On our way home from Denver, after flying out to South Carolina to watch Sid graduate from basic training, we stopped in Kearny, Nebraska, at Audubon's Rowe Sanctuary to see Sandhill Cranes on their way north.
It was down around freezing and pretty raw, but we camped overnight at Fort Kearny State Recreation Area.
We had reserved a place at the sanctuary in one of the blinds for the evening and the next morning, so we husstled over to the sanctuary and got there just in time. The blinds are literally right on the river, which is a hundred yards wide and about a foot deep around there. This makes it ideal overnight habitat for sandhills and other birds, as they can sleep on the sandbars without having to worry quite so much about predators. They fly out in the morning to feed, and return in the evening.
We got to the blind and settled in, bundled up as warmly as we could. We didn't see much at first; just a few waders and a few ducks.
|Greater Yellowlegs||Green-Winged Teal|
It got darker, and darker, and still no cranes. Finally, when it was pretty much too dark to take pictures, we heard them coming in. And then they started filling the sky. Unfortunately, they didn't land where they were supposed to, or at least where we thought they were supposed to. They set down about 500 yards upstream, and 500 yards downstream. But it was a treat to have the sky filled with these majestic pre-historic birds.
|North Platte River||North Platte River||The Sky Filled with Cranes|
|North Platte River|
We drove back to our tent in the dark and ate a cold dinner. The next morning we were up before dawn and back at the sanctuary, this time in a different blind. But again the birds eluded us. When the sun brightened the sky in the east enough that we could see anything, we found the river in front of us filled with Canada Geese. Not a bad thing, but a disappointment when we were hoping so much for cranes. Mother nature is a fickle companion.
After the geese left, we headed back to the sanctuary visitors' center for a hot drink and to check out the exhibits. As we drove out, we started seeing cranes everywhere! We may not have gotten a close-up at the river, but they were feeding in the sanctuary and surrounding fields, and we could stop the car on the road reasonably close.
There were cranes moving about a lot, checking out their friends and the various feeding grounds, and probably sizing up the mating possibilities for later.
|Crane Coming in for a Landing|
|Cranes Loading Up|
As we left the sanctuary we passed ponds full of ducks, loading up for the rest of their trips north as well.
|Ring-Necked Duck||Ring-Necked Duck Female|
We left Kearny and headed home, through a misty morning. The wind came up, and soon we were seeing the infamous prairie dust-devils. Chimney Rock appeared as an apparition, almost as if in a dream. And still the sky was occasionally filled with cranes, and geese.
|Sky Filled with Cranes|