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.
Thursday, September 12, 2019
The Autumnal Equinox is about ten days away, yet already there are signs of fall. It’s definitely hard to let go of summer but fall is a beautiful season too. One thing I love about living in Michigan is that there are four distinct seasons, each with its own special kind of beauty.
Thursday, September 5, 2019
Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve made several trips to farm country, and I’ve been lucky to see and photograph the Sandhill Crane family with their two juveniles, also known as colts.
Unhappy with my presence, the family huddled so tightly, it was difficult to identify the tangle of long legs. The juvenile on the right was noticeably smaller than the other on the left. Probably a female, I thought.
I hung back and let the cranes get used to me, and I was rewarded with a beautiful scene. They spread out individually, with the two juveniles in the middle, against a beautiful meadow as a back drop.
Suddenly, they came together in a tight bunch again. I love this image because all of the cranes' eyes are visible. The size differential between the two colts is also apparent here.
The two juveniles were busy at work preening themselves, completely ignoring the herd of livestock behind them.
And then the magic began. Without any warning, the cranes began ruffling their back wing feathers and began performing a dancing display. Dancing is most common during the breeding season, but cranes can dance all year long.
Dancing is also done to hasten the education of the young. It looks fun and is another way these beautiful creatures play. But dancing also establishes social relationships, announces territorial claims, and cements decades-long pair bonding. One of the juveniles is really into the dancing, while the second one hangs back, barely ruffling its feathers.
Family dancing usually begins the summer after young cranes are born. They watch their parents display, and their prowess in dance improves with practice. Here the parents and one juvenile continue the dance with wing flapping, one of their more common dance steps.
This adult crane is very skilled at dancing, and she is magnificent as she stretches her wings, bows, and leaps into the air. Notice the graceful placement of her legs.
I was losing light fast that evening, compromising my image quality, and finally had to call an end to my photography. I was lucky to get off one last tender shot of this young colt still ruffling its feathers against its mother.