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Cranes in Hornborga

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Some years ago, my wife and I went to Lake Hornborga and spend just a few hours to experience the thousands of cranes resting while on their journey to the breeding grounds. This spring I decided to do it properly and took on a four days trip including a full day in a hide.

Every spring thousands of Eurasian Cranes rest briefly by Lake Hornborga in Sweden. Originally, it was due to potato field leftovers that made the cranes rest and eat in this area. When the potato production stopped many years ago, the cranes had no longer an incentive to rest by the lake.

To maintain the many visitors for this local attraction (about 150,000 every year) the county board decided to start feeding the cranes with grain during the spring migration. Each evening, after the cranes have taken off into the lake to sleep, a few tons of grain is spread out to feed the cranes on the following day.

When I arrived in the afternoon of 7 April after some 400 kilometres by car more than 15,000 cranes were waiting for me. The weather was bright and I got a few images of cranes and whooper swans.



There were a lot of cranes nearby the Trandansen Naturrum (Crane dancing nature centre).

And dancing they did!

Access to the wildlife reserve around the lake is prohibited from 20 March to 15 July but you can still get as close as 50 metres from the cranes. To get closer you have to use one of the hides in the reserve which I had arranged for 9 April.

From the platform at Trandansen you could actually see some of the hides in the reserve and I was going to spend the next day in no 3. It was surrounded by cranes so I was hopeful for the coming experience.


I spend the following day exploring the area for other interesting birds to photograph as grebes should be common in the lake. However, the outcome was very disappointing. Probably, it was too early season for the grebes although I did see a few far away.

Still, I enjoyed a nice day out and returned to the Trandansen Naturrum during the afternoon to photograph some cranes before participating in the information meeting regarding the next day in the hide.



By 19:30 the Supervisor gave some practical details and rules for using the hides. An hour later the cranes had left for the lake to sleep and we had the opportunity to go and see the hides with the Supervisor.

There are six small hides in the restricted area about 700 metres from the road. A hide is 2 metres long and one metre wide. Being only 1.30m high in the middle, it is impossible to stand up at all. And the worst part was that we had to spend 16 hours without leaving the box!

The image to the right was taken with my iPhone after sunset. The nearest hide was to be mine for the next day.

We were only three photographers to spend the next day in the hides representing Norway, Sweden and Denmark. The guy from Norway had decided to sleep in the hide as we had to be inside no later than one hour before sunrise (around 4:30 in the morning). I preferred to prepare for the hardships in my bed at the hotel!

Next morning was an early rise; it was actually in the middle of the night. When I arrived at the parking lot it was total darkness and my flashlight came to great use trying to cross the field and find the hide.

I got myself settled in the hide just a few minutes before 4:30 and was excited. An hour later the cranes started to arrive from the lake but it was still dark.


During the morning thousands of cranes gathered around the hide. You hope for a lot of cranes to photograph but suddenly realise that it could well be too many. When a good pose was in sight most often other cranes blocked the view.


On the other hand, it was a wonderland for close-ups.




It happened to be a long day!

Although it was great to have a lot of fine subjects just outside the hide I got bored after a few hours - and tired. Furthermore, it was very inconvenient to photograph as the lens was not allowed to stick out of the openings in the hide as it could disturb the cranes and make them take off.

Also, I had brought with me a low stool to use when taking pictures, but as the high did not fit the openings in the hide it was very uncomfortably.

Fortunately, I could lie down in the hide and prepared for a nap around noon. It was very noisy due to the thousands of cranes outside the hide but it only took a couple of minutes before I fell asleep.

Two hours later I was refreshed. Followed by some food and a cup of coffee I resumed shooting with renewed energy.

It was a great evening. The sun was out and provided a beautiful soft light. I even managed to get an image of a sole crane standing in the water.


By sunset the cranes began to leave in large groups and after a while it was all over. Soon the Supervisor would arrive and I could get out of the hide. Great to stand up again after 16 hours in the little wooden box.

I hurried back to the hotel to get a hot meal and a well-deserved glass of wine before the kitchen closed.

I slept very well that night!

The next morning it was raining for the first time on my trip. But who cares - I just had to travel back home.

At home I told my wife: "Never am I to repeat the 16 hours in that little box. It is the worse photo hide I have ever used. It is too small and miserable and the huge problem is the inability to stand up."

Now, a few months have passed and I am no longer sure that this has been my last experience in that awful little box. After all I feel more prepared for a next time and fortunately my memory is rather selective - also I still need that "perfect" image ... ; - )

Steen Tørner
November 2015