The Business Transition Blog

Whooping Cranes Spotted

Snow Geese in Saskatchewan

This isn’t really a personal blog, but I feel compelled to mention a recent experience. On a trip to Saskatchewan this week, we went looking for a needle in a haystack. Here’s the scoop. There are fewer than 300 whooping cranes left in the world. They are nearly extinct. But there is a fairly consistent migration route that they take each year. With optimism and determination, my wife Dawna planned a trip that would include two of her sisters, her mother and me. (What a lucky guy!)

We flew to Saskatoon on Saturday the 25th of September and immediately started our search. We drove thousands of kilometres on back roads that alternated between being so dusty you couldn’t see out your rearview mirrors and washed out and water-covered from the recent accumulation of rainfall. We experienced the splendour of clouds of snow geese – literally tens of thousands blotting out the sun and settling on small lakes making them appear ice covered. We saw hundreds, maybe thousands of sandhill cranes, hundreds of hawks, dozens of eagles, bazillions of ducks and shorebirds and much much more. It really was  a feast for the eyes. Within a couple days I saw more geese and ducks than I’ve seen in my accumulated 56 years combined. But the whooping cranes were not to be seen.

We asked everyone we met, “Do you know if anyone has seen the whooping cranes?” Often we were met with blank, uncomprehending looks which suggested we were crazy. Some locals didn’t know they had whooping cranes in this part of the world, or for that matter that such a thing existed. Many thought we meant sandhill cranes and sent us off on “wild goose chases” to (even more) remote locations in which we found the brown guys not the white ones. It was beginning to feel hopeless. After all, what are the chances of finding a small group of cranes that could be anywhere in that several million square miles that make up the Saskatchewan prairies and wetlands? Even if we were somewhere close to them, they could remain unseen, just over that knoll or hiding behind that copse of trees.

Finally, we met someone who knew what we were talking about and had heard of a sighting very close to where we were on our first day! It was 4:30 pm and they said it was about 2 hours drive to the north. Sunset was about 7:00 so that didn’t leave much room for error, but we decided to go check it out. The directions were, go north on Highway 2 to Muskiki Lake. Just as you go over the hill and the lake comes in sight (about a mile off to the right) you’ll see a small pull-off to the right that looks like a farm lane. Pull in there, scan the horizon with your binoculars and scope and you might get lucky.

Off we set with a sense of hope. When the lake came in sight, we weren’t sure what constituted a “pull-off” or for that matter, whether or not we had the right lake in sight. Right now, because of the wet summer and fall, Saskatchewan is full of lakes and ponds – many of which shouldn’t really be there. We stopped and looked. Nothing. We went back the road a bit and saw an abandoned farm house with a lane that looked to be used mostly by farm equipment. We went in hoping we wouldn’t be charged with trespassing. The sun was beginning to set. We had about 15 minutes before it sunk below the horizon.

Once again I pulled out Carol’s scope and set it up on the tripod. Dawna, Carol, Kathy and Marj scanned with their binoculars and I started to scan with the scope. Nothing. Then Dawna said, “Look at that little pond to the left of the hydro pole.” I turned the scope in that direction and there they were. It was unmistakeable! Huge white birds with black wing-tips doing their hopping dance. At first I could only see a couple but in a twist of good luck, as the sun went down, the sky lit up with a diffused rather than harsh light and they were easier to see. They were too far away to get photos, but they were unmistakable. We counted at least 30!

We drove an hour back to Saskatoon in the dark and had a quiet evening. After spending a week in the van with eyes peeled for 8-10 hours a day, this was good enough for me. I decided to spend some time relaxing and writing at the hotel. But the ladies decided to go back again this morning and Dawna sent me an email to say they counted 34 this morning! Imagine, seeing over 10% of the entire species in one place!

What a great exercise in goal-setting, persistence, determination and optimism. Like finding a needle in a haystack, but we did it!