Hold on to your hats, I am going to write about birds. However, you don’t have to be working on your “list” or be a bird nerd like me in order to enjoy these outings. This is about more than birding, it’s about a moment of nature that very few get to experience. And that, my friends, is bragging rights.
North Platte, Nebraska is in the flyway for migrating Sandhill Cranes. These big birds mate for life, and spend late February until early April around the Platte River region fattening up for the long flight north. After fueling up in Nebraska they go to parts of Canada and Alaska where they will mate and lay eggs.
Dusty Trails, an outfitter in North Platte gives Sandhill Crane tours. Guests can choose a morning bird blind tour, mid-day bus tour or an evening bird blind tour.
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On an evening bird blind tour, we rode a school bus out of town and into a bumpy field. We exited the bus, all twenty of us or so, and made our way to the two bird blinds. Dusty Barner, owner of the Dusty Trails and tour guide extraordinaire, recently built these two bird blinds next to the North Platte River.
A bird blind allows humans to watch birds up close without them knowing we are there. It’s a way to commune with nature without interfering with it.
Barner recently added these bird tours to his flight of offers which include trail rides, horsemanship classes, water sports, including tanking, and more. North Platte is lucky to have Dusty who was a born tour guide. His bird tours include bottled water, snacks, and some tidbits about the Sandhill Cranes.
Once we were in the spacious and warm blinds, it’s a waiting game, like much of birding. However, if you love a good sunset view, this spot has the best vantages in North Platte. We watched the sky and river, which was flowing directly in front of us, go from salmon pink, to bright pink to orange as the sun went lowered.
We could hear the cranes and saw flocks and flocks flying in the skies around us. They spend their day eating in fields around North Platte and then come back to roost in the shallow river at night. Always weary of potential danger, they are hesitant and land first in the fields surrounding the river. Eventually, they deem it is safe to come to the river and then their bugles, moans, honks, and burbles get louder and louder. They are noisy birds.
For best results, turn up the sound on the YouTube videos!
On the night we were watching, the birds landed later than usual, and we could barely make them out as they gathered on a sandbar in front of us. At one point, they spooked and flew up, leaving the sound of their beating wings ringing in our ears. It was breathtaking. A little while later the sandbar was full of birds again.
The most fascinating aspect of this tour for me, was the loudness of the birds. At points, they are like jets flying in formation directly overhead and the roar of their squawks and the sound of the wind stirred up by their wings is almost deafening. Unfortunately, I did not catch this racket on video, but I did get other Sandhill Crane noises.
To experience this natural phenomenon is a moment of nature I will cherish. This is something few people will experience during their lifetime.
Dusty Trails also offers a morning blind too. This is an opportunity to watch the Sandhill Cranes wake up and leave the river to fly to local fields to feed. They also offer a bus tour that we took around the area during the afternoon.
The Sandhill Cranes aren’t hard to spot. On our last trip to Nebraska during March, Ryan and I just drove around on back roads between Kearney and North Platte and saw thousands of cranes dancing, eating, and otherwise being extremely entertaining.
The bus tour is good for people who have never seen the cranes because it comes with a flashcard explanation of each dance (yes, these birds dance), and Dusty Barner knows exactly where the cranes will be.
Around 600,000 Sandhill Cranes come through Nebraska every year. They live to age 20 and mate for life. To put that in perspective, that robin hopping around your yard lives to only 2-years-of age. No wonder Sandhill Cranes dance.
North Platte is about a 4-hour drive from Denver and a 4-hour drive from Omaha. Stay tuned for more articles about why North Plattes makes a fun and affordable weekend trip.
Book bird tours with Dusty Trails at dustytrails.biz.
Thank you to Visit North Platte for hosting this trip.