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PHOTOS: Sandhill cranes swoop back to Panama Flats

Species returns for summer wetland visit, frog feast
A sandhill crane is pictured in flight during a summer visit to Panama Flats. Two sandhill cranes have been spotted in the Saanich wetland for yet another summer and are resting and feeding along their journey to their breeding ground. (Courtesy of Geoffrey Newell)

Frogs and crayfish at Panama Flats may be diving for cover as hungry sandhill cranes make another summer appearance in the Saanich wetland.

A YouTube video uploaded Tuesday (May 24) by local Karl Johanson shows two sandhill cranes striding in single file through the murky waters and tall grass of Panama Flats – a sight Johanson has captured in previous summers.

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Ann Nightingale, a board member and volunteer for the Rocky Point Bird Observatory, said having the birds fly over Greater Victoria in the spring and fall is not unusual.

“This is just not a normal place where we see them on the ground that often,” she explained.

Nightingale said these particular two birds may simply be repeating their migration route from previous years and have taken a liking to stopping at Panama Flats. She said areas on the northern end of the Island, including the Nahwitti River region about 40 kilometres northwest of Port Hardy, provide more hospitable habitats for sandhill cranes.

“What Victoria lacks is good wetland for them to feed on,” she said, adding that the birds travel “with an urge to get to their breeding ground.”

Among various menu items for the sandhill cranes at Panama Flats, Nightingale said, will be frogs and crayfish.

“They’ll eat pretty much whatever they can get hold of,” she said.

Geoffrey Newell, a birder with the Friends of Uplands Park Society, said sandhill cranes exist throughout North America and are generally quite common as a migratory species. He added that seeing them at Panama Flats is “highly unusual because the habitat is extremely precious and rare in Victoria.”

Along with their main diet of frogs and crayfish, Newell said sandhill cranes indulge in plant seeds. Whereas human interactions with the bird may be rare in Greater Victoria, he said sandhill cranes are used to being fed around Vancouver and often eat seeds from people’s hands at Reifel Bird Sanctuary in Delta, B.C.

Despite some similarities between the crane and similarly tall great blue heron that Victorians often see, Nightingale said it’s the habitat preferences that typically set the two birds apart.

“The crane tends to be an inland bird, while the heron tends to be a coastal bird,” she said.

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She advised avid birders to keep a considerable distance from the sandhill cranes at Panama Flats.


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