Monday, March 23, 2015


Hope you enjoy the following set of photos of the great Sandhill Crane migration.  Also visit the facebook page of Gary Erickson, Spring Valley, Mn.  for several videos of the Sandhill Cranes.

Platte River between Kearney, Nebraska and Grand Island, Nebraska.  The Platte is a shallow sandbar-laden river that provides overnight safety to over 1/2 million migrating Sandhill Cranes.  The cranes winter in Mexico and the southern U.S. and then use the Platte as a resting and refueling stop on their way north to the Dakotas and Canada. We spent three (mostly cloudy) days along the Platte to experience the majesty of the great Sandhill migration. The Sandhills are along the Platte from late February to mid-April.

The sights and sounds of the gathering of the Sandhill Cranes are beyond description.

Sandhill Cranes on a side channel of the Platte River near Grand Island, Neb. Most of the cranes leave the safety of the sandbars during the day.  At night they come back to the Platte River shallows and sandbars by the hundreds of thousands.  This provides relative safety from predators for the cranes.

Sandhill Cranes with a Canada Goose for size comparison.  The Greater Sandhill Crane stands about 4 feet tall, while the Lesser Sandhill Crane is somewhat smaller.  Both the Lesser and Greater are found in the Platte River area of Nebraska.  The vast majority of the Sandhill Cranes in Minnesota and Wisconsin are of the Greater variety.  They have a 6-7 foot wingspan and their long neck enables them to make a loud chatter-like call that can be heard for over a mile.  

The Sandhill Cranes spend the daylight hours foraging for food in the cornfields, soybeans fields, and pastures of  the farmland that adjoins the Platte River.  They may fly out several miles to find fields that still provide a food supply that will fatten them up for the next leg of their journey north. The cranes nest on the prairies of the Dakotas, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Canada. Their nesting range is expanding and they even now nest in S.E. Minnesota.

The two Sandhill Cranes on the right side of the photo are jumping up in the air.  This may be a  mating dance or perhaps just a squabble that is  accompanied with loud vocalizations.  GO UP AND TO THE RIGHT AND CLICK ON MARCH 2015 TO VIEW MORE CRANE PHOTOS.

Small flock of Sandhills with old cars in the backgound.  Perhaps the cars are full of old birders from the 1940's and 1950's????

A very large flock of Sandhills resting in a pasture. The flocks out feeding during the day varied in size from as small as a dozen up to huge flocks that must have been close to 1000 cranes.

We saw a flock of over 1000 Sandhill Cranes in the air at one time.

Cloudy sunset on the Platte River near Kearney, Nebraska. Note the many Sandhill Cranes in the distance.  

As the sun gets lower in the western sky the Sandhill Cranes push towards the sandbars on the shallow Platte River for night time security.

More Sandhill Cranes kept coming to the river as the sun finally dropped below the horizon.  The loud chatter of the cranes showed no let up as darkness set in.  The sights and sounds of thousands of cranes congregating on the Platte River is truly awesome.  Go to the facebook page for Gary Erickson to view videos of the Sandhill Cranes.

Western Meadowlark.  It was great to hear the flute-like song of the many Western Meadowlarks.  We seldom hear that song back in S.E. Minnesota anymore, as we have lost most of our grasslands to corn and soybeans.

Sunday, March 15, 2015


Bald Eagle, Mississippi backwaters, March 12, 2015.  The migration of birds up from the south has begun.  We took a drive to the Mississippi River and saw 32 Bald Eagles, 5 Sandhill Cranes, one flock of about 100 Red-winged  Blackbirds, 1 Killdeer, several Robins, Common and Hooded Mergansers, and of course Canada Geese.  Most of the big river is still iced in and spring is not here yet, but it is coming.

Bald Eagles, backwaters of Mississippi River, Minnesota/Iowa line.

Mated pair of Bald Eagles with Canada Geese in the background.  This pair must not have laid their eggs yet.

Most of the backwaters were still iced in, but we saw both Common Mergansers and Hooded Mergansers in open areas. The diving ducks are some of the first to arrive back up north.

We were surprised to see two Leopard Frogs crossing a road in the backwaters area of the Mississippi near New Albin, Iowa.

Saturday, March 7, 2015


We began the long hike over the ice on the south shore of Lake Superior to see the famous ice caves located on the peninsula way in the distance.  The ice caves are part of the Apostle Islands National Seashore located near Bayfield in far northern Wisconsin.   We joined thousands of others on a cold trek of four miles round trip. Reports were that the warm temperatures and high winds could soon bring an end to the ice caves for 2015.  Below are some of the photos from this trip.

As we got closer to the cliffs, it became apparent that the long cold hike across the ice was going to be well worth the effort.  A few years ago we hiked the summer trails on the cliffs above.  The lake below was turbulent with wave action.  The base of the cliff is unapproachable except in the winter when the lake is frozen.  On average the south shore of Lake Superior only freezes solid enough one out of every five years to give access to the cliffs and ice caves.

The ice formations in the coves, caves, and along the cliffs are impressive. The Friday we were there over 3000 people hiked out on the ice.

The melt/freeze cycle created a cliff of ice along the frozen lake shore.

View looking out from the inside of the "Ice Caves" towards Lake Superior.  The "caves" are really undercuts created by the wave erosion of Lake Superior.

Ice flow down the sandstone cliffs beside the lake shore.  TO VIEW MORE PICTURES OF THE ICE CAVES GO UP AND TO THE RIGHT AND CLICK MARCH 2015.

Beautiful ice formations showing color variations.  These can change from day to day as the temperature changes.   The  forecast was for warmer temperatures, which could  melt the frozen pathways to the ice caves.

The people in this picture give some scale to how big the formations are.

Those are frozen "smiles" on our faces.  The temperature was in the teens but the wind chill was below zero.  The ice caves were absolutely beautiful and well worth the four mile round trip.  Pretty good for a couple of out-of-shape oldsters.

After the ice caves we drove down to Bayfield.   During the winter months residents and tourists can travel from Bayfield, Wisconsin across the ice to Madeline Island.  An ice road is plowed and marked with old Christmas trees frozen into the ice.  Looks like fun!

Disregarding the warning sign, off we go across frozen Lake Superior to Madeline Island, never to be seen or heard from again!!!