|SANDHILL CRANES FEEDING IN NEBRASKA CORN STUBBLE FIELDS...|
|...THEYARE EXTREMELY WARY...|
|...AND LAND FLY OFF IF YOU GET TOO CLOSE|
|THIS SIGN TELLS THEIR STORY|
|THE SHALLOW PLATTE RIVER, WHERE THEY ROOST AT NIGHT|
Sunday afternoon. Denver. The sky is cobalt blue, the temperature warm enough for a tee shirt when out in the sun. We left Madison on last Wednesday, overnighted in Rochester, MN and drove to Grand Island, NE and stayed there the night of 29 March. The next morning we drove the back roads from Grand Island to Lexington, about thirty miles, watching and listening to Sandhill Cranes. We saw literally thousands of these majestic birds, who have been resting and roosting on the Platte River here for thousands of years. They have a number of vocalizations, from a chuckle call when feeding and socializing, to a loud trumpeting when flying, that ecologist Aldo Leopold called "The clangor of cranes"
The birds are very social, traveling in family groups and all banding together, several hundred thousand of them, for their migrations from Louisiana and Texas to Canada, Alaska and Siberia.
They spend their nights standing in the shallow Platte River, and leave in groups in the morning to travel to nearby fields of harvested corn to glean the remaining kernels.
We have been watching these migrations for more than twenty-five years and there seem to be more birds than ever. Which I would attribute to the rather controversial government program of mandating a minimum of 10% ethanol in most gasolines, which has enhanced the production of corn, and hence assured the cranes an abundant food supply. Some unintended consequences are indeed beneficial to some actors in a scenario, in this case the Sandhill Cranes.
These birds stand about 4' tall, perhaps a foot shorter than the Wisconsin-nesting sub-species that we are also familiar with. The later have most of the same traits and habits, but do not migrate as far. If one is extremely lucky, one may also sight Whooping Cranes, that travel with these flocks, an endangered species even larger that the Sandhill Cranes. The mating dances of these birds are intricate, and a wonderful thing to see.
We have had a very nice visit with family in Denver and will shortly wend our way home, hoping to view more migrating birds and other wildlife on the way.