northampton County in 2011. They are spotted more often in the central and western part of the state though in small numbers. But the numbers of their sightings have been steadily increasing and they have now been seen in more than thirty counties in the state. Often observed singly or in small family groups they have also been seen in flocks of up to 50.

Sandhill Cranes were believed to have been absent from the state for nearly a century or more until 1983, when there was a verified reporting of one. During the 1990′s their sightings in Pennsylvania started to become more regular during spring and fall migration, and during winter. Nesting was confirmed for the first time in the state in 1993, when a pair of adults was seen with a juvenile in Lawrence County. There are now believed to be at least three nesting pairs in the state.

On another note; a Great Egret was spotted in a flooded farm field along Cetronia Road across from Air Products, only about two miles from where the Sandhill Crane was seen. A Great Egret is a long-legged wading bird a little smaller than the Great Blue Heron with an S-curved neck, all white feathers, a yellowish-orange bill and black legs. They are seen wading in shallow water hunting fish, frogs, and other small aquatic animals.

The Lehigh Valley has seen an abundance of rainfall in the past few months creating many lowland areas to become flooded which is a prime attractant for wading birds. While driving around keep an eye out for these beautiful creatures.

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