Second Visit – Sandhill Cranes and Fog
A few days after our first trip to see the Sandhill Cranes, the rain took a break, and Alan and I returned, hoping for better visibility, better photos, and another chance to see these magical birds. As we drove through Portland during sunrise, it looked like it would be a glorious day.
By the time we hit the Columbia River bridge, a thick fog hugged the ground, and it was 31 degrees. Smart me, having learned from our last outing, I wore several more layers and fuzzy snow boots. Wimp, but a warm wimp.
At the park, everything was submerged in an opaque fog, and we could have been anywhere. Near the same field as before, we listened intently for that bugling call, or the cry of the geese. Apparitions rose from the fog as I peered around, and my ears strained to hear, but all I heard was the crunch of icy leaves and grass underfoot, trees dripping, and competing and booming tones of either ship or fog horns close by. Even so, I could not have pointed out which direction the nearby river was.
The intermittent percussion of far off gunshot was a reminder that it was goose hunting season on the other side of the refuge. I silently wished the birds safe passage as they flew from the Sauvie Island waters where they sleep, to the refuge. I heard an occasional distant whir of cranes or geese honking, and had an eerie sense that something was flying high overhead.
We took a warming break to explore nearby Lake Vancouver, where the fog was not as thick. We watched the sun burn the mist off of the uppermost tree branches, and glimpsed a few hawks and songbirds in the woods, and a great blue heron, a silent sentry in a broad green field.
Returning to Cranes’ Landing, the surprise was the number of enormous cargo ships that had been lined up and anchored in the river, right by where we’d been standing, yet completely hidden in the gloom. We had even taken photos of the bank, never guessing a huge ship lay just beyond!
Happily, a moderately large flock of cranes had arrived, though few geese this time. Each small wave arrived, circled, landed gracefully, or took off for better pastures. We watched them probe their long beaks into the ground, and occasionally fly and peck at each other, one always backing down.
As if this wasn’t impressive enough, the volcanoes of the Cascade mountain range to the east revealed themselves to us one by one, until four could be seen clearly as a backdrop to the cranes gathering, (I think) Mt. Rainier, Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Adams, and Mt. Hood.
I’m using some of Alan’s fantastic photos from a real camera,
and you should go see them all here
Just as we left, the entire flock of cranes rose as one, resplendent and graceful, taking my spirit along. What beauty and mystery!
“When we hear [the crane’s] call we hear no mere bird. We hear the trumpet in the orchestra of evolution. He is the symbol of our untamable past, of that incredible sweep of millennia which underlies and conditions the daily affairs of birds and men.”Ecologist Aldo Leopold, Marshland Elegy
Later, closing my eyes, I kept seeing an after-image of flocks rising, wheeling, and flying off.
Alan and his much better camera took much better photos
Watch this short video of the beauty of cranes and geese.
Here’s a much longer video to learn more about cranes and this protection project