Spring time great time for birdwatchers

Monday, February 22, 2016

Photographers are dusting off their telephoto lenses or lusting after new ones as the annual sandhill crane migration begins.

We do see a few sandhill cranes in Southwest Nebraska -- as well as a rare whooper or two on occasion -- but we're more likely to get a drive-by look from Interstate 80 on trips to Lincoln or Omaha.

Long-time Nebraskans remember times when we didn't give more than a passing thought to the massive annual migration of cranes, ducks and geese, but Platte River residents have cultivated bird watchers to the point that they've had to draw up rules for visitors.

The Rowe Sanctuary near Gibbon, which has welcomed about 6,000 people on tours over the past three years, is no longer allowing tripods in blinds, is banning tablets and restricting when cameras and phones can use LED screens. Flashes will be banned and black tape placed over focusing lights, and no lenses, binoculars, hands or faces, can extend outside blind windows.

The Platte Valley enjoys a confluence of factors to make crane-viewing possible -- an attractive riverbed surrounded by cropland and pastures, plus the accessibility provided by Interstate 80.

But there are plenty of wildlife viewing opportunities available right here in Southwest Nebraska, as close as Barnett Park or a short drive to Hugh Butler Lake, Swanson Reservoir or Harry Strunk Lake. Put those binoculars or that telephoto lens to work and you might get a good look at a bald eagle or a photo of a turkey buzzard, pheasant, goose or duck.

Or, check out a fascinating prairie chicken mating ritual by spending a morning watching activity at a "lek" where roosters "drum" for hens' attention. Book a tour at http://www.prairiechickendancetours.com

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