My intro to the Black Crowned Crane

Zakouma National Park

Absorbing mass data on all fifteen species of Cranes is tough, so I’m rewarding serendipity by gradually introducing myself to each unfamiliar species as it crops up in the news around me or in my reading. The August issue of The Bugle, the wonderful in-house magazine of the International Crane Foundation, features a stunning aerial photo cover of a triangular slash of an African lake in Chad (which, by the way, I know nothing about, almost as if it doesn’t exist, which I guess typifies the global exposure of a number of African countries), around which a couple of hundred Black Crowned Cranes stand and feed and dance. Hello, Black Crowned Crane, I whispered. It’s a resplendent bird of black body with white wings and a black-and-red-and-white head festooned by stiff straw-gold feathers.

“Zakouma, land of the Black Crowned Crane” is a long article by ICF President Rich Beilfuss, and it’s a missive of great hope. A map of northern Africa shows 13 actual or possible strongholds of this Vulnerable species in half a dozen countries, including Zakouma National Park in Chad. Beilfuss:

This spring, I had the pleasure of traveling to the wilds of Zakouma and counting the highest number of cranes ever recorded from the ground anywhere in Africa – 13,885 Black Crowned Cranes!

Since the ICF website enumerates this species, with imprecise knowledge, as 43,000 to 70,000 birds, we’re talking about a fifth to a third of the entire population!

I was heartened (and that doesn’t often happen these days) by the upbeat message:

The most exciting news is perhaps not the discovery of so many cranes, but the realization that the cranes are in such good (conservation) hands.

I can’t wait to see the Black Crowned Cranes for myself, perhaps in 2021!

Stuffed cranes

Three stuffed cranes in a store

In Amsterdam we stumbled across a store, shut at the time, that features stuffed animals and birds. To my amazement, I saw what I believe are a Sarus Crane, a Black Crowned Crane, and a Grey Crowned Crane, one from Asia or Australia, two from Africa. Two of the species are vulnerable, one endangered. I suppose the only saving grace that sprung to my mind is that these three threatened species must have some front-of-mind awareness in the Western world. But immediately I was seized by repugnance. The three birds must surely have been killed in situ and smuggled into Europe. To do that, then stuff them, then sell them … they’re under threat, hey! As to the buyers…

A desperate sadness seized me.

To see them fly!

Black-necked Crane flying

I wrote briefly a day or two back about a Peter Prince documentary I’d love to get about the remote-living Black-necked Crane. What I haven’t been able to get out of my mind are a few seconds from Peter’s trailer showing three Black-necked Cranes flying. See their arrow-straight streaming tails, the powerful wings, the kink in their necks… Their whiteness underneath amidst all the pure black! The trueness of their trajectories.

This silly obsessiveness – I keep replaying the trailer – is no doubt because I’ve seen few actual Cranes in the flesh, as one might say, and even fewer flying. All that, I hope, is to come. Is that what hope is, the desire to witness something just once?

This post’s blurry image is a screenshot from that blessed trailer. Go see Peter’s life-affirming website.

Misplaced cranes?

Rijksmuseum painting

At the Rijksmuseum three days ago, before the main crush of crowd arrived, I spotted a couple of cranes in a 1680 painting, “The Floating Feather,” by Melchior d’Hondecoeter. The unmistakable spectacular Black Crowned Crane in the centre, which I’ve never seen, is found only in Africa. The other crane below and to the right of the big one seems to be a Sarus Crane (again, not yet sighted by me), which I understand is found only in Asia or northeast Australia. Why were these included? Did the artist see them live or just paint from specimens brought back from overseas? Fascinating.