Saturday, January 21, 2012

Sandhill Crane Sketches

I have been having a great time lately, pursuing the many interesting birds that have been sighted near my home. So far this year I have already seen 45 different species, many of them within minutes of where I live. First there was the Snowy owl obsession, then there was a Gyr falcon (which I still haven't seen) and now there is a Sandhill crane visiting Swallows Park which is just a few blocks from me. While Sandhill cranes are not totally uncommon for Washington, they are rarely seen in Clarkston, so when this bird was first sighted you can bet I was on my way to the park with camera in hand to see it for myself.

So far this year this crane seems to be my good luck bird. I have been able to locate it most mornings when I go for my walk. It hangs out on a small island with a bunch of Canada geese and seems to come and go with them. I have been taking numerous photographs (thank God for digital!) and have begun making sketches of the various poses I've been able to capture with the intention of creating a painting at some point.
Sandhill Crane Watercolor Sketch

 Whenever I see a new bird I try to do some research and learn more about it. Sandhill cranes are fascinating in many ways. I learned that they are an old species in that there are fossil records showing that they have not changed in millions of years. Their tertial feathers droop over their rump and form a sort of "bustle". The coolest thing about them is that they dance. They have an elaborate courtship display that includes bowing and leaping into the air. The bird at my park gave a bit of a demonstration one day to my surprise and delight. Though it wasn't displaying to a potential mate the "dance" was every bit as exciting to witness. It was being harassed by some gulls and began leaping into the air after them, fluffing out it's feathers and trying to make itself as threatening looking as possible. Interesting how many of the poses resembled those of their mating dance!

Many people are in love with this bird species and folks flock to Sandhill crane festivals around the country during times of migration to witness the spectacle of the cranes doing their mating dances. I'm hoping to find one near me this spring, but in the mean time I will enjoy the antics of the one in my park. If you'd like to see more of my Sandhill crane photos you can visit my Flickr site, www.flickr.com/photos/ctemple/.

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