15 February 2018

Nebraska Proclamation That 2018 is Year of the Bird

Nebraska governor Pete Ricketts has designated 2018 as the Year of the Bird. This is recognition of the 100th anniversary of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

"WHEREAS, Birds are present in every environment - urban or rural, wetland or prairie and are an ever-present reminder that nature is all around us; and
WHEREAS, Each spring, Nebraska is home to one of North America's largest migrations when we host 500,000 Sandhill Cranes, and millions of waterfowl along the Platte River; and
WHEREAS, The spring crane migration brings more than $14 million into Nebraska's economy, providing that where birds thrive - people prosper, and National Audubon [Society] and Bird Life International have recognized the Platte River in Central Nebraska as a Globally Important Bird Area; and
WHEREAS, From the Sandhills and Pine Bluff regions to the Niobrara River Valley to the eastern deciduous forests on the bluffs of the Missouri River to the sandsage prairie in the southwest corner of the state and everywhere in between, Nebraska's rich natural resources support more than 400 bird species; and
WHEREAS, Nebraska plays a critical role on an international scale for migratory birds that have no boundaries or borders; and
WHEREAS, 2018 is the centennial year of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act which protects birds in our backyards, like the Northern Cardinal and the Blue Jay; and
WHEREAS, Bald Eagles, Snowy Egrets, and Wood Ducks nest and/or migrate through Nebraska.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, Pete Ricketts, Governor of the State of Nebraska, DO HEREBY PROCLAIM the year 2018 as
 

YEAR OF THE BIRD

in Nebraska, and I do hereby urge all citizens to take due note of the observance."

23 January 2018

Birds Noted in Cherry County, Nebraska in 2017

People looking to see a fine variety of wildbirds came to Cherry county during 2017 and spent time afield amidst a great diversity of natural habitats. Some visitors walked a ways carrying binoculars to look about bird activity. Others drove a route suitable to get a view fine enough to see some particular sort of bird varying in size from itty-bitty wrens to the magnificent Trumpeter Swan. There was a spotting scope used at some time or another to get a better view.

During personal time outdoors, written notes meant details were kept, with some detailed records submitted to an online bird record archive; in a few instances documentary photographs were included. Some of these contributors were submitted as the bird watchers enjoyed heart city amenities, including online access available at the Valentine Public Library. Many of the records are because of contributions by transient bird enthusiasts, though some guys working for the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies did surveys on days when they were not doing work-related tasks. At least two city residents kept watch.

Overall, there were 194 species observed by bird watchers on many days during 2017 in Cherry county.

At Valentine NWR, with its variety of habitats including various lakes and wetlands, along with grassland expanses where prairie grouse thrive, was a great space of special interest and significance. About ten reports indicate results of visits during March to November, some which were based upon a survey by a single individual, with a few others involving a small group travelling along and keeping track of observations. More than 75 species were seen during some multiple hours looking during an outing on a single day. There were even anecdotes from a county official flying over the area, and observing the situation of habitat and changes in its condition. Wetland management efforts, such as carp removal, can have a significant influence on the quality of lake waters, its vegetation, and the value of extant habitat suitable for the survival of wildbirds.

At least 144 species were noted on the refuge, based upon visits during the summer months. They provide a detailed indication of breeding and migratory birds. An especially notable spring occurrence was a Piping Plover on April 21st at the Clear Lake boat ramp, as reported by Clay Crofton. This species rarely occurs in the lake district, with a unique history during decades past. Numbers of waterfowl were especially prevalent in November, including a very distinct sighting by Joel Jorgensen, nongame biologist of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, of four Surf Scoter at Pelican Lake on November 1st and which likely represents the first sighting of this species at the refuge, while it has been seen on a few dates at other sandhill places further south; Red-breasted Merganser was another significant sighting.

Second on the list for number of species seen during the year was the immediate vicinity of Valentine, with a tally of 125 species. This is due to year-round observations kept by a resident at local sites such as the Mill Pond, city park and within the urban setting. Two visitors reported what they saw during summer-time sojourns at the park – walking the trails while looking and listening – and among the city. The observations were sublime, as within the woodland of the park, songs of the warblers and other species require a focus on songs to ensure a correct species identification.

Especially significant for the Heart City is an obvious interest in providing food for birds. Many residents have feeders – which is an obvious ongoing expense – to get proper seed situated suitably to provide something edible to help wildbirds get nourishment that helps with their survival when frigid temperatures prevail.

At Fort Niobrara NWR, 84 species were noted by six different observers that submitted reports to ebird.org. Most of the visits were during the months of May-September; there were three separate surveys in July. Refuge staff do an annual breeding bird survey in early June, but that information is not yet available for evaluation, more than six months after the survey was done.

There were four reports for places along the Niobrara National Scenic River, especially in June, with three from camp grounds or a particular place, with only one report being the result of a float trip. The species tally totaled 57. Though fewer records are available, two especially significant sightings occurred: 1) a Mississippi Kite well seen by Dave Sandahl as it sat on a fence post and chased insects at Sharp’s Campground on June 5th; and, 2) a Northern Saw-whet Owl well heard with extensive notes submitted by Matt Beisel for a nocturnal June 10th occurrence at Smith Falls State Park. These are two newly known species to have occurred in the Niobrara valley, as they have not been previously observed, based upon an evaluation of a multitude of records for many decades past. The river valley is also a haven for the Eastern Whip-poor-will as they are pervasive in the breeding season. There is nothing better than floating along the languid waters of the Niobrara while these birds are so vocal with their distinct call that indicates their territorial presence.

Additional details of birds along this river corridor will eventually become available when a terse summary report is issued, based upon contract work done annually by the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies for the National Park Service.

Other locales where birds were denoted included Elsmere where William Flack did a walk-about on April 28th (15 species at this place along Goose Creek), as well as the ranch country in the Brownlee vicinity where a roadside wetland to its east provided sightings of importance, including a Cinnamon Teal on April 17th, and then some Brewer’s Blackbird amidst a horde of Red-winged Blackbird on November 4th. Westerly along Brush Creek was a fine-looking Merlin perched on a tree.

A personal highlight for the year was observing more than 150 species in Cherry county, based upon records dutifully kept in a database. There had been an ornithological challenge issued associated with the Nebraska sesquicentennial for an individual to observe a number of species that would match the number of years since the state was organized. My tally was 157, based mostly upon the wildbirds present near Valentine, but also because of a few occasional, and appreciated forays to the south Valentine country and an appreciated visit to distinctive Anderson Bridge WMA.

A whole-bunch of bird-watching occurs each year within Cherry county. Though there are many available records – especially historic – the reality of bird occurrence within the entirety of the county is certainly lacking in regards to suitable current details. There were no survey reports for the southwest and other significant sections of the county during 2017. This is indicative of a lack of knowledge on the occurrence and distribution of important species, including those of conservation concern.

Pervasive and appreciated birds of many sorts were enjoyed in this region last year. With the new year underway, there can be many times of special occurrence for those with an interest and that keep an eye on activities of our feathered friends!


This is a list of the species observed, and which was not submitted with the article for the newspaper. Species are listed in taxonomic sequence used by the International Ornithological Congress rather than an American association.

* Snow Goose
* Canada Goose
* Cackling Goose
* Trumpeter Swan
* Wood Duck
* Gadwall
* American Wigeon
* Mallard
* Blue-winged Teal
* Cinnamon Teal
* Northern Shoveler
* Northern Pintail
* Green-winged Teal
* Canvasback
* Redhead
* Ring-necked Duck
* Lesser Scaup
* Surf Scoter
* Bufflehead
* Common Goldeneye
* Hooded Merganser
* Common Merganser
* Red-breasted Merganser
* Ruddy Duck
* Northern Bobwhite
* Wild Turkey
* Sharp-tailed Grouse
* Greater Prairie-Chicken
* Common Pheasant
* Pied-billed Grebe
* Horned Grebe
* Black-necked Grebe
* Western Grebe
* White-faced Ibis
* American Bittern
* Black-crowned Night Heron
* Great Blue Heron
* Great Egret
* American White Pelican
* Double-crested Cormorant
* Turkey Vulture
* Western Osprey
* Sharp-shinned Hawk
* Cooper's Hawk
* Northern Harrier
* Bald Eagle
* Mississippi Kite
* Swainson's Hawk
* Red-tailed Hawk
* Ferruginous Hawk
* Rough-legged Buzzard
* Virginia Rail
* Sora
* American Coot
* Sandhill Crane
* Killdeer
* Piping Plover
* Wilson's Snipe
* Long-billed Curlew
* Upland Sandpiper
* Greater Yellowlegs
* Solitary Sandpiper
* Willet
* Spotted Sandpiper
* Stilt Sandpiper

* Wilson's Phalarope
* Bonaparte's Gull
* Franklin's Gull
* Ring-billed Gull
* American Herring Gull
* Forster's Tern
* Black Tern
* Rock Dove
* Eurasian Collared Dove
* Mourning Dove
* Yellow-billed Cuckoo
* Eastern Screech Owl
* Great Horned Owl
* Burrowing Owl
* Northern Saw-whet Owl
* Short-eared Owl
* Common Nighthawk
* Common Poorwill
* Eastern Whip-poor-will
* Chimney Swift
* Ruby-throated Hummingbird
* Belted Kingfisher
* Red-headed Woodpecker
* Red-bellied Woodpecker
* Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
* Downy Woodpecker
* Hairy Woodpecker
* Northern Flicker
* American Kestrel
* Merlin
* Prairie Falcon
* Eastern Phoebe
* Say's Phoebe
* Western Wood-Pewee
* Eastern Wood-Pewee
* Willow Flycatcher
* Least Flycatcher
* Western Kingbird
* Eastern Kingbird
* Great Crested Flycatcher
* Loggerhead Shrike
* Great Grey Shrike
* Bell's Vireo
* Yellow-throated Vireo
* Warbling Vireo
* Red-eyed Vireo
* Blue Jay
* American Crow
* Cedar Waxwing
* Black-capped Chickadee
* Horned Lark
* Sand Martin
* Tree Swallow
* Purple Martin
* Northern Rough-winged Swallow
* Barn Swallow
* American Cliff Swallow
* Ruby-crowned Kinglet
* Sedge Wren
* Marsh Wren
* House Wren
* Blue-grey Gnatcatcher
* Red-breasted Nuthatch
* White-breasted Nuthatch
* Brown Creeper

* Grey Catbird
* Northern Mockingbird
* Brown Thrasher
* Common Starling
* Eastern Bluebird
* Townsend's Solitaire
* Swainson's Thrush
* Wood Thrush
* American Robin
* House Sparrow
* House Finch
* Red Crossbill
* American Goldfinch
* Pine Siskin
* Ovenbird
* Black-and-white Warbler
* Tennessee Warbler
* Orange-crowned Warbler
* Connecticut Warbler
* Common Yellowthroat
* American Redstart
* American Yellow Warbler
* Blackpoll Warbler
* Audubon's Warbler
* Myrtle's Warbler
* Wilson's Warbler
* Yellow-breasted Chat
* Yellow-headed Blackbird
* Bobolink
* Western Meadowlark
* Eastern Meadowlark
* Baltimore Oriole
* Orchard Oriole
* Red-winged Blackbird
* Brown-headed Cowbird
* Rusty Blackbird
* Brewer's Blackbird
* Common Grackle
* Great-tailed Grackle
* Lark Bunting
* Song Sparrow
* Lincoln's Sparrow
* Harris's Sparrow
* White-crowned Sparrow
* White-throated Sparrow
* Dark-eyed Junco
* Savannah Sparrow
* Grasshopper Sparrow
* American Tree Sparrow
* Chipping Sparrow
* Field Sparrow
* Clay-colored Sparrow
* Vesper Sparrow
* Lark Sparrow
* Spotted Towhee
* Summer Tanager
* Scarlet Tanager
* Dickcissel
* Rose-breasted Grosbeak
* Black-headed Grosbeak
* Northern Cardinal
* Blue Grosbeak
* Indigo Bunting
* Lazuli Bunting

Specifics for each of the sightings are available and there could be an individual evaluation for each species, including a presentation of numbers and the chronology of occurrence and to some extent, where they were seen.

19 January 2018

Area Birds in Grant County, Nebraska in 2017

January 11, 2018. Area birds. Grant County News 133(24): 1. The published article had subsequent edits prior to being posted online.

Wildbirds are a great and ongoing attraction, and during the eclipse and other times during 2017 in Grant county, several people took the time to look upon a scene and kept notes that indicated the occurrence of 70 species.

The initial known bird outing of the year was at the Hyannis cemetery on March 15, when a travelling group spent 40 minutes to see what was present. Their report is especially interesting as four variations of Dark-eyed Junco were seen (ebird.org checklist by Rick Wright) that had origins in different regions of North America. A Townsend’s Solitaire seen was the first one reported since March, 2009.

There was a nice report submitted by Nebraskan William Flack for a site on the south Whitman Road at the Cherry Valley Road on March 30th. His tally was 20 species including a fine variety of waterfowl including numerous Northern Shoveler and Gadwall, some Canvasback as well as two magnificent Trumpeter Swan present as reported with pictorial documentation.

Avocet WMA was a prominent locale for ornithological history of the year as it is adjacent along Highway 2. Some tally’s reported were based upon a few minutes spent to take a look. There were 44 species noted in April, May and August. Waterfowl had a prominent occurrence. There was also large numbers of pelicans, ibis. The site is also notable for the unusual occurrence of Great-tailed Grackle.

During the August eclipse, observer Bernard Morris parked at the gas station – when not watching the sky during a three hour period – kept a list of species present across the highway at the wildlife area that included three species of raptors and two sorts of terns.

Birder Flack did a walk-about in the eastern extent of Whitman on August 23rd, with an online submission reporting the occurrence of 14 species. Another visitor reported a few species for their driveby.

Many of the years’ records are transitory observations kept while someone was driving along either Highway 2 or Highway 61. Some of these sightings could be designated to a particular locality, but those submitting the record are not aware of local place-names, so instead indicate a name referring to a broad, generic locality.

There was a survey done at the Apache Ranch by an employee of the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies, but since it occurred on private property, details are not publicly available. This was apparently the only visit to a site significantly away from a prominent roadway.

Among the shorebirds seen were the Killdeer, Spotted Sandpiper, Greater Yellowlegs and Lesser Yellowlegs and Willet. There was for some reason only one report of a Long-billed Curlew.

In considering the years’ observations, it is obvious there is a relative dearth of sightings in Grant county, as a larger number of species would be expected to occur. Nothing was reported about the Blue Jay, which appears to have a sporadic occurrence at Hyannis. It is very surprising that there was no recorded occurrence of the Downy Woodpecker. In regards to the Horned Lark and Marsh Wren, one report of each is not indicative as they both have a broader wide-spread range. The same applies to the Common Yellowthroat, which would be expected amidst the habitats at Avocet WMA and other spaces, in addition to the singular 2017 observation at Frye Lake WMA. There was no mention of Chimney Swift at Hyannis, though it has been seen in the urban setting in many past years. Why is it that the only report of a House Wren for the county dates to 2007? Is an indication of range or due to a lack of reported sightings? The lack of any report of Dark-eyed Junco is also indicative of a lesser extent of observational occurrences, as this species is prevalent in winter times within the region.

If an observer had driven south of Ashby to Alkali Lake, there would have certainly been a greater diversity of species occurrence to report because its features are quite unique and any wildbirds present can be seen from a roadside vantage. Though there were sightings from Whitman, there was no mention of Doc Lake. Nothing was referred to Wolfenberger Lakes though it is also adjacent to and visible from Highway 2. There were no reports from the Gudmundsen Sandhills Laboratory that is publicly owned and seemingly conducive to visits. Surprisingly, no birder apparently visited DeFair Lake WMA, which, based upon personal experience, is a fine place and even nice enough to spend an overnight in the parking lot.

There are 192 species of birds that are known to occur within the county, based upon an overall consideration that includes historic occurrences. Considering the more than 300 species of birds that occur in the sandhill region, the overall tally is also less than what would be expected.
On an aside, it seems obvious that the overall availability of birding places within Grant county is not known to an extent that could result in more and/or extended visits. When obvious public lands are not visited, it is likely the result of a lack of knowledge of their being available for bird watching?


This is a list of the species observed, and which was not submitted with the article for the newspaper. Species are listed in taxonomic sequence.

* Canada Goose
* Trumpeter Swan
* Wood Duck
* Gadwall
* American Wigeon
* Mallard
* Blue-winged Teal
* Northern Shoveler
* Northern Pintail
* Green-winged Teal
* Canvasback
* Redhead
* Ring-necked Duck
* Lesser Scaup
* Bufflehead
* Ruddy Duck
* Common Pheasant
* Pied-billed Grebe
* Western Grebe
* White-faced Ibis
* Black-crowned Night Heron
* Great Blue Heron
* American White Pelican
* Double-crested Cormorant

* Turkey Vulture
* Northern Harrier
* Swainson's Hawk
* Red-tailed Hawk
* American Coot
* Killdeer
* Long-billed Curlew
* Greater Yellowlegs
* Lesser Yellowlegs
* Willet
* Spotted Sandpiper
* Ring-billed Gull
* Forster's Tern
* Black Tern
* Eurasian Collared Dove
* Mourning Dove
* Chimney Swift
* Red-headed Woodpecker
* Hairy Woodpecker
* Northern Flicker
* Western Kingbird
* Eastern Kingbird
* Loggerhead Shrike
* Warbling Vireo

* Cedar Waxwing
* Horned Lark
* Tree Swallow
* Barn Swallow
* Marsh Wren
* Brown Thrasher
* Common Starling
* Townsend's Solitaire
* American Robin
* House Sparrow
* House Finch
* American Goldfinch
* Common Yellowthroat
* Yellow-headed Blackbird
* Western Meadowlark
* Orchard Oriole
* Red-winged Blackbird
* Brown-headed Cowbird
* Common Grackle
* Great-tailed Grackle
* Dark-eyed Junco
* Lark Sparrow

08 January 2018

December Birds in the Valentine Vicinity - 2017

Bird observations continued to be kept in the immediate vicinity of Valentine during December, 2017. There were fewer dates this year when observations were recorded but the overall tally does not appear to be significantly different from noted sightings during this month in two previous years.

Birds about Valentine during December 2017
Proper Name 342 348 360 362
Canada Goose 60 - - - - - -
Mallard - - 3 - - - -
Wild Turkey - - 7 - - - -
Sharp-shinned Hawk - - 1 - - - -
Bald Eagle 1 1 1 - -
Rock Dove 30 - - - - 16
Eurasian Collared Dove 26 22 - - - -
Great Horned Owl 2 - - 1 - -
Belted Kingfisher - - 1 - - - -
Downy Woodpecker 1 1 2 - -
Hairy Woodpecker - - - - 1 2
Northern Flicker - - - - - - 1
Blue Jay - - 1 - - - -
American Crow - - 1 2 - -
Cedar Waxwing - - 6 - - - -
Black-capped Chickadee 2 3 7 8
Red-breasted Nuthatch 3 - - 2 - -
White-breasted Nuthatch 1 1 2 - -
Eastern Bluebird - - 5 - - 4
Townsend's Solitaire - - - - - - 1
American Robin - - 50 2 - -
House Sparrow 70 - - 55 - -
House Finch - - 8 2 4
American Goldfinch - - - - 3 3
Dark-eyed Junco 8 6 24 18
American Tree Sparrow - - - - 6 - -
Northern Cardinal - - 2 - - - -

There seems to be no readily notable differences as far as occurrence or numbers present. There are the usual resident birds. It was a month of anecdotes. Perhaps hearing and seeing the Red-breasted Nuthatch once and again was appreciated, because if it wasn't heard it was always nice to hear sounds of the residential White-breasted Nuthatch.

More Dark-eyed Junco were denoted once bird seed was provided for them on Christmas eve. Their activity was readily seen outside my front door as they scurried about. More than one variation occurred subsequently, including at least the Oregon and slate-colored. More attention needs to be given to the particulars and could be an interesting pasttime when hungry deer and rabbits are being kept from the "food buffett." Juncos are disruptive foragers, as when one arrives it may chase away another already present. Sometimes there are "flight battles" as two birds alight in an obvious confrontation as to which of them will get their preferred foraging spot. It seems nonsensical as the juncos often arrive in a significant group for an interlude, and then they all depart. There are significant expanses of time when there are no birds present at the readily available edible seed. At least a Tree Sparrow found the seed and was seen actively eating on more than one occasion.

More than one bird feeder in the vicinity attracted various species, and their occurrence was a reason for some regular sightings of species that enjoyed the winter-time food source. One particularly known spot along Lake Shore Drive is a known magnet for squirrels, but it also provides for the nuthatches and chickadees. Juncos feed on the spill.

Rock Dove and Eurasian Collared Dove were prevalent within the city, and counts depended on traversing a walking route that went past where the were congregated, which was primarily near the livestock market. On the 28th, there were a bunch of juncos, and at the same time an Eastern Bluebird visited along with four House Finch and three American Goldfinch. It was an appreciated phantasmagoria of winter wildbirds.

As for the House Sparrow, they gather in a bit of shrubbery shelter at the southeast corner of the Mill Pond. Numbers vary on weather conditions, but during the winter, they are usually present to an extent of another.

Wild Turkey are more prevalent than indicated by a single occurrence at the Valentine City Park, but they are gathered in one flock or another someplace were a bird outing did not occur.

The resident Downy Woodpeckers continued to ignore the readily available suet. They made a early foray or two and knew that the food source was available, but did not return. A Northern Flicker arrived once or twice, but it also was no repeat visitor.

Canada Goose numbers took an indicative decline as waters at the Mill Pond froze. There was no open water which they appreciated. These watefowl were still in the vicinity, but were in flight so could not be associated with any particular geographic locality. They were probably roosting on the Niobrara River?

As the month ended, temperatures were frigid, and on a day or two the high temperature for more than one day was below zero ... conditions which were not conducive to riding a bicycle to some prime bird-watching place and to undertake an outdoor hike. Some wind chill temps were completely brutal and inhibited any attempt to even look upwards towards the treetops, as the face space had to be confined within the cover of an essential neck-scarf. A bit of snow cover was ongoing.

This is the third annual report for the month of December at Valentine. The number of species noted has varied, just as the occurence of any species can be different. The overall tally for the last three years is:

* 2017: 27 species based upon four dates of recorded observations
* 2016: 32 species based upon 11 dates of recorded observations
* 2015: 28 species based upon 11 dates of recorded observations

Overall for the three years, the tally is 36 species, indicating the value of keeping records that represent more than a couple of years. The only species added in 2017 was a Townsend's Solitaire in a tree-top at the east end of the Valentine Mill Pond.

A sumary of known records convey an occurrence of 144 species in the immediate vicinity of the Heart City, as derived from record keeping which started in August, 2015. Each of the sightings kept indicate the month and year when observed, and for most of them the number seen is known.

16 December 2017

Bird Tally at Valentine - October-November 2017

Bird observations continued in the immediate vicinity of Valentine during October-November 2017. Nearby natural spaces continued to be monitored in the manner as they have for many previous months, especially at the northern edge of the city, and as notably associated with Minnechaduza Creek. Patterns of occurrence—generally but with notable exceptions—continued to somewhat similar to those of the two previous viewing seasons, while still, every day has been different. These observations continue to convey what can be daily differences for bird occurrence, and with particulars recorded in detail, and for particular locales as entered into a well-developed database.

  • Canada Goose: numbers increased as bunches of these waterfowl began to congregate for the winter; notably occurring at the Valentine Mill Pond, but skeins regularly seen in flight and calling as they traverse the local airspace; the birds regularly flew northward in the morning; the reason: to forage on remnant agricultural field grain?
  • Wild Turkey: a hen and her brood of two were regular visitors early in October, and occasionally a larger bunch would visit, but eventually the birds went elsewhere in the vicinity and were no longer seen at the places they had once preferred
  • Sandhill Crane: migratory flights notably missed despite bird-watching attention focused to determine their occurrence; in previous years, the flights of birds going south were so obvious they could not be missed
  • Great Horned Owl: a pair dwelling on the north side of the pond were especially vocal, with duets regularly heard in the dark hours
  • Northern Flicker: the most regularly seen woodpecker, with both the red-shafted and yellow-shafted subspecies seen, there seems to be a shift in occurrence between seasons, as more red-shafted seem to be observed in the autumn and winter; this may just be an artifact of observations as no detailed comparisons have been done?
  • American Crow: only a couple of instances of larger sized flocks going southerly during October, and nothing like the numbers seen during the same period in 2016; just a few seen otherwise, probably representing birds that live locally
  • Cedar Waxwing: probably a permanent resident of lesser numbers, as they have been seen throughout the seasons and are known breeders, but they may not be seen on any particular day
  • Eurasian Collared Dove: a prominent resident, especially in the conifers used for lawn landscaping along Lake Shore Drive
  • Rock Dove: residents within the city, especially at the livestock market
  • Marsh Wren: heard at the mill pond at its western extent where the cattails grow
  • Common Starling: thankfully this species seems to have an intermittent occurrence; it can occur in greater numbers at the livestock market or on the powerline wires along the Cowboy Trail right-of-way, with a few sometimes seen here or there but not with any persistence
  • Townsend's Solitaire: a nice addition at the end of November
  • Red-winged Blackbird: the vegetation of the mill pond provided an overnight roost; they would then fly northward in the morning
  • American Robin: bunches regularly occur, being seen mostly in flight over the hills as they go about daily travels across the local landscape
  • Sparrow species: their transitory nature was evident; when they did occur, they were readily seen outside the north window of the shack so it was easy to keep records
  • Dark-eyed Junco: the most reliable species of occurrence once they arrive, as they are usually seen and appreciated every day; during the period, there were a few instances when one would strike the big pane of window glass on the north side of the shack, but thankfully no mortality was evident; bug smears on the glass, due to smashed flies seemed to make no difference
  • Northern Cardinal: surprisingly not a single one of this species was seen or heard during the two months; it has seemingly been a sparse resident so certainly only a few occur; perhaps one might be seen more often if time was taken to watch bird activity at some of the bird feeders on the north fringe of the city, near Eighth and Main streets, as a regular haven seems to be the Valentine City Park

Many of the other species on this list are regularly seen within the survey area. It would be a task to record species present on any day, and would actually not be worth doing, but to keep regular, intermittent records is a means to get facts to allow worthwhile comparisons. When these efforts extend for an extended time-frame, the indication of wildbird occurrence is improved.

The overall tally for the two months was 58 species. This compares to 56 species for the same time period in 2016, and 49 in 2015. Consolidating the records kept for these three years, the tally is 77 species, indicating well the variability of recorded occurrences, as represented overall, by observations made on a very regular manner for the days during these two months for three different years.

Weather during the weeks was moderate, with daily high temperatures above the average many times. There were no occurrences of cold where there might have been frosty days and without any temperatures below zero degress. There was very little snowfall, and so snow cover was nearly nonexistent except for a skiff on the ground.

Valentine Bird Tally: October-November, 2017
Proper Name     Julian Date: 277 280 281 282 284 303 309 315 316 317 318 322 328 334
Canada Goose 2 75 - - 16 24 12 223 110 106 143 146 575 725 215
Cackling Goose - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 6 10 7 3
Wood Duck - - - - - - 4 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 1 - - - -
American Wigeon - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 5 - -
Mallard - - - - - - 3 - - - - 8 18 - - - - - - 5 - - 22
Common Merganser - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 2 - - - - - - - - - - - -
Wild Turkey 18 3 - - 20 3 12 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Pied-billed Grebe - - - - - - - - - - - - 1 - - - - 1 - - 1 - - - -
Great Blue Heron - - - - - - 3 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Great Egret - - - - - - 1 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Double-crested Cormorant - - - - - - 1 1 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Turkey Vulture 44 - - 1 - - 4 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Sharp-shinned Hawk 1 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 1 - - - - - -
Northern Harrier - - - - - - 1 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Bald Eagle - - - - - - - - 2 1 1 1 - - - - - - 1 1 - -
Red-tailed Hawk - - - - - - 1 2 - - - - - - 2 1 - - 1 1 - -
Rough-legged Buzzard - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 1 - - - -
Greater Yellowlegs - - - - - - 1 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Ring-billed Gull - - - - - - - - - - 3 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Rock Dove - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 22 - - 35 - - - - 35
Eurasian Collared Dove 4 7 - - - - 14 4 3 1 1 - - 12 1 2 45
Mourning Dove - - - - - - 1 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Eastern Screech Owl - - - - - - - - - - 1 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Great Horned Owl - - 2 - - 1 1 - - - - - - - - - - 2 - - 2 - -
Belted Kingfisher 1 1 - - 1 - - 1 1 - - 1 1 1 1 - - - -
Red-bellied Woodpecker - - - - 1 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Downy Woodpecker 1 - - - - - - - - 2 - - 1 - - - - - - - - 2 2
Hairy Woodpecker - - - - 1 - - - - - - - - - - 1 - - - - 1 - - 1
Northern Flicker 1 1 - - 1 - - 1 1 - - - - - - 1 1 - - 3
American Kestrel - - - - - - - - 1 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Blue Jay - - - - - - 2 - - - - 1 - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
American Crow - - - - 51 27 - - 5 3 - - 2 - - - - 2 4 2
Cedar Waxwing - - - - - - - - 3 - - - - - - - - 12 - - - - - - - -
Black-capped Chickadee - - 2 - - - - - - 2 2 1 3 - - - - 3 2 - -
Marsh Wren - - - - - - 1 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Red-breasted Nuthatch - - - - - - 1 1 - - - - - - - - 1 2 3 - - 1
White-breasted Nuthatch - - 1 - - - - 2 2 2 1 2 - - - - 2 - - 1
Common Starling - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 40 - - - - - - - - - -
Eastern Bluebird 2 8 - - 5 7 1 - - 1 - - 2 - - - - 4 4
Townsend's Solitaire - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 1
American Robin 5 5 - - 175 - - 125 - - - - 10 - - 30 15 10 15
House Sparrow - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 5 - - - - 12 - - 15
House Finch 12 6 - - 30 - - 8 12 4 - - - - - - 6 6 12
American Goldfinch - - - - - - 8 3 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Orange-crowned Warbler - - - - - - 1 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Audubon's Warbler - - 1 - - 2 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Red-winged Blackbird 65 55 - - 40 - - - - 30 30 - - - - - - - - - - - -
Common Grackle - - - - - - - - 6 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Song Sparrow - - - - - - - - - - 2 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Lincoln's Sparrow - - - - - - - - 2 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Harris's Sparrow - - - - - - - - 2 - - 1 - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
White-crowned Sparrow 1 1 - - 1 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
White-throated Sparrow 1 - - - - 1 2 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Dark-eyed Junco - - 1 - - 7 10 12 8 4 22 - - - - 8 5 10
American Tree Sparrow - - - - - - - - 2 5 5 - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Clay-colored Sparrow - - 2 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Vesper Sparrow 3 3 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Spotted Towhee - - - - - - - - 2 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Besides looking along the travel way to observe subtle actions and sounds of wildbirds worth denoting, attempts were made to keep one or two close. Placing a suet feeder on the front porch of the shack, was successful, but only minimally as a Downy Woodpecker visited only a couple of times. Flickers would forage nearby but never found the "free lunch." This is nearly the same result as trying to attract Turkey Vultures to a fox carcass. At least the juncos were attracted to the "horse feed" put out to provide supplemental feed. Deer liked to eat everything set of, but by varying the presentation, they didn't gobble it all up, so a newly arrived rabbit came to the buffet. One other appreciation during the month, was the eviction of a feral cat. Repeated personal efforts to drive it away didn't work, but someone else took care of the problem quite nicely.

The two silent owl sentinels continue to keep looking eastward at the nearby hillside. They are so patient, having not moved away from perch atop a fence perch as they continue their stolid hardware task. They are so stoic that it has not been possible to make an identification, though they are differently colored, but similar in size.

14 December 2017

Revised Zoning Regulations for Wind Turbines Were Approved

December 13, 2017. Revised zoning for wind turbines were approved. Valentine Midland News 46(23): 14. A letter to the editor.

Special thanks to Jim Buer, Coby Billings, Albert Ericksen, Todd Mathis, Herb Pabst, Lynelle Stillwell, John Wheeler, Gary Swanson, and Rob Lee. They are volunteer members of the Cherry County Planning and Zoning Board that have given due diligence to tasks, especially most recently. After months of lengthy discussion and discourse, revised zoning regulations regarding wind turbines were approved by a majority vote in November for submittal to the county commissioners. Very important choices were made on acceptable noise levels, setback distances, as well as blade flicker and fire safety concerns.

It is now time for commissioners to responsibly consider regulation revisions as they regard the future for the county.

Decisions based upon public discourse have become words of particular pertinence. Any vote affecting the future should truly reflect ongoing public comments, including those of many county residents and others with experience with the industrial turbines. Many of these perspectives will likely be further expressed at a pending public hearing which will be a significant event that should not, however, occur during the holiday period out of respect for seasonal traditions.

Actions on any permit requests for turbines should not be considered until there is a commissioner vote on the final language of the regulations. There has been a multitude of hours spent considering this issue, and any rush to action would be disrespectful.

Wind developments in different parts of Nebraska and the nation have recently been getting knowledgeable scrutiny, resulting in a significant transition about the values and needs associated with turbine farms. In Cherry county, the citizens and decision-makers need to take full advantage of considerate fore-sight, rather than having any lament for what might go wrong following unsuitable industrial development.

Any decisions need to reflect the will of the people and represent what is best for Cherry county and indicate what the majority of residents prefer. Let the people decide! Perhaps the decision on these things should depend upon a vote of county residents, rather than people with an agenda of bias sitting in a room?

Figuratively, mules or horses may pull a wagon, but it is the attentive driver perched upon a front seat, holding the reins, that sets the course.

James E. Ducey,
Valentine

28 November 2017

Prose on Sandhills Fiction Lacking

December, 2017. Grant County News book review.

Some fictional novels select a geographic location and include in the narrative specifics that are proper and realistic for the setting.

Two novels recently released by Shannon Baker include features of sandhill’s land and its people but in many instances, fit the setting to work with her perspective and selected prose.

Stripped Bare was issued in 2016 and Dark Signal was issued in the later extent of 2017.

Her stories convey many features of a place she calls Grand County. This corresponds with Grant county, where the county seat is named Hodgekiss. A mention is even made of the windmill in the middle of main street.

The primary character is a ranch wife named Kate Fox Conner, working on the Frog Creek Ranch while husband Ted Conner is the county sheriff.

Each of the two fictional works deal with murder, and for each issue, the crime scene is conveyed amidst the first few pages.

In the first instance there is a killing of an oldtime rancher – Eldon Edwards former owner of a place of about 100,000 acres – and then the tragic shooting of the sheriff. With her husband in the hospital, Kate Fox takes on the task of finding the perpetrator(s). During the period of a few days that are needed to find the criminals, Fox travels throughout the county, and elsewhere, included Broken Butte, where the hospital is located. This obviously refers to Alliance, Box Butte county.

During the days of action, various characters or topics are regularly mentioned to convey features of the western ranch country in order to set the scene in the fictional sandhills of the books.

In each rendition, visits by Fox with various residents provides a means to introduce different residents so as to convey various “norms” of the ranch country.

In the first novel, a compatriot for the investigation is the county sheriff of the county to the north, the name of which has also been changed, and alluded to in various dubious ways.

There are also details included on a media mogul interested in creating a buffalo scheme by purchasing large tracts of ranch land. The derivation of this character, Glenn Baxter is obvious … just think CNN and realities of bought ranches where bison now roam. In the prose, there is obvious derision conveyed when the sheriff has to drive his electric car.

An aside thrown into Stripped Bare is the unneeded trivia that each sibling of the Fox clan has been named after a particular actor or actress. Fox’s family and relatives are regularly mentioned and serve as foils to make her efforts more difficult because while they can be helpful, they can also be troublesome. The artistic mother is conveyed as a character than any resident could gossip about because of her means of artistic inspiration.

A peculiar dubious item is why autogate is always spelled “AutoGate” as if the things deserve a proper name rather than just being a normal feature of county roads.

Why is Lincoln and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln said to be three hours from Hodgekiss? The distance is obviously much greater, but Kate Fox has to drive there in a day while searching for a family member so the distance is lessened to fit the narrative.

As the narrative of the first book continues, Fox soon discovers while she is looking into activities on many locals, that her husband has been having an affair with an old flame from years ago. This occurred prior to the marriage of Ted and Kate, eight years previously.

As the book closes, once the murders were found, Fox uses a devious means to change election signs. This changes provides a perfect introduction to the next book in the series.

Book two, Dark Signal, first pages present the grisly murder of a train conductor, occurring on the day when Fox was sworn in as county sheriff.

A brutal event that occurred with a swinging railroad tie at a railway overpass seven miles easterly from Hodgekiss. Of course, there is no train overpass in reality anywhere in the vicinity until at Thedford.

The prose continues to include local characters to add interest to the narrative. Some of the names are similar to actual residents of the region, including Hayward, Manning, Messersmith and Ostrander. Her relatively local compatriot was Trey Ridnoir, a state patrol officer from the west, and a character that Fox could use to show she was such a better officer, despite her lack of real experience. Typical clich├ęs are indicated: eating the donuts (i.e., cinnamon rolls), not understand local norms and schedules, appreciating fast food, and improper judgements. Each thing Fox did was, however, an accomplishment to achieve the final goal of closing the investigation, even if done wrongly and without a thorough consideration of the situation and possible outcomes, including personal safety.

During her search to the murderer(s), there were threats. Each instance – including a bolt removed from a tie rod that caused a vehicle accident, a fence cut (three strand barb wire?) and a murdered calf – provided a reason to talk with another resident, and meant she was getting closer to the killer and for the author to convey particulars associated with what our primary character thought was representative. Questions eventually arise about a long-time county commissioner, also a railroad employee.

Another statement which is blatantly wrong concerns a statement that robins and kingfishers “raised a ruckus” at the calving lot. Although this happened on the “Frog Creek Ranch” there is no such waterway in the given geographic locality, and there is not enough of a creek for kingfishers to occur. If the author had mentioned kingbirds, there would be no reason to question this statement. Anytime a kingfisher raises a ruckus, it is always just a bird or two and they do not occur at lot housing calves, according to the realities of a bird watcher.

The time-frame for this second work of fiction is also just a few days, which, similar to the first novel, does not allow any real expansive development of setting and land features, other than the personal view of the primary characters. There was certainly enough said about the Fox clan and their family matters.

The author took the opportunity to convey the family of the dead man as being intolerant of the region of the people, as they had not lived there for decades and thus simply did not understand the reality.

During both periods of time conveyed in the books, the weather is consistently indicated as being cold and snowy, with perhaps a day or two of moderate conditions. Their time frame is separated by nine months.

Included in the second novel, the media mogul is mentioned time and again, as he has become a friend, regularly talked to on the telephone. There is also the mention of the “Black Socks” a religious sect following particular strictures of faith. Both of these items can be interpreted as being similar to modern-day reality of the region.

One more problematic item closed Dark Signal. With ongoing pressure from family, and to get a life, sheriff Fox leased a home nearby at Stryker Lake, a relative short distance from Hodgekiss. It did not look so nice upon her initial viewing with a realtor whose medical condition was well described. The house looked more like a home when she arrived to move in. Her “friend,” the billionaire mogul Baxter, had refurbished the house, adding appropriate furnishings and making the place comfortable and welcoming. It would seem that this would be illegal as a county official cannot accept donations for their personal gain as given by any private citizen. Furnishing a home would seemingly fit within this constraint.

These books are an enjoyable and easy read, but if you have any sense of history and place, do not expect to read them without repeatedly finding statements which are not factual and thus detract from the value of these novels, despite any proclamation to having them set in the unique Sand Hills.

The Baker fiction can be a great read, but it does not properly represent the genre when facts are wrong presented, again and again. When an author decides to use the Sand Hills as a setting, they should at least be able to suitable convey the particulars and indicate details that represent reality. An author should convey the reality of the place and use their writing skills to refer to their characters and to express a comfortable story.

Give the prose some space and pay attention to details but don’t ignore the facts.