The Nebraska Bird Ballet

April 26, 2019   5 Comments »

The Nebraska Bird Ballet

April 26, 2019 5 Comments »

In an effort to bring you some new voices on Ottsworld, here is a guest post from writer Sherry Spitsnaugle. I met Sherry at a Denver event over the holiday season and found out that she was a travel writer and also writes for the library in Denver! So not only does she have a cool name, but she also has a way with words! Plus, she knows all of the great places to hide away at the library to work! I was pretty jealous of her crane migration trip to Nebraska this year, so I asked her to write about it. All opinions and experiences expressed here are hers. –Sherry

The pre-dawn sky is pitch black as I slog in my new Wellies to a bird blind in the heartlands of south-central Nebraska. Here, our group of 18 will await the sights and sounds of the graceful sandhill cranes—some 100,000 of them—now settled on a nearby sandbar of the Platte River Valley.

A light mist falls following a night of steady rain as we walk in strict silence: we do not want to scare the cranes. The only sounds I hear are of my rubber boots as I slosh along the puddle-strewn path.

crane migration nebraska

Author walks the path after the morning VIP viewing of the sandhill cranes.

We walk single file for about ten minutes until we reach two side-by-side wooden blinds, built discreetly into the earth.

Luxury Bird Blinds

We split into two groups and quietly enter the luxury blinds (think furnace!).

Even though I’m bundled in a down coat and the temps are above freezing, the morning chill is real. We settle on the bleacher-style seats to wait for the “show.”

The sandhill cranes have been converging on this area for thousands and thousands of years. Every spring, some 500,000 gather here to fatten up as they migrate north to Canada, Alaska and Siberia. In the daytime, the cranes feast on scrap corn in nearby fields.

As dusk approaches, they fly to the river to roost on the sandbars. They awaken at dawn and begin all over again.

VIP Crane Migration Experience

The Crane Trust has created this VIP experience, complete with a night in a nearby cottage and two viewings. Last night, over drinks and a buffet dinner, staff gave an orientation, sharing sandhill crane facts—their wing span is six feet—as well as guidelines and etiquette for when we are in the blinds: cell phone ringers off and no flash. After dinner, we made our way to the blinds for the evening viewing to watch the birds land after their day of feeding in nearby meadows. The night viewing was gregarious—complete with cabernet—compared to this morning’s.

Luxury crane migration nebraska

A Crane Trust staff member pours wine at the evening viewing.

There’s something special about covertly slipping into the blinds to be in place before the birds awake. Other than some soft whispers, we are quiet as mice.

The group in our blind includes a husband and wife from Denver, traveling with her folks; a mom and daughter duo from Kansas City; one woman who is celebrating her birthday today with her husband, from Lincoln; and my pal Donna and me, from Denver. Nicole Arcilla, Ph.D., and lead scientist, joins us.

Laura Campbell, age 17, traveled five hours with her mom from their Kansas City home the previous day just to view the crane migration in Nebraska. By the wrap-around smile on her face, it’s obvious she is ecstatic to be here.

“I love this, more than just about anything,” she says, grinning.

crane migration nebraska

Laura Campell, Kansas City, is on her third trip to view the cranes. She plans to return next year for a photo workshop.

The high school junior is passionate about photography and wildlife, which she plans to study in college. As the youngest in the group, by decades, Laura seems to have wisdom and maturity beyond her years. She talks about the environment and its creatures with respect and joy. This is their third trip to watch the crane migration in Nebraska, and they are already planning next year’s visit, when Laura wants to attend a photo seminar.

Crooning Cranes

We begin to hear warbling, and like everything I’ve read, the sounds are melodious and captivating. Nicole whispers that the high-pitched screeching is the juveniles. My untrained ear hears only harmonious crooning.

With binoculars and high-powered lenses, we stand near small windows to watch as the elegant creatures come to life. A sliver of light appears, and I begin to see silhouettes of the long-limbed birds.

I’m reminded what a staff member suggested: focus on one or two birds and concentrate on watching them. One person in our group says the birds look like they are stretching as if they are getting the kinks out when they first wake up. Another person says it looks like they are dancing.

Are you a birder, then don’t miss my article Bird Watching in the Russian Arctic!

Mother Nature

Now, as I’m glued with binoculars to a little crane family, as I like to think of them, I absorb the moment and the peacefulness.

sandhill cranes platte river

Although there’s no glorious sunrise with this morning and the skies are the color of cement, no one complains. The year has brought dangerous and destructive flooding to the state, and we are grateful for our experience, just as it is.

Too soon, the sky is light and the cranes have left. A soft drizzle falls as we walk to the vans for the short drive back to the cottages. I leave with a renewed appreciation for the beauty of the heartlands, Mother Nature…and dry socks.


Go See the Crane Migration in Nebraska!

The cost of the VIP Crane Experience is $600/couple, which includes two guided viewings in a luxury blind, one night in the cottage, happy hour, dinner and breakfast. 
Email or call 308-379-9158


Meet the Author

Sherry SpitsnaugleSherry Spitsnaugle, guidebook author, travel writer, wife and dog mom, first expressed her urge to explore at age four when she packed up her little red wagon and took off for an adventure— around the block. Today, she continues to fulfill her travel bug tendencies, exploring and writing about her experiences.

Instagram: sherryspitsnaugle


Sherry Spitsnaugle was a guest of the Crane Trust and Visit Grand Island.

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