Outdoor notes: Discover great birdwatching at these 8 wetlands
Nebraska contains more acres of wetlands than any surrounding state. These diverse wetlands include marshes, lakes, river and stream backwaters, oxbows, wet meadows, fens, forested swamps and seeps.
They’re also a great place to watch birds.
“Wetlands are highly productive – they produce lots of food and cover that birds like. And because of that, they probably have a better concentration of overall bird life than some other habitat types,” said Ted LaGrange, wetland program manager at the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.
So during this Nebraska Bird Month and American Wetlands Month, Game and Parks recommends these eight wetland areas that offer good birding opportunities.
Marsh Wren Saline Wetland
Located just north of Lincoln, this site is 150 acres of unique saline wetlands. It’s a great place to observe spring and fall migrants including a variety of waterfowl, shorebirds and songbirds. Approximately 2 miles of minimally maintained maintenance roads offer outstanding birding opportunities. In the summer, these roads can be overgrown, so boots and pants are recommended. Visitors may be able to view such species as eastern meadowlark, marsh wren, shorebirds and waterfowl.
This 1,500-acre area includes a variety of landscapes – deciduous forest, oak savannah and prairie, along with wetlands along the Missouri River. There are 17 miles of maintained trails, including a 1-mile, ADA-compliant boardwalk offering year-round opportunities to observe wildlife.
Fontenelle Forest attracts many migrants and breeding songbirds. The half-mile Marsh Trail offers great views of riparian birds, as well as forest birds. This trail can get muddy after rain. A few species you can observe include wood ducks, yellow-throated vireo and prothonotary warbler.
Ponca State Park
This state park, which offers wetlands along the Missouri River, is a must-stop location during peak spring migration, when the forests come alive with singing migrant and resident passerines. Here the Missouri River is still unchanneled, resembling its original state with sandbars that offer refuge for shorebirds, including the piping plover. There are several places with scenic overlooks of the Missouri River valley that offer great views of bald eagles in winter. Ducks and snow geese migrate past the Missouri River in spring and fall and can be seen from a viewing blind.
Harvard Waterfowl Production Area
This Rainwater Basin site consists of 760 acres of wetlands and 725 acres of upland habitat. These wetlands attract tens of thousands of snow, Canada, cackling and greater white-fronted geese in spring, with numbers peaking in mid-March with up to 500,000 waterfowl. Occasional flocks of Sandhill cranes stop over, and bald eagles are regular visitors in early spring. Later in spring and summer, the main basin and several smaller wetlands to the south offer excellent shorebird watching. As with any Rainwater Basin wetland, check conditions before visiting as they can sometimes be dry.
Valentine National Wildlife Refuge
This is Nebraska’s largest national wildlife refuge, and contains a large number of Sandhill wetlands that attract a variety of wetland birds. At least 224 bird species have been sighted here. There are numerous marshes and shallow lakes that offer breeding habitat for western and pied-billed grebes, Forster’s and black terns, a dozen species of waterfowl, shorebirds and other waterbirds like American bitterns and soras. A 9-mile gravel auto tour road, starting at US-83, is great for bird viewing, and some of the lakes are open for kayaking or boating, offering additional viewing opportunities.
Kiowa Wildlife Management Area
This alkaline wetland area attracts various shorebirds, including nesting American avocets, and is designated a Nebraska Important Bird Area. Canada geese nest here, and about 20 waterfowl species have been reported, including cinnamon teal and large wintering goose and duck populations. Common migrant shorebirds include Baird’s, white-rumped and stilt sandpipers. Nesting shorebirds also include the black-necked stilt and likely Wilson’s phalarope and Wilson’s snipe.
Rowe Audubon Sanctuary
This 2,900-acre site attracts a variety of wetland and grassland birds. It is owned and operated by the National Audubon Society and includes a visitor center with educational displays, gift shop and viewing windows. The sanctuary protects prime Sandhill crane and whooping crane stopover habitats, and guided and self-guided crane viewing opportunities are offered.
This area attracts a variety of wetland birds and is fairly accessible. The lake is very attractive to migrant ducks, ospreys, Caspian terns, cliff swallows, gulls, American white pelicans, double-crested cormorants and other summering species, and is used by numerous bald eagles and gulls in winter. An eagle-watching facility is available during peak periods, open from December to February on weekends or by scheduled appointments during the week.
Learn more about Nebraska’s wetlands or view new documentary films dedicated to the vibrant spaces at NebraskaWetlands.com. Learn more about Nebraska's birds or participate in Nebraska Bird Month at OutdoorNebraska.gov.
Surveys indicate mixed bag on fish winterkill
Surveys by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission show many Sandhills lakes fared better than expected after a harsh winter led to fish kills.
Deep snow over thick ice this winter caused oxygen depletion in many of the region’s most shallow and vegetated lakes, causing fish and the plants they rely upon for survival to die.
As surveys are completed, Game and Parks is developing a stocking plan to replenish the fish populations where needed.
Anglers looking for the most recent information about winterkill surveys may follow the NGPC Fisheries Facebook page. They also can contact Game and Parks fisheries biologists at the Alliance, Valentine and Norfolk offices.
Surveyed lakes with severe winterkill:
Brown County: Cozad Lake at South Pine Wildlife Management Area, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Tower Lake on Yellowthroat WMA.
Cherry County: Watts, Duck and West Long lakes on Valentine National Wildlife Refuge
Garden County: Smith Lake and Island lakes on Crescent Lake NWR
Rock County: Bassett City Lakes
Sheridan County: Smith Lake WMA
Surveyed lakes with partial winterkill:
Cherry County: Pelican and Hackberry lakes on Valentine NWR
Surveyed lakes with minor or no winterkill:
Brown County: Willow Lake WMA
Cherry County: Clear, Dewey and Rice lakes on Valentine NWR, Cottonwood-Steverson WMA
Garden County: Crane Lake on Crescent Lake NWR, Crescent Lake WMA
Grant County: Avocet Lake WMA
Rock County: Twin Lakes WMA
Lakes not surveyed with probable significant winterkill:
Garden County: Island Lake on Crescent Lake NWR
Rock County: Peterson Lake WMA
Sioux County: Agate and Boardgate reservoirs on the Oglala National Grassland
Lakes not surveyed with probable partial winterkill:
Cherry County: Shell Lake WMA
Sheridan County: Walgren Lake State Recreation Area
Lakes not surveyed with probable high survival:
Cherry County: Home Valley Lake
Grant County: Frye Lake WMA
Additional rainbow trout to be stocked
Additional rainbow trout have been produced this spring by Nebraska fish hatcheries and will be stocked at select water bodies in the next two weeks.
These trout will be larger than 10 inches and ready to catch as soon as they are stocked.
The locations of the stockings, including quantities, are Halleck Park Pond, Papillion, 1,600; Bowling Lake south pond, Lincoln, 600; Louisville State Recreation Area No. 1A, Louisville, 800; Fort Kearny SRA No. 6, Kearney, 1,500; and Windmill SRA No. 2, Gibbon, 1,500.
Resident anglers aged 16 and older are required to have a Nebraska fishing permits. A park entry permit is required at Louisville, Fort Kearny and Windmill SRAs.
The daily bag limit is five rainbow trout per day with no more than one fish per day larger than 16 inches.
For more information on fishing in Nebraska, go to OutdoorNebraska.gov.
Head outdoors for state park events this May
As Nebraska greens up, now is the perfect time to head outdoors and enjoy events planned at state parks this May.
Don’t forget to purchase your vehicle park entry permit to enter Nebraska state parks. Get one at OutdoorNebraska.gov or at state park entrances.
Trail Ride at Enders Reservoir SRA
Bring your horse to Enders Reservoir State Recreation Area for the annual Enders Trail Ride from 9 to 11 a.m. May 6.
The trail ride is about two hours long through the park, along the beach and through the woods, and offers plenty of opportunity to view wildlife. The ride is great for novice to advanced riders.
There is no fee to attend the ride, and lunch will be provided after the trail ride for participants. Pre-registration is preferred at 308-233-1026 or at 308-530-2648.
Camping is available and camping fees are applicable; however, there are no equestrian pens at Enders SRA.
Learn more about the park at OutdoorNebraska.gov.
Living History Weekend at Fort Atkinson
Travel 200 years back in time and experience history on the Great Plains during a Living History event from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 6 and 10 to 4:30 p.m. May 7 at Fort Atkinson State Historical Park.
Guests will experience ongoing demonstrations featuring military and civilian life of the 1820s. Reenactors will portray fur traders, coopers, blacksmiths, carpenters, tinsmiths, weavers and other period trades. Visitors are encouraged to interact with the reenactors.
A per person fee is required at the Harold W. Andersen Visitor Center of $2 per adult and $1 per child.
Mystery at the Mansion at Arbor Lodge
Join an old-fashioned whodunnit mystery night “Sin City” from 6 to 7:30 p.m. May 13 at Arbor Lodge State Historical Park in Nebraska City.
Participants will solve clues, look for evidence, and break the case while mingling with new friends, all while portraying a character they’ve been given when they arrive at Arbor Lodge Mansion.
Cost is $30 per person. Light refreshments, a self-guided tour of Arbor Lodge, and tax are included in the price. A beverage cooler with drinks for purchase will be available that evening. Space is limited.
Tickets can be purchased online through the event listing at calendar.outdoornebraska.gov.
Those looking to add to their fun can snag dinner at Timbers, the Arbor Day Farm Lied Lodge restaurant, or stay the night at the lodge. Dining reservations are required and can be made online or by calling 402-873-8740. Room reservations can be made online or by calling 800-546-5433.
Mystery at the Mansion events are for adults only unless otherwise specified.
Mother’s Day Buffet at Fort Robinson
Celebrate Mom by leaving the cooking to Fort Robinson State Park. Join the park for a Mother’s Day Buffet from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. May 14 at the park near Crawford.
The buffet menu is roast beef, chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy, vegetable, dinner roll, dessert, coffee or tea. Price is $18 per person for those age 12 and over, and $9 per person for mothers, grandmothers and children age 11 and younger.
Nebraska Star Party at Mahoney State Park
Grab your camp chair or blanket and head out to Eugene T. Mahoney State Park for a free night of stargazing from 9 to 11:30 p.m. May 26.
Powerful telescopes will be set up at the park’s golf shack for a glimpse of night sky spectaculars. Participants should meet at the golf shack. Stargazing begins at dusk and telescopes will be provided.
The rain date for this event is May 27.
Document nature at Sutherland Bioblitz
Enjoy learning from Nebraska biologists while finding and identifying as many species of plants and animals as possible during the Sutherland Biolitz from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. May 27 at the park near Sutherland.
All materials needed for sessions will be provided. Dress according to the weather, and bring boots, a hat, jacket, sunglasses, sunscreen, a water bottle and your lunch or dinner if you intend to stay the whole day.
The schedule is as follows:
- 7-8:15 a.m. – Small Mammals
- 8:30-9:45 a.m. – Birding (binoculars provided)
- 10-11:15 a.m. – Native Pollinator Plants, Medicinal and Edible Plant Hike
- 11-11:30 a.m. – Make a Nature Journal
- 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. – Lunch Break
- 1:30-3:30 p.m. – Reptiles/Amphibians
- 3:30-4:30 p.m. – Macroinvertebrates
- 4:30-7:30 p.m. – Dinner Break
- 7:30- 8 p.m. – Dark Skies and Light Pollution Discussion
- 8- 9 p.m. – Moth Lighting
- 9 p.m. – Bat Acoustics
For more information, contact Meghan Manary at [email protected].
Still time to register for Memorial Run
Runners – and walkers – across the state still have time to register for the annual Tyler Vanderheiden Memorial Run set for May 20, 2023, at Cody Park in North Platte.
The annual race is aimed at raising awareness and understanding of mental health and is a fundraiser for Nebraska Game and Parks state park trails.
With just a couple of weeks to go until race time, organizers are still hoping to see at least one person register from every Nebraska county and every state in the nation. As of early May, there were 72 counties and 18 states left to go.
People can participate in-person or virtually and can run or walk either a 2-mile or 5-mile distance. People can register at PlatteRiverFitness.com/PublicHealth.
The race on Cody Park’s flat course begins at 8:30 a.m. Central time, with race-day registration and packet pickup from 7:30 to 8:15 a.m. at the park pavilion.
Those choosing to do the run virtually must register by 4 p.m. Central time May 19 and may complete their race anytime between May 19-21.
The run is organized by the Platte River Fitness Series with support by West Central District Health Department. Proceeds are donated to the Nebraska Game and Parks Foundation for the creation, maintenance or upgrade of trails at the 76 state park areas.
This year, funds raised from the race will help support the construction and upgrade of the Smith Falls State Park trail and walkway that leads to Nebraska’s highest waterfall. Improvements are aimed at replacing the aging wooden walkway with a more durable composite decking with steel framing. The new walkway will be Americans with Disabilities Act compliant.