Nebraska Trip Part II: Calamus Reservoir

By Joe Sebastiani, Members Program Team Leader

2nd in a series about the Delaware Nature Society trip to Nebraska in March.

March 25 continued…After a great Prairie-chicken show and a big breakfast, we ventured out to investigate parts of the 12,000-acre Calamus Outfitters Ranch and the nearby Calamus Reservoir.  In late-March, this place ranks right up there with places like Bombay Hook and Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuges in Delaware, yet it is not even mentioned in the Birding Nebraska booklet.  Someone is overlooking this as a serious birding hot spot in Nebraska!

I kept promising we would visit a Prairie Dogs Town, but there were way too many birds between us and the little rodents.  Every time I would say, “Prairie Dogs, next stop!”, there would be more wonderful birds for us to look at.

We were in "Cattle Country" after all.  I overcame my well known fear of cows to get this photo!
We were in "Cattle Country" after all. I overcame my well known fear of cows to get this photo!
The ranch and the Reservoir together make a fantastic birding location in late March.  Ducks are still around by the thousands, and other migrants are coming in.  A few hundred American White Pelicans were on the reservoir and circled in the sky above us.  “Pelicans?  In Nebraska?”, someone usually says.
Hundreds of White Pelicans stop at Calamus Reservoir in migration.  It is a dramatic sight to witness dozens of these birds in a thermal, circling in the sky.
Hundreds of White Pelicans stop at Calamus Reservoir in migration. It is a dramatic sight to witness dozens of these birds in a thermal, circling in the sky.
Ducks such as Wood Duck, Mallards, Gadwall, Northern Pintail, American Wigeon, Northern Shoveler, Blue-winged and Green-winged Teal, and Common Merganser were plentiful.  A single Trumpeter Swan, part of a flock of 15 that spent the winter here, was still on the reservoir.  Flocks of Rusty Blackbirds were feeding in the swampy edges, and songbirds were plentiful.  Bald Eagles numbered around 40 on the west end of Calamus Reservoir.
We found a small flock of Rusty Blackbirds in the swampy areas of Calamus Reservoir.
We found a small flock of Rusty Blackbirds in the swampy areas of Calamus Reservoir.
In winter, shad die in the reservior as part of their normal life-cycle.  After the ice thaws, the bodies are released to the surface, and the day prior to our arrival, the wind blew the shad carcasses to the east end of the reservoir.  It was a Ring-billed Gull feast!  No wonder there were so many eagles at the reservoir.
Thousands of Ring-billed Gulls feed on shad that died over the winter, are trapped under ice, then blown up to the dam at Calamus Reservoir.
Thousands of Ring-billed Gulls feed on shad that died over the winter, are trapped under ice, then blown up to the dam at Calamus Reservoir.

At the end of the day, we stopped at another part of the ranch to see a Great Horned Owl nesting and Wild Turkeys.  They usually feed at the hay piles.  We thought we would see a few.  Check it out in the video below. 

Leave a Reply