The day started out with such promise. It was still raining but was supposed to break soon. I love trying to capture images on stormy days – at least when the camera is not getting wet. This evening we were going to see part of the annual migration of the Sandhill Cranes at the Pixley National Wildlife Refuge. In my mind I was looking for a beautiful sunset after the storm, images of the cranes filling my lens and really hoping for a combination of the two.
As predicted, the storm passed and the partly cloudy skies over Visalia and the Sierras looked awesome for an evening of photography. Excitement is building. Rush home from work, grab the camera gear, don’t forget the Wife and off we go.
Alas, the dream image was not to be had this evening. Far from it. The crisp clear skies with well defined clouds turned hazy (like getting ready for fog tomorrow). And the flocks of birds decided to spend their day foraging to the north and west of the marshlands. When they returned in mass, it was not only not over us, it was not even near us. I don’t own lenses that big to reach that far.
So what you see in images are going to be deleted but they still tell a story and that is what the rest of this post is about. And I plan to return because the promise of great images is still there.
I had never been here before so I was surprised that this was more a grasslands habitat than marshes with trees. Of course, if I had read their website first, I would have known better.
The Pixley biologist said the number of Cranes was presently around 3,000 and by January peaks around 7,000. They usually arrive right about sunset which already created an issue to photograph them. Moving objects in darkness is bound to be blurred.
As we awaited the main event, we saw flocks of Seagulls arriving from wherever they were scavenging their food. I have seen them in large numbers around the county dumps.
For me the most fascinating part of the evening was seeing the thousands of White-faced Ibis arriving. Still images can not capture the gracefulness of the swarms as they swooped, swirled and dove. Some huge swarms would be swirling around and upon some hidden signal suddenly drop out of the sky to earth and disappear – all of them at once! Again, they were too far away for detail image capture.
As dark was settling in, the Sandhill Cranes started to arrive by the hundreds at a time. You could actually hear them before you could see them. They are a raucous bunch. Unfortunately most were coming from the far side of the Refuge (north and west) and landing on the far side too. None flew from the south over our observation platform. Here are a few images from those that flew the closest.
There are more images and video clips in my gallery here: http://www.creatorspalette.com/California/Tulare-County/Pixley-National-Wildlife/
Why So Far Away?
Apparently the record rains last December flooded the Preserve and one of the retaining levies closest to this observation platform failed. It was only repaired a few weeks ago when the water was lowest and thus this corner has the least water right now. So the water fowl have settled into the further reaches of the wetlands making it the disappointment we had this visit. Our main hope for good images was to have the Cranes fly overhead since they would not be settling in close by. By next winter, assuming an average rain year, all should be back to normal.
My friend, Tim Scott (an extraordinary photographer), captured this image a few years ago which helps motivate me to return.
I’ll be back.