News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Mike Lunsford

March 21, 2011

THE OFF SEASON: Craning to see elegance in flight

TERRE HAUTE — Just before midnight last night, spring officially slipped quietly into our back yards, but I doubt that any of us noticed it much this morning as we slurped our coffee or downed our eggs over this newspaper. In fact, there is nothing official about spring’s arrival at all. It comes to us gradually, in a warm south breeze and with the sap running in the veins of our maples. And, this year, it has come not only on the backs of our pond’s peeping frogs, but also on the brilliant white wings of a pair of whooping cranes that decided to take up temporary quarters in a field just east of our place.

I wish I could say that I spotted the two big birds first, but I can’t.

A friend of ours who works at the local bank in town, whose name by the way is Donella Crane — a fact not lost in the good-humored ribbing she’s been taking — told my wife about them a week ago last Saturday.

Donella drives past a covered bridge and over the muddy waters of the Big Raccoon on the way to her teller’s window each day, and she noticed the snow white oddities in a field as she glanced through her passenger-door window one morning. Joanie mentioned the cranes every day afterward.

One of the things I love most about my wife is that she rarely passes up an opportunity to listen to those frogs or to get her hands in the dirt or to look for the squirrel that has built a penthouse for himself a good 50 feet up in a sycamore that looms over our hillside. She loves where we live because we hardly live there alone; there are always turtles or geese or deer around to entertain us. So, as we left the church parking lot Sunday to head home for lunch, I wasn’t a bit surprised when she said, “Let’s go out to the creek to see those birds.”

Within a few minutes we were standing in the stubble along the edge of a muddy cornfield looking at what appeared to be two bright plastic bags on legs milling around 400 yards away. Now, I can squint myself down to fairly decent eyesight when necessary, but I told Joanie that we needed to get home to grab my binoculars — the same pair my grandfather called his “looks” — and come back to our observation post before our stiff-legged friends moved on. We did just that, stopping at home just long enough to grab our Audubon Field Guide off the bookcase and my battered old binoculars case.

The birds were in the same spot, but we were still too far away to see them clearly. We knew that whooping cranes are easily confused with egrets, a bird that is often seen in our parts, and we wanted to be sure that we were, in fact, looking at the real deal. But still in our Sunday shoes and with a stiff north wind in our faces, we headed home happy that we’d at least seen what we had.

A phone call to Donella and several hours later found me near the field again, better equipped this time in boots that were already caked with our sticky clay and in blue jeans and corduroy shirt and ball cap. I wanted to see the birds again, wanted to know that they were cranes, that they had black-tipped wings and a daring dash of red atop the crest of their heads. Knowing I shouldn’t try to approach the birds if I spotted them, I spent over an hour clomping in the mud around the edges of the fields, looking off into the distance for the shallow pools left by receding flood waters. I eventually crossed the road to inspect the calm, green drainage ditches that run toward the foamy brown creek that takes in all the water the Army Corps of Engineers can feed it from Cecil Harden Lake over a dozen winding miles away. But I never saw the birds.

Whooping cranes are rare. In fact, they’re protected under the Endangered Species Act, so it’s illegal to harm them in any way. On the verge of extinction by the time World War II roared through our history, there were, according to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, only about 525 of them in existence just three years ago, and only 375 of those are left in the wild. In the past 10 years, they have been captive-bred, then taught to follow ultra-light aircraft so they could learn their migratory route from central Wisconsin to the Gulf Coast, mostly in Florida. Some cranes are outfitted with transmitters so groups like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the International Crane Foundation and the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership can learn more about their trips and habitats.

The huge birds — some may stand as tall as 5 feet and have wingspans of more than 7 feet — also have been reared by foster parents. In past years, whooping crane eggs have been placed in the nests of much more common sandhill cranes in hopes that the latter will raise them. When I read of that program in that old Audubon Guide of ours, reprinted 20 years ago, there were only about 50 whooping cranes alive.

Disappointed by my Sunday evening hike, I contacted Donella again, and I told her to call me at work if she saw the birds the next day. Sure enough, she called after lunch to let me know that they had been spotted, so like most of my students, I pealed out of our school parking lot as soon as I could that day. I was on a mission …

The wind was no less cruel as I spotted the cranes that gray afternoon from my truck window. I had no intention of getting very close to them. I had read that 200 yards is considered more than near enough. I had grabbed my camera this time around, and within a few feet of my tailgate, I stood and watched the pair while drops of rain spat down my neck. 

The birds are magnificent things, and they well aware that I was there, but not so panicked that they stopped bending their unbelievably long necks down to the chilly water to bob for a frog or tadpole. I couldn’t help but wonder, with so many other fields and wetlands and ditches between here and Wisconsin, why this pair chose us, graced us, with their presence. Then, in an instant, they pulled themselves off the ground in a flutter and disappeared into the wood line.

I have learned since that these whoopers are known to many others, particularly the Wabash Valley Audubon Society. Its president, Marty Jones, used a spotting scope to identify the leg bands of the pair. Officially, they were 10-03 and W1-06, and they had spent their winter in Colleton County, South Carolina. A Parke County field was just a rest stop on their way to Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin. I’m glad they dropped in.

I used to think that it was only in my youth that I was excitable, that little things fired me up, helped me dream, made me happy, but I had it all wrong. Two whooping cranes came to call on us last week, their trumpet-like honks echoing off the cottonwoods.

And to think, today is just the first day of spring.

Mike Lunsford can be reached by e-mail at or by writing to him c/o The Tribune-Star, P.O. Box 149, Terre Haute, IN 47808. Read more of Mike’s stories at, and visit his website at

Text Only | Photo Reprints
Mike Lunsford
  • Turtle Hello.jpg MIKE LUNSFORD: Wet in Wyoming, wandering turtles and other tales of the road

    It is an odd thing, after all the miles I drove a few weeks ago — to the mountains of Wyoming and back again — that today I remember most of all stopping along the road in two places nearly 600 miles apart.

    July 6, 2014 2 Photos

  • Top of the World, Ma.jpg THE OFF SEASON: Go West, old man … there’s a world to see

    I am writing this story in the shadows of the Black Hills, nearly spitting distance from the rocky-pink Badlands through which I’ll drive today. My wife and I came here to see things only the American West could show us, and we have not been disappointed in the effort and the miles it took.

    June 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • MET060314 dandelionsblossom.jpg MIKE LUNSFORD: It’s the true ‘face of spring’

    I’d be a liar if I said that I miss the yellow carpet of dandelions that dotted my front yard just a few weeks ago.

    June 8, 2014 2 Photos

  • Possum 3.jpg MIKE LUNSFORD: A face only a mother could love

    It is fitting that Mother’s Day comes when it does, for spring is a maternal season, one for new beginnings, for birth and rebirth, for flowering and nurturing and caring.

    May 11, 2014 3 Photos

  • Kinsey 3.jpg MIKE LUNSFORD: Lasting beauty: Miss Kinsey’s forsythia

    It always seems like it’s Sunday when we notice Miss Kinsey’s forsythia. Joanie and I will be driving home from church, most often with our windows down so we can enjoy springtime breezes and smells.

    April 27, 2014 3 Photos

  • IMG_9352.jpg MIKE LUNSFORD: One man’s trash is, well, another man’s trash

    Many people are growing weary of ecological doomsdayers, and if so, they are the folks most likely to tell us that Planet Earth isn’t in that bad of a shape, that it can repair itself, that new technologies just around the corner will solve our carbon emissions and greenhouse gases and oil consumption and the ever-growing pile of plastic in which we are drowning.

    April 13, 2014 2 Photos

  • Inscription 3.jpg MIKE LUNSFORD: A book inscribed is surely a book treasured

    I don’t think it’s a secret that I value books as one of life’s great joys; “I am, therefore I read,” could be a T-shirt-worthy motto of mine.

    March 30, 2014 6 Photos

  • MIKE LUNSFORD: Something to crow about, as our neighbors return

    It is in the spring, I think, that I notice crows the most. They are noisy neighbors year-round, but they come calling (I resisted saying “cawing”) in early March in earnest, and they do so before the frogs on our pond and the buds on our trees make the new season official.

    March 16, 2014

  • Sworn In.jpg Author visits birthplace of Calvin Coolidge

    Editor’s Note: Today, in this seventh and final installment of Mike Lunsford’s “New England Journal,” the writer visits a small town in south central Vermont, birthplace of the nation’s 30th President, Calvin Coolidge. Be sure to look for Mike’s regular column in Monday’s edition of the Tribune-Star.

    March 16, 2014 12 Photos

  • Waiting for Spring.jpg MIKE LUNSFORD: The long goodbye to winter

    I have no idea what the weather is to bring to us on the morning this story runs, but on the day I write most of it, the sun is shining, and we have just come off a weekend of pleasant warmth and cloudless skies.

    March 2, 2014 16 Photos

  • The Inlet at Thunder Hole.JPG Heaven on Earth: Writer gets lost — both figuratively and literally — at Acadia National Park

    Editor’s Note: Today, we continue the New England Journal as Mike Lunsford writes of a day hiking the Atlantic shoreline and the trails of Maine’s Acadia National Park.

    February 16, 2014 9 Photos

  • MIKE LUNSFORD: ‘To sleep, perchance to dream’

    I’ve been thankful this winter for a full propane tank and ample cold cranking amps and school snow-delay days that have kept me off the roads until the sun is up on the most frigid of these mornings.

    February 3, 2014

  • MET010714 lunsford art.jpg MIKE LUNSFORD: The night the snow fell

    You would think that the cold winds and deep snows that we endured two weeks ago would be old news by now, but as I stood in the checkout line at a grocery store just a few days back, a gallon of milk in one hand and a quart of orange juice in the other, a customer just ahead of me appeared to be stocking up to make a run for the Donner Pass, and all she could talk about was the storm.

    January 19, 2014 1 Photo

  • MET010414 lunsford 2.jpg THE OFF SEASON: Seeing the miraculousness of the ordinary

    It was just a few nights ago that I announced to my wife that I was headed outside to watch the International Space Station pass overhead.

    January 5, 2014 2 Photos

  • Millay at Steepletop.jpg ‘Afternoon on a Hill’: The formal poet who led an informal life — Edna St. Vincent Millay

    EDITOR’S NOTE: Today, we continue the New England Journal as Mike Lunsford writes of an afternoon exploring the rural gardens and home of poet Edna St. Vincent Millay near Austerlitz, N.Y. Join Lunsford in February for the sixth installment of this series as he wanders along the wooded shorelines of Jordan Pond in Acadia National Park.

    January 5, 2014 6 Photos

  • MET121713 lunsford radio.jpg MIKE LUNSFORD: Lying by the warm radioside

    I am writing this piece well before Christmas Eve, although you wouldn’t think that it can be far away by the look of things out my windows tonight.

    December 22, 2013 1 Photo

  • MET120713lunsford.jpg MIKE LUNSFORD: ‘The mind is a dark forest’

    If you hadn’t noticed by reading this newspaper or hearing me crow about it myself, I have another collection of stories out in print.

    December 8, 2013 1 Photo

  • Beach Roses.JPG Walk of a Lifetime: Writer discovers views fit for a painting while walking the cliffs of Prout’s Neck, home to famous artist Winslow Homer’s seaside studio

    Editor’s Note: Today, we continue the New England Journal as Mike Lunsford writes of a day walking the Maine seacoast in search of the great artist, Winslow Homer. Join Mike in January for the fifth installment of this series as he visits Edna St. Vincent Millay’s rural New York farm, Steepletop.

    December 1, 2013 8 Photos

  • MET100913 woolybear.jpg MIKE LUNSFORD: Inching on toward a cold winter?

    I’m not ready for snow and ice and the daggers of a north wind, but I have finally accepted the fact that winter is nearly here.

    November 24, 2013 1 Photo

  • B Plot at Epinal France.jpg MIKE LUNSFORD: ‘I’m going simply because I’ve got to … ’

    Late in the year 1944, the great Hoosier war correspondent Ernie Pyle, mentally and physically exhausted from his months reporting from the battlefields of Europe, came home for the last time. He was scrawny and gray.

    November 11, 2013 4 Photos

  • Black Cat.JPG MIKE LUNSFORD: Pumpkins: Good for the fork and the (carving) knife

    My wife and I are fairly frugal; we are budgeters and planners. In the fall, we set aside what we’ll need to heat the house and pay the doctor and buy sensible shoes for school. I think we’re going to have to open an account for pumpkins, too.

    October 28, 2013 3 Photos

  • Stephen Kim 1.jpg MIKE LUNSFORD: Déjà vu, courtesy of violinist prodigy

    It’s been said that the longer married couples stay together, the more they begin to think alike. I can’t refute that, although, for my wife’s sake, I hope a similar theory — that they begin to look alike, too — is far from true.

    October 14, 2013 2 Photos

  • Harry Evans Bridge II.jpg MIKE LUNSFORD: The beauty, spirit of a ‘lonely’ bridge

    It was the best kind of day a few Saturdays ago: not quite 70 degrees, a slight breeze from the northwest barely pushed flat-bottomed white clouds around in an otherwise blue sky.

    September 30, 2013 6 Photos

  • MET0909113goldenrod.jpg Mike Lunsford: The golden rods of September

    The sunflowers that are framed in my cabin’s eastside window are soon to become things of the past, for no matter how much I water and weed, the time has come for them to go.

    September 16, 2013 2 Photos

  • MET083013lunsford squirrel2.jpg MIKE LUNSFORD: It isn’t the end but it is the beginning of the end …

    I had every intention of writing about Labor Day today; it has become a tradition of sorts for me because it seems as though my column and the holiday have an annual convergence. But as I thumbed through a number of other stories I’d written on the subject, I felt I had nothing new to say.

    September 2, 2013 1 Photo

  • tslunsford MIKE LUNSFORD: A long day’s journey into night

    We arrived at the sprawling hulk of a motel well after dark, the parking lot pitch black except for a few spots illuminated by flickering blue lights that hummed a monotonous tune.

    August 19, 2013 1 Photo

  • Beulah Gravestone.jpg MIKE LUNSFORD: Searching for Beulah Jane

    EDITOR’S NOTE: Today’s Mike Lunsford column is the second in a two-part story on his search to solve a family mystery. Part 1 was published in Monday’s Tribune-Star. Both are available at

    August 6, 2013 2 Photos 1 Story

  • MIKE LUNSFORD: The girl who wasn’t my grandmother

    EDITOR’S NOTE: We travel this week with Mike Lunsford on a journey across miles and memories, as he seeks answers to a long-ago family mystery. Today’s column is the first of a two-part story. Part II will run Tuesday.

    August 5, 2013 1 Story

  • A Sailboat on the Lake.jpg MIKE LUNSFORD: ‘Once more to the lake…’

    We are heading home today after spending a few days on Lake Michigan, and I am a bit sad for the leaving. We have made it a habit to come here every year, dragging weary bones and beach towels and enough breakfast food to last us a week. And, as expected, when I turn my back on the cool blueness of the lake for the last time this afternoon, I’ll know that another year has gone by, and there’s no getting it back.

    July 22, 2013 1 Photo

  • Frost Writing C…Near Ripton.jpg Poets at heart, writer, wife walk paths that Frost walked

    A few summers ago, my family traveled to New England to see what we could see. Along the way, we dipped our toes into Walden Pond, holy waters to those who have read Henry David Thoreau. My wife and I returned to the region last month to seek shrines that poets at heart revere: the Vermont homes where Robert Frost wrote magical words.

    July 21, 2013 7 Photos

Latest News Poll
AP Video
Texas Shooting Suspect Collapses in Court LeBron James Says He's Returning to Cavaliers Raw: Israel, Gaza Exchange Rocket Fire Police: Prostitute Linked to 2nd Death Man Flees Police in World Cup Scalping Scheme Raw: Rebel Leader Weds in Eastern Ukraine More Immigrants Detained Along Rio Grande Joy Fills Streets of Cleveland As LeBron Returns Death Toll Tops 100 As Israel Offense Continues Chimp-attack Victim Lobbies Congress Robot Writes Jewish Torah Scroll Soft Robot Fish Lead New Wave of Robotics FIFA Rejects Suarez Appeal Against Biting Ban World Cup Final Pits Argentina Against Germany Downside of Low Mortgage Rates? Less Selling Obama Responds to Hecklers on Immigration Thousands Attend NYC Firefighter's Funeral Art of Haitian Machete Fighting Revived WH: LeBron's Move a 'Powerful Statement' Raw: Australia Hosts Annual Beer Can Regatta
NDN Video
Cleveland welcomes home LeBron Houston Killer Collapses in Court When Read Capital Murder Charges for Allegedly Killing Family of Six Worst Valet Ever Wrecks $500K Lamborghini Glee Star Becca Tobin's Boyfriend Matt Bendik Found Dead in Hotel Aerial fish restocking in Utah ScarJo Channels Marilyn Monroe Obama Responds to Hecklers on Immigration Tiny Hamsters Who Ate Burritos are Back for a Tiny Hedgehog's Party Watch Kelly Ripa Get Soaked! 'Referee' Hands Out Yellow Cards for Social Faux Pas in NYC 2014 Emmy Nominees: 8 Snub Shockers Emma Watson Is Va-Va-Voom in Valentino 7 Infamous Sports Blowouts Argentina tops Holland in World Cup semifinals News flush: Japanese toilet exhibition making a splash Emmy Nominations: What to Watch For 'Game of Thrones' Leads 66th Emmy Awards Nominations Photographic 'Proof' That LeBron Is Leaving Miami - @TheBuzzeronFOX Elephant Pool Party at The Oregon Zoo Must-See! Berry and Fallon Form Human Hamster Wheel

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.
  • -


    March 12, 2010