A spectacle of nature is unfolding in the region this month.
Hundreds of thousands of snow geese have arrived, making this weekend a prime time to check out the impressive annual display of migrating birds. Sandhill cranes are also arriving as part of the region’s waterfowl migration season.
More than a half million geese have been reported at Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge near Mound City, Missouri. A similar count was estimated 35 miles north of Omaha at DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge near Missouri Valley, Iowa.
Peter Rea, supervisory park ranger for DeSoto, said the snow geese count is significantly higher than in recent years. Last year, for example, the count at DeSoto hit a peak of about 50,000.
He said the numbers are up partly because areas north DeSoto — which is where the flocks are heading — still have frozen lakes and snow-covered fields. The geese are delaying their journey, he said, because they need open water to roost on and open fields to find food.
“They are kind of held up here,” he said.
Rea said there are also thousands of ducks and dozens of eagles at DeSoto. The eagles follow the flocks because they feed on injured or sick birds.
Don’t wait too long to check out the scene. He expects the geese will resume their trek north in a few days.
In central Nebraska, the sandhill cranes draw people from around the world.
The cranes started arriving about three weeks ago, said Josie DeVault, spokeswoman for the Crane Trust Nature & Visitor Center near Wood River. She said that as of Monday, there were an estimated 30,000 cranes along the Platte River.
The count will start rising next week, she said.
About a half million sandhill cranes rest in Nebraska from mid-February through early April during their northward migration to breeding grounds across the northern United States, Canada and Siberia. It is the largest gathering of cranes in the world. The greatest concentration of cranes typically occurs during the last two weeks of March.
The big birds are the big show, and free viewing options to see cranes roosting in the shallow river in the morning or returning to the Platte at night are plentiful.
Rick Wright, a New Jersey resident who brings tour groups to Nebraska to view the birds, said people travel from as far away as France and Australia for the remarkable display.
“There is something about the mass of the number and noise and setting,” he said. “This has a worldwide reputation.”