Spring Birding Adventures

Each spring the most incredible migration event in the world passes through the North Platte, Nebraska area. More than 200,000 Sandhill Cranes will spend about six weeks in the North Platte River valley fortifying themselves for the nesting period to come. While they are here, they will engage in beautiful courtship and pair-bonding behaviors.

Courting cranes are magnificent as they stretch their wings, pump their heads, bow, and leap into the air in a graceful and energetic dance. Parents will dance with their chicks for the entire first year of their lives. Juvenile Sandhill Cranes will use the complex dance steps they learned to select a mate when they are two to five years old. They will mate for life, though continue to show their affection to their mates each spring with their dancing prowess. The energies and, dare we say emotions, released during the dancing rituals are essential to successful breeding.

These graceful, exuberant rituals can best be observed while the Sandhill Cranes are in the feeding and loafing grounds, which are the meadows and crop fields within five miles from the river.

Sandhill Crane Tours

To aid you in your experience of the Sandhill Crane migration, Dusty Trails LLC, your outdoor specialists in North Platte has developed tours during the most active time of the day for the Sandhill Crane courtship behaviors. These tours are scheduled from 2:15pm until approximately 5:00pm. There will be a bathroom break at a portapotty during the tour.

The Sandhill Crane Tours are scheduled Saturday and Sunday March 14 and 15, and then daily March 20 – through April 5.

Saturday and Sunday tours will depart from Pals Brewing Company, 4520 S Buffalo Bill Ave. Monday through Friday tours will depart from the Visitor Center at 101 Halligan Drive in North Platte.

All tours include a round trip through the North Platte River valley between North Platte and Hershey. The tour will linger along the rural roads wherever there are large groups of Sandhill Cranes so that you can observe, video and photograph as much as you would like.

While on the tour, you will be treated to information about the Sandhill Cranes, their migration and behaviors you may observe in the fields.

The transportation for the tours is a converted school bus that will be warm and dry and afford elevated visibility for Crane viewing. You will be supplied with a welcome bag including a snack and a water bottle.

Each tour size is limited to 18 individuals. For larger groups, please contact Dusty Trails LLC Outdoor Specialists at 308-530-0048.

Some binoculars will be available to share, but please feel free to bring along your own to enhance your experience, as well as whatever photography and videography equipment you would like.

Adult tour prices are $35.00 per person; Children ages 5 – 10 are half price ($17.50). Children 4 and under are free. To book your tour, click here: 2020 Sandhill Crane Tour.

Prairie Chicken Dance Tours

In the spring the hearts of the Nebraska Greater Prairie Chickens turn toward love. To successfully attract a female mate, the male Prairie Chickens must impress them with their dancing prowess. Males will gather in large numbers on dancing grounds known as leks. They will cackle, jump and stomp their feet, sometimes scuffling with a rival. Then they will scrunch down and inflate their bright orange neck sacks and emit an eerie booming sound.

The ladies on the other hand will observe the shenanigans circumspectly, examining the prospects with a critical eye. However, if they see something they like, they may come forward for a brief, flurried assignation.

Dusty Trails will host an excursion to a large and busy Prairie Chicken lek located south of Sutherland. The tours will depart from the North Platte Visitor’s Bureau, 101 Halligan Drive. Tours during the month of March will depart at 5:30am. Tours during the month of April will depart at 5:00am, due to the earlier sunrise. Tours will arrive back in North Platte between 9:00am and 10:00am. The Visitors Bureau is closed at this time. However, if you need to use the restroom or purchase some supplies for the trip, there is a 24-hour service station located next door. Please plan to be ready to board the bus 10 minutes before departure time. Visitors will be transported to the lek by bus or van, a trip of about an hour. Coffee, juice and breakfast pastries will be provided on the bus. Feel free to bring your own refreshments, but please, no alcoholic beverages. At the lek there will be a portapotty.

Though the viewing blind at the lek is enclosed, it will still be very chilly. Warm, seasonally appropriate clothing is a must. Hats, gloves, thermal underwear, heavy coats and outerwear and sturdy boots are recommended.

There will be some binoculars to share, but feel free to bring some to enhance your viewing experience, as well as whatever video and photography equipment you would like. Flash photography and additional lighting is strictly prohibited.

Visits to the blind on the Prairie Chicken Lek are scheduled for March 21, 23, 25, 27, 29, 31, April 2, and then every Saturday and Sunday from April 4 through April 26.

There will be two small (1-2 person) photographer blinds available at the lek which will provide a ground-level view of the action. These must be purchased in addition to a regular tour ticket. The cost for a photographer blind is $20.00. Please note: Once in the unheated photographer blind, you will not be able to exit until your guide comes to get you when the Prairie Chickens have departed the lek. You will not be able to use the restroom during this time.

Each tour size is limited to 18 individuals. For larger groups, please contact Dusty Trails LLC Outdoor Specialists at 308-530-0048. Adult tour prices are $55.00 per person; Children ages 5 – 10 are half price ($27.50). This tour is not recommended for children four and under. To book your tour click here: 2020 Prairie Chicken Dance Tour

Moonlight Horseback Excursion

An incredible dawn horseback excursion to the Prairie Chicken lek is scheduled for three days surrounding the full moon in April, April 6, 7 and 8. No previous horseback experience necessary!

The tour departs at 3:00am from the North Platte Visitors Bureau at 101 Halligan Drive for the Barner Ranch north of Wallace, a drive of approximately an hour. The Visitors Bureau is closed at this time. However, there is a 24-hour service station next door if you need to use the rest room or purchase supplies for the trip. Please plan to be ready to board the bus ten minutes prior to departure. From there you will mount up and enjoy an incredible moonlight horseback ride about five miles to the lek where you will dismount and make your way to the blind.

You will be treated to the beautiful night sky as the Milky Way stretches from horizon to horizon, dimmed only by the brilliance of the full moon. Light pollution is minimal, with only faint glows on the horizon marking far away towns. As dawn approaches, the prairie awakens. Crickets will be heard chirping in the grass, Meadowlarks will begin their full throated calls. Families of Coyotes will begin to sing, teaching the pups born earlier in the spring to greet the coming day. And then a low thrumming will begin reverberating through the air. The earliest risers among the Greater Prairie Chickens are getting warmed up for their performances.

Dusty Trails LLC is North Platte’s premiere outdoor outfitter. Each year hundreds of visitors enjoy trail rides through the Buffalo Bill State Recreation Area hosted by Dusty Trails. Girl Scouts from across the state have enjoyed Dusty Trails Trail Rides in areas such as the Halsey National Forest and along Nebraska’s Cowboy Trail. Dusty Barner’s expertise, the professionalism of his wranglers, and his experienced, gentle horses will make even the most timid rider feel comfortable.

Please dress warmly. Hats, gloves, thermal underwear, heavy outerwear and sturdy boots will be necessary. Because everything must be packed in on horseback, only minimal camera equipment is appropriate on this excursion.

Coffee, juice and breakfast pastries will be served on the bus. Bottled water will be provided at the lek. On the excursion you’ll build up an appetite, so you’ll be hosted to a hearty breakfast at the Barner Ranch following your adventure. The tour will be back in North Platte at about noon.

Tour prices are $250.00 per person for everyone 12 and over. This tour is not appropriate for children age 11 and younger. To book your tour, click here: 2020 Full Moon Horseback Excursion

Please enjoy these hotel partners for your stay:

North Platte Super 8 – Birding Rate $62.00 plus tax for any room type. Contact the Super 8 directly at 308-532-4224
Holiday Inn Express – Birding rate 99.95 plus tax. Contact the Holiday Inn Express directly at 308-532-9500
Best Western Plus – Birding rate 89.95 plus tax. Contact the Best Western Plus directly at 308-534-3120

The fine print:

  • Tickets to these excursions are non refundable. Refunds will only be made if a particular tour is not held. The tours will go on even in inclement weather unless it gets so bad as to be a safety issue.
  • Dusty Trails has no control over the wild animals these tours will be viewing or the weather. There are no guarantees as to how many birds will be seen, or what they will be doing