Sandhill cranes

Migrating birds fascinate me–in movies like Winged Migration and in life with pilgrimages to Jasper-Pulaski to see the Sandhill Cranes gather to socialize before roosting.

Crane flying in

Dramatic entry

We got to the observatory at 3:30 pm  and people were already lined up along the railing with cameras–big camerras–set up.  I had my little digital Canon with 16X digital zoom.  It is a challenge to track birds with the zoom effect on! And to take photos  of moving things with a digital camera!  Even if you are ready to click instantly, the action is sometimes over before the click gets from the finger through the computer in the camera to an actual shot!

crane greeting

ritual dance

One of the spectacular things to watch is the social greeting, jumping stiff legged and spreading the wings.  But to anticipate when they will so greet each other is difficult. And when they start, and I click the shutter, they usually finish before the camera snaps the shot.  Here I got the tail end of a dance.

We are at such a distance that it is hard to visualize the size, about 4 feet high and wing spread about 7 feet.  The day before we were there, 12,000 had been counted, and this was down from previous years. A herd of deer ran through the field, and the cranes were as high as the younger deer.

Deer meet cranes

Unphased by deer

Only half of the deer made it into the photo–one of the largest herds I’ve seen along with the cranes.  Sometimes the cranes fly up and seem disturbed, but this time they just calmly opened a path as the deer crossed the field. Two babies lagged behind, but caught up finally.

cranes in flight

Not quite a V-formation

And just when you think they have all gathered, another wave flies in.  We stayed till sundown at 5:20, but didn’t get a pink, orange, or red sunset this year. Another year, perhaps.  But we did see a full moon, and there are cranes in the photo…but I couldn’t zoom and get moon, birds, and trees.

cranes in moonlightI have heard that the hour after sunrise is even more dramatic, because after socializing, the cranes take off in larger groups. But it is much easier to arrive an hour(or more) before sunset than to get up that early.  Maybe someday.

Can’t help wondering how they know when and where to fly. But I am glad they are predictable enough that I can go and watch them in the fall.


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