Part 2: Sandhill Cranes in Nebraska

I drove many dirt roads between Kearney and Donaphin, Nebraska, south of Interstate 80, and south of the Platte River to observe sandhill cranes in the fields and on the river. Each spring, millions of sandhill cranes migrate through this area and people flock to see them. The Platte River is considered a “staging area” where the birds rest, replenish energy reserves and then fly on to nesting grounds in Canada, Alaska and Siberia. This is the largest concentration; 80% of all sandhill cranes come to the Platte River each spring. The majority of the birds are closer to Kearney, but I did see a few birds at Grand Island, 42 miles to the east.

When you spend hours watching the birds you notice their dancing. Whether a bow, jump or other crazy move you’ll wonder if it is a message of dominance, protection or love. It’s really intriguing to try and figure what they wish to communicate to the other. I learned more about the reddish skin on the crane’s forehead. The exposed area contracts when the bird is relaxed and expands when the bird is alert or excited. Plus, depending on their level of excitement the color may vary: excited bright red crimson red to dull relaxed reddish gray. 

Here are some photos of cranes standing around when I was not looking at their butt while eating and others in a dance:

Notice the red skin; bird knows I am new to the area.
Is that joy or not?
Jumping for joy?

I have hundreds of photos where sandhill cranes are flying … in, overhead, or to their roost … trying to capture their formation in the sky, gracefulness in landing and the beauty of the night. But once again, I join a number of people to see them come to roost at about 8pm. (Many people were here at 7:15pm to get a good position, many bring chairs, to see the birds.) Finally, 7:50pm, the birds begin to arrive! Huge numbers of birds fill the sky as they land and settle in on the sandbars in the shallow river water a distance to the west of us. Every time I see this sandhill crane activity, it is amazing and fascinating to watch! I was sharing this with the man standing next to me, they look like Mary Poppins coming down with her umbrella. Somehow I find them a bit comical as they land, but they are successful and that is what matters!

I’ll finish this post with photos of the cranes, but know also there were other birds out in the area. I visited a Nature Conservancy prairie tract and also saw a greater yellowlegs, northern shoveler, and blue-winged teal, Plains bison and acres and acres of agricultural land. At my campground there are plenty of American robins, common grackles, sparrows and red-winged blackbirds. When I asked a young woman at a coffee shop in Donaphin what I should not miss, since there are many museums and places to visit, she said, see the birds.

Next I am driving to Illinois, a long drive with a stop at Cabela’s to determine how best to get a replacement battery for my Goal Zero Yeti 150. From my understanding now, it seems the battery may have needed covers too for the Colorado and Nebraska cold nights, and then it died. Whatever the case, I’ll write again when I can. For now, please enjoy these photos:

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