Sunday, March 30, 2014

Sandhill Cranes and Wild Adventures

This weekend, my mom and I decided to travel out to the Nebraska Sandhills to see the Greater Sandhill Cranes with the Boulder County Audubon Society.

We set out at 9:45 on Friday morning for Lewellen, NE. The first adventure was running into a 40 second long hail storm on I-76, which I quickly photographed for documentation.
PS-click on the photos to view them larger.

Our first stop was in Big Springs, NE for a quick lunch where I got my first "official" birds for the trip: male and female house sparrows. I had seen some unidentifiable buteos and something that looked kind of like a grouse while on I-76, but since I couldn't ID them, I didn't count them.

House Sparrow

After arriving in Lewellen around 1:30pm with plenty of time before the potluck at 6:30, we drove over to Crescent Lake National Wildlife Refuge, hoping to see some waterfowl. On the way to the (closed) visitor center I got many lifers including my favorite bird, the Wood Duck, whom we spotted flying from a wooded marshy area just off the road.

Wood Ducks

Another highlight was the four Killdeer that I spotted (and heard) while heading back.


Just before turning around in Crescent Lake NRW, we watched these White-Tailed Deer.

We had just enough time to check in to our motel room on the north side of Lake McConaughy before meeting at the Old Lewellen Bridge, just south of Lewellen.

Old Lewellen Bridge

Our group had the privilege of enjoying a fantastic fly-in of the Greater Sandhill Cranes just after sunset, apparently one of the better ones that our leader has seen. The sky was clear of clouds, allowing the last rays of the sun to permeate the North Platte and shed a cool glow upon the horizon.

The Fly-In


We left fairly soon after the fly-in as to get back to our motel in time to get some sleep before our 5:20am awakening to see the great fly-out at the main Lewellen bridge just before sunrise. Surprisingly, the morning was as clear as the night before and allowed for some great views of the cranes, including the massive liftoff.

The Cranes on the North Platte

The Fly-Out

Sunrise Over the North Platte

A skull believed to be that of an opossum

Once the majority of the cranes had gone, we regrouped and talked about the morning plans. We divided to eat breakfast and planned to get back together at Ash Hollow Cemetery for a beautiful walk through Ash Hollow area.

We all learned about Rachel E Pattison who had recently been married and almost immediately after her marriage, started off on the Oregon Trail. She died at Ash Hollow area of cholera, one among many deaths due to cholera in this area, despite Ash Hollow having the first potable water in 300 miles.

The leader of the group, Steve Jones, lead us through Ash Hollow, along with his friend Jeff, the superintendent of Ash Hollow. I completely forgot about taking photos of the different species of long grass, native grasses, and other plants that we came upon, but I do remember their names. We saw Little Bluestem, Indian Grass, Buffalo Grass, Switch Grass, Canada Wild Rye, some "clown" sage, and a Sandhill x Little Bluestem hybrid.

Also seen (by me only, I think) was a pair of mating water striders.

Aquarius Remigis - Water Striders

Throughout the trip we encountered numerous "odd" things that you normally wouldn't come across in a city, which we spent a good deal of time laughing about.

While en route to Crescent Lake, we had a semi with a trailer chase us up and down the gravel roads in the middle of nowhere. I'm not sure what the semi was doing there or where it was going, but it was too funny to not snap a picture.

I noticed this sign for Omaha Beach while going to our motel just off of Lake McConaughy. I though it was very weird because a) We weren't in France b) Omaha is around 300 miles away c) Omaha Beach wasn't a good place from WWII, and d) The beach isn't really a beach at this part of lake, as far as I know.

I laughed pretty hard at this ironic installment of plumbing at our motel, considering that we were there to watch the cranes.

We saw this sign in Ash Hollow State Historical Area, referring to the fresh spring water that the pioneers found.

Although I don't have photographic proof, I do have a great story of this one. I was in charge of packing all of the food for this trip, so I planned ahead and made granola bars. Here is what I packed: 5 big granola bars, 4 apples, 2 bananas, 2 oranges, crackers, and some almonds. Seems like that'd be good for a few meals, right? Not so much. Before dinner on Friday night, 3 granola bars, 1 apple, the crackers, and half the almonds were already eaten. I had not planned out how hungry I'd be and thus didn't pack enough food. So, on Saturday morning we each had a orange and I ate the granola bar, leaving 3 apples and half the almonds left over. After the fly-out, we were both starving and headed over to Oshkosh to grab a bite to eat. Luckily for us, the local cafe was accommodating and we found 2 things we could eat: a fruit bowl and hashbrowns. The fruit cup, however, wasn't fresh fruit. It was canned plums. Plums! Who eats canned plums? Well, I do, apparently. We ended up having a distinct lack of food the entire trip and thoroughly enjoyed a meal of beans and rice when we returned home.

One of the things that I thought about a lot of the trip was our group. Varied as it was, the vast majority were in their 50s and 60s, perhaps some even older. I was the second youngest and my mom was the third youngest, to give some perspective. Yes, that makes 2 "kids" on the trip, total. It made me realize that this generation of birders and naturalists (those in their 50s and 60s) is eventually going to die, and there won't be anyone to replace them if we aren't careful. Is my generation so removed from nature that they won't have any passion for protecting and preserving it? That whole idea is so disturbing that I'd rather not think of what the world will be like when I'm older.

This trip was almost what I'd call a dream trip for me. It was quiet and contemplative, exactly what I have been looking for. I really loved the feeling of being able to go anywhere and do anything with my life on my back. I carried around all my clothes and equipment with me and left virtually nothing at the motel. (I left my knitting, but I knew I wasn't going to use it anyways.) I really like having that freedom. I don't have to worry about forgetting anything and I actually didn't miss anything at home. It makes me wonder now that I really need to be happy. Perhaps I own way too much stuff that I think makes me happy but instead is clogging my life with unnecessary things.

Seeing these cranes isn't something I'll forget anytime soon, especially with their bugles engrained into my mind. The hauntingly beautiful and old notes that rang across the skies aren't something that you can try to recreate, you have to be there and watch them fly in to the same spots that they've been roosting in for thousands of years to really understand the history and pure beauty of the Greater Sandhill Cranes.

List of birds found:
Northern Harrier
Northern Shoveler
Wood Duck
Red-Tailed Hawk
Red-Winged Blackbird
Canada goose
Double-Crested Cormorant
Common Goldeneye
Rough-Legged Hawk
Sandhill Crane
Bald Eagle
Lesser Scaup
Marsh Wren (heard only)
Turkey Vulture
Wild Turkey
House Finch
House Sparrow
Eurasian Collared-Dove
American Robin
Western Meadowlark
American Kestrel
Green-Winged Teal
Ruddy Duck

1 comment:

  1. Nice shots of the birds and thanks for sharing the story of the weekend.
    Here are links to the videos of the cranes taking off.
    David & Rachel