Spring is a terrific time for birds and birding. Over the next few weeks, I will be highlighting five birding trips and experiences that all outdoor enthusiasts should consider attempting this year. Certainly there are hundreds more out there for the taking, but I’ll start slow. Now that we are in the latter days of winter, it is time to pencil in dates and make plans. I begin at #1 with the most famous and familiar and I will end with lesser known, but equally exciting, experiences for you to consider.
#1: Cranes and waterfowl in the central Platte River valley and Rainwater Basin
The number one spring birding trip and experience is old hat to many, but even if it is routine, it never gets old. Central Nebraska in early spring is outright spectacular and this is a bit of an understatement. As winter loosens its grip in late February or early March, millions of birds that include Sandhill Cranes, five geese species and several duck species converge on the central Platte River valley and Rainwater Basin. Individuals that have experienced this spectacle can probably stop reading and go back to your business, you’ve already got the 411. This blog post is for newbies and those that have always found a reason not to venture out to see what all the fuss is about. This is the year, right? RIGHT!
I do not need to go into great detail about how to plan your trip. I have provided several links at the bottom on this page that provide a wealth of information. People unfamiliar with Nebraska, the migration spectacle, or both, often have the same basic questions. Thus, a few basic sideboards and tips:
- WHEN: Sandhill Cranes stopover in Nebraska in large numbers from late February through early April. Peak migration is during the latter half of March. Weather can affect arrival and departure of the big numbers of birds.
- WHERE: Sandhill Cranes and waterfowl are easily found in the central Platte River region, from Grand Island to Kearney. Large numbers of Sandhill Cranes also stopover in the North Platte and Lewellen areas. The Rainwater Basin is a vast region with widely dispersed isolated wetlands that is south of the Platte River.
- WHAT NOT TO MISS: Viewing and hearing cranes come in to roost in the evening or leave their roost in the morning is an essential part of any trip. Rowe Sanctuary and the Crane Trust provide guided blind trips. Also, public viewing platforms also provide excellent viewing opportunities. If you intend to take a blind trip, reserve your space well in advance.
- TIP #1: Prepare for winter weather, hope for spring. Nebraska’s March weather is bi-polar. Snowstorms and temperatures in the 90s are possible, but odds are weather will be somewhere in between. Bottom line, be prepared.
- TIP #2: When traveling county roads, please be sure to pull off far to the side if you stop to view cranes.
- TIP #3: Be very wary of traversing “minimum maintenance roads” in spring or after precipitation, particularly in the Rainwater Basin.
- TIP #4: Do not call me to pull you out if you fail to follow TIP #3.
- TIP #5: Unless marked otherwise, most of Nebraska is privately-owned. Please do not trespass on private property and PLEASE do not attempt to approach cranes and other wildlife.
- TIP #6: Rainwater Basin wetland water conditions are variable, it might be good to check with local contacts to find out which wetlands have water and birds ahead of time.
- TIP #7: A useful, printable, map of the central Platte area can be found here. Useful maps of the Rainwater Basin can be found here.
Again, the links at the bottom of this post provide details needed to plan your trip. Otherwise, I’m providing a few personal photos, below, showing what you could be seeing in just a few weeks.
Links with more information to make your plans