Sandhill Crane Sisters Trip

November 15-18, 2019

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11/15/2019, Friday

Trese and Anne had been discussing Sandhill Crane viewing for some time and settled on mid-November as prime migration time. Kath offered to drive in to join us so of course we included Trina and made it a full-fledged sisters trip.

Trina and Anne flew to Indianapolis separately and met at the airport. Trese picked us up at from the cell phone lot and we climbed in her little red Toyota Corolla for the trip to her house, passing the first of many red shouldered hawks we would see this weekend on the way out of the airport.

We stopped for lunch at a Steak 'n Shake, a nice diner-like burger restaurant. The food was good, service was cheery and we even opted for a chocolate banana milkshake which we split. It had huge chunks of banana in it but was late arriving so the server split it into styrofoam cups and we took it on the road. Us Texans were delighted to find snow still in shady areas outside the restaurant even though the storm was nearly a week ago.

On the way home, we checked into the Hampton Inn near Trese's house. It's close enough that she said we didn't need to rent a car; she would drive us back and forth herself. What a sport! Anne was happy to find that the Hampton Inn app had evolved to being able to open the door from our phones so no more "Did you bring the key??" because we will always have our phones.

Once at Trese's, we met up with Kath and joined forces to reframe a large print which had slipped in its frame, juggling it from the wall behind her large comfy couch. A few rounds of pets for Trese's cats, Casey, Bonnie and Moxie (when we could find her), then we headed out for a hike at Eagle Creek Reservoir. It was beautiful at dusk with the late fall colors, fading light and tons of seagulls. There were receding snow drifts here and there, temperatures hanging out in the low 30's.

Of course we stopped at Meijer's on the way back to load up on wine. Then back at Trese's, we cracked open some bottles while Trese made some amazing chili and a nice salad. We warmed up on dinner, occasionally letting Casey sniff the jar of jalapeƱos which dissuaded her from joining us on the table.

A rousing game of 10,000 ensued, followed by a jigsaw puzzle competition. Trina brought two identical 100 piece puzzles and she teamed up with Kath vs. Trese and me to see who could complete it first. You'll have to read about the results in the Guinness Book of World Records.

Finally, we retired to the living room and figured out how to AirPlay our photos on Trese's new TV. Unbelievably, we didn't look away until 1am!! Now Trese is regretting agreeing to drive us back to the hotel.

11/16/2019, Saturday

Had to get my eight ours of sleep so we didn't get to the Hampton Inn breakfast room until around 9am, way late for me. But Trese had explained that the cranes were best viewed at dusk so we wouldn't be heading out till after noon anyway.

Trese picked us up and we were back to her house about 10am, where more photo slideshows and cat play ensued. Trese had also resurrected her bird feeding setup on the back patio. She had taken it down since it was drawing raccoons which were roosting in her shared wall neighbor's attic. Diane is a good friend and she didn't need this hassle. But since there is a tree line behind the house, it is filled with migrating birds right now and several of us enjoy regular birding, so Trese had decided to restore it just for the weekend. And it was a joy! She had lots of visitors including cardinals, song sparrows, chickadees, juncos and white breasted nut hatches (a new one for me), plus red bellied and hairy woodpeckers. It was quite a draw for the outdoor cats, including Bonnie and her beau, Boi.

After leftover chili for lunch, we piled in the car with our cameras and binoculars and headed out on the roughly two hour trip to the crane viewing area. Halfway or so was Celery Bog, actually a marsh with a nice hiking trail and some beautiful wildlife sightings in its own right. We saw a very photogenic muskrat, a cormorant past his migratory due date, and a beautiful swan surrounded by a plethora of coots and mallards along with a few gadwalls and one white duck of unknown nomenclature.

Our eventual destination was the Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife area which has a raised platform for viewing the cranes. On the way, we discovered that north western Indiana is rife with wind turbines which continue for miles in undulating waves of poles and blades. Then as we closed in, Trese pointed out that area cornfields that have been harvested are a major draw for the cranes during the day and sure enough we started spying them, a few here and there at first and then more, then tens and eventually, hundreds. They flew overhead and danced in the fields, making loud chortling calls which someone had described as rubber sliding on glass. These birds are striking, many over four feet tall with long necks and red foreheads, white cheeks and long pointed bills. The juveniles had mottled brown feathers while the adults are grey. Occasionally a white crane may be seen but that is typically a Whooping Crane that has lost its migratory path. Hanging out with even a few Whooping Cranes turns out to be good for the Sandhills which are not endangered while the Whoopers are, meaning they are protected from hunters. Sandhill cranes are federally protected but a few states are now permitted lottery draws to cull a certain number as their numbers have improved. The weekend we visited, the count was nearly 20,000 Sandhill Cranes at the Jasper-Pulaski Wildlife area according to the website.

Soon enough, we saw what that meant. We drove to the Goose Pond viewing area and attempted to climb the icy steps to the platform but it was already full of photographers and birders, a full hour before the first cranes would fly in. So we stayed on the ground and found a railing we could use from there. It was chilly in the low 30's but we were covered with heavy jackets, hoods, scarves and gloves. Luckily it was not windy but even with heavy hiking boots and thick wool socks, standing in ice for a while made the feet a bit nippy.

We spent some time photographing deer including an 8 point stag that shared the area with the cranes who hadn't arrived yet for the evening. He was luminous with his antlers catching the dying light. Apparently the deer had discovered at some point that hunting was off limits in this area so they happily hung with the cranes.

As the sun started to set, the birds started arriving, six to twenty at a time in echelons perforating the blinding sun and its pastel blue, pink and gold skies. Two rainbows appeared near wispy clouds so the entire sky made a fantastic backdrop for streams of birds arriving raggedly at first and then in continuous streams, filling in the area near the far tree line barely visible even with a long lens from the viewing area. The later arrivals landed closer and closer to the platform but never got very close so we contented ourselves with the long distance photographs and better binocular views, and even pulled out the phones for some panoramas and videos. The sound was enchanting even though (maybe primarily because) we were a long way from the massive birds.

Our bird watching jones sated for the day, we headed for dinner at the Whistle Stop restaurant, a train-themed comfort food delight. It has full sized train cars outside and a large train set that snakes around an elevated track above the diners, through the wall and into the next room, then back.

Trese gamely drove the entire way, both out and back. We settled in briefly back at the house but one glass of wine was enough to do us in. Trese again chauffeured us back to the hotel and we crashed by 11pm.

11/17/2019, Sunday

Anne had brought oatmeal and fixings (cinnamon, chia seeds and walnuts) since she's been eating that virtually every day once she had a high cholesterol diagnosis and found that this habit helped bring it down to reasonable levels. So even though the Hampton had oatmeal, Trina and Anne decided to eat the home brought packets instead to lighten the luggage a bit. The microwave had a serious clunking issue as it rotated and there were no ceramic coffee cups or water glasses. Trina brought up coffee from downstairs but they didn't have their oatmeal fixings out so no luck with raisins. We used the paper cups and plastic ware and were warmed up by the time Trese picked us up around 9am.

We soon discovered that Trese had been shopping several grocery stores to find fresh, never frozen, turkey breasts and thighs. She had planned to make us an early Thanksgiving dinner and really outdid herself. She made a great marinade with cream of celery soup, and added salad, dressing, mashed potatoes and two forms of cranberry sauce. As we dug in, she called her neighbor, Diane, who cat-sits for her on a regular basis so she joined us enjoying the delicious meal. We were stuffed so we spent a bit more time bird watching out the back window and then decided to head to Holliday Park to hike off some of the food.

Diane said her goodbyes, especially to Casey who she clearly loves. Casey is the most people friendly of Trese's cats and even gives great head massages using her own head when she perches above you on the cushy back of the chair or couch.

At the park, we hiked the hilly woods, bare now of leaves since all of the trees seem to be deciduous. There was a river running through it and nice trails heading in enough different directions that even the veteran was unsure which way to go at one point. But we made it to the swingset area where a bench called our names and Trina and Anne even tried out a monkey bar rope ladder challenge.

Back at Trese's, we decided on pie (apple and blueberry) and whipped cream for dinner, playing Scrabble and reminding each other of mom stories. A little more wine and photo slideshows, then we said our goodbyes to Kath who had to leave early the next morning to get the Volt back to Ben for his second shift hospital delivery job. Once again, Trese was the hostess with the mostest as she drove us back to the hotel about 11pm.

11/18/2019, Monday

Our last day of this sister's trip so we had breakfast in the Hampton cafe, then packed, showered and joined Trese about 9:30. Kath had already hit the road so it was just the three of us. We used Stewart's tip sheet based on an article in the New York Times to decide what to do today:

Broad Ripple was the winner! It's a very Austin-like shopping and dining area with a hippie vibe. It was early so we started with the vintage shops that opened at 10am, first Vintage Vogue and then its neighbor, Zodiac Vintage which had lots of tie-dyed t-shirts, rock concert shirts, band uniforms, and what looked to be costumes for dance troupes with multi-colored boas, spangles and fringe on halter tops and balloon pants. Wish we'd have been here before Halloween! Trina even found a set of peace sign string bracelets for each of us for future sisters trips.

Then on to lunch at Public Greens, a cafeteria featuring a locally sourced menu that donates 100 percent of its profits to charity. It had amazing poke-like bowls of chickpeas with Indian seasonings and teriyaki chicken with Asian seasonings, as well as butternut squash fritters that magically came in servings of 3. So we split all the dishes and had the healthiest meal ever, while feeling good about helping out folks with food insecurity.

Back to the Monon trail just outside the restaurant, we discovered it spans the city (actually lots of northwestern Indiana). It is a converted rail trail that hosts walkers and cyclists. We took it to the Indianapolis Institute of Art and checked out the post-it art outside and lots of ceramics, paintings and wood and metal paintings inside. Then back to the trail in search of the Monon Coffee Company, a cute cozy shop just the other side of the White River.

As we left the coffee shop, we found a fun gift shop called The Bungalow that had great baudy socks, t-shirts, tea towels and all kinds of knick knacks. For example, they had a t-shirt that apologized for our president in eight languages plus a tea towel that said "I'm on the 'cutting my own bangs' glass of wine". Trina got some of her Christmas shopping done and Anne found funny sloth ornaments for neighbor Jenn's annual ornament exchange party. One more stop at a bike shop while Anne picked up something for Stewart, then back on the trail to find the car.

Trese drove us on to the airport with enough time for Anne and Trina to split a Chicago hot dog on a pretzel roll, then board the plane for home. The ride back provided just enough time to start this log quick before anything was forgotten.

It was once again a beautiful weekend with beautiful people and over much too soon.