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

Kentucky fourth-graders participated in outdoor learning at The Nature Conservancy's Dupree Nature Preserve.

OUTDOOR DAYS

Kentucky Fourth Graders Visit the Dupree Nature Preserve
by Kenneth Brooks, Volunteer Preserve Monitor

Fourth grade students from Rosenwald-Dunbar and Wilmore Elementary Schools in Jessamine County and Camp Dick Robinson Elementary in Garrard County visited the Dupree Nature Preserve at the end of September. The visits took place as part of “Outdoor Days” sponsored by The Nature Conservancy’s Kentucky Chapter and local partner Bluegrass Greensource, with financial support from Toyota in Georgetown. This was the second year that area fourth graders participated.

During their visit, students hiked for about a mile within the nature preserve, stopping at four teaching stations along the way.

Fourth-grade students from Garrard and Jessamine counties hike in The Nature Conservancy's Dupree Nature Preserve.

Fourth-grade students from Garrard and Jessamine counties hike in the Conservancy’s Dupree Nature Preserve.

At each teaching station they engaged in a well-planned learning experience developed by Bluegrass Greensource staff on topics including tree identification, pioneer life, skulls of animals likely living in the preserve and protecting the environment. At midday, the students took a break to enjoy a sack lunch.

Kentucky fourth-graders participated in outdoor learning at The Nature Conservancy's Dupree Nature Preserve.

Kentucky fourth-graders participated in outdoor learning at The Nature Conservancy’s Dupree Nature Preserve.

Parent Ali Michell came along for the day and noted, “It was very worthwhile and a different way to learn.” Another parent, Lindsey Davis, and her daughter Isabella described the day as “very good.” Briana Campbell, a fourth grader from Wilmore, declared the day “awesome.” Upon their departure, the teachers chimed in about what a profitable and enjoyable day it had been and expressed hope that they could return next year.

Kentucky fourth-grade students relax outdoors at the Conservancy’s Dupree Nature Preserve.

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