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
“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.
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.)
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.