A Road Trip to Nebraska
I couldn’t ignore a chance to spend a couple of days with Dave and maybe learn a thing or two at the same time. Next thing I knew, we were making plans and packing bags, preparing to drive from our respective homes in Boulder, Colorado, to Kearney, a town of about 33,000 people. Kearney is best known for corn production and, as it turns out, sandhill cranes.
The long-legged birds are tall, measuring up to almost 4 feet high, with a wingspan of over 6 feet. Fully grown, they can weigh 9 or 10 pounds. The cranes are dark gray, with pale cheeks and red skin on the crown. By day, they feed on grains and insects in fields and at night they nest in the shallow waters of the Platte, where they are safe from coyotes and raccoons.
As we wrapped up the 374-mile drive from Boulder to Kearney, I watched Dave transform from engineer to photographer. He had traveled here before, so he knew the choice viewing locations and how best to snap photos of the birds. Dave carried two cameras, one with a 70-300 millimeter lens, the other with a whopping 500-millimeter fixed lens. My kit paled in comparison, but it’s always fun learning from an expert.
The weather was gorgeous, almost 70 degrees and sunny. As the clock ticked closer to sunset, we drove about 15 miles east of Kearney toward the public viewing platforms along the Platte River. Dave was hoping to grab shots of birds silhouetted against the sunset as they flew to the river. His plan was realized even before we made it to the viewing platforms, as we began witnessing birds in flight. We parked and began snapping photos.
What struck me most was the incessant calls of the birds — beautiful and intense sounds, a constant thrum from thousands upon thousands of birds, calls that continued into the night. Lost in time as we witnessed the spectacle, it seemed as soon as it had begun, it was over, and the sky was empty again.