Bird Watchers Take Photos, Spend Cash, Enjoy Crane Migration


The song of the Sandhill cranes attracts bird watchers from all over the world, as they enjoy the sight of hundreds of thousands of birds descending on the Platte River.

"It's a special thing that happens, it's an exotic thing that happens," Brad Mellema said.

And then there's the sound of commerce, as up to tens of millions of dollars change hands.

"It's great business for Nebraska," Mellema said. "Brings people here. They all need the basics -- places to stay, places to eat and that adds up to major dollars for our local economy and really is something local businesses do pay attention to." Mellema sees it from different perspectives, but said, "I just love it. Spring migration in Nebraska is like no other place." He's ending his run as head of the Crane Trust Nature and Visitor Center, as he begins leading the Grand Island Convention and Visitors Bureau.
And this is one area where both those worlds collide.
"It really is a an opportunity to showcase our wildlife but also to showcase Nebraska," he said. Sally Miller greets visitors from Minnesota and Missouri, welcoming them and their dollars. On this day, she was selling t-shirts and postcards, while reminding visitors about a nature film playing in the next room.
Elsewhere in the visitors center, a gentleman was eating a cinnamon roll, while his wife got a personal lesson about the cranes.
Miller said, "It's tremendous. People from all over the U.S. and even all over the world come." She says it's something central Nebraskans take for granted.
"We don't realize what a treasure we have in the crane migration," Miller said. And there's only one place to experience it. "Right here in central Nebraska," Mellema said. Brad says the last count found there are 30,000 cranes in the area, and more will arrive with the south winds.
The cranes aren't the only birds that can be seen in the area. The snow geese are on their way through too, causing many to pull of the road and pull into visitor's centers.
The Crane Trust Nature and Visitor Center has a number of upcoming events, plus tours. Mellema suggested local residents should take a blind tour if they have never spent time up close with the cranes.
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