Yesterday on my way back from Natureworks in Tulsa, Oklahoma, I had a chance to swing by the Platte River in Nebraska. I took exit 305 from Interstate 80 in search of Sandhill cranes. I found them, boy did I find them. In about 3 hours, I probably saw close to 20,000. There are numerous guided tours of the area both near sunset and sunrise, but I have found that driving the country roads enables me to see them without feeling rushed.
The sky was overcast with patches of dense ground fog. Images of the cranes appeared and disappeared in the mist. At first I was disappointed I didn't have sun and the accompanying shadows. The first time I saw them I had beautiful sunshine and clear skies. The second time it was overcast and a bit too early in the season. It was now a good week later in March and The Sandhill Cranes were Dancing! Everywhere they were leaping into the air and throwing patches of grass in wonderful mating displays. Then I realized this was perfect! The atmosphere made the encounter even more magical. The lost edges of the birds in the fog, the frenzied dancing, the subdued lighting will make a unique painting. I even have the title. (You'll have to wait for the finished piece to find out what it is.)
I took lots of reference photos, but I did something even more important. I listened and watched. Pulled off the side of the road, driver and passenger windows down, I listened to the crane's ancient call. The variation in the different vocalizations. And I watched them dance. It seemed they leapt more than their full height, often kicking out at such an extreme angle leaving me momentarily wondering if their legs would get back under their body in time. They always did. The grass toss was fascinating to watch. Large clumps of vegetation would be thrown into the air along with the leaping. Often the clump would be thrown backwards over the crane's head.
An encounter like this I find even more inspiring because I put down the camera and took those moments to listen to their calls and watch a dance which has been repeated for well over 2 million years.