An Unsuccessful Morning……..Or Was It?

A mama raccoon teaches her young how to forage a wetland for invertebrates.

Every time I visit B.K. Leach Conservation Area I see sandhill cranes, regardless of the time of year. Unfortunately, I always see them from afar as they fly by, out of range of whatever hide I have selected for the morning. This week, I decided to make a concerted effort to photograph them, even though they typically roost deep in the middle of the area, as far away from any roads or parking lots as you can get. My inspiration came from the local conservation agent, Kevin Eulinger, who spotted them going to roost one evening a few weeks ago near a small wetland about a mile and a half from the nearest parking option. I had seen them get up in the morning from the same general area many times but I had never pin-pointed the location as Kevin had. I thanked him for the heads-up and told him I would investigate upon my return from Colorado.

Earlier this week I set up a scouting trip to find the wetland where Kevin had spotted the cranes and evaluate its suitability for a hide. Would I need waders or just Muck boots? Would I need a portable chair for deep water or would my turkey chair suffice? Would I be able to find the spot in the dark without disturbing and/or flushing the cranes? All of those questions needed answers so I headed out Tuesday morning with my friend, Lynn Schrader, and his pup, “Baloo,” to do some reconnoitering. I didn’t even take my camera! Man, it felt good to just enjoy a great morning walk with only a pair of binoculars around my neck.

Lynn and I followed Kevin’s directions and found the spot without too much trouble. We didn’t expect to see the cranes when we closed in on the location well after sunrise but we were both surprised to see three of them fly by from about a half-mile away. It was obvious that the cranes hadn’t used our “spot” to roost the previous evening but we weren’t surprised. Kevin was correct when he said it would be “a long shot.”

Upon arrival, I waded the area in my Muck boots and was happy to see that I wouldn’t need waders for the long walk in. I found a good hiding spot in some tall cattails and decided that on “go day” I would have to take a route that approached from the east to minimize the possibility of flushing the cranes if they just happened to be at the wetland. After dropping a pin with my iPhone, we left with confidence that I could return in pitch dark to the same spot. By the time we got back to the 4Runner we had walked five miles, which was a little bit of a pain in Muck boots.

This morning it was showtime and I departed at 2:45 A.M. with a thermos of coffee and high hopes. When I arrived at the area it was just plain dark with no help from the moon. I gathered my gear and set off toward the site, flashlight in hand to avoid stepping in any holes that could ruin my day. It wasn’t long before I saw something light-colored along the levee right in front of me. It turned out to be a ‘possum, standing in the middle of the levee staring at me. I walked up and said, “Hi Mr. Possum,” but it just kept staring at me, almost playing dead while standing erect. I thought to myself that an early sighting of any critter made for a good start.

As I neared the point where I would have to begin bushwhacking through the cattails, something I wasn’t looking forward to, I stopped to check my GPS. I dropped my tripod/camera rig to the ground and walked about three steps away from it. After looking at my phone, I heard a rustling in the cattails adjacent to the levee. It was still dark but I could barely make out a skunk standing right next to my tripod. Its tail was fully erect in the “don’t mess with me” position. I couldn’t waste any time so I walked slowly toward the skunk to retrieve my gear, talking nicely to my new friend as I approached. When I finally made it to the tripod, the skunk hadn’t moved an inch. It was almost touching my tripod leg, still in a defensive posture. I reached to grab the tripod from as far away as my arms could stretch and snatched it up as deliberately as possible without making things worse. By the time I had it back on my shoulder the skunk was still standing its ground. It felt good to say goodbye to my second critter of the morning.

A little farther down the levee, I began my trek through the cattails and when I finally broke out into the wetland I saw a lump out in the shallow water. It was still too dark to make out what I was seeing and I had already returned my flashlight to my shoulder bag. The lump didn’t really look like a goose, or a sandhill crane for that matter, but it had to be something like that. I dropped my tripod and peered through my lens in the dim light and was surprised to see a mama raccoon with four young all clumped together in the water. It was way too early for a shot.

As I walked a little farther to my hide, the raccoons high-tailed it into the cattails. I was a little bummed that I wasn’t able to get a shot of the family, especially because I could already sense that the sandhill cranes were not around.

I settled in my hide in the clump of cattails, all covered with cut-leaf camo, boots in about shin deep water. Within minutes, I watched as a mink hopped along the bank right across from me, well within range. Unfortunately, it was still too dark for an image, especially of a mink on the move. Darn!

Just as the sun finally made its appearance I heard a noise behind me. I turned to see the same mama raccoon with her young back out in the middle of the wetland. She was teaching the babies how to feel the bottom for invertebrates. I carefully lifted my tripod and situated it about 180 degrees from its previous position so I could photograph the raccoon family. I would be shooting right into the rising sun but I had to try. I also made a short video of the mama teaching her teenagers how to forage. It’s nothing fancy but you can see it on my public Facebook page, Nature Frames.

Mama raccoon with three of her four teenagers.

It wasn’t long before mama became wise to my ways and the gang split for the cattails again. I swung my camera set-up back around and settled in for some sunrise action. Just as I began dozing, I heard the familiar and thunderous call of sandhill cranes. Unfortunately, they were about a mile behind me along the Mississippi River. Crap!

I sat in my chair in the water for a couple more hours, watching for the return of the mink or maybe a whitetail doe with a fawn. It turned out to be pretty dead during that time so I finally pulled up stakes when the sun became unruly. The walk back to the 4Runner was hot, dry, and too bright for an image, even if something jumped up in front of me. My friend Dave Mayers calls the walk back to the truck after a good hunt, the “Death March.” I think he has a point.

Later, after I had loaded my gear and shed my sweaty Muck boots, I reflected on the events of the morning, including my failure to photograph the sandhill cranes. I had seen a ‘possum, a mink, a skunk, several deer, two species of shorebirds, and a family of raccoons. It was then that I determined the morning to be a success…..but I’m prone to rationalization.

Thanks for looking,

DB

Email: Natureframes@Rocketmail.Com

Website:  https://dannybrown.smugmug.com

America is beautiful. I vote to keep it that way.

 

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