Sandhill Cranes at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge
October 5, 2016
I went to BirdFest at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge to celebrate the end of September and beginning of October.
Thrilled to be there, I was in a small group that watched Sandhill Cranes fly into their roost on Friday night. Lucky me, I went back the following morning to watch them fly out.
We stood as silently as possible in a blind, after finding ‘the best spot’ for viewing. As the lights dimmed the cranes began to fly in. I zoomed in to isolate a few here and there.
While waiting for the next group to fly in, I watched a Snowy Egret working the shoreline.
‘Wheels’ down. Coming in for a landing.
The sky changed color as the sun went down and family after family of cranes arrived for the night. The sound was breath-taking.
A couple of times ALL the birds in this area swarmed up and out, then resettled. Awesome. Incredible. Fantastic. Amazing. None of these words fully express the feeling or sounds.
Sandhill Cranes like this marshy area, surrounded by water that keeps them safe from predators. A few of us saw a coyote walk by the blind when we arrived the next morning. Sorry, too dark, my camera would not cooperate in spite of my pleading for that shot!
Each family unit ~ 2 adults and 1 to 3 colts ~ flies in and out together. Here comes another!
As the night got darker, my ISO turned higher, but my shutter speed couldn’t keep up with all the activity. I like this shot anyway ~ shall we call it ‘artsy’?
Between incoming groups of cranes it was fun watching other birds like this Yellowlegs foraging for an evening meal.
A Great Egret also flew over, joining his tribe behind the cranes.
Saturday morning we woke early and headed back to watch the Sandhills leave their roost.
Again in a small group, we huddled quietly in a blind and waited for the show to begin. The birds began taking off before the sun came up.
Watching the cranes fly against this magical sky while listening to their song….I felt as though we could be in a PBS nature show.
Except we WERE there, right in the midst of a cinematic show filled with beautiful birds taking off in glorious light!
High ISO = grainy shot, but this is one portion of our morning view just after the first few groups of cranes flew out. I hope to make a panorama of the entire lagoon filled with 500 or more Sandhill Cranes.
As the light changed I had a clearer view of the cranes and their flight patterns.
Did I already say they were amazing to watch? They were A-mazing!! You can sense the power in their wings.
Young Sandhill Cranes remain with parents for 9-10 months, accompanying them in migration.
One of my favorite birds, they mate for life.
As it got lighter, the background landscape became prettier too.
Last little family left. Two adults, two colts. What a fabulous experience.
Cranes live an average of 20 years in the wild, and generally have 1 to 2 colts per year. Photo above is at Conboy Lake National Wildlife Refuge where I was lucky to observe their courting dance. You can distinguish adults from juveniles by the red on an adult’s head.
Sandhill Cranes nest in freshwater wetlands and are the oldest known bird species in the world. They have an average weight of 10 pounds, a wingspan of 5 to 7 feet and are approximately 4 feet tall. Omnivorous, their diet varies with location and season. They eat insects, roots of aquatic plants, rodents, snails, frogs, lizards, snakes, nestling birds, berries, seeds, and cultivated grains like corn.
Sources if you’re interested in reading more about my favorite bird: Audubon, Nature Conservancy, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Wikipedia, and National Wildlife Federation. Oh there’s more, but I don’t want to overwhelm you!