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My First Fall with Cranes 


“Our ability to perceive quality in nature begins, as in art, with the pretty. It expands through successive stages of the beautiful to values yet uncaptured by language. The quality of cranes lies, I think, in this higher gamut, yet beyond the reach of words.”  – Aldo Leopold, Marshland Elegy  

One month before starting my fellowship, my parents and I saw this big, elegant, tan bird slowly strolling in front of us during an afternoon walk. Despite growing up in Wisconsin, I had never seen many cranes – but little did I know that six months later, I’d get to see tens of thousands of them gather right in front of me.  

A sandhill crane strolling through a park (May 2021, photo courtesy of my dad).

My four weeks of crane tours were filled with so many emotions: nervousness about the cranes arriving in time for our excited visitors; amazement and wonder by the thousands of birds that would eventually join us; excitement to share my newfound love for cranes with visitors, family, and friends; and joy for all of the above.  

One of my favorite crane experiences was joining the BIPOC Birding Club of Wisconsin for a Shack Tour and sandhill crane viewing, led by our Education Coordinator, McCale. The BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) Birding Club is a “community of people of color who love the outdoors and the birds and beauty of natural Wisconsin and wish to connect with others who share the same passion.”  

We started our time together with a tour of the Leopold Shack and Farm, where we discussed the ways in which the Leopold Family connected with this landscape. While we walked through the pines planted by the Leopold family’s hands, the discussion bloomed into how each and every one of us connects with the land in our own unique ways. Seeing that we were spending the evening with a birding group, it came as no surprise that many of the members mentioned birding as their avenue of connecting to nature. Others also mentioned gardening, hiking, writing, and photography. We also discussed how these ways of connecting to the land help to foster our land ethics.  

The Shack entrance pines dancing in the wind as we discussed the land ethic.

After migrating to the river and roosting at the crane blind, we excitedly waited inside to welcome in the cranes. Slowly but surely, we began to hear the bugles of the sandhill crane coming closer and closer. Rewarding our patience, the cranes gathered by the thousands, up and down the river.   

“When we hear his 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.” – Aldo Leopold, Marshland Elegy 

Marveling at the beauty of sandhill cranes on the Wisconsin River quickly became the highlight of my week, and a new way for me to connect with the land. These experiences influenced my own continually adapting land ethic. After spending time with the BIPOC Birding Club, surrounded by people who have dedicated their time to sharing their passion through inclusive and welcoming experiences, I felt inspired to do the same. I continue to reflect on how I can make the spaces I work, live, and play inclusive spaces for all, through my land, and life, ethics.  

Sandhill cranes gathering on a sand bar on the Wisconsin River, seen through a spotting scope.

Sandhill cranes preparing to land.

I wrapped up my crane season by inviting my parents to see the cranes that I had been excitedly sharing photos of for the past month. While we watched the cranes land on the island in front of us, I wondered: where was the single crane we saw in May roosting that evening? And what exciting journey lies ahead for it, and for me?  

Learn more about the BIPOC Birding Group of Wisconsin: 

“The BIPOC Birding Club of Wisconsin was established in 2021 as a community of people of color who love the outdoors and the birds and beauty of natural Wisconsin and wish to connect with others who share the same passion.

While the BIPOC Birding Club of Wisconsin seeks to promote outdoor birding activities and outdoor experiences for people of color, anyone who shares and supports our values of diversity, equity, inclusion, and access for all are welcome to join this group. We are family-friendly, and people of all ages are invited and encouraged to join us.

Experience and knowledge are not required. What is important is having a desire and willingness to see and learn about Wisconsin’s birds, animals, and plants and explore its beauty with others who share the same passion and curiosity in a safe, inclusive and supportive environment” (https://www.bipocbirdingclub.org/about).  

You can learn more about the BIPOC Birding Club of Wisconsin and on how to get involved at their website, https://www.bipocbirdingclub.org.