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Jake Mohlmann on his recently completed tour, Nebraska: The Sandhills and the Platte River

March 24: Jake Mohlmann on his recently completed tour, Nebraska: The Sandhills and the Platte River

We just wrapped up five days cruising through the heart of the midwest in search of various avian highlights.

Our group thrilled to be out seeing life birds.

Our first night we marveled at the amazing aerial flight displays of recently arrived American Woodcock, picked out a lone Franklin's Gull from the droves of Ring-billed Gulls floating on Lake Manawa, and had a pair of Barred Owls land right before our eyes and stare at us with their pitch black eyes.

A beautiful Barred Owl was a lifer for some.

Sparrows are usually a highlight of this tour and this year was no exception. From fleeting Swamp Sparrows, to Song Sparrows melodies echoing across the marsh, bulky Fox Sparrows perched high, and the ultimate treat for any birder not from the midwest the beautiful Harris's Sparrow. This year at Schramm Park we had a total of 11 of these North American specialties.

Harris's Sparrow gave extended, and fleeting, views this week.

Pileated, Red-bellied, and numerous Downy Woodpeckers were heard drumming advertisements that rang loudly through the Missouri River's hardwood forests, but recently arrived Red-headed Woodpeckers took the prize for best performer.

Red-headed Woodpeckers were back in force.

The Sandhill Crane show on the central Platte River was astounding, with perhaps 25,000 birds seen in the sky at one time. One day we drove for 20 miles along dirt roads with seemingly endless congregations of feeding Cranes fattening up before continuing north to their breeding grounds.

Sunrise was unforgettable with thousands of Sandhill Cranes for company.

Waterfowl also abound this time of year and we had fun picking out the less common species like male Hooded Mergansers showing their namesake well, velvety Canvasbacks in just one location, and a pair of beautiful Trumpeter Swans defending their nesting location from the encroaching Canada Geese.

A pair of Trumpeter Swans along the South Loupe River.

A couple of blinds set up seemingly in the middle of nowhere did have a purpose as we sat and watched both Greater Prairie-Chickens and Sharp-tailed Grouse practice their dance moves at close range. At least 11 Grouse were amazing to watch as they stamped their feet, stretched out their wings, and tried to outmatch each other for the right to ensure the brief company of at least one female for the upcoming breeding season.

A male Sharp-tailed Grouse performing in the day's first rays of light.

Posted: March 24, 2020