I had an absolutely incredible morning at the Circle B Bar Reserve on Sunday. The Sandhill Crane colts have hatched! This is a very predictable family of Sandhill Cranes that has been bringing the tiny babies up on the trail for the past four or five years. They make wonderful photo opportunities!
The nest this year is way out in the marsh. I finally found it after I heard the birds calling. I tried to find it again a few minutes later, and couldn’t! The adults take the babies back to the nest at night, and then every morning they start their daily trek across the marsh. I can only imagine how big that marsh must feel to the babies! They are just little pipsqueaks, maybe 12 inches tall, and Mom and Dad drag them through plants and bushes and across the water. The babies are born knowing how to swim, so when the water gets too deep, they swim to follow their parents. They are two little golden dots in the marsh…
I noticed photographers checking out the Heron Hideout trail, not seeing the cranes, and moving on too quickly. You have to be patient to wait for the birds to come to you. It took them about half an hour or more to make their way across the marsh. In the meantime, I noticed this Marsh Wren hopping around in the grass in front of me. I never would have noticed him if I hadn’t been standing quietly in one place for a little while. He posed beautifully for me while I waited for the stars of the day to come up onto the trail.
Finally the baby cranes made their entrance onto the Heron Hideout trail. They are such little cuties! One is slightly more mature than his sibling, which makes sense, because they hatch a day or two apart. Mom and Dad keep them pretty close, and the babies are constantly watching for food handouts from their parents. When one baby got food, the other baby would often chase after him, trying to steal that tasty morsel. It was hard to focus quickly to capture the interaction between the chicks. When I saw that I’d gotten this next shot, I let out a “yes!” that made Rich come running to see what I’d gotten. :)
I laid down with my camera and photographed the babies at eye level. The best opportunities were when they stepped away from the vegetation for a little while, which made for a better blurred background. This year’s babies must have taken a lesson on good photography sun angles, because they stayed on the “good” side of the trail (away from the sun) for a nice long time. Babies from other years haven’t been so cooperative!
The parents spent a good hour or two searching for insects to feed the babies. It’s such fun to watch the parents use those big beaks to pick up tiny objects and carefully hand them off to their small offspring. Usually the babies would split up, one per parent, but sometimes both babies would come together. Then they’d stand waiting for the next bit of food, to both grab for it!
At one point I noticed one of the colts try to get Mom’s attention by grabbing at her tail feathers! I’ve noticed that behavior with other baby birds, too, like the Least Terns. It was adorable to watch, but in this case, it didn’t seem to provoke a reaction from Mom!
It’s amazing how tame these cranes are. The babies wandered right up to me! I’d been sitting in the same place for a long time, and I guess they realized that I wasn’t going to bother them. I started out photographing with my 500mm “Beast” lens, then I switched to my 70-200 as the birds got closer, and finally, they were so close I couldn’t focus. I slowly got out my iPhone to capture this shot…
By the end of the morning, the babies were exhausted. Their tiny legs had walked at least a quarter of a mile, and they wore themselves out fighting over breakfast. They were literally falling over with exhaustion! I was amazed at how fast they fell asleep. They’d be standing there, close their eyes, and just fall to the ground! At one point we “lost” one of the babies because he was so well hidden in the grass. Gotta love Nature’s camouflage!
It’s so great to see people when they first see these babies. They gasp, saw “aww!”, and most stick around to watch. When I worry that this family of cranes is too used to people, I remember that it’s also good for people to spend some time with the birds. How can you vote to protect wildlife when you don’t often come face-to-face with it? The trails at the Circle B Bar Reserve in the springtime are a great way to reconnect with nature. Don’t forget your camera!!
Want to see more cute baby pictures from this family? Keep reading!
- 2012 – I got to photograph the birds on the nest on the morning that the second colt hatched.
- 2011 – Slightly older colts are still pretty cute!
- 2010 – The first time I ever saw a baby Sandhill Crane. Date of addiction: April 3, 2010!
Note: I just want to clarify that my post title was figurative – the babies did not actually crawl into my lap. I sat still very a very long time, and they eventually came close to me, but I did not touch them or bother them in any way. I regularly use my long 500mm lens to photograph wildlife. If the birds seem bothered, I move away. Please be a responsible wildlife photographer and do the same! As some so-called nature photographers found out this weekend at Circle B, people who get too close to the birds can be fined and/or jailed. Please please be respectful of these creatures!!