Karl and Stephanie Ann Johanson were thrilled to spot a pair of Sandhill Cranes in the Panama Flats this month, an unusual appearance for such birds. (Photo by Stephanie Ann Johanson)

Karl and Stephanie Ann Johanson were thrilled to spot a pair of Sandhill Cranes in the Panama Flats this month, an unusual appearance for such birds. (Photo by Stephanie Ann Johanson)

WATCH: Sandhill cranes an unusual, joyful sight in South Island parkland

These birds don’t often touch down on their way between northern B.C. and Mexico

A Saanich couple was thrilled to spot a pair of sandhill cranes roaming about the Panama Flats on Wednesday.

The birds aren’t rare, but it is unusual for them to be seen on the ground in Greater Victoria. Normally, the long-legged, swoop-necked creatures fly over the area to northern B.C. and the territories in May and back over on their way to the southern states and Mexico in the fall. But they seldom touch down.

Karl and Stephanie Ann Johanson have lived near Panama Flats since 1988 and say this week’s sighting is only one of a few times they recall seeing the birds.

“I think they look like pterodactyls,” Karl said with a chuckle. “They’re quite neat.”

He said they move around quite quickly, pecking at the muddy soil. This is how sandhill cranes forage for food, by plucking grains and invertebrates out of grassy or marshy areas.

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The Johansons walk their dog through the flats most days, and when they returned on Thursday, the pair of birds were still there.

It’s late in the season for cranes to not have made their way north to breeding grounds, said Ann Nightingale, a longtime volunteer and board member with the Rocky Point Bird Observatory. She wonders if they might be taking a year off and said it’s possible they’ll spend the summer months in Saanich before flying south when the colder months hit.

The birds enjoy agricultural or grassy areas, so the Panama Flats – farmland turned park – is perfect.

The Johansons said they love wandering through the parkland and are always spotting wildlife, from deer, raccoons and rabbits to otters, muskrats, snakes, turtles and frogs.

“Hopefully more people come out and see why areas like the Panama Flats need to continue to be protected,” Karl said.

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