One of my favorite sounds in the world is the song of the sandhill crane. Their call is described wonderfully in Birds of North America (The Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia); “trumpeting, bugling, rattling, or croaking, but these adjectives do not fully convey the volume or quality of the sound produced by a mature sandhill crane”. The authors explain that the call quality of adult cranes results from an elongation and coiling of the trachea into the sternum which produces the amazing amplitude of their voice and alters the pitch of their voice by the addition of harmonies. A bit technical but everyone will appreciate the result. If I am fortunate, and I usually am, I spend several hours a year searching a clear blue Panhandle sky for high-flying cranes. Without their song’s ability to pierce through prairie skies we would scarcely know cranes move through the Panhandle. In fact, the Panhandle is an important wintering area for sandhills, most of which breed in Alaska and western Canada. Muleshoe National Wildlife Refuge is the oldest NWR in Texas and was set aside for wintering waterfowl and sandhill cranes.
This year there is enough water it seems to support a decent number of cranes. I’m certainly no expert, this is my 3rd trip to the refuge and the first with cranes present. On my first trip there was neither water or cranes. This year, a small lake holds water and a salt flat is serving as their night roost. Shallow water would likely be preferred as a barrier to predators but open ground and several thousand other targets for predators must impart enough peace for the cranes. Predators are present as evidenced by a ring of crane feathers on the levy between the pond and the flat.
I was focused pretty intently on the cranes and missed part of the most amazing sunsets I have witnessed. I have over 23 years of Kansas and Panhandle sunsets under my belt so this is saying something! I ended the video the way I ended my visit to Muleshoe, with a view of the sunset. Reality is superior to video, especially at 720p. Get outside and see this for your self!