Big Bird

The Iain Nicholson Audubon Center at the Rowe Sanctuary is Sandhill Crane Ground Zero. Full report later, you people, because we spent fourteen hours looking at the things today and I am full up on cranes, but a quick tour of some of the day’s high points:

1) The cranes gathered along the Platte River number between 450,000 and one million, depending on who you’re asking. They are all travelling south-to-north; coming from Texas, New Mexico, and Mexico en route to Minnesota, Manitoba, Alaska, and Siberia. All of them, however, stop sometime this month on a 70-mile stretch of the Platte. It is tempting to liken this to an annual convention, like the Detroit Auto Show or the Consumer Electronics Show, but the cranes only increase their bodyweight by 20 percent, there were no hung-over birds that I saw, and none of them get arrested or divorced. Keep your receipts for reimbursement, cranes, and act professional.

2) For an institution dedicated to a specific species, the Iain Nicholson Audubon Center at the Rowe Sanctuary — which I posit should always and only be referred to by its complete correct name — has a remarkably large display of dismembered parts of that species. Graphic dismemberings: Windpipes and single wings and skulls. It’s not tasteless, exactly, and I suppose it’s educational, but it’s unsettling, too. A museum outside a historic site would not have a display case devoted to items the museum had looted and broken from that site, would it?

3) The volunteers staffing the Iain Nicholson Audubon Center at the Rowe Sanctuary, however, could not have been lovelier to us. Marianna especially. Marianna, who has been there for eight years, answered every question as though its being asked was her favorite thing that had happened all day, and hunted me down mid-afternoon specifically to inquire as to whether or not I was having fun, and see if I had any more questions. She could easily be sick of both tourists and cranes, and no one would blame her the teeniest bit.

4) It took less than 24 hours to go from sidesliding off I-80 shouting “THERE’S ONE! THERE’S ONE! PULL OVER! PULL OVER!” and leaping from the car with shutters clicking like paparazzi to one of us whining when another asked to stop that it was “just another brown stupid bird.” Amazing how fast the wondrous becomes the mundane.

5) I was boggled to learn that these lovely birds are legal to hunt in every state except Nebraska. I was double-boggled when, upon my discreetly asking the volunteer from the Iain Nicholson Audubon Center at the Rowe Sanctuary why they were hunted, I was told, “For food.” But the capstone bogglement came when I, for my own sick amusement, Googled “SANDHILL CRANE RECIPES.” You know what hunters call Sandhill Cranes?

“Ribeyes of the Skies.”

I will probably not ask Marianna about this when we go back tomorrow.

–Alan Brouilette


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