Anyone driving down the Alda Road last Sunday would have seen two individuals walking a five acre, fallow field. They would appear to be intently searching for something. Every few steps they would stop, bend over, and touch the earth. Or so it would seem.
Those two people were Wonderful and me, and we were searching for crane poop. Not just any crane poop, it had to be FRESH crane poop.
Every Spring, approximately 500,000 Sandhill Cranes make their great migration from the Gulf of Mexico to Canada and other parts north. These large grey birds make a pit-stop along a short stretch of the Platte River only 15 miles north of our home. They stay for a few weeks to eat, gain weight for the rest of the flight, and if needed, find a mate. It is something truly amazing to see.
Along with the Sandhill Cranes come a handful of Whooping Cranes. I was fortunate to see a young pair of them last year. They aren’t too hard to spot because they are even larger than the Sandhill Cranes, and are a bright white. Next year, some Whooping Cranes raised in captivity will be released in Louisiana. Because there is the chance they will migrate through the Central Flyway (essentially our backyard), a study to check for pathogens of these rare birds that may exist in this area is currently underway. Part of this study involves collecting crane poop for testing.
Now you might imagine that with half a million birds wandering around, there would be lots of poop. Unfortunately, there’s also a very large area for these birds to poop in. Add to that the requirement for the poop to be fresh, and you get a severely limited supply of the appropriate poop.
Walk several steps, spot some poop, bend over, poke the poop. Repeat. If the poop is “old” it will be hard to the touch. If the poop is of acceptable freshness, your poking finger will cause a small indentation in the poop. I also learned that really fresh poop will attract flies! In our hour’s worth of searching this five acres for poop, I found only two piles complete with flies.
Adding to the excitement of this exercise were the wind gusts of over 35 mph! Since many farmers were beginning to work fertilizer into their fields, copious quantities of topsoil were also blowing about for our breathing pleasure! I pooped-out (pun intended) about 20 minutes prior to Wonderful and spent that time enjoying the scenery and contemplating life in the Platte River Valley.
All told, we ended up with 13 acceptable poop samples individually packaged in snack-sized zip-lock baggies. To be honest, it wasn’t really a bad way to spend an hour on a Sunday afternoon.