Our love affair with sandhill cranes began in Michigan, when a pair lived on our lake each summer and wandered around our neighborhood grazing on everyone’s bird feeders. They were the harbingers of spring, letting us all know by their loud squawks that they were back, bringing warmer weather with them. Their cycle of leaving and returning grounded us in the seasons and made us feel more a part of our small lakeside community.
So imagine our pleasure after moving to Nebraska to discover half a million of them come through the state in the spring, stopping off to fatten up in the fields and wetlands on their way north. Our pair is not a part of this migration; greater sandhill cranes come to Michigan from Florida whereas Nebraska’s lesser cranes come from Texas and points south. Nonetheless, each year we revel in the sight and sound of these big birds passing through, remembering our Great Lake neighbors from years ago.
I’ve written about cranes before so why revisit the subject? Well, while we were exploring Dinosaur National Monument on the Utah/Colorado border we discovered our timing coincided with other greater sandhill cranes migrating south to New Mexico. Here we were in what appeared to be a high desert, in the middle of nowhere when much to our surprise, a corn field appeared next to a river. A recently harvested corn field, full of tall, grey forms walking on stilts. Rolling down the window we heard the traditional call of the sandhill crane as they gossiped among themselves.
It’s a sound never forgotten once heard and very appropriate for that area – a prehistoric call echoing around the distant mountains that had probably heard similar sounds millions of years ago when the fossils it is famous for were laid down in the silt. The image I made is unlike any other crane picture I’d seen. The multicolored mountains as a backdrop to a familiar sight – big grey birds strolling through a cornfield on their way to a distant destination.