Crane watching in Nebraska


Nebraska cranes at Platte River Watch shed 9J Jacobs)
At Platte River in Nebraska

Sandhill crane viewing

March 2024 is pretty warm for watching the crane migration on the Platte River in south-central Nebraska. But when I and fellow travel writers/photographers went a few years ago, the weather was in the 20s on a trip in 2013 and single digits on another trip in 2016.

So even though we were in the crane blind, a shed where the cranes wouldn’t see us, we had to really bundle up, add blankets and warmers. But the trips were so worth it.

Watch cranes waking up early in a.m. from shed ( Jacobs)
Watch cranes waking up early in a.m. from shed ( Jacobs)

We started at an information building then were taken to a shed with open lookouts for watching and photo shoots, first at night before the cranes landed, then back again in the morning to watch them take off.

Our starting points were the Crane Trust and the Rowe Sanctuary. Both times the sky was darkened by their numbers. We had our own accommodations, but the tours also have places to stay.

This year, 2024, the word is that there are many more cranes filling the skies over the Platte.


Where you start on your crane watching trip (JJacobs)
Where you start on your crane watching trip (JJacobs)

According to Earth/Sky news, wildlife biologist Bethany Ostrom reported in late February that the Crane Trust’s bird count saw about five times the usual numbers.

“Another record week? On February 24, 2024, we estimated 122,700 +9,100 sandhill cranes between Chapman and Overton, Nebraska,” Ostrom said. “On average, this time of year (week 2 of annual count) we see around 27,000 cranes.”

For more information visit Cranetrust viewing/tours

and Crane Season | Iain Nicolson Audubon Center at Rowe Sanctuary


Awesome crane migration

Spring crane migration on the Platte River is worth early morning rises before the sun

Spring crane migration on the Central Platte River
Spring crane migration on the Central Platte River

Imagine watching an orange glow back-lighting thousand of cranes as the sun rises on the Nebraska’s Central Platte River.

With more daylight you realize that what looked like merely like sandbar and small, flat, isle protrusions really were clusters of sleeping Sandhill Cranes. You start capturing the scene with camera and smart phone sans flash so you don’t disturb the birds.

A few cranes fly off to corn fields on either side of the river. Then, without warning that you can catch, they all rise and fill the sky with black silhouettes and loud cries.

Early morning
Early morning

The scene is your reward for leaving your warm bed before 5 a.m. so that you can get to the National Audubon Society’s Rowe Sanctuary in Gibbon in time to walk to a blind before sunrise.

It is now March 21 when the Sandhill Crane migration is at its peak on the Platte so space at the Rowe Sanctuary’s blinds had to be reserved a couple of months ahead. The cranes stop here on their way from Mexico, Texas and New Mexico to Alaska because the river offers them protection from predatory land animals and the food supply will help them bulk up for the long flight to Alaska and northern Canada.

To take advantage of being here you return to the blind before sunset, ready to capture the next decent of cranes who will nestle down there for the night. Against the gorgeous red sunset the scene looks like a painting.

Sun setting over the Platte
Sun setting over the Platte

Volunteers have come here from as far as California and as close as Lincoln, NE to help as guides. And you do need help to follow the Rowe Sanctuary’s paths in the early morning darkness and post sunset night.

Rowe Sanctuary is near Kearney, a delightful town with plenty of places to stay, see and sup. BTW, if interested in volunteering, contact Rowe.

Audubon’s Rowe Sanctuary is a great place to learn about bird migrations through what is known as the Central Flyway.

Next morning is crane migration repeat. But this time the visit to a blind is at the Crane Trust Nature & Visitor Center in Wood River near Grand Island. Blinds and information at both Rowe and the Crane Trust are good. Grand Island is also a good stopping point for lodging and sights.

More about what to do during the day at each area comes next in Nebraska sights and stops when traveling Interstate 80. Photos by Jodie Jacobs (c)

Combine affordable rates and fall color at Wisconsin Dells

A popular vacation spot popular in summer, the Dells’ lodges reduce rates after Labor Day even on weekends.

A popular vacation spot popular in summer, the Wisconsin Dells still have dynamic attractions in the fall when the trees are ablaze with oranges and gold and the lodges reduce rates, even on weekends.

Take a Ducks or Dells boat ride on the Wisconsin River
Take a Ducks or Dells boat ride on the Wisconsin River

There are lots of accommodation choices from indoor waterparks and resorts to chain hotels. Among the best of the total offerings of indoor entertainment, restaurants and lodging is Kalahari Resorts where guests can also bowl or swim up to an indoor bar and youngsters can do water-slides, carnival-style rides or play arcade games. A day pass is available for non-guests.

With summer vacationers gone, it’s easier to do a scenic river tour on by a World War II Ducks amphibian vehicle or an Upper Dells Boats tour to see “Stand Rock” where dogs and people have leaped.

But this is when the Wisconsin River’s banks are a blaze in red and gold

Tip: After doing the boat tour, stop in town at the 1875 photo studio of H.H. Bennett. The famed landscape photographer and photo-equipment inventor was the person who made the Dells famous with his “Stand Rock” leap photo. The studio is an amazing museum of photography and turn-of-the-last-century lifestyle history.

H.H Bennett's photo studio has a mock-up of the famous rock formation he shot
H.H Bennett's photo studio has a mock-up of the famous rock formation he shot

Fall is also when Circus World, a terrific collection of parade wagons and Ringling Bros. memorabilia, cuts its admission fee in half. Circus World is an easy 10 minute drive south of the Dells on US Highway 12 to Baraboo.

If time allows stop at the International Crane Foundation about two miles south of the Dells. Before going check to see if there is a festival or puppet demonstration. Cranes identify with whomever is feeding and caring for them so ICF staff dress in white and where crane-head puppets on their hands so the cranes will ID with other cranes instead of humans.

Fall is a great time to visit summer destinations such as the Wisconsin Dells.

Photos copyright Jodie Jacobs