It’s All About the Sandhill Cranes

Back to being a CRANIAC!

Off to another pair of sandhill cranes which I have observed earlier this year.  This is a pair of repeat nesters in a local preserve in south Florida.  During February I observed them as they appeared to be tending to a nest in the wetlands.  I could only hope that I was correct in my guess, since if there was a nest, it was fairly well hidden in the marshy landscape._DSC4875-2Sure enough … I visited one early morning, unaware of any new arrivals, and was pleasantly surprised to see the proud parents tending to a newly hatched sandhill crane colt.  I was quite excited._DSC8354-2This adorable little colt was actually about 3 days old when I first found it and almost immediately it begins to follow its mom and dad all over the wetlands, staying close by for protection, and of course, for a readily available source of food …provided by the parents._DSC8574-2When mom and dad are busy foraging for tasty morsels, they often hide the young colt in the brush near them.  Instinctively the young colt knows that it must remain there until called for._DSC8621-2Once it knows that the coast is clear and the parents are summoning it, the colt emerges from the grasses and heads up the embankment towards them (and me)._DSC8636-2It’s so fun to observe them as they “high step” through its version of the jungle on there way.  Sometimes, their proportionately large feet get tangled up in the grasses and vegetation and over they go.  To the casual observer, it’s quite entertaining.  To them, they just learn to go with the flow._DSC8639-2When they’re not making their way through the brush, they have to navigate through the thick, sticky muck, which makes it hard to get around.  Often, in their struggle, their still developing wings come into play to help them in their balancing._DSC8879-2This young one reminds me of when I’m in super strong winds and have to lean into the wind to make progress.  On this day though, it was probably more like .. whoops, I almost fell over.  LOL_DSC8919-2This little colt had a younger sibling that I wasn’t even aware of until the parents finally coaxed it into making the treacherous journey from the nest to where they were feeding, under one of the parents watchful eye of course.  The older colt, 1 day older and wiser in its navigation, watches as its younger sibling gets really muddy from the muck-filled waters._DSC9214-2Once on a bit harder surface of muck, the colts sink less, while the parents sink a bit being heavier.  No problems for them though and the walk is fruitful with lots of bugs and small aquatic life being plucked out of the muck._DSC0064-2Fat juicy worms seemed to be the favorite of this colt.  Sometimes refusing harder shelled insects, they would run when the parent offered up this worm delicacy._DSC0215-2They would patiently wait for the mom or dad to mash it up a bit and get it to the proper placement in their beak before offering it up to the young._DSC9820-2Often, the colt would grab it, but then drop it.  They are still learning how to eat and manipulate their food after all.  Such patience by the parents was observed as they would offer the prize over and over, until consumed._DSC9838-2Now with two of them competing for food, there always seemed to be some sibling rivalry going on.  One would expect that the older colt would pick on the younger one, since it had the size advantage.  No harm was ever done to its sibling though._DSC9955-2Just loved it when this young one turned and gave us its own version of the “vogue” look.  LOL_DSC0023-2Being low to the landscape, they often were a bit dirty with muck and cling-ons from the grasses.  I think that made them look even cuter!_DSC0034-2What was quite interesting to me was how often the little colt was actually the aggressor.  I guess it learned quickly how to stick up for itself.  _DSC9573-2While out there photographing the sandhill cranes, there were of course other birds living within the sanctuary.  Such was the case of this great blue heron, who was quite the fisherman too.  Oh, not just fish on this ones diet either … snakes, frogs, turtles … you name it.

It was so fascinating to see this heron catch 3 snakes in a row.  This beautiful snake (which is actually hard for me to say, seeing I’m not a big fan of snakes, but even I have to admit to its beauty) tried its best to not be taken, as it wrapped itself around the bill of the heron and even tried to double back at the heron so that it could bite it._DSC0234-2Another snake, which was already bitten in half at this point, tried desperately to wrap itself around the entire head of the heron in an attempt to not become the herons dinner._DSC0297-2_DSC0304-2Didn’t seem to be effective though, as one by one, they all succumbed to the same fate.  Down the hatch they all went.  Gross, if you ask me.  I imagined that those snake were wiggling around even after being swallowed!_DSC0346-2The next day, I returned to the sandhill cranes and their beautiful colts.  From pre-dawn, they were already out and about … babies staying close to the parents._DSC0463-2Yes, they were still getting muddy and wet as they navigated through the muck, but they sure looked beautiful when they rested on the grasses and weeds._DSC0559-2Still the smaller colt of the two kept the larger one in line.  🙂_DSC0593-2Well, look at what mom (or dad, can’t remember which) is catching for us now … a frog!_DSC0733-2After being mushed quite a bit in the beak of the adult, the frog was finally ready for the offering.  To my surprise, the younger colt took center stage for this treat._DSC0747-2While its sibling looked on, the tiny colt tugged and tore bits of the frog.  Quite the tasty breakfast._DSC0756-2These adorable colts seemed to be always pushing each others buttons and asking for a “fight” or at least a confrontation between them.  Of course, I didn’t want to see anything mean like birds are so notorious for, but it was fun to anticipate their actions and playful interactions._DSC0696-2Over time, they got used to each other and became quite great friends.  I have a tendency to squeal with delight when photographing such cuties and these early days in the lives of these young colts were no exception.  No worries, more images and stories about these cuties to come in a future blog post, so stay tuned.  🙂_DSC0963-2Next up:  How about some natural rookery action?  Courtship, mating, nest tending, and rearing of the young ones featured.

© 2016  Debbie Tubridy / TNWA Photography

http://www.tnwaphotography.com

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