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:

I’m a Magnet for Squirrels & Black Flies!

Day 38: Still camping in South Dakota. What a surprise! Around 3:30am we had some rain! A few hours earlier I opened my tent flaps to let the breeze in and now I was closing them! The morning heat was here so I started breakfast and hung my wet tent fly on my car. Then, I was doing battle with a squirrel! I saw this squirrel yesterday. It was obnoxious then, but I was only writing at my table. Today I was with yogurt, cereal, coffee and tea so probably a tempting scene for a squirrel wanting to steal something! After shooing it away with small stones and water and it returning each time, I took my can of OFF and sprayed it toward the squirrel. He did not come back!

An hour later I saw a woman trying to feed a squirrel, no doubt the same one I shooed away! She is crouched over with arm extended and some food in her hand. I couldn’t believe it! Don’t people know not to feed wild animals? Don’t they realize these animals will be pests for the next people who camp here? Fortunately a man, from another campsite, started to yell to the woman and tell her not to feed the squirrel.

Today’s drive was from North Sioux City, South Dakota to Donaphin, Nebraska This was to be a short 3.5 hour drive, basically to shorten  my drive the next day. It’s hot and humid. If it wasn’t for that Canadian wildfire smoke I would still be in Bemidji, MN … oh well!

In reality, the drive was about 45 minutes longer due to a car crash. Unfortunately the crash involved cars in both directions. I am not sure how it happened. The oncoming car had a crashed front end and windshield and the car going my direction was in the median upside down. Wow!

Tonight’s campsite I am crammed between the restrooms and the swimming pool. Actually the next tent site is close too. I did have a nice grassy area to setup my tent. I will be out of here early in the morning for a 6 hour drive to Fort Collins, CO. I should have a good night sleep, but my insect bites on my ankles are still hurting me. One advantage of this campground is the highway traffic is a mile away. Nice change of pace, may not need earplugs! (But I did.)

Day 39. I heard lots of commotion at the campground so I checked my Dark Sky app to see if they were early departures or breaking down their tents or driving trailers out for a reason. Yup, in 35 minutes rain will be in our area! I was out within 29 minutes and decided to eat granola bar and Granny Smith apple on the road. 

Driving from Donaphin, NE to Fort Collins, CO I discover I am in the middle of sandhill crane country! I had heard of Kearney, NE as one of the areas people descend upon when it is sandhill crane migration time. Someday I may be back!

The final 90 miles to Fort Collins, Co I drove on smaller roads rather than the interstate. I wanted to see the prairie lands, the communities being built outside of Fort Collins, the sheep farms, landfill and to simply have a change of pace in the driving.

When I stopped for gas near Fort Collins a woman recommended Estes Park as place to visit . When I spoke on the phone with my mom, she told me the plague is here. Apparently a child had died from it. She and I reminisced about the time my youngest sister was bit by a squirrel at the bottom of the gorge at Royal Gorge, CO in 1968, I think it was!?! Fortunately my sister did not need rabies shots. Good thing as we were in the first week or so of our 10 week family camping trip around the USA.

At NE campsite, to the left were restrooms and to the right the pool. But the grass was nice!