GIBBON — Rowe Sanctuary’s virtual crane tours allows birders a chance to enjoy the sandhill crane migration from the comfort of a warm and heated home — instead of a chilly blind next to the Platte River.
“We begin the tour with a little program about crane behavior,” said Beka Yates, education manager at Rowe Sanctuary. “We go over basics about the cranes and their lives. We highlight some of the behaviors we often see while observing them — and also talk about Rowe and the conservation we do here to help protect the cranes.”
After that segment, Yates switches to views from the Crane Cam near the Platte River to see the cranes as they fly to the river to roost for the night.
“We watch what happens as they come into the river for the evening,” she said. “During that time I also answer questions about what people might be seeing on the river. I act as a guide while people are watching the cranes from their own homes.”
Rowe Sanctuary will present two virtual crane tours, starting at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday and April 7. The cost of the tour is $10. The sessions end at about 9 p.m.
“It’s a little different than being out on the river because you’re seeing it through your screen at home,” Yates said. “It’s not quite the same experience as being able to witness it in person. You don’t really get the entire scope of what’s happening out there. You’re only seeing the one direction that the camera is facing at any given time.”
On the plus side, for people not able to travel, getting to see the cranes on a computer can help them understand the power of the crane migration.
“With the ongoing pandemic, a lot of people decided not to make travel plans this year,” she said. “With this option they can still learn about the cranes and get to see them even when they are home, wherever that may be. People tune in from all over the country. And it’s kind of fun to interact with them.”
While images of the cranes are the same as what is available on Rowe’s Crane Cam, Yates points out that viewers value the information and interpretation provided by the staff member leading the virtual tour.
“You get the added benefit of the program beforehand and also you get the chance to interact with someone live,” she said. “You get to ask your questions and get them answered right away. You get to have a guide with you, like you would have on an in-person tour in a blind. You get that guide experience that you would miss if you just watched the Crane Cam on your own.”
Patrons will receive a Zoom link after signing up for the tour at Rowe.Audubon.org.
“A lot of people are watching with their families,” Yates said. “You only have to reserve it for one viewing but you might have four or five people in the room with you, which is totally fine.”
Yates understands that patrons watching a virtual tour might miss out on some aspects of crane viewing in person.
“The camera can zoom in, and it is father west than our viewing blinds,” she said. “Sometimes things are happening closer to the camera that happen closer to the blinds. I’m sure there are some things you can see on the camera that you’re missing from the blinds. And then sometimes something might be happening near the blinds and the camera isn’t looking that way.”
As for the total experience, some elements are missing from that.
“You’re not getting the full sensory experience like you would get in person,” Yates said. “Even if the wind is blowing in your face the entire time, that’s part of the experience.”
Due to the pandemic and social distancing, the numbers of slots for live, in-person viewing are very limited. All of the available slots have been booked but the availability of the virtual tours is unlimited.