Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Sandhill Crane Migration is On

Gander Mountain

Every March and April in central Nebraska over 500,000 sandhill cranes make their way north to their nesting grounds.  They stop along the Platte River near Kearney and Gibbon Nebraska to feed in the cornfields and restock their fat and protein supply to complete the trip north.  The fields hold corn from the fall harvest and the cranes like the corn and other grains left over in the fields.  This is the largest gathering of cranes in the world and it is a spectacle to see.

The Iain Nicolson Audubon Center at Rowe Sanctuary owns and manages over 1,900 acres in the heart of this magnificent crane gathering area. The center offers guided field trips to view the concentrations of the birds.  They are viewed from blinds constructed along the Platte River.  People come from all over the world to view the gathering of the birds.

We have traveled across Nebraska on I-80 to visit friends and family a multitude of times and took the cranes for granted.  We never stopped to enjoy the viewing of a truly magnificent sight.  We decided to plan the trip and headed to Gibbon, Nebraska and south to the Rowe Sanctuary.  You can click on the link at the Sancuary Headquarters to get more information.  In addition, if you can't make the trip or live on the other side of the world, you can still see the cranes and other creatures that inhabit the banks of the Platte River by going to the following link and view the cam the volunteers have set up.  My recommendation would be to view the cam at day's first light and in the evening.

Arriving shortly after a 3 hour drive from Council Bluffs, we found there was an opportunity still available to travel with a naturalist and view the cranes up close in one of the viewing blinds.  We signed up for the 6 PM viewing.  We also found out that the early viewing may be more entertaining which takes place around 6 AM.  At that time the cranes go through their various dances.  I would recommend the "Sandhill Crane Display Dictionary, what cranes say with their body language."  You can order this document by calling 1-800-434-2555.

Before the evening viewing, we drove ourselves around the various farms and roads to the south and north of the Platte.  Depending on where the birds were feeding, we had an excellent opportunity to watch the birds from a distance.  A really good set of binoculars is needed to watch the cranes and view their movements.  Crane dancing might be seen.  It will consist of wing flapping, head bowing, object tossing or one bird circling another.   This is where the Sandhill Crane Display Dictionary will come in handy.

The crane frequently gives a loud trumpeting call that  rolls from the throat.  The call can be heard from over a mile away. Mated pairs of cranes engage in "unison calling." The cranes stand close together, calling in a synchronized and complex duet. The female makes two calls for every single call of the male as indicated by our guide.  That sounds familiar doesn't it.

Vortex Viper HD Binoculars - Roof Prism

Vortex Viper HD Binoculars - Roof Prism

For a fantastic Binocular, click on the link or the pic to buy from Bass Pro.
By night fall we could no longer make out the cranes settling onto the sandbars on the river.  The group we were with quietly left so as not to disturb the birds.
If you travel I-80 at anytime in March or April across Nebraska, stopping to view the migration is well worth the time spent.

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