Nebraska Trip: Part III

By Joe Sebastiani, Members Program Team Leader

Third in a series about the Delaware Nature Society trip to Nebraska.

March in Nebraska weather-wise can be very unpredictable.  It may be in the 70’s one day, and the next…back to winter!  Our second full day in Nebraska, we had quite a surprise when we opened our doors.  Six inches of snow, temperatures in the 20’s, and wind strong enough to huddle up the cattle into tight groups, let alone people.  We set out to see Sharp-tailed Grouse displaying on their lek.  Would they even show up on such a miserable morning?  The answer was yes.  Would they dance?  Well…maybe a little.

Sharp-tailed Grouse staring at each other in the snow and wind.  Photo by Marilyn Henry.
Sharp-tailed Grouse staring at each other in the snow and wind. Photo by Marilyn Henry.

The birds flew in, haggled with each other for location, and pretty much stared at each other.  If someone got out of place, they rush one another with tail up, feet stomping, wings shaking and dangling, charge….and stop to stare.  There was a lot of that in the snow and wind that morning.  Eventually, they flew off to roost in the cedar trees.
Since we only got a partial show, we were taken on a four-wheeling expedition of the 12,000-acre ranch.  Over the sandhills…down the sandhills, repeated over and over.  We visited the cattle herd and their newborn calves, being protected by the weather by their mothers. 
A young calf on the ranch.  Photo by Marilyn Henry.
A young calf on the ranch. Photo by Marilyn Henry.
We also visited the location of marker honoring a young woman who died here during in the 1800’s as the family made their way west by wagon.  The family never forgot her and returned from California just a  few years ago to pay their respects and place a memorial marker.
Later that day, and sad to leave Calamus Outfitters www.calamusoutfitters.com and our hosts Bruce, Sue Ann, and Adam Switzer, we left for Kearney and the land of the Sandhill Cranes.
Saying goodbye to Calamus Outfitters.  Photo by Marilyn Henry.
Saying goodbye to Calamus Outfitters. Photo by Marilyn Henry.

We left the snow behind us quickly, and proceeded to Fort Kearney Historic Site and Recreation Area.  Here, we walked a rail-trail over the Platte River and got our first view of this important waterway.  For a river that starts in the Rockies of Colorado and Wyoming, and travelling hundreds of miles until this point, it is pitifully small.  Thank a few large dams upstream and huge amounts of water siphoned for irrigation along its length for the river’s modern day reality.  No longer does this beautiful prairie river swell with Rocky Mountain floodwaters and meander along it’s vast grassland floodplain.

The Platte River near Kearney, NE.  Photo by Joe Sebastiani
The Platte River near Kearney, NE. Photo by Joe Sebastiani

Our walk along the rail-trail was windy and cold, but did produce one bird we were looking for, the Harris’s Sparrow.  In a flock with Dark-eyed Juncos, we found three of these beautiful birds.

A Harris's Sparrow near Kearney, NE.  This species winters primarily in the mid-west.  Photo by Joe Sebastiani
A Harris's Sparrow near Kearney, NE. This species winters primarily in the mid-west. Photo by Joe Sebastiani

We looked forward to our adventures the next day…exploring the Rainwater Basin and the dramatic return of the Sandhill Cranes to the Platte River in the evening.  More on that later…

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