In each of the past three years I have spent one evening in November watching thousands of sandhill cranes gather in wetlands along the Rio Grande at the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge near Socorro, New Mexico. It is a magical, thrilling spectacle. I now understand the thralldom that cranes can exert. Paul Johnsgard, one of the country's most distinguished ornithologists, writes that for him the year has two seasons: crane season and the rest of the year. Every March for years he has observed the flocking of the sandhill cranes along the Platte River in south-central Nebraska, where as many as 500,000 cranes gather to re-charge on their migration back to their breeding grounds in Alaska and Siberia. It is "the largest assemblage by far of cranes in the world." Making it more tumultuous, those cranes are joined by nine or ten million waterfowl.
Johnsgard has written other works on cranes, but he felt that they had become somewhat outdated, especially given new information concerning sandhill and whooping crane population trends and migration patterns. Hence, this book. SANDHILL AND WHOOPING CRANES serves both as an introduction to these magnificent birds and as a compendium of detailed information - about subspecies, their breeding and nesting, their migration and distribution - that is directed more towards the serious naturalist. At times, the book comes across as an unhappy compromise of sorts, though that divided focus is probably inevitable.
I myself fall more into the first group, that of relative newcomers to the world of cranes. As a member of that group, the attractions of SANDHILL AND WHOOPING CRANES include Johnsgard's enthusiasm for these birds, general information on their migration (with the boost of thermal updrafts, sandhill cranes can cover up to five hundred miles in a single day), the discussion of the campaign to rescue the whooping crane from the brink of extinction, the environmental perils that both whooping cranes and sandcranes still face, and Johnsgard's wonderful pen-and-ink drawings. I particularly liked his description of the sound of a crane flock, in which every bird is calling simultaneously at full voice, regardless of pitch: it reminds Johnsgard "of listening to an amateur performance of Handel's `Hallelujah Chorus' as chaotically sung by a vast assemblage of tone-deaf but enthusiastic lovers of fine music."
There's plenty for the serious student of cranes, too, backed up by an extensive twenty-page list of secondary references. As a valuable bonus, there is an appendix that lists more than one hundred crane-viewing sites throughout the United States and Canada; for most such sites, the book gives general information, addresses and Internet URLs, and other contact information.
on February 13, 2016
This is not a popular science text on sandhill and whooping cranes. It is, rather, a collection, compendium, and overview of dozens of scientific published works -- strung together by a loose narrative -- on the details of crane migration, geographical location and dispersion, population ebbs and flows, various studies and projects. So, it is probably of value to a graduate student or serious ornithologist. For the popular reader, it became mind numbing.
I recently had the experience of observing cranes in flight and in fields and gathering for the night and became curious about them. However, what is missing from this book about cranes are the cranes. What they do, how they interact, what their life patterns are like, and personalized anecdotes and experiences with cranes are addressed only minimally. For someone like me, who was hoping to learn about cranes, it was relatively useless.
However, I must give credit to the 35-page appendix -- Crane Viewing Sites in the United States and Canada. That earned a second star. For someone interested in cranes, the appendix is very useful.
on August 10, 2015
“Sandhill and Whooping Cranes: Ancient Voices over America's Wetlands” Paul A. Johnsgard
With perhaps 100 bird and birding books read I will offer the opinion that nobody but nobody writes as eloquently and fervently about our prairie bird life than Paul Johnsgard. The cranes, especially, always seem to be the very heart of the ancient prairies and Johnsgard does a wonderful job of bringing them to the reader.