I was taking a hike with the dogs about a week ago when I heard a familiar sound, a sound that I hear twice a year. Although you usually have to look pretty hard to see where it’s coming from, the familiar purr/rattle of the sandhill crane is very distinguishing.

But the coolest thing about the event is what it has taught me over the years.

The sandhill crane is considered one of the oldest known birds. Fossils date back millions of years. These prehistoric birds have wingspans up to seven feet and they can fly more than 400 miles a day during their migrations in the spring and fall. Twice a year, thousands of them fly directly over my house on their journey and I know exactly what’s to come.

About 20 years ago, an old timer told me that he could tell when the trees would turn in the fall and when they’d bloom in the spring. The sandhill cranes told him that. And I’ll be darned if he wasn’t right. For the 10 years I’ve been in this area, I’ve seen it and it’s a very accurate predictor.

So how do these birds know? Nobody’s really certain but somehow they know. How do the squirrels know when to start collecting nuts? Seems to be the same intelligence working here.

And we see this in all of nature if we pay attention to what’s happening around us. The hummingbirds, as small as they are, know exactly when to start their 2,500 mile migration. I often wonder about that when I watch those tiny, fragile bodies buzzing around my feeder.

I walked out to my truck a couple of days ago and noticed a bunch of leaf blossoms all over my truck. I looked and both of my cherry plumb trees were starting to blossom. Then I remembered that the sandhill cranes predicted this. It never fails that a week or two after they start flying over the house, things will start blooming.

Last year we were up hunting late season deer when we heard the cranes. Wave after wave of them cackled overhead. It seemed a bit early for the migration to me but I had the feeling that it would be an early winter, and maybe a really wet one. My hunting partner laughed when I told him what I thought but low and behold, the birds were right.

So now as I look at the blossoms, I see that we’re in for a week of extremely wet weather in the Northern California Sierras. After a really dry February with above average temps, I thought spring was really here. So we’ll see what happens over the next week but as much as people talk about winter not being over, I can’t help but think that the birds will be right again.

Too bad we can’t rely on Punxsutawney Phil!

© Barbara Zimmermann | Dreamstime.com – Adult Sandhill Crane