Distant Bugles

Flying in front of reflected trees

Flying in front of reflected trees

When we went to the Sandhill Crane Festival, we noticed some things about the cranes.  First, they are noisy.  They seem to spend a lot of time flying around, forming groups, calling to each other and circling.

It’s kind of like watching marching band practice when the band hasn’t been training together very long.  They seem uncertain about how to line up, who’s in the lead, or where they’re going.

They bugle their unique call endlessly.  It can be heard for miles.

Synchronized flapping

Synchronized flapping

Their call is somewhat reminiscent of the sound my brother used to make when he’d sneaked up on me and was trying to terrify me.  My husband thinks it sounds more like a loud turkey, but he never heard my brother.

A “heard” (yes, it’s a pun) of cranes grazed in the grasses across the refuge from us.  The one bad thing about the Hiwassee Refuge and the Sandhill Crane Festival is that the birds are mostly very far away.  I know this is best, especially when there’s a crowd.  After all, the idea of a refuge is to give wildlife a place to be wildlife without being harassed or stressed by the presence of humans.  But, it does make it difficult to get good photos.  If it weren’t for the circling cranes who seemed to want to check us out, I wouldn’t have gotten much detail at all (see previous posts to see these photos).

You can probably tell we were far away from the group of cranes on the ground from this photo:

The "heard"

The “heard”


But it might not be obvious just how far away that really is–I shot it at 400mm.  In fact, almost all of my shots (except those with a long line of cranes flying) posted over the last several days were shot at 400mm.   Mind you, the Sandhill Crane is the largest bird found in Tennessee.  They are up to 4’ tall and have a wingspan of up to 90” (that’s 7.5’).  These are big birds.  And I was shooting with as long a lens as I can afford.  The only answer is to get closer.

Of course, not during the festival.  There are two ways to get closer to the birds.  They both involve getting on the water.  One is to go kayaking–Outdoor Chattanooga offers an annual kayaking tour in the refuge in December.  We did that last year.  It was pretty tough to get good pictures from the kayak.  Plus, we weren’t allowed in the area with the densest population of cranes.  Thankfully for the birds (but not my photos), the wildlife folks take protecting these birds seriously.


The other way is to take a Blue Moon cruise through the refuge.  This might be the best option for photographic opportunities.  We’ll have to see if we can work that into our schedule.  Worst case, there are soon going to be a couple of unreleasable cranes at the Chattanooga Nature Center.  I ought to be able to get a close-up.


Tree tops reflected in water below group of cranes

The Road Not Taken

"Fly left!"  "You Fly left!"  "I am flying left!"

“Fly left!” “You Fly left!” “I am flying left!”

At the Sandhill Crane Festival, a woman who seemed to know the refuge well told us about a pond that was supposedly a short walk away.  She advised us to follow the rope that had been erected to keep people in the viewing area from wandering too far into the refuge.

When we reached the end of the roped-off area, a gravel road led in the direction the woman had indicated.  I had a moment when I wondered if we were supposed to go down this road or not and thought briefly about going back and asking one of the wildlife officers, but I reasoned that walking a road with no sign and no rope in front of it would be OK as long as we didn’t stray off the road.

"Darn it!  I told you to fly left!!"

“Darn it! I told you to fly left!!”

We went about 200 yards when we suddenly heard a fast-moving vehicle approaching.  It was coming in so fast, we moved off the road in fear of being run over.  It slid to a halt on the gravel and two wildlife officers jumped out of the truck.  One was moving with the energy of someone in the midst of a flight-or-fight adrenaline response.  He looked irritated and sounded angry.  I don’t remember what he said, but what he communicated was that he viewed us as either idiots or criminals for not realizing we weren’t supposed to walk on this road.

"I give up.  Just go wherever."

“I give up. Just go wherever.”

We responded amicably, but felt obligated to explain.  No matter how pleasant we were, his accusing tone did not diminish.  Afterwards, for my husband, who felt like he had pushed the point home that it was not unreasonable that we would think it was OK to walk down a road, the incident was over within minutes.

I, on the other hand, felt like I was a bad person for not asking first.  Feeling bad quickly turned to anger, “Why would he think it was obvious we weren’t supposed to walk down a road?  Why was he so angry about it?  It was a simple mistake–he didn’t need to be so upset!”

"Hey, you up there!  Mind if we join you?"

“Hey, you up there! Mind if we join you?”

I played this scene over and over in my mind, thinking of different things to say ranging from sarcasm to empathy that either ended in cutting him down to size or connecting with him and having him understand that I’m a nice person who made a mistake.

In the end, I realized that, of course, this is really about an inappropriate need to please others.

Feeling like there’s someone out there who will tell a story about me being stupid (or worse) hurts.  I want to take the story out of that person’s mouth and rewrite it.  But the only person who suffers is me as I waste time inside my head writing a script for a new exchange that will never happen.   That time would have been better spent enjoying being with my husband, my dog, the sunshine, the glory of life.

After all, I am enough.  Mistakes and all.


"Sure--just fall in line!"

“Sure–just fall in line!”