Roosting with the sandhill cranes

Sandhill cranes dance shortly after sunrise near the Crane Trust, which is close to Wood River, Neb., on Wednesday, March 14, 2012. Cranes can be 3 to 4 feet tall, weigh between 6 and 12 pounds and have a wingspan of 6 to 7 feet. ALYSSA SCHUKAR/THE WORLD-HERALD

For about six weeks every year, 80 percent of the world’s population of sandhill cranes descends on the Platte River in south-central Nebraska during their migration north from southern wintering grounds. The cranes stop in Nebraska to build up the fat reserves necessary to sustain them through the nesting season.

This past week I headed west to document the annual event, spending two days working — including an overnight stay in a blind at the Crane Trust – along the river from near Grand Island to west of Kearney. Take a look at the showcase of images.

I started at the Fort Kearny rails-to-trails bridge, where young families gathered to catch a glimpse of the birds. The next morning, I arrived well before dawn at the Iain Nicolson Audubon Center at Rowe Sanctuary near Gibbon.

Cranes walk through the shallow water of the Platte River shortly before sunset on Tuesday, March 13, 2012. The river provides cranes with a safe place from predators for rest at night. ALYSSA SCHUKAR/THE WORLD-HERALD

I’ve had only one other experience photographing wildlife, so this assignment offered many challenges. Any nature photographer will tell you that patience is key. Long lenses and a bit of caffeine help a lot, too.

Thankfully, the sandhill cranes make for very easy pictures. They roost along the river near the end of the day and stay there until the sun comes up in the morning.

As morning lights begins to fill the sky on Wednesday, March 14, 2012, sandhill cranes preen and oil their feathers. ALYSSA SCHUKAR/THE WORLD-HERALD

The birds are social animals and stay together at night for protection. The river is an ideal stopping point for the cranes because the water is shallow with many sandbars.

A pair of sandhill cranes pass in front of the moon shortly after sunrise on Tuesday, March 13, 2012. Sandhills cranes, which mate for life, can live between 20 and 40 years. ALYSSA SCHUKAR/THE WORLD-HERALD

A flock of sandhill cranes takes flight shortly after sunrise on Tuesday, March 13, 2012. Every year, during March and early April, the Platte River from near Grand Island to west of Kearney is home to more than 500,000 sandhill cranes. ALYSSA SCHUKAR/THE WORLD-HERALD

Also, I thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent with Kearney poet Don Welch, who has written extensively about the Platte River. In the video below, he reads “White Cranes in Spring for Marcia,” a poem about cranes that he wrote for his wife.

Alyssa Schukar

About Alyssa Schukar

I have been a staff photojournalist at the Omaha World-Herald since September 2008. I'm from Lincoln and am a 2006 graduate of the College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Previously, I worked as an assistant at Malone and Co., a commercial photography studio in Omaha. My favorite pictures are those that give insight on the life of an individual or family because I understand the world better through the experiences of the people I meet. It's always humbling to be allowed such intimate access. My most challenging assignments come in many forms. Funerals, especially those of soldiers, always are emotionally draining, but I try to approach people with respect and dignity. In my time at the paper, I have covered a wide variety of assignments, including the Nebraska and Iowa National Guard's deployments in Afghanistan, Husker football at home and away, portraits of wigs big and small, rodeo queen competitions and intimate views of everyday life and love. Follow me on twitter @OWHalyssa.
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Comments

  1. Frederick Wasti says:

    Stunning, Alyssa – I am green with envy – :-)

  2. Frederick Wasti says:

    Alyssa, is the text to Don Welch’s “White Cranes in Spring for Marcia” available online at all?

  3. Don Welch says:

    Alyssa,

    Your amazing photos moved me and the poem and photos made Marcia cry. You are that good.

    Can’t thank you enough.

    Don W

  4. Frederick, the best I can do for you is direct you to Don’s book “The Platte River,” which includes “White Cranes in Spring” and which you can buy on Amazon.

    Don, I really enjoyed spending time with you and Marcia. The cranes were beautiful, but the conversation with the two of you was wonderfully engaging. Thank you again!

  5. James D. Andrews Jr. says:

    More experienced wildlife photographers have nothing on you. Your pictures are spectacular. I definately want to purchase a couple of them including the wonderful one of my kids Joshua and Kaitlyn. I notice the one of my kids is not avalable though and I was hoping you could make an exception for me. On another note, As a 3 time veteran I really appreciate your efforts to present stories of soldiers and the impact of war. Thank you.
    James Andrews

  6. James D. Andrews Jr. says:

    More experienced wildlife photographers have nothing on you. Your pictures are spectacular. I definately want to purchase a couple of them including the wonderful one of my kids Joshua and Kaitlyn. I notice the one of my kids is not avalable though and I was hoping you could make an exception for me. On another note, As a 3 time veteran I really appreciate your efforts to present stories of soldiers and the impacts of war on them and our country.
    Thank you.
    James Andrews

    1. James, it’s great to hear from you! I hope you and your family enjoyed your visit to Nebraska. Your kids were adorable and very sweet.

      For some reason, the picture of Kaitlyn and Joshua fell out of our system. I’m glad you mentioned it! We’ve now got a link for you: http://marketplace.omaha.com/shop/product.php?productid=66825&page=1

      And the rest of the crane pictures are at http://marketplace.omaha.com/shop/home.php — just search for “cranes.”

      Don’t thank me! Thank YOU for your service. It’s a privilege to photograph and spend time with veterans.

  7. Cierra says:

    I really enjoyed looking at your photos as an assignment at millard south high school.

  8. [...] sandhill cranes for some beautiful video of their annual migration. Read more about her experience here for her blog post. Tags: Alyssa Schukar, Andrew Mattson, Guest List, Kyle Benecke, Little Brazil, [...]