Sakrison documents the work of three important swan- and crane-conservation projects.
Until very recently, trumpeter swans and whooping cranes stood at extinction’s door; Siberian cranes do so today. Despite humans having revered the birds for eons–for their size and fidelity and crazy-wild soft-shoe–they also hunted the birds mercilessly (for such products as feathered hats and powder puffs) and methodically, if cluelessly, went about destroying their habitats, not just by altering the terrain, but by filling it with lead from errant shots. Starting about 25 years ago, a dedicated band of swan and crane enthusiasts began toiling long and hard to increase the wild populations of swans and cranes. Sakrison chronicles the field days of projects reintroducing trumpeter swans to the Midwest and whooping cranes to the Eastern United States, and efforts underway to protect the critically threatened Siberian crane in Russia. He presents these stories as old-fashioned, yeomanly campfire tales, investing them with gradually increasing drama, meanwhile providing significant historical information as well as strange incidentals, as in the image of a fieldworker, decked out in a flowing white crane-mimicking burka, using a hand puppet to teach a chick to forage. He draws intelligent and sympathetic portraits of the players, makes skirmishes into the ornithological literature that lay readers will understand and appreciate, and serves up the nit and grit of fieldwork and the logistics of the recovery efforts without throwing sand in the reader’s eyes. He wisely avoids bringing on the stringed music when chronicling the inspiring moments, such as ultra-lights guiding young cranes on their first migrations; the simple description is wonderfully cheering. Perhaps most impressively, Sakrison succeeds in conveying the empathy, patience and dedication of the recovery-team members, taking to their roles as teachers and parents as veritably as if they had feathers of their own.
A solid, thoroughgoing and affecting work, and an estimable addition to avian history. (b&w photographs; eight-page color insert)