Tuesday, September 29, 2009

To See a Crane

We quickly pulled as far as we could to the side, wheels barely dipping off the paved highway, while heavily-loaded logging trucks pushed tall walls of air ahead of their massive profiles rocking the car, and I wrestled free of my seatbelt, scrambling for binoculars and camera.
The graceful birds stepping along the horizon, then crossing the crest of the hill to an unseen field beyond, barely visible against the gray sky where it met a well-worn pasture and several weathered barns could only have been the cranes.
Until then, an image seen only in others’ pictures—illustrations to stories told of their great flocks in migration, partners paired for life, dances of courtship seen only by those of the northern plains, the birds with the prehistoric past.
In an instant they were gone, and I was left holding a foggy lens, still missing that crisp, clear view so desired of the tall bird with the crimson forehead, the long, dark bill.

Bracken Fern

Miles later, we entered Seney NWR—a great attraction of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula encompassing 95,000 acres of wetland, shallow pools, and deciduous and coniferous woods. Still bearing the scars of the lumbering trade, this previously exploited land is now managed for wildlife. Preserved within a tall glass case inside the visitor center, beside a fabricated tree from which the great owls of the north woods peered down with lifelike golden eyes, a Sandhill Crane stood, motionless in the characteristic pose straddling her fuzzy young colt. There, for one who might never have the privilege of seeing one walk in the wild.
I stood and stared from the other side of the glass.

Then, slipped out the back onto the short walking trail circling several pools. The woods smelled of Balsam, their quiet darkness interrupted only by sunny stands of paper birch and poplar, their light leaves quivering in a cool breeze. Afternoon sun set aglow fields filled with the tawny tones of Bracken fern and goldenrod. The last of summer’s water lilies dotted the clear amber water, tannin-stained of Hemlock bark and White Pine. And dragonflies big and small soared over open spaces. Seney’s wilderness is home to black bear and gray wolf, marten, bobcat and moose.
In the shallow edge water beside one of many small islands, providing safe and secluded nesting sites for the hundreds that gather here, a family of Trumpeter swans dabbled within view of the walking trail.
But, still I saw no cranes.

Seney NWR

Large darner, Aeshna sp., eating smaller red dragonfly

Pool along the Pineridge Nature Trail

Trumpeter swan cygnet (L) and adult (R)

Returning to the car, and with instructions from the staff and parting good wishes for successful sightings, we drove the seven-mile, single dirt lane auto tour--a fine thread stitched in a winding path across Seney’s vast wilderness fabric, with scattered pull-outs for pauses, and a suggested time to be taken, one hour.

Marshland Wildlife Drive

A young loon, his head still in brown velvet, beads of water slipping from his back, dove and disappeared again into deeper water. Herds of swans napped in the shallows. A beaver broke the stillness with a loud, “crack.”

Common Loon, juvenile

And, wading beside a distant island, breaking the expanse of rippled blue, stood 2 tall, gray birds--afternoon sun on each crimson forehead, with the long, dark bill of the Sandhill Crane.

Sandhill Cranes wading

By evening, we found our way to an access road--closed to vehicles but taking a biker or hiker deeper into the refuge, where we left the car and set off on the less-worn path. The pool was large and littered with logging remains, its glowing banks stained the same amber shade as the waters around us. An enormous puddled plain, where faded stems of grasses hid the tall birds well.
And we sat at sunset watching, as, above us, others joined them.
In pairs, calling their rattled song, to one who would have the privilege to see a crane.

Gray's Creek

Sandhill Cranes on a puddled plain

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Lisa at Greenbow said...

What a delightful trip. This brings back memories of my visit to Seney. The first and only time I have seen a hummingbird nest. We got to sit there and watch her build. I got to see young Sandhill cranes in a family unit.The little rusty young. So cute, all legs. My first ever long-eared Owl. Yellow rail clacking. Seney is a magical place.

scienceguy288 said...

"Cranes are the symbol of our untamable past, of that incredible sweep of millennia which underlies and conditions the daily affairs of birds and men." -Aldo Leopold

Laure Ferlita said...

Thank you, Nina, for reminding me of how fortunate I am to live in an area where we have this magnificent creatures around us all the time. This makes them no less captivating, but sometimes I forget to appreciate that others are not so fortunate.

Robin said...

Can you hear my breath?

That's all there is.

Thank you.

Mary said...

Nina, I savored every photo here. I haven't seen a crane in many years...

Kelly said...

Oh! I totally missed this post...I just saw Sandhill Cranes for the first time this weekend in Ann Arbor at the Haehnle Sanctuary. They are gorgeous...and that call of thiers...yum. Loved your narration...and beautiful photos.

Julie Zickefoose said...

This is sooo gorgeous! the loon shot is magnificent! They all are. What a treat to see the images with the writing.