With migration underway and spring on our doorstep, now is a great time to get outside, bring some binoculars and walk a trail to see wildlife.

Nebraska has many opportunities thanks to our diverse habitats – everything from prairie to ponderosa pine, wetlands and more than 23,000 miles of rivers and streams. Nebraska’s state parks are an ideal place to see the wildlife they hold, with a vast number of trails located in natural settings.

Here are some of the best parks for wildlife watching this spring:

Ponca State Park: One of Nebraska’s most visited state parks, Ponca State Park is popular for its forested hills, scenic vistas – and great wildlife watching. Observers have tallied a bird list of nearly 300 species for the park and surrounding area, and during peak migration in late April and early May, the park is a hotspot for both amateur and experienced birders. Turkeys also are a common sight at the park, and if you’re lucky, you may spot white-tailed deer along the park’s 22 miles of trails.

Rock Creek Station State Historical Park: History buffs will love exploring this former Pony Express station where James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok began his bloody gunfighting career. But it’s also a great place for birdwatching: More than 6 miles of trails offer outstanding birding opportunities. The prairies host a variety of grassland species, such as grasshopper sparrows, dickcissels and lark sparrows, with barred owls in the woods and bell’s vireo in the shrubs. Watch for Louisiana waterthrush and northern rough-winged swallows along the creek.

Branched Oak State Recreation Area: This park features the largest lake in eastern Nebraska and has long been a popular spot for fishing, boating and camping. It also offers 7 miles of hiking trails, with a multi-use trail along the south side of the lake that provides great wildlife viewing. The lake attracts many birds during early spring, such as gulls, waterfowl and loons. Many species of ducks, as well as double-crested cormorants and American white pelicans, are common during migration. Upland game birds and deer also can be spotted at the park.

Pawnee Prairie Wildlife Management Area: Only 2 miles from the Kansas border, this wildlife management area features native prairie, woodlands, ponds and creeks, which support northern mockingbirds, Carolina wrens, upland sandpipers and loggerhead shrikes. A flock of about 20 greater-prairie chickens gather on a lek near the center of the prairie, about three-quarters of a mile from the perimeter parking lots. No permanent blinds are available, but temporary blinds are allowed; bring one to view the birds in early mornings or late evenings from mid-March to mid-April.

Fort Kearny State Recreation Area: Looking for a place to view sandhill cranes? Fort Kearny is a great spot. From the hike/bike trail 1 mile east of the fort, visitors can see cranes arriving and leaving the river in early morning and late evening, from late February through early April. The trail is well-maintained and handicap accessible. Throughout the year, you can see many bird species from this spot, including bald eagles, geese and ducks in the winter. Stop by the visitor center at the historical park just 1.5 miles west to learn about sandhill crane migration during the peak season.

Lake Ogallala State Recreation Area: Located on the east side of Kingsley Dam and massive Lake McConaughy, Lake Ogallala is a well-known fishing destination – and very attractive to a variety of birds. Visitors can view migrant ducks, ospreys, Caspian terns, cliff swallows, gulls, American white pelicans, double-crested cormorants and other summering species, as well as Canada geese and numerous bald eagles in winter. Camping spots are available along the western and north shorelines of the lake, where the deciduous wooded habitats shelter a rich array of nesting passerines.

Niobrara State Park: Situated at the confluence of the Niobrara and Missouri rivers on Nebraska’s northeastern border, Niobrara State Park offers visitors an array of outdoor experiences, including wildlife viewing. Both white-tailed deer and wild turkeys roam freely throughout the park, and beaver, muskrat and mink prowl the riverbanks. The park also is home to a wide range of birds, including whip-poor-wills, woodpeckers, warblers, shorebirds, and bald eagles and ospreys in season.

Fort Robinson State Park: This stunning park comprises more than 22,000 acres of exquisite Pine Ridge scenery and supports a variety of species, including bighorn sheep, bison, pronghorn and elk. Laced with 130 miles of hiking trails, this park also offers birding opportunities, including chances of seeing species found in the western United States. Search rocky escarpments for nesting rock wrens, golden eagles and prairie falcons. Other species found in the park area include Bullock’s orioles, lazuli buntings, dark-eyed juncos and spotted towhees.

Wildcat Hills: Situated high on a rocky escarpment in the Wildcat Hills, this park offers an escape to the region’s signature rugged topography. An array of wildlife roams here, including wild turkeys, deer, bobcat and coyote. The rugged terrain and ponderosa pines also provide habitat for western bird species. Stop by the visitor center’s bird feeders to see red crossbill, red-breasted and pygmy nuthatches, Cassin’s Finch and lesser goldfinch. Elsewhere in the park, spotted towhees, blue-gray gnatcatchers and common poorwills can be spotted; several raptors, such as golden eagles and prairie falcons, are good possibilities as well. Traverse the park’s 3 miles of trails and keep your eyes out.

As you’re observing wildlife, remember to keep your distance so animals remain comfortable. Choose a good vantage spot, sit for a while, and take in the sights and sounds that these beautiful places have to offer.

Learn more about these parks or start planning a trip at OutdoorNebraska.org.

Virtual option added for Lake Mac walleye discussion

A virtual option to view the March 29 Lake McConaughy public informational meeting on walleye fishing has been added.

The meeting is at 7 p.m. Mountain time at the Lake McConaughy Visitor Center. Find the Zoom link to watch live through the event listing at Calendar.OutdoorNebraska.gov.

Nebraska Game and Parks Commission will discuss fisheries research, changes in stocking and angler surveys, and those in attendance can ask questions, be a part of discussion, and give feedback.

Game and Parks’ recent meetings at the lake with anglers and concessionaires focused on the agency’s 2022 walleye plan for the lake. Those plans include a nighttime creel survey for April and May to evaluate walleye fishing along the dam during the spawn period.

Additionally, plans include stocking 22 million recently hatched walleye in the North Platte River above the lake and in the river-lake interface. There also are plans to stock 1.5 million walleye that are 1.25- to 1.5-inches in length, and a small portion of those will be raised and stocked at a larger 2-2.5-inch size. These stockings will be evaluated to determine which size had most success.

Game and Parks has initiated efforts to establish an advisory group of stakeholders – consisting of local anglers, businesses and guides – to keep lake visitors updated on Lake McConaughy fisheries management and research and to better inform visitors of angling opportunities.

Two angler creel surveys to begin at Lake McConaughy in April

It’s the time of year for Nebraska Game and Parks Commission to survey Lake McConaughy anglers for information that assists in statewide fisheries management decisions. 

Two surveys will be conducted at the state recreation area starting April 1:

  • A daytime survey will take place April through October with clerks approaching anglers at boat ramps and shoreline locations.
  • A nighttime survey on walleye spawn will take place April to May, with survey stations set up at parking lots at the dam where anglers can approach clerks to participate.

Anglers will be interviewed about a single day's fishing effort, including details on what the angler caught, released and how much time they fished. The traditional survey also will question anglers about fishing the dam at night in April or May. The walleye spawn survey will question them about when they fish for walleye at McConaughy and if they fish outside the spawn.

These surveys will provide insights on angler behavior and associated fish catch and harvest related to different seasons and locations of the reservoir. This information will help Game and Parks better understand angler-fish dynamics on the reservoir to guide future management. 

“If you happen to be approached by a clerk this year, please take a few minutes to let them know about your fishing,” said Keith Hurley, fish and wildlife specialist for Game and Parks. “Your few minutes will go a long way in making your fishing even better down the road.”

The surveys will be conducted by University of Nebraska-Lincoln researchers through a partnership between the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and the Nebraska Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit in the School of Natural Resources.

Commissioners approve 2022-2023 waterfowl recommendations

The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission approved 2022-2023 waterfowl hunting season recommendations at its March 23 meeting in Nebraska City.

Staff recommended opening duck season in zones 2 and 4 a week earlier than the 2021-2022 season. Waterfowl recommendations are developed balancing hunter preferences with chronology of migration, hunter harvest, and hunter participation. Goose hunting dates in the North Central Unit start concurrently with duck season, which was strongly preferred by waterfowl hunters in Zone 2.

The full approved 2022-2023 Nebraska waterfowl orders are:

Early Teal:

Low Plains – Sept. 3-18

High Plains – Sept. 3-11

Daily bag limit – six; Possession limit – 18

Youth Hunt:

Zone 1 – Oct. 8-9

Zone 2 – Sept. 24-25

Zone 3 – Oct. 15-16

Zone 4 – Oct. 15-16

Daily bag – Tier 1: six ducks, with restrictions; Tier II: three ducks, any species, any sex; Possession limit – three times the daily bag limit

Duck and Coot:

Zone 1 – Oct. 15-Dec. 27

Zone 2 – Oct. 1-Dec. 13 and Jan. 4-25 (High Plains)

Zone 3 – Oct. 22-Jan. 3 and Jan. 4-25 (High Plains)

Zone 4 – Oct. 22-Jan. 3

Daily bag – Tier 1: six ducks, with restrictions; Tier II: three ducks, any species, any sex; Possession limit – three times the daily bag limit

Dark Goose:

Platte River Unit – Oct. 28-Feb. 9

Niobrara Unit – Oct. 28-Feb. 9

North Central Unit – Oct. 1-Jan. 13

Daily bag limit – five; Possession limit – 15

White-fronted Goose:

Statewide – Oct. 1-Dec. 11 and Jan. 25-Feb. 9

Daily bag limit – two; Possession limit – six

Light Goose Regular Season:

Statewide – Oct. 1-Dec. 28 and Jan. 25-Feb. 9

Daily bag limit – 50; Possession limit – none

Light Goose Conservation Order:

East Zone – Feb. 10-April 15

West Zone – Feb. 10-April 5

Rainwater Basin Zone – Feb. 10-April 5

Daily bag and possession limits – none

Crow:

Statewide – Oct. 15-Dec. 15 and Jan. 13-March 14

Daily bag and possession limits – none

Falconry:

Concurrent with teal, youth and regular duck season dates, plus,

Zone 1 – Feb. 25-March 10

Zone 2 – Low Plains: Feb. 25-March 10; High Plains: Concurrent with all duck season dates in High Plains Zone

Zone 3 – High Plains: Concurrent with all duck season dates in High Plains Zone

Zone 4 – Feb. 25-March 10

The commissioners also amended wildlife regulations to create additional purchase periods for big game permits. The result allows resident hunters to buy deer and antelope permits in non-draw management units before nonresidents, giving residents preference over nonresidents.

Staff also gave a report on the state’s first river otter harvest season, which closed in January. The season, which only allows trapping, opened last Nov. 1. It closed three days after the 75th otter was harvested, per Commission order.

Game and Parks’ goal is to manage and maintain healthy, thriving wildlife populations for the long term. The pilot season will provide data about statewide river otter distribution, while continuing to allow the population to expand.

Staff members Gene Hunt of the Parks Division and Mike Remund of the Wildlife Division received 50- and 45-year service awards, respectively, in recognition for their years of service to the State of Nebraska.

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Jerry Kane
Public Information Officer | [email protected] | 402.471.5008

Change gives resident deer, antelope hunters preference over nonresidents

A regulation change made by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission allows Nebraska hunters to buy deer and antelope permits in non-draw management units before nonresidents.

The commissioners, at their March 23 meeting in Nebraska City, amended wildlife regulations to create additional purchase periods for big game permits. The result gives residents preference over nonresidents.

Pending final approval by the state, the 2022 big game permit and preference point purchase periods are:

Period 1:

June 13-24 – Residents and nonresidents may apply for a preference point or one deer permit in the following draw units: Platte Mule Deer Conservation Area, Frenchman MDCA. Residents and eligible landowners may apply for a preference point or one antelope permit in the following draw units: Banner North, Banner South, Box Butte East, Box Butte West, Cherry, Cheyenne, Dismal, Eastern Sandhills Garden, North Sioux, Prairie Muzzleloader and North Sioux Muzzleloader.

Results of the draw will be available by July 1. Successful applicants will have until July 15 to complete the purchase of their awarded permits. Awarded but unpaid permits will result in the applicant losing preference points and forfeiting the permit. Forfeited permits may be made available to the next unsuccessful applicant, then go to periods 7 and 8.

Period 2:

July 11-Close of seasons – Residents, nonresidents and eligible landowners may buy any unlimited deer and antelope permits.

Period 3:

July 12-Close of seasons – Residents may buy any limited deer permits.

Period 4:

July 13-Close of seasons – Residents may buy any limited antelope permits.

Period 5:

July 25-Close of seasons – Nonresidents may buy any limited deer permits.

Period 6:

July 26-Close of seasons – Nonresidents may buy any limited antelope permits.

Period 7:

Aug. 1-Close of seasons – Residents and nonresidents may buy any remaining draw unit deer permits.

Period 8:

Aug. 2-Close of seasons – Residents, nonresidents and eligible landowners may buy any remaining draw unit antelope permits.

Elk permits have separate dates and remain unaffected by this change.

All applications begin on the first day of each period at 1 p.m. CDT.

Harvey, Wissenburg set high scores at NASP tournament

Harrison Harvey of Lincoln Southwest and Autumn Wissenburg of Milford had the highest male and female scores, respectively, at the National Archery in the Schools Program state tournament March 19 in Lincoln.

Harvey scored 289 points and Wissenburg 278 — out of a possible 300 — to win their respective high school divisions.

Aaron Wohleb of Lincoln Southwest had the second-highest score at 288. Fourth-grader Paul Ng of Omaha’s Mater Dei Academy scored a third-best 283 and also won first place in the elementary male division.

Six-hundred students from 29 schools competed in the event. NASP is an in-school curriculum covering target archery for students in grades 4-12. In Nebraska, more than 300 schools have NASP as part of their physical education curriculum, and nearly 28,000 students participate each school year. The state tournament is the largest archery event in Nebraska.

The results:

NASP State Tournament

Individual

Elementary Female – 1. Charley Carey, Blessed Sacrament, 264; 2. Zoe Nguyen, Blessed Sacrament, 244; 3. Emily Sandquist, Mater Dei Academy, 242; 4. Cayleigh Bird, Tri-City Homeschool, 236; 5. Anastasia Schreiner, St. John the Apostle, 234

Elementary Male – 1. Paul Ng, Mater Dei Academy, 283; 2. Toby Zabel, Tri-City Homeschool, 248; 3. Dillon Laughlin, Lawrence-Nelson, 247; 4. Asher Scott, Tri-City Homeschool, 246; 5. Julian Lerch, Mater Dei Academy, 244

Middle School Female – 1. Ayla Salistean, Milford, 266; 2. Maria Vargas, Mater Dei Academy, 264 (tiebreaker); 3. Natalie Nutzman, Milford, 264; 4. Maddie Hoyle, Pound MS, 262; 5. Gracie Pendergras, Pound MS, 259

Middle School Male – 1. Henry Witte, Pound MS, 274 (tiebreaker); 2. Wyatt Livgren, Lawrence-Nelson, 274; 3. Joseph Wiener, Mater Dei Academy, 271; 4. James Wissenburg, Milford, 269; 5. Jacob Volpp, Pound MS, 266

High School Female – 1. Autumn Wissenburg, Milford, 278; 2. Oona Amelio, Mater Dei Academy, 276 (tiebreaker); 3. Mikenna Gerber, Lincoln Southeast, 276; 4. Olivia Canaday, Lincoln Southwest, 275; 5. Mary Kuck, Mater Dei Academy, 272

High School Male – 1. Harrison Harvey, Lincoln Southwest, 289; 2. Aaron Wohleb, Lincoln Southwest, 288; 3. Gabriel Alcala, Omaha Gross Catholic, 281; 4. Josh Jeffrey, Lincoln Pius X, 279; 5. Ryan Speiker, Lincoln Southeast, 278

Team

High School – 1. Mater Dei Academy, 3,201; 2. Lincoln Southwest, 3,168; 3. Milford, 3,156; Middle School – 1. Pound MS, 3,024; 2. Mater Dei Academy, 2,877; 3. Tri-City Homeschool, 2,819; Elementary – 1. Mater Dei Academy, 2,576; 2. Blessed Sacrament, 2,473; 3. Superior, 2,429

3D Challenge

Individual

High School Female – 1. Ann Ng, Mater Dei Academy, 273; 2. Oona Amelio, Mater Dei Academy, 268; 3. Autumn Wissenburg, Milford, 266; 4. Zoe Hoffmeyer, Lincoln East, 256; 5. Kierra Ostrom, Burwell, 246

High School Male – 1. Harrison Harvey, Lincoln Southwest, 283; 2. Berni Larios, Mater Dei Academy, 279; 3. Pedro Ballestros, Mater Dei Academy, 264; 4. Logan Hershberger, Milford, 263; 5. James Robjohn, Mater Dei Academy, 259

Middle School Female – 1. Ayla Salistean, Milford, 238; 2. Maria Vargas, Mater Dei Academy, 232 (tiebreaker); 3. Natalie Jacobitz, Lawrence-Nelson, 232; 4. Claire Kuck, Mater Dei Academy, 224; 5. Kamryn Wanser, Moore Middle School, 215

Middle School Male – 1. James Wissenburg, Milford, 271; 2. Nathan Pofahl, Lawrence-Nelson Schools, 257; 3. Hudson Lerch, Mater Dei Academy, 255; 4. Chris Wissenburg, St. James, 249; 5. Joseph Wiener, Mater Dei Academy, 248

Elementary Female – 1. Avery Ostdiek, Lawrence-Nelson, 235; 2. Brooklyn Devall, Tri-City Homeschool, 213; 3. Ava Steffes, Mater Dei Academy, 208; 4. Sarah Rhoades, Tri-City Homeschool, 173; 5. Charley Kathman, Lawrence-Nelson, 157

Elementary Male – 1. Paul Ng, Mater Dei Academy, 273; 2. Dillon Laughlin, Lawrence-Nelson, 266; 3. Joel Hoelting, Lawrence-Nelson, 241; 4. Tripp Ostdiek, Lawrence-Nelson, 235; 5. Julian Lerch, Mater Dei Academy, 225

Team

High School – 1. Mater Dei Academy, 1,600; 2. Milford, 1,522; 3. Duchesne Academy, 1,010; Middle School – 1. Mater Dei Academy, 1,419; 2. Lawrence-Nelson, 1,338; 3. Tri-City Homeschool, 1,286; Elementary – 1. Lawrence-Nelson, 1,355; 2. Mater Dei Academy, 1,211; 3. Tri-City Homeschool, 1,199

Nebraska Bowhunters Association Sportsmanship Trophy – Lincoln North Star

Nebraska Endowment Scholarship – Females: Olivia Canaday, Lincoln Southwest, $2,000; Mikenna Gerber, Lincoln Southeast, $1,000; Autumn Wissenburg, Milford, $500; Males: Aaron Wohleb, Lincoln Southwest, $2,000; Harrison Harvey, Lincoln Southwest, $1,000; Paul Ng, Mater Dei Academy, $500

SACO Duels – 1. Mater Dei Academy; 2. Pound MS; 3. Lincoln North Star; 4. Lincoln Northeast

Prescribed burns planned in the Pine Ridge

Managers of public lands in the Pine Ridge are planning to conduct prescribed burning as conditions allow in coming weeks.

Both the the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and U.S. Forest Service have developed burn plans for properties in Dawes and Sioux counties.

Land managers use prescribed burning to reduce hazardous fuels and invasion of undesirable plant species. It also enhances vegetation for wildlife nesting, loafing and brood rearing cover.

Game and Parks plans to start with Bordeaux Wildlife Management Area and Peterson WMA on Friday, March 25. If conditions allow, they also will burn at Chadron Creek Ranch, Bighorn, Ponderosa and Gilbert-Baker WMAs this spring.

The Forest Service is planning to burn at the Slicker Allotment about 5 miles south of Chadron next week.