Sandhil crane, Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary

Sandhill crane, Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary

” . . . for a full and true appreciation, one must go to the books before going to the birds themselves.”
— Louis J. Halle, The Appreciation of Birds

Double-page spread from Birds of Heaven by Peter Matthiessen

Double-page spread from Birds of Heaven by Peter Matthiessen

In anticipation of my trip to Nebraska to see the sandhill crane migration, I did quite a bit of reading about these birds. Here are some of the books I liked:

  • Cranes of the World by Paul A. Johnsgard
  • The Poets Guide to the Birds edited by Judith Kitchen and Ted Kooser
  • A Sand County Almanac by Also Leopold
  • Living on the Wind:  Across the Hemisphere with Migratory Birds by Scott Weidensaul
  • The Birds of Heaven: Travels with Cranes by Peter Matthiessen
  • The Migrations of Birds:  Seasons on the Wing by Janice M. Hughes
  • “The Nebraska Sandhills: The Flight of Cranes,” from The Necessity of Empty Places by Paul Gruchow
  • Sandhill and Whooping Cranes:  Ancient Voices over America’s Wetlands by Paul A. Johnsgard

I had seen my first sandhill crane in Homer, Alaska in 2008.   I have been practicing painting sandhill cranes from the photos I took at that time.

Watercolor sketch of sandhill cranes

Watercolor sketch of sandhill cranes

Watercolor sketch of sandhill crane

Watercolor sketch of sandhill crane

I was thrilled to see a few more sandhill cranes on my recent trip to the Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary in British Columbia.  They were right on a dike path, and we were able to get incredibly close.  (I can’t imagine we will ever get that close to a wild sandhill crane in Nebraska.  But we’ll see.)

Sandhill crane with shadow

Sandhill crane with shadow

Sandhill crane, Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary

Sandhill crane, Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary

Sandhill crane, profile

Sandhill crane, profile

Sandhill crane, back view

Sandhill crane, back view

Sandhill crane

Sandhill crane

The cranes in the Reifel sanctuary spent a lot of time grooming and preening.  This is considered a comforting behavior.  “Preening by cranes is a time-consuming activity that begins shortly after hatching and continues throughout life, especially during molting periods.  Typically cranes preen a single region for up to about 20 seconds, then move to another area.  Frequently the feather is nibbled at its base initially, and then the feather is gently drawn through the beak between the upper and lower mandibles.”
— Paul Johnsgard, ” Individualistic  and Social Behavior,” Cranes of the World: 2, January 1983

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All of my reading and past experiences seeing these magnificent birds have just whetted my curiosity for seeing hundreds of thousands of them in migration.  I’ll keep you posted.