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WINGS Birding Tours – Itinerary

Nebraska: The Sandhills and the Platte River

Wednesday 15 March to Monday 20 March 2023
with Jake Mohlmann as leader
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Snow Geese can be numerous, if the weather is right. Photo: Jake Mohlmann

As it crosses the plains of central Nebraska, the Platte River hosts the greatest of all North American wildlife spectacles. Each spring, several million birds stop over here on their northbound migration; among them are more than 500,000 Sandhill Cranes—some 80 percent of the world population. Every evening the cranes return in their thousands from the fields and wet meadows to roost on the Platte’s broad channels and sandbars. 

Other specialties regularly seen on our Nebraska tours include Ross’s and Richardson’s Cackling Geese, Harlan’s Red-tailed Hawk, Baird’s Sandpiper, American Woodcock, Red-headed Woodpecker, Carolina Wren, Oregon Dark-eyed Juncos, Harris’s Sparrow, and Eastern and Western Meadowlarks. Our schedule lets us accommodate the possibility of a day of bad weather, and the relaxed pace of our tour lets us appreciate fully the extraordinary concentrations of birds that make central Nebraska a world-class birding destination.

Day 1: The tour begins at 3:00 pm at our hotel in Carter Lake, Iowa, a short distance from Omaha’s airport. We’ll have an early dinner, then depart for nearby Lake Manawa, where we can hope for a good variety of waterfowl, large numbers of gulls (in some years including Franklin’s and Lesser Black-backed Gulls), and the antic displays of American Woodcock. Night in Carter Lake.

Day 2: We’ll have breakfast in our hotel, then leave to visit the upland and floodplain woodlands of Fontenelle Forest. Just south of Omaha, this privately owned 1,600-acre remnant of eastern deciduous forest can produce Red-headed and Pileated Woodpeckers, Winter Wren, Tufted Titmouse, Red Fox Sparrow, and a number of other eastern species not typically seen anywhere else on our route. After a quick lunch, we’ll take a driving tour of the area’s wetlands, hoping for waterfowl, shorebirds, and passerines including Harris’s and Gambel’s White-crowned Sparrows. Night in Carter Lake.

Day 3: After breakfast in our hotel, we’ll set out for the three-hour drive west to the central Platte River valley. Our first Sandhill Cranes will welcome us to Grand Island, where we’ll leave the interstate to drive crane-lined back roads in search of Bald Eagle, Baird’s Sandpiper, and Harris’s and American Tree Sparrows. Arriving in Kearney, we’ll check in to our hotel and have an early dinner, then end the day on the banks of the Platte, where we’ll witness the amazing sight and sound of thousands of Sandhill Cranes flying to roost in the river’s shallows. Night in Kearney.

Days 4-5: We’ll leave pre-dawn this morning for the south bank of the Platte, where we’ll watch the cranes wake up and begin to pour out of their river roosts. We’ll return to Kearney for breakfast and quick stop at our hotel before heading out for the rest of the day. We’ll spend two full days exploring the birding areas of south-central Nebraska. We’ll check not only for concentrations of cranes but als for hundreds of thousands of waterfowl, Bald Eagle, Wild Turkey, Northern Bobwhite, Baird’s Sandpiper, Eastern Screech-Owl, Northern and Loggerhead Shrikes, Lapland Longspur, and Great-tailed Grackle. The Rainwater Basin, a short distance to the south, supports some truly incredible concentrations of geese, including up to tens or even hundreds of thousands of Snows and thousands of Greater White-fronteds and Cacklings. In the larger goose flocks we’ll also see Ross’s Geese, which occur here regularly in moderate numbers. The plains and marshes are excellent for raptors such as Rough-legged Hawk, “Harlan’s” Red-tailed Hawk, “Prairie” Merlin and possibly Prairie Falcon. Although not guaranteed, we will pursue any recent reports of Greater Prairie-Chickens at possible lek sites. Sharp-tailed Grouse are sometimes present at these as well. Even if no leks are available, we could still see these species along the roadways while birding this area. The return drive to eastern Nebraska will be a chance to catch up on our rest and perhaps stop for a “missed” bird or two along the way. Nights in Kearney then Carter Lake. 

Day 6: This morning we may explore new areas, as well as revisit some of eastern Nebraska’s best hotspots, letting our choice be determined by any good birds discovered in our absence. A few days can make a big difference in late March, and we may find that Hermit Thrush, Eastern Phoebe, or other early migrants have arrived while we’ve been out west. We’ll return to Omaha’s Eppley Airfield around 11:30 am, where the tour ends.

Updated: 26 July 2022

Prices

  • 2023 Tour Price : $2,150
  • Single Occupancy Supplement : $390

Notes

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Questions? Tour Manager: Erin Olmstead. Call 1-866-547-9868 (US or Canada) or (01) 520-320-9868 or click here to email.

* Tour invoices paid by check carry a 4% discount. Details here.

Maximum group size seven with one leader, 14 with two leaders.

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