A fascinating thing happened to me on the way to Plum Island this winter. Two sandhill cranes unexpectedly crossed my path — twice! I had never seen these magnificent creatures before. You can imagine my surprise then when I crossed paths with them twice in seven days.
My first encounter took place late one morning while I was heading north to the Joppa Flats on my way to Plum Island. As I traveled along Rt. 1A and approached the Newbury town line, I saw several cars pulled over to the side of the road. A group of people were standing next to a field. Everyone was pointing to something. The photographer in me sensed a potential photo-op was at hand. Naturally, I pulled over and grabbed my camera.
Sure enough, my intuition paid off. There they were. Two gorgeous sandhill cranes snacking in a grassy field, and embracing the warmth of the bright sun. Though I was positioned a pretty fair distance from the cranes, my zoom lens was able to capture the moment. I was told that the very appearance of sandhill cranes in that area was very rare. Right then and there I considered the day a photographic success. I absolutely love wildlife surprises. Little did I know that another surprise would come my way in the very near future.
One week later I did a sunrise photo shoot on Plum Island. On my way home, this time traveling south on Rt. 1A and again approaching the Newbury town line, something caught my eye. There in a frost covered cornfield were the two sandhill cranes! I quickly pulled over. Not another soul was in sight. The air was crisp and the early morning silence incredibly peaceful.
At first I photographed the cranes from the edge of the road. I wanted to see how they would react to the sound of my camera’s shutter. The noise grabbed their attention, but they seemed more wary than frightened. I spoke to them softly for a bit and then slowly moved closer. Every few steps I took a shot to keep them used to the sound of the shutter.
Gaining Their Trust
Step… shoot… speak gently… move closer. That was my shooting rhythm and mantra. Consistency, patience and respect paid off. I gradually gained their trust. Eventually I was able to get within 25-30 feet of these two cranes. I didn’t want to push my luck, but more importantly, I didn’t want to push the limit of their comfort level.
These regal beauties are truly a sight to be seen and mostly definitely something special to photograph. I must say, between locating a snowy owl at Hampton Beach and crossing paths with these sandhill cranes, this has been a delightful winter of wildlife firsts for me!
~ Liz Mackney