December Sky and Clouds Accenting Sandhill Crane Magic at Wheeler NWR!

I visited the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge several times before Christmas 2023. I highlighted the magnificent sandhill cranes that annually overwinter at Alabama’s Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge in a February post:

I focus this photo essay on the incredible skies that accented the cranes on those visits. On December 3, 2023, my first visit to view the cranes this year, a stratocumulus cloud deck softened the images of cranes on deck and in flight.


Whether the 12/3 stratocumulus or the stray cumulus under thin cirrus of a subsequent visit, the feeding grounds and grazing sandhills presented an image and experience that will draw me back again and again.


I vow next visit to take along a folding chair, appropriate winter clothing, and a bucket full of lazy minutes to luxuriate in the splendor of crane music, broken sunshine, shifting light, and the mystic spirituality of thousands of avian guests uninterruptibly celebrating their escape from bitter winds, frozen wetlands, and drifted snow. Their mood is contagious; their ceremony is universal, defining all that is welcome, good, and splendid about life and living. I want to embrace it…and mentally store their cacophonous audio elixir deep in my own fiber, to access viscerally during the Alabama summer’s occasionally stifling heat and humidity.


I relish a morning with the cranes and crane enthusiasts even when mists soften the views across the marshes. The cranes vocalize regardless of the weather. However, I have not yet ventured to see them when rain and wind normally keep me at home. I therefore accept the challenge of heading in their direction the next time conditions are less conducive to human comfort. How else can I verify my premise that the cranes celebrate in all manner of weather.


I snapped the below left photo from near the visitors center, looking west across the field to marsh edge, where two observers stand. Much closer to the wetland edge below right, the field is gray with sandhills. The stratus overcast dulls the image, even as it validates the late autumn mood of early December on the Refuge.


An unseasonably mild December 9, offered sharply broken stratcumulus and fanciful lighting to the sandhill hordes. We had encouraged two friends, longtime residents of nearby Madison, Alabama, to accompany us, their first visit to this grand waterfowl exhibition. I believe they will return. They agreed that the show is National Geographic-scale.


I recorded this 25-second video from inside the observation building:


Please ignore the background talking. Focus instead on the magic and wonder of the birds, sky, and marsh. The clouds and sky are versatile — their image is just as splendid whether direct or reflected.


These nine sandhills and the lone Canada goose may or may not be aware that their reflections are distinct, showcased against the reflected cloud deck above them.


I focus on the sky and clouds because I cannot imagine enjoying and appreciating this annual spectacle without observing the enveloping context of light, wind, and temperature…all contrasted with whatever weather far to the north drives them here and obversely beckons them in spring to their breeding ground.

No matter what Nature topic I select, I am pretty sure I have never made a unique observation, one that another person has not considered and expressed in writing far more cogent, eloquent, and succinct. Here are just a few cloud and sky quotes worthy of note, and sufficient to humble and inspire me. I dare say that I take comfort, if not in original thought and praiseworthy elocution, then simply in enthusiastically treading ground that has excited and stimulated others.

Revelations are found in clouds. (Serge King)

Clouds float in the same patterns only once. (Wayne Shorter)

There is divinity in the clouds. (Lailah Gifty Akita)

Clouds, they make a painting of the sky. (Marty Rubin)

Watch the clouds. They will teach you about the world of form. (Eckhart Tolle)

Dance with the clouds. (Adrienne Posey)

Clouds are the sky’s imagination. (Terri Guillemets)

The air moves like a river and carries the clouds with it; just as running water carries all the things that float upon it. (Leonardo da Vinci)


Thoughts and Reflections


I offer these observations:

  • Always focus on the magic and wonder of the birds, sky, and marsh.
  • Clouds, sun, and sky weave my tagline tapestry…Nature-Inspired Life and Living; Nature-Buoyed Aging and Healing!
  • The air moves like a river and carries the clouds with it; just as running water carries all the things that float upon it. (Leonardo da Vinci)

Inhale and absorb Nature’s elixir. May Nature Inspire, Inform, and Reward you!


Note: Unless otherwise noted, all blog post images are created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2024 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

Another Note: If you came to this post via a Facebook posting or by another route, please sign up now (no cost… no obligation) to receive my Blog Post email alerts:

And Third: I am available for Nature-Inspired Speaking, Writing, and Consulting — contact me at


A reminder of my Personal and Professional Purpose, Passion, and Cause

If only more of us viewed our precious environment through the filters I employ. If only my mission and vision could be multiplied by untold orders of magnitude:

Mission: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.


  • People of all ages will pay greater attention to and engage more regularly with Nature… and will accept and practice informed and responsible Earth Stewardship.
  • They will see their relationship to our natural world with new eyes… and understand their Earth home more clearly.

Tagline/Motto: Steve (Great Blue Heron) encourages and seeks a better tomorrow through Nature-Inspired Living!


Steve’s Three Books

I wrote my books Nature Based Leadership (2016), Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017), and Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature (2019; co-authored with Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit) to encourage all citizens to recognize and appreciate that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature.

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

  • I love hiking and exploring Nature
  • I see images I want to (and do) capture with my trusty iPhone camera
  • I enjoy explaining those images — an educator at heart
  • I don’t play golf!
  • I do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
  • Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grandkids, and all the unborn generations beyond
  • And finally, perhaps my books and Blogs could reach beyond family and touch a few other lives… sow some seeds for the future


All three of my books (Nature Based LeadershipNature-Inspired Learning and LeadingWeaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of personal experiences expressing my (and co-author Dr. Wilhoit for Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) deep passion for Nature. All three books offer observations and reflections on my relationship with the natural world… and the broader implications for society. Order any from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.

I now have a fourth book, published by Dutton Land and Cattle Company, Dutton Land & Cattle: A Land Legacy Story. Available for purchase directly from me. Watch for details in a future Post.