My perch in the Crane Trust blind along the Platte River near Alda, Nebraska, allowed me to embrace a truly spectacular sunrise.
That sunrise was dessert. The meat and potatoes of the morning was being allowed to peek in the bedroom of thousands of sandhill cranes that roosted on the ribbons of sandbars in this portion of the Platte. These sandbars and braided channels offer protection from predators such as coyotes for the cranes, who roost in relative safety from dusk to dawn.
As we watched night change to morning, we marveled at the cranes as they took flight and headed to adjoining fields to feed on leftover grain. An estimated 500,000 lesser sandhill cranes — 80 percent of the world’s population — funnel through this portion of the Platte.
As dawn provided more light, we saw a small, low-flying plane wending its way west above the river. Andrew Caven, lead biologist for the Crane Trust, was in that plane helping to count the number of cranes.
I waited for several minutes for a crane to fly into the red sky above the river, while other cranes lounged on a sandbar while waiting for full light.
A bit later, quirky lighting from the brilliant sunrise gave a flock of cranes a ghostly look as they left their roost and headed out to feed.
The sun had just popped out, and the entire Platte River Valley was awash in a reddish hue. The wings of these cranes caught rays of red as they dipped and raised.