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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.