Honking Cranes

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.

Flying in for Morning Socializing

Deer and Cranes in Early Morning Light

Leaving Goose Pasture for Day Foraging

One Stood Still, For A Second

One of my favorite shots of the day

Milkweed Pod. Another favorite.

Fallen Fencepost Near Abandoned House


5 responses to “Honking Cranes

  1. The Sandhill cranes are truely a sight to behold. I hunted the area my entire childhood and can tell you it is awe inspiring to see literally thousands of them in the air all at once. You need to be there right before sunrise or sunset. sunrise is a lot better because they bed in the marsh land to the center of the game preserve. Look the phone number up and talk to them about the current crane numbers. They used to keep an approximate count. You want to go when the numbers are around ten thousand. The crane observatory is as good a place as any to view them unless you put on an orange vest and walk out to the marsh on one of the fire lanes. They will not let you get very close since they spook VERY easily. if it is after sunrise they are already gone to feed in the neighboring corn and bean fields for the day. Hope this helps.

  2. Beautiful! What a wondrous experience and your photos are magical. I have honking crane envy! 😉

    • Hi Kay. Thanks for your comment. Someday I hope to see some of the beautiful areas in your part of the world! I feel magically transported when I view the photos you post.

  3. This is magnificent, Anne! And what an experience for you. I just smile as you allude to ‘Jaws’… good to find another movie watcher. Both your cranes and the plants are wonderful. And the hunting reference makes me a bit uncomfortable after seeing these beautiful creatures.

    I’m interested in the name of the place too. We have two world renowned National Parks here in Alberta, one is Banff (you can see a couple of photos in my last post), the other is Jasper. So it’s just interesting to learn of a Jasper-Pulaski Wildlife Area in Indiana. If you’re interested here’s my old post “From Banff to Jasper”.

    • Hi Arti. Thanks for the link to your post. I enjoyed reading it. Lovely pictures. Banff is someplace I have always wanted to go. The area I went to is named Jasper-Pulaski because it is situated on the border of Jasper and Pulaski counties in Indiana. I didn’t know this until I looked it up today, but Jasper (John William Jasper) was a American Revolutionary war hero. I knew that Pulaski was (Kazimierz Pulaski) a Revolutionary War hero too. What I didn’t know is that the county to the west of Jasper (Newton) and the one to the east of Pulaski (Kosckiusko) were also named for Amer Rev heroes. Apparently, in most states where there is a Jasper county, there is an adjacent one named Newton. According to Wikipedia, Jasper Nat’l Park was named after a fur trading company.

      I thought the area around Jasper-Pulaski FWA was sparsely populated (about 43,000 combined, both counties) but it is 10 times the population of your Jasper! Still, it isn’t very dense — at least not to me. I live in Indianapolis, which has population of about 839,000, with the entire metro Indy area being about 1.6 million (or 2.0 million, depending on what Census statistics you look at). Seems like it isn’t very big to me, at least not when you compare it to Chicago, New York, LA, etc., but, surprisingly, it’s the 12th largest city in the US. What is nice about it, is that you don’t have to go too far to be out in the middle of nowhere. The downside of that is that it is pretty flat, and not all that interesting looking. I’d rather be closer to the sea or to mountains! But, because I like birds, I’m glad that you can find different varieties wherever you go!