Cranes and Color: Hallmarks of a Pure Michigan Fall

Fall in Michigan is more than a season to seek out colorful foliage: it’s a season to discover unique ways nature shows its secret selves, sometimes in dramatic displays of sheer numbers all shouting in strange voices — like the annual migration of the Sandhill Cranes. Oh, don’t pretend to yawn and mutter under your breath about bird watchers. Have you ever seen or heard a Sandhill Crane in the wild? Well then. Give this video clip the chance to change your mind.

Michigan’s largest bird, Sandhill Cranes stand up to five feet tall and have a wing span of up to seven feet. Their long, skinny necks and legs make them appear even larger. Imagine the spectacle of hundreds of these giants gathered in one place.

Let Southern Michigan bed and breakfast inns take care of your night times while you experience day times celebrating these giant, prehistoric-like kin to the dinosaurs. Spend the weekend in Calhoun County at CraneFest XVIII, the Sandhill Crane & Art Festival, October 13-14 starting at noon each day. It’s at the Kiwanis Youth Conservation Area, 22300 15 Mile Rd near Bellevue, 49021. Parking is $3; admission is free.

Sponsored by the Michigan Audubon Society, the event includes an artist village featuring the work of 30 Michigan artists, birdwatching from the Youth Area and at the adjacent Baker Sanctuary’s Meadow and Marshlands Trail, naturalist-led hikes, bird crafts. live birds of prey with the Michigan Hawking Club and a whole lot more. The cranes themselves are best seen as they begin arriving at the sanctuary just before dusk. Bring a blanket, lawn chairs and binoculars to enjoy this spectacular event as it unfolds before your eyes.

If you can’t make it to the festival, crane viewing begins the weekend after CraneFest and continues every weekend through November 11 from 4 – 7 p.m.  Binoculars are essential to enhance the viewing experience.

Other Sandhill Viewing Venues
You can also view cranes daily from dawn to dusk at Michigan Audubon Society’s Phyllis Haehnle Sanctuary in nearby Jackson County. Find the details here. More than 350 cranes were spotted as of today, and the numbers grow daily until, in November, they leave for points south. 

Sandhill Crane Vineyards will add it’s signature wine to the mix in a Cranes, Colors and Cabernet Festival on October 20. The winery is teaming up with communities around the Waterloo-Pinkney Recreation Area, including the charming Village of Chelsea, which celebrates the gathering of the cranes starting the first Saturday in October through November 7.

If you are going to watch cranes near Bellevue, we recommend you book your bed and breakfast lodging now at these nearby inns, each “quality assured” by the Lake to Lake B&B Association and located within 30 miles of the festival site:
The Kalamazoo House, Kalamazoo;  Adrounie House B&B, Hastings; Olde Farmhouse B&B, Marshall; National House Inn, Marshall; Albion Heritage B&B, Albion; and The Farmhouse Inn, Homer.

If you’re mixing Cabernet with your cranes in Jackson or sampling festival fare in Chelsea, here are sure bets in addition to inns already listed in Marshall, Homer and Albion that will make your experience even more memorable:
Hankerd Inn, Pleasant Lake; Dewey Lake Manor, Brooklyn; Chelsea House Victorian Inn, Chelsea; Waterloo Gardens B&B, Chelsea; Munro House B&B and Spa, Jonesville; Topliff’s Tara B&B, Williamston; and Bunn-Pher Inn in Pinkney.

Chelsea outings are also convenient to Canterbury Chateau in Brighton; Milford Guest House in Milford; and Vitosha Guest Haus in Ann Arbor.