The Cranes at Crex trip brings surprises this year

Saint Paul Audubon’s annual field trip to see the Sandhill Cranes at Crex Meadows took a few unexpected turns this year.

The drought of 2021 has dried up the feeding fields around Crex and according to Chase Davies, who led the group, along with Louise Eidsmoe, “There hasn’t been enough rain for the creeks that bring the water, much less the usual flooding that supports the cranes, other wildlife, and the vegetation that feeds them all.” The cranes were clearly roosting someplace else, and Crex Meadows staff suggested going ten miles south to the Gretturn Flowage in the Fish Lake WMA, where up to 5000 a night had been reported. 

A line of 17 cars, some with first-time birders, caravanned to the new site, which provided a somewhat different viewing experience.  “We were closer to the cranes than usual and the noise level was far greater than what we experience at Crex,” said Chase. “Scopes revealed massed choirs of birds in the distance and binoculars were actually useful.”

“Parked along the flowage road, we watched the arrivals and listened to the adults and a few young individuals socializing as they settled in for the night,” said Chase.  “Everyone in our group stayed through sundown, which unexpectedly coincided with a huge orange harvest moon rise.” This year the cranes were joined by “over 50 Trumpeter Swans, a few coots, mallards and Canada Geese,” said Chase, “along with a Bald Eagle and a Harrier seeking supper from among the wetland plants.  The dearth of small birds such as finches and sparrows, lingering warblers, and blackbirds was notable. Another difference – in fact totally unique in my years of Craning – is that the birds stopped coming in right at 7:15. As though the spigot had suddenly been turned off. Usually the sound of cranes streaming in continues through dusk until it’s too dark to see them on the wing. I left at 8:07 after 20 minutes of near total quiet other than an occasional goose honk, duck squawk, young crane tin whistle, or adult ‘garoo.’”

Sandhill Cranes in Crex Meadows SWA

Since historic times, Greater Sandhill Cranes have congregated by the thousands every autumn evening in the marshes and ponds now called Crex Meadows, located on the north side of Grantsburg, WI.

In-Person Field Trips to Resume!

The Saint Paul Audubon Society board is happy to announce that in-person group birding events will again be allowed, and the Field Trip Committee has planned a full schedule of guided walks for you to join, from May through November. The board voted at its May 3 meeting to resume group birding with the following guidelines:

  • Participants must be fully vaccinated for Covid-19.
  • Everyone needs to maintain social distancing.
  • Masks are optional but welcome.  
  • Attendees will provide their names and contact information at the start of each walk.

The first event on the schedule is a Tuesday morning walk at Snail Lake on May 11, 7-9 a.m. This is followed by a field trip on May 15 titled “Birds, Bogs, Bees and Bantams,” to be held at the 20-acre homestead of Curt and Pat Hadland, in Scandia.

Many more walks for all types of birders follow throughout the summer. Please go to for complete details. Information will also be posted in upcoming issues of the Cardinal, and on the Saint Paul Audubon Society Facebook Group, at If you are not currently a member of the group, please click the “Join Group” button at the top of the page.

We are very excited to once again offer guided group walks, which is at the heart of the Saint Paul Audubon Society’s mission to promote the enjoyment, understanding and protection of birds and their habitats.

            A reminder about Warbler Weekend: This coming weekend, May 8-10, is Warbler Weekend, to be held with Covid-19 precautionary modifications this year.  Please note that the new guidelines for in-person walks begins on May 11 and does not include Warbler Weekend, which will not have guided walks.  Everyone will bird independently or in groups of 6 or fewer. Bird lists, maps, and instructions for returning your records will be available at the Hok-Si-La Park Dining Hall.

Meet Field Trip Leader Chase Davies

Chase Davies loves being outdoors and she loves leading nature walks. No surprise, as she is one of the most frequent field trip leaders for the Saint Paul Audubon Society.

Chase is an ecologist with deep knowledge of the natural world and a wide range of experiences outdoors, beginning from the time she was growing up in Dayton, Ohio. “This was during WWII and there were no men around,” she says. “We lived on the edge of the city, on the edge of the school district, and there weren’t many kids around either. But there were fields and I wandered and took everything in. I was just outside most of the time.” She spent summers with a grandmother who lived in upstate New York on a lake, exploring the outdoors there by boat; and the family drove to Naples FL many years for Christmas. “We explored Marco Island and Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary – a National Audubon Society sanctuary — driving around in my father’s jeep,” she recalls. Then at age 11 she went to a rustic summer camp near Rocky Mountain National Park and ended up going back every summer for nine years as a camper and then a counselor.

Birding started at age 9 when a friend of her mother’s began taking her along on Dayton Audubon Society outings. “Four rivers converge in Dayton and there are dams to control flooding. The area around the dams is fabulous birding habitat,” says Chase. “We also went out to the countryside, along the dirt roads. When the fields were flooded, they were full of water fowl and that’s when I learned to identify ducks.”

The trip that really hooked her on birds was a weekend near Sandusky Ohio. “Sandusky is on the south shore of Lake Erie, at one end of an archipelago of islands that extend to Point Pelee, Ontario, on the other side. This is where migrating birds – and many warblers – hop across the lake to Canada and further north.”

The next stop in Chase’s life was Vassar College, where she majored in Zoology. “As a freshman, I took a class that used Eugene Odum’s brand new textbook Ecology, which was a radically new approach to science. That course really set me up for knowing what I wanted to do in college and for my future interests,” says Chase. “I took an interdepartmental approach and did independent study, one time studying chickadees and another investigating conservation practices on a dairy farm.”

In pursuing work and a career, Chase realized, “I was not cut out for classroom teaching.” Eventually settling in St. Paul, she worked for the Science Museum of Minnesota teaching classes to adults and kids, and directing the Minnesota Zoological Society as the New Zoo was opening in Apple Valley. In 1994, after a substantial stint as an accountant at H.B. Fuller, Chase retired and was able to spend a year

at the Thorne Ecological Institute in Boulder, CO, where she prepared to become an interpretive naturalist for the Rocky Mountain National Park. She continues to spend “as much time as possible” in the Rockies, often now as a field trip follower.

Chase’s most meaningful birding experiences are when she is leading a group. “I enjoy watching people as they are seeing and learning new things. My goal is to help people open up a little so they are more observant using all their senses. I love to see the joy on a kid’s face looking through a scope.”

Going on a bird walk with Chase is a real pleasure but you need to catch her between travels. Most years this includes a trip to Nebraska in March to see the cranes, back to Minnesota for May, and June in the Rockies, experiencing spring in each location. This year she is going to take in spring on South San Padre Island, Texas.

“I have managed to do what I love for most of my life,” she says. “Being outdoors, learning together with other people. Everyone knows something, and the fun is in sharing what we all know. I call it cooperative learning.”