Avid crane watchers go to great lengths to station themselves in prime locations along the Platte, waiting for birds to fly in for their evening roost in the water. The vast majority of riverfront property is private and inaccessible so the few places where people and organizations have set up blinds are usually in great demand, which helps limit the interruptions as cranes settle in for the night. It’s a great thing to experience, although mostly for the sound since the birds usually roost so late in the day there’s very little light for my type of photography. Because of this I usually don’t schedule time in the blinds unless someone else wants to give it a try.
I do like hanging around the bridges over the river, though, to watch the clouds of birds come cruising by on their way to more secluded spots. As it turns out, though, not that all the birds are so private. I stopped near a bridge on a fairly well traveled road just to listen and saw that sandbars only 100 yards upstream were to be the night’s resting spot for a few hundred cranes. They were floating along the river, settling onto the sandbar and trading their usual evening gossip when I looked to the east and saw the cumulus clouds being lit up by the setting sun. Coming across the face of the clouds were lines of cranes, all aiming for my little part of the Platte.
Grabbing my camera I knew there was enough light to handhold some shots, at least to get silhouettes. The birds just kept coming, giving me my choice of individuals, pairs, small groups and large V’s of cranes all converging on these not-so-secluded sandbars and posing themselves against this glowing Nebraska sky. It was great getting images of the birds against the clouds – so much more interesting than a plain blue background.
Cars crossing the bridge didn’t stop so I assumed they are locals, used to the sight of cranes and crane-watchers hanging around the river at sunset. The cranes didn’t mind the cars, probably because they were making so much noise they didn’t notice them. I’ve confirmed with other people who make this annual trek that by mid to late March the cranes are pretty much used to people and will ignore you as long as you keep your distance. Early in the year just the sight of a car on the road will put them to flight – as the season moves into April they will wander the cornfields right next to the road, close enough to have their feathers ruffled by the passing cars. Just don’t stop and forget about getting out of your vehicle. The shape of humans will get them in the air, fussing the whole time about their interrupted meal.