Thursday, January 15, 2009

Sandhill Cranes

Before coming back from the holiday break, Kyle and I went to Payne's Prairie to see the sandhill cranes.

We saw almost as many alligators as cranes; okay, not really, but we saw a lot of gators. I'll apologize for the bad photography up front. None of this was close to us, and my zoom is only so-so. So I've altered many of the photos, upping the contrast on the fuzzy ones.

Kyle decided he needed a photo of a real gator with his damn Gator baby doll, which seems to accompany him whenever he brings his camera. Some day he'll have enough to publish a freaking book of Gator baby doll photos. You might be able to make out the doll propped in a branch, but you probably can't see the alligator much further back.

We did see cranes. Thousands of them, actually. They come down to winter, and this year was a bumper crop - estimates were as high as 8,000. Usually there are around 2,000. The temperature and water depth were apparently perfect this year, bringing in the crowds. (Bad-photo warning!)

Along with the gray sandhills were a few whooping cranes, which are endangered. When conservationists started a breeding program, they trained them to migrate with ultralight aircraft. When they were on their own, a few decided that it was safer in numbers and joined the sandhills on their migration path.
I think the high point of the day was when a huge number of them simultaneously decided it was time to move - right then. It was thrilling to see so many moving in tandem. Photos can't do it justice. They make the most amazing sound, a loud, cooing, throbbing noise.

There were a lot of people out to see the cranes, including some professional photographers. One of them pointed out this group of baby alligators, perched on their mother's snout. We would have never spotted them ourselves, but this guy had the biggest lens I've ever seen. I'm sure his photo came out better:

Less cute, and a hell of a lot scarier, was this guy. I don't know how I spotted him, but he was very, very close to us, just lurking in the water.

The prairie is a mix of marshy land and dry, grassy land. I'm curious to see what this looks like in the summer.

It turned out to be a beautiful day.

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