Watching from afar

EAAFP Cranes story

The Covid-19 lockdown has beached my efforts to “see” the fifteen Crane species (and here I highlight that exactly what the point of “seeing” a particular species might be, and “how” one might see such a species, are fodder for this writing project). Research and writing work has focused on other subjects.

But Cranes now lodge deep inside my subconscious. I’m not tapped into any strong network of Crane researchers/writers/activists, but I keep an eye out for inspiring stories. Here’s one. The EAAFP, more fully the East Asian – Australasian Flyway Partnership, which I’ve written about before, is a dynamic body focusing on exactly what it says, one of the world’s major migratory bird flyways. Well, I’d missed the start of EAAFP’s sequence of stories, within the context of 2020 being declared the Year of the Cranes. Nine of the fifteen global Crane species use the East Asia Flyway, hence the stories.

EAAFP’s Story #1, “First recorded wintering Siberian Cranes in Guangdong, China,” moves me in a way that illustrates just how solidly this 15 Cranes project has snared my heart. The critically endangered Siberian Crane, a majestic beauty on the edge of extinction, breeds way, way up northwest in Russia, in the Yakutia region. Wintering sites are hard to find and nearly all of them journey to Poyang Lake, part of the Yangtze wetlands in central China. Isolated birds and pairs have in past years wound up in Hong Kong or Taiwan, but late last year, a flock of nine (one juvenile and eight adults, I can’t tell from the article or picture how many well-established breeding pairs are within this flock) was spotted on a small island off the coast of southern Guangdong Province, the first recorded siting in that province.

I know I shouldn’t anthropomorphize or view the Cranes’ worlds in human terms but nonetheless I picture them heading south from the remotes of Siberia and then over-shooting (consciously? due to weather?) the usual lakes by some 700 kilometers and ending up on a small rural island. The story is even more inspiring. Local farmers and authorities banded together to protect the flock from birders (a growing force in China). The flock was still there on February 18. Are they still there? I don’t know and wish I did. Is this a good story or a sad one? Again, I wish I knew.

Plant trees by all means but that won’t save us

Jeff Goodell article

Ever-dependable, sane Jeff Goodell turns his attention, in a Rolling Stone article “Why planting trees won’t save us,” to the simplistic, dangerous idea that we should just plant a trillion trees and all will be okay. If you’re not clear on the issues involved, by all means read the wonderfully written article, but a moment’s thought should kybosh the “trillion trees” myth.

Of course, in an environment at equilibrium, a forest or wood is much better than a pasture. Trees do take in and store carbon. Deforestation, such as the criminal razing of the Amazon, is a measurable contributor to our global warming and its existing and coming impacts. But mindlessly conducting random working bees to plant trees willy nilly is often pointless. If a tree falls down or gets diseased or, most likely, burns down a few years after planting, all that sequestered carbon is released. Net impact of the planting: zero. Plant a tree right now in a bushfire-prone area in Australia and you’re wasting your time. Sure, if we can convert a savannah into a permanent rainforest, we’re refreshing Mother Earth, but where is that kind of targeting referred to in the “trillion trees” spin?

Plant huge swathes of virgin forest and look after them for a long time … do that and our grandchildren will smile upon you. But such genuine stewardship is not being spruiked in the evasive “trillion trees” propoganda. For that propaganda seeks to divert us from what our grandchildren really need: close coal plants and mine it no more; close gas plants and drill it no more; switch cars to electric and drill oil no more.

Straddle the globe!

Flyways

A wondrous bonus of the pandemic lockdown has been a weekly educational webinar series from the International Crane Foundation. You can catch them afterwards via YouTube but I recommend you experience them live (even if, as with me, that means a 2 AM alarm), because they’re given by real-world conservationists and ornithologists and you rarely glean such wisdom. As a small example of the bounties in store, here’s a visual put up by a Chinese field researcher. No doubt thousands of bird experts appreciate just how the migratory birds straddle the world, spreading out to every corner. No doubt coffee table books glorify such barely believable images. But to this amateur, glimpsing such a vista, slapped up on a screen in order to clarify why such-and-such a conservation tactic is needed … wow, feasting upon this revelatory picture was life-changing. I’ve known for a while that, of course, Earth’s birds were here long before the human race. What I hadn’t quite appreciated is how comprehensive their global coverage. There is nowhere on our planet a bird has not flown to!

Memories of Red-Crowned Cranes on a trail

Paintings of Red-Crowned Cranes

Last November we hiked the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage trail near Osaka. On the day before leaving for Japan, I’d been reading about the species of Crane, amongst our planet’s fifteen such species, called the Red-Crowned Crane. Apparently this magnificent bird has been lauded, worshipped even, in Japan over the centuries. One afternoon on the trail, soaked in sweat, I walked around a new tourist information hall, an almost soporific stroll because I find such places boring. Lo and behold, three hanging traditional-style paintings, each featuring a family of Red-Crowned Cranes, drawn in that stylized traditional Japanese way. I don’t mind admitting that I took that occurrence as a sign … perhaps, after all, my Cranes writing project is imbued with some fateful magic!

Defiance 43

Biden advisor

Brilliant news. The best step forward on climate change in 2020 is a change of U.S. president

Between dinosaur and bird

Wulong bohaiensis by Gabriel Serpenillus

An article by Carly Callessa in a Nature Science Alert unveils analysis of a ten-year-old discovery of a 120-million-year-old fossil, a link between dinosaurs and birds. (This is based on a technical paper by five American and Chinese scientists.) Callessa:

Dubbed “the dancing dragon”, or Wulong bohaiensis, this newly described species is a strange mix between bird and dinosaur, ancient and new.

Now, the only reason I have much interest in this is my vague understanding that cranes belong to an ancient family, one closer to the “original bird” than most families. Will I make any sense out of this idea? Who knows but in the meantime I’m taking a keen interest.

Amazingly, a paleoartist has recreated what Wulong bohaiensis might look like. Isn’t Gabriel Serpenillus’s image above fantastical and beautiful? Doesn’t this nail why this fossil is seen as a “link,” far more than words could?