THE MAGIC OF MIGRATION

by Cadell Walker, Director of Philanthropy for The Nature Conservancy of Kentucky

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After working at The Nature Conservancy for many years, I am familiar with the annual Sandhill crane migration which takes place a few states away in Nebraska – smack dab in the middle of the country. This year I had the honor of witnessing this annual wonder first-hand.

I arrived in Grand Island, Nebraska on a Monday evening and upon debarking the plane was treated to hundreds and hundreds, maybe thousands, of snow geese. I saw more near the hotel, where they congregated at a makeshift wetland caused by recent flooding. Pictures couldn’t do justice to the sheer numbers of waterfowl, especially the distinct sound….and the smell. I suspected that maybe they were the opening act for what was to come.

After settling in, I attended a presentation by the Conservancy’s Nebraska State Director, Mace Hack, who spoke about Sandhill crane migration. I learned that this annual gathering attracts more than 500,000 Sandhill cranes – about 80 percent of the world’s population – to Nebraska’s Platte River each spring. In fact, their arrival queues local residents in to the official beginning of Spring.

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Why Nebraska? Evidently the state offers perfect conditions for Sandhill cranes embarking on their long journey to locations as far north as Alaska and Siberia. Waste from farm fields and small invertebrates inhabiting the river and surrounding marshes provides lots of opportunity for putting on the weight required for the trip. It is not uncommon for a Sandhill crane to add 20 percent to its weight during a two or three week visit to their Platte River Sandhill crane resort.

The Platte River also provides Sandhill cranes with good protection at night. Wide and shallow, the river allows the birds to stand in the water and avoid coyotes and other predators. Come morning, they return to the fields in communal song after a safe night’s sleep.

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This year, due to the cold winter, there were fewer Sandhill cranes than usual. But the show was no less spectacular. After driving along some country roads, we reached the bird blind located on the Conservancy’s property. Then came the magic. After one of the most spectacular sunsets I have ever seen, we witnessed thousands of Sandhill cranes, Canadian geese, snow geese and bald eagles in front of the blind and they stretched out for miles and miles beyond the horizon.

As night fell and the Sandhill cranes left for their posts in the river, our group quietly departed through a cornfield lit by the moon and stars. I left not only with a check mark next to an item from my own personal “bucket list,” but with pride in being part of an organization which plays a role in conserving river habitat critical to wildlife. I couldn’t wait to return to Kentucky to focus in on our own unique species and places back in the Bluegrass State.IMG_1025

Witness Tree at The Nature Conservancy's Mantle Rock Nature Preserve in Kentucky

New Sign-in Station at Mantle Rock

by Ken Brooks

A new sign-in station has been added at the Mantle Rock Nature Preserve. It is located a short distance from parking, near descriptive signage for the nature preserve.

This is the third sign-in station put in place this year by volunteers Lynn Schwantes, Vince Austin and myself. Lynn designed the stations. Vince shared his workshop and his knowledge of woodworking. I provided labor.

The Conservancy's Kentucky nature preserve stewards, Lynn Schwantes and Ken Brooks, build a new sign-in station at the Mantle Rock Nature Preserve.

The Conservancy’s Kentucky nature preserve stewards, Lynn Schwantes and Ken Brooks, build a new sign-in station at the Mantle Rock Nature Preserve.

Visitors should sign-in each time they visit. The purpose of the station is:

• To provide an indication of the number of visitors;
• To share information about visitors (such as where they reside);
• To offer an opportunity to for visitors to share suggestions and commentary;
• To display information about this nature preserve, the Kentucky Chapter and The Nature Conservancy.

This information will be useful to the Kentucky Chapter. For example, it may inform decisions about the allocation of resources for development and maintenance.

The completed Mantle Rock Nature Preserve sign-in station is ready for visitors!

The completed Mantle Rock Nature Preserve sign-in station is ready for visitors!

Mantle Rock is an outstanding nature preserve purchased in 1988. It includes 361 acres and a 2.75 mile easy-to-moderate hiking trail. Along the loop trail you will see prairie, rare limestone glades, native grasses, woodlands and a babbling brook with several beautiful pools. The prairies are being maintained with regular prescribed burns. The highlight for many visitors is the 30-foot tall sandstone bluffs that include overhangs and an amazing 188 foot long bridge, one of the longest in eastern United States.

The site also is culturally significant. More than 1,700 Cherokee Native Americans camped in a spot now serving as part of the hiking trail while being moved from their homelands east of this location to new reservations further west in a march identified as the “Trail of Tears.” They waited here for the Ohio River to thaw enough to allow crossing on boats.

In 2004, with help from the National Parks Service, significant signage was added to the nature preserve explaining its natural and cultural history. The site was also placed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is part of the Trails of Tears project covering the route Native Americans were forced to take from their ancestral homes to their new homes in the 1830’s. Unfortunately, many perished along the way.

The nature preserve is located in western Kentucky near Paducah and a few miles from the Ohio River. Get more details and directions at the Conservancy’s Kentucky Chapter website. Visit this site to take in the spectacular setting as well as some very special history; it is open daily. And don’t forget to sign-in!