March 27 - 30, 2022: Three months after picking up our new Peace Van's customized Mercedes Metris (our modern VW Westphalia), we finally get a chance to try her out on a four day trip to Nebraska to see the migrating Sandhill Cranes.
The van is still without a moniker, although the onboard electronics have been dubbed "Hal" after the independent-minded and troublesome computer in the movie, 2001 A Space Odyssey.
Sunday, 3/27:Drove to N Platte, NE on I-80, checked in at Holiday RV Park and while on suggested crane viewing drive at sunset, got our introduction to the nightly routine of the cranes. The first video is what occurs each evening ahead of sunset as the cranes gather from the fields where they have been eating all day. The come in waves, squawking constantly.
Then as a large number of the birds had landed in the field, something spooked them and all at once they took flight. As shown below, they generally circled the area until landing again in the field.
This was a treat to behold on our first night, as was the beautiful sunset.
Trivia - I have the hardest time remembering the postal abbreviation for Nebraska is NE, and once when googling this, found the following note, “In October 1963, the Department settled on the current two-letter abbreviations. Since that time, only one change has been made: in 1969, at the request of the Canadian postal administration, the abbreviation for Nebraska, originally NB, was changed to NE, to avoid confusion with New Brunswick in Canada." https://about.usps.com/who/profile/history/state-abbreviations.htm
Monday, 3/28: During day, did explorations including visiting other public viewing spots in the area (https://nebraskaflyway.com/). Also visited Golden Spike Tower Visitor Center/Museum (https://goldenspiketower.com/), highlighting the N Platte railroad switch yard (also called ‘hump’ or classification yards).
Our evening event was a Blind Tour with Dusty Trails (http://www.dustytrails.biz/). Funny name, 'tour', because the itinerary was a bus ride to a wooded area, then a short twilight walk to blinds along a river. Upon arrival we were split into two groups to enter the two blinds. Next we were asked to be as silent as possible until we left the blinds after sunset. While that seemed strange, it made for a really special experience. As shown below, the blind faced the river and the sunset, so lines of birds coming into nearby field were beautifully backlit. At one point a line of deer slowly walked along the river, an added visual treat.
As the sun set, line upon line of birds flew to a field to the left of us.
When the sun was nearly fully set, the birds flew in to land in the river right in front of us. Click on the video to hear again the constant calling amongst the birds. Like the night before, the birds were at one point they were spooked. Much closer to us, we again got to see the amazing and LOUD process of large numbers of cranes taking flight at once. They circled and came back to the river.
Apparently, the birds spend the night in the river where they are less vulnerable to predators. The North Platte river is very shallow in this area, allowing the birds to easily remain there all night. The next day they will head off to area fields to eat, then again repeat the move to the evening 'staging' field and finally the river.
Tuesday, 3/29: Did explorations around Kearney, including scoping out the Ft. Kearney State Historical Park (http://outdoornebraska.gov/fortkearny/) and the Iain Nicolson Audubon Center at Rowe Sanctuary(https://rowe.audubon.org/). Checked in to Firefly Meadows RV Park (not recommended - no TP in bathroom). Returned to Ft. Kearney park for 3 mile walk along the river to I-80 and back, then made dinner in van and went back to the river to watch the cranes come in for the night. Weather terrible, really cold and windy, cranes really blown about - retreated early. Slept down in the van as night brought sustained high winds, sleet and rain.
Wednesday, 3/30: Up early for 6 am viewing with the Crane Trust (https://cranetrust.org/). Lovely visitor center/museum. Observation experience not too exciting. Cold, cloudy day and our expectation of seeing a mass lift-off at sunrise didn't occur, and guide said that is not typical. (I had read it was, which was the only reason we booked the early viewing). Decided to drive home on backroads, mainly highway 34 S from the Crane Trust to Hastings (home of the inventor of Kool-Aid) where we had breakfast at the Back Alley Bakery, then W to Sterling, where we hit I-80 to finish the drive to Denver. Good choice, beautiful, unbusy drive, mostly two-lane roads through mainly farmland and small communities.