Who’s afraid of the big, bad…um…sandhill crane?


Firstly, let me apologize for the quality of these images. I had no intention of doing any photography on that hot, bright Yellowstone afternoon.

When my fiancee Jill and I camp in Yellowstone, we usually have very early mornings and very late nights in order to reach our desired location for wildlife photography. As such, on hot and sunny afternoons – the perfect storm for bad wildlife photography – we sometimes pick a peaceful spot and take a nap in our car to catch-up on our sleep.

We were pulled over near Floating Island, a little pond on Yellowstone’s northern loop – a spot where I should have been prepared for some photography, given Jill’s track record of being startled awake by a scruffy black bear ambling by her window (long story).

Said scruffy black bear apparently enjoys afternoon swims, as I noticed in my half awake state a crowd gathering at the far end of the pond, photographing the bear preparing to enter the water.

After a few seconds of realizing this was not a dream, I grabbed my camera – and the small telephoto lens I had mounted on it – and got out of the car in time to witness one of the more surreal sights I’ve seen in my years of bear photography.

The young black bear didn’t, apparently, know that Floating Island’s floating island is also the nest for a pair of sandhill cranes.

Though the bear swam by the nest, the sandhill cranes decided that it was important to make sure this bruin knew how unwelcome it was, should it decide to go for future swims.

The cranes started diving the hapless bear, driving it from the water and sending it running onto the far shore in a full-blown panic.

That wasn’t enough for the mean-spirited cranes. (What, you haven’t picked a side? You’re not rooting for the bear?!)

They tag-teamed their onslaught, sending the bear into a tizzy as he ran around the hillside for dear life.

Finally, the bear decided there was only one safe option. Climb a tree.

Oh, bear of little brain. Did you forget cranes can fly? They can get you in the tree too!

And they did.

So down the tree the bear goes and around and around the chase begins anew.

Finally, the bear rightly realized his only escape from the wrath of cranes was to get as far away from the pond as possible.

Dashing to the east, he eventually sprinted across the road, far away from the now large crowd of onlookers, but quite close to one lone car…where Jill remained fast asleep.

To this day, I swear this scruffy black bear is scared of his own shadow because of those cranes. And to this day, he has a remarkable affinity for running by a sleeping Jill, while I curse from my far-off vantage point.

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