Making Hay While the Sun…Doesn’t Shine

Last weekend’s trip to Indiana’s Jasper-Pulaski Wildlife Area for crane-viewing didn’t turn out exactly as hoped for due to some extreme weather conditions. Of course I knew the weather forecast in advance, and even made a half-hearted attempt to back out of the trip, but Jim responded with an admonition about not being a sissy.  That was just the kick in the pants I needed, because one of my primary goals in life is to not be a sissy.

So once we got there we were determined to make the best of the situation, and persisted through rain and cold north winds to find the best photo subjects we could. Since the largest numbers of cranes are found near dawn and dusk, the lighting was also a challenge. And since I’m still learning to use my new camera, there were some times I couldn’t change settings quickly enough to get certain shots. But enough with the excuses. Despite all of that, I do have a few things to show you.

Crane viewing platform at Jasper-Pulaski

This is the viewing platform that overlooks the area where the sandhill cranes congregate each morning and evening. Unfortunately, this lovely photo isn’t representative of the rest of my results from the trip, which were all taken in less-than-optimal conditions.

I really like this 30-second video I shot in the pre-dawn light one morning. It shows lots of the birds practicing their courtship dancing moves. And although the lighting is poor, it still gives you a taste of what it’s like to see and hear large numbers of cranes at their daily social gathering.

And although I have many in-flight shots of these birds already, I couldn’t resist trying to get some more. In particular, Jim and I both love the moments when the birds are making the transition from flight to solid ground, dropping their gangly landing gear legs while still hanging in the air. We noticed that some birds would lower their landing gear while still fairly high in the sky, while others would wait until much closer to the ground. That difference could be something to do with age and experience, perhaps.

Sandhill cranes with legs down for landing w sig

Flying monkeys dropping from the sky (poorly focused but still awesome)

In my past writing about this I’ve described them as looking like giant marionettes falling from the sky, but this time I was struck by a new image: the Wicked Witch’s flying monkeys from the Wizard of Oz.  You know the scene when she sends them all out to attack Dorothy and her friends in the woods, right?  This mental image was triggered not only by the visual spectacle, but also the cacophony that accompanied their descent from the cold November sky. I can’t stop smiling when I think of it that way now.

One of the few daylight photos I could salvage was this one. I took a series of rapid shots as one crane dropped down into this small gathering in a grassy field, and got many images of his wings in various positions. This one is my favorite because the wings are fully extended, giving an excellent impression of the enormous size of this bird.

Sandhill crane landing with wings spread fully

In-flight silhouette shots were the easiest to create in low-light conditions, and I really like these two.

Sandhill cranes in flight against dawn sky

Cranes flying into the golden light of the sunrise sky

Moon and ducks at dawn

Duck side of the Moon (my Pink Floyd tribute)

One morning I was tracking the flight of these ducks across the pre-dawn sky and was ready when they crossed in front of the moon. This is one of my favorite shots from the weekend.

When we weren’t at Jasper-Pulaski, we spent time driving around surrounding areas shooting trees and other nature scenes. The rain had provided us with lots of opportunities to use the moody fog in our compositions.

Fog and lone tree with reflection in water

Fog and two big oak trees

I’ve been enchanted with the photographic possibilities of trees for many years. I usually seek out isolated trees, as in the first photo above. But this scene was great too, with the structural interest of the big oaks, the curving country road, and the fog in the air. This one was edited using a NIK filter, thanks to Jim’s excellent suggestion. I could (and quite likely will) spend hours playing with these filters on my photos.

Algae-covered creek and beaver dam w sig

The bright green of the algae in this scene was a welcome and cheerful display of color on a rainy day. Notice the beaver dam crossing the waterway just behind the algae.

Finally, here’s a scene we shot under threat of lightning and pouring rain.  I think it was worth it.

Woods with color and fog resized w sig

I’m glad to find out I’m not a sissy after all. 😉 I had a great time and learned a lot on this trip, and will be better prepared for my next challenging photography outing.

This entry was posted in Birds, Migration, Photography, Trees and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Making Hay While the Sun…Doesn’t Shine

  1. Pingback: Fun with Fungi (and mosses and lichens) | Nature Is My Therapy

  2. AlexW says:

    This is a comment for the blister beetle post below, since I fear it might go unnoticed if I posted it down there

    Great blog! Too many people these days only pay attention to butterflies and bees, with most other sixleggers (no matter how harmless or beautiful) paranoidly gassed down with “ecofriendly” pesticides. Personally, I keep jars full of captive, long-lived sidewalk beetles to ward off insect deprivation; they are quite low maintenance and interesting to watch (though sometimes no one moves for hours).

    By the way, your beetle is a male Meloe, according to bugguide’s identification section for the genus. All the characters match up. However, be careful of close relatives with a similar appearance.

    Cheers!

  3. I love the composition of the bird photos. Far from static, you could feel the slowing energy of the these large birds as they open their wings for a impending landing. You used all possible options to maximize the mood of the photos as well, with or without filters. The black and white photo reminded me of early 20th century photographer, Stieglitz. Wonderful read Kim. – Marian Fisher

  4. Littlesundog says:

    Wow, Kim! What a great post, and fantastic photographs! You really turned out some of your best photography skills here. “Enchanting” was exactly the word I would use for those moody, countryside scenes. And who doesn’t love the cranes? Your video made me hungry to head to Nebraska in March for the migration of the cranes in the Platte river valley. I’ve had a good friend up there try to get me to come for a few years now.
    During my recent hikes to the river and when I’m working in the pecan orchard, I hear small flocks of cranes flying to the south/southwest. I always stop my work to watch them pass over, stand and stretch my arms out to greet them. The larger flocks will be flying over soon… and of course those great Canadian Geese will be showing up any day now too!
    You are no wimp. Sometimes it takes a good friend to coax us out into what looks unpleasant, and we realize there is a hidden treasure in the experience.

    • Kim Smith says:

      Thanks, Lori! You’re right, if I’d been there on my own I might not have been as willing to brave the elements to get these shots.

      I’m considering a return trip to Jasper-Pulaski in the next few weeks to have another attempt at some better pictures…although I know the weather isn’t going to get any better in the coming weeks. And our first Snowy Owl of the year has just turned up here in northwest Ohio, so that gives me a good excuse to stay closer to home. 🙂

  5. Annie says:

    How lucky you are to see such sights… especially the Sandhill Cranes fall migration!

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