Lately I’ve noticed that when contestants tell their amusing little personal anecdotes on my favorite quiz show, Jeopardy, they always seem to start with “So, we were” or “So, I was” or “So, this or that or the other”. It really doesn’t matter what question Alex Trebek asks them, they clearly have rehearsed their “moment” in their minds endlessly before appearing on the show and somehow or another it always begins with “So”. So, in the spirit of all Jeopardy contestants of whom I will never be one, I’m starting this series of travelogue blogs about our trip to Nebraska with…..
SO we were going to Nebraska…..and I had planned this trip for weeks…well, for several months. When our earlier planned winter in sunny Florida got cancelled for medical reasons (I had to get some surgery and figured I ought to recover in the same state where my surgeon was just in case things didn’t go so well), I decided we needed a consolation prize of sorts. SO, (see how easily that word just slips in at the beginning of every sentence?) I started thinking about trips here and there to see a few birds since I am partial to traveling long distances to see birds I have never seen before. Then I thought “what about Nebraska and Sandhill Cranes”? Now, Sandhill Cranes wouldn’t be new birds for us but I had heard that there’s this thing about Nebraska in the spring that attracts thousands of Sandhill Cranes….well, to be a little more precise, maybe a half a million Sandhill Cranes according to official counts.
Nebraska is a well-known layover for the Cranes to give them a bit of time to fatten up in the fields around the Platte River on an eighty mile or so strip between Grand Island and Kearney (car-knee). People from all over the world put on lots of layers of clothes and gloves and hats and wrap scarves around their faces to go and stand out in the cold (Nebraska is very cold in early Spring), trying not to stamp their feet to thaw your toes (don’t want to disturb the birds) or shiver too much in the dark confines of an oversized duck blind to watch these birds come down into the river for the night or, as an alternative, watch them leave the river before dawn. Yep, that’s the kind of vacation for me! Sounded awesome although anyone who knows me knows that my birding is severely curtailed because I really… really…. hate to get out of bed at the crack of dawn for anything (or, as my friend, Glo, says “the crap of dawn”) but a few hundred thousand Sandhill Cranes would be just the thing to drag my lazy bones out of a warm bed. Well, maybe.
So (there it is again…another “so”), the planning commenced and no sooner had I started googling and binging Nebraska and Sandhill Cranes, that I found that early spring is also the best time of year to see Prairie Chickens and Sharp-Tailed Grouse doing their courting dances at the Leks (what you call the place where these birds do their courtship dances). Bingo! We could see the three big birds of a Nebraska spring all on one trip – a veritable trifecta…without the wagering, of course. We were on our way in no time flat.
Now, note that I’m dividing the trip into several blogs because it will be easier to divide the photos and thoughts on the three different birds that way and, well, frankly, because I can get pretty wordy sometimes and the blogs can get rather long. If you know me, you understand. But this series of blogs will be more of a travelogue than the recent blogs that I have completed….good to change things up now and then, don’t you think?
This first blog (Day 1) is rather uneventful because it mostly involves travel and, for the blog, an overview of the planning and whatnot. But, look at it this way – I will bore you on the “going to” Nebraska travel day and I will try not to repeat it on the “coming back” to Maryland travel day. Deal?
Travel days are rather boring because you get on a plane and fly an hour or so, then get off the plane and race through a large unknown airport and then get onto another plane and fly another couple hours to the final city and walk a mile or so through an airport to the rental car stations and wait for a bit until you get a car and head out to a hotel (depending on the time of day) where you find yourself totally exhausted, which is why I have learned to leave day 1 of any traveling for just that – doing the airport, rental car, hotel thing – if we have to fly to get there. A good night’s sleep makes all the difference in the world on how much you enjoy your first official vacation event whether it is birding or beaching or wandering around (like us) or heading to museums or reenacting the Civil War – whatever – it is much better when you’re not totally exhausted. And, since no one got dragged off the plane by the airport police and turbulence was not bad and the pilot did okay on the landing, our travel to Nebraska was not really noteworthy although, as usual, our arriving gate at the transition city, Minneapolis, was at the most distant possible point in the airport from our departure gate to our final destination, Omaha, and there was, as always, limited time to get from one to the other but we made it easy peasy.
Omaha was rather unexpectedly nice – not too big and not really small being the largest city in Nebraska. We had a rather nice view of the city from the parking lot of our hotel just outside the city limits and a rather not so nice view of a tank farm from the window in our room. We saw our first Nebraska birds on the drive out of the airport (Eppley Airfield) – Double-Crested Cormorants – at Carter Lake which is not really in Nebraska so these were our first Iowa birds….we got two states in with one airport.
Omaha sits right on the Missouri River (which was a nice bonus also on this trip since I do not recall ever seeing the Missouri before) and, the river, as you might guess, is the boundary between Iowa and Nebraska. But, back to the birds which were our FOT (first of trip) birds along with a couple Canada Geese and that made the trip official – we were on a birding trip and we’d seen birds. There ya go. Mission accomplished. Well, not quite.
We were tired and we were hungry. You can get absolutely anything you want to eat in an airport these days but somehow it seems not to be enough because whenever I fly, I end up hungry. The little peanuts on the plane are just never enough. Oh, we did have one tiny bit of drama on the plane. Someone was allergic to peanuts so the stewards made them disappear like magic and we were offered pretzels and granola cookies instead.
But, back to being hungry, SO, we were in Omaha, the home of Omaha Steaks, and it stands to reason that we started looking for a good steak house. The hotel manager obliged by telling us that the more local steakhouse was not really the best in his humble opinion so he gave us directions that took us right through to the south side of the city to world famous (at least that’s what the sign said) Anthony’s Steakhouse. Turned out to be a great recommendation…for me….my filet mignon was delicious – tender as butter (or should I say “butta”). Jerry said his prime rib was good but not as good as my filet – yes, we taste each other’s meals liberally – heck, we have been together for a coon’s age and share bout near everything anymore. But, overall, the food was delicious and the experience was all very Nebraska right down to (or up to) the giant bull on the roof of the building.
One final note on day 1, I am a big fan of the NCAA basketball playoffs, aka March Madness. I do not follow basketball at all otherwise but I love the tournament. And, I am a really big fan of the Carolina Tarheels and every year, I root madly for UNC. And this year, they were, amazingly enough considering the challenges they had met and overcome during the tournament, in the final championship game. And, we were right there in the hotel and ready for the game to commence…….and I fell asleep. Yep, I slept pretty much through the whole game. I occasionally woke up and Jerry would tell me how exciting the game was and how the lead was back and forth throughout the game and how I was missing it all….but I could not stay awake….not to save my life. And, of course, UNC won! And I missed it all.
SO, a long day of travel and a tummy full of steak, I was tuckered out. Tomorrow, we would set out to explore south east Nebraska but tonight, you could stick a fork in me, I was done.
April 10 – Baltimore, MD to Omaha, NE (via Minneapolis, MN): 1153 Miles
Birds Spotted So Far: