The Return of the Cranes

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Paul Johnsgard captures the drama of the greatest gathering of cranes on earth — the flocking in early spring of more than a half million sandhill cranes along the Platte River, Nebraska. — George Archibald, cofounder of the International Crane Foundation.

Just in time for the upcoming crane migration comes the latest volume from the great prairie naturalist Paul Johnsgard — Sandhill and Whooping Cranes: Ancient Voices Over America’s Wetlands. Johnsgard’s new book provides a detailed ecology of both crane species, along with the wetlands on which they depend. Johnsgard also fully explores the uncertain future the cranes face due to climate change and the constant pressure of human settlement.

Of immediate value to the travel plans of naturalists far and wide, this book includes a detailed 35-page guide to crane-viewing sites in the United States and Canada. As for the author, Paul Johnsgard’s travel plans have been the same for nearly fifty years:
Returning each spring to the central Platte Valley to observe the migration of a half-million sandhill cranes is a mind-shattering experience that can only be had in Nebraska, and only by making a special effort to participate in it. From the time the Platte River becomes ice-free in February, until almost the middle of April, hundreds of thousands of sandhill cranes use the valley…the largest assemblage by far of any cranes in the world.

Here’s a few more books from the Land Library’s shelves to enrich anyone’s encounter with cranes in the wild:

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Peter Matthiessen’s global crane survey, The Birds of Heaven: Travels with Cranes, and Cranes: A Natural History of a Bird in Crisis by Janice M. Hughes.

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Paul Johnsgard’s earlier book, Crane Music: A Natural History of American Cranes, Cranes: The Noblest Flyers by Alice Lindsay Price, and a beautifully done new book on the sandhill crane’s fellow traveler, Whooping Crane: Images from the Wild by Klaus Nigge

If 2011 allows you the opportunity to view one of the Earth’s great migrations, be sure to take advantage of the books above, along with regional natural histories that will give you an even broader context. Here’s two excellent volumes if you trek to Nebraska’s Platte River, or another renowned crane-viewing site — Colorado’s San Luis Valley:

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The Platte: Channels in Time by Paul Johnsgard, and The San Luis Valley: Sand Dunes and Sandhill Cranes by Susan J. Tweit and Glenn Oakley

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