Buying water is a sign of the times

ICF article

The International Crane Foundation has bought three years of water in Texas in order to ensure Whooping Cranes (and Sandhills) can over-winter in about half a meter of water on an area roughly half a kilometer square. A drought is ravaging the cranes’ traditional area. There’s no mention of the price or cost; it could be that this is a circuitous way for the government to chip in without being seen to be funding such an activity. My heart supports this initiative but my brain wonders: how can we possibly duplicate this across all the crane species suffering from climate change?

A return to brooding over Cranes and the fate of the world

Brolga statues

This project has barely smoldered since the middle of the year, buried under the pressures of the main project and a health scare. But it keeps popping up in front of me. In the Geelong Botanic Gardens, I came across an installation with three Brolgas on the backs of dragons. Why dragons? No clue. Geelong won’t have seen a Brolga for a century or more.

I’m listening to the audiobook of The Insect Crisis by Oliver Milman … deeply, deeply troubling. If Cranes are bellwether species for climate change issues to do with wetlands, insects are the foundational species for many ecological chains.

I considered going to Bhutan to see the Black-Necked Cranes. Too expensive, underprepared.

I keep reading about the Anthropocene, about the world’s deteriorating food systems, about biodiversity losses accelerating. Sigh.

This project lives on.

An existentialist reads Grayling

A. C. Grayling talk in Melbourne

As I mentioned a few days ago, I didn’t attend philosopher A. C. Grayling’s Melbourne talk, but instead read his book, For the Good of the World. I think he nailed some issues and perspectives in the first two-thirds of the book, and then I appreciated how he handled an issue that perplexes me endlessly. As an existentialist, who believes we make our own meaning, how do I insist on joint action, something vital in this global climate crisis (and central to Grayling’s book)? His encapsulation (p. 174) grabs the essence:

Relativism is a natural corollary, perhaps indeed it is the defining characteristic, of postmodernism. A commendable motivation for it is the desire to promote reciprocal respect between different cultures and value systems, and to make amends for cultural as well as other imperialisms of the past. The price paid for this worthwhile motive is a lack of guide-rails for dealing with the very real problems faced by the world and people in it.

Grayling’s precision!

Grayling For the Good of the World

I’m less than a fifth through A. C. Grayling’s For the Good of the World and already I’m in awe of the way he pithily encapsulates realities (p. 35).

Broadly speaking, the options available to humanity are: either break the negative version of the self-interest Law (what can be done will not be done) by radically switching direction from a growth model to a sustainability model of economic activity, or make the decoupling agenda work — that is, find the fixes that would make renewable energy cheap and plentiful, would remove and safely store the excess CO2e in the atmosphere, and would positively incentivize doing both. At time of writing the first option is not in play and the second is a mixture of insufficiencies and wishful thinking.

His words strike true. I see economists and philosophers arguing for radical decoupling but there is no evidence for any change or appetite for change to ”growth as king.” Bill Gates is the obvious barometer of the ”fixes” approach, and sure, we can see renewable heading south in terms of unit costs, but the pace is too slow and the process is muddied by technological mirages on offer.

Third ember

Eurasian Crane

The Eurasian Crane is one of the three still-thriving Crane species. There are many places to see it in northern or southern Europe. Is this photograph not enticing? I have relatives near a superb Estonian reserve where you can see thousands. The best time might be July to September (I’m unsure of anything any more accurate). Maybe 2023?

Quiet, beating heart!

Another ember

Grey Crowned Cranes in Uganda

Four of the fifteen Crane species are in South Africa. None are in great shape, as species in the Anthropocene Era. See these splendid, primordial-looking Grey Crowned Cranes? The photo is from Uganda.

My limited research suggests I can see all four in one African trip. The mechanics are not straightforward. I think I’d need to sign on for two separate wildlife tours (hopefully birding focused). Mucho $$$$s, swadges of time. The best time of year is sometime in February or thereabouts. And let’s be sensible: February 2023 might not be the best notion for an African voyage, pandemic-wise. But what about 2024? Should I plan now?

See, an ember glows

Red-crowned Crane at Kuhiro

15 Cranes was launched as a writing project in April 2018. During Covid, but not because of the pandemic, the project was shelved. Too big, too daunting, too time-consuming. By that time I had seen only two of the fifteen Crane species.

See that Red-crowned Crane flying so sublimely? They’re endangered, maybe only 3,000 strong. They’re welcomed and fed on the island of Hokkaido. This photo is from the Kuhiro reserve.

Japan has weathered the pandemic well. Travel there is possible now (I know, a friend is going). The best time is January. The snow! Those birds!

Should I?

Remote Western Australia


Came across this wonderful image on an information board while on a nine-day bouncy tour from Darwin to Broome. The Gibb River Road is a 4WDer’s dream: rattly but rather good quality, yet subject to swiftly emerging flooded sections. I was here in June, the start of the dry season. The photo is dated February, in the middle of the wet season.

Imagine seeing this display through your windscreen. The Brolga, one of Australia’s two Crane species, is not a household name, but all those who see one, never forget.

Omid still flies

Siberian Crane in Iran by Hossein Khademi

The western population of Siberian Cranes is on its last legs. Every year one of them, Omid, flies 6,000 kms to the north of Iran, on the southern banks of the Caspian Sea. It’s the only Siberian Crane left that makes this particular journey (he has missed two years of the last 16). He winters in Iran for about a third of each year. He is carefully tracked. “Locals are very much fond of him,” says this Tehran Times article.

I’ve only followed news of him, courtesy of the International Crane Foundation, for the last couple of years. Omid means hope. Does he symbolize hope to me, in line with each year’s bubbly article? Not at all. I’ve dreamt of witnessing this critically endangered species. But I shudder at the thought of journeying to Iran, raising my binoculars, and gazing upon this beautiful bird, destined to arrive here each year, all alone, until it too dies.


Cranes in Mongolia

I guess we all have images in our heads of the barren steppes of Mongolia, squarish yurts in the distance, but I’ve never hankered to go there. When we did the long train trip from Moscow to Beijing, we opted for the route that swung into China before a Mongolian traverse. I enjoy seeing random photos of Mongolia but that’s the extent of my interest in it.

In particular, when I’ve mused over where I might travel to see the fifteen global Crane species, Mongolia hasn’t been on my radar. Well, now I’ve watched a recent five-minute video from the International Crane Foundation, part of their Magic Moments snippets. This one is titled Coexisting in Mongolia. Take a look—I’m sure you’ll be beguiled.

The video is interesting in terms of the work ICF is doing in Mongolia (I especially like that the voiceovers are by the Mongolian conservationists on the ground), trying to retain the easygoing relationships between nomadic people, grazing beasts, and the various species of Cranes. I hadn’t realized that Mongolia sees six of the world’s fifteen Crane species either fly through or reside. Perhaps, I hypothesize, it would be none too difficult to fly to Ulaanbaatar and hire a guide to take me to the newly protected wetlands described in the video. Initial Googling doesn’t really tell me where the Khurkh and Khuiten Rivers Valleys nature reserve is, but one of the places mentioned in a Mongolian government nature reserve decree in 2019 (see this) suggests a four- to five-hour drive might be involved.

The video’s brief graphic about the six Crane species found in Mongolia also tantalizes me from another angle. I’m no naturalist. Basic migration concepts don’t come easily to me but I’ve grown accustomed to the idea of Crane breeding grounds in one place, usually inhospitable and far from humans, and overwintering grounds elsewhere. But there’s another category in the photo, showing the Hooded Crane and Siberian Crane “summering” in Mongolia. Glancing at the ICF’s excellent compendium web page on the fifteen species, I see that the Siberian Crane winters southward into China, breeds in northeast China, but also “summers” in Mongolia. What have I missed?