Ranger Kathryn's Arches

March 12, 2011

Sandhill cranes, Part 2: Gazillions

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 10:40 am
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The last sandhill cranes are coming in to roost

(Continued from previous post)

It started innocently enough, with family groups of threes, or by eights and tens, winging along the river flats. We were within a half hour of sunset, and the gentle calls wafted to the blind from which 32 of us were watching. It was a tranquil, peaceful late afternoon on the North Platte.

The gregarious birds were gathering for the night; long, lazy V’s headed upriver to the prime roosting areas. As the sun sank lower and lower, the V’s began to have 75 or 150 individuals in them. Soon multiple large V’s converged overhead, and with the increasing number of birds in the sky, the decibels followed suit. Their deep rolling trumpet and rattling filled the air in waves, as layer upon layer added themselves to the sunset. Black specks filled the air in the distance, and large black foreground forms were silhouetted against the fading orange sky. I gave up shooting photos from my little two-square-foot window and just drank in the spectacle. The only thing I had in my memory banks for remote comparison was bat flights out of huge caverns. They just kept coming… and coming… and coming.

The river was running too deep for nearby sandbars to serve as landing spots, so I’ll save that piece for another year, next time doing the sunRISE spectacle. Watching hundreds of thousands of birds wake up, get up, and fly up, is its own type of spiritual experience. But, for tonight, I was filled up. Watching something of this magnitude reminds me that I’m a tiny part of a panorama much bigger than anything imaginable. I felt small, inconspicuous, humble.

And I want to go to Africa and see the great migrations of ungulates.

Sandhill cranes, Part 1

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 8:40 am
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I stepped out of my vehicle, stretched, and heard an unmistakable sound overhead… a bit like a goose with a stutter. A single sandhill crane was doing a low, lazy fly-over, its long legs dangling behind it so you could never mistake it for a large goose. My pulse sped up. In my whole life, I’ve never seen more than one or two of these imposing birds at a time. Tonight would be different. Tonight I paid my $25 to spend two hours in a blind at the river’s edge to watch The Spectacle at sunset.
This is the Platte River Valley of central Nebraska, and over half a million (!) of these birds use it as a staging ground each spring en route to their breeding grounds in far northern North America. There will be precious little food when they get to the tundra, so their three- to four-week stop fattens them up; leftover corn in farm fields will add 18% to their body weight. At night they descend en masse onto the sand bars of the river, preferring 3-6″ of water to roost in overnight which will be an Early Warning System if a fox or bobcat is on the hunt.
At the Rowe Audubon Sanctuary, permanent blinds enable viewers to be at river’s edge without stressing the birds. As I waited for the group to gather, forty or fifty birds landed in an adjacent field to eat. With my binoculars I could easily see their majestic bearing, the red crown, the bustle over their tail.
The sky was cut by small V’s that rattled, trilled, honked their way to wherever they were going. I couldn’t wait to get to the blind…
(Continued here)
[photo from google images]

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