WDAY: The News Leader

Published April 02, 2014, 09:41 PM

Local birders witness Sandhill Crane phenomenon

Fargo, ND (WDAY TV) - Some local birders with Audubon Dakota just returned from a trip of a lifetime.

By: Kevin Wallevand, WDAY

Fargo, ND (WDAY TV) - Some local birders with Audubon Dakota just returned from a trip of a lifetime - a chance to travel to one of the world's great wildlife phenomenon.

Each spring, a half-million Sandhill Cranes make a stop in Central Nebraska.

“This has been going on for a million years.”

Longtime Crane Researcher Gary Krapu has been studying Sandhill Cranes for decades.

From Siberia all the way to this Crane Mecca....the Platte River of South Central Nebraska.

Dr. Gary Krapu/Crane Reasearcher: “The birds will fly a thousand miles from the direct route just to stop in the Platte River Valley.”

Because the Sandhills are here, together, just briefly. A half million cranes in three weeks, some of Audubon North Dakota supporters and volunteers traveled to Nebraska to see one of nature's great migratory wonders.

The Sandhills on the Platte.

Craig Cline/Traveled to Platte: “Could not wait to get down there to see what Gary had seen all these years.”

Before sunrise they all walked to their blinds. As the sun began to rise, so did the orchestra of a Midwest Jewel. The central flyway's gift at spring.

Rachel Dahlen/Traveled to Platte River: “You don't know what you are experiencing until you are standing there. You are surrounded, immersed in it. And it was very moving...almost on a spiritual level.”

Audubon has 2,500 acres - 5 miles along the Platte, where members and the public can watch the sandhills come spring.

In that area, there are 20-thousand squares per mile. 500-thousand cranes on the Central Platte. Largest crane population by far, in the world.

It is one of those things in nature, that makes you feel, like we always feel like we are so important and this makes you feel a little bit smaller and now you know you are a part of this.

They are coming from wintering in Texas and New Mexico. And after their stop here in Nebraska, it is on to North Dakota and Minnesota.

Marshall Johnson/Audubon Dakota Exec. Director: “You see how valuable how habitat is and how important the relationship is between Audubon, and the farmers and ranchers to the area, to the conservation of these birds.”

This symphony of Sandhills. A crecendo of calls that has echoed for a million years, here.

The Minnesota DNR has started allowing Sandhill Crane Hunting.

Several conservation groups in the state have opposed the hunts.

The population of Sandhills crashed in the early 1900's.