...Notes from the Field

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The Florida Sandhill Crane – Sentinel of the Okaloacoochee Slough *Updated*

by | Oct 19, 2011

When people think of Southern Florida, they rarely think of lonely mile after mile of endless cow fields and citrus groves, or the acres upon acres of sugarcane that would resemble the enormous cornfields found in the Midwest if it weren’t for the sweltering heat. Most of the land here is used for agriculture, but there are a few tracts of land that are under protection from commercial use. The Okaloacoochee Slough is one of these protected lands.

Located to the Southwest of Lake Okeechobee, it is a vitally important source of fresh water for much of Southwest Florida. Oddly enough (and this is probably a good thing) it is a place that remains mostly unheard of and unknown except to land management officials and those working the land nearby. Definitely not the place to draw tourists or weekend-warrior photographers – it is remote, not easy to travel, usually wet, full of deer flies, and is the perfect breeding ground for diabolical hordes of mosquitoes.

Sandhill Crane

I’ve spent quite a bit of time out in this flat piney wilderness trying to find my “secret spot” that no one else would visit, but nearly every trip I came home empty-handed. On my last trip through the slough, I stopped under some trees to have lunch and have a little afternoon siesta when this beautiful and large Florida sandhill crane wandered into view, hunting for frogs and crayfish among the thick grasses of a flooded prairie.

Sandhill cranes are very common in rural central Florida. They can often be spotted over great distances in cow pastures or on the edges of lakes, marshes, and other wetland features. While this species (Grus canadensis) is not listed as a threatened or endangered species, the non-migratory Florida subspecies (Grus canadensis pratensis) of sandhill crane is. Numbering at around 5000 remaining individuals, they are thriving in the places where they are least likely to come into contact with humans.

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