Adult Sandhill Cranes

A few weeks after moving into a new apartment in Gurnee, Illinois, I was walking around the wildlife preserve behind the apartment complex when I saw what I took to be a family of Great Blue Herons.   Unfortunately, there was a lake between me and the birds, so I had to go along the far shore from the birds and start taking photos.   One of the five birds in the group had separated itself from the others and I could see that it was, indeed, a Great Blue Heron.   I started taking photos of the remaining group of four birds, first with my 500mm lens and then using a tripod and teleconverter to turn it into the equivalent of a 1000mm lens.   That's when I saw the patch of red on their heads, and I realized that I was looking at some sandhill cranes.   Not only were these the first sandhill cranes I'd ever seen, they were the first cranes, period!   I was pretty excited and figured that I had to find some way to get closer, because they were still too far away, even with a long lens.   Luckily, the beavers had been pretty eager recently and there was a string of four or five small dams stretching across one part of the lake for a distance of maybe 50 or 60 feet.   I started across, but carrying a bag with thousands of dollars of camera gear across narrow and flimsy dams bridging water of unknown depth didn't seem very smart, even to me.   Plan B: another slightly larger beaver dam across an eight foot wide constriction in the lake.   Again, the murky water was of unknown depth, but it still seemed like I had a better chance of getting across this dam than the other.   One last problem:  I was wearing jeans and I was pretty sure that the water was more than knee deep.   Solution:  take off my jeans and wade through murky waist deep water in my underpants in an area where I'd already seen some large snapping turtles!   Well, I did say I was pretty excited by the birds, and I figured it was pretty unlikely anyone would see me wandering around in a state of relative undress - besides which, I was still wearing a long-tailed shirt!

Anyway, take a look at the photos below and you can be the judge of whether it was worth it!

That Great Blue Heron didn't like the look of me very much, so he took off real quick.

The sandhill cranes seemed less concerned, but after I'd been stalking them for ten minutes even they didn't seemed too sure!

sandhill crane from the front

What a nice looking bird!   Spring had just sprung, and the grass had just started to riz, and it was pretty swampy underneath because of all the flooding from the beaver dams, so it just suited the cranes nicely.

sandhill crane from the side

I had skirted several hundred feet around the birds so I could get the sun into a better position, but the cranes knew now that I was interested in them, which made them a little nervous.   And what should you do when you're nervous?

sandhill crane walking away

Consult with a friend, of course!

two sandhill cranes standing together

And if neither of you are sure what to do...

Speak to someone else!

three sandhill cranes standing together

In the background you can see some of the wanton damage being done by those beavers I told you about, but even beavers can't help our hapless heron-like heroes now!

four sandhill cranes standing around nervously

Sometimes, even when you've spoken to everyone you know it seems like no-one quite knows what to do!

four sandhill cranes standing around in a loose group

Bunching up together might make you feel better, but at some point you're gonna have to make a decision!   And what do you think the decision might be?   Well, here's a hint:  when cranes arch their necks forward, it's called a "flight intent" posture!

four sandhill cranes in a tight group

Aha, here it comes, the fluffing of feathers...

four sandhill cranes with one fluffing up ready to fly away

The stretching of wings...

sandhill crane stretching and fluffing itself up

These birds are bigger than they might seem - they can have a wingspan of seven feet!

three sandhill cranes with one stretching its wings out fully

Now ain't that something?

sandhill crane flying

Me?   I think it was worth it.

four sandhill cranes flying
See a solitary juvenile crane in the same location.