Adios, Amigos

by wjw on February 21, 2007

The great thing about living in the country is watching nature happen all around you.
All winter long, the sandhill cranes become our neighbors. They spend the night in the Rio Grande nearby, and you can hear them calling each other in the night. Early in the morning they fly out to the farmers’ fields to graze, and fly back at sunset. I often see them stalking along the pasture behind our house, or in nearby fields as I take my walks on sunny days.

For the last ten days or so, the sandhill cranes have been flying north. I keep telling them that they aren’t going to like it once they get there, but they never listen.

They seem to start their migration around midday. Possibly they spend the morning feeding for the journey, or maybe it takes a few hours of daylight to generate the thermals they use to gain altitude.

Midday today there were hundreds in view at once, from horizon to horizon. Their calls filled the air and set some of the neighborhood dogs into a barking frenzy.

They fly in enormous V formations, Vs inside of Vs, until they hit a thermal, and then they break up into a climbing spiral until they gain some altitude, and then form up again. High up in the sky, with the sun gleaming on them, they shine like silver.

I remember one spring I was outside doing the endless yard work, and I heard this inexpressibly wonderful whooshing sound overhead, and I looked up to see a formation of sandhill cranes soaring overhead at about the altitude of my chimney. Among the sandhills was a single whooping crane, a huge white bird much larger than the grey sandhills. I stood there entranced, willing it to make a sound— and then it whooped, an enormous sound that echoed off the trees in the bosque and sent chills down my spine.

That may have been the last of the whooping cranes that the government tried to transplant to the Rio Grande back in the 1980s. Their eggs were placed in sandhill nests, and they grew up thinking they were sandhills and never mated with each other.

So farewell, snowbirds. See you in December.
Oz February 22, 2007 at 11:38 am

very nice. I used to see them on their route in Nebraska (and Kansas at this incredible bird sanctuary). Yes, those very states that get you from here to there in your writing…

Kelly February 23, 2007 at 7:08 pm

Gorgeous photos! The detail on the close up is wonderful. Is that a white patch on its bill or is it actually a gap?

dubjay February 23, 2007 at 10:29 pm

What that is on the beak is a hole. The nostril goes straight through to the other side.

I can’t take credit for the photos. I poached them from a public-domain site.

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