Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Broken Toe: Part II

Yellowstone National Park, USA

April 15
We arrive at Floating Island, full of anticipation.  Three Barrow’s goldeneyes are in the air circling the pond, 2 drakes and a hen.  Broken Toe flies in to the far slope and bugles a loud staccato series of rattles.  While she walks up the slope we spot three more cranes on the rise of the background knoll.  Unison bugling from two, but not from Broken Toe.  It looks to be the same four cranes that were here yesterday. 
Still and crisp this morning.  Only one other car at the pond -- Bob Landis.  We think he is video recording with sound so we are very quiet.  I still have a couple of things to get out of the car, but I wait until a car passes by and my noise won’t matter.  Of course my ball point pen immediately goes dry .... or got too cold.  Luckily I have my fountain pen with me.  It is filled with Noodler’s polar brown -- ink that doesn’t freeze. 
Soon being quiet doesn’t matter.  Another car has pulled in to the pullout and they are getting out their equipment.  
Life on the pond is peaceful one minute ..... and then -- interrupted!
Oh dear!  This is an all out brawl between two cranes.  One is Broken Toe.  She had flown to the right of the talus, bugled, then back to the grassy slope on the far side of the pond.  Another crane soon approached and a battle royal has started.  This is serious.  Wings flailing, breaks grabbing.  One has the other on its back!
The fight goes on and on.  It occurs to me Dale might like the tripod and big Bertha (our big telephoto lens).  While I grab the tripod for him he switches to big Bertha, resting it on the door while I get the tripod set up.  Still fighting! 

The intruder is chasing Broken Toe.  Her bent toe is visible in this photo.
Finally after 3 1/2 minutes, the cranes break free.   It seems like ages.  

The two take to the air and swing in front of us before going over to the marsh. 

I couldn’t see it at the time, but looking later at our photographs it is obvious both cranes bloodied their bills during the fight.  They often grabbed each other by the mouth -- maybe to control how much stabbing the other could do?  Broken Toe’s throat has a drip of blood on the underside and she has blood on the inside of one wing. 

The intruder.
Two cranes soon come back.  I’m not sure which two. Then we hear cranes bugling off in the distance -- probably the mated pair since they often unison bugle.  

For about half an hour after the fight we hear a little more bugling, coming from out-of-sight.  Quiet since then.  We’ve been able to verify that Broken Toe is here and probably the loner.  The loner has more rust color than Broken Toe, so we name him “Rusty.”  
Maybe, hopefully, the intruding pair have gotten the message and will leave Broken Toe alone.  So far she seems all right in spite of the fight.  
Broken Toe is alone on the slope when we hear churring -- the deep purring-like call we usually associate with courting, nest building, and egg laying.  Soon we see a second crane.  Broken Toe is walking down the slope, Rusty several yards behind her.  Broken Toe droops her wings! (typical posture for a female to assume before copulation).  She is ready to copulate ... but he doesn’t do anything ... he?  I really don’t know if Rusty is a male, but I assume she does.  Rusty just walks near her, then veers off.  Broken Toe folds her wings again and wanders up the slope.


  1. Splendid photography! I would love to be able to see these beautiful birds. And your artwork, awesome!

  2. Wow, so interesting. You have the most wonderful nature experiences!

  3. Fun to see these great birds in their nesting area. Love the sketches too.

  4. Hi, Elva,
    Your post, photo and a drawing always fascinate me so much! Thank you for sharing such precious record!!
    Kind regards, Sadami

  5. Ugh! I can't stand the suspense. I hope you were able to stay to see this drama reach some sort of conclusion. I want to pray for Broken Toe, but realize this all took place weeks ago. Ha ha! Nature has its ways.

  6. Awesome drama! A real cliffhanger. What's next? Beautiful artwork and photography with great story telling. Thanks, Elva and Dale!

  7. Wow.. amazing photos. Poor Broken toe.. so glad she was alright.