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Sandhill Cranes Fall Hike in Indiana


sandhill cranes flying overhead

I went on a guided hiking trip with Skokie Park District and took some nature photos this weekend! We traveled to the Jasper-Pulaski Nature Reserve in Indiana for the sandhill crane migration. The nature preserve is in a really rural area. And there is no cellular coverage there, either.

I only had a 300 mm lens on a Nikon DSLR and was looking at envy with anyone that had a 600 mm or larger lens. It turns out that sandhill cranes are sensitive to being disturbed and the nature preserve has the viewing area is well back from the feeding and roosting areas. Binoculars were really helpful for viewing; photography was difficult. At least I have some images that will be okay as visual references for drawing or painting.  Also, the weekend had a big surprise; so that will be the last photo!


river birch trees


I like diffuse light, since there are no harsh shadows. Usually a high cloud ceiling is a nice during the day, but the weak daylight of a northern November makes diffuse light less helpful. I had a lot of photos turn out blurred or grainy. We had a lot of heavy, low clouds, wind and it was pretty chilly a lot of the time. I also motion blurred a lot of shots due to shivering. I probably should have brought a monopod. I did not feel like I wanted to backpack a monopod around, but then I regretted leaving it home. C’est la vie!

sandhill cranes flying

sandhill cranes flying

I learned a lot about our feathered, migratory friends. Sandhill cranes eat an array of foods, including plants, grubs and worms. They like to pick over harvested fields for waste corn. This chance find below gave our group a pretty close view from the tour van.


Sandhill cranes keep together as a family unit.


Local Indiana residents were also at the nature reserve to see the migrating cranes. Seeing the “dancing” behavior seemed to be a favorite attraction for people. The cranes are large and very graceful, flying and landing are particularly graceful.  Sandhill cranes have distinctive calls that are really impressive in larger numbers.

Sandhill Cranes Shellie Lewis 2014 03

The very end of the day, just before sunset, a consistent amount of light finally broke through the clouds. The two next pictures, I was able to get some benefit from the “golden hour” effect. Unfortunately, the birds were east of the sunset and backlit, so silhouettes of flying birds were the best available shot at the end of the day.


Some white-tailed deer are in the background above.

Sandhill Cranes Shellie Lewis 2014 08 WEB

Okay, now here is the big surprise at the end. During the daytime our group found a pair of bald eagles! I was super psyched because I’ve wanted to see an eagle in the wild for years. One group member recognized the skreek skreek call of the eagles and was able to pinpoint their location in a tall tree. They were very far off on an island across the water and hard to see with the unaided eye. I cropped the daylights out of this picture to try and bring the eagles closer. This is the best image.



It was a really nice hike and a great birding experience. I needed a nature break and some exercise was a plus. Eating my way through a dinner special at Bob Evans afterwards probably canceled any calories I burned walking, unless biology factors in “fresh air” as a component in metabolism. I live in Chicago, so the rare occasions I get exposed to fresh air, I eat like a t-rex. This is based on a scientific understanding that a t-rex wiped out everything on the dinner plate… and two biscuits to boot.

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