Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Counting Cranes

Counting Cranes, wonderful book title. I'll have to think on that.

However, for my present purpose I'm writing about literally counting cranes, Mississippi Sandhill Cranes. Our story begins in a dark field cut out of the pine savanah and a truck full of volunteers. An incredibly awake and cheerful intern is cutting her headlights through the pre-dawn dark across an empty field to a blind set at the edge of the forest. She asks me, "Do you think you can make it?" I perkily, if somewhat falsely, answer, "No problem. See you later." Then, I toddle off across the dark field flashlight in hand as the warm truck goes back the way it came, leaving me alone and hoping that the cold is keeping the critters away and mildly concerned that some critter may be sheltering in the dark blind. This is the beginning of my first annual fall crane count.

Last Friday morning, that's how I came to be sitting in the dark, in the cold, alone, in the forest, perched a few feet off the ground in what we Texans think of as a "deer blind", while orienting myself with a compass to find north. I'd met a short time earlier with other volunteers at the Mississippi Sandhill Crane Refuge and now I was at my assigned location with the mission of counting every crane in sight. Of course, there were no cranes in sight.

As the sun came up, I waited eagerly, checked my record sheet again so I would absolutely get everything right in my documentation, had my camera near with zoom lens attatched, and then nothing. This is the way it is supposed to work, the cranes fly out of their roost in the pine trees and then hang out in the field for a while doing crane stuff, eating, dancing, calling. You know, crane stuff.

My cranes, apparently did not get the memo. By 7:30 I guessed I might be outside of the crane sighting window but I held out hope till about 8:15 or so. No luck.

I did have a nice morning. Saw some white-tail deer, a raptor that I'm not knowlegeable enough to identify, some red headed woodpeckers, and many many meadow birds. I also realized that as a primarily gatherer type this was probably the closest I will ever come to knowing what it feels like to go hunting, sitting poised, in a blind waiting for an animal to appear. All in all a positive experience and given the opportunity I will volunteer again next year. Maybe next year, I'll even count some cranes.

Animal Planet has a nice write up about the count on their blog. It will tell you why the Mississippi Sandhill Cranes are worth counting and what makes them different, enjoy.

(The photo above is one I took last December near Christmas while my brother Chiang Guy visited from Thailand. Fin, Chiang Guy, and I were very lucky to see about six cranes in the wild, very nice.


  1. Even if you may not have had a total, gut-level grasp of just how early Sunrise occurs at this time of year when you volunteered for this, I am again impressed with the contribution you made to their project. Responsible for the effort, not the results, yaknow.

  2. Thank you again Darling. I like that, "gut-level grasp of just how early Sunrise occurs at this time of year". Very funny.

  3. Sometimes getting up & out early is its own reward.

  4. I'm with Fin on this. It actually sounds like it would have been fun to do- as long as I didn't have to encounter any spiders.:)

  5. Intteliwench, I do agree. I actually had a great morning. Took about 100 photos of the deer that wandered through. It was very peaceful, if a bit cold.

    Wiz, it was fun and someone had been in the blind recently to knock out dirt dauber nests (found them on the ground outside). I'm not sure if they knocked out spiders but I didn't see any in the blind just a big orb spider outside.

  6. See ya in 26 hours. Will be cleaning till then!!

  7. southern Mississippi sounds like a wonderful place to be a naturalist... there is a refuge an hour north of me in New Mexico called Bosque del Apache where the sandhill cranes overwinter..love your blog, B!

  8. Amy, so glad you stopped by. The thing I truly love about this area is how immediate and varied nature is on the coast. You can't step out the door without seeing something amazing. Of course, the water is huge for me too, especially after living in West Texas so long.

    While we do have sandhill cranes that migrate through this area, the Mississippi Sandhill cranes are non-migrating and are actually an endangered subspecies of sandhill cranes.

    I've enjoyed browsing your website and your photos.


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