Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Off to see the Cranes

Last Sunday morning at 11 Shin said to me... "I think we have a window. If we leave now we can get to Kearney and have a day of good weather. Are you game?" We'd been watching the weather for a break in storms so we could cross Wyoming and Nebraska and have decent Sandhill Crane viewing weather. Game I was, so by noonish we were in the car heading east. Made it to North Platte on Sunday, then over to Kearney very early on Monday. Spent the day and evening finding all the birdy places, got up for the dawn bird viewing on Tuesday, then headed back home, with a small detour so I could see a little of my old Sandhills stomping grounds.

For those that aren't familiar, the Sandhill Crane migration is one of earth's major animal migrations. During March, 80% of the world's Sandhill Cranes (over 500,000 birds) enroute from the south (Mexico, New Mexico, Texas etc.) to their breeding grounds in the north (Alaska, Canada, Siberia), spend a month on a section of North Platte River fattening themselves up for the journey. At night they all converge to roost in the shallows of the river, at daybreak they fly off to forage in surrounding corn fields, then return again at night.

I'm a bit under equipped lens wise for good bird pics, but even if I had that long lens to better capture close up birds, close ups don't show the sheer number of birds in the water and in the sky. During the nightly fly-in you'd really need some sort of 360' virtual reality gear to capture the experience; birds flocking in from left, from the right, from behind, squawking in every direction. You also need audio, as the cacophony of calling cranes is an experience in itself. Even daytime corn field foraging birds were amazing, Sandhill Cranes are big 'displayers' and do a lot of 'happy dancing' so they are really fun to watch.

I know most folks don't think of Nebraska as a spring break destination, but if you're at all a nature lover, biology geek, or nerdy birdy type you should put spring in Nebraska on your bucket list!

Overcast weather had the birds flocking on the river during the day. We were told this is not typical

Flocks of birds flying in at sunset to roost for the night. Watching them fly in was amazing, there were flock in the sky in all directions, squawking up a storm as they flew in.

Cranes assembling in the shallows

Early morning take off. We were amazed by how many more birds were on the river when we returned in the morning compared to when we left the night before

Audubon Society's Rowe Sanctuary, a lovely nature center and viewing location right along the Platte River. The Crane Trust also had a wonderful and educational riverside nature center

The Gibbon observation deck

A few pictures are in my facebook album Off to see the cranes

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