Rainwater Basin

Holdrege

Holdrege, NEPhelps and Kearney Counties are deep inside one of the most unique and fertile bird watching regions of the entire country: the central migratory flyway passing through Nebraska’s Rainwater Basin. Each year, some ten million waterfowl and other birds of all types drop down into this area to feed and restore their depleted reserves in preparation for the next leg of their migration north.

get directions

Sandhill Cranes and so much more

Sandhill CraneWe need to get something straight right away. You’ve probably heard of this area in terms of the annual sandhill crane migration. It is unquestionably a magnificent site when these beautiful creatures along with millions of ducks and geese pass through the central Platte River Valley and Rainwater Basin in February, March and April. After you have experienced the world’s largest concentration of these ancient birds, we invite you to experience spotting some of the 257 other varieties of birds that visit and live in this part of the world.

The Rainwater Basin refers to a network of wetlands covering some 4,200 square miles of south and central Nebraska. In good years, these shallow basins fill up with rainwater and snowmelt early in the spring and provide a fertile breeding ground for invertebrates. This, combined with seeds and tubers from the wetlands and waste crops from the thousands of acres of surrounding corn, soybean and wheat fields provide an ideal diet for a wide variety of migrating birds.

But depending on what you’re looking for, spring isn’t the only time for good birding in the Rainwater Basin area.

Lake Seldom

Lake SeldomDuring early spring, see the migrating waterfowl at Lake Seldom and shore birds picking at snails and other crustaceans in the mudflats.  Lake Seldom is located in Phelps County on the south edge of Holdrege. Late spring and into summer, birdwatchers walk the trails to see a chat, western king birds, marsh wrens, killdeer, a black-crowned night heron, blue-winged teal, rough winged swallows, common terns and pheasants amongst the red winged blackbirds and other wetlands species.

get directions

The Road to Sacramento-Wilcox and Sacramento Wildlife Management Area

Sacramento-Wilcox WMAFrom Holdrege, we head east on U.S. 6 and 34 and a mile or so out of town turn right on Brewster Road, cross the railroad tracks and turn left on Polyline Road, named for a now-defunct railroad company, angling southeast.

At S Road, you pass by what’s left of the tiny settlement of Sacramento.

Approximately 2 miles along, at V Road, we see a sign indicating that the entrance to the Sacramento-Wilcox State Wildlife Management Area is off to our right half a mile.

Sacramento-Wilcox is fairly large as these preserves go, and a great place to get out and walk around. The habitat is varied, with a mixture of forested shelterbelts, short and long-grass meadows, shrubs and wetlands. In non-migratory season, it’s as great a place to look for some of our permanent residents, such as harrier hawks, prairie falcon and northern flicker. This would also be a place for a sharp-eyed birder to spot great horned or eastern screech owls.

get directions

Prairie Dog WPA

Prairie DogIn this part of Nebraska, there are basically three types of public lands pertinent to birding: State Wildlife Management Areas (SWMAs), Federal Waterfowl Production Areas (WPAs), and State Recreation Areas (SRAs).

To get to the Prairie Dog WPA, we drive through Wilcox (it doesn’t take long) and turn north on State Highway 44. About three miles north of town, turn right on D Road. In another mile, you’re at the southwest corner of Prairie Dog WPA, and as you drive around it, you’ll notice fenced off parking lots with access to the interior.

On the east side of the area, we find the “dog town” for which this particular WPA was named. Although all the prairie dogs disappear when we stop, when we stay still and remain in the car, they begin to pop their heads out of their burrows, and soon the air is filled with their whistling calls. Burrowing owls frequently use unoccupied prairie dog dens for their nests, and although we don’t see any owls today, we’re told they can be spotted here.

get directions

Funk Lagoon

Snow GooseThe Funk Waterfowl Production Area (WPA) is one of the largest Waterfowl Production Areas in Nebraska. The wetland and grassland prairie ecosystem provides habitat for diverse native plants and animals.  Thousands of snow geese, white-fronted geese, Canada geese and nearly every duck species traveling north through Nebraska stop at the WPA to scavenge for leftover grain in the nearby corn fields and to rest prior to their long trip north.  The Funk Peterson Wildlife Trail, a 3-mile backcountry loop trail in the Funk WPA was designated as a National Recreation Trail in 2008.  Endangered species such as whooping cranes also utilize this WPA making the Funk Peterson Trail a unique and excellent visitor opportunity.

Along the 3 mile backcountry loop trail, you can find a scenic viewpoint, interpretive signs, a handicap accessible wildlife viewing/hunting blind, a 650 foot concrete walkway with tracks imbedded from the local wildlife, and a 150 foot boardwalk that extends into the wetland, that will allow you to get a little closer to nature. Activities include hiking, photography, hunting, and educational opportunities.

To get there, start at Funk and drive north on T road about 3 miles.  See a sign designating the Wild Life Management Area.  Turn east for approximately 1 mile and see interpretive signs and the trail map.

get directions

Axtell and Mosiac

MosiacMosaic is a large charitable organization in support of people with disabilities. Its facility at Bethphage Village in Axtell includes the Miracle of the Prairie Lodge and Retreat Center, on a beautiful campus of big trees and interesting Scandinavian-influenced brick buildings.

Just north of the campus is a spot created by Mosaic for the viewing and contemplation of birds and wildlife. Called Lake Siloam, the site features a covered pavilion, wide concrete paths and a dock out over the water. It was obviously made to be easy to use by people in wheelchairs, so it’s a delightful viewing area, with open water likely to attract a variety of ducks, pelicans, grebe and other water-loving birds.

get directions

Ft. Kearney State Recreation Area

Ft. Kearney SRAFrom Mosaic, go back to Highway 6 and 34, and turn east. In a couple of miles, you’ll come to the junction where Nebraska 44 separates and turns north toward Kearney. Take 44 north. In ten miles or so, you’ll come to the intersection with Road 50A. Turn right. In about four miles, you’ll pass the state historical park, then about two or three miles beyond that, you’ll see a sign to the entrance of the Ft. Kearny SRA.

Ft. Kearny SRA is right on the Platte River, so in season it’s a prime spot for sandhill crane viewing. Although the SRA is large and features a number of camping spots, we’re here to check out the Ft. Kearny Hike-Bike trail and the old railroad bridge across the Platte allowing visitors some really special riparian viewing.

The trail leading up the bridge is wide and flat, so it’s an easy hike. It’s bordered on both sides by big deciduous trees, mostly cottonwood, making it an ideal place to spot some of the woodpeckers that make Nebraska home, such as the downy woodpecker and the hairy woodpecker. You’ll also see red-breasted and white-breasted nuthatches which are native to this part of Nebraska. We spot a black-capped chickadee and a blue jay in the trees, and then step out onto the long wooden bridge.

The bridge allows you to essentially step out into the middle of this extraordinary, ribboned river and partake of a rare observation of this kind of habitat without getting your feet wet. It offers an extraordinarily clear view in both directions, and is certainly not to be missed in migration season.

get directions

The birds of central and western Nebraska:

click to view


   
see my picture
Avocet, American
Avocet, American
see my picture
Bittern, American
American Bittern.
Bittern, American
see my picture
Blackbird, Brewer's
Brewer's Blackbird
Blackbird, Brewer's
see my picture
Blackbird, Red-winged
Photo by Don Brockmeier.
Blackbird, Red-winged
see my picture
Blackbird, Rusty
Blackbird, Rusty
see my picture
Blackbird, Yellow-headed
Yellow-headed Blackbird.
Blackbird, Yellow-headed
see my picture
Bluebird, Eastern
Photo by Don Brockmeier.
Bluebird, Eastern
see my picture
Bluebird, Mountain
Bluebird, Mountain
see my picture
Bobolink
Bobolink.
Bobolink
see my picture
Bufflehead
Bufflehead Duck
Bufflehead
see my picture
Bunting, Indigo
Indigo Bunting.
Bunting, Indigo
see my picture
Bunting, Lark
Lark Bunting
Bunting, Lark
see my picture
Bunting, Painted
Bunting, Painted
see my picture
Bunting, Snow
Bunting, Snow
see my picture
Bunting,Lazuli
Lazuli Bunting.
Bunting,Lazuli
see my picture
Canvasback
Canvasback.
Canvasback
see my picture
Cardinal, Northern
Cardinal, Northern
see my picture
Catbird, Gray
Catbird, Gray
see my picture
Chat, Yellow-breasted
Chat, Yellow-breasted
see my picture
Chickadee, Black-capped
Black-capped Chickadee.
Chickadee, Black-capped
see my picture
Coot, American
American Coot.
Coot, American
see my picture
Cormorant, Double-crested
Double-crested Cormorant.
Cormorant, Double-crested
see my picture
Cowbird, Brown-headed
Cowbird, Brown-headed
see my picture
Crane, Sandhill
Sandhill Crane.
Crane, Sandhill
see my picture
Crane, Whooping
Crane, Whooping
see my picture
Creeper, Brown
Creeper, Brown
see my picture
Crossbill, Red
Crossbill, Red
see my picture
Crossbill, White-winged
Crossbill, White-winged
see my picture
Crow, American
American Crow.
Crow, American
see my picture
Cuckoo, Black-billed
Cuckoo, Black-billed
see my picture
Cuckoo, Yellow-billed
Cuckoo, Yellow-billed
see my picture
Curlew, Long-billed
Long-billed Cerlew.
Curlew, Long-billed
see my picture
Dickcissel
Dickcissel
see my picture
Dove, Eurasian Collared
Dove, Eurasian Collared
see my picture
Dove, Mourning
Photo by Don Brockmeier.
Dove, Mourning
see my picture
Dove, Rock
Rock Dove.
Dove, Rock
see my picture
Dowitcher, Long-billed
Dowitcher, Long-billed
see my picture
Dowitcher, Short-billed
Short-billed Dowitcher.
Dowitcher, Short-billed
see my picture
Duck, American Black
Duck, American Black
see my picture
Duck, Black-bellied Whistling
Duck, Black-bellied Whistling
see my picture
Duck, Gadwall
Gadwall Duck.
Duck, Gadwall
see my picture
Duck, Garganey
Duck, Garganey
see my picture
Duck, Mallard
Mallard.
Duck, Mallard
see my picture
Duck, Ring-necked
Duck, Ring-necked
see my picture
Duck, Ruddy
Duck, Ruddy
see my picture
Duck, Wood
Wood Duck.
Duck, Wood
see my picture
Dunlin
Dunlin
see my picture
Eagle, Bald
Bald Eagle. Photo courtesy of Don Brockmeier.
Eagle, Bald
see my picture
Eagle, Golden
Golden Eagle.
Eagle, Golden
see my picture
Egret, Cattle
Egret, Cattle

This site made possible by

Thank You

to the following counties and communities for their support:

  • Frontier
  • Harlan
  • Phelps
  • Red Willow
back to top