We heard there were a large number of Sandhill Cranes at a Wildlife Management Area just north of the Twin Cities, so we headed up there early in the morning, hoping to catch the cranes out feeding in the wetlands. Our first encounter was spectacular, a male and female emerged from the very tall cattails (where just their heads had been visible) to perform a little courtship dance for us. (Click on any of the photos to get a larger view.)
Here’s the male — isn’t he studly? Now watch what he does next after strutting a little in front of his not very interested mate.
The head thrown back accompanied by crane “rattles”, their distinctive call.
Wings fully spread, bill pointed to the sky…
A little jump just to tease her with the full range of his repertoire
The neck-wrenching posture gives me a back ache watching him.
That was quite exciting, but the best was yet to come, as we continued our drive around the pools of Carlos Avery WMA, and stumbled upon the mega-herd of about 100 cranes feeding just as we predicted in the short grassy wetlands.
There are groups of cranes in the foreground, mid, and background areas here, but their brownish coloration enables them to blend in very well with those dried cattail stems. Only the movement of that red forehead gives them away.
Every now and then a few cranes would start jumping around at and on each other, but they were mostly quietly feeding and preening all morning.
But the best was yet to come. We had a very close encounter with a pair of cranes that we spied crossing the road in front of us. As we drove up opposite them within about 25 feet, they began to pace and call (very loudly), most likely protesting our presence.
Finally, they stood still long enough for me to get a decent photo of them — really up close and personal. The minute we drove off, they quieted down. Getting this close to these magnificent and very large birds was a real treat.