Monday, November 23, 2009

Sunrise of the Sandhill Crane

Jasper-Pulaski Fish & Wildlife Area
Medaryville, Indiana

We drove alone in the dark, down the straight, narrow roads of a small, rural community in northern Indiana, its massive fields of shortly cropped corn still covered in wisps of early morning fog. Aside from small blinking lights on distant towers and a scattering of stars above, the clear sky in total black on this day in late November had let every bit of yesterday’s warm afternoon escape.
Fueled with anticipation, I almost did not feel the cold.

Sandhill Cranes in predawn sky

It was a race to be the first—to arrive at this site before dawn and watch the gathering of the sandhill cranes. From their nighttime roosts in the nearby marshes, each morning at sunrise thousands of the large, migratory birds assemble in Goose Pasture of Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area, and then fly off to feed for the day in the harvested fields before returning to the pasture at sunset, and flying off again to the marsh.

The lot was empty as we pulled in.
Beyond a row of pines, I could see the grassy field and the shadowy form of the tall, wooden deck overlooking it, its weathered platform and long rails waiting for the day’s crowds to arrive. At the peak of the cranes’ 3 to 4 week stopover along this route of their southern migration, numbers can reach between 15,ooo and 30,000 birds. Predictably, birdwatchers arrive by the busload.
Dimming our lights and silently pressing the car doors closed, we assembled ourselves in the dark—jackets, hats, and mittens—and made our way quietly down the paved trail to the observation tower. A light covering of frost had been left on each stair, and in the predawn light I clung to the safety of the rail, feeling my way along, climbing carefully to the top.

Goose Pasture

As far as I could see, the pasture was still empty.
Fog hung in the low areas, curling around the bases of trees where the field met the woods in the distance. A small drainage ditch trimmed in tall grasses and filled with the white mist ran at an angle toward the back and broke the space into two sections, one, uncut and tangled brown; the other in front, short and green. Behind me, the starlit sky hinted of a pink dawn. A distant farmhouse sat quietly by, with windows softly glowing.
And from deep within the safe and grassy space, day began with the voice of a single sandhill crane.

return of the cranes at sunrise

(all photos click to enlarge)

Greater Sandhill Crane, Grus canadensis

Please continue to follow this story here.

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Mary said...

Oh Nina, I believe these are the best Sandhill Crane photos I've seen. I can't get enough of them and have viewed each of them twice.

You must have held your breath.

Susan Gets Native said...

I'm holding my breath right now!

WoodSong said...

magical! I've yet to visit J.P. myself yet and these images sure make me want to get down there even more. Beautiful images Nina, I especially like the last one with that lovely light illuminating the wings.

Lisa at Greenbow said...

I have been to JP several times. It is an amazing sight to see all the SACR come in. The sound stays in my head for a long time after departing.

bobbie said...

Your cranes at sunrise are really something special. A beautiful post, Nina.

Laure Ferlita said...

I too found myself holding my breath, trying to be still and quiet.....waiting for the cranes to appear.

Excellent post!!!

Nina, do you or would you allow your images to be painted? I would LOVE to have a go at the last image, but not without your permission.

Julie Zickefoose said...

I love your photos AND your writing here. Nice 'n fleshy! ;-)

Jedediah said...

Gorgeous, the last one is my favourite! And it's a great piece of writing.

Maelka said...

Beautifull photos.... I´m glad to see them. Have a nice day.

photowannabe said...

What a sight to behold. I'll bet you were hardly breathing. Beautiful description too.

Sylvia K said...

Beautiful post, Nina! Lovely photos and I love the cranes! Very special shots!

Enjoy the rest of your week and Happy Thanksgiving!


Q said...

Dear Nina,
I can just imagine how wonderful this must have been. Seeing the Sandhill Cranes in Texas last winter was amazing. Your photographs leave me breathless.
Looking forward to the next post!

Roger Owen Green said...

Always a sucker for sunrise; these are really nice.

Hildred and Charles said...

What a wonderful experience, - real magic, as are your lovely photos.

Mara said...

How brilliant to see that for real. It must have been absolutely awsome!!!

Susan said...

I can just imagine the anticipation as you waited for them to arrive..that's the feeling I love when I'm birding - and then the reward of spectacular cranes that look like they're falling from the sky...great post!

Rose said...

I felt as though I was right there with you, Nina. Beautiful--what a fantastic sight this must have been! And what a great way to begin the morning!

moongipsies said...


Sistertex said...

Wonderful photos and post. Enjoyed looking at it, thank you for sharing.

Rinkly Rimes said...

The build-up to the actual arrival of the birds is beautifully done.

Reader Wil said...

These cranes are very elegant birds. I've never seen them flying, but I am sure that it must be a wonderful sight,Nina!

Jay said...

I love the way you wrote this! I felt as if I were there waiting with you .. only not so cold, of course!

My favourite of your beautiful pictures is the second in the long group of 'flying crane' pictures. You can see the effort that they have to put into flying, with that one caught in mid flap. It looks almost like swimming through the air.

Hildred and Charles said...

what a wonderful experience, and your photography is extra special. Thank you for sharing, - we only see sandhill cranes at a distance now and it's wonderful to see them in this situation.

Grace and Bradley said...

Beautiful, I saw the sandy crane a year ago in New Mexico and too some photos. It was during the sunset. Thanks for sharing your image and have a happy thanksgiving.