Whooping cranes return

Autumn clouds streak low across the sky and waves splash on the island shore, while whooping cranes fly in like kites along Aransas Bay. Banking broad wings, they touch down on the dunes.

With russet fledgling and a constant mate, each pair stakes boundaries near the blackjack oaks, returning always to the site once claimed.

In bronze sea oats they stretch and preen, white

feathers gleaming in the sun. They stride on black stilt legs across the flats

into the tide. Topaz eyes search for blue crabs that scuttle

sideways past their feet.

At alien sounds, they lift their heads, flashing scarlet caps, black masks, and amber beaks. ``Ker-loo,'' they bugle, ``ker-lee-oo.'' Black-tipped wings spread wide to rise

to glide high on the wind. Great shadows skim the sand.

Endangered beauty free and unaware that once their flock was almost gone, that watchful boaters in tall grass along the waterline are numbering them with quiet applause, cheering their growing autumn flight above Aransas Bay.

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