With the season shifting from winter to spring, my focus has moved from Snowy Owls to Sandhill Cranes. These beautiful creatures make for an engaging three-season subject.
I saw one on a far hillside walking alone in its herky-jerky fashion. I immediately thought something was wrong with the picture, but I pushed those concerns out of my mind.
A couple mornings later, after we’d had an unwelcome, surprise snowfall, I saw the crane in the same area where I’d seen the two cranes doing their pair-bonding dance. Again, the crane was alone. It really stood out on the snow-laden ground.
Even though I wasn’t very close, the lone crane wasn’t comfortable with my presence, and it immediately took to the air. I watched as it swooped upward with its long spindly legs straight out behind it.
Cranes are such elegant creatures, and I was in awe of its beauty and majesty. I was puzzled as it flew to the other side of the road. A worry was forming in my gut, and I pushed it down and moved on.
As I finished my route and came over a hill, I spotted the lone crane at a farmland pond not far from where I’d seen it earlier in the morning. I finally voiced what I’d been tamping down. Where was its mate? Since cranes mate for life and I’d never photographed a crane alone before, my concern grew for this crane’s mate.
While the crane worked at preening itself, various scenarios ran through my mind. Perhaps, the mate had died at the hands of a predator, such as a fox, raccoon, coyote, eagle, or owl. If that was the case, the lone crane would be looking for a new mate, but typically not until migration time.
I continued to see and photograph the lone crane over the next few days. I was hopeful that the bird hadn’t lost its mate to prey, but, instead, was gathering food while its mate tended their nest, typically holding one to three, pale brownish eggs.
I’ve tried to stay hopeful about the absent mate, especially since the lone crane remained in the same area as I’d seen it with its mate. If luck holds, I might see a hatchling sometime within the next month. I also held onto the real notion that nature isn't always elegance and beauty.