Over the past 3 days, I've been searching through nearly 100,000 Sandhill Cranes around Brownsville, Texas in Lynn and Terry counties. The biological clock is ticking, as many of these birds are departing northwards to their breeding grounds in Siberia. Among them, the possibility of seeing a Common Crane equates to a 1 in 100,000 chance. According to an online health website that's the same chance you have of dying at a dance party.
The Common Crane is a Eurasian species, breeding in Russia and northern Europe, and wintering in Africa. Occasionally birds get mis-oriented, or disperse after hatching and utilize other migratory routes as young birds and migrate into wrong continent with closely-related Sandhill Cranes. I've seen breeding Common Cranes when I studied abroad in Mongolia, and had an idea of what I was looking for. I reached Lubbock late at night on Thursday, and although I had an invite, I decided to rough it at Wal-Mart. After sleeping in my car for over a month, I've grown comfortable and established a routine that works for me. The next morning I was ready at sunrise to intercept the cranes from their roosting spot and their feeding fields. At first light the birds began to move, and it was beautiful and frustrating to watch the silhouettes glide overhead, my mind racing as I frantically checked every bird in case the Common Crane was present. It wasn't.
I saw several interesting-plumaged Sandhill Cranes, including a leucistic (white) bird, and a melanistic (dark-pigmented) bird. Both photos below were digiscoped with my iPhone at a distance.
Just before 11am, the cranes leave their feeding area and head to find water and loaf for the afternoon. The heat distortion also makes viewing distant birds difficult, so I decided to focus on finding some other birds on my needs list.
I decided to bird in the afternoon until about 1pm and then I turned towards Lubbock to get some work one on my blog, and do a little trip planning. Although I didn't find the crane, I saw one new year bird. I'll just have to wait until tomorrow and try again...