This summer, Sandhill Cranes once again returned to the watershed. A pair was seen regularly in the vicinity of Carlton Pond. Students from Unity College noted them feeding in an old cornfield in May and June on Rt. 220 and the birds were also observed throughout the summer at Carlton Pond. Sandhills, which stand over four feet high, have recently colonized Maine. Thankfully, the species has recovered from years of persecution and overharvesting and is now increasing over most of its range. This has also resulted in range expansion further eastward into northern New England.
It is thought that they formerly nested in New England but were wiped out before the mid-1800’s. There were no nesting records until they were found with young in the Belgrade Lakes area in 2002. The New England breeding population only numbers around thirty birds. If this pair decides to return and nest next year at Carlton, it would represent the furthest eastward in the U.S that they have nested in historic times. Cranes are much more common in the West. Great Blue Herons, a common nesting species in Maine is often mistaken for a crane but they lack the red on the top of the head and “bustle” of feathers over the rump. Cranes always fly with the necks out straight, while herons usually “fold” it back over their back while flying.
The Great Egret, another uncommon wader that is fairly rare in inland Maine, has also been sighted recently at Carlton Pond. Soon, all these long-legged waders will head south as fall gives way to winter.