Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

Thomas Wolfe wrote “You Can’t Go Home Again” back in the 1930’s. Were he to write it today, it would be titled, “You Can’t Go Home Again… Unless Your Name Is Peanut.” Yes, our little Lazarus has returned. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

We arrived back at St. Marks Wednesday night; Colleen in the tracking van and me in the Jamboree motor-home affectionately known as the “Jambo.” Next morning, Colleen flew back to Wisconsin and I headed out to the blind. It was great to be back as always, though very strange to arrive without a cohort of young whoopers trailing behind the ultralight. Something was seriously missing. But as Confucius used to say “Things change.” The walk out to the blind was its usual calming experience. The path was as deliciously familiar and welcoming as it had always been – the perfect journey of transition between the tame and the wild. The frustration of the previous months melted away and was replaced by that old excitement of renewal.

I pulled open the blind shutters and was treated to the soothing magic of the marsh. The pen stood proud and in perfect shape thanks to the heroic efforts of Refuge Manager Terry Peacock and her willing and enthusiastic staff of regulars and volunteers. Wrestling the pen back from the grasping tongs of Mother Nature every year is no mean feat to be sure. And there, just outside the pen loafing, preening and doing crane things were 4-13 and 8-14… waiting. No matter how many times I have witnessed it, I can never quite get my head around the phenomenon of birds returning from so very far away on their own. Guess that’s because I used to work for UPS.

But arrivals are always fraught with the baggage of “Whooper Do Lists” and because my annual efforts to “hit the ground running” usually result in more than the occasional face plant, I put on my hockey goalie’s helmet and launched into the fray.  Between dirty jobs, I did out and back trips to the blind to observe the two little wanderers and try to get a sense of what was going on with them before costuming up for some closer observation. To put it in avian, aviculture, highly scientific and technical terms, they appeared to be as happy as clams at high tide. That evening, it was a relief to see them roosting out on the oyster bar inside the pen just like old times.

Next day, Bryce from the Refuge came out with the marsh master and did a fantastic job of mashing down the needle rush around the bird’s two favorite ponds, thereby depriving our arch nemesis, the predatory bobcat, of possible ambush opportunities. The birds flew off to a nearby marsh until the work was completed, then flew back in to resume their oh so important activities. I walked back out to the parking lot to collect up the foam from the four wheeler seat that had provided the local bear with so much entertainment the night before.

Later in the afternoon, it was time. I wiggled into the costume and headed out to reconnect with our little dynamic duo. They observed me from their happy spot at the north pond, but I just couldn’t compete with the pond’s menu of little fish and crabs for their attention. “Him again”! I could hear 8-14 say in disgust. “I thought we left him in Wisconsin.” They had enjoyed a couple of costume free weeks reconnecting with the area, but again… things change.

It was then that a couple of white spots suddenly appeared out of the corner of my eye. Egrets, I thought at first. What else could they be? After all, 4-13 and 8-14 would have vocalized up a storm if they were whoopers, right? The two white spots stood inanimate as a painting when I continued my approach while my heart audibly increased its cadence. Had my wishful thinking escaped the quiet cell of its imprisonment, shed its shroud of amyloid plague in revolt and completely overtaken the kingdom of my senses? Or had my age ambushed me with yet another “Gotcha”!? They continued their stare, completely motionless. 

Then, as if having returned from the abyss of some netherworld, I regained focus and certainty. This was no dream, or stroke or out of body experience. They were really there! Two whoopers… right in front of me, their forms so white and red against the black needle rush.

It was our old friend 5-12. I guess I had expected him. But who was this other one? I stared down at the leg bands, my mind racing in a desperate effort to discern his or her identity. Two colors on one leg, three on the other. So many color combinations… so few brain cells. Like a shipwrecked sailor chasing a floating life ring, my mind swam through the veritable Rubix Cube of color combinations until one and only one computed. “No! It can’t be! No way! It’s impossible”!

The bird looked up at me and calmly replied, “It’s me… PEANUT”! 

            (to be continued) 

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  1. Barb December 19, 2016 6:56 am

    Good morning. Thank you for keeping everyone up to date on the movements of the Whooping Cranes. The pictures are wonderful. What is the final count for this year’s chicks? How many were released, how many survived, and how many made it to Southern Wintering grounds on their own, with Sandhill Cranes or with other Whooping Cranes? I think I remember someone saying that one was captured and brought South. Did any others need help? Thanksvagain for all that you do. I hope everyone has a safe and Merry Christmas.

  2. Carol Giancola December 18, 2016 2:07 pm

    Peanut is standing tall on the right as you look at the picture, correct? 5-12 (dear Henry) has the green/red/white on one leg and green/white on other. Love these two guys!

    • Heather Ray December 19, 2016 5:28 am

      correct 🙂

  3. Catherine Wohlfeil December 15, 2016 9:37 pm

    Welcome back Peanut and 5-12!!!!!

  4. Peter Smith December 15, 2016 8:51 pm

    Amen to Dana’s comments. Loved this installment; waiting for the next one, Brooke! Birds look pretty grand in their white tuxedos.

    Thrilled to share good news like this. This very display is why I think WCEP should turn back all the colts to OM, for safe delivery in this controlled environment. Once these great birds get a chance to live and survive the summer/fall, and learn Deke’s Way to St. Mark’s, then Brooke can begin the parenting seminars, some films and powerpoint presentations, nest building 101, pest control, etc.

    They’ll get it if they have a chance. Who’s a better teacher than Brooke?

  5. Mollie Cook December 15, 2016 5:36 pm

    Wow, wow, wow at all the great reports this week but I have to say………Peanut at St Mark’s made my week!!! OM you continually amaze!

  6. Elsie Sealander December 15, 2016 5:01 pm

    Oh, happy days!

  7. thunder December 15, 2016 2:29 pm

    This reminds me of the kids song “Found a Peanut” and you did. wow ~ To see him in person too. Can’t wait for the rest of the story. Love the picture. Thank you.

  8. Dorothy N December 15, 2016 11:54 am

    Fabulous news, and I can’t wait for your sequel, Brooke! Geoff should enlarge, frame, and hang that photo in a prominent place at his home.

  9. Susanne Shrader December 15, 2016 11:48 am

    Brooke, your amyloid plaque gets out of the way of the synapses when most needed. But what is the backstory to Peanut, and why did this bird never get his numeric ID?

    • Heather Ray December 15, 2016 12:13 pm

      He has a numeric ID – He’s also known as 4-14 (4th to hatch in 2014

  10. Bobbie (piscesbobbie) December 15, 2016 9:07 am

    Look at Peanut! He is just gorgeous!

  11. Sally Seyal December 15, 2016 8:44 am

    How wonderful. I love reading your report “stories” and this one is particularly special!

  12. Gay Spencer December 15, 2016 8:15 am

    Sometimes those cranes are just plain spooky. Not creepy spooky so much as cosmic spooky. Brook–you tease about thought bubbles, but egads, it’s very hard not to imagine they are thinking we’re the slow ones to understand. Wow. Maybe we should build a “safe haven” alternate “oyster” bar in Wisconsin? Maybe coyote bones instead of oysters?

    BTW, I trust Geoff got this news… and realized that every time he patiently struggled to give Peanut his meds inside the smelt years ago was worth it 10x over.

  13. Barbara Wing December 15, 2016 8:03 am

    Oh, Brooke, you didn’t disappoint. Welcome back to FL, to you, Henry (5-12) and of course, the star, Peanut! Thanks for the beautiful picture of these two.

  14. Carol Craig December 15, 2016 8:02 am

    Love that “Peanut”!!! ?

  15. Dora Giles December 15, 2016 7:58 am

    Oh Brooke, why the cliff hanger ending? You always have a way with words that leave us wanting to know more. So glad you got to see Peanut (I know you have a special spot in your heart for him just like a look of us craniacs) even though we shouldn’t. But he is special. All the whoopers are special. Thank you so very much for your dedication and for your fantastic journal entries.


  16. Lin Greenhalgh December 15, 2016 7:23 am

    You will never know how much we have waited to hear that Peanut is there! Thank you.

  17. Donna Silva December 15, 2016 7:21 am


  18. Lindi Allen December 15, 2016 7:06 am

    So awesome to see him again 🙂 I am glad you are there to see them.

  19. Barb December 15, 2016 7:01 am

    What a beautiful picture. Thank you for sharing it.

  20. Dana courtney December 15, 2016 6:53 am

    Such a great diversion from NC politics! Thank you!