Nature

Birds

Annual Spring Migration of the Sandhill Cranes – 80 percent of the world’s population of Sandhill Cranes (nearly 600,000) return to the Platte River valley near Grand Island, which is part of North America’s Central Flyway, for about six weeks every year. In fact, this is the only place where all sub-species of Sandhill Cranes gather and co-mingle. The very rare and endangered whooping crane also traverses this route. The central Platte River is one of the whooping crane’s principal stopover sites on its 2,400-mile migration. The area is renowned by birding enthusiasts and hosts the largest gathering of crane species in the world. For more information on crane viewing opportunities visit www.visitgrandisland.com.

More than 300 species of resident and migratory birds have been documented in the area—included are wild turkey, the introduced pheasant, sharp-tailed grouse and the greater prairie chicken, hawks, owls, curlews, the bald eagle, cranes, sandpipers, doves, woodpeckers, sparrows, crows, the blue jay, and swallows. Those that are found near the marshes and lakes are ducks, pelicans, herons, geese, swans, the American avocet, and black tern. The state bird, the meadowlark, is found here along with many song birds that include vireos, robins, warblers, grosbeaks, bluebirds, black birds, thrushes and many others.

Two national wildlife refuges near the Byway are dedicated to protecting and preserving the Sandhills wildlife with particular interest in migratory water fowl—Valentine National Wildlife Refuge and Crescent Lake National Wildlife Refuge. At these refuges the nesting water and marsh birds include American bittern, blackcrowned night heron, upland sandpiper, long-billed curlew, American avocet, Wilson’s phalarope, grebes (eared, Western, Clark’s and pied-billed), American coot, black and Forster’s terns, Canada goose and nearly a dozen species of ducks. There are also burrowing and short-eared owls, Bell’s and warbling vireos, and red-winged and yellow headed blackbirds.

For a listing of area birds, please click to download this PDF or visit NebraskaBirdingTrails.com.

National Forest Along the Byway
The Nebraska National Forest, Bessey Ranger District, near Halsey, is the largest hand-planted forest in the nation. The Bessey Ranger District lies in the heart of the unique Nebraska Sandhills grasslands. The ranger district lands encompass over 90,000 acres of a very fragile terrain with high wind erosion potential. The forest’s heritage runs deep as numerous Civilian Conservation Corps workers hand planted the over 20,000 acres of forest on the district in the 1930s. When President Franklin Roosevelt revitalized the faith of the nation with programs such as the Civilian Conservation Corps, he brought together two wasting resources, unemployed young men and the land, in an effort to save both. Currently, the Bessey Tree Nursery is the oldest Federal tree nursery in the U.S. It was established in 1902 and is producing over 3 million seedlings annually of over 40 species.
Natural Features Along the Byway
  • The Sandhills are the largest area of stabilized grass covered sand dunes in the Western Hemisphere encompassing more than 13 million acres. The Sandhills equal an area about as large as Vermont, New Hampshire and Rhode Island combined.
  • The Sandhills landscape functions as a giant sponge situated atop the nation’s largest under-ground water supply. The Ogallala Aquifer is part of a larger ground water reservoir called the High Plains Aquifer, which is located under eight states. The Sandhills are blessed with the largest and most accessible amount of that water. The Loup River System (South, Middle, North Loup and Dismal Rivers) has been documented as the most constant flowing in the world.
  • The Byway lies at the heart of the Central Flyway for migratory birds. The annual Sandhill Crane migration is touted as one of the greatest wildlife spectacles in the world.
  • The area is one of the largest “dark spots” left in the continental United States and a highly desired destination for astronomy buffs.
  • The Nebraska National Forest, near Halsey, is the nation’s largest hand-planted forest, encompassing 92,000 acres of rolling hills planted with 22,000 acres of trees.
  • The Bessey Nursery, located in the Nebraska National Forest, is the oldest operational nursery in the national forest system today and one of six still in operation in the United States today.
Other Wildlife Along the Byway

The highly varied topography of the area and abundance of surface and ground water contribute to a diversity of habitats that support a wide variety and abundance of wildlife.

The most abundant large mammals are mule and white-tailed deer. Pronghorn antelope can be found in smaller numbers. Coyotes are common and are hunted for their pelts and for sport. Bob cats and foxes can be found in small numbers. Lakes and streams are home to muskrats, beaver, and mink. Other mammals found here are porcupines, badger, opossum, raccoons, prairie dogs, pocket gophers, skunks, squirrels, weasels, rabbits, kangaroo rats, moles, voles, shrews and bats.

The area streams and lakes are home to many varieties of fish. Game fish, primarily yellow perch, northern pike, largemouth bass, bluegill and carp have been introduced into many lakes. Trout, channel catfish, flathead chub and river carpsucker can be found in the streams and rivers. Some rare fish species, disjunct from their principal northern range, include the blacknose shiner, pearl dace, northern redbelly dace and finescale dace. These species are less tolerant of habitat change and are now restricted to the fairly stable headwaters of Sandhill streams.

There are several amphibians and reptiles found in the area, including salamanders, toads, frogs, turtles, lizards and snakes. The ornate box turtle is probably the most well known reptile and can often be seen crossing the roads. Blanding turtles, a northern species, appear to be fairly abundant in the area lakes and marshes. Common snakes are the bull snake and western hognose snake. The prairie rattlesnake is the region’s only venomous snake and can be found around prairie dog towns or areas with rock outcrops.

Insects are abundant in the area but have not been studied extensively. They are important as pollinators, decomposers, grazers and food for other wildlife. Many varieties of butterflies can be seen here and also many species of scarab beetles. The burying beetle, listed on the federal and state endangered list, is still found in the Sandhills in significant numbers.

For a listing of many of the sandhills wildlife inhabitants see:  http://www.thenebraskasandhills.com/Animals.html

Plants and Flowers Along the Byway

The flat terrain and rich soil of the area around Grand Island provides a livelihood for farmers who plant corn, wheat, soybeans, and other row crops in this fertile flatland. Traveling northeast from Grand Island the view will change with the seasons and the distance. Close to Grand Island you witness crops being planted, harvested or safely stored in silos for the winter. Irrigation systems assist farmers in raising crops. Trees naturally grow by rivers and lakes along Highway 2 but they need tending in drier areas of the terrain. Trees have been planted near farmsteads and ranches for wind protection, to create wildlife habitat, and to provide aesthetic quality.

As you journey farther west, the flat terrain and loam become gently rolling hills with a healthy mix of crops and sandy-soil pastureland and native prairie. Northwest along Highway 2 past Anselmo, the pastures and native prairie become predominant and row crops are little more than a memory in the immense Sandhills area.

A variety of sand-tolerant plants began to take root in the shifting sands, holding the dunes in place. The sandy soil is low on nutrients necessary for crops and is vulnerable to wind and other weather conditions that cause considerable soil erosion. “The Sandhills prairie consists of approximately 700 plant species, of which only about 50 are not native – a remarkably small number for such an expansive area.” – Quoted from Jon Farrar in Birding Nebraska, page 89, January-February 2004, NEBRASKAland Magazine, Volume 83, Number 1, Nebraska Game & Parks Commission.

These plants have survived for centuries without being planted by man and provide grazing for livestock and a healthy barrier to protect the soil from the elements. The roots of grasses such as Indiangrass, little, big and sand bluestem, prairie sand reed, sand dropseed and sand lovegrass burrow into the sandy dunes and literally cover the dunes with a protective barrier from the elements.

Throughout the history of the Sandhills, droughts have occurred several times, resulting in exposure of the sands to the wind. “Blowouts” formed in the fragile landscape as a result of wind erosion. Blowouts are a natural part of the Sandhills ecosystem, creating habitat for the threatened and endangered blowout penstemon, a beautiful prairie plant with large bell-shaped, violet blooms. Blowout penstemon habitat is shrinking as ranchers carefully manage their lands in order to preserve dune stability so the lands do not revert back to a desert-like state.

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TitleCategoryAddressDescription
Victoria Springs State Recreation Area Plants and Flowers 6 miles east of Anselmo, Anselmo, NE
Victoria Springs State Recreation Area Recreation Areas 43400 Hwy S21A, Anselmo, NE
Victoria Springs State Recreation Area Birds 43400 Hwy S21A, Anselmo, NE
Victoria Springs State Recreation Area Birds 6 miles east of Anselmo, Anselmo, NE
Victoria Springs State Recreation Area Other Wildlife 43400 Hwy S21A, Anselmo, NE
Victoria Springs State Recreation Recreation Areas 6 miles east of Anselmo, Anselmo, NE
Victoria Springs State Recreation Other Wildlife 6 miles east of Anselmo, Anselmo, NE
Veterans Park & Memorial Wall Birds 2424 S. Locust St, Ste C, Grand Island, NE
Valentine National Wildlife Refuge Other Wildlife HC 14 Box 67, Valentine, NE
Valentine National Wildlife Refuge Plants and Flowers HC 14 Box 67, Valentine, NE
Valentine National Wildlife Refuge Birds HC 14 Box 67, Valentine, NE
Townsley-Murdock Immigrant Trail Site Recreation Areas 2424 S. Locust Street, Ste C, Grand Island, NE
Townsley-Murdock Immigrant Trail Site Birds 2424 S. Locust St, Ste C, Grand Island, NE
Townsley-Murdock Immigrant Trail Site Other Wildlife 2424 S. Locust Street, Ste C, Grand Island, NE
Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer Plants and Flowers 3133 W. Highway 34, Grand Island, NE
Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer Recreation Areas 3133 W. Highway 34, Grand Island, NE http://sandhillsjourney.com/recreation-areas/grand-island-9/stuhr-museum-of-the-prairie-pioneer/
Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer Birds 3133 W. Hwy 34, Grand Island, NE
Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer Other Wildlife 3133 W. Highway 34, Grand Island, NE
Stolley Park Recreation Areas 2424 S. Locust Street, Ste C, Grand Island, NE Enjoy the year-round park and its features.
Smith Lake Birds,Plants and Flowers,Recreation Areas Lakeside, NE 26 miles north of Lakeside
Sherman Reservoir State Recreation Area Plants and Flowers 79025 Sherman Dam Road, Loup City, NE 4 miles east, 1 mile north of Loup City on asphalt road – Reservoir offers nearly 5,000 acres of land and 3,000 acres of water for almost every type of outdoor activity. Park permit required. Camping fee $6 per night.
Sherman Reservoir State Recreation Area Recreation Areas 79025 Sherman Dam Road, Loup City, NE 4 miles east, 1 mile north of Loup City on asphalt road – Reservoir offers nearly 5,000 acres of land and 3,000 acres of water for almost every type of outdoor activity. Park permit required. Camping fee $6 per night.
Sherman Reservoir State Recreation Area Birds 79025 Sherman Dam Rd, Loup City, NE 4 miles east, 1 mile north of Loup City on asphalt road – Reservoir offers nearly 5,000 acres of land and 3,000 acres of water for almost every type of outdoor activity. Park permit required. Camping fee $6 per night.
Sherman Reservoir State Recreation Area Other Wildlife 79025 Sherman Dam Road, Loup City, NE 4 miles east, 1 mile north of Loup City on asphalt road – Reservoir offers nearly 5,000 acres of land and 3,000 acres of water for almost every type of outdoor activity. Park permit required. Camping fee $6 per night.
Sherman Reservoir SRA/WMA Plants and Flowers 4 miles east of Loup City, Loup City, NE
Sherman Reservoir SRA/WMA Recreation Areas 4 miles east of Loup City, Loup City, NE
Sherman Reservoir SRA/WMA Birds 4 miles east of Loup City, Loup City, NE
Sherman Reservoir SRA/WMA Other Wildlife 4 miles east of Loup City, Loup City, NE
Sherman Reservoir Plants and Flowers 4 miles east of Loup City, Loup City, NE
Sherman Reservoir Recreation Areas 4 miles east of Loup City, Loup City, NE
Sherman Reservoir Birds 4 miles east of Loup City, Loup City, NE
Sherman Reservoir Other Wildlife 4 miles east of Loup City, Loup City, NE
Sheridan County Recreation Areas Lakeside, NE
Sheridan County Birds Lakeside, NE Welcome to Sheridan County, Nebraska, where legends, railroads and the Old West create a unique historical adventure. An adventure you must see and experience to believe! Allow your senses to fully experience Sheridan County. Feel the tranquility of nature. Enjoy our wide-open spaces, brilliant blue skies and star-filled nights. Know the pleasures of pure country life. Legendary figures such as Chief Crazy Horse, Buffalo Bill Cody, ‘Old Jules’, Bartlett Richards, and Mari Sandoz saw the hidden charm of this land. You can see it by starting your adventure here.
Sheridan County Other Wildlife Lakeside, NE
Sandhill Crane Spring Migration Birds 2424 S. Locust St, Ste C, Grand Island, NE enjoy the breathtaking experience of Sandhill Cranes gatthering.
Sandhill Crane Spring Migration Other Wildlife 2424 S. Locust Street, Ste C, Grand Island, NE Enjoy the breathtaking experience of Sandhill Cranes gatthering.
Ravenna Lake Plants and Flowers 1 mile southeast of Ravenna, north of Nebraska Highway 2, Ravenna, NE
Ravenna Lake Recreation Areas 1 mile southeast of Ravenna, north of Nebraska Highway 2, Ravenna, NE
Ravenna Lake Birds 1 mile southeast of Ravenna, north of Nebraska Highway 2, Ravenna, NE
Ravenna Lake Other Wildlife North of Nebraska Highway 2, Ravenna, NE
Public Outdoor Swimming Pool 302 S McShane Ave, Mullen, NE Fun way to cool off during the hot summer months!
Pressey Wildlife Management Area Other Wildlife 5 miles north of Oconto on Nebreska Highway 21, Oconto, NE
Pressey Wildlife Management Area Plants and Flowers 5 miles north of Oconto on Nebreska Highway 21, Oconto, NE
Pressey Wildlife Management Area Recreation Areas 5 miles north of Oconto on Nebreska Highway 21, Oconto, NE
Pressey Wildlife Management Area Birds 5 miles north of Oconto on Nebreska Hwy 21, Oconto, NE
Nebraska Nature & Visitor Center Plants and Flowers 9325 S. Alda Road, Grand Island, NE Nature tours.
Nebraska National Forest, Bessey Division Plants and Flowers 1 mile west of Halsey on Nebraska Highway 2, Halsey, NE
Nebraska National Forest, Bessey Division Birds 1 mile west of Halsey on Nebraska Highway 2, Halsey, NE
Nebraska National Forest, Bessey Division Other Wildlife 1 mile west of Halsey on Nebraska Hwy 2, Halsey, NE
Nebraska National Forest (Bessey Ranger District) Plants and Flowers PO Box 39, Halsey, NE
Nebraska National Forest (Bessey Ranger District) Birds PO Box 39, Halsey, NE
Nebraska National Forest (Bessey Ranger District) Other Wildlife PO Box 39, Halsey, NE
Mullen Golf Club Recreation Areas 36544 West Highway 2, Mullen, NE Good game, great view!
Mormon Island State Recreation Area Plants and Flowers Interchange I-80 Exit 312, Grand Island, NE
Mormon Island State Recreation Area Recreation Areas Interchange I-80 Exit 312, Grand Island, NE
Mormon Island State Recreation Area Birds Interchange I-80 Exit 312, Grand Island, NE
Mormon Island State Recreation Area Other Wildlife Interchange I-80 Exit 312, Grand Island, NE
Morman Island State Recreation Area Plants and Flowers 7425 S. US Hwy 281, Grand Island, NE Nature fun for the whole family.
Morman Island State Recreation Area Recreation Areas 7425 S. US Highway 281, Grand Island, NE Nature fun for the whole family.
Middle Loup River Ranch Guest House Other Wildlife 40203 Highway 2, Thedford, NE
Middle Loup River Ranch Guest House Plants and Flowers 40203 Highway 2, Thedford, NE Fully furnished guest house. Sleeps up to nine people.
Middle Loup River Ranch Guest House Recreation Areas 40203 Highway 2, Thedford, NE Fully furnished guest house. Sleeps up to nine people.
Middle Loup River Ranch Guest House Birds 40203 Highway 2, Thedford, NE Fully furnished guest house. Sleeps up to nine people.
Middle Loup River Plants and Flowers Dunning, NE May be seen from the byway in several locations between Dunning and Seneca., Dunning, NE
Middle Loup River Recreation Areas Dunning, NE May be seen from the byway in several locations between Dunning and Seneca.
Middle Loup River Birds Dunning and Seneca., Dunning, NE
Melham Park Lake Plants and Flowers Northeast Broken Bow, Broken Bow, NE
Melham Park Lake Recreation Areas Northeast Broken Bow, Broken Bow, NE
Melham Park Lake Birds Northeast Broken Bow, Broken Bow, NE
Melham Park Lake Other Wildlife Northeast Broken Bow, Broken Bow, NE
Laing Lake Plants and Flowers North Edge of Alliance, Alliance, NE
Laing Lake Recreation Areas North edge of Alliance, Alliance, NE
Laing Lake Birds North Edge, Alliance, NE
Halsey Hike/Bike Trail Plants and Flowers Halsey, NE A paved hiking/biking trail connecting the community of Halsey with the Nebraska National Forest-Bessey Ranger District main campground.
Halsey Hike/Bike Trail Birds Halsey, NE A paved hiking/biking trail connecting the community of Halsey with the Nebraska National Forest-Bessey Ranger District main campground.
Glidden Canoe Rental Plants and Flowers 507 SW 1st Street, Mullen, NE
Glidden Canoe Rental Recreation Areas 507 SW 1st Street, Mullen, NE
Dry Valley Church and Cemetery Birds 19 miles north west of Mullen, Mullen, NE Travel 15 miles north of Mullen on Highway 97 and then three miles west to find the Dry Valley Church. In the early 1990s, the Nebraska Sandhills were still in the early stages of settlement. Some areas were without stores, restaurants, or hotels. Yet, one facet of civilization that many Sandhills residents missed were churches. The people in Curlew, Nebraska (located about 20 miles north of Mullen) had made due with traveling ministers that held tent meetings but they wanted a church of their own. Robert Boyer gave land in Dry Valley for a church and a community cemetery. Teddy Carr was the first buried there, before the church was even built. Dry Valley is a very unique and interesting cemetery. There is an eclectic blend of old and new tombstones that give the cemetery a timeless feel. Approximately 81 people are buried there and it is still used today. The last person buried there was Andrew Kravcisin on October 3, 1998. The original pews, organ, lectern, and hymnals make this a special stop for the history buff. The church is still used for annual Christmas and Memorial Day programs. The area people put together these programs and they are well attended. During the Memorial Day service, someone usually plays “Taps” outside. It is an amazing feeling to hear it echo off of the surrounding hills. Funeral services are also held in Dry Valley Church, along with the occasional wedding. The church can be visited by appointment by calling Pat Bridges at 308-546-2314. .
Dowse Riverview Homestead & Dowse Sod House Plants and Flowers 80560 Oak Grove Road, Comstock, NE
Dowse Riverview Homestead & Dowse Sod House Recreation Areas 80560 Oak Grove Road, Comstock, NE
Dowse Riverview Homestead & Dowse Sod House Birds 80560 Oak Grove Rd, Comstock, NE
Dowse Riverview Homestead & Dowse Sod House Other Wildlife 80560 Oak Grove Road, Comstock, NE
Double R Guest Ranch Plants and Flowers 86091 Double R Drive, Mullen, NE
Double R Guest Ranch Recreation Areas 86091 Double R Drive, Mullen, NE
Double R Guest Ranch Birds 86091 Double R Drive, Mullen, NE
Double R Guest Ranch Other Wildlife 86091 Double R Drive, Mullen, NE
Dobby’s Frontier Town Plants and Flowers 325 E. 25th St, Alliance, NE Step back in time to the turn-of-the-century and see what life was like for the early settlers of the plains. With an authentic general store, post office, original bootlegger’s cabin and baled straw house. Fall festival features assorted hands-on exhibits. 308-762-4321. http://www.dobbysfrontiertown.com/
Dobby’s Frontier Town Birds 325 E. 25th St, Alliance, NE 308-762-4321. http://www.dobbysfrontiertown.com/
Dismal River Plants and Flowers Mullen, NE
Dismal River Recreation Areas Mullen, NE
Dismal River Birds Mullen, NE
De Fair Lake Wildlife Management Area Plants and Flowers 2 miles south of Hyannis on Nebraska Highway 61, 1/4 mile east, Hyannis, NE
De Fair Lake Wildlife Management Area Recreation Areas 2 miles south of Hyannis on Nebraska Highway 61, 1/4 mile east, Hyannis, NE
De Fair Lake Wildlife Management Area Birds Nebraska Highway 61, 1/4 mile east, Hyannis, NE
De Fair Lake Wildlife Management Area Other Wildlife 1/4 mile east, Hyannis, NE
Crescent Lake National Wildlife Refuge Recreation Areas 10630 Road 181, Ellsworth, NE Endless opportunities to experience the great outdoors!
Crescent Lake National Wildlife Refuge Birds 10630 Rd 181, Ellsworth, NE Endless opportunities to experience the great outdoors!
Crescent Lake National Wildlife Refuge Other Wildlife 10630 Rd 181, Ellsworth, NE Endless opportunities to experience the great outdoors!
Cornhusker Wildlife Area Plants and Flowers 4 miles west of U.S. Highway 281, Grand Island, NE 4 miles west of U.S. Highway 281
Cornhusker Wildlife Area Recreation Areas 4 miles west of U.S. Highway 281, Grand Island, NE
Cornhusker Wildlife Area Birds 4 miles west of U.S. Highway 281, Grand Island, NE
Cornhusker Wildlife Area Other Wildlife Old Potash Highway, 1/2 mile south on country road., Grand Island, NE
Central Park Foundation Plants and Flowers PO Box D, Alliance, NE
Central Park Foundation Recreation Areas PO Box D, Alliance, NE
Central Park Foundation Birds PO Box D, Alliance, NE
Central Park Foundation Other Wildlife PO Box D, Alliance, NE
Cedar Hills Vineyard Plants and Flowers 48970 375th Road, Grand Island, NE Enjoy this picturesque vinyard with an outstanding view and various products.
Cedar Hills Vineyard Birds 48970 375th Rd, Grand Island, NE Enjoy this picturesque vinyard with an outstanding view and various products.
Cedar Hills Vineyard Other Wildlife 48970 375th Road, Grand Island, NE Enjoy this picturesque vinyard with an outstanding view and various products.
Bowman Lake State Recreation Area Plants and Flowers 1/2 mile west of Loup City, Loup City, NE Boating and fishing area. Park permit required. $6 camping fee.
Bowman Lake State Recreation Area Recreation Areas 1/2 mile west of Loup City, Loup City, NE boating and fishing area. Park permit required. $6 camping fee.
Bowman Lake State Recreation Area Birds Loup City, NE 1/2 mile west of Loup City. Boating and fishing area. Park permit required. $6 camping fee.
Bowman Lake State Recreation Area Other Wildlife 1/2 mile west of Loup City, Loup City, NE Boating and fishing area. Park permit required. $6 camping fee.
Avocet Wildlife Management Area Plants and Flowers 1/2 mile east of Hyannis on Nebraska Highway 2, Hyannis, NE
Avocet Wildlife Management Area Recreation Areas 1/2 mile east of Hyannis on Nebraska Highway 2, Hyannis, NE
Avocet Wildlife Management Area Birds Nebraska Highway 2, Hyannis, NE
Avocet Wildlife Management Area Other Wildlife 1/2 mile east of Hyannis on Nebraska Highway 2, Hyannis, NE
Arnold Recreation Area Plants and Flowers PO Box 70, Arnold, NE
Arnold Recreation Area Recreation Areas PO Box 70, Arnold, NE
Arnold Recreation Area Other Wildlife PO Box 70, Arnold, NE
Arnold Lake State Recreation Area Plants and Flowers 1 mile souith of Arnold on Nebraska Hwy 40 or Nebraska Highway 92, Arnold, NE
Arnold Lake State Recreation Area Recreation Areas Nebraska Highway 92, Arnold, NE
Arnold Lake State Recreation Area Birds Nebraska Highway 92, Arnold, NE
Arnold Lake State Recreation Area Other Wildlife Nebraska Highway 92, Arnold, NE
Ansley Lake Plants and Flowers Nebraska Highway 2, Ansley, NE
Ansley Lake Recreation Areas west edge of town off Nebraska Highway 2, Ansley, NE
Ansley Lake Birds west edge of town off Nebraska Highway 2, Ansley, NE
Ansley Lake Other Wildlife Nebraska Highway 2, Ansley, NE