Earlier this month, amateur wildlife photographer Nick Landry looked like he was taking pictures in the Serengeti.
In reality, he had spent several hours quietly making his way through the yellow grasses of the Tantramar swamp near the New Brunswick-Nova Scotia border.
His efforts paid off and he was rewarded with several shots of a recent resident of the area: sandhill cranes.
“They’re almost like nothing you’ve seen before,” Landry said. “It was almost like you were in Africa because they look…almost like an ostrich.”
Standing nearly 1.3 meters tall, sandhill cranes are in the running for the largest bird in the province.
Their slate-gray coloring looks stark white against the dead grasses of the April marshes.
Landry, 20, says with their blood red foreheads, they are surreal to meet.
“Very different,” Landry said. “Very different from anything I’ve seen.”
House on the Prairies
Cranes are rare in New Brunswick, not because they are rare, but because they are not supposed to be here.
Sandhill cranes are most commonly found in the Prairies and Midwestern United States, although there are breeding populations in Ontario, according to Gary Donaldson, Atlantic Protected Areas and Stewardship Manager for the Canadian Wildlife Service.
“If you look at the concentration of the species, they’re really kind of a mid-continent bird,” Donaldson said. “The Prairies are where you’re most likely to see them.”
Donaldson says sandhill cranes have only been reported in the swamp in recent years, but he believes they breed here.
“It’s something new, but regular, I would say now,” Donaldson said.
He does not know when the cranes began to frequent the marshes and fields near Jolicure, NB. He says they may have been in the area for the past 20 years, but no one noticed them until a few years ago when their presence was first recorded.
By choice or by storm?
He has a few theories about how they got to the Tantramar Swamp area.
“There are all kinds of reasons birds show up in crazy places and if you’re an animal with wings it’s pretty common for you to go places because it’s so easy to go. in places,” Donaldson said. “But being swept away by storms is definitely one of the reasons birds scatter to different places.”
Donaldson notes that they may also be here as a natural extension of their territory. He says the easternmost populations of sandhill cranes are doing quite well, so their presence in New Brunswick may just be an example of a “founder” population splitting off from their traditional habitat.
He says he fully understands why birdwatchers like Landry are drawn to them. He always finds them breathtaking.