Monday, May 6, 2013

What happened to the cranes?

The last time I saw the crane family on our property was when the baby was 8-days-old

Simply Living

The day after I wrote last week’s column, the cranes disappeared.

Before eating breakfast that morning, I scanned the lakeshore with my binoculars. When I didn’t see the birds, I didn’t worry. I knew the cranes — two adults and their 9-day-old baby — had been taking longer and longer walks as the days went by. I figured they were exploring inland, farther away from the shore.

After breakfast, I looked again. Still no cranes.

I was busy that morning and in the afternoon, too. There were errands to attend to in town and work in my office to complete. Even so, I made time periodically to step outside with the binoculars to scan the property. Yet every time I looked, I came up blank. I couldn’t find the cranes anywhere.

By evening, after returning from a long walk around the lake, into the woods and out onto the marshland, I was edging on frantic.

“What do you think happened,” I asked Ralph. “It seems unlikely that they all were killed by a predator and the baby’s too young to fly yet so they couldn’t have flown somewhere else. And besides, why would they? Their nest is here. I just can’t figure it out.”

The next morning, the first thing on my mind was to look for the birds. Once again, the cranes were nowhere in sight.

When I searched, I saw many other birds on the lake, but no sandhill cranes

After breakfast, I took another walk, this time paying closer attention to details. When walking past a section of field fence hidden behind a hedge of bamboo, I noticed a slight break in the fence where it met the ground. It was a gap too small for an adult sandhill crane to fit through but just the right size to accommodate an inquisitive chick.

When I returned home, I told Ralph about my discovery.

“What if the baby crane discovered the hole in the fence and wandered through it,” I proposed. “Then, what if the parents flew to the other side to join the baby but couldn’t figure out how to get back? Do you think that’s possible?”

Ralph looked at me as if was slightly mad. Was I becoming too obsessed with all things sandhill crane?

Indulging me, he said, “I suppose it’s possible.”

The next day, Ralph seemed more enthusiastic when he came into my office to tell me he had just heard the cranes bellow.

“It sounded like it was coming from the other side of the fence.”

We knew we had to check it out.

Donning long-sleeve shirts and long pants for protection from briers and barbed wire, we made our way through the bamboo and brambles until we reached the fence. Then, being careful not to cut ourselves, we climbed over the wire fencing onto the rambling acreage.

The property abutting ours is a mix of narrow canals and open upland uninhabited by people but grazed upon by a small herd of impressive looking longhorn cattle. Careful to avoid cow patties as well as the bulls that left them, Ralph and I traversed as much of the land as possible. In the process, we startled a pair of wood ducks, surprised a heron and disturbed several cattle egrets but we didn’t see any cranes. Disappointed, we returned home.

I found this bull's long, pointy horns rather intimidating

I began to accept the fact that the family of sandhill cranes was gone. Although I had no idea where they went or what had become of them, I tried to stay optimistic.

“They have to be here somewhere,” I insisted. “I just can’t believe predators got them all.”

Days later, I finally saw them again.

“I found the cranes!” I exclaimed after returning from a walk around the lake. “Just as we expected, they’re on the other side of the fence, all three of them together!”

During my walk, I heard noises coming from behind the bamboo hedge so I stopped to investigate. I wedged myself into a narrow space and peeked through the canes. Sure enough, there were the birds, walking close enough to where I was standing for me to see that none of them looked harmed.

The crane family - safe and sound on an abutting property

“I wonder if the baby crane did wander through that small break in the fence,” I said. “Maybe it did get through and because it couldn’t figure out how to get back, the whole family decided to stay there.”

The reason for their disappearance will always be a mystery, but you know what? It doesn’t matter. I’m happy just knowing the cranes are still alive. Although they no longer live on our property, I’m relieved they’re nearby. I’m even hopeful. Baby cranes can fly when they are 70 days old and that’s not too far off. One day I might look outside and see the three of them digging for grubs in my front yard.

With wildlife, as I’ve come to discover, anything can happen.

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