This is Sandhill Crane season in the San Luis Valley — and especially in my town which, thanks to a Wildlife Refuge south of town attracts upwards of 20,000 Sandhill cranes every year. They gather to dance, mate, swoop, circle, evade predation and sing to each other in surprisingly euphonious voices.
I recently watched several small groups assemble high in the sky. They called out to each other, got together bit by bit, forming an enormous gyre of hundreds of cranes, swirling upward in the infinite blue. Mesmerizing.
Sandhill Cranes are among the oldest species on earth, enduring for 2.5 million years. They have fine-tuned survival. Among their predators are large raptors, and when a bald eagle or golden eagle circles above them — whether they are in the air or are calmly “grazing” on land — they group together. They have had plenty of time to learn that one crane is far more vulnerable to attack than is a group. Other predators — foxes, coyotes, raccoons, bears — mostly prey on juvenile birds. The adults are formidable.
They are dinosaurs.
My town celebrates this big deal of nature. There will be a BIG craft and nature show down at what anyone would call the fairgrounds. Special movies are shown at our theater. Bus tours go out a couple of times a day with forest service and park naturalists. People come to my town from all over the world to see this. A couple weeks ago, the special festival banners went up…
Living here, I get to see the cranes begin to arrive. It’s part of my world and the first sign of spring for everyone in the San Luis Valley. I’ve had the wondrous experience this year of langlaufing all alone on the golf course on a cold, sunny/foggy afternoon listening to the cranes calling to each other not far above me.
I don’t make special trips out to the refuge to see them until the clamor of humanity has left. This year I’m thinking that I’ll take Bella (the Jeep) out to the Sand Dunes to see them, maybe an adventure with my friends. 🙂
This is a good video and explanation of their various sounds.