Fall staging of Sandhill Cranes at Crex Meadows

Ever since I first heard about the fall staging of Sandhill Cranes at the Crex Meadows Wildlife Area a couple of years ago, I have been planning on being there at the right time to witness the large numbers of Sandhill Cranes. Pam and I tried last year by visiting in early October and found a lot of Sandhill Cranes but not in the numbers I had heard about. This year we headed up to Crex about a week later. I learned to keep in touch with the friendly staff at the Visitor Center and tried to time our visit with the maximum number of birds and good weather.

Last year I had the good luck of being at Crex Meadows with a nearly full moon in the sky  to add interest to my images. This year the moon did not show up but we did have a nice sunset. My next challenge was , how do you photograph thousands of Sandhill Cranes? All of the iconic images from the National Geographic Magazine came to mind of the huge flocks of migrating birds. Well, that is not as easy as it looks. We had a gloomy day and a sunny day which gave me a variety of lighting conditions so I tried to shoot a variety of scenerios. I also learned last year that the Cranes do not normally fly in and out of this refuge in huge skyblocking flocks but rather in smaller groups.

We arrived at Crex Meadows in the early afternoon on a cloudy Monday. After getting settled at the motel, we headed out to the Wildlife Area. I decided to photograph the Sandhill Cranes as they headed back into the refuge that evening from the north end of the refuge. As was predicted, about an hour before sunset, the Cranes started to filter back into the refuge after feeding in the surrounding fields.

Please remember to click on the images to enlarge them and see them in better detail.

The Sandhill Cranes continued to feed in the fields at the north end of
the refuge.

A couple of deer decided to leave the refuge area as the Cranes landed

At times, the sky was filled with the flocks of Cranes
 as the sun started to set.

A dark-eyed Junco settled in a nearby in a scrub Oak tree.
The next morning we were up before sunrise and positioned on the Main Dike Road on the south end of the refuge. The sounds of the trumpeting Cranes mixed with the staccato quacking of the ducks filled the morning air.
The Cranes were stretching and dancing around in the dim morning light.
The dim lighting conditions allowed me to shoot at a slow shutter speed
to capture this flying Sandhill Crane against a blurred background.
As it grew lighter, I was able to photograph these Cranes sharing the
refuge with some Wood Ducks.
On Tuesday the sun was out and we were able to enjoy some of the fall
colors before they disappeared.
A small group of Sandhill Cranes dropping into the refuge Tuesday evening.
A Fox Sparrow landed on the roadside nearby. Not sure on the ID.
After hearing the sounds of a large group of Sandhill Cranes for
 several minutes, we were plesantly surprised by this huge flock
of Cranes that were on the west side of the refuge.
It looked like a large flock of Blackbirds.
Pam was a great help in spotting the Cranes for me as they came
into the refuge Tuesday evening.
We were blessed with a wonderful sunset on Tuesday evening.
I shot this Panorama on Tuesday morning. It is comprised of 5 seperate images. 
Panorama of the refuge from the Main Dike Road. Click on the link
below for an interactive virtual panorama



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