- Associated Press - Saturday, February 20, 2016

GIBBON, Neb. (AP) - The focus at Audubon’s Rowe Sanctuary always has been on what is best for birds that use the Platte River and adjacent habitats.

Kearney Hub (https://bit.ly/1KsrGs2 ) reports that its mission has led to some changes for the 2016 sandhill crane migration season in photography rules for visitors taking tours to Rowe’s blinds along the river.

Rowe Sanctuary Director Bill Taddicken said some of the needed changes were revealed in surveys of tour participants the past three years. The staff had email addresses for about 1,500 of the 6,000 people who took tours, and 700-800 responded to the survey.

“That was pretty amazing that we got that kind of response,” Taddicken said. “We’re trying to make it a better experience for everybody.”

One clear message was that tripods in the blinds are tripping hazards and take up too much room in a space holding up to 32 people for each morning or evening tour. Monopods for cameras still will be allowed for the general tours March 5 to April 10.

Another issue is controlling light within the blind with growing use of cameras, camera phones and other devices with large LED screens. “That’s where you light up faces in the windows and that’s part of the problem,” Taddicken said.

“There now will be a point in the day (morning and evening) when the guides will tell people in the blinds when they can use their cameras and when they can’t,” he said.

Tour participants already are required to turn off camera flashes and continuous shooting modes, and have black tape placed over focusing lights.

Taddicken said photography on general tours will be allowed when it is light enough outside to ensure that light from LED screens won’t scare sandhill cranes on river sandbar roosts.

Tablets are not allowed and all phones, including those used as cameras, must be set to “silent” or “airplane” mode during the tours. Nothing - long camera lenses, binoculars, hands or faces - can extend outside blind windows.

“It’s an effort to protect the birds and make a good experience for everybody,” Taddicken said about the new and continuing rules. “This is coming from visitors and guides, and it’s just our desire and mission to protect these birds from disturbance.”

For the general tours, the fee is $25 March 5 to 17 and April 4 to 10, and $35 March 18 to April 3.

Rowe Sanctuary is offering a new $60-per-person evening crane tour specifically for photographers from March 18 to April 9. Taddicken said only five people and a guide will be on each photography tour to allow space to spread out and to use tripods and continuous shooting modes.

For an even closer, more individualized experience, two-person overnight photo blinds set up near crane roost sites in the river can be reserved for $225 per night from March 18 to April 9.

All blind reservations can be made by calling Rowe Sanctuary at 308-468-5282.

Taddicken estimated that about 18,000 visitors came to the Iain Nicolson Audubon Center southwest of Gibbon during the 2015 migration season, with all 50 states and 66 other countries represented.

As has been the case for the past several years, Platte River flows are high for late winter and early spring in 2016.

“It should be good,” Taddicken said, looking at the river through windows along the north side of the Nicolson Center. “You still can see sandbars just below the surface.”

He added that the wide and shallow river between the Minden (Highway 10) and Gibbon (Lowell Road) bridges has been maintained by the work of Rowe Sanctuary staff over the past 40-plus years.

Visitors benefit from those natural and man-maintained conditions because sandhill cranes likely will spread out more when roosting on the river this migration season.

“We don’t want them all in one bucket,” Taddicken said.

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Information from: Kearney Hub, https://www.kearneyhub.com/


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