Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Big Year

"In 1998 I zigzagged across the continent to try to see as many species of birds in one calendar year as possible. It was an incredible experience passing the 700-species mark—an achievement many birders aspire to in an entire lifetime."

Thirteen years ago, Greg Miller (pictured above) decided to undertake a "Big Year" -- an exciting, arduous and often expensive venture designed to see more species of birds on U.S. soil during one year than ever before. In the midst of personal upheaval, Greg faces competition from two much wealthier birders also doing Big Years. From boreal forests to steamy southern swamps, from sun-baked deserts to a rat-infested bunker on an Aleutian island, he travels to as many "hotspots" as he can reach and breaks the 700-species mark.

What obstacles does Greg overcome during his Big Year? Does he out-bird his better-funded competition? Moreover, why put yourself through such an ordeal just to chase birds across the continent?

This March, Greg will be in the Grand Island area to tell his story though events sponsored by Central Community College - Grand Island, the Nebraska Bird Partnership, the Crane Trust Nature and Visitor Center and the Wild Bird Habitat Store in Lincoln. You'll not only hear about the adventure in '98, he'll also relate his experiences as a consultant for the recent motion picture "The Big Year", starring Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson. (Greg was the inspiration for Jack Black's character.)

With the opening of a new year, why not take your own Big Year adventure? Don't worry; we're not suggesting camping in a cottonmouth-infested swamp or shivering on a brutally cold January day in Duluth. Rather, try these:

1. Read Mark Obmascik's book "The Big Year", the basis for the motion picture. It's a quick read and provides an excellent backdrop to Greg's talks.

2. Check out the motion picture itself. CCC will offer a screening when Greg is in town.

3. Go out looking for birds! Report your sightings to our Big Year Facebook page. We especially invite birding beginners to participate. You might also keep a "life list" of what you see; a great way to do this is to input your sightings into This site will keep track of what you've seen when. Moreover, you'll be contributing valuable data to a huge database of tremendous value to scientists.

4. Participate in area birding events. The Crane Trust Nature & Visitor Center has events throughout the year to help add to your species list. Central Community College in Grand Island will offer birding classes tailored to beginning birders. Here's a partial list of events planned:

Feb 18: Birds and Bagels, Crane Trust Nature & Visitor Center

Feb 20: Backyard Bird Feeding, NBP staff-led course offered through CCC

Mar 14: The Big Year book discussion, Grand Island Public Library. Free and open to the public.

Mar 21: Beyond the Screen movie presentation of “The Big Year” and discussion with special guest Greg Miller

Mar 22: Q & A with The Big Year's Greg Miller, Grand Island Public Library. Attendees will have the opportunity to ask Greg questions about The Big Year book, his feelings about being a subject in the book, and any other questions that come to mind in a relaxed intimate session.

Mar 24: “The Big Morning” Birding Trip w/Greg Miller

Mar 24: Greg Miller afternoon presentation, “Swamps, Mountain Tops, and Cheap Motels: My Big Year Travelogue” - Crane Trust Nature & Visitor Center

Mar 24: Greg Miller evening presentation, “The Big Year: The Triumph of Nature and the Human Spirit” - Crane Trust Nature & Visitor Center

Apr 13-15: "Chicken and Stars" - Crane Trust Nature and Visitor Center staff-led Sandhills birding and stargazing trip. The highlight is viewing Greater Prairie-Chicken and Sharp-tailed Grouse courtship displays.

May 10-12: Beginning Birding Course, NBP staff-led course offered through CCC in partnership with the Prairie Plains Resource Institute

So grab your binoculars, and we'll see you in the field!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A "Q and A" About Crane Migration and Guided Tours

Nebraska's sandhill crane migration in March gets a lot of attention from birdwatchers and the general public alike. It truly is one of the world's grandest wildlife spectacles: once experienced, the sight and sounds of thousands of cranes together is never forgotten.

Not surprisingly, we at the nature center receive a lot of questions about the cranes and the migration. Here, we'll try to address some of more common. At the top of the list is this one:

Preparing for a Guided Crane Viewing Tour

A guided crane tour gives you the chance of viewing the gathering of over 400,000 sandhill cranes along Nebraska's Platte River. This is an experience like no other on the planet. The experience is far more enjoyable -- for both you and your fellow crane-watchers -- if you prepare properly for your tour. The following brief article offers some general guidelines. Please note it applies to viewing tours (blind and footbridge), not to the private photographic blinds.

Clothing: March and early April in Nebraska is often cold, especially while sitting still in an unheated blind or standing on the footbridge for two hours. Bundle up accordingly: gloves, hats, thick socks, thermal undergarments are just a few items you should wear. Rule of thumb: Pretend the air temperature is at least 20 degrees colder than the thermometer reading, and dress for that temperature. A cold wind blowing -- a frequent occurrence here -- will give the air an additional bite. Rain gear is a plus in wet weather. We can't emphasize strongly enough: Please dress warmly and appropriately.

Binoculars and spotting scopes: Strongly recommended if you have them. Tripods for spotting scopes are permitted if space allows. Your guide may have a spotting scope for viewing, but this cannot be guaranteed.

Photo and video equipment: You may certainly take video and still images, but with some caveats. In particular, flash photography is not allowed under any circumstances; the cranes have been scared off their roosts on more than one occasion by a thoughtless flash. Even preview screens can cast enough light on a person's face to make a crane think twice about sticking around. Again, tripods are permitted if room allows, but please respect your fellow viewers and their space.

Reaching viewing locations: Viewing blinds and the footbridge require a walk of up to 1/2 mile to reach. In the case of blinds, this walk is over rough terrain. (The footbridge is wheelchair-accessible.) In addition, viewing blind tour participants caravan in their own vehicles to the blinds (though carpooling is possible).

Weather (and other) cancellations: March snowstorms make occasional visits to the Cornhusker State. Tours are cancelled only if any portion of Interstate 80 between North Platte (on the west) and Lincoln (east) is closed. We will do our best to inform participants when tours are cancelled. Otherwise, all tours are held as scheduled. Cancellations from participants require a minimum of 24 hours notice.

Not permitted on crane-viewing tours: Flashlights, children under 12, pets, cellphones and other electronic communication devices. In case of emergency, your guide will have a cellphone available.

Other considerations: Tours start promptly; please be on time, as we cannot wait for latecomers.

We're looking forward to leading you on a great viewing experience! If you have any questions about preparing for a crane-viewing tour, please contact us at or call 308-382-1820.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Things To Be Thankful For... and a Request


I’m thankful for all the people that help make this place work: volunteers, staff, partners, and people who care.

I’m thankful for my family, who put up with my somewhat busy schedule and the patience they show me while doing what needs to be done around here. I’m thankful for my Dad, who took me outside when I was young, and for my Mother, who did most of the real work on our many camping trips.

I’m thankful for Karen, Dan and Shirley, who make things happen around here and who in turn are thankful that I don’t often answer the phone and create more chaos in the process (most of the time.) Pursuant to this, I’m glad that the phone does ring and that the front doorbell chimes frequently here at the Center.

I’m thankful for the people who read this newsletter and blog, or who come to a class, take a tour, or attend a meeting at the Center. I think I’m thankful for Facebook, but I’m not sure if it really matters or not.

I’m thankful for Connie and Blake, who aren’t afraid to walk into my office and tell me I’m all messed up and should do things this way or that. I’m thankful for Dale, who is here when he says he will be. I’m thankful for Cal and the Board of Directors, who have stood by this place and made it happen at a deeper level that most folks might realize.

I’m thankful that when I walk outside, I can hear the sound of sandhill cranes, even though it’s fall.

I’m most thankful that there are a lot of people who work hard to keep a little water in the river, and that Nature continues to dazzle, every time and without fail. Amazing stuff.

The grassroots nature of this organization is evident in all we do and in the underlying passions that keep it going. If you would like to contribute to the annual fund or education fund, you may do so by contacting Karen in the office (308-382-1820) to make a contribution by credit card. If you prefer, you may send a check to 9325 S. Alda Road, Wood River, NE 68883

If you would like to designate your gift to honor a person or a business, we can do that as well.

It is all very exciting, and we’re glad to have you involved in all the excitement!

On behalf of the entire staff at the Nebraska Nature & Visitor Center, I wish you all the best in this holiday season.

Brad Mellema
Executive Director

Nebraska Nature & Visitor Center.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Q: When is the best time to see sandhill cranes in Nebraska?

Prospective crane-viewers ask this question frequently. Here's the simple answer for those planning a trip to Nebraska: mid to late March gives you virtually a 100% chance of seeing plenty of sandhill cranes. Casual crane viewers need not read further.

If you continued on to this paragraph, perhaps you're a birder, or someone who simply wants to know a little more . . .

Monday, October 31, 2011

Photographer Rick Rasmussen featured in Gallery.

Nebraska wildlife photographer Rick Rasmussen will feature 38 of his wildlife and nature images images in the Nebraska Nature & Visitor Center's Hornaday Art Gallery through December 31, 2011. An open house will be held Saturday, November 19th - time TBA. Rick has traveled all over the world capturing images of nature. His images include sandhill cranes, ducks wolves, prairie chickens and a lot more. Rick is a long-time supporter of the Nature Center and we are delighted to have a more extensive body of his work in the gallery.

Rick's favorite place to photograph is in his lifetime residence of Central Nebraska where he has shared the diverse wildlife opportunities with many photographers from around the United States. Traveling to other locations to experience other fascinating wildlife and landscapes has been a dream come true. Some of these destinations include: Alaska, Yellowstone and Antarctica.

Some of Rick's photo credits include; Highly Honored Winner in Natures Best Magazine 2008 - Windland Rice International Awards Competition, Grand Prize Winner in Wyoming Wildlife Magazine 2008 photo competition, Best Of Show in Grand Island Art In The Park and Best Of Show 4 times at Stuhr Museum Wings Over The Platte Competition. He has also been published in several books and has many images in advertising campaigns.

Rick just returned from and Alaska photo excursion, and said it was awesome but was quick to point out that he's a prairie guy at heart. He is a member of Prairie Winds Art Gallery in Grand Island.

Friday, October 14, 2011

A Few Photos from the Trail

I have not had a chance to post photos from the trail for a while. The Great Plains and prairie is a place that is best experienced on foot. The fall is one of my favorite times to get out there and do a little exploring. Not a lot of birds this afternoon. A few white crowned sparrows and a belted kingfisher were near the first bridge. I noticed a few fresh cut trees downed by beavers near the first bridge as well. I was going to go down and photograph them but smelled the unmistakable perfume of a skunk in the area so I'll leave that photo go for now.

The mixed grass prairie of Central Nebraska.

Belted kingfisher patiently waits for a fish to rise.

Platte River from the first footbridge.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Jorn Olsen - Across a Wide Horizon

Hastings Nebraska photographer Jorn Olsen stopped by the Nature Center today to sign a few copies of his book for the gift shop. His book, "Across a Wide Horizon: Discovering the Uncommon Beauty of Nebraska’s Plains" is really a treat to look at. The book review posted below is by George Tuck, who is a professor emeritus, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where he taught photojournalism in the College of Journalism and Mass Communications.

The book is very high quality, and printed in the U.S.A. which is saying something in this era of everything being outsourced to other countries. I hope you stop by and pick up a copy for yourself or to give as a gift.

Book Review
Across a Wide Horizon: Discovering the Uncommon Beauty of Nebraska’s Plains
Photography by Jorn C. Olsen
With Foreword by Christopher Amundson

WOW! Outstanding images, beautiful printing, clever titles, dramatic scenery, spectacular wildlife, electrifying weather, peaceful landscapes and, well, you get the idea.

Hit the jump to read on...

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Rising from the Grave

Next month sees the return of a cherished nature center tradition: the Halloween pumpkin walk, scheduled for October 28-29.

For those unfamiliar with this event, the Enchanted Halloween Trail involves guides taking small groups of people to different nature- or prairie-themed characters. Each actor performs a short skit describing his/her character. (For example, a "prairie chicken" might do his spring dance.) Eight characters are scheduled along a pumpkin-lined trail (impressive when lit up) a little over half-mile in length. (Anyone remember the Man in the Moon from years back? If a working telescope was nearby, that was likely yours truly!) This year's characters are provided by MiShMaSh productions of Hastings.

After completing the trail, visitors will be guided back to the center, where a bag of popcorn and hot chocolate or cider (your choice) await. Additional snacks may be available for sale in our snack bar, and the Crimson Crown gift shop will be open for early holiday shoppers. For more information, check out the flyer image above.

We'll need plenty of volunteers for this event: trail guides in particular, but also trail monitors, snack-bar attendants, pumpkin carvers and a host of others. Interested in volunteering? Additional questions? Please drop me a line at dan(at)

Looking forward to seeing you in October!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Monarch Madness

New adult monarch butterfly on NNVC grounds

On Saturday, September 17, the Nebraska Nature and Visitors Center (NNVC) and Dodge Elementary School in Grand Island team up to present “Monarch Madness.” This monarch butterfly tagging demonstration will begin 1 p.m. and end by 3 p.m. The program is offered free of charge to the public.

Hit the jump to read on...

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Weekend Wild Walk - River Explore

In this summer's final Weekend Wild Walk, we'll take a stroll in the Platte River. Yes, in the river itself! We'll examine the many forms of life we can find along and in the water: amphibians, birds, plants and more. We may take a dip net or two along and see what we can capture. We'll walk from our sandbar between the footbridges to the Alda Road bridge.

The part of the river we'll be strolling is fairly shallow, generally a few inches deep, with occasional spots up to a foot in depth. Wear shorts and a shirt that can wet and dirty; same with footwear -- sandals or old tennis shoes are strongly recommended. (Flip-flops are easily lost and are not recommended.) A towel to dry off is optional.

The walk begins this Saturday at 9:30 a.m. and will end no later than 11 a.m. Admission is free, and all ages are invited. The walk will be cancelled if conditions are rainy or stormy. If weather is questionable, please call 308-382-1820 for an update.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Weekend Wild Walk - Dragonflies

The warm summer months have brought dragonflies (and their relatives, the damselflies) out in droves.

North America is home to over 300 species of dragonflies. While dragonfly identification can be confusing, some -- like the female Widow Skimmer above -- are easy, particularly if you can get them to stand still! Dragonflies are indicators of an aquatic ecosystem's health, and they consume many insect pests such as mosquitoes.

In this walk, we'll take a dragonfly field guide, cameras and binoculars into the field and see what dragonflies we can find and ID. We'll take half of the Prairie Loop trail, stop by the pond (dragonfly central right now) and head back. The walk begins at 9:30 a.m. Saturday and will last no more than 90 minutes. (Walk distance will be approximately one mile.) The walk is free and all ages are invited to attend.

Looking forward to seeing you there.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Nebraska Nature & Visitor Center now Certified by Greener Nebraska

LINCOLN, NEB. (Aug. 8, 2011)—Eight Nebraska businesses recently earned certification from Greener Nebraska by meeting green performance standards.

The eight businesses qualifying for certification were:

Nebraska Nature & Visitor Center, Wood River
Western Nebraska Segway Experience Center, Scottsbluff
Lincoln Children's Museum, Lincoln
Iain Nicolson Audubon Center at Rowe Sanctuary, Gibbon
Green Acres Motel & RV Park, Red Cloud
Best Western Settle Inn, Omaha
Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center, Denton
Mom's Pantry, Ogallala

Greener Nebraska, developed by the Nebraska Department of Economic Development’s Travel and Tourism Division, strives to reduce the tourism industry’s impact on the environment and to attract travelers interested in visiting green destinations. Its certification process previously had been restricted to tourism-related businesses along Nebraska's nine Scenic Byways; the program expanded this year to help businesses across the state become more environmentally friendly.

Now that the program is open to businesses throughout the state, getting certified through Greener Nebraska is a simple and free way to promote your conservation efforts.

Visit our website, , to learn more about the program and to begin the certification process.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Weekend Wild Walk - Wildflowers

Wildflowers are blooming all over our prairie and landscaping. From hoary vervain to black-eyed susans to purple prairie clover (above), we have a lot of beauty out there.

Join us for a look at these and other wildflowers on this Saturday's Weekend Wild Walk, beginning at 9:30 a.m. and wrapping up by 11 a.m. Bring a camera if you have one.

Weekend Wild Walks are free and open to the public. Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Weekend Wild Walk - Prairie Seed Collecting

This summer, the nature center has been offering our Weekend Wild Walks, held each Saturday morning from 9:30 to 11 a.m. These walks are designed to introduce people of all ages to the wonders of the prairie and the Platte River.

This coming Saturday, July 9, our wild walk takes us offsite, to the properties of the Nature Conservancy. We'll help the Conservancy collect seed of native prairie plants for use in their restorations. This is a great way to view the prairie up close and begin to learn the plant species that make up this beautiful but still overlooked ecosystem.

We'll meet at the nature center at 9:30 a.m. sharp and caravan or carpool from there. We'll need to leave on time. Please bring work gloves and scissors if you have them; otherwise we can provide these.

Weekend Wild Walks are free of charge and will be offered through August 20. For more information, call us at (308) 382-1820.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Weekend Wild Walk - Butterflies

Butterflies are the subject of this Saturday's Weekend Wild Walk. And do we have them in abundance!

Undoubtedly the most conspicuous butterfly out there now -- and often sought-after by visitors from elsewhere -- is the regal fritillary. According to Butterflies of North America by Brock and Kaufman, "This well-named regal creature is one of North America's vanishing butterflies," having disappeared from much of their former range, particularly east of the Mississippi River. Fortunately for them -- and for us -- regal fritillaries are doing quite well in Nebraska.

While regals are quite obvious, closer looks reveal plenty of smaller butterflies too. I had to wait for these fulvia (?) checkerspots to calm down, but they finally stood still long enough for me to take their picture. [Butterfly experts can correct me on the ID if I'm wrong.]

So what about that most famous of butterflies, the monarch? Sadly, I've seen only one on the prairie all year, despite plenty of milkweed (their larval plant). Clearly, they are having trouble here as well as on their wintering grounds in Mexico.

The walk begins at the nature center at 9:30 Saturday morning and wraps up by 11. We encourage participants to bring cameras and binoculars (though these are not required). Admission is free, but donations are appreciated. Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Dan talks about telescopes and stargazing.

Dan had a chance to talk about telescopes this morning on NTV Good Life Program. Here's a post in case you missed it.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Weekend Wild Walk - Animal Tracks

We know a lot of critters run around the nature center grounds, in our prairie and along the river. Deer and rabbits are quite commonly seen, and we've encountered the occasional skunk (luckily, not too close).

Yet, we know a lot more animal life exists here: fox, otter, coyote, bobcats and others are all possibilities. While we rarely if ever directly see these, we've know some of these are present -- partly through the "fingerprints" they leave behind in the form of tracks.

During this Saturday's Weekend Wild Walk, our good friend Blake Hatfield will take us on a search for those tracks. What will we find? Show up at 9:30 a.m. Saturday and let's find out!

Admission to the Weekend Wild Walks is free of charge, though donations are greatly appreciated. Visitors of all ages are invited to attend.

Looking forward to seeing you Saturday morning!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Weekend Wild Walks

This Saturday, June 18th, the nature center offers our first Weekend Wild Walk. These Saturday morning walks begin 9:30a and end by 11a and are free of charge (though we won't turn down donations!). The theme for this walk is breeding birds at the nature center; we'll look for five or six species, such as this dickcissel.

One bird much sought-after by visitors is the bobolink. This year, we're hosting at least a couple, and we have a good chance of seeing them. They have a beautiful bubbly song.

Please bring binoculars and bird ID guides if you have them; if not, we'll have at least one pair of binoculars to borrow.

Weekend Wild Walks will be held every Saturday morning through August 20. We'll highlight a different aspect of the prairie and river each week.

Looking forward to seeing you!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Nature Center Offers Weekend Wild Walks for Summer

Press release June 7, 2011

The Nebraska Nature and Visitor Center (NNVC) is pleased to offer summertime "Weekend Wild Walks" for families.

Every Saturday morning at 9:30 a.m. beginning June 18 through August 20 visitors are invited to take in nature along our trails, within our woods and near or even in the Platte River! Each walk will have a theme: birds, butterflies, wildflowers, amphibians, the Platte River are all themes we will explore.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Butterfly Homes and Gardens

After Crane Meadows Nature Center unveiled its new facility around 2003, staff and volunteers -- including the Family Campers and RVers (FCRV) -- planted a butterfly garden. The garden was designed to provide food sources (i.e. leaves and stems) desirable to butterfly larvae, while adults would probe flowers for nectar.

Sadly, between that time and the nature center's reopening and renaming in 2009, the garden had gone largely to weeds, with only a scattering of survivors remaining from the previous planting. Clearly, the garden was in a need of a renovation.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Mountain Lions in Nebraska

With the recent Mountain lion dispatch in Kearney, I thought it might be good to post the Game and Parks informational video on the topic.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Summer Day Camp Announced at the Center

This summer, the Nebraska Nature and Visitor Center partners with Nebraska 4-H Camps and the Museum of Nebraska Art (MONA) to bring an exciting and educational day camp for children ages 8-11. The four day camp runs from July 11 through July 14 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Click here to register for this camp.

The camps include a blend of nature activities with traditional 4-H offerings such as archery and team-building exercises. Add a dash of art and science and stir. The fee is just $115 per child!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Press Release from the Nebraska Environmental Trust

Nebraska Nature Visitor Center Receives Grant from the Nebraska Environmental Trust

Lincoln, NE – April 7, 2011 – Nebraska Nature Visitor Center announced today that it will receive $60,000 from the Nebraska Environmental Trust for “Educating a New Generation of Environmentally Committed Nebraskans”. The Trust Board announced funding for the project at its meeting on April 7, 2011 in Lincoln. This is the final year of award. The project is one of the 94 projects receiving $15,412,788 in grant awards from the Nebraska Environmental Trust this year.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Report: Chicken & Stars 2011

Our second annual Chicken & Stars tour is a wrap!

On Friday, ten participants gathered at Sandhills Motel in Mullen, then headed off to Cattleman's Restaurant in Seneca for a great meal. Dr. Paul Johnsgard gave a wonderful presentation on the greater prairie chicken.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Nebraska Prairie Chicken Weekend Report April, 2011

Click’n with Chickens wrap-up report:

We returned from our Click’n with Chickens weekend Sunday afternoon. It was a great outting and was enjoyed by all. The idea was to provide a great prairie chicken viewing opportunity while getting a photo workshop at the same time. I know that I learned a lot of great new information that will help me to be a better photographer. The event was held at the Switzer Ranch located eleven miles north of Burwell, Nebraska.

Our journey started on Saturday morning when Dan Glomski and I decided to check out the prairie chicken viewing at the Taylor Ranch, located northwest of Grand Island. We were joined by Blake Hatfield at about 7:30 a.m. on One R Road where we found a lot of booming activity. It was foggy, limiting visibility, but the booming sounds were very easily recognized. We could make out the ghost-like sillouettes of the birds as the male birds strutted around and did their best to impress and intimidate their fellow courters on the lek (booming ground).

While viewing the birds we stayed on the county road and it was important to keep and eye and ear pen for cars, as they do pass through at high speed. If you go, be sure to park safely off to the side so oncoming traffic can see you.

We ran into several other bird watchers that morning. Some were in the Nature Center the day before and the other car was none other than CPNRD biologist Mark Czaplewski, who was out with his family watching the birds. Mark said he has been watching birds at this location for more then twenty years.

Hit the more button to read further.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Snapshots from the Past Week at the Center

Wine tasting. Cedar Hills Vineyard.

Jane Goodall enjoys the cranes.

Tom Mangelsen, Jane Goodall and Brad Mellema enjoy the migration.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Whooper Watch Training Session Offered

18 March 2011

The Nebraska Nature and Visitor Center in partnership with The Crane Trust offers a Whooper Watch training session for volunteers to search for and observe highly endangered whooping cranes as they pass through Nebraska. The training session will take place at 5 p.m. on Friday, March 25th at the Nebraska Nature and Visitor Center. The session is free and open to the general public.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Join Us This Weekend at the Center..

We are now open every day 8a.m. to 6p.m.

The Nebraska Nature & Visitor Center is a must stop when your in the area for sandhill crane and outdoor activities. Our Wild About Nebraska Event Series kicks into high gear this week with the following events and happenings.

Guided crane viewing tours every day. Click here for more information.

Saturday March 12

We will be featuring Dr. Paul Johnsgard at 1 p.m. who will be speaking about his recently published book "Sandhill and Whooping Cranes: Ancient Voices over Americas Wetlands".

Brian “Fox” Ellis will perform “Animal Tales” program. 2 p.m.
Brian “Fox” Ellis is a performer and storyteller who will entertain the entire family. He has performed across the country in the character of John-James Audubon, Edgar Allen Poe and Charles Darwin.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Artist Cynthia Duff and Tricia Moon-Beem reception Saturday March 5

Artist Cynthia Duff dropped of some of her paintings yesterday. We have them displayed in our Hornady Art Gallery. Cynthia and writer Tricia Moon-Beem will be at an artist reception this Saturday at the Nebraska Nature & Visitor Center from 1-3p.m. With the backdrop of the spring sandhill crane migration it promises to be a great time. There is no charge and it open to the general public.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

You Thought You Were Feeling Old...

I made a visit to the Nebraska State Museum of Natural History to look at the remains of ancient cranes found in Nebraska. The fossil record for avian species is sketchy at best, due to the hollow bone structure of birds, they don't preserve very well. We do however, have some excellent examples thought to be from the Miocene epic at the Ashfall Fossil Bed State Historical Site.

Most of the Museum's collection is not at "Elephant Hall" located in the center of UNL's city campus, most of the collection is housed on the 4th floor of Nebraska Hall. I was led to a room filled with antiquities such as mammoth skulls and fossilized bones of all description. Very interesting place for sure.

Dr. George Corner from the Museum pulled out two examples of complete skeletal remains of the crowned crane (gruidae: balearica) that were exhumed from the Ashfall site. Alan Feduccia and Michael Voorhies wrote a paper about these remains. Feduccia and Voorhies believe that some 10 million years ago a volcano 100 times greater than Mt. St. Helens erupted in the area of New Mexico, covering Nebraska in ash of up to 3 meters.

The cranes that were found at the site were a smaller relative of the modern crowned crane that is found in Africa in modern times. The Nebraska bird is smaller than the African species.

We will continue to work with the museum to provide more information and interperative displays in the future.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Join us Saturday March 5 for Crane Essence

Crane Essence is the journey of two artistic souls expressing their abiding affection for the Sandhill Cranes, endangered Whooping Cranes and the bountiful gifts of nature. Cynthia Duff’s brush strokes and Tricia Moon-Beem’s words capture the magical, spiritual and soulful essence of the cranes that so deeply touch the human heart and imagination around the world.

Fans of Duff’s work and those experiencing her artistic creativity for the first time will enjoy an exciting fresh new design. Several works for Crane Essence use wood as the canvas. Duff lets the wood’s natural beauty and grain, enrich the colors, as well as inspire the fragmented style that guides the eye through each painting. In Crane Essence Duff returns to her fascination and appreciation of the cranes, that first gained her regional and national acclaim with her contemporary expressionistic style and vibrant color.

Hit the more button to read further.

Sounds and Photos from the Weekend on the Platte

Here are a few shots from the weekend at the Nature Center. We hosted a group of photographers form the Photograph Nebraska Symposium held in Hastings Nebraska. We took groups out early on Friday and Saturday. It was 7 degrees on Friday and a bit warmer on Saturday. The hoarfrost was just wonderful each day. We had a few participants that did not have proper cold weather foot wear and gloves. When it's cold and you're not properly dressed, you will not fully enjoy your experience. Layers are the best way to prepare for cold weather.

I went out with Hastings based photographer Jorn Olsen on Sunday morning to photograph the swarms of snow geese on some private land in the area. Wow... I have come to realize that my favorite viewing blind trip is always whatever trip I've been on most recently. They just seem to keep getting better.

Hit the more button to read further.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Photo Post

Photo opportunity at the Nature Center. Beautiful morning to be sure.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

So, what else is there to do around here?

The following article highlights the area so people can find additional things to do while visiting the area. I hope you find it helpful.

LINCOLN, Neb. -- "So, what is there to do around here?" When visitors who have traveled perhaps hundreds of miles to watch birds ask that question, they probably aren't looking for the nearest water park or shopping mall. More likely, they'd welcome other wildlife viewing opportunities, walking and hiking, historical and rural sites.

The Nebraska Nature and Visitor Center and the University of Nebraska Rural Initiative set out to determine just what would appeal to the 70,000 or so people who flock to central Nebraska every spring to watch the sandhill cranes' migration. The idea is to build on the already significant economic impact by coaxing visitors to spend a little more time, and money, in the region.

That economic impact was estimated at $10.3 million in a recent University of Nebraska-Lincoln Bureau of Business Research study. The professors who conducted that study suggested their findings pointed to new economic prospects in the region.

To that end, the visitor center and Rural Initiative surveyed visitors at several locations during the 2010 crane migration. The survey was meant to gather information about what other activities and attractions might interest the 70,000 annual visitors who go to central Nebraska to observe the migration.

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Sunday, February 13, 2011

Money, Politics and Us

A friend of mine posted a statement on his Facebook page a few weeks ago. John works for the Nature Conservancy and always has an interesting take on the days events, but this one really caught my eye:

A century of conservation

1911: "Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul." John Muir 

2011: " I'm going to need you to change the subcenter for your time to a match code, email me when you are finished and then doodle me for a meeting time to discuss a time to meet about the times we meet and time of meetings" John Heaston

A lot of people think working at a Nature Center involves walking the trail each morning and surrounding ones self with incredible beauty each day at work. Well we certainly do that from time to time, but the majority of the time we spend doing things not much different that any other office job. Conservation and education have to live in the present and the present way of doing things involves money. We live within that paradigm. John pointed that out all too well in the aforementioned quote.

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Crimson Crown Gift Shop

We have a lot going on in our Crimson Crown gift shop these days. Shirley is busy ordering all kinds of interesting merchandise to stock the shelves. It's a real treasure hunt for sure. I'll also leave you with a bit of a tease... think membership.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Volunteer Trainings at the Center

Reminder you that we have a few volunteer training set up this weekend and next week at the Center. If you can’t make a training but still want to volunteer, just call Dan and he can set up individual training or an additional session if needed.

Saturday, February 12, from 9 a.m.-12 p.m., and Tuesday, February 15 from 6 to 9 p.m. We have scheduled two volunteer training sessions. The training sessions are identical, so you need only attend one. We ask that all volunteers attend one of the sessions. To help us plan, please RSVP by calling us at (308) 382-1820 or sending a e-mail to
If you cannot make either session, please let us know and we can arrange for personal, one-on-one training.

We also have a number of projects at the Center that we need to get done prior to the crowds and the birds arrival. We need painting, and cleaning and work out at the viewing blinds among other activities. Please call Brad or Dan and let us know if you want to help out.

Also, I’d like to announce that Karen Krull Robart will be joining us in the office helping out with the books. Karen worked at Crane Meadows about five years ago and we are delighted to have her back and helping us out. Be sure to say hello and give her a welcome next time you stop by the Center.

As always, give us a call if you have any questions.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Click'n with Chickens

Join us in April for this or one of our travel tours. Give us a call if you're interested! Photography opportunities everywhere you look on this one. Join us for one of the finest wildlife viewing opportunities in Nebraska. I you have never watched grouse dance in the spring, you really do owe it to yourself. Spots are limited on this one so if your even thinking about going, give us a call. 308-382-1820

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Photograph Nebraska Symposium in Hastings


Hastings, NE - Amateur photographers are invited to learn more about their craft, network with other photographers and listen to advice from seasoned professionals at the Photograph Nebraska Symposium to be held on February 25 & 26 at Lochland Country Club in Hastings.

Keynote presenters will include author and photographer, Thom Hogan and Sports Illustrated Staff Photographer, Bill Frakes. Thom Hogan has written nineteen Complete Guides to Nikon Cameras and photographed the US wild lands as former lead editor of Backpacker magazine. Bill Frakes has clients including Nike, CocaCola, Champion, IBM, Nikon, Kodak and Reebok and his work has appeared in virtually every major general interest publication in the world.

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Monday, January 24, 2011

Wild About Nebraska Speaker Series 2011

Nebraska Nature & Visitor Center
9325 S Alda Road, Wood River, NE 68883

March 5:

Cynthia Duff and Tricia Moon-Beem artist reception and book signing. 1-3 p.m. Cynthia is an artist, painter and sculptor and will give a short presentation and host an artists reception. Cynthia enjoys a wide variety of subjects including wildlife, sandhill cranes, people, landscapes and abstracts. She has been published in Nebraska Life Magazine, Artist Magazine, Watercolor Magic and “Outdoor Life” Television. Her works reside in many corporate and private collections. She has partnered with Tricia Moon-Beem to produce a book that celebrates the cranes!

March 12:

Dr. Paul Johnsgard speaking and signing his new book “Crane Music, A Natural History of American Cranes”. 1p.m.
Paul Johnsgard has shown us the wonders of the natural world and our fellow inhabitants through his writing, photography and illustrations. He has literally written the book on Nebraska’s sandhill cranes and will be speaking and answering questions about cranes and Nebraska’s migration. He will also be signing his newly updated book.

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Friday, January 21, 2011

Winter Images from the Platte

We have had a fair number of people out on the trail with camera in hand the last day or two. Brett Erickson from Hastings College brought his J-Term photography class out and they were out for several hours in single digit temps. They are making a blog with images of the west and I'll post it whenever I get the link.

Another Photographer from Kearney (Dean) was glad to see what he thought to be several hundred meadowlarks in our trail area just south of the bridge. I wonder if they wish they were farther south!

The photos posted below were shot Thursday evening near the Alda viewing area just one mile south of the main building here at the Center. I know we get a lot of sunsets in Nebraska. I never really get tired of photographing them. When my son Ben was a young boy and we say a particularly brilliant sunset in the western sky he said: "It's like God's painting". I'll go along with that.

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Monday, January 17, 2011

Eagles on the Platte

Here's an eagle report from this last weekend as written by Blake Hatfield...

We got to J2 (Lexington Power station) about 9am and the most we could count at one time there was 26. That is one of the better counts at j2 for a long time for me. We left j2 around 10am and started following the Platte river on the on the south side (of the Platte) till we got to Kearney. This is were we stopped counting. Here is a list of what we kept track of. Bald Eagles= 53 Rough-legged Hawks = 17 American Kestrels = 5 Red-tail Hawks = 3 Northern Harriers = 3 Great Horned Owls = 2 Great Blue Herons = 2 and about 300 Turkeys. We didn't keep track of the other birds, but several different species were seen. It was a pretty fun day.

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Sub- Zero Hiking and Photography on the Trail

There are two kinds of people in this world. When the mercury dives below zero there are the types wear footie pajamas, drink large amounts of hot chocolate bundle up on the couch under grandma’s afghan, and there’s the type who says, great day for a walk!

You know who you are! I have to admit, the older I get, the less spontaneous I am about launching out into the cold, but I still enjoy doing it when I get the chance.

They key to enjoying yourself in extreme cold is preparation. Things are amplified when the temps drop below zero. Equipment seems to be tested to the limit and this includes things such as your camera, cell phone, clothing, foot ware, and automobile.

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White Pelican Watch & Homecoming Celebration to be held at Harlan Co. Reservoir

Last spring I was at the Sacramento State Wildlife management area with my camera in hand. (Sacramento is in south central Nebraska a short drive north of the Harlan Co. Reservoir) Out of the corner of my eye I spotted a formation of large white birds gliding in from the south. This was in April so it was possible that they could be whooping cranes so it really grabbed my attention! I put my binoculars up to see a flock of georgeous white pelicans i decent to one of the flooded areas at WMA. They reminded me of a jumbo jet making its way in for a landing! They are a sight to see and the folks from Harlan County are inviting you down for a front row seat!

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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

How to sign up for your sandhill crane viewing tour


Nebraska Nature & Visitor Center
9325 South Alda Road
Wood River, NE 68883


Nebraska Nature & Visitor Center Opens Online Registration for Guided Sandhill Crane Tours

January 11, 2011

The Nebraska Nature and Visitor Center (NNVC) is pleased to offer online registration for 2011 sandhill crane viewing tours to the public. Each tour includes a 15-minute presentation before trained guides lead participants to observation sites along the Platte River to watch the cranes depart the river in the morning or return to river roosts in the evening. Guided tours begin the afternoon of Friday, March 4 and end Wednesday, April 6.

Two different types of viewing experiences are available, including a guided footbridge evening tour for $10.00 per person and an enclosed viewing blind tours for $25.00/person. (Tax is charged for tours.) The tours typically require a 10-minute walk, sometimes over rough terrain, to reach viewing sites. Each tour lasts about two hours and children under the age of twelve are not allowed.

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Thursday, January 6, 2011

Snapshot of the Platte

The flooding from a few weeks ago has worked its way upstream a few bridge segments to the Buffalo/Kearney county area closer to Kearney. The river has pushed a lot more water into the north channel that runs south of the Nature Center building. The water flow and ice mixture most certainly will scour the riverbed. I also noticed that there were places in the ice there the water would boil up through the ice from the flows below.

If you happen to get out and take a look at the river for yourself, do not try to venture out on the ice! It is very unstable and a person could fall through without warning.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Ice and Water - a walk to the Platte

I took a short walk down the Nature trail this afternoon to check on the river and see what was new down there. We still have a blanket of snow on the ground. That is good for showing tracks and signs of the prairie residents who live out there. I was able to watch a rather loud red-tailed hawk over the river, a northern harrier, turkeys, white tailed deer and a northern shrike. I also saw tracks and signs of all kinds of mice and smaller birds in the snow.

We have a lot of water flowing in the northern channel of the Platte right now. This is the result of ice jams to the west in the main (south) channel causing more then the usual amount of water to spill into the north channel. It's a relief valve of sorts. The water flow is as high as I've seen it. This is good for the riverbed where the ice acts like a bulldozer cleaning and scouring the sandy bottom as it moves along. I also noticed that the main channel has shifted from one side to the other. This is a natural process that helps to shape the platte as we know it. The geomorphology of the platte is based on sand constantly shifting due to various forces of ice and water. When the flows move elsewhere, the trees and prairie grasses begin to sprout up quickly filling the area with vegetation.

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