Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Sandhill Cranes in Nebraska

My wife and I visited some of the 500,000 migrating cranes near Grand Island, NE, and along the Platte River. They winter in Mexico and Texas, then funnel through a roughly 50 mile stretch of sandbars and corn fields between Grand Island and Kearney. Something like 70% of the world's sandhill cranes are here, and they are one of the few stable crane populations globally (and also can live to be 20). They end up nesting all over Canada, up to the Arctic Circle, then over to Alaska and across to Russia. For several weeks they fatten up on leftover corn, from early March to early April, then are gone. The time to see tens of thousands at once is at dusk or sunrise as they roost along the Platte, but we got to see thousands anyway in the early afternoon. Check out the Rowe Sanctuary crane cam around 7:30 am and pm central time to see, and hear, the massive flocks along the river.

So here are some of the over 200 pictures I took. First time I visited the cranes, having lived in Nebraska for eight years now (whoa). Grand Island is only 90 miles west, luckily.


Look at those guys to the right of the tree!


All day cranes were in fields full of center pivots, silos,
tractors, cows, and stacks of pipe. The juxtaposition
was never so evident to me. Viva cranes.



 My wife got out of the car, trying to sneak up on cranes along the road. She got close to one group, then they took off. Got close to another, then they took off. We got no closer than 100 feet. The best thing to do is step on the gas and fly over the culverts into fields, whip out the camera, and in those two seconds snap pics like you've never snapped before. I did not do this, as we were driving my wife's car....




Pairs of cranes argue, moon me, and kiss

I really like this image.


"The court order says you must stay this far away from me."


The cranes would often leap up into the air and flap
their wings, settle, and leap again as if
on trampolines. Show offs? Territorial? Courting?
















Ran across this (odd) historical marker --
click on it and read!




















All day as we drove along back country roads, drivers in passing cars would wave to me, and it seemed odd. Did they know I was not from here? Is that just what you do? They always waved. You know, leaning back, one hand on the wheel, so two or three fingers is all I got. Still, in the "big city" you don't see that, we use one finger, but I got used to waving back--two or three fingers, one hand on the wheel, the other clutching my heavy SLR camera like an excited dog who wanted to leap out the window. From now on I'm going to wave to the 100 cars I pass on my way to work every morning.

27 comments:

Kateri said...

You got some pretty cool images! We have the cranes here in Michigan but don't get the large flocks until October when they are getting ready to migrate to Florida. In the springtime they seem to come back pair by pair to nest rather than in flocks. I'm lucky enough to live less than 20 miles from a sandhill crane perserve and in the fall it is pretty amazing to go there in the evening and watch the cranes come in. It is not uncommon to see flocks of several hundred in the surrounding cornfields by day.

Stacy said...

I'm so glad you and your wife got to see them, Benjamin! I love the "court order" pic - had no idea the cranes had such subtle shading in their feathers. Really nice!

Ah, the country roads wave. They vary from state to state (I used to "collect" them. As I recall, in Colorado it's a full hand (which never leaves the windshield), in Nebraska the 2-3 fingers like you saw, in Kansas just the index finger, and in Texas the index finger and an unsmiling nod. Once you get further east, forget it.

Stacy said...

Urg. I meant to proof that and accidentally hit publish. Sorry...

Charlotte said...

Wonderful pictures! Did you see my post on the demoiselle cranes in Rajasthan, India last month?
http://thegallopinggardener.blogspot.com/2011/02/spectacular-display-in-rajasthan-desert.html
Charlotte

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

Oh, brilliant! Glad you did go. Love the pix. To be around so many at once must have been very loud--and thrilling.

ok, it's back to marking essays for me.

Canyon Girl said...

What great photos of this beautiful bird. I was lucky to see them do their dance at Hornberga sjon in Sweden when I visited there in 2001. They come every April and are a sight to see, just like the ones your posted here.

Benjamin Vogt said...

Kateri--It's petty darn cool, isn't it? You are very lucky to live so nearby a flyway. Last year I just happened to be outside in the spring and a small flock flew high overhead, on their way west, surely to the Platte River. Their calls are so distinctive even from far away.
Stacy--I had no idea about their coloring, either, until I got home and downloaded the pics! As for finger waving, though I live in a small city, it always feels quaint enough to me that you'd expect waving. Sometimes on weekends a dirty pickup full of teenagers will be downtown, sometimes going the wrong way on one way streets. (as for editing comments, I never have time to edit--yu jst get what yuo gte, you knwo?).
Charlotte--Wow! You got some good shots! I like that one with the line after line of birds stretching in the distance.
Adrian--It would have been even more thrilling if they weren't so skiddish. I can only imagine what it's like at sunset or sunrise on the river--one would feel pretty vulnerable, I'd think. (Stop grading papers and go outside.)
CG--I must confess I still prefer my Canadian goose, but it was an honor to see these cranes. When they migrate back through in fall it's a scattershot trickle.

Elephant's Eye said...

I call it Porterville politeness. Here everyone, on foot, or in a car, waves, we've learned not to ask each other - Who was that? And sometimes I have to remind him when we are in the big city - don't try this at home!

Blackswamp_Girl said...

Gorgeous photos all around. :)

As for the waving, we do that "back home" in NW Ohio, too. When walking the dog at my parents' house a few times, my boyfriend kept asking me, "Who was that?" and, "Do you know her?" I finally realized that they were waving at me, and vice-versa, and he (the big-city boy) was completely flabbergasted. I had simply slipped back into old habits since I was "back home." Too funny.

Randy Emmitt said...

Benjamin,

Must have been a fun trip! I've never seen more than 15-20 of these at a time. Thanks for bringing us there! You'd like our Lake Mattamuskeet, Tundra Swans and Snow Geese by the 10s of thousands and the same with ducks.

Les said...

The first time I saw one I could not believe my eyes, and we took lots of bad photos. They are not at all common here, but one had attached itself to a flock of Canada geese at my parents house on the Eastern Shore of Va., where drivers wave at each other as matter of habit.

NellJean said...

Great post, fun conversations.

James Golden said...

Great pictures. I've never seen one. In western NJ, most folks, especially on local roads, wave when passing, most, not all. In Brooklyn, no one waves. The only wave you'll see is with one finger.

greggo said...

Looks like it was a little froggy there. I bet the audio was awesome.

Benjamin Vogt said...

D--I always equate hand waving with familiarity. So I have a real problem with it. I'm also a jerk.
K--Ha! I like that story. I've grown up in small towns and big cities, so feel that duality.
R--That would be fantastic! I love geese of almost any kind.
L--Was it attached with staples? Glue? String? Har har shut up?
NJ--Thanks for stopping by my humble abode!
J--Really? I'd never imagine NJ folks would wave. But I guess there can be and is a big difference once you get away from the cities.
G--Foggy, too. Their calls are incredible!

scottweberpdx said...

I'm so bummed I never got a chance to go see the cranes while I lived in NE. I do love that sculpture at the Omaha airport...the one inspired by the cranes dancing, though.

Layanee said...

It is never too late to change that bad habit of the one fingered wave. Glad you mastered that today. LOL Fabulous shots. I do like the ones of your wife in almost silhouette on the road.

Fran Sorin said...

Benjamin,
What a beautiful story in photos you have given me....thank you!

Benjamin Vogt said...

Scott--I've been to the Omaha airport only once and hope to never go again. I missed the sculpture, nonetheless. Now before I move away I need to go up the state capitol and....
Layanee--I've been toying with the idea of having those shots of my wife be the cover tomy next book. Can't decide.
Fran--At your service! :)

Oregon Coast Gardener said...

Great photos of the cranes, especially like the ones with your wife in her all-black silhouette and cranes all around. Very artsy.

Out here on the Oregon coast we are spoiled with regular close-ups of Great Blue Heron and egrets, along with lots of small shore & sea birds. My favorite is the awesome Brown Pelican... they coast above the waves in groups while hunting.

Benjamin Vogt said...

OCC--Accidental artsy, not intentional, I assure you! I bet you see all kinds of cool stuff on the Oregon coast, like whales, maybe? A big flyway too, I'm sure.

. . . Lisa and Robb . . . said...

Cranes mate for life, and "renew their marriage vows" every year with elaborate mating displays. You are very, very lucky to have witnessed these behaviors.

I've gone out to see the sandhill cranes in California and have never seen them dancing.

Benjamin Vogt said...

LR--I suppose I am lucky. They did a lot of dancing for us, but also a lot of walking away from us.

gippslandgardener said...

Hello Benjamin, I'm captivated by your photos of the cranes. If I took photos on such a foggy day they would be well and truly on the dull side of grey, but yours bring the cranes to life.

Anonymous said...

Have you seen Julie Zickefoose's posts about sandhill cranes? Some interesting and infuriating info about them and how they are hunted.

I've never seen them in person. Your experience looks so magical.

http://juliezickefoose.blogspot.com/2010/12/sandhill-crane-hunting.html

http://juliezickefoose.blogspot.com/2011/03/crane-battle-moves-to-kentucky.html

Heather
Wayne, PA

Benjamin Vogt said...

Gipp--thank you! I took so many photos, yet only a few seemed ok. What I really need is $3,000 zoom lens!
Heather--Thank you so much for those links! I knew cranes were hunted, but Julie's posts were full of rage and tears, and so sensible you wonder how anyone coudl remain blind to the issue. There's a sliding scale to treating life on this planet. If you can have dogfights, you can murder another human without a second thought. What you do to the least, you do to me, if we get Biblical. I don't understand it. And yet, I understand hunting deer, whose natural predators we have exteriminated. Maybe I have a problem here....

Corner Gardener Sue said...

I am glad I made it back to see these great photos. I have lived in Nebraska all of my life, and have never been to see the cranes. I plan to one of these years. My sister has been several times.

I can relate to taking lots of photos, and being glad when some look good.