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Little Tuna Meets the Colt

A story about feeding the baby

By PhocalPublished 10 months ago 13 min read
Top Story - June 2023
I do hope this video brings a bit of joy to your day

I recently moved back to Michigan after being gone since childhood. I asked in a few Facebook groups about good places around me to photograph herons/egrets/bitterns. One place highly recommended was Kensington Metropark, so off I went.

My first visit was short, but I did manage to locate a pair of Sandhill Cranes and their colt (baby Sandhills are called colts) nesting in some thick vegetation along the lake. I could only capture a few photographs of the male preening while standing guard. His mate and colt were lying down in the grass.

Olympus OMD EM1X w/ Olympus ZD 50-200 SWD - ISO 200, 1/800 @ ƒ3.5, -3/4 EV, handheld, small crop to tighten up composition

While watching him, I discovered why the female and colt were lying in the grass. They could avoid the Red-Wing Blackbirds nesting in the area by lying down. The blackbirds were unhappy about the larger birds being in their territory.

Olympus OMD EM1X w/ Olympus ZD 50-200 SWD - ISO 200, 1/1250 @ ƒ3.3, -1 EV, handheld, no crop

Olympus OMD EM1X w/ Olympus ZD 50-200 SWD - ISO 1000, 1/4000 @ ƒ3.5, -1 EV, handheld, small crop to tighten up composition

The female would stand up occasionally but, for the most part, stayed lying down in the vegetation. She wasn't pleased with the blackbirds and their relentless dive bombing. The light faded as the sun set behind the trees, so I headed home.

It was a couple of days before I could return to photograph the Sandhills and their colt. When I arrived, they were nowhere to be found. I knew they couldn't have gone far since the colt could not fly. I finally spotted one of them about 50 yards down the bank. As I stood there watching it hunt, I noticed the other one moving out from the thick vegetation along the edge of the lake, but I could still not see the colt.

I knew the trail ran along the lake's edge, so I slowly moved down the path. It took me only a short time to reach where they were on the other side of the thick vegetation between the trail and the lake. My next obstacle was getting clear photographs of them, and I was still looking for the colt.

There were about 10 feet of very thick vegetation between the trail and the lake. I spotted a faint game trail through the foliage down from where they were. It took me 20 minutes to carefully move through the weeds, making as little noise as possible. Anytime one of them picked its head up from foraging, I would freeze, sometimes with one foot in the air and hoping I didn't lose my balance as I waited for them to return to foraging.

When I finally reached the lake's edge, they were foraging 20 or 30 feet away. I watched and photographed them for 15 minutes while looking for the colt. I didn't get any great photos until they decided to answer the calls from other cranes around the lake.

Olympus OMD EM1X w/ Olympus ZD 150mm ƒ2.0 - ISO 2000, 1/1600 @ ƒ2.0, handheld, no crop.

Now is an excellent time to explain the title of this story. When I first visited the park, I debated which lenses to bring. I am still waiting for my household goods to arrive, so I don't have my main camera bag. All I have with me is a small bag, meaning I can only bring one lens on each camera. Not knowing the location or how much reach I would need, I brought my 50-200 ƒ2.8-3.5 with both TCs in case I needed more reach. I wanted to bring my 150mm ƒ2.0, didn't have the room. While photographing the Sandhill the day before, I wished I had brought The Little Tuna.

When Olympus made the old 4/3's DSLRs, they had two lenses with such outstanding optical performance the users gave them nicknames. The first was the ZD 300mm ƒ2.8, known as The Big Tuna; its little brother, the ZD 150mm ƒ2.0, was The Little Tuna. I have never had the pleasure of owning The Big Tuna, but I have had The Little Tuna for seven years now. It has become my favorite lens of all time. The effective focal length of 300mm is a bit short for most wildlife; most people will say it isn't even close to enough reach; I disagree. I have excellent field craft and can get much closer than most people to wildlife. I love getting close enough to wildlife to use The Little Tuna, and today was no exception. In the information for each photo, I have noted if the image has no crop or a small amount to tighten up the composition. None of the pictures have more than 10% crop.

I was thankful I had The Little Tuna because it is a fast lens. For those non-photographers, a fast lens has a large maximum aperture to let in as much light as possible. The fast ƒ2.0 aperture of the lens allowed me to keep the ISO as low as possible while keeping a sufficiently high shutter speed to freeze any action. Because it was severely overcast, I was constantly playing the shutter speed vs. ISO game. The higher the ISO, the more noise in the photograph, which robs the picture of detail. Because of the fast lens, I could keep ISO relatively low and capture great detail.

While they were talking with the other cranes, I finally heard the colt making some chirps. It took me 10 minutes to locate his position in the vegetation. He was about 1/2 way between me and his parents; I didn't have a clear view of him. I knew it would be challenging to get a clear photograph of him. Part of the problem was that I would need to be close, not because of the shorter focal length, as most probably think. Because the vegetation was so thick, being close would be the only way I would get a clear photograph.

The area between me and the colt (and his parents) was swampy/muddy water with a layer of vegetation over the top. I could not move closer to them and would have sunk at least to my knees in mud and water if I tried. Plus, I would be completely exposed with no way to cover my movements. So, it was time to let the waiting game begin.

It was about a 20-minute before the parents moved toward the colt, and I got my first clear photograph. Once close, I noticed they were catching what I assumed were bugs off the top of the weeds and feeding them to the colt (later confirmed to be mostly Damselflies). During that 20 minutes, they were moving closer and closer toward me, which set up this photograph, which is also my favorite photograph of the day.

At the end of the article, I will have a link to a Flickr album with high-resolution photos. I recommend following that link and looking at the pictures in more detail.

For this photograph, you can zoom in and see the bug in the beak of the colt.

Olympus OMD EM1X w/ Olympus ZD 150mm ƒ2.0 - ISO 1000, 1/1250 @ ƒ2.0, handheld, no crop

After I captured the above photograph, they moved down the bank from me, which left me no choice but to move. As I was working my way back to the trail, my foot sank through the layer of vegetation I was standing on and caused me to stumble. This made a bit of noise, and they looked directly at me for the first time. I was expecting them to react in some way, I knew they wouldn't fly away and leave the colt, but they just went right back to foraging. So I moved down the trail ahead of them to the next spot I could work my way through the vegetation and the lake's edge.

I didn't try to stay completely silent this time as I worked my way to the lake's edge. They could care less that I was there watching them. I made some noise getting into position, and they didn't react. As you can see in the following photograph (which has no crop), they got close to me. Zooming in, you can see the green damselfly in the colts beak.

Olympus OMD EM1X w/ Olympus ZD 150mm ƒ2.0 - ISO 2000, 1/1000 @ ƒ2.0, handheld, no crop

When I say they got close, I mean really close. I sat at the bank's top, maybe a foot above the water. The male was between me and the other two when I took the above photograph (I captured the photo above and below within 30 seconds of each other). He couldn't have been more than a couple of feet away. I captured this no-crop photograph when he lifted his head from digging in the mud for food.

Olympus OMD EM1X w/ Olympus ZD 150mm ƒ2.0 - ISO 2500, 1/1000 @ ƒ2.0, handheld, no crop

Still bummed that I had some vegetation between him and me, causing that haziness on the right side of the photograph. I have been trying to get a head-filling the frame photograph; this is the closest I have come.

He had no problems with me being that close to him. HE MOVED CLOSE TO ME while I was sitting very still, and I knew he knew I was there. He had zero interest in me and didn't feel threatened. I have learned over the years if you find a bird hunting along the shore, get ahead of him and let him come to you. Most of the time, they will not care that you are there if you don't make any sudden movements. I always use this tactic and regularly have them get within petting distance of me.

I will admit that while looking through the camera at the colt, I could hear the male digging in the mud in front of me, making me a little nervous. I kept my left eye open to watch him while taking photos and shooting videos. Their beak can pierce a turtle shell, so I know it would have no problem going through me. He never once exhibited any signs of stress being that close to me (he did move that close on his own, and only a fool would think he didn't know I was there); I did sniff a couple of times. I did this so he would know I was there, and he never once reacted, unlike deer that will freak out if you sniff at them. Anyways, I kept an eye on him for the roughly 15 minutes he was close enough to pet.

After taking the above two photographs, I moved to the next open spot down the lake. The male was only 5ish feet away when I got up to move, and all he did was glance at me before returning to foraging. He didn't care that I was there, which is good as I plan on spending a lot of time with them over the next few weeks as they raise the colt. So, at this point, I wasn't even trying to be quiet. Without thinking about it, my natural movements through the woods were more than adequate for getting into position. I only had to wait a few minutes before another opportunity presented itself. This time, the female and the colt got close to me. Zooming in, you can see what she is handing to the colt. It looks more like the end of a weed than a bug, but I am not 100% sure.

Olympus OMD EM1X w/ Olympus ZD 150mm ƒ2.0 - ISO 1600, 1/1000 @ ƒ2.0, handheld, small crop to tighten up composition

A few seconds later, I got my clearest photograph of the colt. Considering the dense weeds, I was amazed to get such a clear full-body photograph of him. It didn't hurt that he was also so close to me. Since his parents were not concerned that I was there, he wasn't either.

Olympus OMD EM1X w/ Olympus ZD 150mm ƒ2.0 - ISO 2000, 1/1000 @ ƒ2.0, handheld, small crop to tighten up composition

You can see in the above photograph that his lower half and front were wet and muddy. Despite the difficulty of moving around in that environment, he was keeping up with his parents. Watching him move around was fun, and he would fall over a lot; he didn't have wings to help balance him. When he would start to fall over, his little wings would flap all over; every once in a while, it would save him.

About 5 minutes after taking the above photograph, he got close to me. I captured the following two photos while he was only a few feet away.

Olympus OMD EM1X w/ Olympus ZD 150mm ƒ2.0 - ISO 3200, 1/1000 @ ƒ2.0, handheld, small crop to tighten up composition

Still mad that there was a little bit of weeds between us, which caused the right side to look slightly foggy. This photo and the next are my two highest ISO shots at 3200. It was late, and getting that low in the weeds made it even darker. I am still just amazed at how close he got to me.

Olympus OMD EM1X w/ Olympus ZD 150mm ƒ2.0 - ISO 3200, 1/1000 @ ƒ2.0, handheld, small crop to tighten up composition

Once again, I am amazed at how close he got to me.

Watching them was a wonderful experience, and I can't wait to revisit them. Getting any photos or videos was super challenging. The ground was super wet and muddy. Usually, I would just lay on the ground and get at eye level with the little guy, but I didn't have a change of clothes for the drive home. On my next trip there, I will have a change of clothes for the drive back. So often, I would hold the camera down by the ground with the rear LCD flipped out and frame the shots that way, which was challenging. I also constantly tried to find openings in the weeds to get a clear photograph. Since I was trying to get photos and videos of them handing bugs to the colt, I would wait until I saw a parent turn towards the colt. He knew they had something for them when they did this and would come running towards them. I would only have a few seconds to determine where the handoff would occur, figure out a way to get a clear view, and get the camera to focus on the colt before taking the photograph (the video does an excellent job of showing this behavior). I had a large number of blurry or nothing shots. I showed three different handoffs here, as well as six in the video, out of the 100's that I watched and attempted to photograph/video. That gives you a good idea of how hard it was to capture these photographs.

Some may have been wondering how I know the difference between the male and female since their markings are identical. Males are larger than females, and once I saw them next to each other, it was easy to tell one from the other, even when they were not near each other. The easiest way for me was to look at the neck; the males were much thicker than the females. The male is on the right in the photo of them talking (the only photo I really have of the two together). You can see that he is taller and thicker in body and neck.

When they first started feeding the colt, the female was feeding while the male was eating. About 1/2 way through my time with them, they just switched who was feeding and who was eating. That is not to say that while one was feeding, the other wouldn't. The little colt knew they would feed him if he stood next to either of them. He took advantage of that many times while I was watching them.

I hope y'all enjoyed the story as well as the photographs and video. I am a storyteller who uses words and pictures to tell the stories of my adventures. My motivation for the experiences is my enjoyment and showing others things they cannot see for themselves.

Here is the link to the album of images on Flickr if you want to get a better look at them. I recommend reading some of my other stories if you enjoyed this one.


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About the Creator


I am outdoor adventurer and wildlife photographer who also enjoys story telling.

See as well as purchase my photographic work here:

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Comments (7)

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  • Mike Singleton - Mikeydred9 months ago

    Excellent and Deserved Top Story, we are featuring this in the Vocal Social Society Community Adventure on Facebook and world love for you to join us there

  • Andrei Z.10 months ago

    Great photos! And the video (those two are like jazz musicians)! Enjoyed your story as well!

  • Donna Renee10 months ago

    How cool!! That colt is so cute and how exciting for it to get so close to you! 🤯🤯

  • Naomi Gold10 months ago

    Wow, welcome back and congrats on your Top Story! 🥂 You have such beautiful photographs on all your stories.

  • Kendall Defoe 10 months ago

    A beautiful story with beautiful shots...and I wish I had better equipment when I used to take pics of them in Japan. Thank you for this!

  • Dana Crandell10 months ago

    Kudos on emphasizing stalking skills over focal length. You've got some great shots here. Not to mention that at ISO 3200, that last shot exhibits some great noise rejection or correction.

  • KJ Aartila10 months ago

    Living in northern WI, we see a lot of Sandhill families around, but I never knew the young were called colts! 😊 Thank you for sharing - your pictures are gorgeous!

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