1259
Nebraska
Birding the Plains and Sandhills of Nebraska: Cranes and Grouse
Observe one of nature’s greatest spectacles! In Nebraska’s Platte River valley, view the world’s largest gathering of cranes, plus millions of waterfowl and rare species of grouse!
Rating (5)
Program No. 1259RJ
Length
6 days
Starts at
1,349
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6 days
5 nights
14 meals
5 B 4 L 5 D
Getting There
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DAY
1
Check-in, Registration, Welcome Dinner, Orientation
Kearney, NE
D
Microtel Inn & Suites by Wyndham Kearney

Activity note: Hotel check-in from 3:00 p.m.

Afternoon: Program Registration: 4:00-5:00 p.m. After you have your room assignment, come to the Road Scholar table in the lobby to register with the program staff and get your welcome packet containing your name-tag, up-to-date schedule that reflects any last-minute changes, other important information, and to confirm when and where the Orientation session will take place. Please plan to arrive prior to 5 pm so as not to miss dinner and orientation. At 5:00 p.m., we will meet at the hotel lobby and walk to dinner.

Dinner: At a local restaurant, we will order from the menu; non-alcoholic beverage included, other beverages available for purchase.

Evening: Orientation. The Group Leader will greet everyone and lead introductions. We will review the up-to-date program schedule, discuss roles and responsibilities, logistics, safety guidelines, emergency procedures, and answer questions. Our birding expert will give an introductory lecture about Sandhill Cranes, their behavior, and what other birds to look for during the program. Program activities, schedules, personnel, and indicated distances or times may change due to local circumstances/conditions. In the event of changes, we will alert you as quickly as possible. Thank you for your understanding.

DAY
2
Crane Rise on the Platte, Rowe Sanctuary, Ft. Kearny Bridge
Kearney, NE
B,L,D
Microtel Inn & Suites by Wyndham Kearney

Activity note: Departure for field trip 5:30 a.m. Walking up to 1/2 mile, standing in unheated blind for up to 2 hours; pre-dawn, freezing temperatures.

Breakfast: In the hotel at 5:00 a.m., the breakfast buffet offers hot and cold choices; included beverages milk, coffee, tea, water.

Morning: We will travel by bus to the Ian Nicolson Audubon Center at Rowe Sanctuary where we will have a reserved viewing blind. 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. As many as 400,000 sandhill cranes migrate annually at this time of year through the 60 mile stretch of the Platte River in Nebraska that we visit. We’ll return to Kearney mid-morning and go straight to a local restaurant for brunch. After brunch we return to the hotel for a break and to shed some clothing layers.

Lunch: Our brunch is at a local restaurant, we will order from the menu; non-alcoholic beverage included.

Afternoon: Returning to the hotel, we’ll have a break and shed some layers of clothing. We’ll then re-board our bus and return to the Rowe Sanctuary where an Audubon staff educator will give us a lecture on the Sandhill Crane’s behaviors. We’ll then set out on another field trip to “loafing areas” — so called 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. We’ll return to the hotel and have a break.

Dinner: Early dinner at a local restaurant, we’ll order from the menu; non-alcoholic beverage included, other beverages available for purchase.

Evening: We’ll take a field trip to Fort Kearny State Park and look for wintering and resident passerine birds such as Cedar Waxwings, Northern Cardinals, and Bluejays, while keeping an eye out along the river for the majestic Bald Eagles that frequent the Platte. We’ll then venture out at sunset to watch the cranes come into roost from the former railroad — now the walking bridge over the Platte. Returning to the hotel, the remainder of the evening is at leisure. After a very early start and a long day, relax and prepare for tomorrow's adventure.

DAY
3
Harlan County Reservoir & Water Fowl Protection Area
Kearney, NE
B,L,D
Microtel Inn & Suites by Wyndham Kearney

Activity note: Walking up to 1/4 mile; possible cold, windy conditions.

Breakfast: Hotel buffet.

Morning: We will drive south to Harlan County Reservoir with its excellent habitat for viewing a variety of waterfowl, shore birds, and resident raptors. There may be opportunities to view other bird and mammal species along the drive.

Lunch: At a local eatery, we’ll order from the menu.

Afternoon: Next, we’ll drive through wetlands and ponds of the Rainwater Basin and be on the look out for waterfowl (depending on season and weather conditions). While recent drought conditions have diminished this area, we will explore and see what we find.

Dinner: At a local restaurant, we’ll order from the menu, non-alcoholic beverage included; other beverages available for purchase.

Evening: At leisure. Prepare for our two night field trip to Burwell, Nebraska.

DAY
4
Injured Raptor Demonstration, Switzer Ranch
Burwell, NE
B,L,D
Calamus Outfitter at Switzer Ranch

Activity note: Walking up to 1 mile throughout the day; standing in unheated viewing deck up to 2 hours; possible cold, windy conditions.

Breakfast: Early hotel buffet.

Morning: Departing by bus at sunrise, we will visit the Platte River and the Crane Trust Nature and Visitor Center. After viewing the Cranes from a nearby observation deck, we will have an exciting visit from naturalists and rescued birds of the Fontenelle Forest Raptor Recovery Program. The birds they will bring are injured raptors that are being rehabilitated for education or release back into the wild. We’ll learn about and experience their work first hand. We’ll return to the hotel to check out and load baggage.

Lunch: At a local restaurant, we’ll order from the menu, non-alcoholic beverage included.

Afternoon: We’ll begin our extended field trip north to Calamus Reservoir and our accommodations at an ecotourism award-winning ranch. We’ll also look for the first migrant shorebirds to show up along the Loup River, and for early songbird migrants such as Eastern Bluebird and Eastern Phoebe. We expect to arrive at our lodgings outside of Burwell, Nebraska, in the afternoon for check-in.

Dinner: In our lodge, we’ll have a plentiful buffet dinner prepared by the ranch staff; included beverages coffee, tea, water.

Evening: At leisure. Enjoy the hospitality and a chance to look and listen for Great Horned and Eastern Screech Owls.

DAY
5
Prairie Chickens Booming, Calamus Reservoir
Burwell, NE
B,L,D
Calamus Outfitter at Switzer Ranch

Activity note: Pre-dawn field trip. Walking up to 1/2 mile throughout the day; Sitting in unheated viewing blind up to 2 hours; possible cold, windy conditions.

Breakfast: Early morning coffee available before field trip; lodge hot breakfast buffet after return with choices such as eggs, pancakes, cereal, fruit, yogurt, milk, juices, coffee, and tea.

Morning: We’ll rise early and set out before dawn to witness the spring courtship rites of Greater Prairie Chickens. By this time in March they have started their dawn-hour dancing and booming at lek (dancing ground) display sites. Sharp-tailed Grouse may also be displaying at these sites. With luck, we’ll also hear a dawn concert of Western Meadowlarks and watch Northern Harriers hunting near the lek site. Our blind is an old school bus and the birds are typically right outside the windows! As the lek activity diminishes by approximately 8:00-9:00 a.m., we’ll return to the ranch for a delicious hot breakfast. After a break, we’ll drive around Calamus Reservoir, stopping at various access points — some with trails — to look for a variety of birds. We are likely to see Bald Eagles and a good variety of ducks, all bright in breeding plumage. White Pelicans may pass as chevrons in the sky, and with luck we’ll find some of the first spring migrants such as Eastern Bluebirds or Eastern Phoebes.

Lunch: At a local restaurant, we’ll sample a bit of Nebraska rural life and order from the menu; non-alcoholic beverage included, other beverages available for purchase.

Afternoon: After our early rising, we’ll have an opportunity for a nap or quiet time. Some may choose to bird watch off the big ranch covered porch. Some may choose to walk to a nearby creek where warm springs provide open water for waterfowl. Wild Turkey and possible Long-eared Owls may be present on the ranch as well. As evening approaches, we’ll watch sunset over the prairie.

Dinner: At the lodge, we’ll have a buffet dinner with coffee, tea, water included. Share favorite experiences with new Road Scholar friends during our farewell dinner.

Evening: At leisure. Feel free to walk around the ranch and reflect on the week's adventures. Prepare for check-out and transfer in the morning after another pre-dawn field trip.

DAY
6
Pre-Dawn Field, Trip Return Kearney by 11:30 am End Program
Kearney, NE
B

Activity note: Walking up to 1/4 mile; sitting in unheated blind for up to 2 hours; possible cold, windy conditions.

Breakfast: Early morning coffee available before field trip; lodge hot breakfast buffet after return.

Morning: We’ll rise early and set out before dawn, driving out to another set of school bus blinds to witness the annual spring courtship rites of another elusive grassland species, the Sharp-tailed Grouse. It is remarkable to have displays of two species available for our viewing with such ease. It will be a great opportunity to compare the differences in behavior of the two species. We’ll then return to the ranch for breakfast. We’ll be back on our way to Kearny at approximately 9:30 a.m. with expected arrival at approximately 11:30 a.m. This concludes our program. We hope you enjoy Road Scholar learning adventures and look forward to having you on rewarding programs in the future.Best wishes for all your journeys!






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