Friends of the Wild Whoopers recommends this Crane Trust event. The gathering of Sandhill cranes at Platte River valley in Nebraska is one of the spectacular wildlife events in North America. Whooping cranes use the same area and a few may be there during the meeting.

The Crane Trust is featuring two exciting presentations by a popular pair of leading researchers and conservationists this Saturday, March 8, at the Crane Trust Nature & Visitor Center: Dr. Paul Johnsgard and the Crane Trust’s own director of science, Dr. Mary Harner. In addition, the Crane Trust’s new viewing blind for guided tours will be open for business. (Photo courtesy of Rick Rasmussen,

Dr. Paul Johnsgard, forever exuberant in his work. 

“We have a terrific double-header for crane lovers and nature enthusiasts alike this Saturday,” says Jeff Oates, Crane Trust Director of Marketing and Outreach. “I can’t think of a better way for people to kick off the new season and celebrate the beginning of the 2014 great sandhill crane migration.”

“Unusually cold weather has delayed the migration a bit, but the dam is breaking, with warmer weather on the way and more and more cranes arriving every day,” says Oates. “In addition to our speakers, the Crane Trust is also christening its new public viewing blind on the river, with incredible, never-before seen panoramic vistas on the river.” The new blind, he adds, will be available for the 2014 season.

World-renowned ornithologist, author, and UNL professor Dr. Johnsgard will start Saturday’s program at 11:00 a.m. with his presentation “Sandhill Cranes and Other Spring Birds of the Platte.” Just back from Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, Dr. Johnsgard will draw on his many decades of study and field observations throughout the Central Flyway.

Dr. Mary Harner (L) visits with Dr. Jane Goodall at the Crane Trust.

Dr. Harner will follow at 12:30 pm with “An Inside Look at Sandhill Cranes on Mormon Island & the Platte River.” As Crane Trust Director of Science, Dr. Harner overseas the design and implementation of all research on Crane Trust lands. She also heads the Crane Trust’s innovative new conservation and training program known as REACH, short for Research Experience to Achieve Conservation of Habitat.

Looking ahead to the following weekend, the Crane Trust’s Wild About Nebraska Speaker Series will feature Blake Hatfield on March 15, and his “Nebraska Birds of Prey” presentation with live raptors, courtesy of the Fontenelle Forest Raptor Recovery Program.

Following below are brief outlines of their respective presentations:

Saturday March 8, 2014

11:00am: “Sandhill Cranes and Other Spring Birds of the Platte”

Dr. Paul Johnsgard’s talk will concentrate on the chronology of the spring migration in the Platte valley, the social structure of the flock, and pair-family components. He will talk about pair lengths and pair bonding, and the importance for the Platte in providing the food stores needed for the following breeding season. He will also touch on the increasingly important influence of snow geese on limiting the major food sources of the cranes.

Saturday March 8, 2014

12:30pm: “An Inside Look at Cranes on Historic Mormon Island and the Platte”

Dr. Mary Harner’s talk will begin with an overview of the Crane Trust’s three-year study of overwintering cranes along the central Platte River. She will also talk about the Crane Trust’s monitoring of sandhill crane roosts along Platte River, with powerful new mapping of bird numbers and roost locations, including the first two weeks of March 2014.

Dr. Harner will conclude with an astonishing up-close look at crane behavior on Mormon Island and other carefully managed areas as it has never been displayed before, including time-lapse videos and an overview of new directions/camera placements for the future.

March 15, 2014

11:00 a.m. Nebraska’s Birds of Prey

Blake Hatfield of Fontenelle’s Raptor Recovery Program will demonstrate with live birds how these incredible predators of the sky have adapted to become a vital part of the Nebraska landscape. Each has its own special place in the uniquely complex Platte River ecosystem. Blake will bring a live hawk, falcon, owl, and turkey vulture for his presentation and will demonstrate how well equipped they are to inhabit their space atop the food chain.

All presentations are open to the public and are being held at the Crane Trust Nature & Visitor Center near Wood River in south-central Nebraska, I-80 Alda Exit 305. Before and after the presentations, visitors can browse the Center’s art gallery and gift shop or take a short walk to see the live bison exhibition herd, climb the observation tower and hike out onto the prairie. The Crane Trust’s large touchscreen communication displays, featuring the Platte Basin Time-Lapse Project and other videos, will also be on hand for visitors to experience.

NEW Crane Viewing Blind for 2014

A new crane-viewing blind is also being unveiled this weekend at the Crane Trust, with unprecedented panoramas of cranes roosting and traveling the Platte River. Guided tour reservations for the new blind can be made online at or by calling the Crane Trust Nature & Visitor Center at 308-382-1820. Construction of the new blind was made possible in part with a charitable gift from the Thomas & Faye Conlon Fund of the Grand Island Community Foundation.

Established in 1978, the Crane Trust is a non-profit organization dedicated to the protection and maintenance of critical habitat for cranes and other migratory birds along the Platte River through leading science, habitat management, community outreach, and education.


 Crane Trust Nature & Visitor Center /

9325 S. Alda Road / Wood River, NE 68883 / 308-382-1820