Selection of January 2024: Sandhill Cranes In Fog--Big Creek marsh by Larry Monczka

Sandhill Cranes In Fog--Big Creek marsh by Larry Monczka

Uncommon winter weather in Southern Ontario, Canada during 2023/4 was a major contributor to this photographic scenario. Historically, Sandhill Cranes were scarce in the Long Point area, but milder winters have resulted in their numbers reaching upwards of 6000 at our most recent local Christmas Bird Count.

With little incentive to fly south to warmer climes, Cranes have become a common sight from December through March in the agricultural fields and wetlands of Norfolk County. Add a few mornings of fog and enough rainfall to fill the marsh where they forage and conditions were set for a wonderful photographic opportunity.

With morning fog predicted, I arose before dawn and drove a half hour to the causeway between the Inner Bay of Lake Erie and the Big Creek National Wildlife Area. Repeated visits over the past month led me to believe that hundreds of cranes would be foraging in the wetlands next to the road in the cold early morning. In addition to the visual gift of dense fog which simplified the busy background, recent heavy rains had filled the marsh, covering unaesthetic vegetation and creating a still reflective surface.

Dense fog seems to calm these birds, perhaps reducing visibility and dampening noise. Being the only person around just past sunrise at around 7:20 am, I was able to photograph from my vehicle with the window down and drive the car on the shoulder of the road over a distance of around 50 meters, stopping every few yards to capture images with my 300 mm f/4 Olympus pro lens at f/5.6. The cranes were so close (5 meters) that I removed my 1.4 extender.

Dense fog and dim overcast light meant an ISO of 2000. The birds move constantly, separating from and joining the small groupings foraging in the shallow water, so compositions constantly came together and shifted. In addition, high weeds and grasses between the car and the marsh meant I was constantly searching for and looking through narrow openings for clear unobstructed views.

Post processing was straightforward. Topaz AI Denoise was used to reduce noise resulting from the high ISO. The challenge was to process the image in high key while still retaining details in the distance to suggest the vague presence of other cranes. Since the fog desaturated their already dull winter plumage, the look I was aiming for was romantic and timeless. Removing scattered debris in the water via the PS 2024 “Remove Tool” further simplified the image. 

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