The Annual Sandhill Crane Migration

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I've lived in Nebraska for twenty years and the one thing I've always wanted to do but never have is to see the annual migration of the Sandhill Cranes. Sandhill cranes, according to Wikipedia, "are a species of large crane of North America and extreme northeastern Siberia. The common name of this bird refers to a habitat like that at the Platte River, on the edge of Nebraska's Sandhills on the American Great Plains." These cranes migrate from north to south, stopping in Nebraska in February, but you'll see the majority of them stop in my state by the third week of March. Visitors flock to the region every year during this time, and I got to join them last year.

My dad and my uncle decided to make the trek there last year and invited me to join them, so I made the three-hour journey east from Omaha to Kearney on the last weekend of March 2023. My dad and my uncle are decent photographers with good cameras, so my dad lent me one of his to take nice pictures but hasn't gotten them sent to me, which is why I haven't made this post until now. Still, I took some (less nice) photos with my phone so I will share those along with my experiences during my time there.

After I arrived and dropped my stuff off at the Airbnb, we rode around on country roads looking for the cranes. They were, quite literally, everywhere so spotting them wasn't difficult.

Along the way, we stopped at the Iain Nicolson Audubon Center at Rowe Sanctuary

This visitor center, like others in the area, specializes in the Sandhill Crane.

In addition to the visitor's center, some trails lead to different places along the river. Water is where the cranes can most often be found, particularly in the morning.

The end of these trails leads to viewing buildings/blinds, made to capture photos of the cranes. 

Which is exactly what we did.

Cranes sleep on these little "islands" in the river to protect them from predators. So, while we didn't see them here during the day so much, this is prime real estate for early in the morning when the cranes begin their day.

Here's my uncle looking for a perfect picture moment.

It was a lovely day for March and enjoyable walking around outside.

One of the viewing blinds/buildings. 

This one was definitely bigger than the other one. My dad is here next to me and my uncle is the one way down on the other end.

On the trail, heading back to the visitor's center.

The main visitor's center as seen from the main trail.

The next day we woke up to a completely different landscape - cold and snowy. We had originally planned to go to Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park in Kansas, but, alas, it wasn't meant to be. These semis were all lined up, held back by road conditions.

As a Midwesterner, I'm used to it being one season one day, and another season the next.

I took this photo because I love seeing the farm in the background set against the white.

Since we couldn't do our original day trip, we were back out on the backroads looking for cranes.

It was so cool to catch them in flight. 

Look at how many there are. 

Couldn't leave out the cows.  

The last morning before we checked out, we went to a popular viewing patio/boardwalk to try and catch the cranes taking off from their overnight encampments on the river islands.

It was so beautiful. I love winterscapes.

We didn't get that "worth a thousand dollars" type photo of the cranes all taking off at once so after a while, we headed over to the Crane Trust VC. One summer many years ago, I took the kids on a summer day trip to Grand Island, and we stopped here on our way back.

This is a great photo - too bad it wasn't taken with a real camera.

This VC has displays dedicated to the crane migration, as well as interesting information about other migratory birds that make their way through here.

Last photo before checking out and heading home.

I'm so glad that I finally got to have this experience. It's a truly magnificent thing to witness a powerful force in nature, especially after wanting to witness it for a few decades. My dad actually gifted me the camera he let me use during this trip as he has that newer one. Of course, this means that I'll get out there again one day with my kids and get some better photos.



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