Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Crane Trust Nature and Visitor Center Volksmarch - Sat., Aug. 19, 2017

Fifteen minutes from Grand Island, Nebraska is the Crane Trust Nature and Visitor Center on the Platte River. This is the location for either a 5k or 10k walk today. Crane Trust has opened its tall-grass prairie along the Platte River to us for our walk and mowed trails through the tall grasses.

According to Crane Trust's brochure:

"The Crane Trust and its Nature and Visitor Center are dedicated to the protectection and maintenance of critical habitat for cranes and other migratory birds through leading science, habitat management, community outreach and education."
At the Nature and Visitor Center, you can see:

  • Guided Crane Tours (during migrations) 
  • Genetically pure bison herd
  • A movie about cranes
  • Educational displays
  • Miles of natural hiking trails
  • 35-foot observation tower
  • Hornady Art Gallery
  • Crimson Crown Gift Shop
Normally, people flock here in the spring to view the sandhill crane migration, although temperatures can be 20 degrees below 0 Fahrenheit. Even Jane Goodall shows up for VIP tours. 

When we arrived at 8 a.m., we checked in for the walk and headed out to see what we could see. Since it is two different 5k loops that start at the same point, we will decide halfway through if we will do the second loop. The initial part of the trail is paved and passes informative displays on sandhill and whooping cranes. 
Sandhill crane info
Whooping crane info
Whooping crane migration facts
I hope you took time to read these if you are into birding. The information is so interesting. 

Sandhill cranes are one of the oldest avian species in existence. Each year, approximately 500,000 sandhill cranes pass through the Platte River Valley in mid-February on their northward migration. They spend 4-6 weeks resting and replenishing energy reserves before continuing northward to Canada, Alaska, or Siberia. There is also a fall migration.

The whooping cranes are much bigger and much rarer. Whoopers stop over from 2-3 days to rest and feed. Both can be seen at Crane Trust Nature and Visitor Center during migration times.

Our path took us past a few more plaques telling about the genetically pure bison herd, the riverine wetland, and plants and animals that we might (or might not) see. 

A 35-foot observation tower loomed over us on the left. I was the only one in our group who went up to see the view of the Platte River. Turns out, it was the best view of the walk!

Volksmarchers at Crane Trust
View of the Platte River from the observation tower
Pedestrian bridge across the Platte River
from the observation tower
Pedestrian bridge from river level
Reading an interpretive sign
The Platte River at Crane Trust from river level
The cranes roost in the open in shallow sandbars of the river. During the day, a single meadow may contain 100,000 birds. Bird concentrations as high as 10,000 birds per 1/2 mile are not uncommon. Unfortunately, they are not here at this time of year. Although, we did see one sandhill crane standing in a different river on our way back to the motel.

From our first 5k trail we did not see much more of the river. We heard from others later that the second 5k portion did go along the river for a way.

One last view of the river before we walked through
the tall-grass prairie
As we walked along the river, I heard bob whites but never saw them. The trails were mowed through the tall meadow grasses. If they hadn't mowed, we would have been up to our waists or shoulders in grass!

A gentleman walking through the mowed meadow
I was surprised by the number of wildflowers we saw, many of them were new to me. Here's a sampling. (Sorry, I don't know the names of all of them.)

A type of goldenrod
Woolly verbena (?)
Purple loosestrife (?)

Snow on the Mountain
Wild bergamot flowers
Rocky Mountain bee plant
Below are some pod plants that remind me of "The Invasion of the Body Snatchers" movie I saw when I was a child.

Pod plants

Once we were in the meadow there was very little shade and no more views of the river. Other notable sights were the old windmill and a pond. No bison were in the meadow today. (That is a good thing.)

A very large toadstool
The windmill
A pond we passed toward the end of our 5k walk
It was hot and we decided not to do the second 5k walk. We met up with some more walkers on the bridge and stopped for a photo.

Once we had our Volksmarch books stamped, we spent time in the Visitor Center watching the movie about cranes, looked at the animal displays, and spent time in the gift shop.

Sandhill cranes (photo captured from the movie)
Sandhill crane artwork
Another beautiful piece of art
Visitor Center lobby and gift shop
Mural above front entry desk
It was lunchtime so Susan asked the ladies in the gift shop where would be a good place to eat. They suggested Runza, which is a local chain. A Runza sandwich is a large pieroshki (meat/vegetable filling wrapped in an enclosed bun). They were okay, but not our favorite. I've had home-made ones before that were much smaller and much tastier.

Our activity tonight was supposed to be a star party out in the country. A number of people were going to set up telescopes on a ridge and they invited everyone to come out to see the Milky Way, planets, and whatever else they could find. We found out at the end of our walk this morning that the Star Party was canceled due to a forecast of inclement weather. Oh, well. That's okay. We made the most of it.

After lunch, I took a two-hour nap and then Susan, Darren and I went to see "Logan Lucky." It was a fun movie about a couple of hillbillies who decided to rob NASCAR. All of us enjoyed it. It was a smartly done, tight, robbery movie with a lot of hijinks and "dumb" criminals. I can see a sequel coming. 

We had the evening free, so I worked on photos and blogged. The thunderstorms hit around 11:00 p.m. The rain pounded on my motel room window. 

Time for sleep. Tomorrow we have a 10k and an 11k walk. 

Lights out.

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