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?
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?
Arkadiusz Broniarek posted this heartwarming photo on the page Cranes in Europe: 264 cranes in Tarifa. I think they’re Eurasian Cranes but I’m no expert and now I might never be. That’s the thought that occurred to me when I marveled: what is the point?
Who can say what kills a project? The pandemic is a factor. I won’t travel until 2022 at the earliest. Carbon footprint is another. Thinking like a future ancestor (see Roman Krznaric’s The Good Ancestor), we should all stop flying. An even more potent factor is the climate emergency: even with a close escape from Trump 2021-2024, just look at how little is being done. Who needs my small-time witnessing stunt? But the major reason for abandoning (at least for now) my 15 Cranes project, is simple. The reactor history book, my albatross, must see me obsessed, not distracted.
This afternoon I walked down to the library and returned, unread, The Japanese Crane: Bird of Happiness, a book I’ve had throughout lockdown but never managed to process into notes. It looks so fabulous but now … bye bye. I snapped a poor (and mirror reversed) shot of the cover before sliding it into the returns chute.
Before closing off this project, I skimmed the Japanese Crane book. One last image, a crappy photo of a double spread, a snowfield of hazy Siberian Cranes in Japan. I had planned to go see them there. No more. Nada. Done.
EAAFP’s Story #5, “Do you know all the crane species in East Asian – Australasian Flyway?” sends the imagination soaring. Quirky, pithy notes on the 9 species (besides these 9, 4 reside in Africa, one is solely in USA, and one lives in Australia) are a pleasure to read. I bask, doing my best to picture how I might see each of the nine on location. The glorious Siberian Crane (you only see its black wingtips in flight) – I think Poyang Lake is where I’d go, and I’ve seen photos of that sumptuous wetland reserve in China. I’m unsure where the Red-crowned Crane, “tall and elegant” with a black neck and tail feathers, and I will intersect. Bhutan is my best place to view the shorter Black-necked Crane with a white eye ring that gives it a glaring visage. The Hooded Crane with its mini frontal grey-and-red hood, and its brown-grey bustle – who knows where? The blue-and-grey White-naped Crane is drawn with splashes of shades of grey – again, where? The tallest flying bird on Earth, the Sarus Crane, with its red head and neck, has a subspecies way up north in Australia, where I’ll travel when Covid-19 is beaten or finally peters out. The voluminous Eurasian Crane (“has no beautiful features or cultural background but has the best adaptive capacity”) is, for me, best viewed in Estonia, my now-deceased parents’ homeland. I have a dream to see the Demoiselle Crane, the tiny one of the fifteen, soaring over the Himalayas. And Nebraska is the spot to witness tens of thousands of grey-brown Sandhill Cranes. Lockdown … sigh.
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!
British orchestral conductor Lev Parikian penned one of 2018’s outstanding books. “Why Do Birds Suddenly Disappear? 200 birds, 12 months, 1 lapsed birdwatcher” entranced me. A few months ago, I wrote to him about my project of bearing witness to the fifteen Crane species. England wiped out the Eurasian Crane (or Common Crane) from its territory, but now has a tiny, reintroduced population, and I asked Lev if it was one of the bird species he saw, among his end tally of 200, during the quest covered by his book.
Sure enough, he did spot the Eurasian Crane, two birds, at the RSPB Slimbridge reserve, and has graciously let me show his photos above. His shots exhibit the stunning beauty of these elegant grey birds graced with black and red and white on their heads, showing a vivid wingtip black in flight.
I’m sure that you will feel as enriched as I am when viewing Lev’s action photos. If you’re a birder, buy his book for a treat of a read. If you’re not yet a birder, his book might well tip you over the edge!