08 November 2018

Details of FOIA Request on Proposed Burying Beetle Mitigation Site

In latter October and early November information was received from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – via a Freedom of Information Act request - regarding the selection of a proposed mitigation site north of Brewster, Blaine County, for the endangered American Burying Beetle (Nicrophorus americanus; as initially designated July 13, 1989). This request was made in association with the r-project as proposed by the Nebraska Public Power District. This entity has requested an incidental take permit from the federal agency to allow it to construct an industrial powerline through the middle of the sandhills and which has been indicated as having an impact, i.e., taking of the beetle. Taking is a euphemism for beetles being killed due to actions of NPPD to construct and maintain the proposed industrial powerline.

Associated with the r-project environmental statement, addressing impacts was a requirement. The following is a consideration of one aspect, the so-called mitigation site.

Site Details

A NPPD email dated December, 2017, and from an environmental specialist for NPPD stated: "I have not sent maps due to the confidentiality of our negotiations with the landowner, however we also cannot move ahead with those negotiations without the concurrence of the FWS and NGPC that the parcel is desirable as ABB mitigation lands. We do have ABB data showing the area is high quality ABB habitat."

The proposed mitigation site chosen by NPPD is a “relatively flat lowland meadow” adjacent to Highway 7 in German Valley, eight miles north of Brewster, Blaine County. The acres are near St. John’s Church located at the corner of the highway and German Valley Road.

The west side of the mitigation site would be the highway and there it would be beneath the alignment proposed for the r-project transmission line. On the east side is cropland pivot land. The property tract extends for a longer distance south to north, than from east to west.

Details for the 594-acre proposal were given in an email from NPPD to the FWS and Nebraska Game and Parks Commission early in 2018. Along with a brief summary, a property parcel map, a table of beetle survey results, an overall beetle occurrence map for the region, it also included this particular topic:

“American Burying Beetle Data – The property has some of the highest ABB abundance numbers in the data set used by the USFWS to calculate the 99th percentile for purposes of the take estimate. This property was trapped as part of NPPD’s survey effort associated with calculating take. In 2016, there was a trap on this property that captured 46 ABB in five nights of survey, which would put it in the 98th percentile. There are 23 historic surveys within one mile of the property. Only two of those traps have zero captures, and neither was a five-night survey.


“NPPD’s surveys in 2016 and 2017 show that the area of the proposed mitigation property has the highest ABB numbers of any of the areas we surveyed.”


“NPPD believes that protection and enhancement of this property will fulfill the mitigation obligation of the R-Project.”

An email stated that the property would “meet the criteria of 500 acres of ABB habitat” required as mitigation for any incidental take associated with the transmission line.

The NPPD representative said in one email that a mitigation site management plan would be prepared in “concurrence with the USFWS and NGPC” … This plan would have a goal to further enhance the number of ABB. Habitat restoration would also be a possibility on the property, NPPD staff said.

NPPD initiated correspondence regarding the suitability of the mitigation site soon after a site visit, based on an email dated March 29 from the primary NPPD environmental specialist. It is quite indicative that the initial town locality as indicated by the power company email was Burwell, in January 2018. This text is indicative: “During our discussion about potential mitigation land near Burwell there were several question [questions; sic, i.e. a paradoxical mistake] which | indicated [sic. I] would try and get information on. What I could find is I [sic] the attached file.”

The site being discussed was actually north of Brewster, and many miles away in a completely different county. This email is seemingly written in haste due repetitive grammatical errors. Might the “|” be attributed to a computer glitch? Okay. The significant topic of this email was associated with hydrology and how it would be suitably monitored at the mitigation site locality.

“Based on the sight [sic; = site; misspelling in email document provided] visit to the potential mitigation land on March 26, 2018 it was determined that the parcel as depicted in the attached file ‘Mitigation Land Acquisition Layout A 594 acres’ would meet the needs for mitigation land outlined in the Draft Habitat Conservation Plan associated with NPPD’s application for an incidental Take Permit for American Burying Beetles, according to an email sent to FWS and NGPC from James Jenniges, senior environmental specialist for NPPD.

“NPPD will work with the current landowner on modifications to the boundary to see if existing fences can be used instead of the straight lines on the map. If that is possible it would add some additional acres of meadow habitat to the final total.”

...“As soon as the appropriate individuals from your agencies respond that this parcel will meet the mitigation needs in the Draft Habitat Conservation Plan NPPD will proceed with acquiring the land in fee title.”

When NPPD had not received a reply on the proposal sent to FWS or NGPC within about a dozen days, another email was sent requesting a response. The staff of the FWS and NGPC were thus urged to respond. Both agencies acquiesced, so by mid-April 2018, two emails had been sent indicating an acceptance of the proposed mitigation site.

“The property you mention in your email below will meet the needs of the HCP in terms of being suitable mitigation for the federally endangered American burying beetle. We look forward to working with NPPD on preparation of a restoration plan for the area for the benefit of the benefit of the beetle,” as expressed by an email dated April 10 from Robert Harms to NPPD.

“Staff of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission have determined the property NPPD proposes to acquire is suitable for mitigating impacts, related to the R-Project, on the state and federally listed endangered American burying beetle,” as expressed by an email dated April 11, 2018 from Michelle Koch, of the agency.

Later in the month, NPPD indicated that they would “work on getting” the site bought from the willing seller.

In early November 2018, the site was still owned by a private landowner with an address outside the county, according to what was indicated by details presented by the Blaine county gis website.

Site Visit Communications

Several emails associated with staff from the FWS, NPPD and Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, basically dealt with have a meeting to evaluate map and site visit details to the proposed mitigation site. None of the subsequent emails received indicated whether a site visit even occurred, and if so, a date of such an occurrence.

An email as sent by FWS, Denver, and dated April, 2017, indicated: "NPPD also prepared a draft land restoration plan detailing measures to restore beetle habitat, as well as measures NPPD is volunteering to implement to restore fragile sandy soils and other habitats disturbed by R-Project construction and potential emergency repairs."

Details associated with general goal would have been indicated in the draft environmental impact statement as subsequently issued for public review and commentary.

FOIA Request Details

The FOIA request was received July 30, 2018 by the FWS. An initial email response dated October 17, 2018 came from an agency office in Colorado, when 21 pertinent documents were identified. To summarize:

"Our review of these documents is complete and the following is our determination on thirteen (13) of the documents:"

"1. We are releasing to you in their entirety two (2) documents (6 pages); and
"2. Eleven (11) documents (17 pages) are not responsive to your request.
"The remaining eight (8) documents (21 pages) contain potential confidential business information or financial information of the NPPD."

A dvd with an additional 24 pages of email communications was received November 1st. It had the most useful and pertinent details.

Commentary

Though the proposed mitigation might be considered a commendable effort because of a legal requirement it is substandard. There are some obvious topics worth considering that can readily be considered as concerns with the chosen site.

Especially notable is the chosen mitigation site. It does not seem reasonable to enhance meadow features at a locality that already is amidst a region with largest populations of the American Burying Beetle. Obviously the population is already, apparently, healthy and thriving.

It should be noted that the method used to determine the number of ABB present somewhere relies upon using an artificial attractant. Survey results in no way actually represent the actual, natural presence of these beetles upon the acres of some parcel. With the ability of these strong-flying beetles to travel many miles during the night, they may have arrived from somewhere distant because of an apparent and readily available food source. Because of this, the number of beetles denoted is not a representative indicator of the extent of any naturally occurring population present at the proposed mitigation site.

Any extent of beetles present was certainly the result of a valid survey. It is, however, a faux claim by NPPD to convey that the site where the bugs were found is actually their home place. A meadow over one hill or another hill might actually be a best place of residence where the adults breed and create burrows for larvae of the next generation.

It is certain that NPPD will not be providing any supplementary food source to achieve the mitigation goals that are legally required to meet requirements for any expected taking of ABB. So the question is, how can more beetles suitably survive on the same few acres?

Certainly there could be other potential mitigation sites where focused management efforts might establish habitat that could provide a suitably new safe haven for the species. Mitigation is meant to moderate for any “take instances” across the corridor of the r-project industrial powerline. With such a wide-spread potentiality, the mitigation effort should reflect this and broaden the range of the species, and not just get more of the beetles in a concentrated area. To put it bluntly, get more beetles at a place so that when maintenance trucks travel along the powerline, they might be able to kill more ABBs.

It is essential to have the broadest range of occurrence possible to allow for potential impacts due to weather events, landscape changes due to climate variation (i.e., drought) and other factors. The NPPD proposal is just the opposite.

The FWS and NGPC approval of the mitigation site proposal was done without any input from the public. Interested people should have been allowed to review the plan and provide comments. The result could have perhaps been improved. But for NPPD to get the “green light” from two public agencies, as done without public knowledge at the time, is a disservice to concerned citizens.

Having a mitigation site and increasing a beetle population adjacent to a state highway, albeit one with a relatively low extent of traffic is senseless. Such a situation could readily result in an increase in the number of beetles struck by passing vehicles. Scientific findings indicate a beetle might fly up to about 18 miles in one night (FWS report). If they fly west will they get smashed by a semi? Will light-beams from vehicles have a greater influence since the mitigation goal is for more numbers of the nocturnally-active beetles at the same location? Will there need to be signs put in place warning drivers to slow down to watch for flying endangered beetles? Any death of a beetle is considered a “taking” and punishable, according to federal laws, so would vehicles going along the highway during the primary activity season of the beetles need to wait until daylight, or for regular travelers, would they need an incidental take permit? Ludicrous for certain, but why have a mitigation site that increases threats for survival of beetles officials are trying to conserve!

It is nonsensical to select a mitigation site along the r-project corridor. There is no known information on how such a high-voltage powerline might influence survival of the species. Could “power leakage” from the lines have a negative impact on survival of the species, perhaps especially on their vulnerable larvae? Could the powerline influence behavior that might also reduce survivability?

Selecting site with a known high-density of ABB would also constrict genetic diversity. Variability and adaptation occurs in response to weather conditions, survivability, prey base, habitat conditions and many other factors. More beetles at the same place does not provide the variety in influences that would promote the genetic variety and most essentially adaptability changes essential for vitality and species survival.

With the cost to purchase the property being proposed, could there possibly be more cost effective sites available, to reduce the overall expense to electricity rate payers. In the information received through the FOIA request, there were no details indicated on whether there was any comparison of the suitability of multiple sites.

There was no indication how a qualified, non-participant individual with ABB expertise provided some sort of outside review. This should be an essential to indicate the validity of any project proposal.

Will there be food source limitations if a local population is increased? Competition for carrion prey is a known limiter for any population, according to a FWS report on the biology of the species. The extent of available carrion would be greater across a wide-spread area in comparison to a limited site.

The FWS document stated: “historically large expanses of natural habitat that once supported high densities of indigenous species are now artificially fragmented, supporting fewer or lower densities of indigenous species that once supported ABB populations, and also facilitating increased competition for limited carrion resources among the ‘new’ predator/scavenger community.”

This could be interpreted as indicating there are already stressors on populations of the ABB. NPPD may tout the populations of beetles they have found during surveys, but these results are only short-term results. There is no historic information available in order to make any authoritative comparison for the long-term and to truly know the requirements essential to ensure survival of this large carrion beetle.

There is no indication whether grazing would be used as a site management practice. This would have to certainly be addressed in any cooperative management plan. There is also no known indication on how any acceptable management plan would get proper scrutiny.

For NPPD to indicate the purchase of a mitigation site, as was indicated in an April, 2018 email shows a continued arrogance as has been regularly conveyed during the development process for the r-project. How can the district purchase a tract when they do not even have any federal agency approval for the r-project. Though there is an indication that no purchase has occurred, there is no information indicating whether any legal “right-of-purchase” agreement has been signed with the property owner.

A final comment: this mitigation proposal for the American Burying Beetle appears to be another example of NPPD “forcing” through its proposal and forcing the public to have no alternative but acceptance. The proposal is filled with a lack of consideration for details essential when considering a little endangered species.

05 November 2018

September and October Birds at Valentine

The autumn months of September and October of 2018 had typical conditions for the Valentine. There was one snow event but the results quickly melted and with ample continuing rainfall, vegetation continued to thrive. The localities visited were similar for these two months starting in 2015. Temperate days with slight winds were certainly appreciated.

These are some of the more notable occurrences for the period. Birds are present daily so the big decision is what days will records be kept? Records are kept most notably for occurrences of irregular or new species, and the tally then filled with what typically occurs. Every day is a good day to bird-watch in and about Valentine. Foibles might result in contrary actions, or lack thereof.

  • Trumpeter Swan: the arrival and continued occurrence from 23 Oct to the 27th of a single adult was especially notable at the Valentine Mill Pond, because of the dearth of previous sightings. This big fowl was at the low flats just west of the primary pond pier. This is an area where some community members have been searching for funds so the pond could be dredged to reestablish open water conditions. A single swan returned on a first day of November.
  • Ducks: various species feed on the pond-weed and other vegetation that occur because of shallow-water and marsh conditions at different places amidst the overall extent of the pond from its dam, westward to huge berm constructed for the Highway 83 travelway.
  • Wild Turkey: a group of two families with a female and five young and another female with a single young were regularly seen, and they often appreciate the regularly-placed seed on the front walk of my shack. One or another mother turkey is attentive to her brood which make their way in dominance. The parent is most attentive to the situation to ensure safety for all of them. Some male turkeys have arrived once in a while and they certainly strut using vocalizations, feather displays including tail feather spreads and antagonistic behavior to establish their dominance. Turkeys have so many feathers which they regularly shake around. The littlest young turkey has been seen dealing with abuse from associated older juveniles of a different brood with their larger size and natural dominance. They chase around to get rid of competition for the black sunflower seeds they prefer. What is not understood why these birds leave their droppings in the middle of food they are eating? The results remain while the flock goes elsewhere. At least the spot has been cleaned when there was enough rain-water to sweep away the mess.
  • Golden Eagle: a magnificent juvenile was languidly soaring over the mill pond and was a new addition to the local birdlist.
  • Sandhill Crane: would have been more prevalent during their southward migration than the single record indicates. Other regional reports, notably on ebird, provide other indications of seasonal occurrence.
  • Greater Yellowlegs: likely occurs more than the single observation of a busy shorebird indicates.
  • Rock Dove: even though there are only a couple of records, the species is a permanent resident and most notable near the livestock market, which is not always along my street-way travel route.
  • Common Nighthawk: the lack of noted occurrences of migratory flocks is an obvious difference from a previous year. Site and date details were similar, but the right times were lacking this year.
  • Belted Kingfisher: probably more prevalent than indicated, but obviously they were not observed to the usual extent at suitable habitat for fishing along Minnechaduza Creek, as previously observed.
  • Eastern Bluebird: very transient though it is a regular resident. What is needed to get them to a feeder is not known because that would be a laudable goal and a great addition to bird-watching from my tiny shack.
  • American Robin: numerous and prevalent while busy among the trees and lawns at different spots about Valentine.
  • Sparrows: during the end of the period, the arrival of winter species was readily obvious.
  • Dark-eyed Junco: arrival appreciated as the first birds of the season were busy eating weed seeds, but eventually they found the spread bird seed and have been the visitors in the morning, even before the time of the sunrise.
  • Northern Cardinal: permanent residents but the population is so sparse that they are not seen very often. They are known to appreciate privately situated bird-feeders.

The overall tally for the two months was 64 species. There were 14 dates of record.

Proper Name      Julian Date > 253 257 265 270 271 272 275 277 279 282 296 297 298 300
Canada Goose 8 8 6 - - 8 - - 8 - - 19 28 23 - - - - 19
Trumpeter Swan - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 1 1 1 1
Wood Duck - - 11 - - 2 - - - - 2 - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Northern Shoveler - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 5 - - - - - - - - - -
Gadwall - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 4 - - - - - - 7 26
American Wigeon - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 2 - - - - - -
Green-winged Teal - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 2 - - - - - - - - - -
Wild Turkey 16 6 8 - - - - - - 11 - - 8 8 8 - - - - 8
Pied-billed Grebe - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 1 - -
Great Blue Heron 1 1 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Great Egret 1 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Turkey Vulture 8 11 12 - - 6 8 115 16 - - 9 - - - - - - - -
Golden Eagle - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 1
Sharp-shinned Hawk - - - - - - - - - - - - 1 - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Red-tailed Hawk 1 - - 1 - - - - - - - - 1 1 1 - - - - 1 1
Sandhill Crane - - - - - - - - 48 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Killdeer 1 - - - - - - - - - - 1 - - 2 - - - - - - - - - -
Greater Yellowlegs - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 1
Rock Dove - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 2 - - - - - - 18 - -
Eurasian Collared Dove 11 6 8 - - 9 - - 6 5 3 7 9 8 3 19
Mourning Dove 3 6 2 2 - - - - 4 - - - - 1 - - - - - - - -
Great Horned Owl - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 1 - - - - - - - - - - 1
Common Nighthawk 9 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Belted Kingfisher - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 1 - - - -
Red-headed Woodpecker - - - - 1 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Downy Woodpecker 1 - - 1 - - - - - - 1 - - 1 1 1 - - 1 - -
Hairy Woodpecker - - - - - - - - - - - - 1 - - - - - - - - 1 - - - -
Northern Flicker 1 3 - - - - 4 - - 1 - - 2 2 1 - - 1 1
Eastern Phoebe - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 1 - - - - - - - - - -
Western Kingbird - - 1 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Eastern Kingbird 1 - - 1 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Great Crested Flycatcher 1 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Blue Jay 3 2 6 3 2 - - 3 1 4 3 3 - - 1 1
American Crow - - - - 1 - - - - - - 455 2 1 - - 2 4 - - 3
Cedar Waxwing 11 - - 20 - - - - - - 10 - - - - 14 - - - - 20 14
Black-capped Chickadee 5 - - 2 - - - - - - 3 - - 2 - - 2 - - - - - -
Marsh Wren - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 5
House Wren 2 2 - - - - - - 1 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Red-breasted Nuthatch - - 2 1 - - - - - - 2 - - - - 1 1 - - 3 3
White-breasted Nuthatch 1 1 1 - - - - - - 1 - - - - 2 5 - - 1 2
Grey Catbird 2 - - 1 - - 1 - - 1 - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Brown Thrasher 1 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Common Starling - - - - 2 - - - - - - - - - - 5 - - 2 - - 27 - -
Eastern Bluebird 1 - - 4 - - 4 - - 6 4 6 - - 1 6 - - 2
American Robin 50 30 105 25 - - - - 10 10 - - 25 50 - - 35 55
House Sparrow 25 - - 20 - - 20 - - 10 - - 15 - - 10 - - - - 10
House Finch 3 2 8 7 - - - - 15 6 - - 4 10 - - - - - -
American Goldfinch - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 3 2 3
Nashville Warbler - - - - - - - - - - 1 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Common Yellowthroat - - 2 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Yellow-breasted Chat - - - - - - - - - - 1 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Red-winged Blackbird - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 20 - - - - 67
Common Grackle 35 - - - - 6 - - - - 325 - - 20 6 5 - - - - 5
Song Sparrow - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 1 - - - - - - - - - -
Lincoln's Sparrow - - - - - - - - - - 3 - - - - - - 1 - - - - 1 - -
Harris's Sparrow - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 1 6 7 3 3 4
White-crowned Sparrow - - - - - - - - - - 1 1 - - 1 2 - - - - - - - -
White-throated Sparrow - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 2 - - 1 - - - -
Dark-eyed Junco - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 1 - - 20 - - 13 55
Savannah Sparrow - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 2 - - - - - - - -
American Tree Sparrow - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 2 2
Clay-colored Sparrow - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 6 5 - - - - - - - -
Spotted Towhee - - - - - - 1 1 - - 2 - - 1 5 - - - - - - - -
Northern Cardinal 1 - - 1 - - - - - - - - - - - - 2 - - - - - - - -

The tally for these two months compares to previous reports: 2017 - 69 species on 18 dates of record; 2016 - 63 on 27 dates of record; and, 2015 - 53 on 31 dates of record. The composite tally is 93 species for these two months in 2015-2018.

Occurrence of Cedar Waxwing increased, based upon the numbers based on multiple records of observation for a few years. Numbers are significantly different so this species is apparently living well in this region. They can be seen in the Heart City, at the Valentine Mill Pond and also amidst the North Lake Shore Hills.

Species that should have been better observed included...

1. Chimney Swift in the city but there is a nearly complete lack of effort to bicycle again to chimney places after having already been nearby in the morning when these bugeaters were elsewhere
2. gathered Turkey Vulture at their local roost at Government Pond, and
3. a meadowlark or two that might have been heard or seen if the bicycle was ridden further, perhaps to the city cemetery.

There was no Western Osprey present this season though they have been very obvious in previous years. So this years' results can be attributed to lack of occurrence. Also not observed was the subtle Townsend's Solitaire which could have been expected, though it was subsequently observed in early November.

31 October 2018

A Most Beautiful Trumpeter Swan at the Mill Pond

One of the most wonderful birds of our earthly world recently lingered at the Valentine Mill Pond. It was an adult Trumpeter Swan that was present for a few days from October 23rd to 27th. During its daily routine it walked about on sandy flats or stood in shallow waters just west of the pond pier. This occurrence is significant because this great swan was an adult and alone. Trumpeter Swan do not typically occur alone. They mate for life, and are very dedicated to their family. Perhaps this adult bird lost its mate and the Mill Pond was a mourning place?

The occurrence of this bird was the fifth time this species has been known to occur at the pond in the past three years. While this beautiful bird continues to survive, it has been a wonder of nature notably enjoyed at the suitable habitat of the mill pond, along with the several Canada Goose, some transitory gabbling Gadwall amidst the pondweed and a Greater Yellowlegs busy in its foraging. At least my looking around meant the Pied-billed Grebe was seen on its day. A special sighting also during the weekend was a dark-phase Red-tailed Hawk perched in a tree that was not pleased with my hiking about intrusion amidst nature lands, and then a bit later, soaring above in a cerulean autumn sky was another bird wonder, a juvenile Golden Eagle.

A swan was once again present on the morning of November 1.

Addition to Cardinal Occurrence in Niobrara Valley of Cherry County

A singular sighting of a male Northern Cardinal is indicative of further occurrence at its western range along the Niobrara River valley of Cherry county.

On October 20, 2018 a male cardinal was seen flying across the river just south of the county road bridge along the South Eli Road. This may not seem to be significant, but it is a westernmost occurrence known of this species in the Niobrara valley.

In 2004, this species was observed at the Jim Gray Place situated at the Niobrara River at the Highway 61 crossing south of Merriman.

To the eastward it was recorded at Mogle Falls, about 12 miles distance. Other previous sightings dating originally to 2004 are known for three locations on the northern side of McKelvie National Forest, including Anderson Bridge WMA with multiple dates through 2017, Chat Canyon WMA through 2010 (a.k.a. Circle J Reserve as previously designated prior to its purchase by the State of Nebraska) and the Hand Exclosure on the northern edge of the forest. The cardinal is regularly seen near Valentine.

At the Niobrara Pasture locality, along the river south of Gordon in Sheridan county, there were no cardinal seen during the mid-2000s.

It is very likely that this species has been present at this locality for some time, but just not seen since no birders have visited the locality and recorded their observations.

20 September 2018

September Survey of Lakeland Wildbirds

It had been many years since the numerous lakes and wetlands in the Lakeland district of southwest Brown county had been visited so the gathering of Nebraska birders and knowing that they would visit the district prompted a Saturday outing on September 15th. It was a morning with fog prevalent, but reaching the first locale of Clear Lake at 8 a.m., conditions for observing wildbirds on the lakes became okay. Each site was visited and records kept for each during the primary observation time of two hours. Two spotting scopes as individually used were essential for getting distant views during a fine birding outing. After noon, white cap waves and heat shimmer occurred as conditions deteriorated for bird watching activities.

This is a list of the placenames in their entirety as used for personal database record keeping. Sites are listed in the order visited:

  • Clear Lake, Philbrick Lake Quadrangle; permission to take a look around provided by a cabin owner mowing the lawn as he wanted chores done before the start of the Big Red football game.
  • Chain Lakes, Koshopah NE Quadrangle; a series of three lakes that can be readily viewed from a distance from a vantage point or two along the county road to the south of the lakes.
  • Willow Lake Brown County WMA; numerous gulls were floating in the center of the lake but their distance made it difficult to determine identifications, but general characteristics indicated that the majority were the same species. Further observations by the NOUers added records of occurrence for additional species, during and after the lunch break. The latrine structure here was decrepit and people present had to wander into the trees and grass to take care of business. This place can be a nice place to camp or visit but the lack of attention to an essential and necessary maintenance — especially of the latrine — by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission diminishes any appreciation. At least the picnic tables were not anchored so they could be moved together so the group could congregate and talk among ourselves.
  • Enders Lake
  • Enders Basin; the depth of water was exceptionally greater than had ever been observed, with the usual shallow water channel between this lake and Enders Lake several feet underwater. There was no shorebird habitat present as has been appreciated during multiple previous visits.
  • Schoolhouse Marsh; prominently open water with associated species mostly along its western upland extent.
  • Long Lake, Philbrick Lake Quadrangle; along the drive along the south side of the lake and towards the recreation area, there were hundreds of Monarch butterflies gathered in the cedar trees, and were getting active in the sunshine during our passage along the trail road. It was an amazing sight to see them gathered on the foliage or as bunches in short airborne flights dramatic in contrast against the blue sky.
  • Long Lake SRA; visited after an intrusion through the yard of the resident rancher that knows that people can drive through his yard anytime as they traverse an indicated route to the state property.
  • Philbrick Lake; water birds not present.
  • AGA Marsh WMA (American Game Association Marsh WMA, which is one of the earliest designated wildlife management areas in the state of Nebraska); butterflies were also prevalent and some of the NOUers took pictures but their attempt was not something of any significance but at least they tried to get a photographic memory.
  • Philbrick Valley Meadow
  • Clapper Lake; only very obvious species as seen from a distance.

There was a dearth of waterfowl with the most significant sighting being five Trumpeter Swan at AGA Marsh WMA which included a pair and a large cygnet. Ducks were most often associated with small, ephemeral wetlands alongside county roads. The big flock of Wild Turkey were at the Wales Ranch, on the southern edge of AGA Marsh WMA. Pelicans and cormorants were common, with the latter species most numerous roosting on snags at Enders Basin and Willow Lake.

The prevalence of Bald Eagle may be indicative that the species nests in the Lakeland District? A special observation was a bunch of Killdeer gathered in a small area of recently mowed meadow in Philbrick Valley. In a tree a short distance eastward, was where the many crow were gathered.

Three of the best sightings were the Common Loon, Say's Phoebe and Great Egret. There were several places were flighty sparrows provided only an instant view and then disappeared into the autumn vegetation. Tree snags at Long Lake SRA were an obvious attraction the eight flickers seen.

This is a list of the 52 species observed, with 49 observed by Gordon Warrick and myself and an additional three species subsequently reported by people on the Nebraska Ornithologists' Union outing. Place names have been condensed for space purposes.

Proper Name Clear Lake Chain Lakes Willow Lake Enders Lake Enders Basin Schoolhouse Marsh Long Lake Long Lake SRA Philbrick Lake AGA Marsh WMA Phibrick Valley Meadow Clapper Lake
Canada Goose 9 - - 9 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Trumpeter Swan 5 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Wood Duck 7 6 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 10 - -
Blue-winged Teal - - - - - - 6 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Mallard - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 3 - - - -
Wild Turkey 12 - - - - - - - - - - - - 1 - - - - - - - -
Common Pheasant - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 1 - - - - - -
Common Loon - - - - - - 1 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Pied-billed Grebe - - - - - - 1 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Horned Grebe - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 1
Western Grebe - - - - - - - - - - 3 - - - - - - - - - - 4
Great Blue Heron 3 3 - - - - 1 1 - - - - - - - - - - 1
Great Egret - - - - 2 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
American White Pelican 2 28 11 - - - - - - - - 1 - - - - - - 18
Double-crested Cormorant 1 - - - - - - 62 1 - - - - - - - - - - 49
Turkey Vulture - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 1
Sharp-shinned Hawk - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 1 - -
Cooper's Hawk 1 - - - - 1 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Northern Harrier 2 - - - - - - - - 1 - - - - - - - - - - - -
Bald Eagle 1 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 1 1
Red-tailed Hawk - - 1 - - - - - - - - - - 1 - - - - - - - -
American Coot 2 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Killdeer - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 19 3 1
Wilson's Snipe - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 3
Franklin's Gull - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 3
Ring-billed Gull - - - - - - - - 1 - - - - - - - - - - - - 35
Forster's Tern - - - - - - - - - - 1 - - - - - - - - - - - -
Black Tern - - 3 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 1
Mourning Dove - - - - 5 20 - - 12 21 20 - - 1 - - 2
Great Horned Owl - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 2 - - - -
Belted Kingfisher - - 1 - - 1 - - - - - - 1 - - - - - - 1
Red-headed Woodpecker - - 3 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 1
Northern Flicker 1 - - - - - - - - - - 8 1 - - 1 - - 1
American Kestrel - - - - 1 - - - - - - - - - - 1 - - - - 1
Say's Phoebe - - 1 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Eastern Kingbird - - 1 - - - - - - - - - - 2 - - - - - - - -
Blue Jay - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 3 - - 1 - - - -
American Crow - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 32 - - - -
Black-capped Chickadee - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 2 - - - - - - - -
Barn Swallow 6 - - - - - - - - - - - - 5 - - - - - - - -
Marsh Wren - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 1 - - - - - -
White-breasted Nuthatch - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 1 - - - - - - - -
Common Starling - - 1 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Eastern Bluebird - - - - - - 2 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
American Robin - - - - - - 1 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
American Goldfinch 1 4 - - 2 1 - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Western Meadowlark - - 5 3 2 - - 3 - - - - - - - - - - 5
Red-winged Blackbird 4 75 - - 3 - - - - - - 10 - - 5 - - 20
Common Grackle - - - - - - - - - - - - 4 1 - - - - - - - -
Song Sparrow 1 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 1 - - - -
Chipping Sparrow - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 6 - - - - - - - -
Lark Sparrow - - 1 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 2 - -

This survey was done in conjunction with the autumn meeting of the NOU at Ainsworth. Their group arrived in the Lakeland area at 11 a.m. and then visited four particular locales within the Lakeland area: AGA Marsh, Enders Lake and Enders Basin as observed from the county road, and then lunch at Willow Lake Brown County WMA. Additional records were kept along Moon Lake Road and a wetland east of the Calamus River crossing on the county road towards Highway 7. There were many ebird checklists submitted by attendees at this meeting and the overall tally was reported as 134 species.


Situations Noted in Association with Lakeland Ranch

The following details were provided to officials at the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission on September 17th.

This email is in regards to several items noted during the weekend in association with the Moon Lake Wildlife Sanctuary (a.k.a. Moonlake Wildlife Ranch) at Lakeland, southwest Brown County..

Item 1:

When trying to visit South Twin Lake WMA the morning of September 15, the access road was blocked by a large gate at the boundary of the MLWS. There were two chains with a padlock on each which obviously prevented any further travel. The attached photographs show the signage on the gate and adjacent fence as well as other signs, including one indicating this was a public access trail to the WMA.

How is it that the landowner can prevent access to public property? When will this situation be changed so the WMA can be readily visited? The landowner seems to think they can keep out the public, but this is simply wrong and needs to be immediately corrected!

Also, the public access signs need to be replaced with signage in proper condition to convey that the trail is a public travelway. I have visited this area multiple times in the past, and want to visit it again in the near future.

Item 2:

In the photo showing the portion of the gate and adjacent fence, it is obvious that the wire mesh fence extends from ground level to 7 or 8 feet in height. This type of fencing extends along the entire perimeter of the MLWS here and as also noted at the primary gate to the ranch headquarters. The character of the fence does not allow any ingress or egress by larger mammals including white-tailed deer, coyote and antelope. The landowner has effectively fenced out a portion of natural range of these species, while the fence also does not allow any natural movement of these species.

How is it that the landowner can effectively "take" a public resource ... that being the large mammals trapped within the fenced ranch area?

Item 3

The landowner has introduced prairie dogs, as evident on an aerial photograph showing the large residence on the south side of the fish pond. There are multiple burrows present. Does the landowner need to have NGPC permission to introduce this species onto private property?

When Audubon of Kansas introduced prairie dogs at the Hutton Ranch, they had to go through approval by NGPC as evident by the public meeting which I attended some years ago.

Item 4

With the MLWS completely fenced and any access inhibited by locked gates, how will NGPC ensure that quick and ready access is available if there is a need to fight a prairie fire in the vicinity of the WMA. This also applies to access that would be needed by any local fire department.

Item 5

How is the NGPC making sure that livestock associated with the MLWS do not go through the South Twin WMA fencing and graze the area? There are likely bison on the adjacent range, and a barb wire fence is not sufficient to stop their movement. Is the vehicular access point to the area suitably fenced or have a barrier to make certain livestock of the adjacent property owner cannot get onto the site. It is only through agency vigilance as well as that of the public that the area can be monitored to ensure its quality.

18 September 2018

Further Details of South Holt County Wildbirds

Another survey of distinct wetlands along the southern boundary of Holt County provide additional details on the value of these habitats for wildbirds. The observations were recorded on September 3rd by Jason Thiele at the local wetlands, most of which are associated with the headwaters of Clearwater Creek, thus the CC designation. Each of these site names have been designated to the specific site indicated by the ebird checklists, but are a geographic locality rather than a roadway site name as originally given. Some of the wetland habitat areas are part of the same area, but were designated as different localities because they were in either of the two counties ... Holt or Wheeler. Road 846 is the county boundary.

This is the list of the 47 species observed. Note the prominence of waterfowl, including the ibis (glossy or white-faced) and the number of pelican that utilize Goose Lake WMA. Shorebirds noted were other important finds. Many of these species may forage at the smaller wetlands area and then return to the wildlife management area for an overnight stay. This survey effort was also valuable in denoting songbirds present in the area during late summer and after the breeding season.

Proper Name Goose Lake WMA CC Meadow CC Wetlands CC Wetlands North Clearwater 502 Meadow Clearwater 846 Meadow Clearwater Wetlands Clearwater Wetlands North Deloit Meadow
Canada Goose -- -- -- 40 -- -- -- -- --
Wood Duck -- 6 9 3 -- -- -- -- --
Blue-winged Teal -- 40 30 15 -- 30 10 -- --
Mallard -- 12 2 2 -- 8 -- -- --
Ibis -- 15 -- -- -- -- 1 -- --
Great Blue Heron -- -- -- 1 -- -- 1 1 1
American White Pelican -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- 150
Turkey Vulture -- -- -- -- 2 -- -- -- --
Cooper's Hawk -- 1 -- -- -- -- -- -- --
Red-tailed Hawk 1 -- -- 1 -- -- -- -- 1
Killdeer 1 -- -- 8 -- 6 -- -- --
Least Sandpiper -- -- -- -- -- 8 -- -- --
Wilson's Snipe -- -- -- -- -- 1 -- -- --
Solitary Sandpiper -- -- -- -- -- 2 -- -- --
Forster's Tern -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- 2
Eurasian Collared Dove -- -- -- 2 -- -- -- -- --
Mourning Dove 2 -- -- 30 -- 2 1 3 1
Belted Kingfisher -- -- -- -- -- -- -- 1 --
Red-headed Woodpecker -- -- -- 3 -- -- -- -- 1
Northern Flicker -- 1 -- 1 -- 1 -- -- 1
American Kestrel 1 -- -- -- -- -- -- 1 --
Eastern Kingbird -- -- -- -- -- -- -- 1 1
Warbling Vireo -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- 2
Red-eyed Vireo -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- 2
Black-capped Chickadee -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- 2
Barn Swallow 1 -- -- 30 -- 2 -- -- --
Marsh Wren -- 1 -- -- -- -- -- -- --
House Wren -- -- -- -- -- 1 -- -- 1
White-breasted Nuthatch -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- 2
Grey Catbird -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- 5
Brown Thrasher -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- 1
Common Starling 10 -- 11 30 -- -- 20 -- --
American Robin -- -- -- 1 -- -- -- -- 2
American Goldfinch 1 -- -- 3 -- 2 -- -- --
Nashville Warbler -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- 1
American Yellow Warbler -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- 2
Wilson's Warbler -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- 1
Yellow-headed Blackbird -- -- -- 3 -- -- 20 -- --
Bobolink -- -- -- 30 -- -- -- -- --
Western Meadowlark 3 -- -- 6 -- 4 -- -- --
Baltimore Oriole -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- 1
Red-winged Blackbird -- 8 -- -- -- -- -- -- --
Brown-headed Cowbird -- -- -- -- -- -- 40 -- --
Common Grackle -- -- -- -- -- -- -- 5 --
Song Sparrow -- -- -- 1 -- -- -- -- 1
Chipping Sparrow -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- 5
Northern Cardinal 2 -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --

The overall tally of 47 species for this survey effort compares to 40 species as recorded on August 12th. The combined total is 57 species for both dates.

These records are especially valuable as they provide further details on the occurrence of a great variety of wildbirds that occur at wetlands habitat present along the proposed corridor of the r-project. This industrial powerline would bisect some of the wetland settings. It would also impose a powerline across the flight path used by wildbirds as they fly from the overnight roost at Goose Lake WMA to the wetlands just to the south.