Watching the spring arrivals at Market Lake is pure entertainment

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The familiar sound of flying Sandhill cranes greeted me as I drove through Market Lake Wildlife Management Area north of Roberts last Tuesday. They did not land but headed toward Camas National Wildlife Refuge where some had been spotted on Monday evening.

As reported last week, the average arrival day for these beautiful cranes is usually on March 5, and these were only two days late. They must have been surprised later in the week when temperatures dived to record lows — below zero recordings — and wished that they had showed up a little later. Their tail feathers must have been a little chilly.

They were not the only spring arrivals that I found on the trip to Market Lake. I saw thousands of male Red-winged blackbirds mixing with flocks of European starlings in some of the stubble fields between Market Lake and Roberts. Some of the males have already begun to stake out nesting areas in preparation for the females’ arrival in a few weeks. You see, if they have won the right for a great nesting area before the females arrive, they will have more time to try to woo them.

From now until the first of June, I will be busy following the spring migrations, along with the amazing courtship displays of the different species of birds. One of my favorites is the courtship and relation-building of the Greater sandhill cranes.

There are only a few showing up right now, but by April we will have large numbers gathering or migrating through Gray’s Lake, Mud Lake, Market Lake, the Camas NWR and the farmlands near all of these. A slow drive through these areas will allow you to find these large pre-historic looking birds. After finding them, park safely to watch and study their displays and battles. Their leaping in the air, dancing and sharing of objects with each other are always entertaining. Their dancing makes “Dancing with the Stars” look amateurish.

Several years ago, I caught a couple of sandhill cranes getting into a serious relationship by playing “Frisbee” with a dried-up cow pie. They would grab it and toss it to one another, even though catching it in the air was difficult. Nothing can be more romantic than tossing crap at each other. (Just don’t try it physically or verbally with your significant other. It may destroy your relationship!)

While looking for the sandhill cranes — when you come to some cattails or bulrushes — look for the Red-wing blackbirds as they develop their relationship with each other. Though not as exciting or showy, they too can be entertaining.

Female Great-horned owls are now sitting on their nests as they protect the eggs from the bitter cold. | Bill Schiess,

Then as you approach groves of trees or bushes, look for old magpie or hawk nests that have been flattened. They may have Great-gray owls nesting in them. This week in my travels I have located four Great-horned owls sitting on their nests. They started breeding in February and are now keeping the eggs warm in the bitter cold. The male is usually close by and will be bringing food to the nest for the female.

With gas prices high, I will have to cut some of my travel down. But it will be worth a day or two out in the wilds keeping track of the shows produced by the wildlife. Be safe and enjoy the great outdoors.