Birdwatching on the Platte River

March 27, 2015

“I think the most important quality in a birdwatcher is a willingness to stand quietly and see what comes.”
— Lynn Thomas, Birding with Yeats

Birdwatchers along the Fort Kearney Historical  Recreation Site bridge

Birdwatchers along the Fort Kearney Historical
Recreation Site bridge

A "V" of  sandhill cranes in flight over the Platte River

A “V” of sandhill cranes in flight over the Platte River

“Watching Sandhill Cranes”
by William Stafford, from Even in Quiet Places

Spirits among us have departed — friends,
relatives, neighbors; we can’t find them.
If we search and call, the sky merely waits.
Then some day here come the cranes
planing in from cloud or mist — sharp,
lonely spears, awkwardly graceful.
They reach for the land; they stalk
the ploughed fields, not letting us near,
not quite our own, not quite the world’s.

People go by and pull over to watch.  They
peer and point and wonder.  It is because
these travelers, these far wanderers,
plane down and yearn in a reaching
flight.  They extend our life,
piercing through space to reappear
quietly, undeniably, where we are.

The car can be a useful blind for watching skittish birds

The car can be a useful blind for watching skittish birds

Bird watchers gather for the massive return to the roost at sunset.

Bird watchers gather for the massive return to the roost at sunset.

My trip to Nebraska to witness the Spring sandhill crane migration was greatly enhanced by traveling with knowledgeable companions.  My brother and sister-in-law are both biologists and bird watchers and they know a lot about birds and habitat.

And they are experts at finding birds.  One morning we rose before dawn to find a prairie chicken lek.  They had done some research and we spent the previous afternoon scouting out spots where we might see these grouse.  They are most active at sunrise.  Sure enough, my brother found a lek with about a dozen prairie chickens, mostly colorful males and some females.  We watched through binoculars and a scope as the birds strutted and stomped and leaped.  They were much too far away to photograph through my zoom lens.  (You can find some video clips on You Tube.)

Audubon's painting of Greater Prairie Chickens

Audubon’s painting of Greater Prairie Chickens

One of the great things about traveling with bird watchers is that they are extremely motivated to get up in the wee hours before sunrise to be in place for the dawn, or to be sure to be outside near sunset, when birds are often most active.  Fortunately for me, these were also the times of the day when the light was best for photography.

Before sunrise on the Platte River, from a blind at the Rowe Sanctuary

Before sunrise on the Platte River, from a blind at the Rowe Sanctuary

Birdwatching from the blind at the Rowe Sanctuary

Birdwatching from the blind at the Rowe Sanctuary

Birdwatcher shadows

Birdwatcher shadows

The rewards of being outside t sunset -- Sandhill cranes flock to the Platte River.

The rewards of being outside at sunset — Sandhill cranes flock to the Platte River.

Watercolor sketch of sandhill crane

Watercolor sketch of sandhill crane

 

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One Response to “Birdwatching on the Platte River”


  1. […] have featured some of my favorites of his in past blog posts.  You can revisit them here: “Watching Sandhill Cranes,”  “Ask,” “What’s in My Journal,” “Things the Wind […]


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