One of the items on our bucket list was a visit to the Platte River in Nebraska to view the spring migration of the Sandhill Cranes. Every spring we watch a presentation of the “Crane Song” on PBS. It depicts the migration the Sandhill Cranes through the Platte River Valley. Every year we talk about making the trip but never have. Typically about the time we are thinking of going, the Platte River Valley gets a blizzard or we would get a blizzard.
This year we had some very warm weather early in March so we decided there would be no better time to go. We drove down the Grand Island following back roads most of the way. It seemed that every back road we took added another half hour onto the trip. By the time we neared Grand Island it was dark out. There were violent thunderstorms in the northwest. The clouds in the west were hanging down just above the horizon. As the sun set it looked like the entire western part of Nebraska was on fire. It was a spectacular drive into Grand Island.The next morning we headed out to visit the Platte River and Rowe Sanctuary. Before we started the trip we read that in a typical year about 30 thousand cranes arrive in February. This year about 230 thousand cranes arrived in February. By the time we drove through the area an additional 170 thousand had arrived. Sanctuary staff indicated there were over 400 thousand cranes in the area.
There were birds in just about every field as we drove along and the sky was filled with them. We noticed that the birds were very skittish. Most of them were a fair distance from the road and as soon as we drove up they headed away from the car. The other thing we noticed is the roads are narrow and on each side they have deep ditches so it is difficult to pull over and take photos. There is enough traffic on most of the roads that we didn’t feel comfortable stopping in the road.
We almost felt like we were at a Wisconsin Badger football game because of all of the cranes jumping around.
We made our way to Rowe Sanctuary. We were curious to see what the blinds look like. From the web cam it appeared they were getting a lot of birds at the blinds. A discussion with a volunteer confirmed that for the last several weeks the birds had been roosting near the blinds. We didn’t make a blind reservations because there were just too many people in the groups and we have already seen thousands of Sandhill Cranes roosting. If you haven’t had a chance to see crane rousting I would strongly suggest you make reservations for a blind.
We returned to Rowe later in the day to watch the cranes arrive from the fields. It was a little dark for photos but their arrival was quite spectacular. Strong winds made landing a little tricky. It was fun watching the cranes as they circled around so they were headed directly into the wind. It was like watching planes at an airport.
The following morning we drove back to Rowe Sanctuary to watch the birds fly out to the feeding grounds. The Sanctuary grounds were closed because folks were in the blinds but we found a nearby parking spot to watch them leave the rousts.
This is a shot of the folks leaving the blinds after sunrise and most of the birds left the immediate area.
While we were watching the cranes a herd of cattle was grazing just behind us. I took a few photos. It was cold out and I could see their breath as they walked along. Unfortunately it doesn’t show up on the photo.
I can’t help but comment on how fortunate we are in Wisconsin to have Crex Meadows in Grantsburg, Wisconsin. Crex Meadows provides a great opportunity to interact with Greater Sandhill Cranes during the fall crane migration.
While there are 10 times as many cranes in the Nebraska migration they are spread over a vast area along the Platte River from Grand Island to Kearney. In Crex meadows they are concentrated in a small area and all of them fly over a mile stretch of main dike road in the evening and again in the morning.
Viewing cranes at Crex Meadows is a much more informal event. All you have to do is drive along the dike road and stop on the road, get the lawn chair out, and watch them fly overhead. It is a much more intimate opportunity to view cranes than it is in Nebraska. The cranes at Crex can also be found much closer to the road than in Nebraska.
Driving through Crex is a fairly relaxing trip with the ability to stop any time you see something to photograph without worrying about pulling off the road or heavy traffic.
Anyone interested in the fall Sandhill Crane Migration can read a description of what to expect on my blog and see photographs on my website.