BREAKING SOME OF THE RULES


I guide visitors to see the Sandhill Cranes in Nebraska, where in March evenings, they come to the Platte River in extraordinary numbers, leaving for the fields the following morning.  The birds are unable to perch, so they live on the ground, in the air, or in the water.  The latter acts as an alarm system, so no predator may get close to them.  The Platte, one of the most maligned rivers in US history, is perfect habitat, because it is shallow, with many channels, a braided river.

Cranes in the air.  This is a common sight in the morning or evening.

Cranes in the air. This is a common sight in the morning or evening.

 

I’ve guided for 5 years, and the rules for taking people to the blinds are strict.  Noise must be kept to a minimum.  I tell people if they can’t whisper, that is fine, just don’t talk.  Camera flashes are taped down in spite of “it’s turned off.”  That phrase is like “he never did that before,” when a person’s dog bites you.  The difference is whereas biting bothers me, a flash can spook ten thousand cranes into the sky, some injuring themselves fatally.  We also tape over the laser sensor, since that emits light, and at infinity focus, it isn’t necessary.  Nearly all are pleasantly compliant.  We put post-its over the display screen, to limit light reflection off one’s face out to the river.  We have strict rules about camera equipment.  We don’t allow automatic multiple exposures, for the sound detracts from the experience of hearing tens of thousands of cranes closeby.

Platte Sunset.  The river and sky are a mass of cranes.

Platte Sunset. The river and sky are a mass of cranes.

 

Yes, we are paranoid.  We walk out in groups with one guide’s leading and the other’s trailing.  We limit noise in the blind.  I tell client medical emergencies and their safety are my top priority, but when it comes to inconvenience, such as being cold, hungry, or bored (crane viewing isn’t for everybody), we stay put until such time as we may safely leave.  People may not leave when they choose.

Viewing Jamalee Blind from Stevie. These are memorials to Dr. Jamalee Fenimore and Stephne (Stevie) Staples.

Viewing Jamalee Blind from Stevie. These are memorials to Dr. Jamalee Fenimore and Stephne (Stevie) Staples.  There are 38 people in Jamalee, which is much larger than seen here.

 

We accommodate those with disabilities.  I took a man with significant Parkinson’s by golf cart to a viewing blind.  The carts are quiet, and the man had a set of photography equipment as advanced as anybody’s I’ve seen.  I helped him carry his equipment into the blind, and when the light was right, he set it up himself, quietly. He took his pictures and told me later, on the way back, it took him 26 years to finally get a sequence of crane dancing correct.  It hangs in the visitor’s center at Rowe.

 

We allow golf carts to two of the five blinds; the third one, East, does NOT allow for golf cart transport.  It is too exposed in the morning and the path too bumpy to make golf cart transport easy.  The other two blinds are near each other, so we can do multiple trips if necessary.

 

I sleep on the floor in the visitor’s center, awake at 4:40 seeing to what blind I am assigned.  I found I was going to East but we had two people needing a golf cart.  This was a mistake and a problem.  I discussed the matter with one staff member at 5:15.  She was concerned, too, and we thought about moving people from one blind to another.  That wasn’t going to work.  Another staff member made what I call a “command decision.”  I would take one man in a golf cart to East, parking it some distance from the blind.  This was breaking a rule, but we felt the situation called for it. I thought the solution good; I would quietly lead the group out in the cart, my co-guide keeping everybody behind me together.

 

East often didn’t have “good cranes,” as we guides call it, because some left very early in the morning, not allowing for pictures.  Indeed, the prior day, the guides got there too late for the “blow off,” which occurs if all cranes leave at once, such as being spooked by an eagle, a coyote, a dog, or some loud noise.  I heard that story, so I kept my morning briefing in the center…..brief.  It gets light in Nebraska early by late March, and I was in a hurry.  As my group entered, I taped all the cameras appropriately, explaining my reasons.  I told them this was the proper time to use the toilets in the center, so they would be ready to leave when I was.

Cranes at Sunset, North Blind, across the River.  They often secondarily stage (land) in the field here, coming in from several miles away from the river, where they fed on waste corn during the day.

Cranes at Sunset, North Blind, across the River. They often secondarily stage (land) in the field here, coming in from several miles away from the river, where they fed on waste corn during the day.

I told the group what the birds were, where they were coming from, migrating up to 7000 miles (one way).  They were feeding and putting on fat for the trip north, where they would build nests near Great Slave Lake; Bettles, Alaska; Siberia;  the Hudson Bay watershed.  I’ve seen cranes north of the Arctic Circle.  I told the 30 there it was one of the great sights in nature, one of Jane Goodall’s top ten, one of my top four.  I told them I was a volunteer, and I wanted them to have a wonderful time.

Then I told them the “don’t”s, including keeping body and camera parts inside the blind.

I didn’t ask for questions. I said we would talk in the blind later.  Some guides go into great depth.  I do, too, in the evening, when we have time.  In the morning, I want to reach the blinds early.  So do the clients, too.

 

Then we left, and I took the man needing the golf cart, the rest of the group in tow.  On the way out, the man told me he had leukemia and had just finished chemotherapy.  He wanted to see the cranes this year, even a few.  He hoped he would be back again.  I did, too, but leukemia is leukemia.  Then again, at my age, I start talking in terms of “if I am still around.”  This man may not be, and we both knew it.

East Blind was great. Cranes were on the river right out in front of it.  Ten minutes later, they all blew off into the orange sky of a Nebraska sunrise.  The man saw it.

In order to take a man with leukemia to East blind, I’ll bend the rules.  Had he asked to use a flash, I would have said no.

I hope he’s back again and again.  We’ll just be sure if he needs a cart, he goes to the other two blinds.

IMG_0402 IMG_0397 IMG_0399 IMG_0400

 

 

 

 

Crane sunset.

Crane sunset.

IMG_0137

Sky dark with cranes

Sky dark with cranes

Tags: ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: