All posts for the month September, 2010

by Derek Stoner, Conservation Project Coordinator

A Sandhill Crane wading the edge of a pond near Iron Hill Park, Newark, DE. 9/14/10. Image by Derek Stoner.

The email subject line caught my attention:  FW: Sandhill Crane.  Immediately intrigued, I checked out the photos that a kindly observer had passed along to me.  While driving by a neighborhood near Newark, Susan Eggert had the amazing experience of spotting a crane waltzing across the lawns.  Realizing that she’d spotted a very unusual bird for around here, she passed along the sighting and photos to me at the nature center. 

This pose is what "craning your neck" is all about! 9/14/10. Image by Derek Stoner.

I drove down to Newark this evening with high hopes, and found the crane right in the spot Susan described.  A classic neighborhood pond, surrounded by tall weeds and willow thickets, loaded with the ubiquitous Mallards.  A group of young kids were playing around the pond and came running up to me.

“Are you looking for the crane?  The Sandhill Crane?” a six year-old girl asked me.  The kids excitedly told me that the crane had been visiting their pond for the past three days. They’d had fun watching the bird as it hunted for food.   They knew that cranes are very rare in Delaware, because they’d studied up on cranes after discovering their new feathered neighbor.

They told me that the crane had just disappeared and that it was hiding in the tall grass.  Sure enough, seven year-old Tyler soon jabbed his finger in the direction of the broom sedge thicket.  Parting the stems like a gray shadow, a four-foot tall crane emerged from the cover.     

A Sandhill strolling through suburbia. A tad unusual in these parts! 9/14/10. Image by Derek Stoner.

I stood at the pond’s edge at dusk, surrounded by ten wide-eyed and eager kids.  I passed the binoculars around, and shared my photos with the young naturalists-in-the-making.   Ten-year old Voni hopes to be an ornithologist someday and is fascinated by this incredible bird in her backyard.  Can you imagine having an elegant crane waltzing around your yard?

We watched the crane catch and consume a Pickerel Frog and a couple of small fish.  The sinuous neck of the crane uncoiled as it took a long drink, submerging its head completely underwater.  The crane’s bright orange eyes glowed fiercely between its red cap and pale gray face.  

A wild crane– wary and hunting for food amidst a pack of curious kids.  The crane cautiously kept its distance from its onlookers.  We spoke of the importance of respecting wildlife and how this crane is attracted to the food resources in their healthy pond.  If they respect the pond, they will be rewarded with a rich bounty of wildlife to watch. 

The Sandhill Crane is renowned for its elegance and grace. 9/14/10. Image by Derek Stoner.

As dusk settled, I explained to the kids that cranes like to roost in shallow water and that it would probably spend the night in their pond.  Perhaps in the morning they will see the crane catching its breakfast while they eat their cereal and gaze at the incredible wild creature in their midst.   

If you’d like to try for a suburban Sandhill Crane experience, I encourage you to go have a look.  This is a unique opportunity to interact with people and demonstrate how a simple pond can be an important part of the survival of a rare visiting bird.

With the permission of the neighbors, I created a custom map to the location to help guide you:   Sandhill Crane in Newark DE

By Joe Sebastiani, Seasonal Program Team Leader

Today, the Ashland Hawk Watch began its 4th season!  We tallied 11 raptors for the day including an Osprey, 3 American Kestrel, 4 Sharp-shinned Hawk, 2 Cooper’s Hawk, and a Merlin, which was the first raptor of the season. 

This raptor migration count site is a joint project between the Delaware Nature Society and the Delmarva Ornithological Society, operating daily between September 1 and November 30.  It is located at the Ashland Nature Center near Hockessin.  Last year, over 13,000 raptors migrated past the Ashland Hawk Watch in the fall.  For a real show, plan on a visit between September 15 and 25, which is when it is possible to see hundreds or even thousands of Broad-winged Hawks in a single day.  Another tip is to visit within a few days after a cold front when lots of hawks are on the move.  However, you can see birds on just about any day, and it is always a good time with a great view of the northern Delaware Piedmont.

A familiar face is back at the helm this year as well.  Cyrus Moqtaderi has returned as the official counter for his 2nd season in a row.  We are glad to have him back on Hawk Watch Hill!

Cyrus Moqtaderi, the Official Counter at AshlandHawk Watch, has returned for his second season on Hawk Watch Hill. Join him this fall between now and November 30th.

As we have done in past years, the data we collect is entered in the raptor migration database managed by the Hawk Migration Association of North America.  What is new this year, is that the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control has also stepped in as a partner.  They have funded the watch through a federal grant, and in return, we are collecting data for them to use, especially when it comes to how high the raptors are flying by.  Collecting this data now may be useful in the future if more wind farms are proposed for Delaware.  With our data, we can better understand the potential impact on migrating raptors that come across wind turbines.

Hawkwatching season has begun! Stop by to see what is migrating past this fall.

If you would like to visit the Ashland Hawk Watch, the hours are 9am to 4pm daily.  Better yet, if you would like to volunteer, we can use some help.  Even if you don’t know one raptor from another, we need your help spotting them in the sky.  Also, you can help with recording weather and height of flight data.  If you know how to identify raptors, even better!  Contact me at if you would like more information on volunteering.  Two of the seven days of the week are covered by volunteers from the Delmarva Ornithological Society, so this Hawk Watch is not possible without volunteer help.

If you would like to check our statistics from time to time, or would like to see what we saw in previous years, check out our site at HawkCount.