Despite snide comments from certain friends, I do – now and then – take photos of subjects other than insects and plants…
As I write this, the annual sandhill crane migration phenomenon is taking place on Nebraska’s Platte River. The river valley abounds with tall gray birds feeding in crop fields and meadows and the sound of calling cranes fills the air. I haven’t had a lot of time for crane photography this year, but have managed to pull the camera out of its bag a few times. A couple weeks ago, for example, I was in a riverbank viewing blind with a group of birdwatchers, watching cranes coming in to their river roost against a rose-colored post-sunset sky. The muted light made photography difficult, but I managed a few photos, including the one below.
After the light and color faded a little more that evening, I decided to try a short video. If you have never been to the Platte River during this time of year, this will give you a tiny glimpse of what it’s like to watch cranes coming to the river in the evening.
Watching cranes drop into the river at sunset is fun, but I prefer to visit them in the early morning as the roosting birds start to wake up and get ready for the day. We have to sneak into the blind well before daylight and it’s often difficult to tell how many birds are on the river until the growing light slowly reveals their shadowy outlines. On a good morning, we may have 10-20,000 birds or more within view as the sun comes up. The sight and sound of those birds is astounding. As the sun rises and the air warms up, the activity level of the birds increases, and we get to see a great deal of social behavior – preening, pair-bonding and courtship “dancing”, and aggressive posturing. The short video below documents that kind of increasing activity through one morning this spring.
I am grateful to have a front row seat to an annual ecological phenomenon that draws birdwatchers and nature lovers from around the globe. The sound of sandhill crane calls is a pretty great soundtrack to my spring. The only regret I have is that the majority of crane-watchers never get to see the Platte River Prairies during the summer when – though we have no cranes around – our grasslands are teeming with the sights and sound of birds, insects, flowers, and generally spectacular prairie life. Please come visit!