“Cry the Swans Down

the white swans and the black.” So wrote William Butler Yeats, talking about the wild swans leaving for the winter, taking summer and it’s youthful pleasures with them as they passed. I was reminded of the line as I left work yesterday. I heard the burbling call of sandhill cranes somewhere around the school, so I stopped, tossed my gear into my pickup, and listened hard, scanning the skies, trying to see them.

It took a few minutes, but at last, if I hid the sun with my hands and peered straight up, I could see them in the mild blue sky, far, far overhead. A pair of cranes flew south-southeast. A glance to the north showed a bit of haze and dust but no clouds or other storm sign. Perhaps the front would arrive as forecast and not earlier? Again the burbling calls, soft but insistent. More gazing, looking with unfocused eyes for movement, black specks against the blue, and four, then another four appeared, tracking a heading of 250 degrees (west-southwest). I’d not seen so many in three or four years. Last year I don’t recall seeing any cranes, although I think I heard some one morning. These were probably headed for the marshy wildlife sanctuary about 50 miles southwest of Amarillo. The lakes around the city have gone mostly dry, and the cranes are wading birds.

Cranes are ancient creatures, like Canada geese. They even look a bit like dinosaurs. My part of the world is a bit west of their main flyway, but sometimes they will come through. If I’m very lucky, a whooping crane will be tucked into the formation of sandhills as well. They sound wild, their burbling, trilling call so different from anything else in this area. To hear thousands of them at once, as happens up in Grand Island, Nebraska and other Midwestern refuges is awe inspiring. They belong to a different time, somehow, and yet they continue today.

The year is turning, seasons changing. Gold has touched the trees, and the hawthorn berries are orange-crimson, ripe of the taking. The kites departed a few weeks ago, replaced by a flicker, robins, cedar waxwings, and others moving south for the season. The lurking cold front coming toward this area is chasing them, just as the last one did. Butterflies have been numerous, but almost all have passed to the south, taking summer with them. Instead of 90s we are in the 60s by day, 40s by night. Low clouds roll in, sometimes with chilly, slow rain, then leave hard-edged blue skies almost as dark as indigo, sharp enough to cut the horizon like a knife. The hot dust scent has left the air, replaced by thin wisps of woodsmoke and cinnamon grass, touched with hints of sour cottonwood as the leaves flash to gold, then fall.

Summer is passing “with the white swans and the black.”

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11 thoughts on ““Cry the Swans Down

    • No. All I had was the iLeash, and its camera isn’t good at finding tiny black spots against the sky. (Nor do I have the lens filter for shooting pictures that close to the noon sun.)

  1. Last week my daughter and I spotted a huge flock of migrating birds heading south – they were too far up to be anything more than tiny bird-shapes against the blue, but the flock was long – not in any particular formation, so they were not geese. They were overhead, and heading directly south … and at a lower altitude, it seemed as if the big formation was being shadowed by half a dozen turkey vultures and hawks…

  2. Here, like in many spots, you can track the turn of the seasons by how the birds behave. The hummingbirds leave within a couple of days of Labor Day. The starlings start to form larger and larger flocks in late September then they fly off and now it is Canadian Geese that are forming larger and larger flocks. Sometimes they migrate but oftentimes they don’t; just staying in the neighborhood. The smaller wrens seem to move closer to the house and take up residence in the lilac bushes as those plants drop their leaves and get ready for winter. The quail also seem to form larger flocks and scurry through the fields more openly than in the summer. That may be because I end up feeding them. It is always fascinating.

  3. An interesting memory from Iraq: the raven migration south in autumn. A highway of birds, blackening a ribbon of sky from horizon to horizon for three days.

  4. Yep, the last few Monarchs left here yesterday. I just wish the damned geese that live on the lake would take their butts south, but they don’t… sigh

  5. Our sandhills are just starting to flock up locally then they will congregate down around Jackson to feed on corn and soy before leaving in December. Second Old NFO on the geese, Michigan has too many that spend the winter.

  6. We’re in duck and/or geese migration mode. I’m seeing a lot of formations following the local river, usually heading downstream. Earlier in the year, I was seeing smaller (practice?) formations heading upstream. There’s a marsh nearby and the big lakes would be good for hungry waterfowl getting ready to head to SoCal or points further south.

    The resident quail flock is hanging around our house right now. As best as I can tell, they’ll shift from one property in the area toanother as conditions permit. They’ve also figured out when the dog isn’t out… Quail aren’t very fussy about nesting; a winter or so ago, I found that some were using the cavity in a pallet. Judging by the footprints in the snow, it was pretty cozy for them.

  7. Now I’m bummed.
    I was going to post the song “What Follows Fall“.
    Unfortunately, the guy who did it, evidently remade the song at a significantly faster tempo (which I don’t think works).
    Of course, only the remake is available on the the web. (And that, not very readily.)

  8. Got a beautiful shot of a Canadian geese wing coming over a copse of trees by the lake, with dappled yellow and deep red trees in the distance. Heard them coming and set up for the flyover. Nephew asked why I wasn’t using bird shot and a 20-gauge – practical soul that he is. 🙂

    Migrating flocks are stopping and heading south. The rest are the reason for a surprise year of roast goose with chestnut dressing.

  9. Wave to ‘my’ Sandhills as they go by, please!

    Though odds are the pair that favors the creek in our back acres doesn’t go by your place at all. For something so big, they sure are sneaky. We see them maybe two or three times a year, but we know they summer somewhere along here.

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