For me, bird photography is pure joy. I find it challenging, exhilarating, and I enjoy every moment of it. When I bought my first Nikon camera eight years ago, I never dreamed I would become so passionate about it. But during these past several years of learning photography, I’ve come to the realization that while I am not truly a “birder,” I’ve come to love birds and bird photography.
This past week, I’ve been in the Sand Hills of Nebraska with my friends Moose, Richard, and Eric. We’re photographing Greater Prairie Chickens and Sharp-tailed Grouse on their leks but Wednesday we left the ranch and drove a couple hours to the Platte River near Gibbon, Nebraska to photograph sunset.
Until Wednesday, I hadn’t realized that the largest migration of Sandhill Cranes stops along an 80 mile stretch of the central Platte River valley on their way to nesting grounds in the north at this time of year. As they’ve done for centuries and perhaps millennia, about a half million Greater and Lesser Sandhill Cranes stop here over a few short weeks to fuel up for the remainder of their journey on what is left of corn and grain in the harvested fields along the river.
When we stopped near Gibbon where the highway crosses the Platte, I was stunned to see wave after wave of mostly Lesser Sandhill Cranes flying from their feeding grounds to spend the night in the river. It was exciting to witness these magnificent birds as they flew in squadrons, silhouetted against clouds burned orange from the setting sun. We estimated 20,000 cranes flew over our heads during the 30 minutes we watched. This glorious sunset reaffirmed my feelings of pure joy when I am photographing birds. As we stood at the edge of the road watching the ancient spectacle as the birds settled into the shallow water in front of the glorious sunset , I was reminded of how one can find great pleasure and happiness in unexpected places .