Shorebirding Sandhills Lakes along Highway 2

Highway 2 connects the southwestern corner of South Dakota with the northwestern tip of Nebraska, and runs through some of Nebraska’s most idyllic locations. The 422.29 mile road affords drivers and their passengers one of the most scenic routes through a whole state in the U.S. This road is especially significant as it joins three of Nebraska’s iconic national areas of outstanding natural beauty: Nebraska National Forest, Crescent Lake National Wildlife Refuge, and The Nebraska Sandhills. Highway 2 carries on long past the Sandhills, exiting the state on the eastern side at Nebraska City, but you would be forgiven for making an impromptu stop along the way to wonder at the terrain and animals it so successfully sustains.

Along Highway 2, Sandhills Journey Scenic Byway is a 272-mile stretch that takes you from (east to west) Grand Island to Alliance, a small railroad City in Box Butte County, and has been ranked as one of the ten most scenic routes in America. Take in the stunning, rolling sand hills, countryside as far as the eye can see, rich farmland, marshes bursting with wildlife, twisting and turning rivers, and the Charles E. Bessey Nursery, which is America’s oldest federal seedling nursery.

From the car you might be fortunate enough to see birds flying from one side of Highway 2 to the other or a lone migrant just arriving, but for the full, unforgettable experience you must alight at one of the many rest stops, campsites, and refuges. During the summer, the clear, pollution-less skies, uninterrupted by buildings, provide the perfect backdrop for bird watching, photography, and at night-stargazing.

In the summer season, the two major refuges that flank Highway 2, Valentine National Wildlife Refuge and Crescent Lake National Wildlife Refuge account for much of the tree-dwelling, marshland and wetland breeding/rearing populations, which include Black-necked Stilts (a recent breeding success at Crescent Lake NWR), American Avocets, Wilson’s Phalarope, Warbling and Red-eyed Vireo, Bobolink, Orchard Oriole, Horned Lark, Common Yellowthroat, and the Common Nighthawk. Across the length of Highway 2 there are in excess of 300 possible bird species to spot. So take your pick at random, make the Sandhills your summer holiday destination and your resting point will surely bring you some unforgettable sights.

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