Jasper-Pulaski Wildlife Reserve
The weekend before Thanksgiving, I piled into my car along with 3 other volunteers from the Field Museum's bird division for a very welcome road trip. We were hauling it over the border to Indiana to view thousands of Sandhill Cranes flocking to the Jasper-Pulasksi reserve, only an hour and a half away. We were all delighted to be able to witness such a spectacle of nature so close to home. One early spring, years ago, Jay and I drove all the way to Kearney, NE to see the massive stopover of Sandhills along the Platte river at the Rowe Sanctuary and Audubon Center. It's the only true birding trip I have ever taken, and was well worth it. We creeped out to a blind at 4 in the morning with a group of other bird nuts and a guide. Clutching our coffees and hot chocolate, we waited, and then the sun began to rise. The shallow Platte was slowly revealed in the pink orange glow of dawn, along with the tens of thousands of Sandhills standing in the middle of it. At Jasper- Pulaski me and my cohorts showed up at the reserve around 3:30 PM. A large viewing platform was already full of other onlookers. The platform looks out onto a large, marshy field, where as the sun set, wave after wave of Sandhills descended upon it to roost overnight. It was peak fall migration, and an estimate of 13,000 was made of roosting cranes that would soon be on their way to wintering grounds in Georgia and Florida. We drove home on a small state highway in the pitch black of the rural landscape with the ancient, trumpeting calls of cranes in our heads. For my part, I was just satisfied knowing that I didn't have to drive all the way to Nebraska anymore to satisfy my Sandhill cravings. I still love you Nebraska, but for now, Indiana's got my back.