Kansas Nebraska Weekend
A trip to view the sandhill crane migration
March 21-23, 2008

Continuing north into Nebraska, I was pleased to see the sun come out. 10 miles later, it rained, then hailed, then sleeted. But that was the only bad weather on the trip.

After checking into the Roadway Inn in Grand Island (cheap but acceptable), I headed out on the back roads towards Rowe Sanctuary, stopping to photograph sandhill cranes in the corn fields. The most interesting sight, was a raccoon right next to the road by a crane carcass. Several cars stopped to look at "him," but he was not going to move away from the carcass for anything. It reminded me of my visit to see sandhill cranes in 2005 - while I was out of the car taking pictures, a raccoon walked by. That time, it made me a bit nervous, it didn't seem shy of me at all.

sandhill cranes in flight.
Sandhill cranes mate for life. Most of the time you will see just the pair flying, often joined by an
immature offspring from the previous year.

Crane dance prints and greeting cards

Raccoon with sandhill crane carcass.

At Rowe Sanctuary I checked out the gift shop and crane cam which can be panned & zoomed from the Center http://video.nationalgeographic.com/video/cranecam/ and waited for the groups to gather for spots in the blinds at 6:30. It was getting colder and windy, so I put on a long shirt, jersey, heavy wool sweater, and mid weight jacket. I could have worn more.

Brad Mellema, Director of the Iain Nicolson Audubon Center at Rowe Sanctuary.
Getting instructions from Brad Mellema, Director of the Iain Nicolson Audubon Center at Rowe Sanctuary.

This time I was in the "hay bale" blind, a light plywood structure lined on the inside with hay bales for insulation and to deaden noise. There were 30 of us in this blind, plus three guides. This blind didn't work nearly as well as the L shaped blind I was in, in 2005.

Hay Bale blind.

People that had been in the blind before grabbed the best spots, setting up their tripods and cameras with long lenses. But the photo opportunities weren't that great and the location in the blind didn't make that big a difference. It was mostly cloudy and was getting too dark for good photos before long.

We saw a turkey across the Platte River, as well as deer. Slowly the cranes started gathering into small groups in secondary roosts. Finally the first ones settled into the running water and as the fight failed, thousands of cranes settled into the river. The estimates are that there were about 300,000 of the large birds along the river and perhaps 60,000 at Rowe Sanctuary.

Sandhill cranes along the Platte River.
Sandhill cranes congregating in a secondary roost before moving into the river.


Whitetail deer

Sunset on the Platte River in Nebraska.

Photos of sandhill crane viewing at Rowe Sanctuary in 2005

The coolest thing is the sound, Sandhill cranes have a loud call and a single bird can be heard up to a mile away. The sound of thousands of them has to be heard to be appreciated. I particularly enjoyed standing with my hands cupped behind my ears to magnify the sound

I had a late supper back in Grand Island. I had been debating between two local steak places that were recommended at Roadfood.com: Texas T-Bone Steakhouse and Uncle Ed's Steakhouse. The hotel had a coupon for 10% off at Texas T-Bone, so that was the one I tried. Texas T-Bone is trying for a roadhouse feel with peanut shells on the floor and loud country music videos playing on TVs around the dinning room. I didn't arrive until after 9:30 and the servers were trying to clean up. I noticed that the buckets of peanuts were removed from every table that still had customers

The meal was pretty good. I had a decent Caesar salad, 16 ounce rib eye (beef), and steak fries. The steak was much better than the previous night. If I stopped there again, I would probably try the smoked sirloin steak.

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Keith's other trips

Copyright 2008-2009 by Keith Stokes