Ornithologist’s odyssey

A birder’s reading delight, ornithologist Bruce Beehler’s “North on the Wing: Travels with the Songbird Migration of Spring” savours his 2015 four-month odyssey from southernmost U.S.A. to blighted woods deep in Ontario. I sipped the book, treasuring a rare look at the world through a naturalist’s honed eyes. Beehler was chasing thirty-seven species of warbler (amongst other more general aims) but I watched out for his sightings of my bird of interest, the Sandhill Crane. Let me extract them here:

Autumn migration here is famous for its Bald Eagles, Sandhill Cranes, and many species of waterfowl. … Standing on a dike cloaked in early-morning mist, I listened to abundant birdsong. Cranes were bugling. … At 8: 20 p.m., two Sandhill Cranes bugled. … Then a statuesque Sandhill Crane posed for me, allowing me to photograph him from various angles.

The three-hour drive from Duluth was punctuated by a close encounter with a Sandhill Crane family foraging at the very edge of the highway. In front of me, a large truck roared by the group, and its slipstream toppled the two rusty-colored and fuzzy young into a grassy ditch. The parent cranes appeared nonchalant about this.

Day after day I hunted the tall, bog-fringing spruces … A few pairs of tannin-stained Sandhill Cranes nested in some of the larger boglands, and their bugling sounded in the distance from time to time. This haunting voice, heard mainly at a far remove, is the song of the wild.

I’m writing this on a cool spring day about to warm up. Australia’s annual Backyard Bird Count runs for this week and shortly I’ll head onto my apartment’s balcony to do my requisite twenty minutes of birding and recording. But what I long for, courtesy of Bruce Beehler’s magic, is to head for the airport and fly to America and hire a car and go see, for my very first time, those statuesque Cranes.

(The maps above are from Beehler’s book and show his amazing journey.)