Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Sandhill Crane's Delightful Feather Music

Sandhill Crane - Juvenile along the Aspen Trail - Kensington Metropark, Milford, Michigan.

Your's truly posing with the Sandhill Crane family. I have watched this crane family all season long. They tolerated my close presence as they fed, preened and relaxed along the Aspen Trail.

This extremely curious juvenile Sandhill Crane that couldn't get enough of my shoes and camera gear. I was kneeling right in front of this little one, and managed to take a few photos without much trouble from the bird.

The feathers of an adult Sandhill Crane as it molts into winter plumage.

Being inspected by the juvenile Sandhill Crane. Just a few quick pecks but nothing too painful or terrifying about this inspection.

The female Sandhill Crane preening and making the delightful feather music as she grasped and pulled at her feathers. I was so lucky to be so close I could hear the music she was making. It sounded like satin fabric being rubbed together.

A beautiful adult Sandhill Crane as it stood within three feet of me.

According to the calendar, summer has surrendered to autumn. However, we are experiencing hot and muggy weather as if summer has never left at all. It feels more like August than September. We know any day now, we will feel the real chill of autumn and have to put away the sandals until next year.

This has been a glorious birding season using a new birding lens - the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM. This lens has brought me closer than ever before to birds and the opportunity to photograph them with more clarity and sharpness. There is nothing like an excellent "L" lens to tantalize a nature photographer on the look out for life birds.

This season has been a very eventful one, the highlights have been watching Osprey chicks successfully hatch and fledge the nest and a pair of Sandhill Cranes also raise a pair of chicks to fledge the nest. I have visited Kensington almost weekly since March when the weather became more hospitable to outdoor hiking and exploring. With summer waning, I knew I had to get out to Kensington to see the cranes before they departed for the winter. I didn't know if they were still in residence, I hoped for the best and took a hike to Kensington. If no birds were to be found, then I would do some macrophotography of the late summer wildflowers.

I started out shooting flowers with the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 USM lens, but after a few attempts of shooting flowers, the wind kicked up and I abandoned that plan to do some hiking. After a short hike, I turned onto the Aspen Trail, where I found the Sandhill Crane family feeding and relaxing next to a cattail marsh. I have watched them all season long as their babies have grown into adult size birds. It is not unusual to see them along the trail, but today's encounter would be much different than any other visit at Kensington.

This is where an ordinary hike became a spectacular encounter that I will remember the rest of my life. I was so close, I couldn't believe it, I would become foot to foot standing next to a crane.

I approached the cranes very quietly and cautiously to avoid scaring them into the marsh. As I got closer, I put down my tripod, released my camera and slowly and carefully walked up to the cranes. I literally inched myself closer, until they were walking toward me without concern. I stood next to the cranes as they fed, preened and occasionally inspected my feet for curiosity's sake. A few people came by as my encounter lasted well over an hour, and a woman stopped and took my photo as the cranes were within inches of me.

I quietly observed and photographed these birds as I stood next to them. The juvenile cranes walked back and forth next to me paying no mind to my presence. The adult female was particulary interesting because she stayed right by me for most of an hour. I could hear her "bleet" and sound a semi-warning call every now and then to keep her babies in line, but she never acted aggressively toward me or was bothered that I was kneeling next to her as I took photos of her as she preened her feathers. As she preened, I could hear the sound of her beak making "music" as it grasped the feathers. It sounded just like satin fabric being rubbed together, it was that beautiful. I listened intently as she continually preened and made the feathers produce this high pitched musical sound, almost violin like. Birds do make music when they preen, we just don't hear it, but today I heard feather music for the first time.

The encounter lasted close to 90 minutes, and I had to get going and leave the cranes. I didn't want to leave, but I had to get home and the cranes were intent on staying put for awhile. As I packed up my gear, the cranes also departed the trail and headed off into the marsh to seek other places to eat, rest and preen.

This was the most splendid way to say a final goodbye to summer and wish my Sandhill Crane friends a safe journey to their winter grounds. I will anxiously await their return in the spring. The circle of life can begin again as the Sandhills can once more delight this humble human being with their beauty, grace and more beautiful feather music. Safe travels my friends, and thanks for the music.


dAwN said...

Wow..some amazing photos! what fun that must have been.
Very nice post..u must tweet this one more..I somehow missed it..
I am trying to catch up with my blog reading after a long time without internet...
so nice to see your posts.

Debbie Miller said...

I am glad Dawn RT'd this it is a wonderful post. I have been here with my sister & really enjoyed their presence as well. Wonderful pictures.

Kelly said...

Amazing!!!! 90 minutes in the midst of the cranes with the female preening right next to you. That is a gift. You must have been in Seventh Heaven! I didn't know they made music with their feathers. I hope I get to hear it some day. I'm so glad you dropped by, because now I know where to go when I need a Sandhill Crane fix!

Joy K. said...

Absolutely amazing. What a wonderful avian gift, when they let us become part of their world for a while.