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Eastern Kingbird by Mike Benkis

Special Events

Field Notes from the President

I am writing this column on March 21, the second official day of spring 2021. In Eastern Nebraska, we have survived a winter with the second coldest day in modern recorded history – 23 degrees Fahrenheit below zero. Nonetheless, Sandhill Cranes are making their annual epic migration along the Platte River, with approximately 500,000 birds (+/- 50,000) passing through just last week. A small, requisite number of Whooping Cranes dropped in, as well, including my namesake, “Bob,” who has graced the central Platte River for several years now. A true rarity reported this year was a photo-documented Common Crane. Common in Eurasia, Common Cranes rarely traverse the Bering Strait into North America to hook up with Sandhill Cranes while on the Eastern Siberian leg of their migration.

Migrating Sandhill Cranes foreshadow our spring passerine migration, which usually transpires in mid-April and reaches its peak the first week of May. As the pandemic allows, make sure you get out to see the glorious movement of color and the stunning variety of species that mark the spring migration in our area. Grape jelly and oranges for arriving Orioles and nectar for Hummingbirds should go up the last week of April.

During my time on the leadership team, Audubon Society of Omaha has worked strategically to actively promote environmental awareness to our community through education, conservation, and enjoyment of our natural heritage, with a special focus on birds.

Several UNO students teamed up with ASO and Dr. John McCarty, head of the school’s Environmental Science department, to establish the first University Student Audubon Chapter in Nebraska at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Despite the restrictions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic, this chapter has been active in educational programming and fieldwork. And, we were able to continue our monthly member meetings on the Zoom platform.

We also developed a custom education program for area students conducted by professional conservation educators and funded the production of a short film, Fragments, about lead poisoning in raptors, directed by former ASO board member Alex Wiles. ASO members — and the general public — can now view (and share) Fragments through our own YouTube page, as well as enjoy videos of our monthly Zoom member meetings. Several birding “superstars,” including Steve Shunk, Woodpecker specialist, and “super-birder” Noah Stryker, have presented well-received programs for audiences inside and outside our organization.

My years on the ASO board have coincided with continuing federal and state rollbacks that have negatively affected conservation and environmental protection. With help from many other conservation groups, we drove discussions of these critical issues with our members and communicated key concerns to elected officials in writing and in person to amplify your voice and maximize your impact.

One of our most significant initiatives involved planning and executing ASO’s facilities upgrade, which relocated our office from the Center Mall to a new home that includes an office and a medium-sized warehouse that has enabled us to streamline our major fundraiser, the semi-annual birdseed sale. Combined with expanded marketing to increase sales, the new office has proved to be a great success so far.

In 2018, through a generous offer from The Nature Conservancy, we acquired Cuming City Prairie, north of Blair. We also purchased 20 additional acres to expand our existing Omaha Prairie Preserve.

Finally, I am extremely grateful to all of the wonderful people of the Audubon Society of Omaha — members of the board and general members — who have made my stint as president both enjoyable and productive. This is my last president’s column. In August, Christine Jacobsen will take over as ASO’s new president. Christine is the lead educator at Lauritzen Gardens and will be a wonderful asset to ASO as president.

Thank you again for making ASO such a great organization to serve.