I’ve been working along the Central Platte River in Nebraska for close to 30 years now. Despite that, I’ve actually spent relatively little time in the river itself. As a grassland ecologist, most of my time has been focused on nearby prairies. The river sustains the groundwater beneath those prairies and it draws the sandhill cranes and geese that provide an annual soundtrack each spring. It’s much more than that, of course, but those are the attributes I’ve paid the most attention to.
During the last couple weeks, my college-age son John has been bugging me to take him out to splash around in the Platte. Last week, we found some time on a hot afternoon and enjoyed a couple hours in a quiet stretch of river – wading through channels, squishing through mud and sand, chasing toads, and more. It was so much fun that we couldn’t keep it to ourselves and we made another trip a couple days later, bringing Kim, Calvin and Atticus with us.
While the boys had noisy fun on a sandbar and Kim enjoyed some quiet time on another (far away) sandbar, I meandered around with my camera. As I did, I wondered why this kind of river exploration is such a rare part of my nature-based activities. I spent much of my time in a backwater channel (connected to the main channel only at the downstream end) where tiny fish and tadpoles zipped around much slower snails and other aquatic creatures. Killdeer and spotted sandpipers patrolled nearby, and red-winged blackbirds noisily let me know when I was too close to a nest on the higher, more vegetated islands.
Woodhouse’s toads were regulating their temperatures by sitting in shallow depressions in the wet sand. After I startled the first one out of its hole, I got better at spotting them before I got close enough to make them nervous. By slowly approaching them and staying low to the ground, I even managed to get a couple photos of them.
It won’t come as a big revelation to most of you that rivers are a fun place to explore. It’s not exactly a revelation to me either, but it’s certainly an opportunity I’ve not taken advantage of very often. Hopefully, I’ll be a little less neglectful in the future. If I forget, I’m guessing the kids will remind me…