Thursday, March 30, 2017


At our niece's wedding in Lincoln, Nebraska Kay and I discovered that the nearby Platte River valley is the epicenter of the sandhill crane migration. At the very moment of our visit over 400,000 of the birds were congregated to rest and refuel on their way north. Enabling us to enjoy this wildlife spectacle took a full family effort. My sister from New York had a chance conversation with an ornithologist to put the cranes on our map; my brother from Missouri opened up a special sighting opportunity through The Crane Trust; and my son from Indiana lent us his car for the two-hour pre-dawn drive to the cranes' staging area.

Sandhill cranes on the Platte River
The cranes rely on the shallow braided channels of the river for safe nighttime roosting and foraging opportunities for waste grain in adjacent corn fields. During their stop in Nebraska they gain 10-20 percent of their body weight to complete the flight from southern wintering grounds to their breeding territories in Canada, Alaska and Siberia. Their necessities that used to be met on a broad 200-mile floodplain are now carefully nurtured by conservation agencies in a 60-mile stretch of the Platte River that forms an hourglass neck in the vast range of the cranes.
Sandhill crane migration on the Central Flyway
The State of Nebraska and the Audubon Society work creatively at public education and habitat renewal to help people and cranes coexist within the pressures of urbanization and large scale agriculture. The Crane Trust dedicates its mission to extending favorable conditions for the birds and giving people the opportunity to appreciate them at fairly close range.

Areas protected by The Crane Trust on the Platte River
The morning after the wedding Kay and I were guided through half-moon darkness to a Crane Trust observation blind alongside the river. We could hear tentative murmurings at first, then a melodious gabbling that swelled as the light grayed into a surrounding chorus suggestive of gigantic spring peepers. Fantastic colors enriched the sky. The birds voiced their considerations for the new day in tumultuous discussions and tender trills, gradually taking to the air.

Cranes on sandbar sanctuaries before sunrise

First light

Flocking to the corn fields at dawn

Early mist

Sunrise, Platte River



  1. What a wonderful- possibly once-in-a-lifetime experience! And such beautiful photos, Martin. I especially like "Early Mist" 'though they are all pretty extraordinary. Thank you for sharing.

  2. I like this story a lot. Stories like this help me remember what a big world we live in and that much amazing animal stuff tends to go on without our involvement or awareness. Also, gorgeous photos.