Photo Fiona Sunquist ©
You can hear them calling more than a mile away.
The wild trumpeting cries of five thousand Sandhill cranes are echoing across the marshes of Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park near Gainesville in North Florida. Some are year-round residents but most of them have flown in for the winter, from Wisconsin, Michigan and as far away as Canada.
The cranes spend the night roosting in knee-deep water, then, early in the morning, fly to their feeding grounds in the marsh. At the moment, water depths are just right and some five thousand cranes are feeding close to La Chua trail - one of the main trails in the Preserve. Several endangered Whooping Cranes have joined the Sandhill flock, and these much taller white cranes can be seen feeding among their smaller relatives.
To see the cranes go to the northern entrance of Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park on the south east side of Gainesville – download a map here. The La Chua trail is on the north side of the park and the trail starts at the park entrance off SE 15th street. It is an easy walk, about a mile, along a well-mown embankment. You can hear the cranes calling from the parking lot. Watch for alligators basking along the banks and in the water at the Alachua Sink.
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