A beautiful, diverse natural landscape awaits visitors of all ages to the ACRES Wing Haven Nature Preserve in Steuben County.
In spring, white trillium carpet deep ravines near a 100-year old log building. Ben and Helen Swenson named their summer resort Wing Haven, “a sanctuary for birds, wildflowers, and people.” Helen bequeathed 160 acres to ACRES Land Trust, and today, the preserve encompasses 264 acres just five minutes from Interstate 69.
Wing Haven is a true haven for those with wings! During spring migration, you may see and hear orioles, thrushes, marsh wrens and blue-winged warblers. Grassland birds such as bobolink and meadowlark nest in upland fields. Follow a trail winding downhill from the oak, hickory and red maple upland forests to a view of Little Gentian Lake, one of seven small kettle-hole lakes carved by the glaciers. These clean, clear waters are surrounded by extensive spring-fed wetlands where fringed blue gentian grows.
Perhaps because of the protected wetlands, sandhill cranes nest along Wing Haven’s secluded lakes. This is cause to celebrate as the cranes were absent from northeast Indiana for many years. At night, the cranes roost on these shallow wetlands; during the day, they feed in surrounding upland meadows.
Sandhill cranes are amazing in appearance and actions. Three to 5 feet tall, these birds have gray bodies, rust-tipped wings and bald red foreheads. Their legs are long, their necks are long, their bills are long (and their relationships are long). Their extended wings are wider than most people are tall — seven feet wingtip to wingtip.
In spite of their lanky body build, Sandhill cranes are stately and semi-graceful performing artists, especially during courtship. If you’re lucky, you’ll see — in Wing Haven’s open wetlands and short grasses — the ritual wild dances for which the cranes are famous. They prance, they bow, they strut on long spindly legs (legs with a knot that looks like a knee but is really an ankle). They bend low to pick at leaves and twigs with their long sharp bills, tossing tidbits over their shoulders as they leap. The cranes’ mysterious wildlife ballet is one of the most fantastic wetland sights in Indiana.
Now, more about long relationships: sandhills can live 20 years. Social birds, they mate for life, remaining with a sick or injured mate rather than leaving with the flock. They’re typically found in family groups of three or four. The bond between parents and offspring is strong, lasting longer for cranes than for most birds. Young sandhills stay with their parents for months, following them on migration, learning routes and stopover sites passed down through generations. According to fossil records, they may be the oldest surviving bird on Earth.
In late November and early December, the cranes fly to wintering grounds in the south. In February and April, they migrate back north to their summer nesting habitat. Fortunately for the cranes, and for us, this habitat includes the safe clean lakes and wetlands of the ACRES Wing Haven Nature Preserve.
Once you’ve heard the sandhill cranes’ distinctive, wild, resonating call — a deep rolling repeating k-r-r-r-oo — you’re unlikely to ever forget it. Experience their call and witness their wildlife ballet thanks to member support of ACRES Land Trust.
Wing Haven Nature Preserve is located at 180 W. C.R. 400N, in Steuben County. Events at Wing Haven include the free 26th annual Adopt-a-Tree festival from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, April 18. Participants of all ages can make a bluebird house or suet feeder, look at pond water under a microscope, and adopt a black cherry, red oak, flowering dogwood, or white pine. Entertainment will include fiddle and dulcimer music and caricature drawings.
Explore Wing Haven’s trails from sunrise to sunset at no charge.
ACRES protects 5,717 acres on 94 properties and provides more than 70 miles of trail throughout our region, including more than 2,000 acres on 27 properties and 20 miles of trail in LaGrange, Noble and Steuben counties alone. At the end of 2014, ACRES acquired 230 acres on three properties in DeKalb County, celebrating our first significant presence in this county.
Discover nature’s wonders on ACRES in your neck of the woods: www.acreslandtrust.org/preserves.
Discover ACRES is a monthly column contributed by ACRES Land Trust. Membership based, ACRES is dedicated to preserving significant natural areas in northeast Indiana, northwest Ohio and southern Michigan. Explore our protected lands through hiking, free and low-cost educational events, scientific and cultural study, concerts and adventures. Connect with ACRES Land Trust at 637-2273, www.acreslandtrust.org, or on at www.facebook.com/ACRES.LT.