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OBVIOUS BIRDS #80: Eurasian Crane (Grus grus)

By alicebg, Dec 6 2017 08:32PM

Image by unlobogris @

Cranes are amongst the most beautiful and spectacular of birds. Indeed, in the Far East they are considered sacred. As an inevitable corollary, almost all species are endangered to varying desgrees. Once ubiquitous in the UK (where they are still sometimes referred to, with extreme irony, as 'Common' Cranes), the Eurasian Crane was effectively extinct when I was growing up, and the odds of ever seeing one in the wild so remote as to be unimaginable.

I say effectively extinct, because back in the 1970s there was one exception - Reedham Marsh in deepest Norfolk for years hosted a tiny migratory population, which eventually became the focus of efforts to reintroduce the Crane as a breeding bird. [It was also, I feel obligated to add, a notable WW2 bomber crash site]

Assisting in this programme by the late 1990s were captive breeding programmes at the wildfowl reserves of Pensthorpe and Slimbridge, and it was at the former site that I first got to know Cranes in the 'wild'. These were released birds that lingered in the vicinity and used to regularly 'drop in', drawn by easy food and the presence of other Cranes. Effectively tame, they were unafraid of visitors and thus offered an opportunity to see them up close and appreciate just how big (and potentially intimidating) they really are.

I never quite knew whether to class my Pensthorpe encounters as genuine Crane sightings, but the point became moot one nagical summer evening back in 2015. The SO occasionally likes to go roller-skating, and one of her favourite routes is along a quiet farm track that meanders its way onto our beloved marsh. I go along to act as pit crew and bag-handler, taking the opportunity for a nice walk and maybe a spot of birding. On this occasion I happened to spot, off in the distance, three very large birds making stately progress in an easterly direction. Deploying my binoculars, I was amazed and thrilled to realise that they were Cranes. Were they old Pensthorpe residents out for a jolly? Did they perhaps hail from Reedham or some other East Anglian enclave? I'll never know, but the plain fact of Cranes on my very doorstep was more than neough for me - if you'd told me forty years ago that would happen, I'd never have believed you.

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