Spoiled Rotten in Nebraska

As always, watching sandhill cranes and snow geese on the Platte has moved me deeply. I just came home and am exhausted from spending a fun and birdy weekend with Amber, Lori and Johnsgard.

Johnsgard made arrangements for us to stay at a place he referred to as Tom's cabin which I later learned was Tom Mangelsen's cabin for professional photographers. For it being a guy's cabin without any women to give it that "special touch" it was a nice place. Guys were in and out throughout the weekend, but everyone treated us with such hospitality, like we were just part of the regular gang. It was definitely and outdoorsy cabin, here was the view above my bed:

I love visiting Rowe Sanctuary and encourage people to do it in spring. If you are reading this and saying to yourself that you have never visited Rowe Sanctuary in early March through late April--get your butt out there, it is one of the top five birding experiences you can have in the United States. It's such a spiritual experience watching thousands of cranes and sometimes millions of snow geese coming in to roost at night or taking off for the day in the morning. This year we were able to sit out with Johnsgard on a secluded river bank and watch the cranes come in from all around us on the river. It was chilling watching them fly right over our heads--an experience you don't really get in the blind.

This time of year it becomes a bird rush hour on the Platte River. At certain times there can be a million birds in front of you consisting of sandhill cranes, snow geese, cackling geese, white-fronted geese, pintails, wigeons and mallards. Some of the smaller species will get spooked by juvenile thug bald eagles that take pot shots and into the air a few thousand will go. Some will climb high into the air and others will remain lower, all kind of spinning in a vortex or bird cyclone. When these flocks circled us overhead, we laid on the ground and watched as different smaller of flocks of birds flew in various directions above and below each other. It was mesmerizing watching so much activity.

One minor bummer was that the area has been in a draught for the last six years and so lots of the places we had previously explored for waterfowl were dried up. At certain points on our trip I felt we spent a lot of time in the car for very little birds. I also was sorry for ducks coming in and not being able to find staging areas they had previously used. But the surprise number of snow geese more than made up for it. Saturday night after we watched the cranes come in we started to head back towards the cabin. In the dim dusk light Amber pointed out droves and droves of snow geese pouring in. They eventually began to settle on a sandbar, but more followed behind them. I was so grateful for my new binoculars and I really saw the difference between these and my old pair. My new Vortex binos really let in a remarkable amount of light and we were able to watch the geese descend into the river. I passed my binoculars around for the others to use since theirs couldn't see that far in the dim light. It was amazing. Any problem you might be having in your life can really be put into perspective when you watch over 500,000 birds come into roost in the span of 15 minutes.

I'm still processing the trip and I still have a head cold I'm recovering from, but I'm very excited. When I get my voice back into shape I have some great recordings on my iPod for my next Birdzilla segment. But I'll end with a flock of snow geese we found in a corn field: