Bird Watching on the Platte

Photo by Scott Burnworth. Sand Hill Cranes on the Platte River in March 2020.

Scott Burnworth
Livermore Resident

In early March, I was fortunate to visit the Audubon Rowe Sanctuary on the Platte River near Kearney, Nebraska.  The Sand Hill Crane migration was beginning.  I was in a group of 23 on the first morning of reserved viewing spots in a newly constructed blind about 15 yards from the river’s edge.  The Guides walked us from the Visitor’s Center to the blind using red filtered flashlights about an hour before sunrise in the brisk 24-degree humid morning.  There we waited for sunrise.  The waiting was its own unique experience. Although very dark, the loud talking and chattering of the roosting cranes seemed like only a stone’s throw away.  As it turns out—it was.  The light increased, cranes became visible in the shallow river water, and the cameras went into action.

The numbers of cranes present then were only about 1/5 of the migration peak.  But nevertheless, when a large loud wave flew down the river channel towards us, it felt like a literal stampede in the air.  My heart quickened, my senses heightened, and I involuntarily became anxious as to what was about to happen as the tremendous noise became deafening and the chaos of wings proved disorienting.

Back in Livermore, I have recently heard the occasional distinctive clacking voices of small numbers of cranes flying high overhead and barely visible.  I am then reminded of the amazing sights and sounds on the Platte.


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