Not-As-Needy Acres

tales from the heartland


Population 693, Nebraska, Middle America
December 28
C.O.B. (Crabby Old Bag)
Scientist, wife, mother, slave to the furry beasts that own the house where I live.


Bluesurly's Links

MARCH 28, 2009 7:30PM

For the Birds

Rate: 13 Flag



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.








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crane poop! i'm torn between admiration for you volunteering your time like that and laughing my butt off. crane poop!
poop jokes aside though, i've always thought it'd be very cool to go to the platte valley some year to watch the cranes as they migrate through. i saw a really great film last year about a photographer named mike forsberg and his work with the sandhills. by all acounts their migration is one of the last great wildlife spectacles you can still see here in the midwest, and i'm definitely going to make it up one of these times to catch it.
OMG! I'd love to see these magnificent creatures. That has to be an awesome sight.
I love cranes and listening to their honking/singing - I wish I could be there this year with you, even if it is to collect poo!!
I see green! Yay!!!

All that poop has to be some great natural fertilizer for those fields.
Sorry, can't resist... You have here the very real opportunity to bellow out "Boss, boss, the cranes, the cranes...!"

I think I would swoon if I were to ever see a pair of whoopers, but I would settle for the sandhills and faint for them also.
nan - Michael Forsberg is a regular at the Crane Trust that is running this study. His studio is in Lincoln, but I think he spends lots of time on the Platte during the migration.

Suzn - it's definitely worth seeing!

Liz - lots of birds came early this year and are ranging further south from the Platte.

RIF - too bad that's not the only fertilizer they use...that tractor was pulling anhydrous amonia tanks.

ABlonde - LOL - didn't even think of that...may have to yell that out if we go on another poop hunt!
Crane poop testing... there's a new one on me, but I live in cow chip country! And they gain weight, then find a mate.... gosh, if only it were that simple for humans!
Wow! Rated for dedication to the cranes. Also, those are lovely photographs. That's the kind of spring I can recognize. I myself am doing a survey of deer poop and mouse holes. I can definitively say there's a lot of both.
Oh, yes, I LOVE the cranes. We have thousands that come over our way. You hear them before you see them. There is no sound like theirs. We have fields dedicated to them and for them. We have a pair of albino cranes that is being kept very secretive by the DNR.

We've also had a major increase in eagles along the river and Lake Michigan. They often gather in groups on the ice during the winter.
Very cool. We get herons in our pond from time to time, and it always feels like an honor. They're wonderful to watch, though I must admit I've never thought of collecting their poop!
What a pretty sight those birds must be. I'm jealous.
How romantic! I have always wanted to see the Sand Hill Cranes where they land on the Platte River. I almost went last year, but for some reason couldn't make it with the friends who where going there. I don't even know why. I am jealous of you, but not of your breathing topsoil. Haven't the farmers in the Platte River Valley (I use the term loosely both in terms of 'river' and 'valley') ever heard of no-till farming???
It's a tough gig, but someone has to do it. I admire you for steppin' up to the
Rated & Cheers!