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Sandhill Cranes and the mysterious case of the No-Name Creek

No other creature has more significance to Bill and me than the Sandhill Crane. Our move to Wisconsin coincided with a resurgence in Sandhill populations in the early '80s. Their unison calls were a welcome sound in our neighborhood. They hunted in farm fields and strutted on suburban lawns. We joined the International Crane Foundation in Baraboo and on our visits learned about other species of cranes around the world. Amazing birds, all, but the familiar Sandhills became our totem.

< A series of notecards I illustrated for the International Crane Foundation gift shop.

When Bill began his custom furniture business 22 years ago, it was no contest what emblem to choose. Sandhill Designs was a tribute to the longevity and good fortune associated with these birds. After a few years on the art fair circuit, Bill became "Sandhill Bill" and the nickname stuck. For more on the origin of Sandhill Designs see Bill's latest blog.

We left the farmland and our beloved cranes behind and moved to Western New York in the winter of 2014. The new neighborhood is home to more woodland birds, plus Eagles and Ospreys fish the rivers. Thrilling to see, yes, but we missed the cranes. One spring morning, we heard the unmistakable rattling of a Sandhill flight call. A neighbor reported seeing cranes across the line in Pennsylvania. Finally, returning from Bill's birthday dinner we saw our first New York Sandhills standing in a field near our house. Another sign of good things to come! We like to think they followed us here from Wisconsin.

Certainly not a common sight, but we do believe the local crane pair are year 'round residents that don't migrate. They have raised a few chicks and the little family has been seen and heard around the area. A small fan club of neighbors trade reports of sightings and the naturalist at the Audubon Community Nature Center texts me when cranes are nearby.

< "Ghost Cranes" 36" x 24" Oil on panel (As seen across from the Audubon last summer)

With our long history with cranes, I knew I must represent Sandhills in our joint show documenting the waterways of our lives The birthplace of Sandhill Designs and the birds who inspired it is an important touch point. The result is this charcoal drawing, commemorating Morrisonville, Wisconsin, population 300. Home to trains and cranes, it was our home from 1990 to 2000.

"Morrisonville" 30" x18"

Charcoal on paper>

Doing the research for this piece proved to be more challenging than I expected. I remembered a little creek behind our house where Sandhills were nesting, but the name of the creek wasn't on any map. With the help of the local library, the Dane County Water Resources people and the curator of the historical society I finally found an answer. After all that, I was disappointed to learn it is officially an "unnamed tributary to the Yahara River". One of the most significant waterways in this whole project doesn't even have a name! I am going to suggest they give it a proper name ....maybe Sandhill Creek. Wouldn't that be fitting?


This post is the first in a series delving into "CURRENT", our art show at the Octagon. Furniture maker Sandhill Bill and I will be displaying our work together concentrating on a common theme: waterways. The Octagon Gallery is in the Patterson Library, 40 S. Portage Street, Westfield, NY. The exhibit opens with a reception on April 20th and runs through June 1. We would love to see you there!

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