Although crane migration is just beginning, I couldn’t resist trying to photograph the early arrivals from one of our blinds along the Platte River last weekend. At 6am I parked 200 yards south of the blind. A full moon and the encouraging sound of cranes calling guided me through the dark. When I was 50 yards away from the blind I started crawling so the cranes wouldn’t spot me with their excellent night vision. I made it into the blind successfully and waited for the sun to rise. In the moonlight, I could see that there were only about a hundred cranes near me, but they were close enough to photograph. Instead of being quiet and sleepy as I had expected, they were quite vocal and active. Several small groups flew in and joined the assembly, loudly announcing their arrival. The group seemed eager to start a day of foraging for corn in 70 degree weather.
As soon as there was enough light I took a few test shots. I’m glad I did, not just because the scene was beautiful and the slow shutter speed gave a ghostly look to the cranes and water, but because about 30 minutes before sunrise a volley of shotguns nearby spooked the cranes and sent them flying away.
I left the blind with frozen feet and fewer photos than I had hoped for, but with lots of good experience for next time. Speaking of frozen things, I was exploring Martins Reach State Wildlife Management Area later that day and found half-dormant bullfrog. Although clearly alive, the frog’s body felt as cold as melting snow. Because he was cold-blooded and couldn’t move, I used the opportunity to take some very close photos of his beautiful, golden eyes. This was a special experience for me because one of my earliest memories in nature is of finding and poking another half-dormant bullfrog as I explored a pond with my dad. We still joke about that memory, never expecting one of us to re-live it.
Other signs of spring on this warm weekend included Red-winged Blackbirds establishing territories, several small spiders crawling in the grass, fish swimming in thawed ponds, and dozens of brown lacewings fluttering through the air.