Carroll and I met in the middle to see the sandhill cranes. We hoped to see some whooping cranes as well. The volunteer manning the desk said there are an estimated 7,000 sandhill cranes at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge this winter. She also said there are a "hand full" of whooping cranes. Whooping cranes are a bucket bird for me and Carroll, and our spirits were high.
We arrived at 9am and followed a volunteer in who opened the refuge gate. Sandhills were flying all around us, trumpeting their holiday greetings. I spotted one whooper nestled in with the flying sandhills, but it was a brief glimpse only. Once settled in the observation building we watched sandhills come and go amid a great amount and variety of ducks.
Lots of courtin' going on.
Sandhills flying and sandhills foraging.
Great flocks of sandhills flew right past our windows.
Sweet, soft morning with the cranes.
They flew right over the building, which has a speaker system installed. Inside, you can hear every trumpet call, every quack, every birdsong. The experience is complete.
As the sandhills fly past I spot two brighter cranes off in the distance. Could it be...?
Yes, the mated pair of whoopers our volunteer told us to be on the lookout for.
We watched the soar and ride the currents up and up and up, then down, down, down, like a slow aerial ballet. Finally, they began their landing approach.