Wednesday, March 25, 2009

the search for our grail bird, the Whooping Crane

We were told that a Whooping Crane had been sighted the previous weekend in our area -- with instructions where we could find the flock of Sandhill Cranes it had joined.

This was just a small portion of the flock.

We used spotting scopes, binoculars -- I placed my camera on a tripod with my longest lens, a 400mm. Since part of the flock was hidden from us and cranes were flying in and out, we kept looking for well over an hour. I knew that Whoopers were basically white in color with black wing tips, but there were sure a lot of very light Sandhills. With 500,000 Sandhills passing through the Platte River basin and less than 300 Whoopers in the wild, could it be possible that we would really find one? 

With the passage of time, I was becoming doubtful of possible success, and started looking around. 

What's this eye got to do with anything? Nothing! I was getting bored, and, it's a beautiful eye, don't you think?

There were Sandhill Cranes in the air, and

Meadowlarks (Western?) on the ground.

It looked like waiting for the Whooper to fly in was just wishful thinking. There was nothing left to do but head back towards the Platte. Maybe we had received faulty directions -- maybe the Whooper's flock had left -- maybe . . .
Within a very short time, as we were driving past another small Sandhill flock, Stan slammed on the brakes and shouted, "There it is!" Could it really be?

There it was -- our grail bird -- a Whooping Crane -- a juvenile hatched last year. Concerned about scaring the flock, we took our first shots through the bus windows.

Now I understood what I had read -- do not worry about identifying a Whooping Crane, when you see one, you will know. Look how much taller it is -- 

-- and whiter, even as a juvenile

Since I only had a 400mm lens and the flock was quite a distance from us, I started using the 1.4x converter first, later the 2x, and eventually stacking both of them. Obviously, when you do that, your image quality suffers.

We must have been watching the Whooper for close to an hour. Other birders stopped by as well.

Suddenly, something unexpected began to happen -- the Whooper was going to take off with several Sandhills in formation.

At this time I still had the 1.4x converter on my lens -- there was not time to take it off -- and the cranes were flying directly at us. Would I be able to focus on the Whooper? Would it be too close to get a good photo?

Focusing with the 1.4x converter is very slow. Would my hands shake too much to handhold the camera?

Taking everything into consideration, I am quite satisfied with the result. Next year this Whooper will be all white with just the wing tips black and the red marking on its head.

Our grail bird, the Whooping Crane!
Thank you, Stan, for making it possible!
What do we do next? The Ivory-bill?

more to come