This morning, I went out to mail some packages and heard the unmistakable call of Sandhill cranes. It always makes my head snap up....somewhat like the sound of a kitten "chirping" a soft little "prrrup" that I hesitate to call a honk, although I know that is what it is.
The sound is almost otherworldly....like the call of some ancient reptile. Of course, I immediately start scanning the sky. Suddenly, I see them, coming over these trees...high....light undersides of the wings flashing with dark brownish black wing tips. Long necks stretching out. I freeze...the sight is wonderful. Do I run back inside the house to grab the camera I know to be sitting inside the front door? No. The only lens on the camera is the standard 50 mm and I need the telephoto to do it justice. I dare not leave this sight, even though it is cold. Two "v"s and some stragglers....then they regroup and there is one huge skein of them, majestically flying their way down south, probably to Florida. So now, the sky is empty and my heart and head are full only with the majestic memory.
I am moved by Sandhill cranes flying overhead. I think because in high school biology we read the Sand County Almanac, which chronicles the damage to the Sandhill crane and the impact of man on the environment. Written by Aldo Leopold in 1949, the book is one of the seminal works in environmental literature, and if you haven't read it, I encourage you to do so.
By 1978, Sandhill cranes were rare, but not as rare as the Whooping crane whose eggs the Sandhills were often coerced to raise by people trying to save the whooping cranes.. Once common in the prairies of Michigan, I had never seen one. Then, when I returned to Michigan for my 20th High School Reunion in 1998, I stayed at a friend's farm. I was out with her father and I heard the unusual call and looked up to see a flock rise from the field and take to the air. With wingspans of six to eight feet, this was quite a sight. It was a flock of Sandhills. In the 20 short years, they had managed to come back to that degree.
When we moved to Ohio, once again I was working in my yard in the late fall, early winter, and heard them again. My heart jumped at the sound and I scanned the horizon to find them. Every year now, I hear at least one flock. You don't notice them unless you're outside as their call isn't very loud.
Sandhill cranes have a 10 million year history recorded in fossils, said to be the longest of any bird species. This just proves, I guess, how adaptable they are and how they were able to come back, although some resident populations (ones which aren't migratory) are in more severe trouble. I giggle to think that there is a Cuban race.... I wonder if my husband knows this? He will tonight.
The tree at the top is the image I got to illustrate this as this is where I saw the flock....I ran to the back yard, but they were gone and all that was left was this shot. However, Alan D. Wilson, a wonderful photographer whose work I used to base one of my quilts on is really great about sharing his work. These two images of the Sandhill Crane are his. You can see how they are inspiring birds. Take a look at more of Alan's shots here.
For more about Sandhill Cranes, check out this.