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.
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.
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.
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.