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I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Nebraska, or even imagined what Nebraska might look like. The land stretches out as far as the eye can see, with a few trees dotting the landscape. No hills, or mountains, or even swells of rolling green, it’s the perfect, if unexpected, landing strip and runway for millions of birds.
Every year, I come to this midwestern state for the greatest migration spectacle in the North American continent—the flight of Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese to their Arctic and Subarctic breeding grounds. During a four-to six-week window in March and April, these birds gather in large numbers along the central flyway—concentrated within an 80-mile mile stretch along Nebraska’s Platte River. Over half a million cranes and two million snow geese pass through here during this time period, stopping to rest and feed in preparation for their long journey north.
I’ve always marveled at the flight of birds. It seems like a miracle that some feat of physics and aerodynamics takes place between their lighter-than-air bones, lithe muscles, and feathers (feathers!) to lift them off the ground to maneuver in every situation. To be surrounded by these birds, as they gather, and murmur, and rise up on the wind, is to feel a part of a tradition millions of years old. It bestows on the onlooker a sense of connection to the land, the sky, to the ancient tug of instinct and renewal.
One morning while driving along a road near Kearney, I saw a massive gathering of Snow Geese in a field. Thousands and thousands of these birds, milling about, honking, preening, flapping to fluff out their wings. I pulled over and began to photograph them in their gentle chaos. Suddenly, tuning into some secret signal sent out to the group, they lifted up with a great cacophony of calls. Awestruck by the sight and sounds, I raised my camera to capture a wall of birds making an Escher-like, abstract pattern from earth to sky. Looking at this image takes me back to that instant in time, feeling the wonder as thousands of individuals rose up as one--a living, moving cordon to the sky.
Moments like this in nature make me think of a poem I love by Wendell Berry, “What We Need Is Here”:
Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye,
clear. What we need is here.
I do feel that nature constantly reminds us, if we only listen and watch, that what we need is here. May we notice, treasure, and preserve the wild among us. You can support the leading organizations that work hard to protect habitat here for these birds, the Audubon Rowe Sanctuary and The Crane Trust.
About Untamed Photographer
Untamed Photographer is an online art gallery that brings together wildlife photography and stories from a range of international environmental artists, both emerging and established.
Structured as an online marketplace, Untamed Photographer offers a selection of handpicked, limited-edition works of art, alongside the photographers’ compelling stories of what occurred in the wild to get the shot. The exclusive limited-edition pieces are printed in Miami and come with an artist-signed certificate of authenticity from their respective worldwide locations.
The Nature Trust of the Americas (NTOTA) was founded with the mission to give back. While building awareness for NTOTA’s causes, the founders met talented nature photographers who are passionate not only about photography, but also about saving the planet. Their life’s work and stories are inspiring, and their art, passion and stories deserve to be shared on a platform that benefits the environmental causes they are dedicated to.
Just as the photographers preserve the beauty of the planet in their art, Untamed Photographer is dedicated to preserving the planet for the future. All profits from photographs go to Untamed Photographer's two pillars: the artists and causes that protect the environment, ecosystems, and wildlife.
About the Photographer: Melissa Groo
Melissa Groo is a wildlife photographer, writer, and conservationist with a passion for educating people about the marvels of the natural world. She believes that photography can be both fine art and a powerful vehicle for storytelling, and considers herself a “wildlife biographer” as much as a wildlife photographer. It is her mission to raise awareness and change minds about not only the extrinsic beauty of animals, but also their intrinsic worth.
Melissa is an Associate Fellow with the International League of Conservation Photographers. She writes a bimonthly column on wildlife photography for Outdoor Photographer magazine, is a contributing editor to Audubon magazine, and advises National Audubon Society on photography content and ethics in bird photography.
In 2017, Melissa was awarded the Katie O'Brien Lifetime Achievement Award by Audubon Connecticut, for demonstrating exceptional leadership and commitment to the conservation of birds, other wildlife, and their habitats. She also received NANPA's Vision Award, given to a photographer every 2 years in recognition of early career excellence, vision and inspiration to others in nature photography, conservation, and education.
In 2020, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology released "Bird Photography with Melissa Groo," an online masterclass in beginning bird photography. It comprises almost 40 videos featuring her instruction.
Melissa's association with the Lab goes back to when she worked in the Bioacoustics Research Department from 2000-2005 on elephant communication. She was a research assistant for scientist Katy Payne on The Elephant Listening Project, and spent field seasons in the rainforest of central Africa studying forest elephants in the wild, where she learned to listen deeply and watch closely.
Her photographs and articles have been published in numerous magazines including Smithsonian, Audubon, Outdoor Photographer, National Wildlife, Living Bird, and Natural History. Melissa has received awards and honorable mentions in national and international photography competitions. Her fine art prints are in personal and corporate collections, and have been exhibited in numerous private galleries as well as a number of public venues, including the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.
About the Creator
I'm a wildlife photographer, writer, and conservationist. My goal is to document the lives, the beauty, and the necessity of all wild creatures. And to help them survive and thrive.