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By Mark Fisher


Lost in the Stars


Often when someone says they saw a crane, what they actually saw was an egret or a heron. All are often found around water, but herons and egrets are typically more solitary. Oh, you might see several at the same place, but usually not too close together, and cranes come in flocks.

Odd thing that is different about cranes and egrets or herons is their feet. Cranes only have three toes, all pointed the same direction, so they can’t grip a tree branch like most birds, including herons and egrets. So cranes cannot seek the relative safety of the trees, so have to spend their nights in water, shallow enough to wade in, like shallow lakes, ponds, or slow moving rivers. Which limits where they can be found.

Around here there’s only one species of crane, the Sandhill Crane. Now I haven’t seen any around Tehachapi (which doesn’t say it couldn’t happen, just that I haven’t seen any), but they can easily be found, not too far away this time of year, down in the San Joaquin Valley.

I recently saw some down at the Pixley National Wildlife Refuge, which is part of the area that had been the large lake that had been in the Valley before it was drained for agriculture. Sandhill Cranes have been coming to the area for a long time, though now the water is supplied by pumping from wells. Given the drought, there’s not much water there right now, though it’s still enough to attract the cranes. Thousands of them.

The people of the Fish and Wildlife service estimated that there had been thousands there in those shallow ponds that morning, but we were there just before sunset, when the cranes would be coming back to spend the night.

Return they did – though not all at once. They came in in small family groups or flocks, and they came in noisily. Calling as they glided in and landed in the ponds. I’m not sure how many came in before it got too dark to see, but there were hundreds at least. You could still hear them calling invisibly in the dark sky long after they could no longer be seen.

These cranes will be around the area until spring and the time for them to head back north to breed, but few people will seek them out.

Find the last places that still welcome the cranes, and take the time to watch and listen to them fly in and seek safety for as long as we leave them space in our world.

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