Grey Crowned Crane

Crowned Crane
Adventure Stories

By Peter Y. Chou

Black Crowned Crane
Hilo Zoo, Hawaii

On Wednesday, November 1, a friend and I visited the San Francisco Zoo, and enjoyed seeing a pair of African lions, a tiger, brown, black, and polar bears, and a giant anteater running around in circles. But the highlight of the Zoo visit was the exotic birds. My first encounter was with the Waldrapp Ibis which was in the open African Savanna. The ibis approached me, flapped its wings once, and sat down, seemingly in meditation. The next bird that attracted my attention was the Giant Hornbill. It was carrying a fruit in its beak and quite colorful in its flight from tree to tree in its cage. But the star performance of the day was the Maguari Stork. When I came to its cage, it approached me and lifted up its head. I said "Higher! Higher!" and it responded by stretching its neck up a few more inches. Then the stork bent its head a full 180º backwards touching its back! I've never seen such acrobatics before and applauded its dramatic performance. The Maguari Stork would screech out loud and plunge its beak to the ground. When the zookeeper came inside the cage to clean some foliage, the stork spread out its wings, screeched and chased the zookeeper away. Then it came back and repeated its neck-lifting and head-bending performance for me again and again. I felt as though I was a symphony conductor urging it on and on, spending half an hour with this exotic bird. Unfortunately, my camera was out of batteries, and I didn't take any photos of the Maguari Stork. A week later while getting a jar of olives from my refrigerator, a piece of paper seemed to cling onto the jar— it was a loose label from a Vlasic Dill Spears pickle jar. This label must have been in my refrigerator for awhile since I threw out the pickle jar months ago. The Vlasic Logo appears to be a Stork that is relishing a pickle. I was quite amused by this sudden discovery. It was as though the Maguari Stork was still talking to me.

For the last month, I've been working on a book about Doves, reading about its symbolism in alchemy and folklore. I located doves in paintings from museums, found quotes on doves from the Bible, poetry, and literature. Then I searched for doves on postage stamps from my collection and on the web. On November 28, I found two Tunisia bird stamps with the denomination of 55 millimes. Since Plato associated the Platonic Lambda (number 55) with the soul of the universe (Timaeus 35b), and birds symbolize the soul, I was excited and happy to add these two bird stamps to my "Number 55" web page.

On Friday, November 24, I went on a hike with a friend at the Arastradero Preserve in Portola Valley. There were so many cirrus clouds in the sky which resembled birds that I took a whole roll of film on them. I was wondering why all these bird images were coming into my life. The front page of today's San Jose Mercury News (Wednesday Nov. 29, 2006) had an interesting article: "Mystery bird from Africa graces Los Altos Hills" It's about an East African crowned crane that flew into someone's back yard. I've not seen such a bird before, but Lisa M. Krieger's photo of this bird resembled a halo around Christ, Buddha, and those saints and holy men. I wanted to meet it and pay my homage and respect.

I told my friend about it, but she was not interested in chasing this wild bird all over Los Altos Hills. She showed me her map— "See how large an area Los Altos is— It's your work day and you can't be late for work at the Computer Lab!" She did drive me to the bank and Long's to buy my December Bus Pass.

When another friend phoned me, I told her to read the front page of today's San Jose Mercury News. She asked whether the paper listed the crane's whereabouts. I told her that it didn't, but reported the names of the neighbors where the crowned crane flew. I found Sandra Humphries address and phone number in my Mountain View Phone Book.

My friend phoned and left a message asking for permission to visit her backyard. She came to the Middlefield Computer Lab at 3 pm, and we went to Fremont Road, not knowing whether we'd see this exotic bird. A tall white-haired woman was in her driveway when we parked on the road. I asked if she's Sandra and she said "Yes. The crane is still in the yard."

I couldn't believe my eyes. What a majestic giant bird from East Africa landing here in Los Altos Hills! Sandra allowed me to take photos of the crowned crane, warning me that I shouldn't get too close. A neighbor did, and the crane flapped its wings and gave a loud grunt!

Sandra told us that when she and her husband returned from a week's vacation, she saw this huge crowned crane in their driveway— "Do you see what I see?" she asks her husband, not believing her eyes. Now the crowned crane seems to like her backyard as it's secluded and not so exposed to street traffic. The clusters of the pine trees and grass shrubs resemble giant dandelions that's similar to the shape of the crane's crown. So it blends in with the yard's surrounding extremely well. Sandra's husband bought some bird seeds, and the crane seems happy pecking away at insects and seeds in her spacious dry grassy yard. The crane flies to a neighbor's porch to leave its droppings. Sandra says, "Thanks goodness I don't have to clean up my yard."

A fellow named Patrick Ng left a message on her phone and said two crowned cranes escaped from his netted cage in his aviary. But Sandra is not giving up her crane without documentation by its original owner. Meanwhile after today's Mercury News story, she's deluged with calls from this news media like CBS wanting to air this story on TV. She doesn't want more publicity and declined. It was such a treat that she spent half an hour telling us her story.

She says, "It's a wonder waking up in the morning and opening the window shades to see this majestic crowned crane in my back yard." I tell Sandra about a TV documentary many years ago by an ornithonologist on the "Dance of the Whooping Crane". Cranes mate for life, and when one of the cranes died, the ornithologist performed the courtship dance himself, even mimicking the crane's voice. I had read that the Uganda villagers would perform native dances similar to that of the East African crowned cranes.

The first two photos that I took were through the pine tree. When I came into the open yard, the crane began to walk away. But then it returned and I took my third photo of it in the open field. Hope it comes out nicely. I thanked Sandra for sharing her stories of this beautiful bird and allowing me to take photos of it in her yard. When I told her how my camera ran out of batteries at the San Francisco Zoo last month, Sandra said, "Now the Crowned Crane has flown to you."

I got back to the Foothill Computer Lab at 4:30 pm in time for my work at 5 pm.

Wrote two haikus of this wonderful experience:
  Such beauty and grace
  flew to a Los Altos yard—
  this haloed crowned crane!
    I take a picture
    of this tall majestic crane—
    its gold crown glowing!

— Peter Y. Chou (Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2006)

Original Story: Mystery Bird from Africa Graces Los Altos Hills (Nov. 29, 2006)
Additional Story: Crane Loses Mate, But Owner Identified (Nov. 30, 2006)
Additional Story: Exotic Gray Crane Continues Life at Large (Jan. 7, 2007)
Crane Dance & Crane Feats (Deborah Richie Communications)
Art for Life (By Mudita Chauhan-Mubayi, TerraGreen)
Red-Crowned Cranes fly in Xianghai (People's Daily)

Crane Clouds at Arastradero Preserve? (PYC Photos, Nov. 24, 2006)

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© Peter Y. Chou, Wisdom Portal
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email: (11-30-2006)