Photos of the Week – March 30, 2023

My camera gear has been getting stale lately. It’s late winter, we haven’t had much snow or ice to draw me out, and I’ve had a really busy several weeks. This week, though, I had a couple opportunities and tried to make the best of them. I nearly failed on the first one.

We had snow over the weekend and on Sunday morning I drove out to the Platte River Prairies, hoping overcast skies would lighten enough that I could photograph some snowy prairies. When I arrived, I reached back behind me to grab my camera bag, opened it up, and realized I’d pulled out all my favorite gear the previous day and put it in a different bag (took a family trip to our prairie). Then, I’d forgotten to put everything back in my main camera bag.

All was not lost – I did have a camera body (whew!) and two lenses: a fisheye lens and a long telephoto. That’s an odd combination of lenses, but since I’d driven more than half an hour in less-than-ideal road conditions, I wasn’t just going to pack it in and head home. I grabbed the fisheye lens and headed toward some trees near the river where the driven snow had created some aesthetically-pleasing lines.

A snowy woodland area near the edge of the Platte River. Nikon 10.5mm fisheye lens. ISO 320, f/13, 1/320 sec.
An alternate view of the same wooded site. Nikon 10.5mm fisheye lens. ISO 320, f/13, 1/320 sec.

I carefully checked the river to see if any sandhill cranes were hanging around. I thought I could probably crawl into a nearby viewing blind and take advantage of my long lens. No luck. All the cranes had left the river for the day. On the way back to the truck, I played around with a few prairie scenes, but eventually decided to head back to town.

Maximilian sunflower in restored prairie near the Platte River. Nikon 10.5mm fisheye lens. ISO 320, f/18,1/200 sec.

I got home and grabbed an early lunch. As I was eating, the sky outside started to brighten a little, so I grabbed ALL my camera gear, and drove across town to Lincoln Creek Prairie and wandered around there. The brighter sky didn’t last long, but I managed to get a few shots and had a pleasant walkabout, regardless of photo results.

Butterfly milkweed leaves and snow. Lincoln Creek Prairie. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 250, f/16,1/640 sec.

Tuesday night, I had the chance to take some supporters of The Nature Conservancy into a viewing blind to watch sandhill cranes come in to roost on the Platte River. We’re very fortunate to have a front row seat to the annual migration of sandhill cranes and their staging along the Central Platte River. Nearly 1,000,000 of them spend a good portion of March in the Platte Valley each year. It was a beautiful night, made even more spectacular by the seven whooping cranes waiting for us when we arrived at the blind. They were too far away for terrific photos, but it was really nice to see them!

Seven whooping cranes across the river from our viewing blind Tuesday night. Tamron 100-400mm lens @400mm. ISO 500, f/6.3,1/1000 sec.

As the sun set, sandhill cranes started pouring in upstream of us, dropping out of the sky against a nice orange glow near the horizon. I didn’t have my tripod with me (limited space in the blind) and I had other responsibilities (tour guide) but I did manage to squeeze off a few photos of the cranes and crane viewers.

Sandhill cranes dropping into the river. Tamron 100-400mm lens @100mm. ISO 800, f/4.5,1/1250 sec.
Flyover of sandhill cranes. Tamron 100-400mm lens @400mm. ISO 800, f/6.3,1/800 sec.
More sandhills falling out of the sky. Tamron 100-400mm lens @270mm. ISO 1250, f/6,1/800 sec.
And more. Tamron 100-400mm lens @400mm. ISO 1250, f/6.3,1/800 sec.
One of our guests enjoying the view. Tokina 11-20mm lens. ISO 500, f/4, 1/60 sec.
One of many groups of sandhill cranes arriving at the roost as the light faded. Tokina 11-20mm lens. ISO 500, f/9, 1/200 sec.

I’m hoping to build on this week’s momentum and find some more time for photography in the coming weeks. I’ve been seeing a few more insects moving around, early (non-native) flowers are starting to bloom in our garden, and my in-laws spotted a garter snake the other day. Spring is coming!

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About Chris Helzer

Chris Helzer is the Director of Science for The Nature Conservancy in Nebraska. His main role is to evaluate and capture lessons from the Conservancy’s land management and restoration work and then share those lessons with other landowners – both private and public. In addition, Chris works to raise awareness about the importance of prairies and their conservation through his writing, photography, and presentations to various groups. Chris is also the author of "The Ecology and Management of Prairies in the Central United States", published by the University of Iowa Press. He lives in Aurora, Nebraska with his wife Kim and their children.

2 thoughts on “Photos of the Week – March 30, 2023

  1. Such wonderful photos! I haven’t been to Nebraska for the cranes since 2019. Going to Monte Vista, Colorado, next week though! Thanks for all you do.


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