Some 40 years ago Doug Latka left his house at four in the morning for a three hour drive through Nebraska from Omaha to Kearney. Driving darkened country roads, Latka was accompanied by his father who was the president of the Omaha bird club, homemade sack lunches and thermoses filled with “who-knows-what.”
As they approached Audubon’s Rowe Sanctuary sandhill cranes would begin emerging from the Platte River Valley thousands upon thousands at a time and Latka and his family would kill the engine and watch in awe. “It’s something you really don’t forget,” said Latka. “Take a kid out there it’ll stick with him forever.”
Every year since, as the cranes returned, so did Latka – making the trek into Kearney and hunkering down along the banks of the Platte River toting binoculars or spotting scopes attached to rifle butts watching the cranes on their migration from Texas to as far as Siberia, Russia.
This year marks the first year Latka won’t be on the river to witness the cranes – at least, in person. Latka is currently stationed in Afghanistan as a construction representative for the Army Corps of Engineers and won’t be back until May, long after the cranes have continued onward.
Thanks to the Rowe Sanctuary Crane Cam, however, Latka can feel right at home amongst the cranes, even in Afghanistan. Every morning and evening, Latka turns onhis 17-inch monitor and gets to experience home again via Crane Cam. “Any little things from home are very comforting,” said Latka. “You can’t smell or taste it, but you can experience the visual and audio.”
The camera, situated on the high bank of the river overlooking the cranes’ roosting area, has been up and running for around seven years and has the capability to pan 360 degrees and zoom.
“For those who have never seen this in person, it gives them an opportunity to whet their appetite,” said Kent Skaggs, Office Manager of Rowe Sanctuary. “It’s only a portal or a window to look through, but for those contemplating making the trip out here, it gives a preview.” For past visitors, said Skaggs, it gives them their quick "crane fix" for the day.
Wind, rain and snow have battered the glorified security camera which, Skaggs admits, doesn’t provide the best resolution. A technological upgrade might come in the future, but, until then, the current technology is more than enough for Latka.
“I want to thank Rowe Sanctuary for bringing a little bit of home all the way out here to Afghanistan for me,” said Latka. “I can’t overstate how comforting it is to have that big of a piece of home available to me.”
View the Crane Cam here: Rowe Sanctuary Crane Cam