Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Trip day four: Ft. Niobarra National Wildlife Refuge

I woke early on Saturday to a light dusting of snow. I was on the road before sunrise because I wanted some time at Ft. Niobarra National Wildlife Refuge before heading on to Iowa.

Unfortunately the overcast skies made the early morning hours a bit tough for good photography at long range, but I made the best of it and really enjoyed the refuge. The refuge features a good deal of shrotgrass prairie divided by the Niobarra river valley as it flows through. The valley is wooded and had good warbler activity, while the prairie land had prominent Meadowlarks, Doves and Blackbirds.
The Chipping Sparrow above greeted me as I began the short walk that walked down beside the Niobarra Falls, and followed the river before returning up the bluff. It was so peaceful to walk beside a good sized river in a damp wood, with a thin layer of brilliant green new leaves in the undergrowth. As I walked I heard Turkeys gobbling across the water, and followed Yellow-Rumped Warblers through the canopy.

Back on the bluff I observed and photographed this Northern Shrike on a barbed-wire fence. This is the fierce little hunter that impales its kills on the barbs of barbed-wire and thorny bushes. You wouldn't guess it from that downy looking mug though.

One of the best experiences at Ft. Niobarra NWR was driving through the Bison area of the plains. They have a large herd, and a dozen or so individuals that were in an area accessible from the driving tour.
In my volunteering at the Rocky Mountain NWR I have gotten some good looks at Bison, (or if you are a CU alum - Buffaloes!). On my early drive I actually pulled through the herd as one half had moved across the road and the other was still grazing. It was still way to dark to get any postable shots - sadly one Buff still had a dusting of snow on his head - but I got a shot looking back a bit later to remember the moment. Not that it is one I will soon forget. Magnificent animals, even when they are not named Ralphie or running the field at Folsom Stadium.
BTW - yes it is very tough to drive through Husker Country. Talk about solidarity of a fan base. I am glad that Coloradoans have so much to divert our interest from college football, and so many great schools to divide our loyalty - but it would be cool to see every truck sporting a CU bumper sticker or listen to sports radio on a spring evening and hear a regularly occurring trivia contest tied completely to the buffs. Oh well, we have mountains!
Back on track - the people I met in Nebraska were all very kind, and most hospitable. The places I saw and the memories I made will have me planning a return far before I had expected to.

This Wild Turkey was in a group as I left the Refuge, but I continued to see them in nearly every county I crossed as I drove through to Iowa, and my family visit in Orange City, which will be the next post.

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