Sunday, April 5, 2015

Let It Be A Dance

Migratory sand hill cranes breed in Canada, Alaska, and Siberia. Each winter they fly south to their favorite places in Florida, Texas, Utah, Mexico, and California. Each spring, they go north again. En route, more than three-fourths of all sand hill cranes (some 500,000) stop over in a single 75-mile stretch along Nebraska's Platte River.

I was privileged to see their spring gathering. Driving out of Kearney, Nebraska, my friends and I saw a small flock in a field. Something spooked them and they arose in unison and flew beyond our sight. Was that it? Had we missed them? Checking in at the Audubon Center, we learned that many cranes had been delayed by Texas blizzards.

Still, that evening we saw hundreds and hundreds of them glide in for their night’s rest on Platte River sandbars (see previous post). It was spectacularly beautiful.

Well before dawn the next morning, we arrived at a pedestrian bridge over the Platte River. Standing in the dark, we welcomed the first hints of sunrise. As soon as there were slivers of light, the birds began ‘talking.’ As the sun began to rise, we could discern movement on the river. Here and there a bird rose out of the darkness. Then, as dawn broke over the horizon, waves of cranes soared up overhead, singing to the new day.
First waves were followed by second, third, fourth waves – thousands upon thousands of magnificent birds – an exultation.

None of my pictures came out but the images of that dawn glory are indelible.

We got back in the car and wandered back roads, driving east as the Audubon staff had recommended. And there they were. In field after field, feeding, ‘talking’, and dancing.

Crane dancing involves wing flapping, bowing, and jumping. It can be part of a mating ritual … or not. And some pairs may throw their heads back and unleash a passionate duet—‘an extended litany of coordinated song’.
We had only glimpses of events older than our species, a fraction of splendor that remains glistening in my memory. 

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