Home » Nongame Bird Blog » Showing off Nebraska’s migration spectacle

Showing off Nebraska’s migration spectacle

On Thursday (19 March), I led a field trip for Audubon’s Nebraska Crane Festival.  All thirteen participants came to Nebraska to see our spring migration spectacle.  All were from far off destinations that included Los Angeles, Chicago, Ft. Lauderdale, Denver, New Mexico and Kentucky.  The field trip provided me with an opportunity to show off Nebraska as well as see some birds for myself.  We began our day with a stop at the Plautz Crane viewing platform, located 1.5 miles south of I-80 Exit 285 (Gibbon), to watch roosting cranes come off the river at dawn.

Even if the number of Sandhill Cranes peaks a little later than usual, there are currently thousands and thousands of cranes to enjoy in Nebraska. This group in corn stubble.
The tall corn stubble in this field makes it challenging to see all the Sandhill Cranes in this photo.

After watching Sandhill Cranes on the river and in the fields, we headed down into the Rainwater Basin to look for waterfowl.  Even though it has been a relatively dry spring, several Rainwater Basin wetlands have excellent water conditions.  Those wetlands with water were plumb full of waterfowl.

Most Snow and Ross's Geese have already migrated north of Nebraska. However, a few lingering and relatively small flocks are still an impressive site. This flock, along with a number of ducks, was at Hultine Waterfowl Production Area in Clay County.
Most Snow and Ross’s Geese have already migrated north of Nebraska. However, a few lingering, albeit relatively small, flocks are still an impressive sight. This flock, along with a number of ducks, was at Hultine Waterfowl Production Area in Clay County.

There are still a few lingering flocks of Snow and Ross’s Geese.  Greater White-fronted and Cackling Geese were few and far between, but we did see a few along with resident Canada Geese.   Many Rainwater Basin wetlands were crowded with ducks.  The most numerous species were Mallard and Northern Pintail, but most expected species could be found in small numbers in the masses.

Ducks in the RWB
Most wetlands with water in the Rainwater Basin were chock-full of ducks.

We also enjoyed a number of raptors and passerines.  Northern Harriers and Red-tailed Hawks were by far the most common raptor.  Harris’s and American Tree Sparrows were life birds for some field trip participants.  Perhaps not too much of a surprise given the late spring, we did not find any shorebirds other than Killdeer.  However, with nice weather over the weekend, this should chance quickly.

field trip stopping
The field trip stopping for lunch at the parking area at Hansen Waterfowl Production Area.  You can see the wetland in the background.

Earlier this week, I blogged about the peak in Sandhill Crane numbers may be little later than usual this year.  With that said, there are currently thousands and thousands of cranes to enjoy and numbers are growing quickly.  With weather remaining nice for the foreseeable future, it is the time to get out to the central Platte and Rainwater Basin to see some birds.

some photos
I am not a photographer but always carry a camera when I am out birding.  As a result, almost all of my decent photographs are accidents.  This photograph of a flock of Snow and Ross’s Geese flying over Fillmore County with a setting sun was a wonderful accident.  It was even better in real life.

This is about the eighth year I have led this particular field trip.  Occasionally there are participants from Nebraska, but the majority of participants come from out-of-state.  I have always had great folks.  I have never had anyone leave away disappointed; all have been impressed with what Nebraska has to offer.

Good birding!

Nongame Bird Blog

Many thanks to the great group I had the pleasure of spending the day.  Also, thanks to Doreen Pfost for driving the bus and Kent Skaggs for logistical support and coordination.    

About Joel Jorgensen

Joel Jorgensen is a Nebraska native and he has been interested in birds just about as long as he has been breathing. He has been NGPC’s Nongame Bird Program Manager for eight years and he works on a array of monitoring, research, regulatory and conservation issues. Nongame birds are the 400 or so species that are not hunted and include the Whooping Crane, Least Tern, Piping Plover, Bald Eagle, and Peregrine Falcon. When not working, he enjoys birding.

Check Also

Ol’ Rough-legs

The rough-legged hawk may not stand out among raptors in looks, but it lives an …