Row Sanctuary reported Thursday that the sandhill crane migration along the Platte River between Grand Island and Kearney is at or near its peak this weekend. Estimates are that 680,000 cranes – plus or minus 70,000 are roosting on the river.
While the waterfowl may be enjoying the weather, the extremely wet conditions have restricted access to visitors – sometimes referred to as “craniacs” who are looking to view the spectacle.
Last Saturday night and Sunday, viewing experiences were cancelled due to vehicles getting stuck in the mud along Elm Island road which is the only access to the refuge. Reports are that the road east of the refuge is now open, but possibly problematic for some two-wheel drive vehicles. The refuge is offering refunds to those who are not able to get to the refuge due to road conditions.
In making my reservation for the Audubon Crane Fest this year I signed up for the Calamus Outfitters Prairie Chicken Tour on the Switzer Ranch at Calamus, NE. On a gray morning my tour companions and I boarded an old school bus to travel to the prairie chicken lek, or “booming grounds.” We sat quietly in the converted school bus blinds listening to the sounds of the prairie coming to life on this grey morning.
As the scene slightly brightened, a couple dozen male greater prairie chickens not very gracefully flew into the lek or mating area. The booming and calling commenced as rival birds strutted and challenged to establish dominance. As two and then three hens arrived the activity increased as the males danced, boomed and strutted in a frenzy to gain the attention of the females.
All in all I highly recommend a stay at Calamus Outfitters and tours to the prairie chicken and Sharp-tailed Grouse leks.
Male Prairie Chickens challenge each other to establish dominance.
Prairie Chickens strut and dance on a lek or mating area at Calamus Outfitters near Calamus, NE.
A male prairie chicken makes use of the bellows-like orange patches on his neck to create a booming sound to entice a hen.
Prairie Chickens strut and dance to get the attention of a passing female.
Tour members return from old busses converted to blinds in the background for the return bus ride to Calamus Outfitters