While lots of others were just arriving home in the wee hours of Friday morning after a night of shopping, Kim and I pulled out of our driveway just before 4:30 am. on a mission of our own.
Driving under the light of the gorgeous full moon north for 3 hours to witness one of Indiana's few wildlife spectacles: the migrating sandhill crane convergence in Jasper-Pulaski Wildlife Refuge.
Out in the middle of nowhere Indiana...
We arrived at the perfect time, just as the moon was getting ready to set and the sun had not yet broken the eastern horizon.
It was a frosty 30-degree morning, and we were not the first to arrive at the observation deck.
All eyes were on the forest marshes in the west where somewhere in the neighborhood of 27,000 sandhill cranes had been roosting and would be stretching their wings with the first morning light.
I know I'm weird...this is the kind of stuff that excites me!
Sandhill cranes make a very distinct honking sound, sort of like a goose but different. And we could hear the honking beginning in the distance, the sound of thousands of cranes awakening.
Since I don't own a $15,000 zoom lens for my Nikon to provide photographic proof, you'll just have to trust me when I say that hovering just above the distant treetops literally THOUSANDS of sandhill cranes were beginning to stretch their wings after a long cold Indiana night. Kim could see it clearly through his binoculars. AMAZING!!!
And then, slowly they began to group together and fly southward.
Indiana DNR diagram
This wildlife refuge is a stop-over for sandhills migrating between their summer breeding grounds in upper midwestern states and southern Canada and their wintering spots in Georgia and Florida. The cranes stop for a few days to rest and eat before continuing on their long semi-annual trek. The fall migration numbers in Indiana peak mid-November to early December, with Thanksgiving weekend being one of the best times to see the huge noisy flocks.
A group of a couple of hundred landed in the field in front of us, but again too far away to get a very good photo.
Most were flying south, either to stop in a nice field to find some breakfast or to continue on their journey. Like my man, these birds don't backtrack...and who can blame them??? That's a long trip even in a car, let alone on wing!
You can see those tiny black spots all along the treetops...each one is a sandhill crane and most are bugling loudly. The sound itself was amazing, as sandhill cranes calls can be heard for 2 miles!
...providing gorgeous golden light for photographing the birds!
I love this photo...the one at the top of the frame is hollering at the others, who are focused ahead and probably wish he'd just shut up. There's always that one in every group....
Occasionally we'd see the rogue group flying the other direction. Maybe they don't like the big crowds...
Amazing how quickly thousands of huge birds can disperse, but after 45 minutes the sandhill crane show was basically over.
We walked back to our car...
...thanking God for wowing us once again with His incredible creation!
As we were leaving the area, we saw several fields with groups of sandhills in them, foraging for food.
Now that's my kind of Black Friday...
Sandhills at sunrise.