Yellowstone National Park
This is a continuation of the last post .... same morning - April 15
Rusty is starting to look more like a viable male. He is strutting, tail high, neck stretched out, calling. He is quite a way from Broken Toe, but at least it looks as though he is taking an interest in her. Can’t see her right now. She is in the trees to the left of the talus slope, but she calls.
Rusty and Broken Toe just copulated! Both were near the inlet when, once again, Broken Toe dropped her wings. This time Rusty hopped onto her back from behind. Both kept their wings spread -- part of the balancing act. Then tails twisted to the side and they briefly made contact. Rusty then hopped forward off her back in good crane fashion. The act seems a little brief, but definitely a copulation and a deep bow by both afterwards. No followup bugling. Off they walk on their separate ways.
By now we are sure Rusty is not Broken Toe’s old mate. There was much more togetherness between the original pair. They frequently unison bugled, they often stayed near each other when feeding, and the two were comfortable coming near the road. Rusty seems to be learning proper male behavior and he seems to be road-shy. Also, he has never flown out to the nest site Broken Toe used for several years. We have spent literally hundreds of hours watching Broken Toe and her old mate here because their nest was so visible -- a small, exposed island in the pond.
Rusty and Broken Toe copulate a second time just before noon. Once again they bow afterwards, but no bugling. Then they spent the next hour appearing to make a point of avoiding being near each other.
Once again Rusty is strutting his stuff: nose high, neck stretched out, tail fluffed. He appears to be doing some soft vocalizations ... but we can’t hear him. Too breezy.
1:40 PM: another copulation. Still no celebratory bugle, but we do feel Broken Toe has a new mate. We haven’t heard any more of the plaintive calling which filled the first two days of our crane watching.
Snow is starting to fall ... sideways. A definite burr in the air. We are going to head in early. When we leave the other pair still hasn’t come back.
So far we haven’t seen a crane fly out to the island nest site where Broken Toe nested for the last several years. I wonder who picks the nest site, the male or the female? Both Rusty and Broken Toe have been inspecting the bullrushes at the far side of the pond, especially west of the inlet. If they nest there we won’t be able to see much.
Looking at our photos in the evening I verify Rusty was not involved in the battle. Rusty has half of his third primary on his left wing broken off. The crane fighting with Broken Toe does not have a broken primary. The second fighter is large, probably the male of the intruding pair.
In past years Broken Toe laid her two eggs in late April if their pond was somewhat thawed. This year the pond thawed much earlier than usual so we wondered if they would nest sooner.
On April 18th we watched Broken Toe and rusty breaking off bullrush stems and tossing them in the marshy swale to the east of Floating Island, but they were working in different parts of the marsh. The marshy swale has been a poor place to nest in years past. Once the nest was abandoned because of the wolf making an elk kill and two other nests were broken into by a coyote; but, of course, Rusty doesn’t know this.
On April 29 Broken Toe and Rusty still hadn’t nested, but we did see him dance briefly in front of Broken Toe. By May 2 they had settled on a site, the marshy swale just to the east of Floating Island. When they first started building we could barely see the birds. As they broke off bullrush stems, their nesting platform grew and the site became quite visible from the road. Late in the day we saw that one bird had settled onto the nest.
On May 3 we were able to verify they had at least one egg. We watched Rusty roll an egg white Broken Toe stood nearby. There could be two eggs in there. The nest is too deep to tell for sure. Then Broken Toe walked out of the marsh and onto the slope to feed.
It snowed enough on May 4 to keep us in town for the day. May 5 was beautiful. Clear, still, fresh snow flocked every blade of grass, twig, stem and tree trunk. The crane nest was well dusted with snow and a crane incubating. A bull moose wandered through the back side of their marsh.
The next time we drove past the little marsh, on May 8, the nest was empty. We suspect a coyote got the eggs, but this time no one witnessed the plunder so we can’t be sure.
At least Broken Toe and Rusty are fine. It may take some time, but they should figure out a good place to nest. We last saw them inspecting the bullrushes at the backside of Floating Island Lake. That location has been successful in the past. I can’t help but think the male has a lot to do with the nest selection site or else they would have gone to the site in the center of the pond that had such a good track record. Maybe next year.
My last notes for Rusty and Broken Toe are May 16. They we breaking off bullrushes on the far side of Floating Island. Red-winged blackbirds were objecting violently to their presence. But we spent many hours at Floating Island over the next five days and didn’t see the cranes again. When we left Yellowstone on May 23 we were wondering if they would re-nest this year.
On July 1 we received an e-mail from Bill Hamlin, a Yellowstone friend. He spotted Broken Toe and Rusty with two colts! They successfully nested in the marshy swale to the east of Floating Island Lake.