Our first destination was the Grand Island area, where we took in the sights and sounds of the sandhill crane migration throughout the morning.
[Windmill and the Doniphan water tower in the background.]
[Three separate flocks appear to collide; actually criss-crossing at different altitudes.]
[These ones are all on the same flight plan.]
As always, there were plenty of geese as well, mostly snows and Canadas, with a few specks (white-fronted geese) mixed in. (And presumably some Ross's geese, too, but I've never been able to definitively single one out.)
The raptor-watching was good also, highlighted by this pair of bald eagles and a merlin with what I believe to be a sora. (The merlin photo is mine, the rest are by Jessa.)
Raptors, more specifically trained hawks, were the main focus for the afternoon, as we drove past Kearney to meet up with Chris Remmenga at Elm Creek. Stekoa was up first, and took two rabbits in a small patch of woods in the corner of a pivot-irrigation field.
[Poles make me exceedingly nervous, but the lighting in this photo by Jess almost makes up for it.]
Once Stekoa was through, we drove a couple of miles to a section of prairie where Chris flew his ferruginous hawk, Dega. She was extremely attentive, and obviously a pleasant hawk to handle (I hate to think what a nasty-tempered ferrug would be like!), but unfortunately we only flushed one rabbit for her; it got up very close, dodged Dega's attack, and then disappeared into the tall grass and could not be re-flushed. Chris decribed Dega's acceleration thusly: "Off the fist, she starts like a redtail; if the flight goes long enough, she finishes like a goshawk."
Typical of a ferrug, Dega likes to perch on the ground from time to time, and this is when she looks her most aquiline. Note the small feet; Chris reports that Dega doesn't grip the glove, and that consequently carrying her is "like trying to balance an upright 4x4 post".
The drive home was uneventful and leisurely; we eschewed the interstate and maintained a deliberately moderate pace on two-lane highways in order to save petrol, and were still on vapours by the time we arrived. (Even after spending the four dollars at a truck stop in Elm Creek.) As we drove, we mused an interesting duality: On the one hand, we were flat broke, absolutely without resources if we happened to break down; on the other hand, we'd just spent the afternoon hawking—in a world-class destination, no less—and were therefore among the world's most fortunate human beings. A PB&J sandwich can taste pretty good when it's the sandwich of kings...