Images and Story by Mike Endres
Aldo Leopold once said, “When we hear his call we hear no mere bird. We hear the trumpet in the orchestra of evolution.”
Cranes are among the most graceful and symbolic birds known to man. That they’ve been around for some 10 million years is a testament to their hardiness in the face of numerous geological events that have challenged or even lead to the demise of other, perhaps lesser, genera. Found on every continent in the world, with the exception of Antarctica and South America, the 15 species are frequently incorporated into local culture and mythology as they help humans better understand their connectedness to the natural world around them.
What other species has compelled a grown man to move in with and perform a “mating dance” in order to arouse an otherwise reluctant female Whooping Crane, Tex, into breeding? Dr. George Archibald’s early and insightful work with Cranes through the International Crane Foundation has lead to significant understanding of their behaviors and what it takes to sustain viable and genetically diverse populations of all Crane species.
Living in Colorado I’m lucky to be relatively close to two large populations of Sandhill Cranes that provide me with the opportunity for viewing and photographing these magnificent birds as they stage on their north-bound flights in early spring or where they winter over. These locations are the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge in south-central Colorado and the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in central New Mexico respectively. For good Whooping Crane viewing one must travel to the Texas coast near Aransas NWR where these birds spend the winter. Numerous boat tours can be found in and around Rockport, TX. I’ve noticed over the last decade or so that more and more Whoopers are being found outside the Refuge in fields as they look for food. The severe drought over the past 10 years in this region has likely diminished their standard food source, the blue crab and clams, as wetlands dry up. After considerable legal effort on the part of the Aransas Project a recent ruling by a U.S. District court in Texas will finally begin to help ensure that sufficient water is available for wildlife and not diverted to watering lawns….
Equipment & Technique: I generally use either a 600mm F4 lens or a 300mm F4 coupled with a good body such as the Nikon D800 or D7100. Having the 300mm lens on the D7100 body allows me to take advantage of the digital factor and essentially have a 450mm lens without using a teleconvertor and still be able to easily handhold the setup. I have recently been using Auto ISO with a maximum ISO of 1600 and a shutter speed of 1/2000 in order to minimize movement. This gives me the shutter/f-stop combination I want while selecting the lowest possible ISO considering the available light. At other times I will choose a slower shutter speed in Aperture Priority in order to emphasize the movement of the birds. It is very important to not overlook your f-stop, especially with longer lenses. Even with a 600mm lens, which we typically think of as having minimal depth of field, there is an increase of over 8 feet in depth of field at 200 feet between f4 and f8 (8.59’ to 17.2’). Please visit www.cambridgeincolour.com/tutorials/dof-calculator.htm for additional calculations.
We’re off now to New Mexico to enjoy the sights & sounds of 13,000+ Sandhill Cranes!
See more of Mike’s work at www.mendres.photoshelter.com. To learn more about cranes, check out www.savingcranes.org, www.cranefest.org, www.friendsofthebosque.org, www.whoopingcranefestival.org, and www.alaskasandhillcrane.com