Drivers asked to watch for sandhill cranes in Trinity neighborhood

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The regal, long-legged sandhill crane is just one of many beautiful birds living in the Bay Area. In Pasco County, a group of wildlife advocates says they're seeing more and more of them dead on the side of the road; victims of fast-moving traffic.

Those advocates are joining together, not only in hopes of sending a message for drivers to slow down, but also to get warning signs installed.

"They're just so beautiful and majestic," Lexie Vanderweit said as she watched a family of four sandhill cranes living near J.W. Mitchell High School in Trinity.

But the daily journey across Little Road can be a life-or-death endeavor for mom, dad, and their two little ones.

"They're used to being in fields and not worrying about anything," Vanderweit said. "They just walk in the road, not realizing there's cars driving by and they get hit."

With so much new development, Little Road is an area where sandhill crane spottings are increasingly common. When they cross the road, it's up to the drivers to slow down. Unfortunately, that doesn't always happen.

When Vanderweit sees sandhill cranes get too close to the road, her motherly instincts kick in. Monday afternoon, she stood in the middle of the road, stopping traffic so the birds could safely cross.

"My goal isn't to encourage them to cross," she said. "My goal is just to encourage the cars to stop if they're crossing."

The problem is, she's not always there. So she, Dixie Sparks, and other sandhill crane advocates are urging drivers, especially now, during nesting season, to keep their eyes open.

"They're foraging on the side roads and the medians which puts them really in danger," Sparks said. "They have babies right now and the babies follow the parents across the road and they're just in terrible danger at the moment."

"I found five dead, hit by traffic. I was just really disturbed by it," Sparks said.

Beyond awareness, their ultimate goal is to see 'Sandhill Crane Crossing' signs posted, even if only for the season. In the meantime, Vanderweit created the Trinity Sandhill Crane Watch Facebook page so members can keep tabs on familiar feathered families.

"I would hope that people in the community would post pictures maybe about the families they see, making sure that this family and other families I'm aware of are doing well," Vanderweit said.

Fortunately, the family of four sandhill cranes made it safely across Little Road and into the woods with a little kindness from humankind.

"They're just wonderful parents and they're just trying to survive," Sparks said. "I think we have an obligation to our wildlife to protect them the best we can under the circumstances."

While there are currently 'Wildlife Crossing' signs in various locations of Pasco County, if there's an area that might need one, traffic engineering supervisor Michael Bunk encourages people to contact the County Service Center. They'll review crash reports involving animals, take eyewitness accounts, and observe the area to come up with an appropriate action plan.