You know that scene in Jaws, where the captain says that he needs a bigger boat? That was the first thing that I thought of when I arrived at the sandhill crane viewing tower at Jasper-Pulaski Fish & Wildlife Area, at sunrise this morning. Except, instead of a bigger boat, I needed a longer lens.
I first heard about the Sandhill Crane migration about 15 years ago. At that time my son, then about 9 years old, and I went up there, not having a very good map, and not enough information. Having miscalculated how long it would take me to get there, we arrived at sundown. We couldn’t see any of the birds, but we heard their low, lonesome honking in the cold gloaming. Since we were out in the middle of nowhere, it seemed a bit spooky.
Since then, I’ve thought several times about making the trip again, but it’s never happened. This year, I decided that I was going to cross this off my list once and for all. Now, aided by the internet and gps mapping, I knew exactly how to get there. I did my research and learned that the viewing towers face west, so for photographic purposes, it is better at sunrise than at sunset. And — thank you interwebs! — I knew the times for civil twilight and sunrise.
So, this 5:15 this morning, armed with a full cup of coffee, sweatshirts, flashlight, camera equipment and gloves, my husband and I headed north for about 100 miles — for the birds.
I had borrowed a 300mm lens and a tripod from a friend. Somewhere I had read that 300mm was recommended. I dragged along his beast of a tripod. Meant for video equipment, it was heavier than needed for my camera and the lens. Fully extended, it was also too tall for little old me.
As I arrived, just as the sky was starting to lighten, I heard the mournful sound of the cranes. One honk: the male. Two honks in reply: the female. And they all sounded their arrival.
Immediately upon arriving at the viewing platform, I knew that I didn’t have a long enough lens. And did I ever have lens envy of the photographers who were there and seemed better prepared than I. Hell, better prepared doesn’t even begin to express it! They seemed to know what they were doing and if they didn’t, they’ve invested a lot of money in optics for appearances’ sake.
The birds were simply too far out in the pasture to take good photographs. That’s okay, though. I enjoyed looking at them, arriving in groups of three, four, five; each group circling to pick out their landing spaces before setting down into the wet marsh. Nearby were several deer. The deer and the birds seemed to not pay much attention to each other. I know that I jumped, more startled than they were, when there was gunfire in the distance. Jasper-Pulaski is a fish & wildlife area, funded, in part, by hunting and gaming fees. The hunters were a way off, but the retort of their rifles in the early morning air startled me nevertheless. The cranes seemed safe and secure. I wonder if the deer hang out in the same pasture because they know it is safe from hunters.
I stayed for about an hour, until I got too cold to feel my toes. I took several pictures, but I was correct that I wouldn’t be happy with most of them. As I left the DNR site, I turned a corner and saw a newly plowed cornfield with several of the cranes grazing. I stopped the car and grabbed the camera. I didn’t want to go too far into the muddy field and startle the birds, but I did get closer than I had been able to at the viewing tower.
Still, my best photos of the day were of plants.