Every spring, more than a half-million Sandhill Cranes migrate through central Nebraska, where they stopover and spend a few weeks feeding in and along the North Platte River and surrounding land. Since 1971, the Rivers and Wildlife Celebration has been an annual event timed with this great bird migration. In fact, it’s one of the nation’s longest-running wildlife festivals, according to the official website. Over the years, the festival has expanded its focus to include birding trips to view grouse leks and migratory waterfowl, booths from local craft vendors and regional conservation organizations, and a Wild Experience Room for families.
I just got back from the 43rd incarnation of the festival, held March 21-24 in Kearney, Neb. I attended with RMBO biologist Larry Snyder to staff a booth from RMBO and help run the Wild Experience Room activities. While RMBO’s work in Nebraska focuses in the panhandle, the Rivers and Wildlife Celebration allows us to network with conservation and education professionals across the state, and engage visitors in conversations about RMBO’s mission.
I was fortunate to arrive Thursday at the start of the festival and view the great Sandhill Crane migration. Viewing blinds were set up along the North Platte River by Audubon’s Rowe Sanctuary near Gibbon and The Crane Trust in Wood River. I joined a tour to the Crane Trust blind to get an up-close look at the cranes and other migrating waterfowl. Our group slipped into the blind, nestled near the river, well before dusk and waited for the cranes to lift off and land; then we quietly slipped away – after taking some great photos and videos, of course.
On Saturday, I joined partners with the Kearney Area Children’s Museum and Nebraska Project WILD to host the wild experience for kids. Fun, educational activities included a “build-a-bird,” Wildlife Jeopardy, an endangered species scavenger hunt and creating edible scat (yes, we made edible scat). The Raptor Recovery Center made two live animal presentations, so children and parents alike could get up-close and personal with four raptors found in Nebraska: American Kestrel, Red-tailed Hawk, Great-horned Owl and Turkey Vulture.
Keynote presenters spoke during the meal breaks for Saturday’s concurrent sessions and included Nebraska Audubon Director Marion Langdon, well-known wildlife photographer Noppadol Paothong and wildlife biologist and rancher Dan O’Brian. While I was unable to make the presentations, as I was staffing the RMBO booth and running kids’ activities, Larry was able to attend part of Noppadol’s talk during lunch and said it was fascinating. For those of you close to Denver, RMBO is helping to bring Noppadol to the Denver Museum of Nature & Science for a special presentation Oct. 3; he’ll also take part in RMBO’s annual BBQ for the Birds on Oct. 5.
See You in 2014!
If you’re able to attend the Rivers and Wildlife Celebration next March, I’d highly recommend it. Viewing the largest concentration of Sandhill Cranes in the world is an experience you don’t want to miss. While you’re there, stop by the RMBO booth or come see me in the Wild Experience Room. We can make edible scat!
~ Maggie Vinson, Nebraska Education Coordinator