LAKEWOOD RANCH — If he could, Larry Roberts would file a missing persons report with the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office.
But deputies probably wouldn’t respond to this missing family of four.
About a month ago, Roberts, a nature photographer, identified two sandhill cranes that had laid two eggs near his home in Lakewood Ranch. With camera and various lenses in tow, he began snapping photos to chronicle the family for his Web site, myfloridawildlife.com.
The first chick was born April 21, and the second April 22. He dubbed that one the Earth Day Sandhill Crane.
And up until last week, the family of four stayed near their nest across Lakewood Ranch Boulevard from Braden River Nature Park.
But when Roberts went to visit the cranes April 30, they were gone. He waited about an hour with no luck. Roberts’ wife checked for them on Monday, but again, they were nowhere to be found.
Now, Roberts is hoping other Lakewood Ranch residents can help him locate the cranes so he can continue to document their lives.
A native of West Virginia, Roberts loved wildlife seemingly from birth. As a child, he brought home countless jars filled with spiders, insects or other creepy crawlies.
Roberts discovered photography in junior high school, where he served as yearbook editor. The medium fascinated him — it was the perfect way to capture his love of nature and share it with others.
“Other than ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ which I was forced to read in school, I’ve never read a fiction book in my life,” he says. “But I’ll read a reference book from front to back.
“I want people to experience the same thing I do,” Roberts says of photography. “I want people to have the same feeling I got when I looked through the lens.”
As an adult, Roberts found work in an ophthalmology office taking photos of eyeballs. In 2000, Roberts’ company transferred him to Florida, and he subsequently found a home in Lakewood Ranch. Soon he launched My Florida Wildlife to share his passion for the local plants and animals.
In addition to his photos in Lakewood Ranch, Roberts travels throughout the state and has photographed everything from skinks and owls to butterflies and snakes.
Unlike sports or journalistic photography, nature photography requires patience and significant planning, he says. To get completely candid photos, nature photographers must develop a sense of comfort and relationship between themselves and their subjects.
“It’s all about patience,” Roberts says. “And the better you know your subject, the better the photograph you will get.”
One with nature
Before capturing any useable images of the cranes, Roberts began visiting the site every few days to get the birds used to his presence. Then, about three weeks later, he was there to witness the birth of the first colt April 21. He stayed there until dark, and the next day, the second was born.
In the days that followed, Roberts continued to visit the family, getting as close as within six feet. He studied their behavior, their idiosyncrasies and their habits.
“They don’t like dogs,” Roberts says. “Once, a man with his dog was walking by, and I watched the mother’s neck drop down almost to the ground.
“Then, every time her neck dipped down after that, I knew there was a dog somewhere close,” he says.
Roberts said the adult cranes each took a colt as his and her responsibility, and the mother could be found near the nest with one while the father was out finding food with the other.
Roberts had planned to continue photographing the birds for several more weeks.
“Normally, the colts stay in the nest for two to three weeks,” he says.
Now, Robert says, all he can do is hope the family is OK.
Anyone who knows the location of the cranes should contact Roberts through his Web site, myfloridawildlife.com, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact Michael Eng at email@example.com.
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