Imagine watching an orange glow back-lighting thousand of cranes as the sun rises on the Nebraska’s Central Platte River.
With more daylight you realize that what looked like merely like sandbar and small, flat, isle protrusions really were clusters of sleeping Sandhill Cranes. You start capturing the scene with camera and smart phone sans flash so you don’t disturb the birds.
A few cranes fly off to corn fields on either side of the river. Then, without warning that you can catch, they all rise and fill the sky with black silhouettes and loud cries.
The scene is your reward for leaving your warm bed before 5 a.m. so that you can get to the National Audubon Society’s Rowe Sanctuary in Gibbon in time to walk to a blind before sunrise.
It is now March 21 when the Sandhill Crane migration is at its peak on the Platte so space at the Rowe Sanctuary’s blinds had to be reserved a couple of months ahead. The cranes stop here on their way from Mexico, Texas and New Mexico to Alaska because the river offers them protection from predatory land animals and the food supply will help them bulk up for the long flight to Alaska and northern Canada.
To take advantage of being here you return to the blind before sunset, ready to capture the next decent of cranes who will nestle down there for the night. Against the gorgeous red sunset the scene looks like a painting.
Volunteers have come here from as far as California and as close as Lincoln, NE to help as guides. And you do need help to follow the Rowe Sanctuary’s paths in the early morning darkness and post sunset night.
Audubon’s Rowe Sanctuary is a great place to learn about bird migrations through what is known as the Central Flyway.
Next morning is crane migration repeat. But this time the visit to a blind is at the Crane Trust Nature & Visitor Center in Wood River near Grand Island. Blinds and information at both Rowe and the Crane Trust are good. Grand Island is also a good stopping point for lodging and sights.