From late February through early April, 20,000 migrating Greater Sandhill Cranes stop over along a six mile stretch of the North Platte River from Lake McConaughy upstream past Lewellen.
Roosting: Cranes generally roost overnight in shallow waters of the North Platte River and can often be seen west of the Old Lewellen Bridge, Fairgrounds Road south or east of the Highway 26 bridge. The birds often land at sunset or later and may rise up from sunrise to several hours later depending on weather conditions. Cranes may lift off in small groups or rise in a loud roar as one if startled by an eagle or other predator. Please be aware that traffic cannot see you at dusk and dawn. Wear reflective gear and stay off roadways.
Daytime Viewing: GENERALLY the Sandhill Cranes rise from the river and spend an hour or so in nearby meadows, often dancing. They then fly to corn fields in the area to feed until the middle of the day when they rise and soar, often catching updrafts. They generally then spend the rest of the afternoon back in the meadows and about 4:00 return for a second feeding in the corn fields until they return to their roosts at sunset. The best meadow viewing is south of Lewellen - Fairgrounds road and then east north of the river and west of Lewellen south of Highway 26. Corn field viewing is a much larger area from north of Highway 92 (going to Lake McConaughy) to north, east and west of Lewellen. Often Lewellen Main Street is the best location for mid-day soaring. HINT: Roll down your car windows and listen for cranes singing and follow your ears!
Panoramic View: At Ash Hollow State Historical Park you can hike to the top of the bluff overlooking the roosts and watch cranes coming and going to the river. At the top of the hill about 1/4 mile before the visitor's center, stop at the parking lot and take the hiking trail north. From this point you have a great view of the river valley and are looking out over the old Mormon Trail.
Enter Ash Hollow State Historical Park at main entrance. Proceed straight up steep hill and turn left at the top of the hill. Drive towards the visitor's center and stop at the parking area to the right about 1/4 mile before the visitor's center parking. Follow the walking trail out to the edge of the bluff on foot.
Blind Viewing: Dances of Cranes provides cane viewing in a stock trailer/blind located on a meadow near the North Platte River. Cranes rise up from the river at dawn and land in the meadow, often going quite close to the trailer. This is a bargain at $30 and is about experiencing the cranes. They allow very little binocular or camera use as the cranes will come much closer without reflective objects and hand movement. Enjoy a pre-sunrise walk through a field under the Milky Way or a moonlit night, hearing the cranes soft nighttime calls and then the cacophony of rising cranes. This is one of the best locations to watch dancing cranes.
Crane Viewing Etiquette:
Video - Mylan Van Newkirk
Photos - Jean Jensen jeanjensenart.com