Counting cranes

It's all about knowing the right people. Having a partner as a bird guy means you get to tag along on really cool stuff, like the annual Sandhill Crane count. 

My boots just *might* give me away as the non-scientist in the bunch.

My boots just *might* give me away as the non-scientist in the bunch.

For four years now, I've donned my rubber boots and tagged along with a group of scientists to count cranes (really big, beautiful birds) converging at Sauvie Island. Some birds are migrating from Alaska/Canada to California. This Oregon wetland is a regular stopover. Sandhill Cranes are Oregon's tallest bird—at 4 feet tall with a 6-foot wingspan. WHOA. But what I like most about them? Is their dance. (<< go to time 1:23 in the OPB video.)

I've never really managed to get close to the birds or see many; that's just how it's worked out. There was the really dry year. The really cold year. (Honestly, I get just as excited about the dozens of small frogs and swooping owls anyway.) This year was different. 

The count happens one day a year and it means leaving work at 4pm to get out to the site before sunset. I was debating whether to go.

A high-expectation workplace means leaving at 4 is tricky. But I got in early that day and billed above my hours. I was set. So I ran out at 4pm to join the boys and the birds. Such. A. Good. Decision.  

We counted hundreds of cranes this year. (The blurry photo below is my best one. You keep a good distance so that you don't startle the birds.) It made me want to sketch. The sky was stunning. The calls and chatter surrounded us. The owl swooped through, again. And the painted landscape, reflected in the shallow water, was breathtaking. 

It's hard to leave these swelling moments. Sure, we were on our knees in the mud, wearing mosquito head-nets and our clothes were covered in small, thorny seeds that would later take hours to dislodge. It didn't matter. Out here, suddenly everything was ok. Better than ok. It was thriving. The geese alone will tell you. Just listen.