Sometimes it’s nice to get away … to see something or do something different … and that’s how this weekend started. We decided to venture up to northern Florida and meet up with my daughter and son-in-law. Of course, I did my research before I left and knew that the sandhill cranes were migrating through in numbers and hoped that they would be keeping company with another less frequent, but much loved, visitor.
So off I went in search of the sandhill cranes and sure enough … there he was … Whooping crane #9-13. At this time, he was a 21-month old male on migration from WI. Whooping cranes, Grus Americana, are an icon for endangered species everywhere and one of only 2 cranes that call North America home. As recently as the1940s, there were only ~15 in existence! Their decline in numbers were a result of habitat loss and over-hunting. In 1967, they were placed on the Endangered Species list and through the work of many, including Operation Migration, they are making progress!
This guy made his 2nd trip down to Florida and was hanging out amongst his cousin sandhill cranes in Alachua County.
Their diet consists of plants, seeds, grains, small fish, frogs, snakes, and insects.
Operation Migration assists in the migratory process of the cranes first migration and the banding of them with transmitters to track their whereabouts. Each crane adorns its own branding of “jewelry” which provide that identification.
Probably my favorite image I got while visiting up there was this one. Reminds me of “hanging out with the gang at the water cooler”. 🙂
It’s quite remarkable how well they get along with the sandhill cranes.
Most times that I’ve been fortunate enough to photograph whooping cranes, they have been from an incredibly far distance, with the Florida heat radiating in waves from the hot earth. This sighting was different … so close I could have a conversation with it (who knows … maybe I did … LOL).
Whooping cranes are the largest birds in North America and quite a bit bigger than their sandhill crane cousins. They stand about 5′ tall, with a wingspan of greater than 7′, while the sandhills stand about 4′ tall.
This was my buddy who I met while photographing the cranes. He/she carried on quite a conversation of their own with me. ~ MOOOOOO ~
After doing some chores up in the area, we set off for another favorite location of mine … Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, just outside of Gainesville. Usually we head out, walk the trails, see many species of birds, some snakes, lots of alligators, and maybe get a peek at distant horses or a bison or two.
On this day though, out of seemingly nowhere, we encountered a lone bison who was determined to share the trail with us. 🙂
Being how it was too late to back out, we decided to respectfully stay put and let him show us which direction he wanted to venture in. Of course, I was at that point thankful that I was carrying the landscape lens, as this was no situation for a long lens. In the image below, if Tom were to have tried to retreat, he would have gone into the alligator-infested waters (oh my!). LOL.
After being quite indecisive about where the bison wanted to go, it finally decided that it would pass us, but not before we alerted other unsuspecting hikers heading its way. They were sure glad that we did too.
Grazing along the way … we finally parted ways.
At that point, we decided to leave before it decided to come back in our direction. Tom, aka “eagle eyes” spotted a lovely Wilson’s snipe resting in the wetlands along the trail. Gosh, they are so beautiful.
As we approached the sinkhole, we also came across a wonderful tri-colored heron just beginning to come into its colors. All in all, it was a great getaway weekend and well worth the trip. It’s not often that you can spend the morning with whooping cranes and in the afternoon share the trail with a bison … in Florida! 🙂
Note: For anyone that might be wondering … Whooping crane #9-13 completed his return migration to the north on April 22 (appropriately Earth Day) … another successful migration! Yay!
Stay tuned for more “time away from home” in Florida.
© 2015 Debbie Tubridy / TNWA Photography