From the famous annual spring migration of sandhill cranes to the little-know Platte River caddisfly, the Platte Basin is a marvelous stage for a diverse collection of wildlife. Much of the river management and conservation work in the basin stems from the four threatened or endangered species who make it their home.
Hydrologically connected to the central Platte, the extensive wet meadow landscape on Mormon Island is managed by The Crane Trust, which is working to preserve and restore a large native prairie and wet meadow habitats. Highly dynamic, the camera reveals the character of Mormon Island, dominated by grasses and forbes part of the year, a high marshy water table another part of the year, and barren, wind-swept landscapes late in the year. Sandhill cranes, grazing cattle, and prescribed burns are also features on the land.
Invasive wetland plant species, such as common reed (Phragmites australis) and purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) have negative impacts on roosting availability for sandhill cranes on the central Platte River.
Active management on the central Platte promotes and sustains wildlife and plant diversity in a landscape matrix of wetlands, river habitat, agricultural fields, and sandpit and gravel mining operations.
A series of bathtubs dot Wyoming’s North Platte River, filling and releasing water for summer irrigation, power generation, and recreation. During western expansion, it became necessary to control the river, building dams and reservoirs that helped to regulate flow between seasons and wet and dry years.
Located at the bottleneck of North America’s central flyway, Nebraska’s Platte River faces significant challenges. Key groups like the Audubon Society’s Rowe Sanctuary and federally-mandated Platte River Recovery Implementation Program, along with many other organizations, are working to protect the river and conserve habitat for the endangered whooping crane, least tern, and threatened piping plover through conservation and education.
Many would assume Little Salt Creek to be little more than a small stream for water to run through with no more than the occasional duck along it. Though it lies only a few yards from a gravel road, which frequently growls with single car traffic through the mornings and afternoon, it is filled with a more life than I could have guessed.
Wet meadows and grasslands are typically hydrologically connected to the river, so they are important for crane courtship, loafing, and bathing areas. They are diverse and secluded, where cranes can roost at times when the river is unsuitable.
Each spring, sandhill cranes communally roost in the braided channels of the Platte River in central Nebraska. The river channel’s shallow areas and in-stream bare sandbars provide protection from predators, allowing the cranes to rest overnight.