Saturday, September 11, 2021

In Search of Sandhill Cranes

My husband and I got on the topic of Sandhill Cranes, and he mentioned that there were quite a few on the ranch right now. A few years ago I had photographed sandhill cranes in a feedlot and loved the light, but didn't get quite what I wanted. I told him my dream shot was of a sandhill crane in flight, backlit, with Notch Peak (a prominent mountain) in the background.

I went out early and went in search of some sandhill cranes. The easiest way to find them is to stop and listen. They make a lot of noise! It turns out their call can be heard up to 2.5 miles away. I found some on the edge of a field. In the photo above, one has its mouth open, making their pterodactyl sound (or how I imagine pterodactyls would sound).

A couple took off, making awesome silhouettes...and more noise!

I was a bit distracted by birds flitting around in the nearby corn field. One perched and I found a beautiful song sparrow.

The morning light on hay in the hay barn and the mountainous background was nice. This hay is watered by the meltwater from those mountains.

In this photo, the sandhill cranes had such a nice pattern with their wings.

Quite a few sandhill cranes flew to the bag yard, where there's lots of equipment and bagged silage. I went there and spotted some cranes in an empty feedlot. 

I crept closer. They stayed. I rested my telephoto lens on the bottom fence rung and started shooting. 

What I observed was that a couple of the cranes seemed to act as sentries. They walked back and forth, making lots of noise while the other cranes foraged.

In the photo below, can you see the nare (nose hole) in the birds' beaks? 

The birds got disturbed by something and a couple spread their wings. During the mating season, they'll do elaborate dances. Sandhill cranes mate for life, and their lifespan is often over 20 years, with the oldest known crane 36 years old.

Our location is considered to be on the edge of the migration rate for sandhill cranes, but we actually have a few that stay all summer long. I'm not sure if they breed or not. Occasionally a couple stay long enough for us to count them during the Christmas Bird Count, but not often. 

What do you think these two are saying to each other?

I decided to see where else sandhill cranes were on the ranch. I found a few at the pond. Can you also see the killdeer?

A few sandhill cranes looked like they were discussing things at the beach.

A couple more were visiting cows and ravens.

This small sandpiper was also in the pond.

This killdeer was also looking for some food in the mud.

I also found sandhill cranes out in the meadow.

Not far away were some turkey vultures sunning themselves. Others were riding the high winds.

This turkey vulture stretched out its wings to sun itself.

It was a lovely morning out looking at birds. What about the shot I wanted? I didn't quite get backlit wings, but I did get a silhouette of a sandhill crane flying with Notch Peak in the background! 

For more info about these cool birds, see the All About Birds website.

What are your experiences with sandhill cranes?

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