Each year, when spring starts seeping in around the edges of winter, we listen for the call of the sandhill cranes. A sure harbinger of warmer weather, their raucous calls lift our spirits and get us thinking about putting in the garden and getting the kayaks out. Each year we swear we'll get the 'yaks out as soon as the ice is off the lake. Each year we don't make it out until late May. Either it's too cold, or too windy, or we're too busy...you know the story.
We finally got out on the water for the first time on May 28, a beautiful, blue-sky day with little wind. Our favorite lake is Appleton, a small, marly lake in the Brighton Recreation Area that has some pretty good fishing, lots of birds, and motor restrictions--a good lake for kayaks. It also has a group of sandhill cranes that spends each night along its shores, apparently non-breeding adults who leave the lake early in the morning to feed in nearby fields and return in the evening to preen and sleep.
It is amazing to me that they seem to come in about the same time before sunset everyday--in August it's around 7pm, in late May it's closer to 7:30. They tend to land in the same part of the lake every time, unless someone is fishing too near. I was not in the best position to catch the first large flock coming in over the lake, but I got a few shots as they flew past me.
I paddled over to the shore to watch and photograph them as they went about their business.
As I watched the first group, several more flew in. Watching them prepare to land is one of the most entertaining things I've ever seen. They stop flapping and cup their wings, bringing their legs forward in anticipation of hitting the water. They look like puppets on strings, guided from above.
Then another group approached from the southeast,
and flew right over my head, on their way to another part of the lake.
I paddled over to were the other group had landed, out of the bright sun, hoping for some good shots.
Some tried to settle in for the night, preening, scratching,
But there's always a trouble maker, one bird who can't settle in and goes about chasing the others around. Don't know if this is a territorial thing, or dominance, or perhaps someone got too close his girl. Whatever the case, there was much jumping and shouting. The bird in front was the boss of this group, it seemed, running the others off.
After the offender was chased away, he'd put his head down low, back arched and neck curved, in a final warning.
He stood out from the others, bold, watching me closely for some time.
After much shooting, using a camera card that I still had images on from Shiawassee, I found that my card was full. I sat drifting, deleting frames, watching the cranes out of the corner of my eye. Tempers would flare, and I'd bring the camera up and shoot, filling the card again.
It's good to know that the cranes will be there every night, putting on their show, so I can go back with an empty camera card!