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 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

Dupree Nature Preserve’s Cliff Trail Opens

by Kenneth Brooks, Preserve Monitor for The Nature Conservancy’s Kentucky Chapter

As one of The Nature Conservancy’s Preserve Monitors in the Kentucky River Palisades region, there is always a lot of work to do. It is also rewarding to celebrate when something is “complete.” That is how it felt when we officially finished the last segment of hiking trails planned for the Dupree Nature Preserve.

The Cliff Trail connects the Overlook Trail and the River Trail – essentially allowing people to hike between the Preserve’s cliff edge and river bottomland. Only a quarter-mile long, it spans a 140-foot elevation change – the height of a twelve story building!  The trail includes lots of switch backs and is steep. During wet periods, the rocks and trail path are likely to be slippery.

Cliff Trail Sign (Ken Brooks)Constructing this last trail could not have happened without help from fellow Preserve Monitor Lynn Schwantes and the Conservancy’s volunteers. Together we laid out the trail over the winter and constructed it during spring. We used all natural and locally-sourced materials, including rocks and downed cedar trees. The result is a trail which offers a very different view of the landscape from the others.

Cliff trail at River Trail (Ken Brooks)For me, completing this last segment marks the end of a journey and warrants a reflection of all that has been accomplished at the Dupree Nature Preserve. Although the Conservancy owned the land for a decade, it wasn’t until two years ago, thanks to generous support from Tom Dupree, that it had the ability to transform the property into a nature preserve.

To realize that vision, we developed and finalized a master plan during late summer and fall of 2012. The following year, our team of preserve monitors and volunteers created the Overlook Trail and the Meditation Trail, put benches and picnic tables into place, cleared old fencing, installed interpretive signs and message boards, and constructed a dock on the river. Next, contract workers created the Main Hiking Trail and the Brooks-Schwantes Trail, extended the River Trail to the dock, developed the entry road and parking lot, and removed a dilapidated house and barn. Staff and volunteers also planted thousands of seedlings in two former hay fields.

Dupree Cliff Trail (Ken Brooks)

The Dupree Nature Preserve officially opened in October 2013. Since then, it has lived up to the Conservancy’s intended focus on environmental education, welcoming every fourth grader in the Garrard County School District.

Outdoor Learning at Dupree Nature PreserveOf course, there is always more to do. We are now focusing on making the dock accessible for use by next spring – no small task given the dramatic changes in water levels over the course of a year. The master plan also calls for a pavilion and composting toilets.  And the significant work of removing invasive plantings continues.

For now though, I’ll bask in this proud moment. Comments turned in at the Preserve’s sign-in station have been numerous and very positive. The Preserve is clearly getting significant use and being greatly appreciated by individuals and groups, local folks and visitors from around Kentucky and even out of state. It has been rewarding to be part of transforming an idea into a fully functioning nature preserve and community asset in two years!