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Rising from sandbars on the Platte River with clarion calls, the sandhill crane (Grus canadensis) feels the urgency of spring migration. Elegant, noble, and spiritual, the sandhill crane is one of the most ancient of all birds. More than a half-million strong, flying in squadrons, these majestic creatures point northward to their Arctic and sub-Arctic breeding ranges.Theirs is an epic story of endurance through the ages.

With 153 stunning color photographs, On Ancient Wings presents sandhill cranes in their wild but increasingly compromised habitats today. Over the course of five years, Michael Forsberg documented the tall gray birds in habitats ranging from the Alaskan tundra to the arid High Plains, from Cuban nature preserves to suburban backyards. With an eye for beauty and an uncommon persistence, the author documents the cranes’ challenges to adapt and survive in a rapidly changing natural world. Forsberg argues that humankind, for its own sake, should secure the cranes’ place in the future. On Ancient Wings intertwines the lives of cranes, people, and their common places to tell an ancient story at a time when sandhill cranes and their wetland and grassland habitats face daunting prospects.

 

On Ancient Wings: The Sandhill Cranes of North America is an excellent example of how one photographer put his photographic work to a broader use. Mike found photos and words to express truths not only about the birds, but also about demands of humankind and dangerous changes in habitat. With more and more appropriation of natural water sources that supply the Platte River, the prime migration route for a half-million sandhills each spring, the cycles of renewal may be disrupted. In Mike's words as reported by NEBRASKAland Magazine, "Sandhill cranes are perhaps the oldest surviving bird species on the planet, with fossil records that date back at least four million years. To look a crane in the eye is to look into North America's ancient past." He states, "A true survivor, highly intelligent and adaptable to a fault, the sandhill crane is a species at a crossroads. The diverse grassland, wetland and riverine habitats that are essential for sandhill crane survival are being degraded or are disappearing at alarming rates."

 

To tell this story in photos, Mike selected the unexpected: a string of cranes cutting across the face of Mt. McKinley in the Alaska Range of Denali National Park and Preserve, Cuban children costumed as crane dancers, captive breeding efforts in Louisiana, a mom with her nestled chick in wing. All help tell the story: what goes around comes around. We are what we do, and it’s time to pay attention or we may lose what for centuries we have taken for granted. - by Juli E. Wilcox

MICHAEL FORSBERG is a Nebraska native and has focused much of his work in North America’s Great Plains, once one of the greatest grassland ecosystems on Earth. His goal has been to try to capture the wild spirit that still survives in these wide-open spaces and put a face to the often overlooked native creatures and landscapes found there. His hope is that the images can build appreciation and go to work to inspire conservation efforts on the land far into the future. 

Mike received a degree in geography with an emphasis in environmental studies from the University of Nebraska, and worked briefly as a seasonal ranger in the National Park Service before accepting a job as a staff photographer and writer producing natural history stories for NEBRASKAland Magazine, the state’s conservation publication. He worked at the magazine for six years before starting his own photography business and gallery. Forsberg’s work has appeared in publications including Audubon, National Geographic, National Wildlife, and Natural History, and recognized in the Pictures of the Year and Wildlife Photographer of the Year competitions. In 2001, his image of a Nebraska tallgrass prairie was selected for an International Postage Stamp. In 2004, he was awarded a Conservation Education Award from The Wildlife Society. 

In 2007, Mike was featured in the PBS documentary Crane Song, and was the 2009 recipient of the North American Nature Photographer’s Association Mission Award. Mike is a charter member of the North American Nature Photographer's Association and a fellow with the International League of Conservation Photographers. 

Mike’s first book project, “On Ancient Wings – The Sandhill Cranes of North America”, self-published in 2004, was the result of a five-year personal journey connecting the lives of the cranes and their habitats across the continent from western Alaska to Cuba, made possible with a grant from the International Crane Foundation.

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