Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Sandhill Crane Trust

Five days of recovery from Marlin's unexpected adventure, allowed enough energy for an afternoon of tourist activity.  We learned about the nearby Crane Trust Nature Center.  The Crane Trust, was established in 1978 as part of an agreement negotiated between interested parties when the Grayrocks Dam in Wyoming was proposed and constructed.  Their mission is to provide leading scientific research, manage critical habitat for cranes and other migratory birds, and to advance outreach and education.

 Nebraska is a critical staging area for birds migrating on the Central flyway, especially Sandhill and Whooping cranes.  These large birds use the shallow waters of the Platte River, nearby corn fields, and open meadows to feed and roost before continuing their journey to Canada, Alaska, and even Siberia.  Every spring, from the end of February through the first part of April, over 500,000 Sandhill Cranes, and  small flocks of Whooping cranes stop to replenish their energy and strength before continuing their journey.  Eighty percent of all Sandhill cranes stop on the Platte River during spring migration.

A beautiful building that greets you outside with the sound of honking cranes.

The cranes use the shallow waters of the Platte to roost at night, where they are protected from predators. The braided channels that flow around sandbars make ideal places for the large concentrations of birds.  Cranes usually travel in small family groups, but while they are here on the Platte, they intermingle with many other groups.

 Most of the day, cranes spend in in the fields and meadows near the river.  They feed on corn left in the field after harvesting, plant tubers in the wet meadows, and snails, earthworms and insects that come to the surface in the wet spring fields.

The walking trails at the Crane Trust include viewing towers and bridges that cross the river and side channels.  I can only imagine what this looks like with 10,000 cranes roosting along this stretch of river.  I bet there are also that many viewers.

Whooping cranes are one of the rarest and most endangered birds in North America.  There are approximately only 300 in the wild migratory flock.  Whooping cranes use the Platte River to stop, feed, and recover in the wet meadows.  They will spend 2 to 3 days here before continuing their migration.  A few whooping cranes have spent more than a month in this area.  These are usually individuals that migrate with flocks of sandhill cranes.

As part of their mission to research Platte River habitat, the Crane Trust has established a bison herd. In 2015 the  Crane Trust acquired a herd of 75 genetically-pure bison.  Historically large herds of bison migrated throughout the planes. The bison graze on native grasses and disturb the soil with hooves, which allows other plant and animal species to grow.   The Trust is monitoring, through long term studies, how their addition to the ecosystem can  benefit the habitat for cranes and other birds.

We were lucky enough to see about 40 of the herd resting near one of the trails, especially since they have 10,000 acres to roam.

Being here at the Platte River in March must be an extremely exciting event.  Make your reservation now!

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