Sometime before our first spring here in Omaha, we started hearing about the Sandhill Crane migration. That it was a must see. That it was not only one of the great natural wonders, but often evoked a profound spiritual experience. There are, even, churches here who host annual retreats to watch and reflect upon the crane migration. The annual event also gets lots of local media coverage.
So, every spring, I've wanted to go. But this always falls around Lent and Easter and not the best time for me to get away. Everyone always recommended going for sunset, spending the night in Kearney, and then catching the sunrise. It never seemed to work out.
This year, I was determined to make it work. Discussing this one day with friends, Michael Heller suggested that instead of spending the night, that we simply go one morning for the dawn activities. It was only about 2 1/2 hours away, and we could leave in the middle of the night to get there on time. This I could make work, particularly on a Friday when I am off of work.
This Friday, Michael, his husband John, and I went. We left at 2:30 a.m. It was snowing. When I picked them up, I said, "Boy, we sure do know how to pick them."
Michael guided us to an exit with a public viewing area, which we had some trouble finding in the dark of night. Along the way, we saw some of the organized, paid tour locations, including one with red lights, which actually looked kinda creepy.
We stayed in the car, waiting for a little more light on the horizon before venturing out into the cold. When we finally did, it was so cold and windy, that we only stayed out for a while before heading back to the car to again wait for more light.
Before the sun rises, the birds begin to stir and make noises. Soon, what was just a quiet squawk gets louder and louder as more join the chorus. As the light dawned, we realized that on the island in front of us there were probably thousands of birds, which had only a few minutes ago simply looked like a dark spot. They began to stir and fly around. Many, which were west of us, fly overhead.
It is funny watching them land, because of the way their legs awkwardly dangle as they approach the ground.
After a while, we decided to drive down the road and look for another vantage point. We found a good one and spent quite a bit of time there. Twice we saw big swarms (a better descriptor than flocks) of birds. Thousands of them flying this way and that.
Eventually, we'd enjoyed enough, and the birds were starting to settle down into the fields. So, we drove along the dirt road till the next bridge crossing back over the Platte, before heading on into Grand Island for breakfast.