Thursday, May 13, 2010

March 2010 - Coloradoan Xplore Column

March and April are great months on the wildlife photography front with bird life subjects being my first choice to observe and make photographs. Locally, I’d start with the ponds on our open space areas around town. As ice pulls back from the shoreline waterfowl are filling in the edges as they pair up and begin building nests. The easy access and their tolerance of human traffic make them pretty friendly targets for a camera.

A little south of Ft. Collins at St. Vrain State Park (exit 240 on I-25) is one of the largest Blue Heron rookeries in the state. The rookery is to the west of the park and on private property. While the location doesn’t permit close quarter shooting there is a lot of activity which brings other photographic opportunities from this normally shy subject.

For those interested or willing to drive a bit further, Sand Hill cranes would top my list. The Sand Hill migration is an epic journey. Beginning on the gulf coast many of these birds travel as far as Siberia to nest. A documentary image of the journey alone might be enough, however, Sand Hills are gorgeous and entertaining subjects . They stand nearly three feet tall, their bodies are light gray with rust colored highlights, white cheeks and a deep red patch on their forehead. They congregate in our part of the country to pick waste grain from fields and put on necessary pounds to complete the spring migration. It's during this stop that they are available for the photographer. During the day they forage in fields and perform their mating dance. It’s a spectacular show as birds toss sticks in the air, bow to one another, hop, and leap into the air with outstretched wings. Portrait and action shots abound throughout the day. It’s best to photograph from or near your vehicle. Walking into a field or trying to approach on foot is wasted effort. As evening approaches they return to river bottoms. An endless stream of birds glide, parachute, and roll from the sky as they roost for the night. In the morning, they begin walking upstream concentrating in numbers just prior to taking flight in mass. Sand Hills are graceful, deliberate flyers making it relatively easy to capture aerial shots. Add in the possibility of spectacular light from sunrises and sunsets and you have the ingredients for some dramatic images. Sand Hills do show up randomly around Ft. Collins. But for the best experience you‘ll need to drive a bit. The Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge is a little over 4 hours from Ft. Collins. As many as 20,000 cranes visit this area. For area lodging and current bird counts visit for the most up to date information. Around six hours from Ft Collins you can find yourself at the Rowe Sanctuary in Kearney, Nebraska. This is ground zero for the migration. In some years as many as 400,000 cranes visit this stretch of the Platte River. Visit to get information and make reservations for blinds or tours.

Winter was a real grind this year. The season of frozen fingers is finally drawing to a close. Enjoy the re-emergence of spring. Whether viewing or photographing bird life, it’s a great time to get outside with your camera.

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