The Poets’ Birds: Cranes

cranesSandhill cranes ~ Brazoria County, Texas
I call my wife outdoors to have her listen,
to turn her ears upward, beyond the cloud-veiled
sky where the moon dances thin light,
to tell her, “Don’t hear the cars on the freeway—
it’s not the truck-rumble. It is and is not
the sirens.” She stands there, on deck
a rocking boat, wanting to please the captain
who would have her hear the inaudible.
Her eyes, so blue the day sky is envious,
fix blackly on me, her mouth poised on question
like a stone. But, she hears, after all.
January on the Gulf,
warm wind washing over us,
we stand chilled in the winter of those voices.
                                “The Cranes, Texas January” ~ Mark Sanders

Rough, raw — nearly indescribable — the sound of their call alerts me to their presence. On the open prairie, they tease even the most dedicated seeker, bobbing and bending among the grasses: oblivious to our longings.

Still, they comfort. Their hidden voices echo grace and beauty; the rhythms of their beating wings carry on the wind. “Listen,” they seem to say. “We have come, and soon will leave, but for this time, we offer you our world.”

Comments always are welcome. Unless otherwise noted, photos are mine.  Thanks to reader Bob Freeman, who pointed me to the poem.

96 thoughts on “The Poets’ Birds: Cranes

  1. Friends of ours went to Nebraska years ago to see them in March. They were impressed.

    It is very foggy with visibility less than 1/8 mile. Now and then we hear voices pass overhead. The Canada Geese are heading for feeding spots. They go back and forth over us each morning and evening. Sometimes in great numbers. Today, they are invisible.

    1. Today is the last day of the crane hunting season, so it may become easier to find them and get a decent photo. They were well beyond the reach of my camera here, and some I heard on the other side of the road were completely hidden by the grasses.

      I’ve heard that the Nebraska gathering is nearly unbelievable. I think they gather in the Texas Panhandle, too, although once you’ve made it from Houston to the Panhandle, you might as well go on to the Platte River.

      When I looked out this morning, there were coots galore on the water — perhaps a hundred. We have gale warnings for today; I’d say they probably rode in on the winds.

      1. ” Their hidden voices echo grace and beauty; the rhythms of their beating wings carry on the wind. “Listen,” they seem to say. “We have come, and soon will leave, but for this time, we offer you our world.” ”

        By the time I reached this lovely ending, tears were in my eyes and heart. So very lovely.

        Then I read this reply —- Crane Hunting Season? Really? Has there always been a crane hunting season?

        Some days I’m a bit too sensitive to absorb the realities of today’s world….

        It’s lovely here today, however, a break from the rainy season which has dumped buckets of rain this past week. The sunshine and the rainbows give us hope!

        Thanks for a beautiful post for this Sunday…

        1. Federally permitted hunts haven’t been around very long. As has happened with other waterfowl, increasing numbers due to conservation efforts have made it possible for hunts to take place. I haven’t been able to get into any of the sites this morning, but I’m pretty sure that the season is short (perhaps a month) and the bag limit is three. Each year, the length of the season and limits depends on the population of birds, and will vary from state to state.

          It’s another example of conservationist/hunters, state biologists, and other interested groups working together to make hunts possible. While I’d rather people hunt our overabundant whitetail deer and feral hogs, I’m not opposed to duck, goose, and crane hunting, especially since the populations are continuing to increase.

          We have sunshine, too — and strong westerly winds that are busy emptying out the bay. Every bird around here is grounded for the time being, and I’m busy being happy that it isn’t a work day. I suspect the cranes are happy, too. On this last day of the season, no one’s going to have a very successful hunt — if they’re even out there.

          1. Yes, it’s great when man can reverse the damage and bring a vanishing species back to healthy numbers.

            I see where bad weather swept thru the southern states… i’m glad we don’t have that kind of unstable weather and fluctuating temperatures… ha, but we have more volcanoes and earthquakes, or do we? the west coast stays quite active…. and there’s that silent New Madrid Fault….

          1. Another good one’s “Golden Road”. I’m not much of a Deadhead, but who could resist lyrics like these?

            “See that girl, barefootin’ along,
            Whistlin’ and singin’, she’s a-carryin’ on.
            There’s laughin’ in her eyes, dancin’ in her feet,
            She’s a neon-light diamond and she can live on the street…

            Well, everybody’s dancin’ in a ring around the sun,
            Nobody’s finished, we ain’t even begun.
            So take off your shoes, child, and take off your hat.
            Try on your wings and find out where it’s at.”

            Rain? What rain?

  2. I love to watch sandhill cranes. I don’t get to see them often, maybe once or twice a summer when I go to my niece’s cottage and I always pull the car over to the side of the road to watch a while. You live in a wonderful place for bird watching and long range camera lens.

    1. They are fascinating birds, and a treat when I get to see them. Before I owned a camera, I used to see them all the time — dozens of them, close to the road. Now? Not so much. But I’ll keep looking.

      There are birds galore around here, that’s for sure. During migration seasons, it’s particularly delightful. For a week or two or three, we can see songbirds and raptors that are on their way to somewhere else — the real photographers go crazy.

    1. Thanks, Bob. I’m not so happy with this one, but it’s the only I have of cranes, so it will do until I have a better one. I’m just pleased to have at least one to go with the poem!

  3. You are so lucky to have them on your prairies! We used to mostly hear them in IL, and watch from afar. When we travelled through Nebraska in early April last year, I was looking forward to stopping there for migrating cranes, but it was too late, they were already gone. We got to see so many European white storks in Latvia and Lithuania last summer, watching them frogging in meadows, and nesting with their babies on roofs of barns. Everywhere you turned, there was a stork. Kids will never forget that. :)

    1. The cranes are migratory here, of course, so the opportunities to see them are limited by time as well as place. Still, it’s worth looking around for them. One thing I’ve found is that crop rotation can make a big difference. Just because they were in one area last year doesn’t mean they’ll be there now, after the grain fields have been allowed to lie fallow. I asked one dedicated birder how she found them and she said, “It’s easy. Think like a crane.”

      We have wood storks, but that’s our only species, except for rare sightings of a Latin American stork called the Jabiru. I’ve seen photos of the nest European storks, of course — what a treat for the kids.

    1. They’re extraordinary, aren’t they? When I managed a few photos of the cranes, I didn’t think any of them deserved publication, but when Bob emailed me the poem, I realized the pairing would be perfect, even if the photo wasn’t. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

  4. Another beautiful piece of literature. I miss seeing sandhill cranes, as I’m originally from Corpus and the dot the landscape–nice to wake up to them this morning.

    1. The poem’s a good one, isn’t it? I’ve never heard sandhills calling in flight, but I do hear geese from time to time. That’s one of the advantages of my “office” — there’s nothing quite like being able to stop work, look up, and try to find the birds. I’ve never thought of cranes around Corpus, either. I’ve always seen them around El Campo, Danevang, and Tivoli, but of course Corpus isn’t so far away.

      I’m glad these made you happy this morning.

  5. It always takes me to younger years to hear their call. As a teenager I lived awhile with my grandparents in south Texas. Down there fall revolved around deer hunting. Dutifully, I would take myself out to the deer stand morning and afternoon, where I sat on the edge of a 200 acre wheat field. On many afternoons a flock of hundreds of sandhill cranes would settle in with a roar. The sound of them calling back and forth would end all hope of seeing a buck, though they didn’t seem to bother the does or the youngsters.

    Sitting and watching hundreds of sandhills intermingled with a like number of whitetail deer was one of the most amazing things I ever saw…

    1. From your comment, and Tina’s, it occurs to me I haven’t been going far enough south to find larger groups of them. They used to cluster around El Campo, south of 59 and east of 71, but I haven’t found them there the past two or three years. On the other hand, they are birds, and go where they will.

      I’ve never thought of white tails and cranes sharing the same field. That must have been quite an experience. For me, just seeing them all would have been enough. It is odd to think of them scaring off the bucks rather than the does. On the other hand, perhaps they weren’t scared at all — only irritated by all the racket.

      Speaking of weather, as you were this morning, how’s the breeze over there? When my desk and monitor started to vibrate, I checked and saw that we’ve got 40kt winds. In the nearshore waters, they’re showing gusts as high as 56. No fishing this afternoon, methinks.

      1. My experience was in the early ’70’s on my grandparent’s ranch in McMullan County out of Calliham. The wheat was planted each fall to draw in the deer from the surrounding brush. It accomplished it’s goal. On some evenings I saw over 120 does and yearlings on that field at one time. Evidently, the cranes also liked the young wheat plants. Since it was hunting season the bucks were pretty skittish anyway, so it really didn’t take much to send them packing.

        I was sitting out enjoying the wind and noticed something I have never noted before. The currents of air were more pronounced than normal. You could actually follow them by sound alone. They roared… And the roar moved with the gusts. You could follow the sound and watch the trees move as the sound did. I have never before noticed that phenomenon. The highest gust I recorded was about 30 mph at an elevation of 8 feet. So my wind gauge is pretty protected.

        1. Ah ~ now I can see the country. I’ve been around Three Rivers and George West a bit, and Beeville. It would be good hunting, especially with that wheat field, but it sounds like you might have tipped over into very good hunting.

          Your wind reminded me of Aeolian sound. I wonder if that’s what it was. Here’s a neat video of an Aeolian harp.. I suspect that the sound of a couple dozen sailboat masts “singing” in the wind would qualify, too.

    1. It’s interesting how migration patterns change over time. After Hurricane Ike, many of the birds that typically moved through here disappeared for several years. Especially at places like the Anahuac Wildlife Refuge, where they would feed, there wasn’t anything for them to eat. Now that we’re past the drought, and the prairies have come back, we’re seeing the birds again. Adaptation’s a wonderful thing.

    1. I’ve been watching the pigeons and sparrows on my balcony trying to cope with the extraodinarily strong winds we’re having this afternoon. The pigeons hunker down, facing the wind, but the little sparrows want to keep flitting around. They jump up, fluttering their wings madly while getting blown backwards. Eventually, they come to ground and look around as if to say, “I meant to land here all the time.” Even in the midst of chaos, they manage to keep on keeping on. They are a delight to watch.

    1. They’re beauties, for sure. I hope one day to get a better photo. I’m glad you liked the poem. The poet is new to me, but I thought his touch was just right.

      By the way — I got up close and personal with a red-tailed hawk from a local animal rescue last week. The group was making a presentation on their work, and brought some friends with them, including the glove-trained hawk. I thought of you, and told them about your hedgehogs. None of them ever had seen one.

  6. I can hardly wait for their return. They summer next door in the Minnesota State Mosquito Refuge. The first time my daughter saw one winging its way low over our yard, she exclaimed, “It is like Jurassic Park.” And yes, a big crane can look like a pterodactyl.

    1. It not only looks like a pterodactyl, it has some of the same endearing qualities. Most of the outfitters who provide crane hunts make clear that no dogs will be allowed: not because the dogs will hurt the birds, but because the birds will beat up the dogs. Granted, they don’t have the pterodactyl’s teeth to actually eat the dogs, but I’ll bet they would if they could.

      I love that they come back to your area in the summer. We do have that flyway connection. I still enjoy remembering the flocks of coots I saw at the lake in Fairmont in October. By Christmas, they were filling up our waters. We just had some large flocks come in this week, and it’s a delight to see them again.

      If I do find more cranes, I’ll tell them to be sure and do a fly-by when they get up there. Maybe they could dip their wings for you.

      1. I’ll have to warn Scooter not to chase them anymore.

        I get a lot of coot on my pond. They are to ducks what bullheads are to fish. Not that I mind bullheads or coot for that matter. As long as they remain polite, we get along just fine.

        1. I haven’t heard the word “bullhead” in years. We don’t have them down here, although we do have several species of catfish. Now, bull-headed? That’s a different matter.

  7. Cranes are so graceful. You see them stepping so gingerly as if not wanting to hurt by accident. I can’t say I am familiar with their call. One of the most beautiful birdcalls that I really enjoy is that of the Kookaburra. Just across from our upstairs study I noticed this bird patiently sitting on a fence. A plaque of mice had taken over our neighbours chicken coop. The Kookaburra did not complain. He swooped down and in no time managed to fly up with yet another mouse in its beak, mouse-tail swishing about but to no avail.
    The sound of the Kookaburra is the sound of Australia and featured in original News movies.

    1. Here you go — this is a really nice example of their “chatter. Isn’t it something?

      When I was in grade school and went off to summer camp, one of the songs we sang every year was the Kookaburra song. I still remember the first two verses, and the tune. If you were here, I’d sing it for you. Do Australian kids sing the same song? or is it an American’s idea of what Australians would sing?

      Kookaburra sits on the old gum tree,
      Merry merry king of the bush is he.
      Laugh, Kookaburra, laugh, Kookaburra,
      Gay your life must be!

      Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree
      Eating all the gumdrops he can see
      Stop, Kookaburra, Stop, Kookaburra
      Leave some there for me!

      Thanks to your comment, I learned that the Kookaburra is a kingfisher. That sent me off to listen to him, and see if he sounds like our kingfishers. The answer is: yes, pretty much. Neat!

  8. Going about their pecking business, adding beauty to our lives.
    We don’t get Sandhills here, Linda, at least that I’ve ever seen. But I’ve watched them stroll through my campsites in other places. Dignified might be a word that I would apply.
    And I learned from your conversation with Gerard. I had no idea about the connection between Kingfishers and Kookaburras. Kingfishers have one of the most distinctive calls of the bird kingdom. It might just be the sound, kookaburra. :) –Curt

    1. I’d say “dignified” suits them perfectly. And I do love their little chitters and churrs. It’s such an experience to hear them softly talking to themselves as they dig for crawfish, or frogs, or whatever they can find.

      Here’s something else so obvious I’m embarrassed I’ve not thought of it before. The “sandhill” portion of their name comes from the sandhills of Nebraska, where they stop along the edges of the Platte river during their migration. I’ve seen photos and videos of them there, of course. It just never clicked that it was the source of their name as well as a destination.

      We have a couple of kingfishers hanging around the marina now.I think he might actually be fishing the slough that backs up to it, but there’s never any question when he’s in the neighborhood.

      1. Every once in awhile, Linda, I will have one of those aha moments and make a connection that is so obvious I have never made it before. It’s not a biggie, but it always feels like a revelation, at least to me.
        Speaking of sand, have you ever read Aldo Leopold’s Sand County Almanac. It takes place in Wisconsin and is a jewel of a book on nature. I first read it in the early 70s when I became involved in the environmental movement but have reread it a couple of times sense. Definitely worth the read! –Curt

        1. I have Leopold’s book on the shelf, but haven’t done more than dip into it at this point. I surely will. Everyone I know who’s read it recommends it highly. I’m almost afraid to. By the time I’d cruised through William Least Heat-Moon’s “Prairy Erth” a couple of times, I was hooked enough to head for Kansas. Wisconsin’s just a bit farther. Maybe when I don’t have to leave the kitty…

          1. Along with Silent Spring, the book is considered one of the most important influences behind the beginning of the environmental movement.
            Not having to leave kitty sounds a little ominous… Peggy and I love animals but we have always avoided getting a dog or a cat because we felt our wandering ways wouldn’t be fair to it, and we knew we weren’t going to give up our wandering ways! –Curt

            1. Dixie Rose has done fine up to this point, even on my three week trip. But a month? I don’t know. She’s seventeen now, so it’s entirely possible she’ll depart this mortal coil before I get the money saved up for another extensive trip.

            2. Wow, seventeen! That is one mature lady. Way back when, we used to leave our cat, FE, home alone with lots of food and litter. She always survived but boy did she complain when we came home, usually in the wee hours of the morning. I just knew it was revenge. :) –Curt

  9. Cranes have that peculiar grace and elegant beauty of the tall creatures as giraffes, the Masai, camels … These lines in the poem make me sad: “Don’t hear the cars on the freeway—
    it’s not the truck-rumble. It is and is not the sirens.” We have made our world so noisy. We wonder why we are so stressed out. The noisy environment we live in contributes a great deal to that stress. How long before there won’t be any places where we can go to get away from the noise of civilization in the wild out yonder where there is peace and quiet? How long before we won’t be able to hear the cranes, not just because there won’t be any more to hear, even if you could hear them over the noise?

    1. You’re right about the elegance of the tall. Our fascination with tall creatures and people, combined with some subtle things about social order, probably played into our expression about “looking up to” someone.

      I live in fairly quiet surroundings. Even out on the docks, I can as easily hear the ospreys calling back and forth as I can the occasional siren or jet ski. Still, it was an astonishment, on 9/ll, to go to work (what else was there to do?) and discover, after the planes and boats were grounded, how much more quiet it was.

      The inability to tolerate silence is an interesting phenomenon. It’s helped lead to boom boxes, cocktail chatter, Muzak, and televisions in restaurants. It’s also the reason school principals, bosses, supervisors, and teachers can up the ante by just sitting in silence for a couple of minutes, staring at the person in front of them.

    1. They are wonderful to see, aren’t they? I know they’re fairly common around here, but they often feed in fields well off the road, so spotting them can be difficult. I’m so glad you’ve had some chances to see them.

    1. Not after I clambered up higher, with the car as my ladder. I’m still not quite to the point of carrying a real one around with me, but I’m thinking about it.

  10. I love watching sandhill cranes on the ground but I also love watching a large migrating flock as they turn and weave high in the sky. They are like shots of silver and gold twinkling against the blue sky, and sometimes even disappearing to return again in different formations.

    1. You’re so lucky to be able to see them. We sometimes have great flocks of geese and ibis moving through, but I’ve never see a flock of cranes flying — apart from one experience in the Texas Panhandle. I didn’t even try to photograph those. I just stood and stared. You’re right about how beautiful they are.

  11. I see plenty of vees overhead in the fall but my eyesight isn’t all that hot to ID them and my binos are never at hand. Cranes? Egrets? Ibis? Do Ibis fly in vees? Have no clue.

    You don’t have to be a Deadhead to like their songs. Golden Road is a good one.

    I kept the birdfeeders full all weekend and had plenty of soggy visitors to watch from my living room window. I know they appreciated having food available. We had rain and several heavy downpours. A little thunder and lightning but nothing really bad. Not like elsewhere in the SE.

    1. I usually see ibis making shorter hops, so they tend to bunch up, but they will fly in Vs. I don’t think they fly as high as geese, though. There are times when the geese are so high, I can hear them but can’t see them.

      I think my favorite Grateful Dead album’s “Skeletons in the Closet.” It’s got “Golden Road,” but it’s got “Truckin'” too. My, that’s been a useful song over the years. There have been a lot of long, strange trips taken, and it’s suited every one.

      We’ve had some goldfinches around, but the trees were full of them today. I wondered if they came in on the strong winds. I’ve been hearing a cardinal sing, too. They’re scarce in my neighborhood, but now and then we get one. Unfortunately, the obsessive-compulsive landscapers pulled down every bit of fruit from the palms, so no waxwings this year. I suppose it was management that told them to do it — we can’t have any mess from those nasty old trees, you know.

  12. Not sure I’ve ever seen one of these beauties in central or southern Illinois, so thank you for showing them to me. I didn’t realize what an OLD species the crane is (

    In Mississippi, sandhill cranes are an endangered species but being protected via refuge ( Thus far, I understand efforts are working. Must be an amazing sight, seeing so many of them gathered in one spot!

    1. That first article you linked is fascinating, Debbie. There are a lot of details I didn’t know that are included there. I did smile at this: “A single crane’s calls, amplified by its saxophone-shaped trachea—the windpipe in its long neck—can carry a mile.” I knew they were loud, but I didn’t know they were that loud.

      It’s interesting that some populations, like the one in Mississippi, are so small. The Platte River gathering is huge, of course, and something I’d like to see. My aunt in Kansas City wants to go, too. I can’t do it this spring, but I need to make plans — maybe for next spring. She’s in good health, but past 90, so dallying isn’t a good idea. Besides, after watching a few videos, it’s clear that it hasn’t been over-hyped. What a spectacle!

  13. What beautiful poem. Just the other night they showed “The Yearling” on TV, based on the 1938 novel written by Pulitzer prize recipient Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings.

    I have to say I do not like “The Yearling”, probably it’s just too confrontational. The deer which had become the beloved pet of the boy, became the “thief”, and had to be put down. Worse still, the father (Gregory Peck) makes the boy kill the yearling, perhaps to teach him a lesson and/or assume responsibility to become an adult.

    However, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings predicts the future all-too-well. Animals will compete with humans for food, and that is precisely her point in the novel. Nevertheless, forcing the boy to kill the yearling was a bit violent for my taste, although I understand what she was trying to prove.

    The conflict between humans and beasts will continue because the former is of course at the top of the food chain. I stand firm on trying to find a solution that does not involve any kind of violence, which is why I’ve become a pacifist as I’ve aged. I didn’t even try, it just happened.

    1. I understand perfectly about attitudes changing over time, often without our notice or intent. In some areas, it’s happened for me, too. One small example involves shopping. When I was in high school, and even for some years after that, my friends and I would “go shopping” as recreation. It’s been decades since I’ve done that. It doesn’t appeal any more. I didn’t make a decision to stop the behavior; it just happened.

      The choices we’re forced to make from time to time can be heart-rending, and the plot of “The Yearling” certainly makes that clear. In that story, it’s the relationship that makes the ending so difficult. Here in Texas, people are being encouraged to hunt the feral hogs that are wreaking havoc in the state, but I’m fairly sure no one’s ever had one as a pet. On the other hand, there can be a problem when people sentimentalize nature, too. Every day requires new decisions.

      I am grateful for the care that’s taken in setting limits for hunting and fishing, and for the enforcement of those limits. There’s more fishing than hunting around here, but even so there’s the occasional story of someone who thought he could go over the limits without getting caught. I wouldn’t try to outsmart one of our game wardens, that’s for sure.

        1. That’s a good question. I know what I mean, but I had to think a bit to come up with examples. There might be better ones, but these come to mind.

          Sentimentalizing nature could take the form of a person who turns a dog or cat into a “baby,” particularly the little dogs-as-accessories that ride in purses. I once knew a woman whose backyard was overrun by rats because she refused to be responsible about her woodpile, and kept saying things like, “But the little sweethearts need a place to live, too.” I spend the spring being mildly irritated at the gar and seagulls that feed on baby ducks, but that’s the way of the world — if it weren’t for the predators, we’d be up to our hips in ducks. And a friend who’s absolutely opposed to “killing Bambi” doesn’t seem to mind how many deer are malnourished because of overpopulation.

          I didn’t realize that all of this turned into an actual controversy with a name: the “nature fakers” controversy, which dealt with the conflict between science and sentiment in nature writing. It’s quite interesting, and raises questions for anyone doing nature writing.

          1. Thanks for the link! It is very interesting to read because at that time there was also that huge explosion of children’s literature which precisely anthropomorphized animals. I understand why this controversy arose. I, however, side with Jack London, who by the way, is one of my favorite North American writers. He was not too fond of the “nature fakers controversy” movement, because he was a fiction writer himself who anthropomorphized his dogs and wolves for younger audiences, but in the Wiki article he himself explains why he opposed it, so it’s all in there.

            I know the “The Bambi effect” is a modern term used now in the media that refers to objections against the killing of charismatic megafauna (animals that are perceived as “cute” or “adorable”, such as deer or dolphins), while there may be little or no objection to the suffering of animals that are perceived as somehow repulsive or less than desirable, such as spiders, fungus and other similar creatures. I think perhaps this term is more in tune with the reality that people pay much less attention to insects and other animals which are actually beneficial to the environment.

            1. This is so beautiful:

              “It was an old song, old as the breed itself – one of the first songs of the younger world in a day when songs were sad. It was invested with the woe of unnumbered generations, this plaint by which Buck [the dog] was so strangely stirred. When he moaned and sobbed, it was with the pain of living that was of old the pain of his wild fathers, and the fear any mystery of the cold and dark that was to them fear and mystery. And that he should be stirred by it marked the completeness with which he harked back through the ages of fire and roof to the raw beginnings of life in the howling ages.”
              ― Jack London, The Call of the Wild

            2. He’s alluding here to the dog [Buck] identifying with the ancestral howl of the wolf as “raw beginnings of life in the howling ages.” So beautiful!

            3. There’s no question about that. Fungi, bacteria, snakes, and cockroaches aren’t generally human favorites. Even when they appear, there’s a natural reaction of “Ewwww…” I suppose we tend to prefer creatures who will interact with us: dogs and cats, obviously; birds;, hamsters, gerbils, and so on. But that’s not always so. It seems there are people who keep crawfish as pets. That was a new one for me.

  14. Weather has been depressing this winter and there seems to be no birds around. Cranes? Sounds like a dream. Thanks for the words and image, Linda.

  15. I’d wondered why you’d not been posting much about the birds, and this seems to be the reason: there aren’t any out and about. Winter with birds is one thing. Cold and no birds could be depressing, for sure. We’ve been on a see-saw from wamth to cold. It’s odd that so many here still are hoping for a dose of real winter before spring sets in. Of course, our “real” winter differs significantly from yours, but I suppose the change is what’s important.

    I did some snooping and found these photos of cranes, that were taken in Cochrane. That’s only twenty miles from Calgary, so in late spring, you might have your own chance to see them!

  16. I was going to rant about hunting cranes, but there’s no point. Everything would work itself out into a perfect balance if there were far fewer humans.

    1. I’m not sure I agree with that. There are so many variable that affect populations, and humans are only one. Granted, there have been times (see: bison) when we clearly were out of control and the cause of significant harm. But that’s not always so, and populations of animals, plants — even fungi and algae — rise and fall.

      Besides, another word for perfect balance is stasis: a state or condition in which things do not change, move, or progress. Whatever nature may be, it’s not that.

      I did learn something heartening this week. On the Texas coast, efforts to increase the population of Kemp’s ridley sea turtles are doing well. Eggs left in the wild successfully hatch and return to the sea 3% of the time. When nests are identified, eggs gathered and incubated, and hatchlings returned to the sea at the location of their original next, the success rate is 97%. How cool is that?

    1. I recently learned why “birding” has replaced “bird watching” as the preferred term. It’s because encountering birds involves their songs and calls, too; we relate to them not only by sight, but also through sound.

      I’d never thought about it, but technological advances may have played a role in this. Reading attempts in bird books to describe a call in words or syllables can be pretty funny. How much more satisfying it is to click over to Audubon or Cornell and hear a recording.

  17. Interesting creatures, You can’t say they go about their business quietly! Goodness what a racket it must be. We have a couple varieties of crane here, but I have never seen a sandhill crane. Nothing more graceful taking to the sky though than the white ones we have.

  18. Oh, they do make a racket. Yes, ma’am, they do. Still, it’s fun to listen to them, and they’re ever so much more pleasant than traffic, or rap music, or jackhammers. Isn’t it funny that such a raucous bird also is so graceful? Maybe that’s what they mean by “redeeming qualities.”

  19. Well, you ought to make their acquaintance this spring. I did a search, and found several postings from people who’d found them at Cambridge Grass Lake, which isn’t far south and east from you. There were other places where they’d been found — even nesting. An “Ontario sandhill crane” search should fix you right up!

  20. Beautiful photo of the sand hill cranes! We have a lot of sandhill cranes fly over as we are in the Central Flyway. There is a season to hunt them, and I am proud to say that Kansas will delay the hunting season to protect the Whooping Cranes that migrate during the same time.
    I spent a day at the Quiveria Wetlands this week (a COLD and windy day). The snow geese were coming in by the thousands. Such a beautiful sight. Can’t wait to return on a bit warmer day.

  21. I didn’t know that — that both species of crane migrate at the same time, using the same flyway. It’s so good that they make efforts to protect the whoopers. Their wintering grounds here in Texas are a little farther down the coast, but one was spotted in an estuary not more than a couple of miles from my place a few years ago. It didn’t stay around, but the friend who spotted it agreed that there’s no mistaking a whooping crane for something else.

    I’ve looked at Quivira on a map, and thought it would be a wonderful visit. We’re not seeing as many geese as we used to, but I did see several large Vs the other day, flying high and fast. They used to show up in late November, but perhaps there hasn’t been enough cold to send them farther south. The teal got here “on time,” but the coots and some other ducks were late. Enjoy them for me!

  22. I love your new format but I still get shaken up and think I’m at the wrong place when I see all the light versus the terracotta! This is so airy and gives you such great opportunities for photos. Very nice. I know, I said it before. I’ll say it again.

    The sandhill crane festival in Michigan (Bellvue) is one of my favorite events though I’ve not been in ages. They come in at dusk, light WWII fighter planes on a mission. This poem is beautiful and really captures the energy.

  23. Do you know what startled me a couple of days ago? I was looking for an old post on my iPad, and when it came up, the old template was displayed. When I looked at it, I was glad all over again that I made the change. It’s easy to forget how things were, but seeing the old made the new seem even more the right choice.

    I looked up the festival, and Bellevue, and went, “Hmmmm…” It’s a mid-October festival, which means that if I were to go north first, and put that on my “head south ahead of the snows” schedule, it could make a grand finale for a Michigan trip. I don’t think I could manage it this year, but maybe by next. We’ll see. In any event, it looks quite wonderful, and I’m glad to know about it.

  24. They are beautiful, aren’t they? You’d think they could be easy to spot, given their large size, but that’s not always true. In a harvested grain field, they’re obvious, but in prairie grasses? Not so much.

  25. cranes are magnificent birds. I like what you say in one of your comments about birding and bird calls being just as important as seeing the birds, It’s so much easier to be aware of what’s around, specially in woodland, if you are aware of the birds calls and songs.


  26. Of course you would appreciate that aspect of birding, Juliet! I always enjoy your bird posts — partly because you are so senstive to those around you, and so knowledgeable about them. It always surprises me how many I can hear, even when none are visible.

    1. They are. One of these days, I’m going to have just the right combination of sunshine and free time, and get some better photos of them. They deserve to be seen in their full glory!

    1. What a wonderful experience for them. Am I just a bit envious? Why, yes — I am. I did hear from some birders last night that their numbers here are decreasing already. The cause? Nothing bad — just the annual migration.

      Thanks for sharing the post. The poem especially touched me.

  27. Lovely poetry, Linda. I do love these cranes. Their call is of the wild and as they fly over head in the Fall, I think about their journey from the north, coming in on silent wings but alerting humans that they are moving South. I detest that they are among the list of birds that are legal for hunting. Why anyone would want to kill these gorgeous magnificent birds, boggles the mind.

  28. It seems I was a little late in looking for them this year. Our early-blooming paintbrush apparently have been accompanied by early departures of some birds. There still are teal around, and some coots, but their numbers are diminishing, as are the cranes. I heard cranes in fields this weekend, but they were so far away I couldn’t see them. Their voices certainly do carry a long way.

    Like you, I wouldn’t hunt them, but with their numbers increasing, I’m not opposed to allowing hunts. I am glad to know that limits are set after consultations by agencies in states all along their flyway. At least in some areas, cooperation is taking place.

  29. One of the losses I suffer for lack of traveling is to hear the cranes for myself. To see the snow goose blast off. And so much more. YouTube just doesn’t cut it. Lucky you to be able to experience them. The closest I get are the flocks of Canada Geese flying overhead. Just imagine the endless flyovers of Passenger Pigeons before their condemnation to pie ingredients.

  30. Of course, sometimes I don’t even have to travel. One of the great benefits of my “office” is that people like this come by fairly regularly. On the other hand, lucky you to be able to see the geese. I miss them. They used to come through here a couple of times a year, but they’re taking other pathways — seemingly since Hurricane Ike.

    If you’d like some non-passenger pigeons, I have a couple of dozen I could send to you. Now that winter’s over, I’m going to use up the rest of my sunflower seed and then stop feeding. That’ll fix ’em. They’ve irritated me by running off all the other birds.

  31. I love them so much, the cranes….for years they were a mirage, then one afternoon when I was vacationing by myself near Fort Meyers, FL, I saw a pair in someone’s yard, right there by the road, calm as anything (well, it was a back road). Then more in southern Arizona, where we went intentionally to find them, and watched a huge flock come in for the night, calling and calling, wave after wave. We stayed until after dark, and barely found our way back to the car. Another time, in eastern Washington, it was what you describe – the sounds but no sights – and that was wonderful too, in its own way – so tantalizing. You probably know of Peter Matthiessen? He loved cranes and has at least one book out about them.

  32. Oh, dear. I must confess I never have heard of Matthiessen. Once I read his bio, I was chagrined, to say the least. On the other hand, I’ve never followed the literary world, so that may help to explain my ignorance. But I found “The Birds of Heaven,” and it seems as though it would be a wonderful read. I’ll never travel as he did, but it has crossed my mind that the Platte River in Nebraska might be a nice, alternative destination.

    Where did you go in Arizona to find them? Now I’m wondering if there’s a flyway extending from Arizona up through Washington, to Canada. The cranes are compelling. Once they’ve been experienced, the thought of seeking them out again, and again, makes perfect sense.

  33. No worries, as they say around here. I’m not well read, but my parents had a New Yorker subscription and I enjoyed reading his articles there. I loved his point of view, then our paths crossed a number of times, lucky for me. He was passionate about so much of the natural world.

    In Arizona we found the cranes in southern Arizona, over the mountains from Bisbee, if you’ve ever been there. We went to the Chiricahua NM that trip, which was fantastic, and a wonderful small museum, the Amerind Foundation, in Dragoon. We stayed in a fascinating airbnb built by a couple devoted to sustainable agriculture, toilets, and everything else! This is a trip you could definitely do by yourself.

    If there’s a way to embed these links in a comment, I don’t know it, so here they are:

    1. That’s interesting. I used to read “The New Yorker” without fail. The fact that I don’t remember him from that publication probably is due to my relative lack of interest in the natural world all those years ago.

      I’ve never been to Arizona, although my parents spent some time there after Dad retired. I have wonderful memories of New Mexico. If I ever head west again, I need to stay south, and push on through NM. The B&B is appealing as can be–and thanks for the webcam link. The internet makes wonderful things available to us — despite its occasional downside.

  34. I lived in Alamosa Colorado for three years. When the sandhill cranes migrated through, we had more cranes than people. They would be out gleaning the fields, whole herds…..flocks….

    1. I finally found another group of them last night — very large. There easily were a hundred, and maybe two. They filled a field, but it was just at sunset, and there wasn’t enough light or enough room at the side of the road to stop for a photo. Still, it was encouraging. They may be on their way north, but they aren’t all gone. I’ll keep looking.

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