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Migration of the Sandhill Cranes: A World-Class Experience

Program Number: 7346RJ
Start and End Dates:
3/16/2014 - 3/21/2014; 3/13/2016 - 3/18/2016;
Duration: 5 nights
Location: Kearney, Nebraska
Price starting at: $948.00 - Price may vary based on date, departure city
Program Type: Birding Activity Level: t (see description)
Meals: 13; 5 Breakfasts, 4 Lunches, 4 Dinners    

The Central Flyway, a migration route following America’s Great Plains, is one of the most active birding regions in the Western Hemisphere. This environment supports the greatest birding diversity in the Midwest: 425 species travel through, 275 spend significant time and 90 species nest. Even in this environment, the migration of 600,000 Sandhill Cranes heading northward is a spectacular event. Expert lectures set the stage for observing the cranes, waterfowl, neo-tropicals and endangered species.


• Observe Sandhill Cranes, magnificent birds with a wingspan of up to eight feet, up close from riverside viewing blinds.
• In the Platte River Basin, an environment of conservation wetlands, grasslands and farms, encounter some of the 145 species that have been identified here.
• Raptor Recovery Nebraska, where injured birds of prey recuperate and are released back to the wild will visit the group with a live raptor presentation.

Activity Particulars

Walking up to a half mile; some uneven terrain.

So you can get the most out of your experience, all of our birding programs have a maximum participant-to-instructor ratio of 14:1.

Coordinated by Mountains and Plains Institute.


Kearney is located on the north bank of Nebraska’s Platte River. It takes its name from Fort Kearny, an Army outpost along the Oregon Trail, the historic east-west wagon route. Kearney calls itself the Sandhill Crane Capital of the World because each year more than 80 percent of the world’s population of these grand birds converges here mid-migration.

Comfortable hotel in centrally located Kearney.

Road Scholar Instructors
These instructors are participating on at least one date of this program. Please note that changes may occur.
William Bertschy

Bill Bertschy is president of the Mountains and Plains Institute for Lifelong Learning and Service, founded in July of 2008. The Institute organizes and manages a variety of educational travel and service programs, working with organizations including Rocky Mountain Nature Association, Road Scholar, and others. Bill retired in 2008 after 35 years serving as the director of the Pingree Park Campus of Colorado State University. Bill received a PH.D. from the University of Northern Colorado in Higher Education Administration. He also received a M.Ed. and B.S. from Colorado State University. He belongs to several professional organizations and serves on two non-profit Boards of Directors including the Poudre Heritage Alliance. He served 1997-2005 on the Fort Collins City Council, and was Mayor Pro-Tem. Bill has traveled extensively worldwide and has led educational travel groups of students and others to Mexico and East Africa, most recently completing a service project in Tanzania that provided fresh water to a primary school serving 400 students. He has lived in Fort Collins for most of his life and is a native of Colorado.
Tim Banks

Tim Banks graduated from the University of Wyoming with a bachelor’s in wildlife biology and a master’s in outdoor recreation. He served for many years as a police officer, retiring in 2006 as the Chief of Police of the University of Wyoming. Since retirement, Tim has pursued his love for birding and natural history. He served as president of the Laramie chapter of the Audubon Society for many years, and has conducted birding and ecology surveys for the Wyoming Fish and Game Department.
Meals and Lodgings
   Microtel Inn Hotel
  Kearney, NE 5 nights
 Microtel Inn Hotel
Type: Hotel
  Description: Within walking distance to restaurants.
  Contact info: 104 Talmadge
Kearney, NE 68847 USA
phone: 308-698-3003
  Facility amenities: Free High Speed Wireless Internet Available In All Areas Free Local and Long Distance Calls Guest Laundry Free 24hr Self Serve Business Center 32 inch Flat Screen TV including Most major TV Channels including CNN, Fox News, HBO and ESPN Free Use of Printer, Copy and Fax Machine Non Smoking Rooms Exercise room with TV, Treadmill, Stair Climber, Egrometer and Gym-In-A-Bag Interior Corridors Elevator Microwave, Fridge and Sofa Bed Available In Some Rooms Disability Accessible Rooms- TTY Telephones and Auxiliary Aids Available Wheelchair Accessibility Pet Friendly Property Clock/Radio, Coffee Maker, Hairdryer and Workdesk Available in All Rooms Meeting Room With High Speed Internet Access Audio Visual Equipment- TV/DVD In Meeting Room Wake Up Call Service 24hr Front Desk Free Local Newspaper Available / USA Today Available Dataports, Message Alerts and Modem or Second Phone Line Security Features include Electronic Lock, Extra Lighting, Smoke Detectors, Sprinkler System and Safe Deposit Box
  Smoking allowed: No
  Elevators available: Yes
  Additional nights prior: Call hotel for information Call hotel for reservations
  Check in time: 3:00 PM
  Additional nights after: Call hotel for information Call hotel for reservations
  Check out time: 10:00 AM

Travel Details
  Start of Program:
3:00-5:00 PM check in at hotel, meet at 5 pm in hotel lobby for introductions followed by dinner You will be staying at Microtel Inn Hotel that night.
  End of Program:
Depart after breakfast. Check out by 10 am. You will be staying at Microtel Inn Hotel the night before.
  Required documents:
The Participant Information Form is required. Acknowledgement of Risk Form to be mailed back to the Mountains and Plains Institute office.
  Parking availability:
Parking is free for the length of the program.
To Start of Program
  Location:  Kearney, NE
  Nearest highway: Interstate 80
  Nearest airport:  Kearney
  From End of Program
  Location: Kearney, NE
    (Additional transportation information same as above)
Travel Details

Kearney (EAR)


From Airport




Kearney Cab Company
phone: 308-234-6725
Advanced Reservations Required


Per Person/One Way:


Prices are subject to change.


Travel Time:


20-30 minutes 


Great Lakes Airlines serves Kearney, NE (EAR) daily via Denver. Call taxi before leaving home to make reservation.


Omaha, NE (OMA) to/from Kearney


From Airport




Commercial Van/Shuttle
Navigator Airport Express (formerly Eppley Express)
phone: 308-234-6066
Advanced Reservations Required


Per Person/One Way:


Prices are subject to change.


Travel Time:








ATTENTION: Persons choosing to fly into Omaha, NE (OMA) should coordinate flight schedule with shuttle times, there is only one shuttle each way per day.** NOTE: They do not operate on Sunday**

Driving Directions
  Kearney, NE from East and West From Interstate I-80 East and West, take Kearney Exit 272, Microtel Hotel is North one block on 2nd Ave. and East one block on Talmadge.
Elevation Note: NO

Equipment Requirements: Binoculars; spotting scopes recommended but not required. Wide angle and telephoto camera lenses would be helpful if photography is an interest. Outdoor wear, comfortable walking footwear and warm jacket. Be prepare to layer on/off warm clothing such as sweaters, sweat shirts etc. Also be prepared with a variety of outer garments, especially warm gloves and head cover.
The prices listed for commercial services and facilities that are not included in the program cost, such as airport shuttles or extra nights lodging, are subject to change without notice. Since Road Scholar cannot guarantee the accuracy of these prices, we strongly suggest contacting the companies directly for the most up-to-date information.

Daily Schedule

Day 1: 3:00-5:00 PM check in at hotel, meet at 5 pm in hotel lobby for introductions followed by dinner
(Sunday, March 16)
 Afternoon: 3:00-5:00 PM check in at hotel, meet at 5 pm in hotel lobby for introductions followed by walking to dinner.
 Dinner: Dinner at local restaurant
 Evening: Welcome meeting, introductions, and important information about the Program
Accommodations: Microtel Inn Hotel
Meals Included: Dinner

Day 2: Rowe Sanctuary Viewing Blinds and Crane viewing in surrounding countryside
(Monday, March 17)
 Breakfast: Microtel Breakfast Buffet including hot and cold items
 Morning: In the very early morning hours we will experience our first “crane rise” as the “gray sandbar islands” of the Platte River turn into clouds of Sandhill cranes leaving their roost sites. Pre-dawn crane music turns into a crescendo of wake-up calls as the cranes awaken and leave their riverine roost sites. We will have reserved blinds at Audubon’s Rowe Sanctuary for prime views of the cranes in areas along the river’s edge. With an expert crane naturalist from Audubon, we will experience the almost deafening chorus and clamor of tens of thousands of cranes taking flight toward the cornfields and prairies where they will forage during the day..
 Lunch: Local restaurant "brunch"
 Afternoon: We learn by an expert lecture about the Sandhill Crane's behavior and its influence on our culture, and the arts. Then we take a Field trip to "Loafing Areas" called this due to the Cranes settling in and feeding, relaxing in surrounding farmer's corn and grain fields. As we angle our way back through farm fields and roads, we have a chance to watch crane behavior in detail. Watch for pair bonding activities, dancing, strutting, feeding, resting, and other flock dynamics.
 Dinner: Dinner at local restaurant
 Evening: After a very early start and a long day, free to relax and prepare for tomorrow's adventure
Accommodations: Microtel Inn Hotel
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 3: A grand circle trip through the Rain Water Basin and Water Fowl Protection area
(Tuesday, March 18)
 Breakfast: Microtel Breakfast Buffet including hot and cold items
 Morning: After breakfast, we drive south to Harlan County Reservoir with its excellent habitat for viewing a variety of waterfowl, shore birds, and resident raptors. There may be an opportunity to view from a distance a Greater prairie Chicken Lek along the drive.
 Lunch: Lunch is at a small town diner.
 Afternoon: We drive through wetlands and ponds of the famous Rainwater Basin, one of the west’s most important areas for migrant waterfowl. Depending upon season and weather conditions, the sheer number of birds in these wetlands often defies the imagination in a wet year. We hope to find over a dozen species of waterfowl, and with luck we’ll find some of the thousands of wintering Snow and Ross’ Geese and perhaps a few White-fronted Geese still lingering there.
 Dinner: Dinner tonight is on own to sample Kearney restaurants.
 Evening: Free time for reflection on the days activities.
Accommodations: Microtel Inn Hotel
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch

Day 4: Visit and walk at Platte River Visitor Center and Evening fly-in of Cranes on Platte River at Rowe Sanctuary Blinds
(Wednesday, March 19)
 Breakfast: Microtel Breakfast Buffet including hot and cold items
 Morning: We visit the Platte River and the Whooping Crane Trust Visitor Center. After viewing the Cranes from a nearby observation deck, we will have an exiting visit from naturalists and rescued birds of the Raptor Recovery Center - Helping Nebraska's raptors. The birds they will bring are injured raptors that are being rehabilitated for release back into the wild. Learn and experience first hand their work. Then learn by lecture about the Central Flyway and the importance on preservation of Whooping Cranes and the related protection of the flyway.
 Lunch: Local restaurant
 Afternoon: We return to Platte River and Audubon Rowe Sanctuary. First we explore the sanctuary grounds then learn from staff about Crane Behavior. Then we move into our specially reserved blind to witness the evening fly-in of the cranes and their Roosting Time in the late afternoon-early evening.
 Dinner: Box dinner at Rowe Sanctuary prior to sunset viewing of the Sandhill Cranes .
 Evening: Free Time
Accommodations: Microtel Inn Hotel
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 5: Morning and evening visits to Fort Kearney State Park and its river spanning observation platform; special presentation of injured raptors by Raptor Recovery Nebraska.
(Thursday, March 20)
 Breakfast: Microtel Breakfast Buffet including hot and cold items
 Morning: The morning will be spent learning about various birding techniques including Mist Netting/Banding and Field identification-birding at Fort Kearney State Park; hike/bike trail. We also will visit the recreated Fort Kearney to learn about it's role in the expansion of the Frontier.
 Lunch: Local restaurant
 Afternoon: We visit the University Nebraska Kearney campus for a lecture by Professor of Ornithology on Birds and Avian Conservation. After an early dinner, we return to Fort Kearney State Park to venture out at sunset to watch the cranes come into roost from the former railroad and now the walking bridge over the Platte River.
 Dinner: Local restaurant
 Evening: Free for packing and reflection.
Accommodations: Microtel Inn Hotel
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 6: Check out after Breakfast or by 10 am.
(Friday, March 21)
 Breakfast: Microtel Breakfast Buffet including hot and cold items
 Morning: Depart anytime after breakfast. Check out by 10:00 am.
Meals Included: Breakfast
Important information about your itinerary: Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy and completeness of the information featured on this website. Itineraries are based on our best information at this time. Circumstances beyond our control may require us to adjust itineraries or other details. We regret any inconvenience this may cause and appreciate your understanding. Information will be sent to you from your Program Provider approximately three weeks prior to the program start date. The prices listed for commercial services and facilities that are not included in the program cost, such as airport shuttles or extra nights lodging, are subject to change without notice. Since Road Scholar cannot guarantee the accuracy of these prices, we strongly suggest contacting the companies directly for the most up-to-date information.

Suggested Reading List

Those of the Gray Wind: The Sandhill Cranes

Author: Paul A. Johnsgard

Description: With Paul Johnsgard, we follow the annual migration of the sandhill cranes from the American Southwest to their Alaskan mating grounds and then home again. It is a flight unaltered in nearly ten million years. By presenting various cycles of the migration in four time periods from 1860 to 1980, Johnsgard, a prominent naturalist, is able to show how man's encroachments have imperiled the flocks. In each section there is interaction between a child and an adult brought about by some ritual event in the migration of the cranes. The story is enriched by the author's exquisite illustrations, by Zuni prayers, and by Eskimo and Pueblo legends.

On Ancient Wings: The Sandhill Cranes of North America (Natural History)

Author: Michael Forsberg

Description: Rising from sandbars on the Platte River with clarion calls, the sandhill crane (Grus canadensis) feels the urgency of spring migration. Elegant, noble, and spiritual, the sandhill crane is one of the most ancient of all birds. More than a half-million strong, flying in squadrons, these majestic creatures point northward to their Arctic and sub-Arctic breeding ranges. Theirs is an epic story of endurance through the ages. With 153 stunning color photographs, On Ancient Wings presents sandhill cranes in their wild but increasingly compromised habitats today. Over the course of five years, Michael Forsberg documented the tall gray birds in habitats ranging from the Alaskan tundra, to the arid High Plains, from Cuban nature preserves to suburban backyards. With an eye for beauty and an uncommon persistence, the author documents the cranes’ challenges to adapt and survive in a rapidly changing natural world. Forsberg argues that humankind, for its own sake, should secure the cranes’ place in the future. On Ancient Wings intertwines the lives of cranes, people, and their common places to tell an ancient story at a time when sandhill cranes and their wetland and grassland habitats face daunting prospects.

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