Dearest Interfaith Birders! It’s Hannukah season, which basically means that here at Birds and Words the consumption of latkes has reached astronomical proportions. Every day, I promise myself I will not consume another latke, and every evening, I reach for yet another one. Nevertheless, concentrated eating has not prevented me from going out in search of festive birds.
Hannukah season also means more birdy gifts. I recently received a Bird origami set from a friend who likely believed she was getting me the most thoughtful present ever. Little did she know that a) I’m somewhat lacking in manual dexterity, b) I’m terrible with directions involving dotted lines, arrows and pictograms, and c) to be truthful, I’m just terrible with most kinds of directions, and making origami birds isn’t exactly an intuitive process. So I tried to make a paper crane, which should have looked like this: Instead, my crane resembled a crumpled piece of paper with dozens of folds bisecting one another, and with a few tear drops (mine) dotting the edges. I couldn’t get the crane to look remotely three-dimensional, or bird-like for that matter. Even the most talented non-objectivist art interpreter wouldn’t have detected anything remotely crane-like in my origami attempt; in all honesty, I couldn’t get the square page to look like anything but a poorly folded red square of paper. My my third night of Hannukah turned into a disenchanting craneless ordeal.
And then sometimes life offers curious surprises. The next day, I met my birding group just as the sun was rising over Toronto, transforming the sky into a burning pink sheet of bubble-wrap. And as luck would have it, the plan for the day was to drive west to Long Point in order to see a sedge of cranes; it turned out that over 400 Sandhill Cranes were migrating through Southwestern Ontario And off we went toward Long Point to see a sedge of cranes. It turned out that over 400 Sandhill Cranes (Grus canadensis) were hanging out near Long Point, en route to their winter homes in Florida and Georgia.
This wasn’t my first crane sighting, but it was my very first sighting of a colossal flock. I watched them prepare their descent into a field, lowering their legs, and using their wings to form a parachute. On the ground, the 4ft-tall birds slender looked elegantly prehistoric. We heard their riotous rattling call, that sounds a bit like a slow-motion, long-winded trill. Apparently, the call of a sandhill crane can be heard 2.5 miles away, likely due to the ability the bird’s phenomenally long windpipe to amplify sound.
I had never seen them through the scope before: fantastically austere, long-necked and long-legged birds, with an unexpected crimson patch on the crown, set against a largely monochrome greyish body with a few reddish patches on the sides.
After watching the cranes lounge about dreamily, no doubt discussing the latest in municipal politics, we headed off in search of a lone Yellow-headed Blackbird amidst close to 2000 blackbirds. We failed to catch a glimpse of a yellow-head, but did see large numbers of every other possible kind of blackbirds, including Red-winged, Starlings, Grackles, Brown headed Cowbirds and a few Juncos thrown in the mix. And, as per usual, I thought the juvenile Starlings were rare vagrants; I’m fooled by their bright polka dots every time! But then lunch was calling, and, on the way, one last look at the otherwordly cranes.
And to think: just ten hours earlier, I sat there wrestling with origami paper, in desperate search of a crane.