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Jake Mohlmann reports from the field in Nebraska 2023

March 27: Jake Mohlmann reports from the field in Nebraska 2023

We recently completed covering just under 1,000 miles of paved and dirt roads through the center of America’s Heartland on the WINGS Nebraska 2023 tour.

 Our group in the Sandhill Crane Capital of the World!


Our tour focused on the epic crane migration.


To say it was an unusually cold spring would be an understatement. On both mornings we watched the sunrise along the Platte River numerous ice chunks, some as large as basketballs, greeted us as they bumped up against each other steadily heading downriver. Caught up in the mix was a Snow Goose with an injured wing trying to find its place amongst the current. Of the hundreds of thousands of Snow Geese we saw over the week, this was by far our best look. Also in the large flocks of Snow Geese were a small percentage of Ross’s Geese, easily told apart in flight, especially with a telling picture of them overhead.


A Snow Goose floats amongst ice on the frigid Platte.


Snow Geese flocks contained the smaller Ross’s as well.


Every day we had a chance to run into several sparrow species including flocks of Tree, skulky Fox, and several varieties of Dark-eyed Juncos along the roadsides. By far the highlight of the sparrow show were several very confiding Harris’s Sparrows seen multiple days that sat perfectly still, one even singing his beautiful song our final morning.


Harris’s Sparrow is a midwestern specialty seen quite well.


Some ‘Red’ Fox Sparrows popped up nicely.


Sandhill Cranes were abundant as we watched at sunset as many of the 600,000 estimated birds came pouring in overhead landing to roost in the safety of the central Platte River. At sunset groups came pouring in drove after drove, still arriving after it was too dark to see. When back at sunrise we heard a cacophony, reminiscent of a screaming crowd in a packed professional athletic stadium. This occurred just

as the cranes took off almost all at once to head out for the day’s forage. This is truly an indescribably experience that needs to be experienced to believe!

Droves of Sandhill Cranes pour in at sunset.


The multi-colored sky over the Platte


Sandhill Crane flying by in perfect light.


It seemed like an early migration for some species such as American White Pelicans. In the last seven years this species was not detected, being too early in the year for its normal arrival. This year however was an exception, with pelicans seen multiple days, and quite close at times revealing their breeding ‘knobs’ adorned this time of year.


American White Pelicans were sporting nice knobs.


At any point during the trip if there was a loud noise and flocks of birds taking off it was surely a sign that the predominant aerial predator was nearby. Bald Eagles of all ages cruised up and down the Platte regularly looking for any cranes or waterfowl that may not have made it through the night. These massive birds thrive in this area and rely on their opportunistic feeding methods to survive.


Bald Eagles were on the constant lookout for an easy meal.


Shorebirds are few and far between on this tour and besides the American Woodcock we saw displaying our first night, a Greater Yellowlegs was the only other wader we came across. It was neat hear it calling from afar and eventually land on the frozen river right in front of us. It must have been cold because it didn’t stay long, eventually taking off to find a warmer place to spend the morning. We weren’t far behind it!


A Greater Yellowlegs on the icy Platte.


A memorable moonrise over the trees one morning


A Bison at the Crane Trust

Posted: March 27, 2023