Nebraska provides refuge to millions of birds and hundreds of different bird species, but some regions are especially important for conservation. One, if not the most significant, area of Nebraska for bird conservation is the Crescent Lake National Wildlife Refuge, which is located in Garden County and was set aside in 1931 as a protected site for animals and birds.
The refuge is almost perfectly delineated by some of the county’s major roads, which allows visitors to gain access to the vast refuge from various points. Depending on your entry point, you may make your way down some of the Sandhills’ more ‘characterful’ sandy lanes, as modern road improvements have yet to make their way to parts of this particular region.
There are water and toilet facilities at the refuge headquarters, accessed from the south entrance, but the site is the definition of remote, as civilization lies 30 miles away with nowhere to get food, supplies, gas, or even lodgings within the 45,818-acre refuge. This means visitors must make sure they are well-prepared with all the necessities and a tank full of gas essential before you drive into the refuge.
The Crescent Lake NWR is protected by the National Wilderness Preservation System and possesses America’s largest, uninterrupted sand dune. The refuge is principally grassland, but there are in excess of 8,250 acres of wetlands, which are a mix of permanent, semi-permanent, and temporary bodies of water, some are fed purely by underground aquifers.
The blend of sand dunes, wetlands, and grassland on the refuge is birding heaven, with more than 200 bird species using the area as a stopover during migration or as their permanent residence. This means there are excellent bird spotting opportunities all year round. The lakes may freeze over during the latter weeks of fall into winter, but the grassland and sand dunes offer a host of bird sightings from September through February. Birds seen regularly in fall and/or winter at Crescent Lake NWR include Black-crowned Night-Heron, Canvasback, Sharp-tailed Grouse, Ring-necked Pheasant, Common Grackle, Western Meadowlark, and Long-billed Dowitcher.
Across the four seasons there are often in excess of 250 species to see, including White-rumped Sandpiper, Savannah Sparrow, Dickcissel, Snowy Egret, Wilson’s Phalarope, Peregrine Falcon, American Avocet, Blue- and Green-winged Teal, Pied-billed and Eared Grebe, Eastern Kingbird, Blue Grosbeak, Bufflehead, Orange-crowned Warbler, Short-eared Owl, Western Tanager, and Bald Eagle, of which there have been as many as 20 pairs at the refuge at one time.
If you are a keen wildlife enthusiast and want to escape the modern world, then stop looking for destinations. Plan your visit to Crescent Lake NWR now, with its truly unique and diverse landscape, which offers amazing sightings of both native and migratory birds, even through fall and winter.
A full list of bird species you might get to see at Crescent Lake NWR can be found at the following link.