Posts Tagged ‘Sandhill Cranes


Sandhill Cranes: Bug Eating Machines

The best shots I got this weekend were of a pair of Sandhills.  I ran across them at the park’s entrance.


They continued feeding while I slowly worked my way closer and into a better position to photograph.


With the sunlight positioned from over my shoulder, all I needed was for the birds to turn.


Which they did, surprisingly.  I had thought they would spook and fly away.


I stayed only a few minutes, while they continued to feed.


Harried by flies, I wanted to get my shots, but I didn’t want to disturb them too much.


Satisfied I had gotten some good shots, I left them to feed in peace.


Sandhill Cranes: In Flight


I had far more wildlife diversity this year as I learn more about how and where to find Wisconsin’s wildlife.  Whitetail deer are prevalent and easy to find.  So easy, in fact, I saw one on the way home from work one morning about three to four blocks from where I live.  Right in the middle of town!  Shooting Wisconsin’s elk has become an annual trip and then there’s Necedah National Wildlife Refuge.  Close enough to where I live so I can photograph there almost any time.


Because of this years draught the water levels have dropped significantly, so we had fewer appearances from eagles and ospreys this passed weekend, but the sheer numbers and types of birds still there left plenty of opportunities to shoot.


I had been going over to Necedah on Thursdays or Friday mornings, but this passed weekend I went over on Saturday.  I noted an increase in the numbers of people moving in and around the refuge.  Couples with children who didn’t have the patience required to see anything and of course the official state tourists from Illinois.  A couple from Iowa who travel all over the United States trying to get a look at the whooping cranes.  They stayed for awhile but left just before a pair of whooping cranes flew in.  I also met a newly Americanized kiwi.  A photographer from New Zealand who had just became a naturalized citizen.  I hope all these folks got a chance to see and photograph what they were looking for.



Enter the Guest of Honor

One of the problems I had with photographing at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge was with so much happening I would be looking the wrong way and not see something I wanted to photograph.  For instance,  I was photographing a Great Blue Heron landing.


After he landed, another bird flew in from the right.  It flew like an Eagle, which I’m always glad for the opportunity to photograph, but it was too far away and I knew the shots wouldn’t turn out well enough.  When I noticed it was flying erratically.  It would stop in mid-air, sort of doing a tail stand.  I remember thinking to myself, What’s wrong with that bird?  Has it forgotten how to fly?  Until, it did one of its tail stands and then dove straight into the water.


Not something an Eagle does.  That’s when I realized I had been watching an Osprey and his erratic flying was due to him looking for fish.  So I decided to photograph and hope for the best.


He emerged with a fish.


All seemed well for the successful Osprey as he flew off with his fish.


Until I noticed another bird enter the area.  Actually, I didn’t notice it.  I heard it.  It sounded like a Sandhill Crane, but not like any Sandhill Crane I had ever heard.  So I stopped photographing the Osprey and looked in the direction of the sound I heard and in an instant I remembered why I was there.


Enter Grus americana in Latin, Whooping Crane to everyone else.  Necedah National Wildlife Refuge is one of two summer homes of this bird.  The other being in Western Canada.  Whooping Cranes are an endangered species.  There are fewer than five hundred of these birds in the wild, and while I wish I had closer shots, these are the best I have.  This is the only Whooping Crane I saw during my two trips into the refuge last week, but it is the reason I went and I was thrilled to see this one.


It landed in this field, which was about a mile from me, or less than two thousand meters but still a long ways away.


A Sandhill Crane watches the larger bird land, while a Great Blue Heron preens itself in the bottom right corner of the photo.


I kind of have a sense of how large this bird is because I know how big the Sandhill Crane is.  Sandhill Cranes, basically, are about three to four feet in height, or 1 to 1.2 meters.  Whopping Cranes can get as large as five feet or 1.5 meters in height.


I remained there for about five hours.  The Whooping Crane settled into the tall grasses and occasionally I saw it poke its head up to see what was going on, while I contented myself with photographing the other birds.


Necedah National Wildlife Refuge

I drove over to Necedah Wildlife Refuge, mostly to familiarize myself with the place.  Necedah Wildlife Refuge is a very large area in central Wisconsin set aside for the preservation of natural habitat.  Established in 1939 this is not a park.  You can’t camp here.  You can’t have open fires of any kind.  What you can do here is watch.  What is there to watch?  I had just found my way into the refuge and luckily happened upon the part of the refuge with a very convenient two-story observation tower.  I looked around and decided I’d try to take some landscape pictures, so I pointed my camera at a particular part of the refuge and popped the shot below.


When I clicked the button to take the picture I realized there was a very large bird flying in the center right of the picture.  Even though I am not an expert on birds, I immediately recognized what kind of bird I was looking at.  So I extended the zoom to see if I could get a more focused shot.


At more than a mile away, I didn’t expect all that great of a shot, but it’s good enough to tell it was a Bald Eagle.  There were actually two of them fishing in this area and later I would encounter an adolescent Bald Eagle whose head must have just turned white.  With my eyes open, I began to realize there was an abundance of birds here; Great Blue Herons, Swans, Canadian Geese, Sandhill Cranes, and dozens of smaller birds.


I didn’t recognize this bird right away because it flew with its neck outstretched.  I saw over a dozen Blue Herons, and it seems when they fly over water, they fly with their necks outstretched.


In the photo above are some geese and swans.  All these shots are from at a distance of about a mile  — more than a kilometer, less than two kilometers.  Mostly out of range for my gear, and without a boat, as close as I can legally get.


The Sandhill Cranes were everywhere inside the refuge.  Now to give you some kind of idea about the abundance of wildlife here.  All of these shots were taken within the first five minutes of arriving.


More Sandhill Cranes











Sandhill Cranes Active Again


Sandhill Cranes nest on the ground and when nesting they get very quiet.  When the nestlings first hatch these big birds don’t stray far from the nest.  Yesterday, very early in the morning, I could hear Sandhill Cranes calling.  They are very vocal and can be heard for miles.


I also saw them take flight for the first time since their eggs hatched.  My conclusion is the young must be old enough to defend themselves so the parents can demonstrate to the young what these birds do.  Make noise and fly.  I found a you tube video that will let you hear them.

Today is the last chance I’ll have for fawn pictures until Thursday.


A Buck’s Curiosity

Judging by the underwhelming support I’m receiving for these deer posts, I’m guessing you folks would like me to finish this story and move on.  I’ve been taking deer pictures for several years now and this buck was one of the first deer whose photos I actually liked.  I guess because I got close enough.  When I got home and pulled the photos up on my computer, I discovered he had a wound on his nose.  I decided it had been from a fight with another buck, but as I said, it bothered me.  The time of year was wrong for bucks to be fighting.  It had been several months since they had lost their antlers.  The wound seemed only a few days or a couple weeks old at the most.


Most of the time this buck is very protective of the females, but this time of year they separate, because it’s time for the does to have their fawns and they don’t need or want the buck around for that.  They each stake out their own nursery area and will not tolerate other deer in that area.  I know where several of these nursery areas are, but that does not guarantee I will find fawns.  If the does don’t want me to see their fawns, I, or anyone else for that matter, won’t see them.


When the buck separates from the females his whole demeanor changes.  He stops acting like the king of the hill, trying to impress the does with how brave he is and becomes…hmmm…in a word – friendly.


I’ve actually walked through fields with him, spending as long as forty-five minutes to an hour taking his photos while we walked along.  He and I have circled each other in the woods, without him running away and he has shown me his family.  He’s very close to one of the females, so I’m guessing she was the first to bear him offspring.  On one occasion I followed him into a field and nearly stepped on a Wild Turkey who was very well hidden in the tall grass.


He’s become like a faithful dog, never very demanding and just seemed glad to hang out with me.  A two hundred pound (91 kilos) dog, capable of going from 0 to 35mph (0 to 55kph) in a heartbeat.  I watched several tourists pass right by him without even noticing him sitting in the field the day I took these photos.  What can I say, city slickers always bringing their city to the forest rather than leaving all that crap behind.

So, where did the scar come from?  The day we walked through this field I stayed on the man-trails because it had only been a couple weeks since I had nearly stepped on the turkey and I did not want to repeat that.  I was also aware that a family of birds was nesting out in the middle of this field, right where he was headed, but when I didn’t follow him, he turned around.

Here are the new photos.  I think I know where he got the scar from.


He began inching forward, even seeming to crouch down like a big cat stalking prey.


I like to think he learned that from me.  But wait, it gets better.


At this point, when I realized an encounter between a very large animal and a male and female animal protecting their young was happening, I just held the button down on the camera.  My camera taking pictures as fast as the processor would allow.


Eye to eye.  Face to face.  One of the Sandhill Cranes walked up to the deer and…


bam!  That had to hurt.


Then…the stare down.


It would take nothing for this two hundred pound deer (91 kilos) to stomp the heck out of this 10 pound (less than 5 kilos) bird.  However, as you can see, the crane ain’t backing down.  Wild animals will die trying to protect their young.  The buck eventually looked away.


Now look at their posture.  The crane holds his head slightly higher than the deer.  He’s won…the encounter has ended.  The deer will move off and the crane’s family has been saved.


November 2019
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