Where do we go from here?

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Visiting the Cranes, Part 2

Saturday morning we reluctantly dragged ourselves up and out of bed somewhere between five and six a.m., put on many layers of clothing, and stumbled out to find Julia already on her second cup of coffee.  The birds which have overnighted on the ponds fly out for the day's foraging in the fields at sunrise, at this time of year a little before seven.  I grabbed one of Jana's homemade granola bars, we struggled into our muddy boots, and set off to watch the morning's fly-out.  Jana came with us this time; she is herself a photographer, (Scroll down thru this site to Jana's Snow Geese photo at the bottom) so came armed with her lenses and tripod.  It was another morning of early thick grey clouds, and the birds were in no hurry to fly out of bed either.  They tiptoed around, murmuring and squawking, getting into various formations and lineups preparatory to taking off.  Something I find extremely interesting about the sandhills is the great variety of their vocalizations,  something that made me wonder if anyone is doing research on their use of voice communication, as that is what it clearly seems to be. A little googling once home at the computer led to the discovery that scientists working with Operation Migration and other crane projects' work (with both Whooping and Sandhill Cranes) have found seven communicative vocalizations:  a basic call, the Contact or Brood call,  Flight Calls: "Attention, please! Danger!"
"Do not land here! Keep flying."
"No problem."
"Come here. There's some food."
The Guard Call: "Do not enter. This is my territory!"
"The unison call: We are a pair. We belong together and this is our territory."

As the light rose behind the mountains from the east, small groups of sandhills began to lift out of the water into the brightening air, making such a wonderful rushing sound with their great wingbeats.  Then, group by group they rose, as the sun fought its way through the clouds to color the pond water with faint pink and the sky filled with the huge birds.  The snow geese were the last of the overnighters to leave the ponds. We were unable to tear ourselves away from this spectacle of liftoff until at last it was full daylight and the water emptied of all avian life save for some ducks, who clearly intended to spend the day right where they were. When even Jana was willing to pack up her cameras and head home, we all went back to The Dancing Cranes for coffee and more of the previous night's apple cake.  Before we left the B and B, we went to Jana's studio to see the her photos and jewelry (she does both).  Julia bought a lovely silver clay pendant, I lusted after several photos and pairs of earrings, but we are on an austerity budget, and the trip itself was an enormous luxury for us.

At last we headed back up the road, stopping in Socorro at a most unlikely find, a coffee shop worthy of a place in any urban setting, where we augmented our breakfast with heartier fare to sustain us for another trip to the Bernardo Wildlife Area.  The gates were still closed, "due to bad weather," though the sun was now shining brightly. Despite the sun, there was a brisk and very cold wind, but we set off on foot again, so Julia could get some pictures in a better light than she had the day before.  The mud was still all-encompassing, but thanks to that mud, Julia was able to get wonderful shots of the cranes' impressive footprints.  The bluebirds were still flocking around us, and we saw several hawks which I think were redtails, sailing above us on the wind. We had to cut our birding through the mud shorter than we wanted, as we had to return to Albuquerque for a memorial celebrating the life of our wonderful neighbor, Betty Evans, who had died early in the new year. The drive up I 25 took us through snow, sleet, rain, and a mix of all of them, not to mention that ferocious wind.

We pulled into our driveway in pellets of sleet resembling mothballs, pulled off our boots, which by then weighed twenty pounds apiece, I'm sure.  Gail and I changed into respectable clothing, while Julia settled down for a cozy read with the cats. The Bosque is birding heaven at any time of year, but it gets pretty hot and full of mosquitoes in the warmer months.  We may make it back down in the spring for warbler migration, but the big birds will be leaving for their northern grounds later this month, so I'm most grateful for this cold, muddy, wonderful visit.


All photos in these two posts were taken by JuliaOsgood.  She has many more of them, which I hope will soon be posted to her blog (link above). Here's Julia and me in the Bosque. Gail took this one.

For more information about Sandhill Cranes, check out these links:
International Crane Foundation
Cornell Lab of Ornithology

For completely mind-boggling photography of the area and birds I've written about in these posts, check out this site from a guy who has spent the past three years traveling around the western USA taking photos of wildlife, many of them of birds.  Scroll through the link I've given above, all the way to the end.  Here is the link to his whole site, Western Views U.S., which has marvelous indices and archives.  This is a labor of extreme love, a site for naturalists and photographers to return to time after time.

For anyone truly interested in the subject of the lands and life discussed in these two posts, I recommend this book from the UNM Press, Desert Wetlands,  Photos by Lucian Niemeyer, Text by Thomas Lowe Fleischner.


Lisa :-] said...

This is exactly the kind of thing I want to do when I retire. But I'll probably be nineyy years old by then. I wonder if they make four-wheel-drive wheelchairs... ;)

Judith HeartSong said...

Oh I want to see them someday!!!! I have not found your email yet... it is so good to hear from you and I will look again but am not sure which account you sent it to. Wonderful to hear from you!!!!