Sunday, March 1, 2009

Nebraska Sandhill Crane Viewing Resources

UPDATE: See my updated post for 2010

Thought I would put together a quick and dirty post on Sandhill Crane resources. To me, this is the time of year a Nebraska birder looks forward to the most, but I’ll leave the adjectives to the cited resources!

Rowe Sanctuary is operated by Audubon. Their center is located on the Platte River and is beautifully situated. They have blinds where the cranes can be observed. If for no other reason, they deserve a visit because their building is the second largest straw bale building in the United States. Lots of other interesting information at their site. The birding list for Rowe (pdf) is representative of birds in the area. CraneCam will be active from March 7 until April 8.

A new site this year that I really like, is More on that site later.

The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission provides all the information you would ever want to know about Sandhill cranes.

The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission also has some general information about crane viewing. There’s also a section on crane viewing etiquette.

The three main places to hang out during your stay are Grand Island, Hastings, and Kearney.
The visitor’s bureau for Grand Island
The visitor’s bureau for Hastings
The visitor’s bureau for Kearney

My personal preference is to stay in Kearney, but there are good reasons to stay in Grand Island or Hastings.

For a birding enthusiast there’s much more going on. Seven to ten million Snow geese, Canada geese, and ducks pass through the area. Other migrating birds are starting or are in the middle of their migration. As of the writing of this post, Snow geese are abundant.

Nebraska Birding Trails has oodles of information of birding throughout the state. If you doubt that there are places to bird in the area, these two maps will dispel that notion. Maps are here and here. (pdf) has printable maps of the Platte River viewing sites, of a tour of the Western tour of the Rainwater Basin and of the Eastern tour of the Rainwater Basin. (all maps pdf) More information about the Rainwater Basin. About a week ago I took the eastern tour route, and it is a very organized way to tour the area. Having been to most, if not all of the areas covered in the western tour route, it appears to be an organized way to approach that area also. As you go from county to county, roads names change, and these maps cover the road names very well. Conditions in these areas vary from year to year based on the amount of rain or snow we have had. Many of the roads are county roads (read gravel) and their conditions will also vary according to weather conditions.

Birding Adventures of Southwest & Central Nebraska has some tours of the area in their left sidebar. The fun part of their tours is they talk about the local flavor of rural Nebraska. They also suggest restaurants along the way. (no chain restaurants included!) Their tours are also printable with maps.

The last link I will provide is for Fort Kearney State Recreation Trail. There is a bridge over the Platte River that is excellent for watching the cranes come to their nighttime roost. It’s also an excellent place for sunset pictures over the Platte River. A daytime stroll on this path will usually offer the opportunity to see songbirds.

It can be wickedly cold in Nebraska at this time of year. Don’t forget your longjohns and bring clothes you can layer. Weather can be unpredictable. Sunshine and in the 50’s one day, snow the next day, and everywhere and anywhere in between.

I hope you find these resources helpful. If there is something else that you feel could or should be covered, feel free to leave a comment. I’ll keep an eye on the comments section and respond. And if you find the resources helpful, a shout out would be nice too. Okay, now I’m starting to beg…..

Last but not least, thanks for stopping by my corner of the world. If you come to see the awesome wonder of the crane migration, enjoy, enjoy, enjoy.

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