Thursday, October 17, 2019
It’s already mid-October, and I’d say we’re at least a week from peak color. Around town and in the neighborhoods, there are some lovely trees in full color. But the signature vistas that typically define fall color are just beginning to show. I wonder what impact our rainy fall will have on how brilliant our trees will become.
Thursday, October 10, 2019
I talked to my brother a few days ago, and he told me of seeing a large number of migrating Sandhill Hill Cranes in a marshy area near where he lives. I decided to head out and see whether I’d also see any evidence of the migrations.
Right away, I saw a rolling hill of cut corn stalks, a perfect habitat for hungry cranes after a day of flying. I almost missed the three cranes to the right, whose coloring nearly blended into the field.
I wondered whether this was the same family I’d seen earlier, two parents with a juvenile. The young one was busy eating from the field, perhaps storing up for its first migratory flight.
As I inched my way towards the other side of the same field, I saw a whole flock of cranes bunched together and feasting. I counted twenty-five in all. I was using my long lens so I could only capture nine or ten at a time.
I drove on and saw another hillside densely packed with migrating waterfowl, this time Canadian Geese.
The geese were a beehive of activity. Some appeared to be resting, others eating. One had caught sight of me and was watching intently. There was even a female mallard near the right forefront of the group. I moved on in search of more migrating critters.
And then I saw them. The family of four that I’d been photographing since late summer. They were quite spread out, and I couldn’t get a good family picture. The two juveniles were in the center, so I knew this was the same family.
I’d seen this family of four in the same exact location three times. It was a field right next to a farm that raised cattle. The other times I’d seen this family, they were in the field directly across the street from that farm. I couldn’t help but wonder if these parents were the two cranes, shown above, I’d seen in that farm’s cattle pen last March before the cattle had arrived.
The two early arrivals had engaged in pair-bond dancing before the snow had completely melted. I know it’s not unusual for cranes to visit and breed in the same area for many years. Blogger Christy Yuncker documented the lives of Millie and Roy, a pair of Sandhill Cranes who’d visited her cranberry bog near Fairbanks, Alaska, between 1995 to 2016. So the idea that “my cranes” were in their home territory didn't seem too farfetched to me.
Back to the present moment, I very much enjoyed watching the parent and juvenile pick at the dregs of corn left behind in the plowed field. I had to wonder when they would be leaving. And would they join another large migrating flock, or would they travel as a family?
The juveniles had matched their parents in size, but their heads still retained a youthful, somewhat innocent appearance. Their crowns were beginning to show a faint red, but their eyes were still yellowish.
The cranes didn’t dance this particular evening, nor did they run from me as they had on some earlier occasions. It’s a great joy watching these beautiful cranes. With the migration underway, I feel grateful each time I get to watch and photograph them. I feel compelled to now end each visit with a little prayer: Safe Travels, beautiful ones. Thank you for our time together. Hope you come back here next spring.
Thursday, October 3, 2019
Last Saturday’s mostly sunny day was a perfect respite from the dreary, wet days we’ve been having for nearly two weeks. The sunshine also beckoned me to sunset picture-taking.
Gracie and I headed to Old Mission to look for a high spot with a water view. We found it in a neighborhood and pulled into a cul-de-sac to watch and wait. I was amazed at how far south the sun had traveled since I’d shot the last sunset in June.
The spot not only gave a water view, but it was also above a beautiful meadow. I was on the lookout for critters, especially deer, but I didn’t see any.
The sun was so bright, I couldn’t use my viewfinder to take the picture, instead, resorting to the articulating LCD on the back of the camera to protect my eyes.
The sun appeared to be moving fast as it approached the hills and land of the Leelanau Peninsula. I knew in a moment, it would be gone.
As the sun dipped below the land, the whole landscape changed. The foliage and water darkened and the sky turned a beautiful gold.
Since the sky was cloudless, I wondered what the afterglow would be like. It started with gold at the horizon, and a faint rose above the gold. The water was pinking up too.
The afterglow colors continued to intensify into a rosy gold in the sky, and the rose color reflected in the bay. I called it good and headed home, wondering where the meandering sun would take me for the next sunset.
Thursday, September 26, 2019
This week, I saw several signs that the fall migration of Sandhill Cranes to their winter locations is underway. Cranes, and geese, are unusal in their migrational behaviors because they travel by memory. They fly in daylight and follow landmarks. Juvenile cranes travel with their parents or with a flock of adults, learning and memorizing the routes.
In a farmer’s field that had been harvested, I saw a flock of about 40 Sandhill Cranes. I wish I’d had my wide-angle lens with me so I could have captured the whole lot.
It probably wouldn’t have mattered, however, because the group was very skittish. As soon as I pulled off the road, the cranes began moving en masse down a hill to another field that was less visible. Some couldn’t resist pecking and feeding along the way.
Another reason I think the migration is going on is that I’m seeing more crane families in the area. I saw the family with two colts earlier in the evening, and then I saw this one with three members.
This family had a good-looking young one too. I can see that its red crown was just beginning to come in. Its feathers also were lovely. What an engaging pose it gave me!
The parents were handsome too. As they fed so close together, their bodies almost appeared to merge. Their pair-bond was obvious.
As I moved on, I saw another pair in this field around the block from where I’d been photographing the threesome. These cranes showed no intent of dancing and were mostly focused on eating the dregs they’d found in the field. I assume they were building energy stores for their flight since cranes can cover an average of 200 miles on a single day. In flight, they also conserve energy by using thermals and updrafts of warm air to gain elevation and glide for great distances.
Imagine being wise enough to follow a route traveled for years from memory. I doubt any of us could make the trip to typical crane wintering spots in Bosque del Apache, New Mexico, or the Platte River in Kearney, Nebraska, without the help of a GPS!
Thursday, September 19, 2019
In a recent blog post from Outdoor Photographer, writer and photographer Russ Burden spoke about leading photography safaris and how each morning tour members would ask, “What are we going to see today?” He went on to say how difficult it was to answer that question because, in nature, conditions vary due to weather, light, time of day, and other factors. He now urges his tour members to live more in the moment, and, instead ask, “What will I be given?” on any given day.
As Gracie and I left for our photoshoot on a beautiful Monday evening, I tried to set out with this attitude of openness. But truth be told, I was hoping to see the Sandhill Crane family that I’d been photographing over the last month. To me, they are my fall favorites, and like Snowy Owls in winter, I can't get enough of them. I saw them almost immediately, and I was amazed at how much the juveniles had grown. They now are as large as their parents!
Almost immediately, the male adult crane threw his huge wings back and began moving into a dance. I wondered whether this would turn into a lesson for the young ones.
One of the juveniles quickly joined in, raising its wings until it was completely off the ground. The female adult watched but didn’t join in.
It wasn’t long until three of the four cranes were involved in a magical dance. Their contortions were amazing. As they bobbed and bowed, jumped and levitated, they reminded me of the beautiful Native American dances I'd seen at local pow-wows.
I noticed that the cranes danced either in pairs or threes, never all four at the same time. This fact puzzled me, and I wondered why the whole family wasn't dancing together.
Then it dawned on me. The outlier was hanging back as part of its job. It was acting as a sentinel, watching for danger. I guessed the dancers had become so involved in their dance that, perhaps, they were in an altered state. The sentinel was there for protection of the family.
The cranes had mostly come out of their dance mode and they’d danced themselves up to a shed that was part of some kind of drilling rig. I had been hiding behind that rig and was shooting from there, mostly hidden.
Sunset was approaching, and I lacked the light to get the exposures I wanted, but I watched and clicked away anyway, as the cranes pecked the ground for insects and other edibles at the edge of a cornfield.
I know cranes love the dregs left after a cornfield has been plowed, but I didn’t expect them to do what they did. One by one, the cranes crouched down and entered the edge of the cornfield. One of the juveniles was the last to enter, and you can see the top of the head of the other to the left. Perhaps, this was a first-time event for the colts. And, yes, I was delighted at the gift I'd been given this evening.