News & Events

The Prairie Pulse

The Crane Trust Science Team worked with our partners at Hastings College last week to host our collaborative week-long educational program, Crane Trust Academy. We welcomed 12 high school students from Nebraska and Colorado to introduce them to the amazing wildlife in the Platte River Valley and standard field ecology research methods.

Happy World Otter Day! While unregulated harvest and habitat degradation led to the extirpation of river otters (Lontra canadensis) from the state of Nebraska by the early 1900s (Biscof 2006, Olson et al. 2008, Wilson 2012), extensive reintroduction efforts by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission have resulted in a healthy, reproductively viable, and expanding population of river otters in the state (Panella and Wilson 2018).

To celebrate this year’s Endangered Species Day, we wanted to discuss the stories of some incredible migratory birds that rely on the Platte River. Whether it be just a quick pit stop to refuel on their 2,500-mile-long migration or a longer stay to breed and raise a family, the habitat throughout the Central Platte River Valley and the rest of Nebraska is integral to the life history of the Interior Least Tern, Piping Plover, and Whooping Crane.

Happy World Migratory Bird Day (WMBD), a celebration of migratory birds and their spectacular journeys! WMBD is an international education event focused on the nearly 350 bird species that travel between their nesting habitats in North America and wintering grounds in Latin America and the Caribbean.

National Start Seeing Monarchs Day is celebrated every year on the first Saturday of May.  Monarchs can be found in prairies, meadows, grasslands, and roadsides, but generally, we do not start seeing them in Nebraska until June.

How did the Sandhill Crane get its name? Do people feed the cranes? Why do cranes dance? Fielding these and countless other crane questions is what Crane Trust volunteer Jodi Fegley does every day she spends at our Nature and Visitor Center.

When we hear the calls of cranes, we hear a sound that is very ancient, and perhaps the excitement we feel contains some recognition of the prehistoric nature of their spectacular gatherings on the river.

On April 18th last week, the Crane Trust bison herd welcomed a new member. The birth of this calf is the launch of the new calving season here at the Crane Trust.

Every year, thousands of Sandhill Cranes migrate through this area during the spring migration from mid-February to mid-April. Thousands of visitors also migrate through our area during this time to see the cranes.

We counted an estimated 247,700+23,800 Sandhill Cranes in the Central Platte River Valley on 8 April 2019.

On the morning of 26 March 2019 we counted a new record high Sandhill Crane count for our survey, which has run since 2002 and covers the Central Platte River Valley between Chapman and Overton, Nebraska.

The Big Bend of the Platte River, where the Crane Trust is located, is a vital way station for nearly 20 million migratory birds on their annual journeys between their wintering and breeding grounds.

On 21 March 2019 we counted 326,400+72,000 Sandhill Cranes in the Central Platte River Valley. Our bias estimates actually suggested that our numbers may be about ~15% high, but I decided not to apply the bias correction to our public report today because I am certain we missed birds outside of our survey area on Thursday morning.

Happy World Sparrow Day! Sparrows are humble heroes of the prairie, whether they migrate thousands of miles to their Central American wintering grounds and back, like the Grasshopper Sparrow, or live with us year round, whatever the weather, like the Song Sparrow, or stop over on their migration, like the Lincoln’s Sparrow.

It is believed that if you fold 1,000 origami cranes, your wish will come true.  Staff and volunteers have folded enough origami cranes over the years for the Crane Trust Nature and Visitor Center to have had a few wishes come true. 

This morning we counted 66,905+9,056 Sandhill Cranes and ~ 31,300 dark geese in the Central Platte River Valley. Sandhill Cranes were present in 10 of our 11 survey segments between Chapman and Overton, Nebraska.

We continue to count the same general group of birds; our estimate for today’s count was 16,500+5,445. No Sandhill Cranes roosted on the Platte River last night; the two roosts we detected were in fields near the river about 3 miles east of Alda Rd.

This year’s theme for World Wildlife Day is “Life Below Water”. To celebrate, we want to shed some light on the diversity, threats, and conservation research of submerged aquatic life in meadow sloughs and the Platte River.

Today we counted 17,080 Sandhill Cranes, but we did not get a reliable error estimate because all the birds were detected in a scattering just east of Alda Road with many in the air and most in a hayed field.

Crane Trust volunteer guide Rich Johnson grew up south of Red Cloud, home of Willa Cather, the acclaimed author who documented the lives of European settlers in the Great Plains in books such as O Pioneers! and My Ántonia.

On 24 February 2019, we detected 17,400+3,097 Sandhill Cranes in two nearby roosts between
HWY 281 and Alda Rd.

Before European settlement of the Great Plains, our mixed-grass prairie ecosystem evolved under influences such as climate, large herds of grazing animals and fire. 

Update Week 1: Aerial Sandhill Crane (Antigone canadensis) Counts of the Central Platte River Valley, 02/12/2019

Watching the cranes roosting on the river is a remarkable experience.

The Crane Trust protects a unique form of wetland within the Central Platte River Valley (CPRV) called a “wet meadow”.

The poet Wallace Stevens wrote of “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,” and Crane Trust tour guide Guy Roggenkamp can tell you at least as many ways of looking at cranes.

It is no secret that critical habitat for many species around the world is being lost every day to development and we are no different here in the Platte Valley.

Like Whooping Cranes, Peregrine Falcons have shown us how endangered species can come back from the brink of extinction in response to conservation efforts.

The Crane Trust Nature and Visitor Center will open our tour bookings for the spring Sandhill Crane Migration on January 4, 2019.

Those of us who are crazy about cranes are sometimes called “craniacs,” and one particular craniac, Deb Miller, has even put this nickname on her car’s license plate for all the world to see!

The Crane Trust has worked our bison herd every year for the past four years.

There was much excitement on August 21st, 2017, as the total solar eclipse approached. People gathered in the hundreds at the Crane Trust Nature and Visitor Center to take in the spectacle.

During the spring migration of the Sandhill Cranes, the Crane Trust offers morning and evening guided blind tours to watch the cranes roosting on the Platte River.

A lifelong area resident who grew up having family picnics on the Platte River, Bob Johnson is very supportive of the Crane Trust’s conservation mission.

As our bison herd continues to grow at the Crane Trust, so do our efforts to understand their effects on the prairie we manage, and specifically on the migratory birds that breed here, many of which are of conservation concern.

In celebration of National Bison Day, I thought I would share some information with you about the Crane Trust Bison Herd.

Last Thursday, Crane Trust science staff and volunteers partnered with the Earl May Garden Center in Hastings to educate their staff and the public about birds and ways we can contribute to their conservation.

Last Friday, Crane Trust science staff joined several other professionals at Camp Augustine to lead classes for students from Grand Island Public School's Howard Elementary.

The Crane Trust's bison herd has been full of surprises this season starting with the birth of twins earlier this summer and now the birth of our 31st calf which was discovered on Sunday, October 7th.

For world migratory bird day we wanted to highlight the plight of grassland birds, a guild we work hard to conserve at the Crane Trust.

World Migratory Bird Day is celebrated twice a year, once during the spring migration and once during the fall migration.

On Monday evening, Juniors from the Shelton Girl Scout Troop 946 came out to the Crane Trust to learn about flowers and pollinators, fulfilling requirements for nature badges.

Fall brings a special urgency to land management staff here at the Crane Trust.

The main channel of the Platte River once exceed 1.5 km wide in many locations (Figure 1, 2). However, since the late 1800s we have appropriated about 80% of its flows for human use and this has led to massive losses of in-channel habitat. #WorldRiversDay

The start of September means Small Mammal Monitoring is in full swing here at the Crane Trust.

Happy World Shorebirds Day! As part of today’s celebration of shorebirds, we would like to highlight the fantastic and fascinating Wilson’s Phalarope, a highly unusual, gender-bending shorebird that breeds in prairie wetlands, including right here at the Crane Trust!

Each spring, tens of thousands of visitors find themselves at the doorstep of the largest migration in North America and each one leaves with a unique perspective.

Update on the Crane Trust's orphaned twin bison.

The Crane Trust received a visit from a very surprising and beautiful guest! The Reddish Egret (Egretta rufescens) is a species normally found in coastal marshes along the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean islands and coastlines, and the Pacific Coast of Mexico.

On Thursday April 5th we counted a photo-corrected 302,300 +/-24,000 Sandhill Cranes in the Central Platte River Valley between Chapman and Overton, Nebraska.

On Tuesday, March 27th, we counted a photo-corrected 500,050 +71,500 Sandhill Cranes in the Central Platte River Valley between Chapman and Overton, Nebraska.

A large count Thursday morning suggests we are near peak numbers of Sandhill Cranes in the Central Platte River Valley (CPRV). Our raw count was 504,000 Sandhill Cranes between Chapman and Overton, Nebraska.

We saw a bump from just 5 days ago on our last count. We estimated 326,000 +/- 42,000 Sandhill Cranes roosting on the river or visible in the adjacent fields today from the flight path.

We were delayed due to weather conditions on getting the aerial survey completed until yesterday. However, the generally solid conditions for migration over the last 10 days showed and we nearly multiplied the number of birds on the river by 10 since our last count.

The Crane Trust completed our third SACR* survey of the year counting a photo-corrected 28,200 +/-3,000 SACRs.

The Crane Trust has conducted two counts this year thus far, on February 14th counting a photo-corrected 3,000 Sandhill Cranes (SACRs*) and February 21st, counting a photo-corrected 9,080 +/- 695 SACRs.

After much communication with the National Audubon Society, the Crane Trust has been certified as a globally important bird area (IBA) thanks to the Whooping Cranes and the huge abundance of Sandhill Cranes that visit us each year. Our ownership and easements protect 31 miles of Platte River channel…

The Crane Trust was awarded the Nebraska Environmental Trust (NET) and Nebraska Academy of Sciences (NAS) PIE Grant for a total of $3000 to help reconstruct the “Crane Trust Educational Greenhouse” that once existed here. This grant was one of four accepted by NAS out of the eight that applied...

Every spring, the Crane Trust is home to the overwhelming migration of over half-a-million Sandhill Cranes but this summer, on Monday, August 21st, the Crane Trust will also be home to a rare total solar eclipse. The Crane Trust has partnered with SolFest to host an eclipse viewing unlike any other….

The Crane Trust Nature & Visitor Center (CTNVC) received the 2017 TripAdvisor® Certificate of Excellence. Now in its seventh year, the achievement celebrates hospitality businesses that have earned great traveller reviews on TripAdvisor over the past year. Certificate of Excellence recipients include attractions located all over the world that…

Bobolinks, Dickcissels, Grasshopper Sparrows, and other feathered songsters signal summer’s approach when they arrive on the Great Plains from their wintering grounds in Central and South America. Now, starting early each morning at the Crane Trust, we hear their uplifted voices ringing through the prairie. But there are far…

The 2017 calving season got off to an early start this year with our fist calf arriving on April 2nd. Since then, we have added 15 more. 14 from the main herd and 2 from the research herd near the Nature and…

Scarce availability of relic tallgrass prairie has had a major impact on many species of native wildlife in the Platte River…

Controlled burning has a very positive and interesting impact on prairie ecosystems. Before the advent of roads and agricultural infrastructure lighting strikes would have often cause fires that ran across the prairie, being halted only by…

Given low cloud ceilings and morning fog we missed week 7 of surveys this year. However, we squeaked out week 8; this past Tuesday morning we were up before sunrise and completed a count. We counted 117,000 Sandhill Cranes with a relative…

Our aerial count for this week are 208,600, with an absolute error of +/-12.9%. We had a mechanical malfunction on the plane before takeoff and had to change a light. This set us back about 20 minutes in terms of start time; this…

Our aerial count for this week was 404,000, with an absolute error of +/-8.6%. It was cold and bumpy this week, but better conditions for counting than the last. Overcast skies delayed the start and we had a number of birds in the…

Our aerial count for this Wednesday morning was 406,000, with an absolute error of +/-13.5%. We had a strong tail wind this morning and flew the route at a significantly faster pace than usual, forcing us to count a large number of…

Our aerial count for this week was 194,825 Sandhill Cranes (Relative Error: -7.3%; so our reported number is likely a little bit low). SACRs were present in survey bridge segment one (Chapman, NE) to segment 8 just east of Kearney, NE. Cranes were…

Our aerial count this week was 66,000 Sandhill Cranes (Absolute Error +/- 7.1%). SACRs were present in survey bridge segments 1, 3, and 4 in large roosts with the vast majority off of Mormon Island at the Crane Trust. We also detected a…

The Crane Trust is back to flying the 90 mile route from Chapman, NE to Overton, NE. Our aerial count for the morning of Monday, February 13th, was 8,146 Sandhill Cranes. These were almost exclusively in bridge segment three (of eleven) from HWY 281…

Since 2012, the Crane Trust has been an important partner along with the USGS Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center and the Platte River Recovery and Implementation Program in a research project studying Whooping Crane migratory habitat.

As we ended our first season of permanent biological monitoring in the fall of 2015, I felt like everyone on our conservation team’s appreciation for the landscape was evolving. Every one of us pursued conservation because we are steadfast in believing that nature’s treasures are irreplaceable.

Currently we have 57 bison at the Crane Trust and plan on building the herd to near 80 over the next couple of years. This allows us to ease into our carrying capacity without inadvertently having negative impacts to the prairie ecosystem as we monitor their impacts upon our prairies.

It’s nearly that time for the fall migration of cranes. We left off four months ago with the final update for the spring migration season and tracking our old friends.

This summer has seen many events go by, and many volunteers have helped us with our daily activities and projects. A big thanks goes out to all the wonderful Crane Trust volunteers! In addition to the year-round Nature and Visitor Center volunteers there is plenty of work to do and fun to be had at the Trust.

Throughout the United States we have nearly 850 recorded butterfly species and just over six times that many moth species.

The Crane Trust’s herd of 63 plains bison has become familiar with the Platte River’s lowland riverine grasslands throughout 830 acres of our Shoemaker Island property, bringing with it a breathtaking and unmistakable sight upon our prairies.

This is our final update for the migration season and tracking our old friends! Everyone has settled into their breeding grounds. Most of the migrants have passed on from the Crane Trust to begin raising their young.

When the nearly 500,000 sandhill cranes migrate on from Nebraska, their absence can leave the Crane Trust a seemingly very quiet place. You’d never know at a first glance that Crane Trust researchers have detected 148 bird species across the property since March began. The grand total for the property is nearly 225 species since the 1980s.

Only Slate has taken off from Saskatchewan where they and the other cranes have been bulking up for the long trip to Siberia. Slate left Saskatchewan on April 29th and since then has nearly reached Alaska. Slate is passing through the Mackenzie River Valley that is a vital passage for the cranes to reach Siberia.

Slate, Olive, Indigo, and Crimson are all staging in Saskatchewan. For the past week or more they have been recovering from the migration from Texas into Canada and will soon be moving on into Siberia.

It has been a long migration for the cranes we are tracking, but they still have most of the journey left to go. Our four sandhill cranes will be traveling all the way into Siberia to nest, and so their total flight path is over 7,000 miles in some cases.

Aerial surveys today show things winding down. We counted 54,000 birds mostly in the area of Rowe Sanctuary (relative error rate -13%, thus there may be more birds than counts demonstrate).

Last Wednesday night on March 23rd the Crane Trust enjoyed wind gusts up to 50 mph and thunder-snow. This storm was interesting to watch, but caused us to cancel blind tours as even the hardy sandhill crane does not fly well in these winds.

The total SACR Aerial count for the Big Bend of the Platte was 112,000down from a peak count of 413,000 on March 14th and a count of 276,000 last week on March 21st.

At the end of last week, Slate, Crimson, and Indigo made their way to Nebraska. Although we have seen a large number of cranes migrate to Nebraska earlier than average this year, the four lesser sandhill cranes we are tracking are right on schedule.

Sandhill crane numbers remained high this morning. However, conditions are good for birds to start migrating north today and tomorrow. We counted 276,000 with a +/- 10.8% absolute error.

Continuation of a Historic Migration… This week we counted the most Sandhill Cranes recorded via our protocol since regular roost surveys began in 2002. We recorded 395,000 Sandhill Cranes in the river and 15,000 in the fields adjacent to the river, totalling 410,000. Our absolute percent error was +/-11.2%. Please read below for contexts and details.

The total Sandhill Crane count for 03/08/2016 was 239,500 with an error of +/- 7.14% estimated from photo subplots. There were 63,500 Sandhill Cranes on Crane Trust Properties.

Four sandhill cranes that the Crane Trust has been tracking spent the winter in northwest Texas, close to where our partners from Texas Tech first put tracking devices on the cranes’ legs one year ago. The tracking device is called a platform transmitter terminal (PTT) and it sends signals to satellites containing information including the location of the crane, the speed of travel, and altitude.

The total count of Sandhill Cranes in the Big Bend Region of the Platte River (Chapman to Overton, NE, just over 80 miles) was 213,600 (+/-5.05%) on Monday, February 29, 2016. This is by far the largest number of cranes counted in February since our data collection efforts began in 1998. However, this is a leap year – February 29, 2016 – and is as close as one could possibly get to March.

The total count on Tuesday, February 23, 2016 was 82,100 Sandhill Cranes with an error of +/- 8.4% (+/-6,900 birds) calculated from photo subplots (aerial photos taken and full counts completed in the office and compared).

Prospective crane-viewers ask this question frequently. Here’s the simple answer for those planning a trip to Nebraska: mid to late March gives you virtually a 100% chance of seeing plenty of sandhill cranes. Casual crane viewers need not read further.

For thousands of years, nature governed the land. When standing upon the majestic prairie you’d see massive herds of bison roaming the tall grass. Natural wildfires would sweep across the land, cleansing it, and pave the way for new life to take hold.

In the Crane Trust Winter e-Newsletter, we touched on our partnership with researchers from Texas Tech University in order to deploy GPS tracking devices on four Lesser Sandhill Cranes (Grus canadensis canadensis). The cranes were fitted with the tracking devices while at their winter grounds in northwest Texas near Muleshoe National Wildlife Refuge.

A regional biologist told some interested birdwatchers that the cold weather could delay peak Crane Migration until early April. After some investigation of Sandhill Crane data by the Crane Trust’s Lead Biologist, Andy Caven, it does appear that our numbers are a bit low comparing to recent years for this same time period, but the variability in these numbers from year to year is extremely high.

The Crane Trust hosted an event celebrating the arrival of a herd of 41 rare, genetically-pure bison to 4,500 acres of Crane Trust land along the Platte River. The bison herd – descended from a genetically-pure herd raised on a ranch near Crawford, Nebraska, arrived in three stages: cows and calves first and then two 7-year-old bulls arrived separately a few days later – on their own schedule.

Twenty-three years ago, a group of people got together to launch an idea. It came from a need for a place to connect people with the sandhill cranes. People were showing up in the area to see cranes in ever increasing numbers. People had written about the birds: Johnsgard, Lingle, and Archibald. When they wrote, the birders took note. Then the public took notice when people like Forsberg, Sartore, and Tebbel began to get it out there that this was something unique.