Crane watching on the hike bike bridge at Ft Kearney State Park

Bundled in layers of thermal clothing, your feet tucked into warm boots, you find yourself shivering in the early-morning darkness inside a quiet wooden shack. As you wrap the fleece blanket tighter around you—your Thermos of coffee and binoculars nearby—you may ask yourself what you are doing in the middle of Nebraska in the pre-dawn of an early spring day.

Then, you hear it. It starts slowly—as a quiet roar—and builds to an unimaginable volume. As the sun crawls over the horizon bringing first light, the deafening sound is joined by a breathtaking sight: thousands upon thousands of sandhill cranes waking up, shuffling about and calling out in their plaintive, trilling call. Soon, throngs of the majestic birds take flight, darkening the early morning sky.

It is an astounding wildlife spectacle that can only be truly appreciated in person.