Mud Angels

Well, we are officially off on our exploration part deux for the year.  Just in time, it appears, as our hometown county is experiencing some unexpected high numbers of Covid outbreaks.  Not sure what is up with that, but at the moment, thankfully not something we need to worry about.  So far the birding has been a bit weak, however, I have been able to get a long run in on an amazing set of trails.  Told Linda it was like running on the set of The Last of the Mohicans.  Good for the soul and the long steep elevation climbs was a good reminder to the legs they are still in training.   As it is Flashback Friday, I get to pull from the front of the LIFO queue.  Meet today’s Featured Feathered Friend.  

Sandhill Crane Wisconsin April 2013

We have been experiencing some unexpected cold temperatures on our exploration.  Our destination should be significantly warmer – in the meantime I have to keep reminding myself we are officially past winter ha.   While looking through the queue, noticed these shots that were taken in the same month and still had SNOW on the ground. 

Sandhill Crane Wisconsin April 2013

Back in April 2013 we made a trip up to Wisconsin to visit the Crane Foundation in Baraboo, Wisconsin.  One of our favorite areas to visit in our sister state to the north.  I know they hate the saying, but it really is Illinois’ playground.  While we were on our way back from visiting the foundation, we noticed a group of Sandhills hanging out in a field.  

Sandhill Crane Wisconsin April 2013

Now Sandhill Cranes are one of my favorite birds – their relatives the Whooping Crane (link here) holds the number #1 on the list which was the catalyst for us joining the International Crown Foundation and my renewed interest in birding.  Cranes are an amazing species.  Massive in size, truly a joy to watch especially during courtship rituals and surprisingly accessible at least on the Sandhill front.  The Whoopers will require you to travel a bit, but they can be found quite consistently if you do a little research on their wintering grounds.    

Take note of the whiter feathering the Sandhills have in the shots above and contrast that with the browner coloring in the following shots.  

Sandhill Crane Horicon National Wildlife Refuge Mayville Wisconsin September 2014

The shot above and below are from another shoot in September the following year.  Once again we were up in Wisconsin (time to play ha) and took a quick run over to Horicon National Wildlife Refuge in Mayville.  Absolutely shocking I was able to get anything in the tin as we were in an epic battle to save as much blood as we could from the hordes of Mosquitoes that had amassed there.  Think these were the only two shots that made it out of that shoot before our drained carcasses were left sprawled on the trail.  Per the earlier comment, you will see that these specimens had taken on a browner hue.  

Sandhill Crane Horicon National Wildlife Refuge Mayville Wisconsin September 2014

This is where it gets a little interesting.  I have always been under the impression that the Sandhill Cranes get this browner coloring thanks to their habit of preening themselves with mud/dirt.  The iron rich material causes the iconic “rustic” coloring.  Went to Cornell for a quick validation and was surprised to find zero mention of that behavior nor the effects on the feathers – nada. 

Sandhill Crane Chain O' Lakes State Park, Spring Grove IL April 2017

Cornell did mention juveniles are grey and rusty brown and lack the pale cheeks and red caps.  I have had the opportunity to see juveniles up close and can confirm grey and there was some rusty brown, however, it doesn’t really dismiss the preening concept as surely the adults would teach the offspring similar behaviors.. resulting in similar color changes. 

Sandhill Crane Chain O' Lakes State Park, Spring Grove IL April 2017

Step inside my supercharged DeLorean and rev it up to April 2017.  This last set of Sandhill Shots (starting with the two shots above) comes to you from Chain O’ Lakes State Park near Spring Grove IL.   No snow on the ground this time and you can see the rust coloring just starting to cover the wings above.  Now the specimen below must have been making mud angels. 

Sandhill Crane Chain O' Lakes State Park, Spring Grove IL April 2017

Better get to closing this post out – tomorrow has some traveling in it.  Sandhills mate for life and can begin breeding as early as two.  Every year we have been up at Chain O’ Lakes we have seen the same pair of Sandhills wandering the campground area.  Usually with a couple of colts which makes for some great shoots (link here). 

Sandhill Crane Chain O' Lakes State Park, Spring Grove IL April 2017

Lastly, I was surprised when I looked at the region maps for the Sandhill.  Seems like I see them everywhere we travel and therefore wrongly thought they were abundant across the states.  Not true.  There is a heavy wintering population in the lower Texas, New Mexico and Florida regions.  From those areas there are really two large migration paths up to their breeding grounds in are fairly straight migrations paths to their breeding grounds in Canada and the upper states (except Montana – they HATE Montana thanks to a long standing feud with the Bison union).  

Sandhill Crane Chain O' Lakes State Park, Spring Grove IL April 2017

Will let you go there.  Hope you enjoyed a few shots of the big boys (and likely girls).  Hopefully will have connectivity to put up a few more posts while out on the road.  Until then, take it easy and be sure you live and not just exist.

Parental Tutelage

Greetings everyone!  Hope you enjoyed my last post on the Sandhill Crane Colts – hopefully at least got some pleasure out of seeing the draw dropping cuteness produced by our wilder cohabitants.  Ron mentioned it in his comment, but I received a bit of sad news from the Chain O’ Lakes State Park ranger the day I wrote that post.  If you recall, we were up there camping over the weekend with the goal to get some birding in.  Like clockwork, my favorite Sandhill Crane couple were out an about.  Yes, that same couple that produced the Colts featured in the last post.  Now for the depressing news, this year, no Colts.  Just the two of them foraging alone on the side of the road.  A ranger happened to drive up while I was standing there admiring them – no camera, just enjoying the moment for a change.  During our quick chat he informed me none of the Crane pairs had Colts this year. The current thinking is the huge amount of rain and flooding destroyed the nests/eggs.  That news brought some definite sadness as I was looking forward to photographing the latest additions.

Sandhill Crane Family shot at Chain O' Lakes State Park, Spring Grove IL in June 2017

Nature does what nature does – at least I have the images and memories from our previous encounters.  I also gave a foreshadowing of today’s topic in the previous writing.  Animal behavior fascinates me and I am on the constant lookout for interesting interactions while out in the field.  Whether it’s an intra-species interaction or inter-species encounters (link here) or maybe intriguing relationship with humans (link here) – nothing keeps me more entertained than learning from these engagements, trying to predict behavior and more critical .. trying to get it in the tin.

Sandhill Crane Family shot at Chain O' Lakes State Park, Spring Grove IL in June 2017

Hit the jump to experience some Crane behavior.

Continue reading Parental Tutelage

Good Enough to Melt the World’s Heart

Another month has been torn off the calendar.  Before long we’ll be in fall wondering where the hell the year went.  Of course, that is when the stress levels will start sky rocketing as that also means the annual Halloween Haunted Trail will be looming and my longtime readers know how crazy that time gets.  The good news is we are once again making a break for the soul healing abilities of nature’s outdoors. With our state park campgrounds finally open we were able to load up the RV and head up to Chain O’ Lakes for some relaxation, hiking, running, biking and of course BIRDING!  Unfortunately, we missed most of the migration season, but hopefully Ron and I can still get some Sandhill Cranes in the tin.  While trying to decide on what to feature in today’s post, I was thinking about the world as a whole – corvid, senseless rioting, cratering economy, worthless politicians, hypocrite professional athletes and propagandists masquerading as journalists.  Then I remembered this weekend was about tuning out (an interesting concept as I sit her and make a post) and dispensing with the pent-up stress.  Then it occurred to me – the perfect post was sitting in my queue already.

Sandhill Crane Family shot at Chain O' Lakes State Park, Spring Grove IL in June 2017

What the world needs is a little cuteness to melt the angst right out of its heart.  Personally, I can’t think of many things that would fit that objective better than a Sandhill Crane Colt.  I am pretty sure if we borrowed a few Colts from their parents and simply walked them out between two parties in any type of conflict, the problem would be immediately resolved.  Granted, we would immediately have to get the Colts back to their parents, but I am hoping they would be willing to help out with humanities current myriad of crises.

Sandhill Crane Family shot at Chain O' Lakes State Park, Spring Grove IL in June 2017

Hit the jump and prepare to emit a giant awwwwwweeeee!

Continue reading Good Enough to Melt the World’s Heart

Just About a Wrap on Vacation Birds

As promised previously, I’m cranking through the remaining photo shots from last year’s vacation.  This year’s vacation is closing fast and since we are headed to a state I’ve never been, the assumption is the shutters will be snapping non-stop.  I have already picked up that region’s field guide and perusing it from time to time in order to set my wildlife checklist.  Last year almost all the animals on the list were checked off, with the exception of the Wolf and Mountain Goat.  Time is short today so I better get to this set of birds.  The first image is of a Chickadee that is fairly common both around my house and apparently out there.

I mainly added this picture because I liked how the little one was tucked inside the evergreen branches.  The field guide actually claims this is a Mountain Chickadee, but to be honest it looks exactly like the ones outside my window as I type this blog.  It does say the habitat is coniferous forests.  Based on this photo, they nailed it.  Wow, as I looked out the window to verify with a chickadee on my feeder, I spotted a raccoon holding onto a branch above my feeder and paw over paw pulling up my bird feeder over the squirrel baffle.  Please hold while I deal with this evil spawn.  …….  the problem is solved.  Geesh, it’s 5:44pm in the afternoon, they are definitely getting bolder.

The next set of photos is from a small pond we stopped at because it had a ton of creatures flying out and diving under a bridge next to the road.  They were flying so fast I couldn’t really tell what they were, so I decided to get out and try to figure it out.  The first consideration of bats were thrown out pretty quick due to the coloring, which led to some type of swallow.  Although I clipped this one, it did show the coloring pattern that led to the identification.  Nothing like trying to look through the viewer and try to get one of these bullets in your field of shot.

I was in the process of putting the lens cap back on the camera and closing up shop when all of a sudden one of the swallows fell completely out of the sky and landed on the water.  Finding this odd, I ended up taking the cap back off in order to use the zoom to get a better view of the scene.  There the bird remained motionless just floating on the water for what must have been at least 3 minutes.

The assumption was it was dead for what reason remained a mystery.  Eventually the little guy stirred a bit and began to come to life.  Slowly it started to beat the wings to build up momentum to escape the water.

Likely due to the extra weight from the wet wings, it was quite a struggle before it was able to gain flight again.  This shot is actually one of my favorites as it was taken just a split second after reaching freedom.

I am hoping it is just a shadow, but the shot actually looks like it might have left some blood where it landed.  Based on the amount of birds flying around at break neck speeds, the odds are it collided with another swallow and lost consciousness for a little bit.  It looked fine as it gained altitude, but eventually I lost it in the swirling mass so best wishes.

Please hit the jump to see the rest of the set.

Continue reading Just About a Wrap on Vacation Birds