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Northwestern Exposure: Taking refuge

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This is always an especially great time of year to visit the Sandhills, with the landscape greening up and diverse wildlife in abundance. Anyone wanting to do so had better check conditions before going, though. On May 2, I decided to drive the slow road through the Crescent Lake National Wildlife Refuge from Oshkosh to Lakeside. Once I got to the refuge, I found the road under water in several places and decided to backtrack southward, making for a much longer journey than I had planned. A look at the area’s wildlife was worth the trouble, though.

Crescent Lake Display
Just to give you an idea of how much water was on the refuge, here’s the display that greets visitors on its south side.

White-faced Ibises

The white-faced ibises (Plegadis chihi) are present in great numbers and seem to be at home wading in all that water.

As does this willet (Tringa semipalmata).

Blue-winged teal

These blue-winged teal (Anas discors) are surely busy producing future photo subjects for me.

Tom Wild Turkey

I even found a few wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) there.

Ring-necked pheasant

Ring-necked pheasant

And ring-necked pheasants (Phasianus colchicus).

sharp-tailed grouse

Not far from that hen pheasant was this sharp-tailed grouse (Tympanuchus phasianellus).

White-tailed deer

This white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) didn’t let my presence interrupt dinner.

Northern Shoveler

Some birds are difficult to identify when backlit. The distinct bill of the northern shoveler (Anas clypeata) is hard to mistake, however.

Sandhills Rain

Distant rain served as a nice backdrop for the Sandhills, even if it created some mud for the drive.

Yellow-headed blackbirds

Yellow-headed blackbirds (Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus) are colorful enough that one might consider changing their names to “black-bodied yellow birds.”

Mule deer

Mule deer

The day could not have ended much better than it did with this splashing mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) at sunset.

Fog at Fort Robinson

Speaking of water, things were damp with dense fog in the upper elevations of Fort Robinson State Park during my visit there May 6.

Phlox at Fort Robinson

Plains phlox (Phlox andicola) has a way of brightening the day, though.

Upland sandpiper

Upland sandpiperUsually, upland sandpipers (Bartramia longicauda) are easily identified with their skinny necks (as at left). This one near Whitney made me do some checking to make sure I pegged it for the right species, though. A bird expert confirmed my ID and said it was probably trying to conserve some warmth by tucking its head close to its body. With the temperature below 40 degrees F and water dripping from its breast, it may have been longing for days in South America where it spent its winter. Or, perhaps it is looking forward to some warmer days on the High Plains, as I am.

About Justin Haag

Justin Haag has served the Commission as a public information officer in the Panhandle since 2013. His duties include serving as regional editor for NEBRASKAland Magazine. Haag was raised in southwestern Nebraska, where he developed a love for fishing, hunting and other outdoor pursuits. After earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Chadron State College in 1996, he worked four years as an editor and reporter at newspapers in Chadron and McCook. Prior to joining the Commission in 2013, he worked 12 years as a communicator at Chadron State, serving as the institution’s media and public relations coordinator the last five. He and his wife, Cricket, live in Chadron, and have two children.

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