Migratory Mecca…

Author:  Paul A. Johnsgard

Seasons of the Tallgrass Prairie cover (180x279)For most Americans, the state of Nebraska epitomizes the “flyover state”.  Whether traveling by jet or Interstate, the Cornhusker state is most often passed by on the way to more exotic locales.  But for those of an ornithological bent, Nebraska is a flyover state of a more attractive sort.  Smack dab in the middle of the Central Flyway, the state serves as a key stopover site for millions of migrating birds every spring and fall, providing an opportunity for gravitationally limited humans to observe one of North America’s most amazing natural spectacles.  Noted ornithologist Paul A. Johnsgard, a professor at the University of Nebraska, has spent most of his life studying these migratory events and the dozens of different bird species that pass through the state’s many natural areas each year.  Recently, he’s compiled an abundance of practical knowledge into a slender, information-packed volume, entitled Seasons of a Tallgrass Prairie.

A Wilson's phalarope, stalking its prey.

A Wilson’s phalarope, stalking its prey.


Organized seasonally, Johnsgard presents many of the natural cycles that occur throughout the state, with a particular focus on the numerous protected wetlands that host such an abundance of avian migrants each year.  While he discusses the lives of many birds – from owls and pelicans to snow geese and peregrine falcons – he spends much of the book exploring the world of the sandhill crane, which takes its name from the Sand Hills in the dry western half of the state.  Basing much of his commentary on his own observations and research over the past five decades, the author’s expertise is presented in a fully accessible and passionate style.

Dawn on the Platte River with hundreds of raucous sandhill cranes.

Dawn on the Platte River with hundreds of raucous sandhill cranes.

Displaying some well-deserved pride in Nebraska’s dozens of wonderfully preserved natural areas – many of which he had a hand in developing – Johnsgard provides extensive details for anyone who’s interested in exploring the state themselves.  From the best times and locations for spotting a Wilson’s phalarope or a long-billed dowitcher to the specifics on the state’s numerous yearly bird-watching festivals, the book is valuable resource for any aspiring birders or nature lovers.

Serving as a source of quality nature writing as well as an ornithological guidebook, Seasons of the Tallgrass Prairie is highly recommended for anyone interested in learning more about the many natural areas of Nebraska.   This crane fanatic is hoping to head down Interstate 80 sometime soon to check out the migratory spectacle and maybe spot a whooping crane or two.

— D. Driftless

phalarope photo by Dominic Sherony / crane photo by Larry Crist

Many thanks to the University of Nebraska Press for the review copy.

Other reviews of books from the University of Nebraska Press:

The Days are Gods   /   Fu-Go   /   In the Shadows of a Fallen Wall

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