Spotted by a local Bird Watcher
On January 7th a local bird watcher reported on the HMbirds list that he had seen a pair of Sandhill Cranes on the frozen Mohawk River near the I-87 Bridge. What Sandhill Cranes??? Wow this was unusual to say the least; what are Sandhill Cranes doing so far north in the winter and in New York State?
Holy wing span batman! Not only are they off course by a few time zones, although some do use the central flyway to migrate but to be here in the dead of winter is something else. I don’t remember if I have ever heard reports of them in this area and time frame before. For those who have never seen one, a sandhill crane is a large birds similar in looks to a Great Blue Heron but taller and with wing spans of up to 77 inches. These birds normally winter in the southwestern US and Mexico, although there is now a non-migratory population in parts of Florida.
The chase is on
The following morning with camera and lens in tow I left the house before dawn and headed north to see if I could photograph them but no luck the sand hill cranes were gone, for the next three days the same results as the pair seemed to fly off before sunrise and return just before sunset. “The cranes were here, you just missed them”, was getting to be the common answer when I asked if anyone had seen them. Not to mention that the clouds were making any attempt at capturing some good images almost impossible.
On January 10th the forecast was for cold clear skies and sun, maybe this would be my lucky day. I left the house an hour before sunrise arriving in the dark to find the sand hill cranes standing on the ice drinking from a small open space in the ice. The pair of cranes was accompanied by a Great Blue Heron, a few ducks, and a pair of gulls.
I was joined by a pair of bird watchers and another local photographer. Ken the local photographer had been there on the previous day and had photographed them that evening just before dusk. We hoped the cranes would stay until the sun cleared the trees and good morning light fell on them. Well our luck held and by 8:45 the two cranes were bathed in morning light.
It was a good distance between the photographers who stood in a taverns parking lot and the birds that were near the shore of the river. The birds gave us a good 2 hours of photography before moving off to rest for the day. All in all a great opportunity to photograph birds out of their normal area and in winter conditions.
Picture on the right shows the two cranes with a Great Blue Heron giving an idea of the size difference between the two species. The last reports of anyone seeing the two cranes was around the 18th of January. I must assume the cranes continued their trip south to wintering grounds after giving us a nice show.
Camera and lens used that day: Canon 1Dx with 500 MM and 1.4 Tele-convertor.
Info on the Sandhill Crane http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sandhill_Crane