We awoke before dawn and dressed like duck hunters in a palette of browns, beiges, and grays. The attire was a hopeful gesture of not being seen, even inside a bird blind, on our pilgrimage to witness the great migration of Sandhill Cranes along the Platte River in Nebraska. It was a spring ritual, both human and wild. More than half a million cranes descend along this meandering river through marshes and cornfields. Thousands of visitors come to watch.

Tom Mangelsen, the legendary wildlife photographer known for his Images of Nature imprint, was our guide. Tom grew up on the Nebraska prairie; Sandhill Cranes have always been part of his weather system. Now he returns each year with the cranes and shares this spectacle with others 
in his family’s decades-old duck hunting blind on the edge of the Platte.

(Click on any blind to launch a photo viewer and discover the structure's story.) 

We left the Mangelsen cabin an hour or so before dawn and snuck out to shore, barely 100 yards away. We didn’t want to disturb the roosting cranes nearby, some on the sandbar, others standing in the shallows. Tom took the lead walking the well-worn path through the willows and grasses wet with dew. We followed him single file, quiet and attentive to the early sounds of birdsong, Red-winged Blackbirds among them.

Once inside the wooden box, roughly four feet wide and eight feet long, four of us gingerly unpacked our gear—tripods, binoculars, scopes, cameras, notebooks and pencils, thermoses filled with hot tea—and prepared to settle in for the morning. Our breath visible, we took our designated spots, each with an ample slice of view, just as the first line of light appeared on the water. Tom and the two others quickly began setting up their equipment. I sat. The tools of a writer are not only simple but primitive: a stick of sharpened lead and pieces of paper bound, small enough to slide into a back pocket.