April 3-4, 2021
Spring in Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is known for thousands of migratory birds moving through, including sandhill cranes, tundra swans, northern pintails and snow, Ross’s and Canada geese. Bill and my favorite destination in the spring is costal Oregon and conveniently, Malheur is on the way. The highlight of our Malheur day was the thousands of birds feeding in flooded meadows outside the town of Burns before we even made it to the refuge. In fact, it was so amazing we went back to the fields for seconds the next morning before heading to the coast.
A Blizzard of Snow Geese
There are not words to describe how amazing this experience was to me! Bill and I noticed a field of white moving in the predawn light and pulled the truck to the side of the road. The flooded fields were covered with white geese chattering and moving about. Occasionally, a few geese would fly in or out and we would get a picture. After a few minutes of observing and photographing, the sound of the chatter slowly rose to a roar and all the geese took off as one. You could feel the ground rumble and the pressure change and it was astonishing.
The next morning, we decided to come back just to see if we could catch lift-off again. This time the geese were in the field across the street with the sun in front of us instead of at our back, all the makings for the picture I was dreaming of getting when they lifted off.
Cow Patty Courtship of the Cranes
The Sandhill Cranes are flamboyant dancers. They have a dance for just about every occasion and the mating dances are plentiful. Here is a great resource if you want to learn your sandhill crane dance moves. I noticed a sandhill crane pick up and fling something at his partner and then do a series of dance moves. I could have sworn he had thrown a cow patty at his mate. Later, I got a chance to ask a park ranger about this activity, she confirmed it was a cow patty. It turns out that sandhill cranes impress their mates by flinging cow patties. Throwing cow patties in the air loosens the bugs for eating. He was not only proving he had the moves but giving his girl a tasty treat as well. Cow patties…. the box of chocolates of the crane world.
Photography Notes: I shot with my Canon EOS R and my EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L lens. I hand held or shot out the car window. Bill shot the video. He was able to hand hold this at 100mm because of the new IBIS in camera stabilization feature of the Canon EOS R5.