(Appeared in Tucson Audubon Society’s Vermilion Flycatcher)

6 a.m. on the Platte.  It’s dark and it’s cold. 

Upstream, I hear a sound like a jet engine warming up.  The high pitched whine gets louder and closer until it reaches me, and I begin to distinguish crane and geese calls among tens of thousands of birds simultaneously lifting off the river.  Because it was still early, and because I’m more auditory than visual, the intensity of the sound caught me by surprise. 

This was my third trip to see the crane migration and my first year as a volunteer at Rowe Sanctuary.  The Iain Nicolson Audubon Center has five permanent staff aided by many volunteers.  I’m selfish.  I wanted to see Cranes every chance I got, so I forged the following schedule:  early morning, while still dark, I snuck into a blind.  Trying not to freeze, I watched the birds gradually increase their activity, until the engine noise and the sudden explosion into the air. 

During the day I’d paint, dig holes for posts, set up rooms, take down rooms, hang things, fix what I could, try not to break what I couldn’t fix, run errands and wash dishes.  My dish washing ability seemed to be appreciated more than anything else.  If I got a chance to work outside, I could see flocks of cranes and geese overhead, with an occasional eagle and red-tailed hawk.  One day the redwing blackbirds suddenly appeared.  In the evening, I’d rush back to the house they put me up in, quickly eat dinner, and then return to one of the blinds where I would see the reverse, with the backdrop of a three or four layered colored sunset.  Once, I counted 10,000 cranes in a half hour, from only one direction. 

On the drive from the house to Rowe, I got used to seeing thousands of cranes in nearby fields, where they were eating waste corn.  Near the end of my stay, I spotted a large flock coming from the east.  High overhead they flew, spanning a quarter of the sky, sunlight reflecting off their feathers giving them a grayish-white cast.  Acting like a first time viewer, I stopped and got out to watch the flock pass, their primitive-sounding calls easily heard.  Cranes do that to me. 

Rowe takes good care of their volunteers.  Next year, after I tag along four times with certified field trip guides I will become one myself.  Am I lucky or what?  I will show people cranes and see the birds at the same time.  I was even interviewed for the Grand Island Independent:  “I love the cranes,” I was quoted.  “They’re large and they’re loud.  The first time I saw it I was in awe of the experience.  And I still am.”

The pictures not only show cranes but some of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever encountered.  South central Nebraska in March.  It’s a must see!


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