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, Orientation, Welcome Dinner
Kearney, NE
D
Microtel Inn & Suites by Wyndham Kearney

Activity note: PLEASE NOTE: Order of some activities may change dependent upon weather, birding availability, and other factors.

Afternoon: 3:00 PM to 5:00 PM Hotel check-in. Meet in hotel lobby at 5 pm for introductions followed by walking to dinner.

Dinner: Dinner at local restaurant, order off the menu, non-alcoholic beverages included

Evening: Orientation meeting to learn about the week's activities and introductions.

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: Morning: Walking up to 1/2 mile in pre-dawn, freezing temperatures; standing in unheated blind for up to 2 hours; Evening: Walking up to 1/2 mile in cold windy temperatures; standing on bridge for up to 2 hours

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 have a reserved blind 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. After watching this exciting spectacle, we take time to view the displays at the sanctuary and to watch birds at the feeders: Harris, White-crowned and White-throated Sparrows, White-breasted Nuthatches, and possibly Red-bellied Woodpeckers. We also may find Green-winged Teal or some early migrating shorebirds feeding on the river’s mudflats, returning to Kearney for a “Brunch” in town.

Lunch: Restaurant meal, order off the menu

Afternoon: We will return to the Rowe Sanctuary in early afternoon for the resident naturalist’s lecture on “Crane Habitat and Behavior. Then spend the remainder of the afternoon viewing more crane activity in the fields south of the Platte River. After an early dinner, we visit Fort Kearny State Park. In trees we 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. Then venture out at sunset to watch the cranes come into roost from the former railroad and now the walking bridge over the Platte

Dinner: Early Dinner at local restaurant, order off the menu, non-alcoholic beverages included

Evening: After a very early start and a long day, free to relax and prepare for tomorrow's adventure

DAY
3
Harlan County Reservoir & Rainwater Basin
Kearney, NE
B,L,D
Microtel Inn & Suites by Wyndham Kearney

Activity note: Walking and bird viewing up to 1/4 mile; cold windy conditions may exist

Breakfast: Microtel Breakfast Buffet including hot and cold items

Morning: Today we enjoy a more leisurely morning after yesterday’s early awakening. 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 our first opportunity to view from a distance a Greater prairie Chicken Lek along the drive.

Lunch: Lunch at a local Subway, order off the menu

Afternoon: We drive through wetlands and ponds of the Rainwater Basin, one of the west’s important areas for migrant waterfowl. Depending upon season and weather conditions, we hope to find over a dozen species of waterfowl. Recent drought conditions have diminished this area, but conditions can change and we will explore the area.

Dinner: Dinner at local restaurant, order off the menu, non-alcoholic beverages included.

Evening: Our evening is free to pack for our two night stay at Calamus Ranch.

DAY
4
Prairie Chickens, Sharp-tailed Grouse, Bald Eagles & More
Burwell, NE
B,L,D
Calamus Outfitter at Switzer Ranch

Activity note: Morning: Walking and bird viewing up to 1/4 mile; cold windy conditions may exist

Breakfast: Microtel Breakfast Buffet including hot and cold items

Morning: We depart after breakfast early to drive to a viewing deck on the Platte River where we observe sandhill cranes. We will have an exciting visit (we will announce the location) 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 possible release back into the wild. Learn and experience first hand their work. We return to the motel to check out and load baggage.

Lunch: Restaurant meal - order off the menu. We depart from the restaurant for our afternoon drive.

Afternoon: We begin our trip north to Calamus Reservoir and accommodations at an ecotourism award-winning ranch. We 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 arrive at our lodgings on a private ranch near Calamus Reservoir at Burwell, NE in the afternoon, birding at Calamus Reservoir en route.

Dinner: Dinner will be catered in our lodge by ranch staff. The ranch prepares a simple and plentiful set-menu buffet.

Evening: Enjoy the hospitality, and in the evening, 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: Morning: Walking up to 1/4 mile in pre-dawn, freezing temperatures; sitting in unheated blind for up to 2 hours. Afternoon: Walking and bird viewing up to 1/4 mile; cold windy conditions may exist

Breakfast: Morning coffee before pre-dawn viewing departure. Lodge hot breakfast buffet after viewing

Morning: This morning we arise before dawn to be able 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 hosts at Calamus Outfitters have set up a great system for observing Greater Prairie Chickens at close range. Our blind is an old school bus and the birds are right outside the windows! By 8:00 – 9:00 AM, activity at the lek will diminish and we return to the ranch for a delicious hot breakfast. After a break, we drive around Calamus Reservoir, stopping at various fishing access points, some with trails, to find 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: We enjoy a cafe lunch in town, sampling a bit of Nebraska rural life.

Afternoon: After the early morning rising, a nap or quiet time is likely in order for mid-afternoon. Late afternoon we take a drive up to a nearby creek where warm springs provide open water for waterfowl and Horned Larks feed on prairie hillsides that line the road. Wild Turkey and possible Long-eared Owls may be present on the ranch as well.

Dinner: As evening approaches we watch sunset over the prairie and enjoy dinner at our lodgings prepared by ranch staff. The ranch prepares a set-menu buffet.

Evening: Free to walk on ranch property and reflect on the week's adventures.

DAY
6
Program Concludes
Kearney, NE
B

Activity note: Morning: Walking up to 1/4 mile in pre-dawn, freezing temperatures; sitting in unheated blind for up to 2 hours.

Breakfast: Morning coffee before pre-dawn viewing departure. Lodge hot breakfast buffet after viewing

Morning: This morning we venture out early 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. The spring air is brisk, so we bundle up to drive out to another set of school bus blinds, and return again for a great hot breakfast. Killdeers call from the yard, and with luck we may have a Rough-legged Hawk pass by overhead. After breakfast, about 9 am, we will journey back to Kearney arriving about 11:30 am for independent departures.






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