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Afield and Afloat

Despite conservation woes, Blanding’s turtle keeps smiling

Among Nebraska’s eight species of native turtles, the happy-looking one gets special attention. The Blanding’s turtle (Emydoidea blandingii) is listed as a “tier 1” species in the Natural Legacy Project, Nebraska’s wildlife action plan. That makes it the only turtle species among the state’s animals and plants determined to have the greatest need for conservation efforts. Amanda Filipi, an outdoor education specialist at the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission’s Wildcat Hills Nature Center near Gering, said the turtle’s dark shell …

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Nebraska boasts wild turkey variety

Tom wild turkeys

One reason Nebraska claims to have the nation’s best turkey hunting is its variety of subspecies of the big bird. Bryce Gerlach, a forester for the National Wild Turkey Federation and Nebraska Game and Parks Commission who is an avid hunter, said the Cornhusker State is special because three of the four subspecies of the federation’s popular Grand Slam reside within Nebraska’s borders. Once extirpated from Nebraska, the wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) is a conservation success story here and throughout …

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Prairie grouse use variety of vegetation

Sharp-tailed grouse

Gathering with others is not encouraged during this pandemic, but one segment of western Nebraska’s population has been going at it in full swing. Don’t worry — I’m just talking about the grassland-loving prairie grouse and their annual spring mating ritual on grounds known as leks. Those who have seen and heard the spectacular booming of prairie chickens and dancing of sharp-tailed grouse know the birds like to perform on a site with short to no vegetation. Despite that, they …

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Platte River State Park

I never feel overwhelmed at Platte River State Park. Whether there are thousands of kids attending an Outdoor Discovery day or just a few vehicles, I can always take a deep, relaxing breath whenever I pull into the park. Located three miles from Louisville – between Omaha and Lincoln – the park is a welcomed break from city life. It offers both family-friendly attractions and solace in its 450 acres, even on the busiest of weekends. I love playing with …

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The Invasion of Garlic Mustard

Morel mushroom hunters will know this plant: Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata), a biennial, is one of the first signs of green-up in Missouri River woodlands. This low-lying plant prefers moist soils, shade and limited sun, and while its heart-shaped leaves might look inviting during the bareness of early spring, garlic mustard is highly invasive. It outcompetes native plants and threatens the biodiversity of our woodland ecosystems. Distribution The story of how garlic mustard arrived to the New World is similar …

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Kearney Water Trail

At 2.3 miles, the Kearney Water Trail is undoubtedly one of the shortest in Nebraska. Despite that fact, it might also be one of the busiest. On any given day from April through October, you’re apt to see kayakers paddling down the trail, which utilizes the Kearney Canal and Turkey Creek on the southwestern corner of this central Nebraska city of 38,000. Its location certainly plays into its popularity. The trail opened in 2016, a joint effort between the city, …

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Restoring Antlers

Have you ever left a deer mount outside for too long and now the antlers are chalky and bleached? All you need to restore them is dish soap, a paintbrush, wood stain and fine steel wool. If the antlers are chalky and porous you will also need two-part molding compound and fine sandpaper. Start by cleaning the antlers with soap and water and allow them to dry. Wrap the skull in paper to protect it during restoration. When the skull …

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Setting sights on the walleye

Anglers with walleye

The walleye may be Nebraska’s most popular, albeit often hard-to-catch, game fish. It is known for not only having great-tasting fillets, but also for growing big and providing anglers a fishing challenge. Despite its reputation for being hard to catch, at certain times of the year walleyes can be taken by both boat and bank anglers with average skills. Joe Rydell, a fisheries biologist for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission’s northwest district, said we are in the midst of …

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A 50-inch Minimum

Merritt Reservoir has long been one of Nebraska’s top fishing destinations. Merritt is an irrigation reservoir, but unlike some others, it fills every year because of the ample flow of the Snake River. It consistently has great water quality and abundant prey fish. And with this year’s adoption of a 50-inch minimum for what many consider to be Nebraska’s greatest fish, the muskellunge, Merritt has entered rarefied air as a trophy fishery. “Merritt has alewives, white suckers and various panfish,” …

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Platte River Water Trail

I’ve paddled many of the state’s rivers, mostly during the past 20 years creating stories on the state’s water trails in this magazine. But until 2018, I hadn’t floated the Platte, despite living a mere 30 miles from its course. By then, my wife, Theresa, and I had owned kayaks for five years, but we mostly paddled lakes around our home in Lincoln. On this day, it wasn’t long before we asked ourselves why we’d waited so long to float …

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