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  • Writer's pictureJ. Darris Mitchell

Whooping Cranes!

ON Desk

So NaNoWriMo was a complete and total failure! I managed to outline a project and start on it, but the voice wasn’t working for me at all, so blah… I’ve not had great success with NaNoWriMo in the past, and probably won’t be attempting in the future. With my job as a ghostwriter, I’ve found I pretty much need to take time off to write my own stuff.

My critique group should read the last part of the Crane and the Wolf this evening though, and revision will begin on that soon. That’s something I can do while writing!

Personal Note

Another reason that I failed at NaNoWriMo so spectacularly was that I actually left Travis County in November. My family and I went to Port Aransas to bird, play on the beach, and sequester ourselves in a beach house that was nearly twice the size of our own home. I sort of hated how much I loved how big the house was, but the boys could run around, so there it is.

We were definitely concerned about traveling during the pandemic, but the island was pretty empty. There’s something I’ve always liked about traveling in the offseason anyway. There are fewer crowds, and the locals seem happy to have your business as opposed to just seeing another tourist. It was harder to get a sense of that when only seeing people for a minute while picking up take out and wearing a mask, but thus is the price of responsibility.

Bird of the Week

The birds in Port Aransas were fantastic!

The greatest moment came when my family and I were all on the beach together. At the moment, I wasn’t even actively birding. Instead, I was complaining about never having seen an American Oystercatcher. This large black and white shore bird with a long red bill is supposed to be fairly common on the coast, and yet I had never seen one. My wife was going about the business of deflating my dreams when I turned around and lo and behold, there was a pair of oystercatchers not twenty feet away! We were close enough to see their orange eyes without the help of binoculars. They spent maybe fifteen minutes with us, probing into the sand with their bright bills and pulling out tiny mollusks that we had earlier discovered: tiny little clam-like fellas that would bury themselves into the sand every time a wave went out.

On our drive back home, we made a short detour to try and spot Whooping Cranes. Whooping Cranes are the tallest bird in North America, and one of its rarest. They were nearly wiped out, but the tireless work of conservationists has brought their number up to somewhere around 800 (though many of these individuals live in captivity), many of the wild ones winter on the Texas Coast.

As we drove towards the Big Tree at Goose Island State Park—a regular haunt of these spectacular specimens—I started to feel a sort of anxiety building in my stomach. It wasn’t a sensation I often equate with birding. It felt more like I was heading to a party and was nervous that the other guests wouldn’t like me, or worse, that I’d arrive only to find I was the first person to show up, and the cool kids (the Whooping Cranes in this metaphor, obviously) weren’t there yet and in fact had decided to go another party that had jello-shots instead of just half a keg of PBR in a trashcan of melting ice.

We arrived, panic high in my chest, fingers shaking as I donned my binoculars. But we had the right address! There they were. The proverbial cool kids.

Five individuals stood near the edge of a pond, looking decidedly out of place. This is one of the rarest species in the United States; I did not expect to see them in a mowed yard behind what looked to be converted farmhouse, bumping proverbial elbows with a grackles and pigeons of all things. Still, they were magnificent. Their red forehead, dark mustache and long decurved bill give them an austere look, only slightly diminished by the tags on their thighs marking their identities to researchers with keener eyes than I. Three more flew in, and their true beauty was revealed. In flight, Whooping Cranes are truly majestic. Massive, all white but the tips of their wings, where black feathers extend like fingers reaching into the wind. I could easily see this bird in anthropomorphic legend that could then be bastardized into a Disney cartoon in which ye old Whooping Cranes hold a fishing pole or a broom or something as they sing to some poor girl without a mom.

I left the party elated, totally convinced that the birds all flying off not ten minutes after we arrived had nothing to do with us nerds hanging at the periphery, on the far side of a barbed wire fence, hoping some of their grace would rub off on us.

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