Sandhill Cranes On The Platte River

Harland and I awoke at 4am Monday morning, dressed in 52 layers of clothing, gathered our photography gear together, and headed to the blind we had rented overlooking the Platte River in Nebraska. We arrived in the pre-dawn darkness, hauled our equipment to the blind, set it up, and waited for daylight. It was about 20 degrees with a north wind and it was snowing. We could hear the raucous calls of the Sandhill cranes in the darkness roosting down on the river in front of us.

Finally a gray dawn revealed their huddled bodies standing in groups.

Most of them were still sleeping with their heads tucked under their wings.  A few were awake, and as the light grew they began to “dance”, hopping up and down anxious to get out into the surrounding fields to feed.

Here a lone crane dances while a flock of Canada Geese looks on.

Finally they began to take off.

First they left in large groups, and then in smaller groups, pairs or singles.

The bad weather was keeping them in. On sunny days the entire flock leaves all at once. But that morning, many of them were content to sleep in, heads tucked under wings.

As the hours passed, we continued to watch as here and there a few left to go feed. Some of them got a running start before they took off.

Finally, when we were chilled through and shivering, we left the blind to go get warm and eat breakfast. But before that, I took this long shot of the river. You can just make out the cranes in the center of the river as black dots.  All the pics above I took with a 300mm lens I borrowed from Harland.

I also took this video. My video camera can’t zoom in close to see the birds in detail as we were about a quarter mile away from them, but I wanted you to be able to see the river and hear the cranes’ raucous calls.

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And here’s what we looked like as we left the blind.

Not a pretty sight I know. But I won’t be making fun of Harland’s Stay-Puf Marshmallowman (remember Ghostbusters?) coat anymore. I want one of my own. He didn’t get as cold as I did.

As we drove out we stopped to watch the cranes feeding in the fields. They fly from field to field searching for waste grain, primarily corn.

As I was taking pics of the cranes from our truck, I looked down and saw these guys sitting tight waiting out the nasty weather.

Canada Geese aren’t as skittish as the Sandhills. These were sitting right near us.

We headed back to town, peeled off some layers so we looked halfway human again, and had a nice warm breakfast.

We’re already planning next years’ trip up to Nebraska to see the cranes. We’re going to try to get a blind closer to the river, and either buy or rent a longer lens. I was using a 300mm, but something longer is required to adequately capture the rustic beauty of the Sandhill cranes.

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———>  UP NEXT:   A visit from a week old white faced calf. He comes in close to check me out.