Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Platte River Adventure (1)

The International Crane Foundation's
Platte River Adventure with
Dr. George Archibald (Co-Founder) and
Dr. Richard Beilfuss (President and CEO)

We met our group at the motel at 5 pm and clamored into a bus right away.  It was our first meeting of everyone including our bus driver, Kurt, who turned out to be quite a birder himself.  There were people from all over America in our group, from Florida to Alaska, Virginia to California, Illinois to Colorado and, of course, Wisconsin where the home of the International Crane Foundation is located.  The planner, organizer, leader of the group, Jen, was there to get everyone introduced and to make sure we didn't leave anyone behind.  We were off on our first adventure ... a trip to the Switzer Ranch in the Sandhills of Nebraska.  Now how many of you knew that there were sand dunes in Nebraska ... I, for one, had no idea they were there.  How absolutely awesome they were.

We arrived at the ranch early evening and I felt like I had been dropped into a 1950's Cowboy movie (with modern accommodations, of course).  It was dream like and the Switzer family were all just wonderful people.  For information on the Switzer Ranch, all that they are doing and how you might be able to go there and enjoy what they have to offer, click on Switzer Ranch.  We were assigned our sleeping quarters and given a chance to freshen up. Then dinner in the Ranch House ...  Spaghetti, Meat balls, Italian Bread, salad, dessert ... and wine.)   All good home cooking ...  Soooooo Good!

    The Ranch House ...

   Our Bunk House and a store on the right ...

This was the view as we "waddled" back to our bunk house ... The ambiance was "Cowboy".  As I grew up a tomboy with the dream of someday being Roy Rogers ... this was a dream come true, however brief it was :)

 Wild Bird Wednesday 37

The next morning before sunrise, we made our way to the ranch store where coffee was to be had ... except our plan for this day was to go out and view the Prairie Chickens in a blind for two plus hours.  Anyone who drinks coffee knows, that you don't drink coffee unless the bathroom is in walking distance, so, I limited myself to a half a cup and crossed my fingers :)

The Switzer family has committed themselves to preserving the wonderful prairie grasslands that have for years been undisturbed on the Sandhills on their ranch.  In doing so they are also committed to preserving the habitat of the wildlife that shares their land with them.  The Prairie Chickens and the Pin Tail Grouse are both endangered and they are actively supporting the population on their land in hopes of restoring their numbers.  They have been designated an IBA (Important Bird Area) http://web4.audubon.org/bird/iba/ by the Nebraska chapter of the Audubon Society.

Off we went in a school bus to find the blind ... after a short walk we were in the blind, in the dark, not uttering a word ... it is important when viewing these natural displays that we do not disturb or stress the birds in any way,  Here is where I apologize for the quality of the pictures.  Both the low lighting of the dawn and the movement of the birds stressed my camera beyond it's capabilities ... sad but true that most of this trip is being held in the memory of an old poop ... and we all know what that means :)

The Prairie Chickens are from the Grouse family.  At this time of year they are in mating mode.   The males perform a mating dance to impress the females.  They raise head feathers above their heads, inflate orange sacs on the sides of their throats, and stutter-step around while making a deep booming sound that resonates throughout the prairie.  They perform their dance on a communal lek (an area of low grass ... clearing).  The males cordon off an area and then perform their dance that includes mock battles between themselves and the other males that venture into their area.  The dancing starts at the crack of dawn and goes on for hours into the morning and for several months.   This was a display I never dreamed of seeing ... the trip had already paid for itself 10 times over :)

At first they looked just like chickens scooting around like little wind up toys ...

Then the dance begins ...
Courting the female ...
Unimpressed female departs ... Really? I thought they were awesome ...
As we watched a coyote approached in hopes of some breakfast ... he stopped in his tracks, raised his nose and smelled "humans" ... off he went, a beautiful specimen of a much maligned breed.
And off we went back to the Ranch for eggs, bacon, pancakes, orange juice and COFFEE :0
But of course we had to do a little "Birding" on the way back ...
Head of Household on the Switzer Ranch
Sarah, daughter, business manager and our most delightful guide ...
Youngest Cowhand ... future Head of Household ...


  1. It looks like a fun place to visit and the Prairie Chickens are amazing.

  2. Very interesting. It looks like you had fun. It is unique to see what our own country offers. That is Bill's favourite part of his job: the scenery & natural life he sees.

  3. Wow, this sounds like an awesome trip. Staying at the ranch, looks neat. I loved the Prairie Chicken displaying and the dance. Awesome sight to see, thanks for sharing.

  4. What an incredible adventure you have had! I could almost hear the drumming sound of the courtship. All of it sounded delightful except for that 5am part, that would be hard for me to take as I'm a bit of a slug. Thank you for sharing your experience with all of us.

  5. What an amazing adventure. The sort that you can hug to yourself on dark nights and darker days. Thank you so much for taking us along - and that sunset was incredible. What colours. The sort of thing which if you see it in a painting you sniff and say 'Exaggerated.' While knowing it isn't.

  6. What a fun adventure. The Prairie Chickens are comical looking.

  7. Oh wow, what fabulous photos!! I almost felt like I was there with you watching the prairie chickens to their mating ritual dancing. Oh how exciting and fun this trip must have been. The bird photos are wonderful too. In a way I sort of felt bad for that coyote. He was probably hungry. Oh well, I'm sure he found something else for his breakfast. Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful experience with us. You have a fabulous night my friend. Hugs, Edna B.

  8. What a wonderful post! Looks like a great trip and I love your photos and commentary!
    Glad you made it back to the coffee pot!

  9. The behaviour of the sage grouse is such a classic of bird behaviour - I'd love to see it. And any excuse to have bacon in the morning is worth it!

    Cheers and thanks for linking to WBW - Stewart M - Melbourne

  10. Definitely a great journey!!
    Thanx 4 sharing!!

  11. Great series!! Boom & Gary of the Vermilon River, Canada.

  12. Great opportunity and beautiful pictures of it, thanks for sharing. We saw sage grouse mating one time (in Oregon) on a birding tour -- one of my fav. birding memories!