Spring has arrived in Southern Ontario and that means many bird species have returned from their winter sites to nest.

The distinctive trumpeting sound of sandhill cranes can be heard all over the area and I have been fortunate to find several pairs of them within a few minutes of my home in Cambridge, Ontario. Usually I see them foraging in farmers’ fields. 

After seeing one pair flying in and out of a marsh area a few times I started paying closer attention and, on Friday, the sight of a solitary crane flying in tipped me off to the possibility of a nest.

The crane landed in the reeds and walked slowly across them.

That’s when I spotted his mate sitting motionless on the ground. As he approached her she stood up and that’s when I could see a large egg at her feet. After moving it about with her beak she gently sat down to protect it once again.

That’s the second nest I have discovered this week.  The other, I thought, had one egg. But on a visit yesterday I saw two when the female stood up to tend to them.

On Sunday afternoon I went on a short ‘recon mission’ and spotted a great egret, two kestrels, plenty of Turkey vultures and a northern harrier all in the area between Dumfries and Paris. As I was making my way back to the sandhill crane nests to see if there was any activity I saw another pair of Sandhills in a corn field.

That’s when I remembered something the award winning National Geographic photographer, Steve Winter, told me in the Brazilian Pantanal almost seven years ago…… ‘when you find a jaguar you stick with that jaguar.’

I have applied that principle to every species ever since. What I think he meant is you should patiently observe and not be in a hurry to find something else. Yes, you might go home without an image but you might also learn something. And if luck is on your side you might capture something special.

Indeed, there are many times when other photographers have stopped when I am parked at the side of a road or standing along a riverside and, because the animal or bird is not doing anything exciting at that moment, they go looking for another subject. That’s when the bald eagle that had been perched in a tree for hours suddenly goes fishing. Or a snowy owl captures a vole. Or that bear cub comes out from behind a tree. 

This pair of cranes were eating roots and seeds from the ground slowly moving across the field. The wind was at my back. The sun was too. I knew, if I waited long enough, they would choose a place in the field where they would take off and fly away to their overnight roosting place.

The male would sometimes lean forward which can be a cue of impending flight. But his mate was too busy eating, it seemed, to pick up on that.

A couple of cars stopped at various points but it probably didn’t look very interesting watching two cranes in a bare field simply foraging.

As the sun descended the wind had changed slightly so I walked along the road to find a place where I might catch them flying past me – taking into account the wind direction. I expected them to take off into the wind.

Another element I considered was the background. Vehicles parked outside a nearby farmhouse would subtract from any possible in-flight shot. When the female had finished her meal and was paying attention, the male leaned forward and suddenly started running –  into the wind.

As he did he called out. Once again my patience was rewarded. Now, I might have missed something at one of those two nests but I am happy with this experience. 

Over the coming weeks, no doubt, there will be opportunities to enjoy these birds while keeping a distance. 



I hope you enjoyed this blog. Don’t forget my upcoming presentation: ‘Predators: Life in the Wild’ April 20th at Idea Exchange (The Old Post Office) 12 Water St. S Cambridge, Ontario.

Here is a link to register. It’s free but we want to know the numbers for seating. And, you can skip the library card bit if you don’t have one.



  1. Patricia Bruce

    Thanks again Paul for your blog on Sandhill Cranes, We go over Into the Innerkip area looking for Sandhill Cranes there is our favorite spot that is always floated in early spring we always find Sandhill Cranes there, just love there sound. Looking forward to April 20. Thanks again

    1. Paul E Gains

      Sandhill cranes are cool, eh? I like to camp up in Killarney in the fall and will often hear them flying onto nearby Manitoulin Island. Very distinctive sound. Looking forward to April 20th!

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