Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

June 25, 2008

Shades of Summer Cinnamon

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 8:08 pm

  Although green is definitely THE color of the season, there is something to be said for cinnamon. I’m talking about that near-orange shade of brown usually reserved for autumn acorns and chestnuts. This is the color of June deer and field-walking summer Sandhill Cranes.

  I am not one to spend too much time talking about deer – leave alone admiring them. I have to admit, however, that it is refreshing to see a brightly clad doe in summer pelt. Warm season deer are rather bobble-headed and gawky. When chest high in a sea of green on an early morning feeding binge, they are still gawky but delightfully attired none-the-less (see here).  This one was captured in mid-chew so she looks a little odd with this open mouth attitude.

 White-tails shed their long thick gray winter coat and replace it with a summer crew cut. Deer hairs are hollow insulators, so it is best to have as little of them as possible in order to dissipate heat.  This particular doe returned a few days later with her pair of white speckled fawns attired in an even brighter shade of cinnamon.  They were almost cute enough for me to forget that deer are basically pigs with long legs – almost.

  When I spied a small flock of Sandhill Cranes working a soybean field just west of Tecumseh, I mistook them for a group of deer at first. It might be hard to believe that a big two-legged bird can pass for big four legged mammal, but it’s that cinnamon color thing (combined with a 55 mph glance). They are striking birds, standing 3-5 feet high, with a brilliant red crown atop a basically gray brown body (see here). That crown is actually a patch of bumpy scarlet skin (see this detail shot here) similar to the naked skin on a turkeys’ head.

  Sandhills are members of a unique group of large long-legged long-beaked birds called cranes. They are one of the few members of this worldwide group that are holding their own and they are a relatively common sight in mid-state.  They nest in fresh water marshes and congregate in great numbers after the nesting season ends. We are here to talk about brown, however, so let’s get back to the subject.

  These stately fowl are typically gray in color, but they have two cinnamon stages. As a youngster they are adorned in a golden roasted marshmallow colored down.  The brown feathers start to dissipate into spotty patches when the birds mature into summer. You can recognize the full sized, but immature, birds in this soybean flock (see here) as the birds with a splotchy looking wardrobe.

  Adult birds, as I mentioned, are normally attired in clean gray plumage. Their habit of preening iron rich mud into their feathers stains the feathers brown. You’ll note (in the picture above) that their heads and upper neck are gray while the rest of the body – the area reachable by beak – is stained.  It appears that only the adults can play in the mud. In the field guides, the brown birds are referred to as ‘stained adults.” In regions of the country where this mud is not available, the cranes are stainless.

  Our Michigan cranes and whitetails are both rusty creatures, but it sounds so much nicer to say that they are “cinnamon hued.”

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