Note: all photos in this "shot short" are low resolution so they load quickly and easily on your computer.

A few years ago, I saw my first sandhill cranes. Although it was a very brief sighting, I was awestruck with their beauty and distinct song and… I wanted to see more of them and I wanted to capture these “red headed” cranes in photographs.

I discovered that sandhill cranes are very private and shy birds. Getting a photograph proved more difficult that I had originally hoped. In Minnesota, I only saw them, distantly, in fields. And, they wouldn’t need stellar eye sight to see me approaching.

As I started looking at where they lived, I discovered that 500,000 cranes migrate from Texas and Florida to their final destinations in Alaska, Canada, and parts of the northern United States. Most interesting was that in the middle of Nebraska, the sandhill cranes make a lengthy stopover on the Platte River from late February to mid-April. I had to see the sandhill crane migration.

While preparing for the trip, I stumbled across the Iain Nicolson Audubon  Center at Rowe Sanctuary website, which has photo blinds set up very close to the major crane roosts along the river. So I signed up for one of the boxes in hopes of experiencing a night with the sandhill cranes.

A night with 10,000 sandhill cranes*

*This is an estimate as at times, when the sky would fill up entirely of sandhill cranes, the numbers seemed more like 50,000+.

Kristin and I arrived at the Rowe Sanctuary in time for our 5:00 p.m. check in.

Sleeping bag – check

Foam pad – check

Extra warm clothes – check

Thermos with warm drinks – check

Camera – check

The volunteers drove us out to our photo blind box. Minus the amenities of heat, electric and light, we ducked into the box for the show.

The evening was cloudy and my wish for a spectacular sunset (and sunrise) were squelched. But, the show would be more than a visual show.

As the sun began to set, large numbers of cranes started gathering just to the right of our box down the river. More and more kept flying in and landing. Once that area was full, the cranes started landing closer to our box and then they started landing directly across the river from our box. 

Once the sun was completely out of sight and the sky was dark blue, sandhill cranes filled the sky, and all of them were honking and trumpeting. This is the largest sandhill crane social outing of the year and it was Absolutely Amazing. To view a video (and to hear the cranes), go to my YouTube page here.

Eventually, the cranes settled in with us for the night. We left a window open to enjoy the crane sounds all night long. We fell asleep and woke up to the song of the cranes, making this adventure one of a kind.

As the sun began to rise, the cranes began making more and more noise. Some groups would take off and fly away, while other groups stayed along the shore of the river. Across the river from us, the group of cranes we spent the night with were still there. That is, until another group flew over, low, rousing them and the entire flock decided it was time to get up and go – all at once.

What an incredible experience. 

Other crane photographs

Four cranes in flight

Crane in flight

Cranes across the river from our blind

Dancing cranes

Cranes flying