Monday, August 6, 2012

Nothing Civil about Civil Daylight

That early light before the sunrise is technically called civil daylight.  Today, I was pushing off in my tiny canoe at civil daylight.  Spare me from telling you the  hour.  I silently moved down a channel.  Numerous carp exploded in the shallow water as I approached. A pair of raccoons looked up as I slipped past.

Six days before, I had seen three Sandhill Cranes as my canoe rounded a bend to the spot seen below. They are fairly unusual and surprisingly large.  Their wingspan of 77 inches exceeds the Great Blue Heron by 5 inches.  So, I began to plot my approach.

I figured I'd have the best chance to photograph  the cranes if I was there before they left the roost to feed. So, at sunrise, I was settled on a muddy bank with full camouflage and my big lens.  All I heard were Marsh Sparrows and a few Great Blue Herons.  Then my first visitor arrived at a nearby perch, and stayed for about an hour.  Belted Kingfishers have proven to be very skittish, so I relished the time to watch and photograph it.

This guy was always active, watching the many possible places for prey, and sometimes becoming vocal.

While some birders are satisfied to see a bird and move on to find the next one, I am happy  to sit and observe behaviors.   I would have become impatient waiting for the cranes without this action. 

I really wanted to capture the Belted Kingfisher in flight.  I began to wonder if the feathers on the bird's nap became more erect as it saw possible prey. It would be a good key to prepare for that millisecond when it begins.  The photographer must be very fast to capture a bird as it leaves the perch.

Well, anyway, with time the bird did sight something down below and I was extremely lucky that it happened in full sunlight.

Off it hurled into the pickerel weeds below.  I honestly don't know if it succeeded because it disappeared and did not return.

It was time to remind myself of the reason for such an early wake up.  I had to keep alert for the Sandhill Cranes.

After a lull, I caught sight of a crane flying into an opening some 200 yards away. It went out of sight quickly.  I wanted more, but would have to be patient.

After a long wait, a pair of adult Sandhill Cranes came into the pickerel weeds some 100 yards away. As a measure of their size, their weight is about twice that of  a Great Blue Heron.

The cranes teased me for well over an hour.  I vainly hoped they would feed across the dried out marsh towards me. Their location last week would have put them withing 30 yards of me.    It did not happen. 

But there was one more  treat in store for me.   Another elusive marsh bird is the Green Heron.  As I waited for the cranes to reappear, I realized that the tree where I saw the Kingfisher now had a Green Heron in it.

They are diminutive compared to other common herons, being only 18 inches long.  I've found them to be solitary and secretive.  You can imagine how the striped breast would blend in among the reeds and cattails.  Watching one up close is a treat. You see above a hint of the namesake deep green on its crest.

I don't know what prompted the display above. They can be quite vocal at times too.

So that concludes my day's results.  The cranes never returned.  Barring a huge rainfall, I'll not be able to get into this location until next spring.  It was so shallow that the canoe dragged in the mud for some 150 yards of the channel, and I was regularly running over the backs of carp that are concentrated in the few remaining pools in the marsh.

The outing was fruitful, but I still think that there is nothing civil about starting the paddle at civil daylight when it is 5:30 am.

Paul Schmitt

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