Sandhill Cranes

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Sandhill Cranes ~ Nikon D850 with 200-500mm f5.6 VR ED on tripod ~ 1/3200 f/7.1 ISO 1600

December 29, 2019 ~ Sandhill Cranes winter in the open fields of the Gulf Coast, but in all my 40 years in Texas, I’d never seen them. So, following a tip from Linda Murdock, fellow bird watcher, I headed to Galveston to see if I could locate them. I found them along the north side of Stewart Road, between 7 1/2 Mile Road and 8 Mile Road.

I first spotted a group of six birds more than 1/4 mile away, foraging along a row of scrubby cedars. I’d been advised to look for “gray rounded humps”, but I swear what I actually saw looked like sheep! These were too far away for me to photograph, so I slowly rolled my car down Stewart Road, keeping an eye out for more birds, and I found some closer to the road. Well, closer is relative.


The birds were approximately 1/4 mile away, and my 500mm struggled to bring them into view, so I had to use a fairly substantial crop. Photoshop let me tilt the crop window just a smidgen to compensate for the uneven ground where I planted my tripod beside the road.

The birds were working busily along the sides of the waterway in a postponed bay-access housing development. Typically, one would stay on the lookout, while the others foraged. They moved with slow deliberate steps, so they were fairly easy to follow.

Typically, I like to use a very low f-stop to keep the depth of field shallow, blurring out the raggedy backgrounds, but these birds were so large, that I needed f7.1 to keep the whole bird in focus.

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Sandhill Crane eyeing me ~ Nikon D850 with 200-500mm f5.6 VR ED on tripod ~ 1/3200 f/7.1 ISO 1600

This was an overcast day, with winds around 10mph, so I needed a fast shutter speed; you can see that 1/3200 was not fast enough to give crisp definition to his feathers. But, even ruffled, when he stands and fixes you with that bright orange eye, he is magnificent.

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