Not Another Nebraska Entry

Hey! If you need a sandhill crane and or waterfowl fix, the National Geographic Crane Cam live at Rowe Sanctuary is up and running.

You're probably asking yourself, "How much longer is this chick going to go on about Nebraska???" This will be the last post and then later this week I'll be opening up the Olga hive and feeding her some pollen and try and figure out my mojo with the new digiscoping camera at Mr. Neil's bird feeders--I know the new camera is capable of sharply focused photos, that Harlan's hawk doesn't look bad. Perhaps it will get better when I get new glasses?

In an offbeat bit of news, an artist did a rendering of a photo that was on Cute Overload and included a reference to Disapproving Rabbits. I love being combined with one of my favorite websites and sometimes it's weird to think that we coined a phrase that's part of the Internet Lexicon.

One of the fun parts of visiting Nebraska this time of year is watching the cranes fly off of the Platte River from one of the crane blinds at Rowe Sanctuary. The first time I was in one of these was about ten years ago. I had no idea what to expect, we went out in the morning to the giant blind, crammed in with about 30 other people. We were given the lecture to be quiet and not use any flashes so as to not scare off the cranes. We walked out in the cold, you could tell there were quite a few cranes on the river. You stood shivering in the dark, mesmerized by the sheer number of birds. As the skies became lighter you could make out bird shapes and see birds standing on islands and suddenly got an idea of how many thousands of birds were in front of you. Eventually, an eagle would fly over or a coyote run through, frighten the cranes and they would lift off all at once, each individual call merging into a gigantic roar--an overwhelming and powerful experience and something I have tried to come back to every year since.

Over the years, I've found other places to watch the cranes. Rowe Sanctuary can sometimes provide a closer view but really, if you know where to go, you can watch the cranes outside of their blinds. The above photo was taken from the shores of the Platte River on Tom Mangelson's cabin. It's interesting that at Rowe you are given all these rules--don't stomp too hard in the blind, don't stick your camera lenses outside the blind, no talking inside the blind, no lights period on the front of your camera, etc. When we were on the shores of Mangelson's property, we weren't in a blind, we talked (not loud), we walked around (we didn't dance or do jumping jacks) and cranes flew in and landed without any problem. There was even a big bonfire going on not too far from us and if that doesn't disturb the cranes, I don't know what would.

Check out the five young thugs (immature bald eagles) hanging out in a tree at Mangelson's--are they thinking what this eagle was thinking? Don't get me wrong, Rowe's rules are important. You have several people sharing one blind and a person could conceivably stick their arm out of a viewing window and cause an early fly off. I don't know, I think that since I've been coming here so long and know places to stay and watch free, I'm getting spoiled about how I view the cranes and the geese.

It's interesting to see how things are changing at Rowe. Something to keep in mind now when booking time in a blind is that tripods are an issue. In the past when I took field trips to Rowe, I always tried to get a blind just for our group--it's never been a problem before, Rowe has many blinds. This was the first year that I wasn't given a blind just for our group (even with the offer of paying extra). The morning our group arrived for our first blind visit, a volunteer mentioned the blind they had us in had limited space for tripods for a spotting scope or camera--and we were sharing the blind with another group. When they saw how many tripods our group had, they ended up giving us our own blind. However, when we returned for evening crane viewing, we didn't get our own blind and since all the windows were sold, we were told that our tripod legs could not fall into the space of the window of the person next to us or you wold have to put your scope and tripod away. Our group lucked out a little because we had a couple of people cancel last minute and Rowe didn't refund the money so we had some extra windows for space.

I think everybody should visit Rowe Sanctuary at least once in their life and it's a great place to start off if you've never been to Nebraska to see cranes (and you can get some fun crane souvenirs) but I'm starting to see the fun in hanging out on the Fort Kearney Hike and Bike Trail Bridge for crane viewing.

And I end with one final digivideo of sandhill cranes (and some geese) flying over Mangelson's.

Loves Me Some Minimum Maintenance Roads

Oh, the places we took this bus on our field trip!

Saturday in Nebraska we went to explore other birding areas. We drove by Funk Waterfowl Production Area which in the past few years hasn't been all that great because the cattails had grown up and hidden the ducks. But the powers that be had improved the area for wildlife viewing and it would have been perfect for our field trip--if the water had not been frozen--doh!

So we headed south for Harlan Reservoir. You can take one of the main highways, but we opted to take some minimum maintenance roads towards our destination instead. These barely maintained roads have produced some of our best birding and wildlife opportunities in the past. This time we saw came across a prairie falcon (the blurry bird above). The best part was that this falcon flew right over our group so that we got a chance to see its black armpits (a distinguishing characteristic).

One of the challenges with birding Harlan Reservoir is that you are not allowed to stop your vehicle at some of the best places to watch for waterfowl. This was near the town of Alma, that's mostly cackling geese and greater-white fronted geese in there.

We were happy to see so many geese. One of the volunteers at Rowe Sanctuary said that there wasn't much at Harlan the day before, just some diving ducks. We decided to drive the length of the lake and headed east. We found tons of robins, bluebirds, rough-legged hawks, bald eagles and gulls.

There were quite a few redhead ducks and I took an opportunity to try and figure out my mojo with my new digiscoping camera. While I was photographing the ducks, I noticed a strange sound. I had a tough time trying to determine if it was animal or mechanical. When we scanned the other side of the lake with my scope, we could see thousands of gulls, but it didn't quite sound like a flock of gulls. I decided that it was some sort of farm machinery and didn't give it much thought.

We continued driving and stopped at Republican City to have lunch at the prairie dog town--always a crowd pleaser.

I noticed a new addition this year to the prairie dog town. See the large stick nest in the above photo? Let's look through the scope and see who is nesting inside:

There we see a red-tailed hawk head. What smart hawks...and what unfortunate neighbors for the prairie dogs! Ah well, that's the food chain for you. Amber and I had birded here before, but Stan had not. We told him that if we went a few blocks away we had a pretty good chance of finding a great horned owl nest.

Sure enough, there it was. It's so weird to me that Amber and I know this area fairly well just by birding here one a year for the last several years. I think the red-tails switch nests with the great horneds from year to year. I wonder if next year the owls will be in the nest over the prairie dog town?

Even still, a red-tail right over the town and a great horned a mere few blocks's a good thing prairie dogs breed like...prairie dogs.

As we continued around the reservoir we found this rather cooperative hawk in a little marina community. It had such a tiny little head I almost thought it was some weird dark morph broad-winged hawk, but it was a red-tailed hawk. Now we just had to figure out what type of red-tail. It's a dark morph red-tail, but is it just a dark morph or is a dark morph Harlan's red-tailed hawk? It had some white on the chest...

It had some what on the scapulars, and no red on the tail. The striping looks like the striping you would see on an immature red-tail. We came to the conclusion that is was an immature dark morph Harlan's red-tailed hawk. And when I checked my Wheeler books at home that seems to support the id, but if anyone cares to add their two cents worth, please feel free. We don't get too many of this type of red-tail in Minnesota.

As we worked our way around the lake, I told Stan to stop the bus and let me out. I looked at the lake and asked, "Is that ice?" If you look in the distance of the lake, you can see a long line of white. I looked through my binoculars. It wasn't ice. It was all snow geese. I felt kind of like Sam Neil's character in Jurassic Park when they first saw the dinosaurs. We had seen strings and strings of snow geese flying over all day and didn't realize they were heading towards Harlan. We decided to drive closer.

We kept taking minimum maintenance roads to see if we could get closer and we finally found a road that let out on a hill. We stopped to see if we could get out and get a clear view of all the snow geese.

I got to the top of the hill, I saw this view to my left...

And this view to my right. The snow geese just went on and on and on and on. We estimated the flock to be a mile wide and two miles wide. The sound was unbelievable and remember how I said that I heard some unidentifiable sound earlier? I now realized that I had heard the ginormous flock of snow geese.

More still came in and the flock seemed to be in a constant state of flux, rearranging itself on the water. When we later told some of the volunteers at Rowe Sanctuary they said that the day before the lake was devoid of geese and that this was the third round of snow geese to come through on the reservoir--wow.

Here is our field trip group in front of the geese. Nebraska is known for its cranes, but in some ways the geese are even more spectacular. I wonder how many Ross's geese were mixed into that flock? As amazing as the geese were to watch, we still needed to get back to our crane blind and had to keep going.

Talk about your roads less traveled! We started to go off map at this point. We had an idea of where we were but didn't know for sure. Some of the road zigged and zagged but we felt that if we went on, we would at some point reach the other end of the reservoir and a major highway to get us back to Kearney. I think we made a couple of people nervous with our exploratory ways, but Stan whipped out his iPhone and we found exactly what road we were on and were able to figure out an alternate route when the road became too muddy to continue.

One of the great things about traveling with Stan is that he knows a lot about all sorts of stuff and he is easy to egg on. My favorite things to do on a trip with him is point out a hole and tell him to stick his hand in there...sometimes he sticks his whole body! Most of the time he can id it, I think this hole was some sort of fox.

We continued to find all sorts of gems like this opossum. We also found pheasant and a flock of about 50 wild turkeys. We finally made it back onto an actual road and Stan I noticed that the signs telling use the miles to the next town specified that they were in Nebraska.

Then we passed this welcome to Nebraska sign. Somehow we had taken the minimum maintenance roads into Kansas. Who knew?

Then we passed a speed limit sign and saw this bird--can you tell what it is? If not, no worries, it was most cooperative. We pulled ahead and got out to put the scope and cameras on it.

Check it out--an owl on speed! Seriously, this is a short-eared owl perched on a sign. Its back was to us and then it turned it After we got a good long look, we loaded back into the bus and continued on our way, it took off and we got to watch its bouncy flight over the fields.

What an awesome day of birding! I think its one of the best I have ever had in Nebraska. And to give you a hint of what all those snow geese sounded like, here is a mini video that I took:

Bald Eagle Attacks Sandhill Crane

The photos in this blog entry are from Stan Tekiela and Amber Burnette.

This year's trip to Nebraska was just chock full of "Holy Crap" moments. I mean, the common crane (in the above photo) that we saw within thirty minutes of arrival to the area after driving all day was almost too much to hope for. I just found out that it's on the American Birding Association Blog and is classified as a Code 4 Bird (Casual--Species not recorded annually in the ABA Checklist Area, but with six or more total records—including three or more in the past 30 years—reflecting some pattern of occurrence). As a field trip leader you kind of wonder how you will top a sighting like that for the rest of the weekend--but top it, we did!

The following documented behavior is the type of stuff that a girl like me reads about in magazines and wonders if I'll ever have a chance to witness in real life. Again, I want to thank Stan and Amber for letting me use their photos in the blog to share it with you. Click on the photos if you wish to see the larger version.

We were watching a group of cranes forage in a field when we noticed something was spooking them and causing them to fly off. I was in the bus with half the group and Amber and Stan were outside with the rest getting shots of cranes in flight.

That's when we all noticed an adult bald eagle in hot pursuit of one of the cranes. Somehow the eagle had managed to get one crane separated from the flock. I started shouting, "It's going for the crane, it's going for the crane, it's going for the crane!" I wondered if the others outside the bus noticed, but Amber's enthusiastic yelling told me they had. Everyone was shouting on the bus, it was like an intense football game but the crowd was unsure of which team to root for--we all loved eagles and we all loved cranes (I think it's a safe assumption that for Raptor Center alums like Amber and me--we were on Team Eagle).

The bald eagle closed the gap in such a short amount of time, it pumped its wings hard and was soon on top of the crane. It flew past the crane just a little, dove at it and missed.
Here is the eagle making a second attack.The sandhill crane breaks free and starts to drop.

The eagle makes a quick grab a second time.

The eagle has the crane in its talsons and is flying while carrying the crane upside down, wings open!

The bald eagle is holding the sandhill crane for one or two seconds before...

The eagle lost its grip and the crane starts to fly away with the eagle coming after it.
The eagle gives one last chase before breaking off from the crane. What was interesting to me was that the crane and the eagle ended up flying right over our bus. As the crane flew over, the eagle appeared to slow and change direction. I'm left with so many questions from this encounter. Did the eagle not want to fly over humans? Did the crane luck out or fly over us on purpose? We did not see where either bird ended up, but did the eagle make a wide circle and wait out the exhausted crane? Did the crane fly away in its weakened state and become coyote chow? How deep did the talons get?

Out of all the sandhill cranes that took off, why that one bird? Did the eagle see something different or was it just that the crane foolishly went away from the safety of the flock? This was an adult eagle--has it killed a crane successfully before?

Such a cool encounter and yet so many questions unanswered.

Butt Load Of Snow Geese

I'm doing another interview on Talk Shoe, this time with a show called Conscious Living on Wednesday. It will be interesting to see if there are the same naughty forum questions as the other show I was on. Then I'll know if it was me bringing them out or just a weird one time thing. If you're interested in listening, go to the Talk Shoe site on Wednesday at 4pm Eastern Time.

This was a massive flock of snow geese that we found on Friday just driving around Nebraska. It's interesting that the focus of the Platte River birding in Nebraska is the sandhill crane, but the sheer numbers of snow geese are more intriguing to me. When Stan asked about doing a field trip to Nebraska through his nature center, I suggested early March. There may be fewer cranes, but enormous amounts of snow geese. And really, the numbers for both are still pretty amazing--60,000 sandhill cranes, 2 million snow geese.

I think this is one of my favorite photos from the trip. This is just a long, long line of snow geese. As cool as this is, it may be cause for environmental concern. According to Birds of North America Online the current estimates of the snow goose population is between 5 and 6 million, a number that may be environmentally unsustainable. When snow geese return to their breeding grounds, they pretty much eat the crap out of the habitat which in the long term could mean that they eat away the habitat so quickly that it won't recover for future breeding seasons causing a crash not only in their population but other species like sandpipers and phalaropes. Despite all of that, it's still pretty overwhelming to witness.

Below is a video of the above flock flying over our heads. You can hear Stan, my buddy Amber and myself giggling like fools. Non Birding Bill says it sounds like we are high.

Coldest Day In The Blind

cackling geese

Of course, it makes sense--I have about 80 million photos and entries from Nebraska (not to mention a few hundred emails and messages to deal with) and I'm wasting hours because blogger won't load photos (insert Yosemite Sam tirade here).


I have to say that Friday morning in the crane viewing blind at Rowe Sanctuary was the coldest morning I have ever spent in a blind--my camera batteries were totally hating me and I wasn't bummed when the cranes took off before the best morning light for photography (above photo).

blind wear

Like my cold observation blind fashion? I borrowed the Fargo Hat from Non Birding Bill. When I was watching the forecast throughout the week it predicted temperatures in the teens--that's chilly, but doable to me. When I woke up and checked the weather Friday morning, the temperature was 7. When I checked right before we loaded the van at 4:45am, the temperature was 6.2. Thanks to Stan's iPhone we were able to get a temperature update while standing in the crane blind...1 degree Fahrenheit. I was seriously beginning to question my sanity. I had pushed for coming to Nebraska in early March because we would see millions of snow geese as well as thousands of cranes. I didn't think about the possibility of it being this cold in the blind at dawn.

sandhill cranes

And just to prove that I wasn't being a wiener about the weather, take a look at the above photo of a crane in flight. Notice anything weird? If not, take a look at this next photo.


Do you see the difference? Note how the legs are hanging out in back? It was so cold, that as the sandhill cranes would take off from the river they would tuck up each leg into their body. I watched one individual do it. As soon as it had cleared the ground, one leg bent forward and then the whole thing disappeared into its belly feathers and a few seconds later it repeated the same movement with the other foot.

legless cranes

Here is a photo of a whole bunch of cranes in the air. Some crane experts said that only the young tend to do that, but on Friday morning--all the cranes were doing it. It seems to me that the legs in back would act like a rudder--I wonder how much they are affected in flight with them tucked in? The did look like large, strange geese in that flight position.


After we left the blind, the birds went to the field where they usually forage, but in the cold temps, they seemed more focused on hunkering down and staying warm. Above are some sandhill cranes and cackling geese.

More in coming...

Common Crane In Nebraska

Below is the photo of the common crane that we saw within 30 minutes of arriving to Rowe Sanctuary in Nebraska on Thursday night. This photo was taken by Stan Tekiela:

I can't believe our group saw such a rare bird on our trip! I'm also happy to report that others have seen the crane, here is an email from Linda Brown that was posted on NEBirds and has detailed directions for all you big year people who are wanting to go see it:

This morning we followed directions from Sharon Stiteler and Amber Burnett who are part of the Minnesota group of 10 who saw the common crane on Thursday, we drove to the spot after taking in the sunrise at the Gibbon Bridge viewing platform. As we scanned the flock Paul Johnsgard invited us to look at the pale whitish crane about twenty feet in from the west side of the flock. Sure enough I could see the black marking with my naked eye! It helped that all the birds were alert and looking at us so all heads were up and facing us. We put the scope on it and the following persons confirmed the sighting:

Paul Johnsgard, Josef Kren, Jackie Canterbury, Fujiyo Koizumi, Michelle Johnson, Randy Yeager and Linda R. Brown.

Josef, Paul and I drove back so we could give you good directions to the field where it was spotted two days in a row. (I have now been by the field four times in two days and only saw it once. There are two young eagles in the area keeping the flock of sandhills flighty. So, I wish you lots of good luck!)

The GIS coordinates for the crane field (from the road) are 40 degrees,41'940, 098 degrees,46'214. The abandoned eagle nest is at 40 degrees 41'940, 090 degrees,46'648.

1.Directions from Shelton Exit off I-80. Driving directions from Interstate 80, Exit 291, the Shelton exit. Drive south 1.5 miles. The crane field is 1.5 miles west of the Shelton Rd 24th Rd intersection (The field is on 24th-the road going west). The cranes were on the north side of the road. For reference: There is an abandoned eagle nest on the south side of the road 1.9 miles west from the intersection of Shelton Rd and 24th.

2. Directions from Gibbon Exit south off of I-80. Paul wrote out directions from the Gibbon Bridge Crane Viewing Platform. (This large platform is located on about the 5th Platte River channel bridge south of the Gibbon exit off of I-80. This viewing platform is accessed from Elm Island Rd which is the road directly south of the bridge. To see the common crane, drive east of Elm Island Rd to Sodtown Rd. North on Sodtown Rd to 17th, east to Sioux, north to 24th, then east to crane field on north of road. The crane field is 0.4mile east beyond the abandoned eagle nest on the south side of the road.

Linda R. Brown
Lincoln, NE

Thursday in Nebraska

We saw a super rare bird today! We're not even in Kearney for thirty minutes when Stan says, "Hey, check out that light crane out there."

I was ready to toss it off as light colored plumaged sandhill crane, but when we got it in our binoculars we discovered that it was a common crane! Amber and Stan got photos and I will try to post one in a few days. I called Rowe Sanctuary and apparently we are the first to report it this season. Not sure how to top the rest of the field trip after that one.

There are more geese than cranes right now but it is spectacular. This is mostly a flock of cackling geese with a few snows and greater white fronts thrown in.

We stopped at Forte Kearney and got a kick out of seeing about ten Harris's sparrows where we saw one last year--great little sparrows.

I need to get to bed. We have to meet up at 4am to drive to the blinds and it's going to be cold--14 degrees. It's snowing big fluffy flakes out the hotel window...hope it clears up before morning.

Saturday's Adventure

Saturday morning I woke up at 3am in my hotel room to the sound of rain beating a pipe outside my hotel room. "Wow," I thought to myself, "If this keeps up, there's no way we can watch prairie chickens this morning." I then rolled over and went to back to sleep.

Our plan had been to get up early and have breakfast, go to watch prairie chickens dance, meet Paul Johnsgard, confiscate Paul for a day of birding and then go watch cranes fly in during the evening on a friend's private property.

At 5:30 am it was still pouring raing and the weather forecast was bleak with a 90% chance of rain all day until 10pm. During breakfast Stan and I weighed our options. Stay and risk staying in the hotel all day or heading home. We opted for heading home.

We did have time to stop at Crane Meadows to meet Paul.

meeting of the minds

Here are Stan and Paul meeting for the first time. I was anxious for this to happen, I think both of them are the only two guys alive who have written the most books on natural history in North America.


And keeping with the glamour classification of the blog, I had to make sure to get in the middle and get my photo taken with Paul and Stan. Me sandwiched between two bird authors--my idea of heaven. I have said it before and I'll say it again, I love Paul Johnsgard. He was a tad under the weather and yet was happy to autograph books and answer questions from our group. Paul is a great public speaker, but I find I learn the most when just listening to him talk as he is sketching. Both Paul and Stan influence people with their writing. Stan's books get new people and kids excited about learning to identify birds, mammals and trees and Paul uses his books to educate people about the conservation of the prairie. I was honored to be the one introducing the two.


On the way home, I discovered a new use for my birdJam and iMainGo speaker: playing calls and having the group try to identify them. The speaker is loud out in the wild, but in a large vehicle, it was harder to hear it, I had to pass the speaker around for the group to hear the calls. It was still a good time.

I also rediscovered my love of the game euchre. We played for several miles and reminded me that I need to find some people to play with more often.

Friday Nebraska Adventures

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So, Friday morning our group went to a crane blind at Rowe Sanctuary. They were kind enough to give our group our own blind that holds about 16 people so our group of 13 fit right in. It was a two story blind, people upstairs got to kind of look down on the cranes, while those on the floor got a head on view. I was on the bottom floor, above is the view from the window.

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Here is the view of the cranes through the scope. The sandhill cranes use the Platte River as a roosting area at night during their spring migration. Our group watched about 17,000 - 20,000 cranes hanging outside of our blind.


During spring migration, cranes will paint themselves with mud, giving their feathers a rusty appearance. You can see on the bird above with wings outstretched, that it has already gotten underway in painting its plumage.

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You do see some other birds on the river, like this greater yellowlegs pictured above. I'm calling this a greater yellowlegs because it was larger than the killdeer running around and because when it called it said, "you you you". Generally, lesser yellowlegs will only give a single "you" or a double "you you", while greater will give three or more. If you're Kevin Karlson, I'm open to other options on the id.

We also heard a great horned owl calling outside the blind. I did see a few red-winged blackbirds and wondered why they even bothered singing on territory since the din of 17,000 cranes tended to drown out their song.

crane group

Normally at a crane blind you sit in there for about an hour and a half to two hours and then they all fly off at once--a big noisy lift off and you can leave the blind. The cranes Friday morning were total slackers and we were there almost three hours and no lift off. Our volunteer guides let us vacate the blind and we thought the cranes would take off, but they didn't. Don't get me wrong, it was still very cool, but I was hoping our group would get to experience watching the several thousand cranes take off at once. Ah well, another adventure for another day.

crane viewing

The weather was absolutely gorgeous and I suspect the cranes we were watching were planning to take off and head north on Friday, so perhaps they were getting in a touch more rest? By mid afternoon the cranes were catching thermals overhead and the easiest way to watch them was to just lay on the ground. Temperatures in the sixties, bright sun, cranes flying overhead--what a great way to spend an afternoon.

disapproving prairie dog

Nebraska is still fairly dry and we had a tough time finding waterfowl in potholes as compared to previous years, but a visit to Prairie Dog Waterfowl Production area proved some great entertainment. We found loads of prairie dogs and some distant waterfowl including snow geese, pintails, shovelers, and greater-white fronted geese. Stan gave a great talk on prairie dogs and tried to get them to bark. All he got was the disapproving look above--I felt surprisingly at home.

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There were quite a few killdeer running around amongst all the mounds. They both look so distrusting. I guess they have good reason--well, at least the prairie dog does. It's hard to find love for prairie dogs among ranchers. I don't know what the killdeer's excuse is.

lone crane

One of the tour participants said that she was having a tough time getting a photo of a single crane. After going through my photos, I had to agree with her. I have the above shot thanks to some cropping. I took this shot on our way to Fort Kearney. We were going to the bridge to watch the cranes fly in.

school group

The bridge was packed. Some of our group was there on Thursday and not many people were around, but Friday night the Kearney night life came out. Above is a group from a local school who are part of an after school/outdoor club. This trip had some fishing and crane watching.


One of the really fun and cool things about this group was the willingness to share bird information and to corrupt Nebraska youth towards birding. I let the kids borrow my binoculars and look through my scope. The guy pointing towards me is Howard, a tour participant who let the kids look through his scope.

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Wow, I thought I was trendy with the digiscoping, but here Howard is helping a youth photograph cranes with a cell phone through his scope. Now that, my friends, is high tech. The kids got some great veiws of the cranes thanks to our optics. I'm grateful the local schools have these outdoor programs and hope the kids know how lucky they are to grow up with multitudes of cranes every spring. They seemed really excited.

Rainy Morning Entry

Some random photos of cranes, because, hey, that's about all I got.


Sometimes you just can't help but take pride in your work--I had that moment in spades yesterday. I really enjoy leading bird trips, they are exhausting but it's so much fun. It's kind of like hosting a mobile party that lasts all weekend. Many people don't realize that bird identification is the smallest part of the job. A more important factor is customer service and anticipating the groups needs and being sensitive with their comfort. The number one priority is not the bird, it's food. People will be forgiving if a target bird doesn't show or if you were planning on seeing 600 swans and only 4 are present. They know that you cannot control the birds. However, you can control food and if you don't have enough and people get hungry. If they don't get fed soon they get hangry (deadly combo of hungry and angry).

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Having led a fair share of birding tours of the years, I've picked up on some little tricks and tasks that need to be done. I usually lead tours with my friend Amber and she is the best organizer. We have our trips planned down to the minute. Doing this trip with Stan has been very different, he's very...shoot from the hip, keep the schedule flexible and just do whatever. I think we're making a good combo as I play Julie to his Gopher (yes, that was a Love Boat reference).


The breakfast situation on Friday morning was up in the air, I knew we were going to Perkins, they don't really do reservations and I wasn't sure of our exact arrival. We have to stay in the crane blind until all the cranes take off which can be anywhere from an hour to two hours. I did call Perkins last week and say "Hey, sometime between 8:30 am and 9:30 am nest Friday you will have a group of about 13 people come in for breakfast. I'll give you a call a half hour before we arrive so as not to overwhelm your staff."

They appreciated the heads up. Yesterday we left the blind, I called, they said the were ready. As soon as our group arrived we were whisked away to a table and the waitress was pouring the coffee--and they were busy too, almost all the tables were full. Just as the last of our group came in, another tour bus arrived with 21 people who had been to a crane blind and they were ready for breakfast--but the tour leader had not called ahead and they were turned away. I smiled to myself and thought "Amateurs." I pitied the tour guide, the bus was looking a little hangry and restaurant options for a large group with no reservations are tough. We've seen the group a few times and they've been having a few glitches here and there. Even if you get great birds, a hangry group can be brutal.

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As I'm typing this, it's pouring down rain--the worst weather for bird watching on minimum maintenance roads. According to Weather Underground it's not going to stop until tonight. Prairie chickens are not Gene Kelly and will not be singin' and dancin' in the rain. We're contemplating canceling the dawn prairie chicken watch this morning and perhaps even heading back to Minnesota today instead of tomorrow. From my table in the hotel lounge I can see the group with the glitches loading onto their bus...surely they are not going out birding in this weather? Not only is it hard to see the birds, but the gravel roads are much too dangerous and slick. Another part of being a tour leader is to "know when to fold 'em" as Kenny Rogers is known to sing.