An article in the online hometown newspaper about Sandhill crane viewing reminded me that it was time to do a post about crane viewing in Central Nebraska in March. I've pulled up last years post, checked all the links, deleted a couple that no longer work, deleted some things, added some things, and, in general, done some editing.
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. Check their site for information about blinds. If for no other reason, they deserve a visit because their building is the second largest straw bale building in the United States. They also provide other information regarding crane viewing. They also have a really nice gift shop. In the interests of full disclosure, I am a dues paying member in Audubon, but otherwise unaffiliated with Rowe Sanctuary.
In past years Rowe Sanctuary had a Cranecam. I don't see any information about that on their site for this year. When and if that information becomes available, I will update this post.
Update: Crane Cam is active at the Rowe Sanctuary site.
The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission provides information 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 (has a crane video)
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.
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)
The Nebraska Flyway site was new last year, and when I pulled it up a little bit ago, I spent a fair bit of time there. I think it is probably the most comprehensive site of all the sites highlighted in this post. If you click on only one link, that's the one.
Nebraskaflyway.com 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. Last year I followed the prescribed routes on both maps and I thought it was a very organized way to tour the area. 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.
Both Rowe Sancturary and Nebraska Nature & Visitor Center (formerly known as Crane Meadows) have blinds where you can watch the cranes come in at night, and leave in the morning. If you have never experienced one or the other, I heartily recommend doing both at least once. It is a sensory experience that, in my opinion, is unparalled.
Also, Fort Kearney State Receation Area has the 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.
For your viewing pleasure: A You Tube Video of Sandhill cranes near Fort Kearney State Recreation Area and of thousands of geese on lake behind Grandpa's Steakhouse located south of I-80 in Kearney. The video is from March 4, 2009.
Just to add a little spice to the viewing....The past couple of years a Common Crane has been spotted. The Common Crane is not considered to be a North American bird. It breeds in wetlands of northern parts of Europe and Asia.
Photos of 2009 Common Crane can be seen here
A photo of the 2008 Common Crane was on Birdchick's blog
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.
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.
UPDATE: Thanks to the Nebraska Birding Partnership for the shout out.