A Not So Common Crane

My flight to Lubbock, Texas, was late of course, and I left from the airport at about 11:00pm for the 3 hour drive to Roswell.   What I didn’t think about was that Lubbock and Roswell were in different time zones. This gave me an extra hour but meant that if I didn’t see the Common Crane on the 19th I couldn’t stay for the morning of the 20th.

I didn’t really want to get up, when my wake up call  came in, a meager 3 1/2 hours later but I knew I had to get there early.  I sped to the Bitter Lake NWR and as I was driving up in the dark could already hear the Sandhill Cranes leaving.

There was constant movement as the light in the sky, got brighter and brighter.  I can’t even guesstimate how many Sandhill’s were in the water and sky.  Compound the problem with cranes leaving in every direction. and no one else was around.


Needless to say I didn’t see the Common Crane that morning but stayed there until there was only a handful of cranes on the island.




It was time to drive the roads and drive I did….120 miles of back roads.  I must have scoped at least 2-3,000 Sandhills that day including a flock of about 500 in one field.  I was starting to get that sinking feeling.


By 2:30 in the afternoon, the lack of sleep, monotony of the search, was telling me to find somewhere for a nap.   By this time the temp had gone from 0C to a lovely 26C, so I decided to return to Bitter Lake and take my chances there.  Driving in I spotted a group of birders scanning the lake and stopped for a chat.   They were from Massachusetts, Ohio and Texas.  I explained I was going to the other side of the lake and wait for the cranes to return from the fields.  We exchanged numbers and if anyone saw the crane we’d contact each other.   I had the nagging thought that I recognized one of them but I was too tired to think straight.  As I was driving around I realized who the birder from Massachusetts was.  Neil Hayward current record holder for most birds seen in one year.  You can read about his travels at:


Neal and I had both attempted Big Years in 2013 with incredibly different result’s.

On the other side of the lake,  the wind had picked up considerably, so I parked out of the wind looking towards the island where the Common Crane was being seen.


I’d set my alarm for 45 minutes later, I just had to sleep for a few minutes, after all at the end of the day I still had to drive back to Texas.

My catnap really refreshed me and I noticed a White-faced Ibis coming my way along the shore.


Followed shortly by a Bittern in brilliant sun, first time I’d seen one in the open like this.


This was my view for the next 2 hours until the sun went down.


As I waited for the sun to go down I began to wonder when the birds would start returning from their feeding.  As I watched the sun go below the horizon I was still wondering.  They should have been in the sky now and coming from the direction of the setting sun.


As soon as the sun was below the horizon you could hear birds coming from the west. I glassed well over 1,000 incoming birds but then it got just too dark.


This photo was taken 45 minutes after sunset and enhanced on one side,  its small but if you click on it you can see there are still lots of birds coming in.


Nikon has a ISO setting of 26,500, so I took photos until it got to dark to do that. When I got back to my room, I checked every photo for the crane. I wouldn’t have counted it for my life list but it might have swayed me into making another attempt in the morning.

Can’t get them all unfortunately.   Check out the price of gas!


But Florida and a certain Quail-dove was calling my name…

Ciao for now


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