Friday, December 31, 2010

Chicken and Stars

While cranes are the area's main avian attraction, the greater prairie chicken puts on a great show of its own. Check out this video:

(Video by Bob Fagan, courtesy of Don Fagan)

Last April, Brad and I led a field trip to the Sandhills to view chickens in the morning and the stars during the evening -- both put on a great show, and participants really enjoyed the experience. So we're doing it again in 2011, and you're invited!

Our 2nd annual "Chicken and Stars" tour takes place April 22-24, 2011. We'll meet at Sandhills Motel in Mullen late Friday afternoon, eat and, if weather allows, stargaze that evening. The next morning we'll be driven to a dancing ground or "lek," where male prairie chickens defend territories in the hopes of attracting hens to mate. (The "master cock" near the center of the lek gets most of the matings.)

This time, we're extremely honored to have Dr. Paul Johnsgard as a guest on the trip. Between dinner and night sky viewing Friday, Dr. Johnsgard will present a program on grassland grouse (including the greater prairie chicken).

Cost for "Chicken and Stars" is $150/person (double occupancy), including Friday night lodging, Saturday a.m. chicken viewing, and stargazing both Friday and Saturday nights. For further details, send us a message at

Friday, December 24, 2010

Eagles at J2 and Christmas Bird counting

I went over to the J2 power plant near Lexington, NE last year to view eagles. It really is a great thing to see. Be sure to bring binoculars. Press release below:

Date: Dec. 14, 2010
Contact: Jeff Buettner, Communications Officer
Phone: (308) 995-8601

Central's Eagle-viewing Facilities to Open for Season on Dec. 26

(HOLDREGE, Neb.) -- The Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District will once again provide eagle-watching opportunities to the public this winter.

Central's eagle-viewing facilities at the Johnson No. 2 (J-2) hydroelectric plant near Lexington and in a freestanding building below Kingsley Dam will be open on Sunday, Dec. 26 and Sunday, Jan. 2. Thereafter, the facilities will be open each weekend through mid-February.

Hit the jump to read on...

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Platte reminds us that it is still a real river!

This winter has brought on higher then normal river flows, at least when measured against the past 7-10 years. This mixed with the cold has brought on ice that has formed a natural dam causing water to flow out of the established stream bed flooding mostly farm ground and pasture. The stretch of river just south of our Nature Center between the Alda road and Highway 281 is flatter then other stretches of the river causing it to shallow up and flow wider. This gives the ice a place to run aground causing the flood.

The ice has an important impact on the stream bed acting like an earth scraper that removes vegetation opening up the sandbars. This is important to the water-flow and the wildlife component of the river. A lot of work has been done through mechanical and chemical methods to keep the river channel free, but this really cleans her out the old fashioned way!

Hit the jump to read on...

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Season's Greetings!

2011 sandhill crane viewing tours are open

What do people from Michigan, Nebraska, California, Kansas, Colorado and Ohio have in common?

They all have people who have already signed up for guided sandhill crane viewing tours through the Nebraska Nature & Visitor Center!

What a great last minute Christmas Gift idea!

Before we know it, sandhill cranes will begin their famed stopover along the banks of the Platte River. The nature center is ready! We are pleased to open reservations for 2011 guided crane tours. Readers of the Green Shoe Diaries get the first shot at early registration.

Guided tours begin the afternoon of March 4. We offer the choice of a viewing blind tour – where visitors view the birds from within an enclosed blind along the Platte River – and the footbridge tour, during which visitors watch cranes from our footbridge spanning the Platte's north channel. Both tours begin with a 15-minute introduction to the sandhill cranes and their migratory journey. Cost for the viewing blind tour is $25/person; while the footbridge tour costs $10 per person. (Tax is charged for crane tours.)

Crane season at the nature center wraps up April 6. Tours can fill quickly, particularly during the peak of the season (late March), so early registration is strongly recommended. You can register online at, call us at 308-382-1820, or e-mail us at for further information.

30 Second Radio Public Service Announcement (PSA)

This is one of four radio public service announcements that were produced as a class project by senior communications student Nick Blasnitz from Hastings College. We will distribute these to local radio stations for broadcast this spring. Let me know what you think! Also, if you recognize the music, be the first to correctly ID the artist and I will send you one their cd's as a gift! Drop an email to with your name and address.

Update: Michael from Aurora, Ne knew that the pianist was Dr. Karine Gil. We will be sending Michael Karine's newest CD from our gift shop!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Dan on NTV

Dan's appearance on NTV where he explains the lunar eclipse. I like his scale model!

NTV "Good Life" program

Our friend Dr. Karine Gil, who is an ecologist at the Crane Trust appeared on the NTV Good Life program with her piano music which is also available in our gift shop.


Christmas song performed:

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Sandhill Cranes in Nebraska.

The sandhill cranes of the North American central flyway are making their way south from their nesting grounds in Canada, Alaska and Russia this time of year. They will pass through Nebraska but usually don't spend much time here unless the weather dictates. They are headed south to the wintering grounds in Texas, Mexico, New Mexico and other places where they will stay until the urge to migrate north hits in February or March 2011.

We get a lot of questions about viewing the cranes in the fall, but it's much more difficult to find them in the fall. (See this article that Dan wrote last week) Sandhill cranes are here, and do use the Platte River and surrounding areas, but they don't spend the extended time like they do for the spring portion of their yearly migration cycle.

hit the jump to read on

Monday, November 8, 2010

Women's Expo in Grand Island.

We will host a booth at the Heartland Women's Expo held at Fonner Park in Grand Island this week. Why? Because we want to meet people, also what we earn from our gift shop helps to provide the funds that operate our Center! I would like to invite you to stop by our table and say hello. We offer some very unique gifts including Crane Viewing Tours!

This is right across from were the state high school volleyball tournament will be held this year. So if your team is in the big tourney, walk across the parking lot to the west to the Expo building from the State Fair.

Click through to read more info below:

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Autumn Cranes

For the last few weeks, we've had a number of folks looking for sandhill cranes. After all, if they come through in the spring, shouldn't they do the same in the fall? Brad or I will explain how the sandhill cranes migrate through in the fall but don't stop, how circumstances for the birds are different compared to March, they're heard more often than seen in fall, they travel in small groups now, and so forth.

Sometimes that news doesn't go over well. I can understand.

But on my way to work this morning, along the Platte River Road perhaps two miles west of Doniphan, I took the picture above -- part of a group consisting of at least 200 birds. Would you have been able to tell it was not taken in March? (A second equal-sized or even larger group was feeding closer to the Alda Road.)

It was a nice little taste of early Spring a few months ahead of schedule. And I could actually point potential visitors to a few cranes on a pretty late October day.

Monday, October 18, 2010

October crane sighting at the Center?

Yes, we had a crane sighting right here! As the sandhill cranes are making their way to their wintering grounds south in Texas, New Mexico and Mexico, and we now have a six foot tall crane that has been donated to the Center and will become a permanent resident. We are delighted to have "The Heart of the Platte" donated to the Center by Roc A Dent, Inc.. Artist Heidi Muirhead and her husband Rob wanted a place that people could enjoy the crane for years to come.

We will feature the crane in our Horniday Art Gallery located at the front portion of the NNVC building. The crane can be moved around to compliment different events that we host at the Center.

Artist Heidi Muirhead and "The Heart of the Platte"

The crane was created as part of the Cranes on Parade event held in Kearney Nebraska. It is a fundraiser held by the Dawn ROTARY club also of Kearney, Nebraska. Hit the jump

"Whooper Watch" on NTV's Good life program.

Join us at the Center Wednesday, October 20 at 6 p.m. for Whooper Watch training conducted by Dr. Karine Gil. Give her a call at 1-888-3WWATCH (1-888-399-2824) to report a whooping crane sighting or register for the training.

Remember, if you spot a whooping crane, just stay in your car and write down the specifics of where the whooping crane is and what time it is. Seriously, you CAN NOT SNEAK up on cranes, so don't even try. It will just fly away and could be considered harassment.

Whooping cranes may be observed from public roadways or established viewing areas and a distance of at least 2000 feet. That's six football fields. Flushing a bird will cause it to expend energy that is needed for migration and can stress a bird. Be sure to use a spotting scope or binoculars to observe.

You can also contact Martha Tacha, USFWS in Grand Island, Nebraska (telephone 308-382-6468, Ext. 19; or Tom Stehn, USFWS in Austwell, Texas (361-286-3559, Ext. 221; to report a sighting.

hit the jump to read on and watch the clip.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Camera Club hits Dannebrog

The Nature Center's Camera Club went on a "leaf peeping" field trip Thursday evening to Dannebrog, Nebraska. Dannebrog is a little town of around 300 people located about 40 miles north of the Nature Center and north west of Grand Island. The trees were not all that colorful with the exception of a nice little Bradford pear on the west side of town. We found our way to main street where our cameras drew some attention before heading to the Danish Bakery and the Pawnee Art Center located just a few doors apart on main street.

hit the jump to read on

Monday, September 27, 2010

Whooper Watch Training set for October at the Center and the Crane Trust

UPDATE: FALL TRAININGS Dr. Gil will be at the Nature Center this Wednesday October 20 at 6:00 p.m. Please RSVP to Dr Gil. You can contact Karin at 308-384-4633 x 111 for more information or to register.

Call Whooper Watch 1-888-3WWATCH (1-888-399-2824) if you have spotted a whooping crane.

It’s time once again to turn our eyes to the skies and enjoy Nebraska’s spring migration season. One of the most exciting things for birdwatcher to find is a whooping crane. (grus americana) That means it’s time to roll out the whooper watch program again this year.

hit the jump to read more

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Open House Video Posted

The Grand Island Independent produced a nice video for our upcoming open house.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Orchids on the Prairie

When you think of places to find orchids, you might picture a tropical rainforest . . . or perhaps a nursery greenhouse. But at least two native orchids grow on the prairie, and I was surprised to find one of them is in full bloom along our prairie trail. (Thanks Paul for the heads' up!)

Nodding Ladies' Tresses (Spiranthes cernua) is the most common species of orchid found here. "Common" is a relative term here, as you certainly won't find them on every prairie. I've only seen Ladies' Tresses at one other site in central Nebraska, and I'm told they've since disappeared from that location.

Stalks of Ladies' Tresses are typically no more than a foot high and can be easily missed among clumps of taller grasses. When you find one, make sure to get close and give a good sniff . . . the scent is well worth grass stains on the knees of your jeans.

Ladies' Tresses are occasionally available for sale as a garden plant. I tried some in my yard and had no luck at all, perhaps because its roots need to form an association with a certain species of fungus. No fungus, no Ladies' Tresses. Perhaps thumbs greener than mine have had more success.

Our Open House this Saturday provides a great chance to see a native orchid. We'll treat you to a hot dog while you're here. Check it out!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Wild about the Nebraska State Fair

We've partnered with our friends at the University of Nebraska 4H program to create a "Wild About 4H Pavilion" at the Nebraska State Fair held in Grand Island. We've met a lot of great people and have had a chance to visit about our Center and about wildlife in general. We have also partnered with Hastings College, Nebraska Game & Parks, the Wood Carvers of Grand Island, the Great Platte River Road Archway Monument, and Central Community College to provide program and activities. We've had a bunch of volunteers to help us get this done as well!

Here's few photos from our tent at the Nebraska State Fair.:

We had out river model "flume" on hand allowing kids and people of all ages to get their hands in the river and do a little engineering.

hit the jump to see more

Thursday, August 26, 2010

A Grant for Plants

Yesterday, Ken Kendall from the Family Campers and RVers presented me with a $700 check to purchase plants for a renovated butterfly garden. Ken encouraged me to apply for an FCRV grant and was instrumental in getting my request through. Thank you Ken!

We'll likely order in the spring from Bluebird Nursery in Clarkson, Nebraska; they carry a large number of the native prairie plants I'm looking for. The grant will cover the purchase of about 20 flats of 36 plants each; the math tells me that's a lot for one person to install by himself. Do I see a plant-planting party next April or May?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Nebraska's Night Sky.

Dan Glomski is our resident expert on all things in the sky. His enthusiasm is contagious and it has caused me to look upwards and start to learn what I can about astro-photography. Here's my first stab at it and I have to say I'm quite pleased. I'm sure Dan will be posting some of his work at the Nebraska Star Party at a later date. Also, stay tuned for some more star viewing opportunities at the Center later this fall. Here's a link to more photos like this

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Photos from last weeks Nature Day Camps

A special thanks to Katie and Morgan from the Nebraska 4-H Camping program for helping do just about anything and everything week. They are real pros at working with kids and just kept things moving along.

One of our goals was simple, send the kids home smelling like the Platte. Mission accomplished!

Hit the jump to read and see more

Tern-Cam goes live and Bird Partnership link

Heres a link to the Tern Cam produced by the Tern and Plover Partnership. A tern nest is very difficult to see. It is just a few larger pebbles in a a small indention in the sand. Terns have has a touch time on the Platte this year with the large fluctuations in water levels.

Click here to link directly to the video

Another link to check out often is the Nebraska Bird Partnership. Jill Liske-Clark does an excellent job of providing updates and information about what is going on around the state in the conservation world. Click the link and add it to your bookmarks and check it out frequently as new info is posted often.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

GI Independent Video from our Nature Day Camp

The day camp is going well. Here's a video that highlight whats gone on so far. This is a partnership with Nebraska's 4-H Camping program.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Guest Blogger

I wrote a short story about Blake Hatfield and Vicki Orr a month or so ago. Blake has been helping out quite a bit at the Center and has taken time to write a bit about why and how he and Vicki got involved with Raptor Recovery. I'll be asking people to chime in by the blog from time to time. Hope you enjoy it! - Brad

To read Blake's thoughts in his words, hit the jump

Friday, June 25, 2010

Newsletter for June - July

THe first edition of our newsletter is out. You can click here to view it.
To sign up just look go to the lower right hand portion of this blog or to the front page of our web-site to sign up.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

A Fungus Among-us

This past Friday we hosted a training in cooperation with Nebraska’s 4-H program and Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo.

The Zoo is undertaking a citizen science program to study the spread of the chytrid fungi in Nebraska’s amphibian population. The fungi was likely introduced to North American amphibian populations in the early 1960’s by the disposal of African Frogs that were used at that time as a pregnancy indicator in humans. The African frogs were most likely dumped into local waterways introducing the fungi.

To read more, hit the jump

Friday, May 7, 2010

Raptor Recovery Mission

As we continue build and re-open this nature center I’m always looking for new things to learn about. I’ve always been fascinated and awed by the people who work with and volunteer for the Raptor Recovery program. I’ve had the privilege to get to know Blake Hatfield and Vickie Orr. Blake has a long history with the Nature Center both having worked here and spent many volunteer hours doing just about anything.

Hit the jump to read more!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Envirothon 2010 held at the Center

Below is the press release for this years Envirothon that was held at the Center las Saturday. It was a great event and we were glad to have hosted this year.

Hit the jump to read more.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Hall County Bird Count this Saturday

The Nebraska Nature and Visitor Center (NNVC) serves as a base for the annual Hall County Spring Bird Count on Saturday, May 8.
Hit the jump to read more.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Crane Season Video 2010

Never tried this tpe of thing before. Let me know if it does or does not work on your machine. Full resolution of the video is available HERE

Monday, April 19, 2010

Great Storms on the Great Plains

It's that time of year again, so buckle up and get ready to rumble!

Wednesday, April 21 at 7:00 p.m. the Nebraska Nature & Visitor Center has teamed up with NTV Chief Weather Forecaster Kent Boughton and Kearney based photographer/storm chaser Ryan McGinnis to bring you “A Quiet Rumble On The River”, an informative and entertaining look at the weather landscape of the Great Plains. This program is free and open to the public with donations gladly accepted.

Hit the jump to read more

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Chicken and Stars Report

One of the things that struck me about the first chicken and stars tour was just how unbelievably beautiful the Great Plains are. Nebraska is indeed a beautiful place. It does not have the requisite mountains or large bodies of water, but it has a depth of character that can only be described as complex. The Rocky Mountains are like rock and roll and the Great Plains are like a symphony.

Photos and more after the jump

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Goodbye Cranes, Hello Chickens!

OK, sandhill cranes are still around, and we'll likely see at least a few for the next week or two. But many have left for points north, and human visitors to the center have thinned to a trickle.

By no means is it time to quit birdwatching! As the sandhills depart, the region's next avian show – the display of the greater prairie chickens -- reaches its peak.

Beginning in March, the males begin to display on their leks, or dancing grounds. Setting up individual territories, males raise their ear tufts, inflate orange air sacs and stutter-step, all while emitting a sound likened to blowing crossways on top of a soda bottle. (This behavior is known as booming.) When the females arrive, feathers can fly as the males battle one another where territories overlap.

At one time, greater prairie chickens inhabited tallgrass and mixedgrass prairie by the millions. The conversion from prairie to agriculture drastically shrank their habitat and numbers. Missouri, once nearly covered in tallgrass prairie, is now home to just 500 birds. In Illinois, prairie chicken numbers were so low that birds were brought in from other states to supplement the population and expand the gene pool.

Tallgrass and mixedgrass prairies in south-central Nebraska are a mere fraction of their former size, and prairie chickens are now found locally only in scattered locations. Fortunately, in the Sandhills region they remain relatively numerous. Here, while the chickens boom in the morning, we can view stars by the thousands at night.

So this weekend, the nature center is leading the “Chicken and Stars” Tour to Mullen, NE. Friday night we'll stargaze near Seneca before Mitch at Sandhills Motel takes us to his viewing blinds early Saturday morning.

I've only seen and heard the chickens from a distance. I can't wait to see them just a few yards from me. And the weather forecast this weekend looks very promising. If it goes well, we'll do this again next year. Wish us luck!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Still Good Viewing in April

April is one of the best times to view sandhill cranes. Here are a few photos form the last few days.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The March event line-up!

The Nebraska Nature and Visitor Center (NNVC) is pleased to present an exciting series of speakers and programs during crane migration season.

On Friday, March 12, researcher and author Dr. Paul Johnsgard comes to the nature center. Dr. Johnsgard is the author of numerous books on cranes, including “Crane Music” and “Those of the Gray Wind”. He is Foundation Professor of the School of Biological Sciences at UNL and an authority on crane behavior.

Dr Paul Johnsgard

Saturday, March 13th, Raptor Recovery Nebraska will present a program featuring live raptors. Raptor Recovery focuses on the important role hawks, owls, eagles, kestrels and falcons play in the ecosystem. They rehabilitate injured raptors with the aim of releasing them back into the wild; those unable to fend for themselves are kept as education birds.

Sunday, March 14 brings Will Locke of Hastings College to present his talk “Headwaters of the Platte”. Dr. Locke will show where the river originates and follows its flows through Colorado and Wyoming before reaching the Big Bend near Grand Island and Kearney. This talk is also presented Friday, March 26th.

Saturday, March 20, Photographer Randy Hampton will host a digital workflow and wildlife photography workshop. This is a workshop where people can learn in a hands-on environment with one of the mid-west’s best instructors. “Randy Hampton leading the way: great people, great photography and the backdrop of the Nebraska's sandhill cranes”. Fee of $100 includes a tour to a sandhill crane viewing blind. Contact the Center to register.

Sunday, March 21.UNK graduate student Lindsay Vivian presents a program on the rare Platte River caddisfly, an insect found only in this area.

On Saturday March 27th and Sunday March 28, re-enactor Brian "Fox" Ellis brings legendary naturalist John James Audubon and biologist Charles Darwin to life. Fox will be presenting his entertaining an educational program at 1 p.m. both days.

All programs are presented at 1 p.m. in the center's display room. Admission to all programs unless otherwise stated are free to the general public. Donations are gladly accepted.

Brian "Fox" Ellis

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Stuhr Museum Speakers Series each Saturday this March

Her'e a list of speakers appearing at Stuhr Museum this month. I recommend checking them out!

March 6: Dr. William Beachly 2 p.m. in the Stuhr Auditorium. Dr. Beachly, who spoke in 2009, will present “Water Watchers of the West,” a celebration of the Platte River through biology, literature, photography and philosophy.

March 13: Artist Talk and Reception for the "Wings Over the Platte" Art Exhibit and Sale Featuring Artist Julie Crocker 2 p.m. in Lacy Hall. This year’s “Wings Over the Platte” Featured Artist is award-winning wildlife artist Julie Crocker, and she will talk about her pieces in the show, her inspiration and why the crane migration continues to inspire her as an artist. Crocker, a Nebraska native, has been named the Ducks Unlimited Nebraska Artist of the Year and works with many wildlife and conservation programs.

March 20: Steven Yellow Bird Ervin 2 p.m. in the Stuhr Auditorium. Native American Steven Yellow Bird Ervin will speak about the Platte River’s significance in Native American culture, as well as how the river, wildlife and the cranes inspired his art and life.

March 27: Ground Water Guardians 2 p.m. in the Stuhr Auditorium. The annual migration has a large impact on many aspects of life in Nebraska, including groundwater. During the final presentation of the series, representatives from the Ground Water Guardian organization will speak on conservation and what the public can do to help.

Admission to each event is $8 for adults, $6 for children and FREE for Stuhr and Hastings Museum members. For more information, call the museum at (308) 385-5316 or log onto

Saturday, March 6, 2010

First Viewing Blind Trip of the Season

We have officially started out guided viewing blind tours for the 2010 "Crane Season". As many of you know, the cranes were later then they had been in the last few years to make there way north from their wintering grounds. With the breeze out of the south over the last few days, we have seen large numbers of geese and cranes come into our area. It really is a refreshing sight and sound.

Our first tour had Dan, Jim, Mary, Michael, Erin, Laurine, and Tana tossed together from states such as South Dakota, Texas, Minnesota, and Nebraska towns including Hastings, Axtell and Lincoln. We were all gathered together for a few hours to learn about, but mostly just watch and listen to the spring migration.

One of our main viewing blinds is positioned on a man-made bluff overlooking the south channel of the river and I have to say it is a wonderful place to observe the birds as they make their way to and from the river where they roost. We are able to see several miles up and down stream to watch the birds as they glide right in front of the windows. There are times when was just overload as a cacophony of sound and motion unraveled in front of us.

It was brisk but not overly cold or windy which was nice. It can be very cold going out, you just never know. I keep my trunk full of coats, hats, boots and gloves for things like this never quite knowing what the weather will toss at us from day to day.

When the birds began to settle, they roosted on a larger ice sheet. It's always hard to tell how many birds are in any given roost but my best guess would be that we had a good 2000 birds on that particular roost. The ice made for a very surreal look as they walked around to claim their

When the tour was over, we made our way out of the blind under cover of darkness walking straight north directly away from the river down a slight incline. This allows us to get out of there without the birds knowing we are there. We stay in a tight bunch and walk slowly so as to not attract attention and possibly simulate a herd of deer walking around. I really have no idea if this makes a difference to a bird flying overhead, but it makes us feel like we’re at least trying to have a minimal impact of the wildlife.

During the walk back to the cars, we had birds flying directly overhead causing us to stop several times and just listen and look.

My adage stands the test of time. My favorite tour is always my most recent tour. I just love it. Stay tuned, we have along way to go!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Crimson Crown Gift Shop Opens

Here's a few photos of the gallery and the gift shop. We really have a lot of unique and interesting things for sale in the shop. We'll get more info out and add to our page on the regular web-site later this spring.

We've had a ton of volunteers and staff going like mad to pull this thing together over the last weeks and months. I have to say it really looks first rate and highlights a lot of our local artists and merchants. We are also opening or snack bar that includes all kinds of goodies to enjoy including our house brand Migration Celebration Coffee.

If your in the area, stop by and say hello and see if there's something you just can't live without!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Chicken and Stars Tour

The Nebraska Nature and Visitor Center (NNVC) is pleased to offer the Chicken and Stars tour -- an opportunity to view two of the prairie's signature birds, the greater prairie chicken and sharptail grouse -- in the Nebraska Sandhills.

The trip begins the afternoon of Friday, April 9; participants will drive on their own to the Sandhills Motel in Mullen, NE. If skies that evening are clear, NNVC program coordinator Dan Glomski will lead a viewing and photography session of the beautiful Sandhills night sky.

Participants then rise predawn Saturday morning to witness close-up the dances of the prairie chickens and grouse on their breeding grounds, known as leks. The males seek to attract females while fighting off other males; they inflate their air sacs (orange on the chicken, purple on the grouse), as the prairie chickens make an eerie call likened to blowing crossways along the top of a soda bottle.

Saturday afternoon, participants travel to the Nebraska National Forest at Halsey for hiking and photography. From here, participants may either leave for home or stay for an additional evening of night sky viewing (weather permitting) and a second morning of prairie chicken and grouse viewing.

Cost of the tour is $125 per person for a single participant; double occupancy, $75/person. The cost includes Friday night accommodations at Sandhills Motel and guided morning viewing and photography of the prairie chicken and sharptail lek. Meals are not included. Saturday evening accommodations and Sunday morning chicken/sharptail viewing are optional and must be arranged by participants.

For more information, contact Dan Glomski at or 308-382-1820. Space on the tour is very limited, and participants are strongly encouraged to make reservations as soon as possible. Deadline for signup is March 20.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Whooper Watch

Call Whooper Watch 1-888-3WWATCH (1-888-399-2824) if you have spotted a whooping crane.

It’s time once again to turn our eyes to the skies and enjoy Nebraska’s spring migration season. One of the most exciting things for birdwatcher to find is a whooping crane. (grus americana) That means it’s time to roll out the whooper watch program again this year.

The Whooper Watch program was started years ago to enlist volunteers to help monitor and record information regarding the whereabouts and activities of whooping cranes while they are in the area. The Platte River and rainwater basin area in Nebraska provide a migratory stopover habitat for whooping cranes. Local volunteers are valuable and needed to help scientists gather data.

Why is this important? Whooping crane numbers are small with ~ 263 birds currently known to be in the central flyway region of North America. While birds migrate to and from their wintering grounds at Aransas Wildlife refuge on the gulf coast of Texas to their nesting grounds at Woods Buffalo national park in Saskatchewan Canada. The migration is a perilous time for birds accounting for much of the mortality experienced by whoppers’. Any information gathered about the birds while en route north or south is helpful for many reasons. This is why the program was established.

Whooping cranes migrate through Nebraska in both the spring and fall time frame. Typical spring migration time from is late March through mid-April. In the fall they can be found in the October – November time frame. Weather and other factors play a role in when the birds come through a given area.

If you are interested in volunteering you can contact Dr Karine Gil at the Platte River Whooping Crane Maintenance Trust for training or more information. (1-888-399-2824), or you can contact us at the Nebraska Nature & Visitor Center for more information about the program.

Power point slides below are from a presentation and are courtesy of Dr. Karine Gil.

Click on a photo to enlarge:

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Fog is Good

There are certainties in life, such as the rising of the sun and the fact that my kids make noise. Something that is not certain is that wildlife will be where you want it and when. We played a small part in a very nice photo workshop that was held this weekend in Hastings Nebraska. Part of my responsibility was to host a group of photographers to one of the Centers wildlife viewing blinds to photograph sandhill cranes and other wildlife. We set this up months ago and I knew at that time that the birds might very well not be here at this time of year as it is a bit early for dependable crane viewing.

So what do I do with twenty aspiring and advance photographers at sun-up? Why just photograph one of Nebraska’s awe-inspiring sunrise scenes. Sunrises in Nebraska are as dependable as water from your faucet. So that’s what we did minus one problem, fog. When I got up Saturday morning and hopped in my car in the pre-dawn darkness, it was fog city.

Fog is good. It’s the great equalizer. The great soft-box in the sky that gives a pleasing ethereal look to anything, especially a landscape. The winter of 2009-10 has been a bit harsher then winters of late and fog has been a frequent visitor to the landscape. Fog is good…

It was nice to spend time with a bunch of like-minded camera geeks photographing anything and everything in sight, including each other. We all put on our warm winter gear and braved the crisp morning air to capture a scene that is worthy of space on our wall. There’s always a camaraderie with a group like this that is just plain fun. We will continue to wait for the sandhill cranes to make their appearance and be ready to photograph them on their terms.

We will continue to have photographic events at the Center including a workshop with Randy Hampton on Saturday March, 20 and our prairie chicken and stars tour to Mullen Nebraska in April. Just give us a call for more details or to register.