28 November 2016

Special Scenic Scenes of Sandhills Settings

Unique in its landscape features as appreciated by people representing generations, the Great American Sandhills have many special spaces with scenic views and distinctive perspectives many residents want to save and preserve for now and future generations. The sand dunes domain has places such as these shown here without cellular towers, industrial powerlines that traverse so many miles of country land, and especially where there is not a single wind turbine visible anywhere while enjoying some time atop a hill, perhaps enjoying a great view of the local landscape.

Known places of these sorts are much fewer every year, because some businesses and people are completely focused on towers and changes which they convey as delusional improvements. The results are deplorable.

This land of various sorts of dune with some many sorts of grass and plants, is the last vestige of an expansive natural landscape in the western hemisphere. These pictures convey a singular perspective. Some of the shown places were images taken with one camera of another during past years, during my project to drive atop each of the known tallest sand dunes in the region, as previously reported.

Each and every one of these images are copyright (c) 2016 James E. Ducey. They may not be reused or reposted in any manner elsewhere, either via print, electronic or any other sort of media, without express written permission.

Dora Lake meadow after a seasonal storm, 1993

Wild Horse Hill, Grant county looking southeast; 6 Sep 1993

OO Reserve, Grant county, view to the south after a rainstorm; 6 Sep 1993

Irwin area meadow ranch; summer 1995

Eldred Ranch cattle and marsh as observed from Vic's sky horse; 27 Sep 1995

Baldy Hill, view to the west; 18 May 1995

Carson Lake perspective; 02 Jun 1995; just to the south of this distinctive lake - especially notable for its birdlife - the R-Project industrial powerline is planned for construction by the Nebraska Public Power District, with the desecration to be initiated in 2017

Mother Lake cloudscape, Adam Ranch place; 10 Jun 1999

Irwin area meadow ranch; summer 1995

Olson contract crew harvesting hay at Fawn Lake Ranch, Cherry county; 16 Aug 1999

Henderson Dry Box horses, Carrico Lakes, Cherry county; 10 May 2000

Longhorns in Cherry county during drive taking them from Fort Niobrara NWR to Fort Robinson State Park; 13 Nov 2000

Aerial view of the Mother Lake county, Cherry county; 3 May 2002

Old Baldy Hill view, looking westward; 30 May 2001

Wolf Lake perspective, western Cherry county; 27 Jun 2002

Merz Ranch hay meadow, Swan Lake southwest of Brownlee; 16 Jul 2002

Snowy road view, Abbott Unit of the Rex Ranch, western Grant county; 12 Apr 2008

Horses in Wamaduze Valley, view from along Brownlee to Highway 97 road; 16 Jul 2009

East Tennessee Valley, Fawn Lake Ranch; 2 Jun 2010

Farm Flat livestock, central Cherry county; 2 Jun 2010

Defair Lake WMA south of Hyannis; 8 Jun 2010

Steverson Lake WMA, Cherry county; 8 Jun 2010

Goose Creek valley, southeast Cherry county; 10 Jun 2010

Goose Creek valley hay meadow, southeast Cherry county; 25 Sep 2011

Sibbitt and Henderson meadow just north of Hyannis; 29 Sep 2011

Vinton Ranch horses with Snyder Valley in the background; 30 Sep 2011

Self-portrait taken atop Indian Hill - looking eastward - right near Old Baldy Hill in southwest Cherry county; 18 October 2001

Each of these places were visited with landowner permission. Many miles were driven and so many pleasurable hours were part of my pictographic and birdly travels. Many thanks to those property owners that were so cordial in allowing access. Otherwise any attempt to capture these unique perspectives would not have been possible. A number of these pictures are part of the Great American Sandhills photographic collection as denoted to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln many years ago.

23 November 2016

Successful Soup Supper and Auction Fund-raiser

Many concerned citizens of Thomas and Cherry counties attended the free-will donation soup supper and auction on November 15th, sponsored by Preserve the Sandhills.

Fine victuals were featured, especially three soups: classic chili made by Ann Manning-Warren, a hearty chicken noodle by Merrial Rhoades and an appreciated shrimp clam chowder by Barb Welch. Other fixings included corn chips, rolls and breads, jello as well as a variety of deserts representing the exceptional quality of sand hills’ cooking.

While enjoying the food, event attendees discussed views and ongoing activities, especially concerning the R-Project and the proposed Kilgore wind turbine facility. There were many tables where people sat and with various others their opposition to industrial energy facilities being imposed on the unique sandhills setting.

A particular topic mentioned was the impact of the R-Project industrial powerline on ranch operations, including wind mills. Windmills may have to be moved away from the powerline corridor, and in one instance, a central windmill would need to be replaced by two windmills. The Nebraska Public Power District indicated it would only replace one windmill. Also, one well company has said it would not work on windmills in the “immediate vicinity” of an industrial powerline.

One prominent opponent to the R-Project said “more meetings and peaceful protests were needed to convey the views of the local community.”

The auction held along Highway 2 after supper offered a variety of donated items, including, for example, books, wagon wheels, cowboy ropes, a barbeque, art, furniture and eggs from ranch-raised chickens. Auctioneer Duane McCain, of North Platte, kept the auction active and fun, regularly reminding the bidders that “It’s not what you are buying, it’s what you are donating to.” A Valentine business also donated a feed bunk and discount on services. Among the last items purchased were homemade cinnamon rolls and pecan pies. Beef to be delivered in February, was also bought.

“People at the auction were gracious, kind and magnanimous,” said Merrial Rhoades.

It was estimated that more than 45 people attended the event, and a nice amount of money was raised to support the ongoing efforts of Preserve the Sandhills. An out-of-state couple staying at a nearby Thedford hotel, attended to get a perspective of the local activism.
Upcoming meetings included an NPPD meeting at Thedford on November 16, and then the public hearing on the proposed Kilgore wind energy conversion system on December 7th, at the Valentine high school.

Autumn Prescribed Burns at Valentine Refuge

Billowing smoke on the horizon meant proactive efforts were underway to manage grassland habitat at Valentine National Wildlife Refuge.

Prescribed burns were held by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on October 25-27 on about 3100 acres south of School Lake and near the Pony Lake headquarters of the refuge.

There is significant planning for prescribed burns, as they are best done while weather conditions are suitable, notably when there are dry conditions and low winds, said Juancarlos Giese, manager of the refuge.

For this autumn’s prescribed burns, assistance was provided by “personnel from the National Park Service (Wind Cave National Park and Jewel Cave National Monument), the U.S. Forest Service (Pine Ridge and Bessey Ranger Districts), a veterans fire crew from the Student Conservation Association, and various U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service offices,” Giese said. There were 15 to 22 people present each day to control the extent of the fire and to make certain it was contained within the intended area.

“It’s very rewarding to see such a diverse set of state, federal and non-governmental organizations come together to combine resources in order to conduct a safe and effective prescribed burn,” Giese said.

Some of the land burned had been previously burned, Giese noted. "We constantly modify our burn units based on ecological needs, safety concerns and logistical measures. The 2000 wildfires were the last big burn, and touched parts of all three prescription burns" done this October.

Portions of the Wednesday burn around Center Lake and 21 Lake had been burned in 2008, 2010 and 2015, Giese indicated. The bulk of the Thursday burn area south of Pony Lake has not been burned in recent history.

Following the burns, some county ranchers noticed the barren appearance of the hills and expressed some concern that seasonal winds could mean the start of "blowout" areas since there was a lesser extent of vegetative cover. Ensuing dry conditions with unseasonably warmer temperatures contributed to worry about the vitality of the ground cover. A three inch snow on November 17-18th was welcomed moisture.

"Before the snowstorm, there was already a carpet of grass and wildflowers sprouting over the sandhills and meadows, which will provide additional stability," Giese said.

"The root masses of the prairie plants are still viable, ready for the proper conditions to resprout. These roots, combined with standing dead and living vegetation, hold the sandhills in place. People driving past will no doubt see blowing sand and ash, but this is most likely the loose materials at the ground level.

"Many people have asked if these late season burns will create blowouts, but we have never seen any evidence of new blowouts created after or because of a prescribed burn."

These blackened areas do attract a diversity of wildbirds.

Many species made quick use of an area burned last year, including prairie grouse, pheasants, unidentified sparrows, with longspurs reported, along with horned larks, and probably other species, based upon observations by Mel Nenneman, refuge biologist.

During the breeding season after a prescribed burn, the prairie land attracts a variety of avifauna.

Birds that may nest in the short prairie vegetation in the spring following a burn, include Long-billed Curlew, Killdeer, Horned Lark and Upland Sandpiper, Nenneman said. The habitat is "also good for lekking grouse."

"It will be interesting to see what happens next spring for nesting and migration," Giese said. “As these habitats progress through the years, the refuge biological staff will continue to monitor the vegetation to see how these burned areas are affected by weather patterns, different grazing intensities, and invasive species. Biologists will also be monitoring use by migrating and nesting birds to see how wildlife responds over the years to the ecological changes.

“Fire and grazing have always been integral components of the prairie ecosystems. Incorporating prescribed burning in the Valentine National Wildlife Refuge management regime has the capability to benefit all species of wildlife - from the smallest pollinating bees and butterflies, to the birds, deer and antelope that make the refuge home.”

04 November 2016

October Bird Report from Valentine

October in the immediate vicinity of Valentine was a month with multiple events of occurrence for migratory species. The change in the season was obvious.

Most notable were flights of the American Crow and Sandhill Crane.

On October 21st, at least 900 crows were prominent in their flight southward. Observational notes were made throughout the day: from 12:15 to 1 p.m. - 157 observed; then 409 during the 1:10 to 1:15 minutes; 80 at 2:30 p.m.; another 80 at 3:30; and finally 175 at 5:15 p.m. Some of these birds were seen as they would "kettle" over the city environs. Winds of the day were westerly then later, going northwesterly. A couple of days later, twice, there were many crows observed during their local flight. These passage crows are different from the few local residents, which number 3 to 4.

Also on the 21st, Sandhill Crane were flying southward. Counts at various times were at 1:10, with 45 seen in a loose flock; at 5 p.m., another 150; also 225 at 5:15; then 135 at 5:20, 435 at 5:30 and towards the end of the day, a final bunch of 125 at 5:50. The overall tally 1400 flying cranes, with their presence obvious because of their appreciated vocalizations being helpful in finding the birds in the sky. Flights continued two days later. There were various groups going southward: 39 at 9:35 with calm winds; 375 at 9:40; 42 at 10:15; 288 at 10:25 with some kettling in the sky; then 16 at 10:55; another 85 at 4:25 as vocal in their presence; finally 220 at 4:50 p.m. when there were still calm winds.

A highlight of these weeks was seeing a solitary Townsend's Solitaire atop a pine tree, a short distance northward of the bluebird shack. Another new addition to the local avifauna was a single Prairie Falcon flying above the North Lake Shore Hills. Also apprecited were the Audubon's Warbler (a.k.a. yellow-rumped warbler) prominent a few times during their search for sustenance amidst the horse pens. Many Red-winged Blackbird lingered, spending time amidst the cattail habitat at the west end of the mill pond. Some Harris's Sparrow were vivid because of their larger size and feathery facets. Also about were some White-throated Sparrow.

As the month ended, numerous American Robin were present, apparently foraging on the seeds of cedar trees. Canada Goose numbers increased at the Valentine Mill Pond. There were also some few hundred of Common Grackle present as the month waned, being boisterous and obvious among treetops north of the pond.

During the month, 47 different species were observed with 200 records kept in the BirdRecords table of my Database of the Great American Sandhills. Many permanent residents can be appreciated nearly each day. It is always nice to hear the Red-breasted Nuthatch, and then moments later hear the White-breasted Nuthatch in the same vicinity. There were bluebirds hither and yon to enjoy. The resident Great Horned Owl are rarely seen though continually present. At least the pair of Red-tailed Hawk can be more readily seen. On one rainy day, one of the two sat for hours atop a hill-top pine as it waited for the precipitation to dissipate.

The monthly tally in October 2015 was 40 species. The variance is indicative of behavior by the birds and how keeping records for multiple years is necessary to try to derive some sort of limited understanding of occurrence details.

It should be noted that this listing conforms with the standards of the International Ornithological Congress, so names and taxonomic sequence may differ from what is used on a state or national level.

October Bird Tally at Valentine on Particular Julian Dates
Species Proper Name 276 277 279 281 282 283 285 286 288 292 293 294 295 297 299 303
Canada Goose - - 4 10 9 - - 7 - - 29 - - 30 225 30 - - 55 40 - -
Wood Duck - - 6 - - 7 - - - - - - 2 - - - - - - - - 2 17 - - - -
Mallard - - - - - - 2 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Blue-winged Teal - - - - - - 7 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Wild Turkey - - - - 6 - - - - 1 6 - - - - 6 - - 6 - - - - - - 6
Pied-billed Grebe - - - - - - - - - - - - 2 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Great Blue Heron - - 2 - - - - - - - - 1 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Turkey Vulture - - - - 2 21 - - 1 - - - - - - - - 1 - - - - - - - - - -
Western Osprey - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 1 - - - - - - 1 - - - - - -
Cooper's Hawk - - - - - - - - 1 - - - - 1 - - - - - - - - 1 - - - - - -
Bald Eagle - - - - - - 1 - - - - - - - - - - - - 1 - - - - 1 - - 2
Red-tailed Hawk - - - - 1 - - - - 2 - - - - - - - - 1 - - 2 2 - - 1
Sandhill Crane - - - - - - - - 35 - - - - - - - - - - - - 175 1400 1065 - - - -
Rock Dove - - 35 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 5 33 - -
Eurasian Collared Dove 7 - - 8 8 - - 1 - - - - 4 7 5 - - - - 4 9 6
Mourning Dove - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 1 - - - -
Great Horned Owl 1 - - - - - - - - - - - - 1 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 1
Belted Kingfisher - - - - - - 1 - - 1 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Red-bellied Woodpecker - - - - 1 - - - - 1 - - - - - - - - - - 1 - - 1 1 - -
Downy Woodpecker - - - - - - - - - - 1 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 1 - - - -
Hairy Woodpecker - - 1 - - - - - - 1 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 1 - - 1
Northern Flicker 3 - - 1 - - - - 2 - - 1 - - - - - - - - 1 1 3 1
Prairie Falcon - - - - - - - - - - 1 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Eastern Phoebe - - - - - - - - - - 1 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Blue Jay 1 - - 2 - - - - - - - - - - 1 - - - - - - - - - - - - 1
American Crow - - 39 2 - - 160 - - - - 140 30 - - - - - - 900 142 195 - -
Cedar Waxwing - - - - 4 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 5 1
Black-capped Chickadee - - 3 2 - - - - 2 - - - - - - - - - - - - 3 3 - - 2
Red-breasted Nuthatch - - - - - - - - - - 2 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 1 1 - -
White-breasted Nuthatch - - 1 1 - - - - 2 - - 2 - - - - - - - - 2 2 1 1
Brown Thrasher 1 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Common Starling - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 36 - - - - - - - - - - 9 1
Eastern Bluebird - - 2 4 - - 3 - - 5 - - 2 - - - - 2 2 3 - - - -
Townsend's Solitaire - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 1 - - - - - - - - - -
American Robin 40 - - - - - - - - 5 - - 20 - - 50 - - - - - - 25 10 310
House Sparrow - - 30 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 15 6 1
House Finch - - - - 4 - - - - - - 3 4 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 5
American Goldfinch - - - - 5 - - - - 3 - - - - - - - - - - - - 3 2 - - 2
Orange-crowned Warbler - - - - - - - - 2 - - - - 1 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Audubon's Warbler - - - - 4 - - 4 - - 4 - - - - - - - - - - - - 1 - - - -
Red-winged Blackbird - - - - - - 5 - - - - - - 60 - - - - - - - - 235 30 - - 15
Common Grackle - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 3 500 - -
Lincoln's Sparrow - - 1 1 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Harris's Sparrow - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 2 2 - - - - - - - - 1 - - 2
White-throated Sparrow - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 4 3 - - - - - - - - - - - - 1
Dark-eyed Junco - - - - 2 - - 3 - - 6 4 2 - - - - 5 - - 8 - - 30
American Tree Sparrow - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 25
Spotted Towhee - - 1 1 - - 2 1 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

The month ended with relatively balmy conditions. A day with northerly winds brought an influx of Dark-eyed Junco and American Tree Sparrow. These two species were prevalent on the north side of town. A few Harris's Sparrow added to the wildbirds diversity.

It was an exciting month since there were regular surprises to appreciate and denote. At least during the month, there were opportunities to venture to other wildlife areas that meant an opportunity to denote further findings of wildbirds at Cherry county lands.

This month's records might contribute to some sort of understanding for the occurrence and distribution of birds in Nebraska. Kept records are essential.

01 November 2016

Autumn Visit to Anderson Bridge WMA

Weather was cloudy with strong winds expected at the start of the afternoon outing to Anderson Bridge WMA on October 30th. Weather was actually quite nice upon arrival at the place south of Kilgore, with partially clear skies and temperatures in the 60s.

The visit included a hike through the Niobrara Valley portion of the site. One dramatic difference here — compared to the last visit years ago — is the presence of a mown trail from the parking area, westward along the south side of the marsh and to within about a quarter-mile of the west boundary of the property. There is another section along the north side of the marsh, through the flats and then eastward for a distance until it reconnects to the entry road. Many cedar trees, including some with an impressive girth, have been cleared to provide the corridor. This work may have been done in cooperation with a wild turkey advocacy group, according to a sign posted at the area entrance.

There is more extensive flooding of the lowlands, as the beavers have established the earthworks needed to flood a significant area further east of the prominent marsh. The brook from the springs is no longer present, as it has been inundated. The area is now duckweed green!

In order to drive into the parking lot, two portable metal fence panels had to be opened. Fellow birder and driver, Gordon Warrick commented on why there needs to be eight signs of various sorts at the entrance. They are a bit much.

Our hike was along most of the trail route, which was like a walk in a park, and much easier than having to find a way through thick, inhibitory vegetation as was the situation in the past. Attention could be focused on listening or looking for wildbirds rather than trying to make a way.

This is the tally of species, and are listed in taxonomic sequence:

  • Wood Duck, 2
  • Mallard, 4 representing two pair
  • Wild Turkey, 40 foraging at the east side
  • Red-tailed Hawk, 1
  • Virginia Rail, 3 heard in response to imitations of its call
  • Downy Woodpecker, 1
  • Northern Flicker, 5
  • Great Grey Shrike (a.k.a. Northern Shrike), 1 on a power line just across the Niobrara river; this is a new addition to the local avifauna
  • American Crow, 2
  • Black-capped Chickadee, 4
  • Red-breasted Nuthatch, 1
  • White-breasted Nuthatch, 2
  • Winter Wren, 2; one near the flowing spring and another near the west end of the marsh
  • Marsh Wren, 1 at the west end of the marsh; a few chirrups heard first and then seen for a few moments amidst the cattails; this is a new addition to the species known to occur at this wildlife managment area
  • Eastern Bluebird, 2; notably heard
  • Townsend's Solitaire, 4 individually seen
  • American Robin, 15
  • American Tree Sparrow, 3
  • Song Sparrow, 2
  • White-throated Sparrow, 3
  • Harris's Sparrow, 2
  • Dark-eyed Junco, 25
  • Northern Cardinal, 3 including a pair
  • Red-winged Blackbird, 50 among the marsh cattails
  • American Goldfinch, 2

Northern species such as the sparrows and juncos were likely more prevalent than days earlier. Brisk northerly winds on the 29th brought many Dark-eyed Junco and American Tree Sparrow to the Valentine vicinity, and this may have also been the reason for the sparrows and many juncos observed.

Other visitors to the area were two hunters from Illinois, with two hunting dogs; they were staying in Valentine during their visit to the area. They thought there might be some huntable waterfowl present, but the birds had already gone away due to the occurrence of the birders. There were too many hunters at Valentine NWR so they were looking elsewhere for huntable game.

After the outing here, a drive was made to the west. Along the river road, an adult Bald Eagle was seen soaring over the north bluffs. At one site, there were about 30 Eastern Bluebird gathered on a powerline.

At the Chat Canyon WMA parking lot, there was also closed with a metal fence gate that had to be opened. Notable here were 75 American Crow that had been roosting at the north side of the area, but then flew westward, a few at a time. Also observed were two Townsend's Solitaire.

Some other notable sightings were a male Northern Harrier in the Minnechaduza Creek valley a few miles east of Crkkoston. Southwest of Kilgore was a flock of 25 Sandhill Crane flying at a low level at the eastern edge of the site where a wind turbine facility has been proposed. It seemed they were at an aerial height that would have not been much different than the height of any turbine blade. There were horned larks along the road here.

It was another pleasant day to be afield. At a few places along the way, errant beer cans and one beer bottle were picked up to reduce the extent of roadside trash.

This visit was the 39th that has been made to this place, with the first having occurred in the spring of 1982. As a result, there are 120 species known to occur at the tract and its immediate vicinity.

31 October 2016

Floral Picture Project Around Valentine

After taking a few pictures of local flora during May 2016, efforts intensified in June, with an increased focus on getting quality pictures of additional blooming plants. Whenever a species was in a fine condition with flowers, pictures were taken and eventually identified, often with the assistance of Dr. David M. Sutherland, professor emeritus at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Without his assistance, this project would not have occurred. There is simply no reference available that could provide a comprehensive means to make an proper identification of the forbs and grasses.

Specimens were mostly from the North Lake Shore Hills which included the local environs of the bluebird shack, the Valentine Mill Pond with its bit of planted warm-season grass prairie and the wild-fire setting at the water tanks tract northward of the pond. A few were observed at Government Canyon. Only a very few were recorded elsewhere, at Valentine of the fish hatchery along Minnechaduza Creek.

The focus was essentially on naturally occurring species amidst wild lands, especially north of the city. A “value-added” picture included some type of insect that added to the subject of attention.

About the bluebird shack, pictures — mostly of weedy species — were taken whenever conditions were especially suitable, i.e., early morning light and no breeze, or even when dew or snow occurred. Elsewhere they were recorded while birding. Autumn leaf color provided the impetus to get views of some trees. The intent was not to get a picture of every species species that occurs in the area, but to denote a the variety.

The last species denoted — the American Elm — was in a wooded area along Lake Shore Drive.

This is a list of the species recorded, listed in the order when recorded, rather than in taxonomic sequence.

  1. Yarrow — Achillea millefolium; North Lake Shore Hills; 05/05
  2. Shell-leaf Penstemon — Penstemon grandiflorus; Water Tanks Tract; 05/29
  3. Tall Hedge Mustard — Sisymbrium altissimun; North Lake Shore Hills; 05/31
  4. Dames Rocket — Hesperis matronalis; North Lake Shore Hills; 06/06
  5. Smooth Brome — Bromus inermis; North Lake Shore Hills; 06/07
  6. Hoary Alyssum — Berteroa incana; North Lake Shore Drive; 06/08
  7. Blue Vervain — Verbena hastata; North Lake Shore Hills; 06/18
  8. Prickly Poppy — Argemone polyanthemos; North Lake Shore Hills; 06/18
  9. Purple Coneflower — Echinacea angustifolia; North Lake Shore Hills; 06/18
  10. Plains Beebalm — Monarda pectinata; North Lake Shore Hills; 06/22
  11. Yellow Cone Flower (a.k.a Prairie Coneflower) — Ratibida columnifera; North Lake Shore Hills; 06/22
  12. Common Nettle — Urtica dioica; North Lake Shore Hills; 06/23
  13. Motherwort — Leonurus cardiaca; North Lake Shore Hills; 06/23
  14. Musk Thistle — Carduus nutans; North Lake Shore Hills; 06/23
  15. White Prairie Clover — Dalea candida var. oligophylia; North Lake Shore Hills; 06/23
  16. White Vervain — Verbena urticifolia; North Lake Shore Hills; 06/23
  17. Wild Four O'Clock — Mirabilis nyctaginea; North Lake Shore Hills; 06/23
  18. Yellow Goats Beard — Tragopogam dubius; North Lake Shore Hills; 06/23
  19. Common Mullein — Verbascum thapsus; North Lake Shore Hills; 06/24
  20. Spiderwort — Tradescantia occidentalis; North Lake Shore Hills; 06/24
  21. Leadplant — Amorpha canescens; North Lake Shore Hills; 06/26
  22. Wooly Plantain — Plantago patagonica; North Lake Shore Hills; 06/26
  23. Bush Morning Glory — Ipomoea leptophylla; North Lake Shore Hills; 06/28
  24. Yellow Clover — Melilotus officalis; North Lake Shore Hills; 06/28
  25. Bull Thistle — Cirsium vulgare; Valentine Mill Pond; 06/29
  26. Giant Bur Reed — Sparganium eurycarpum; Valentine Mill Pond; 06/29
  27. Swamp Milkweed — Asclepias incarnata; Valentine Mill Pond; 07/07
  28. Canada Lettuce — Lactuca canadensis; North Lake Shore Hills; 07/23
  29. Common Elderberry — Sambucus canadensis; Valentine Mill Pond; 07/23
  30. Field Bindweed — Convolvulus arvensis; North Lake Shore Hills; 07/23
  31. Smooth Sumac — Rhus glabra; Water Tanks Tract; 07/23
  32. Plains Sunflower — Helianthus petiolaris; Water Tanks Tract; 07/30
  33. Catnip — Nepata cataria; North Lake Shore Hills; 07/31
  34. Common Yellow Primrose — Calylophus serrulatus; North Lake Shore Hills; 07/31
  35. Golden Prairie Clover — Dalea aurea; North Lake Shore Hills; 07/31
  36. Buffalo Bur — Solanum rostratum; North Lake Shore Hills; 08/11
  37. Canada Goldenrod — Solidago canadensis; Valentine Mill Pond; 08/12
  38. White Clover — Trifolium repens; North Lake Shore Hills; 08/12
  39. Spotted Joe Pye Weed — Eupatorium maculatum; Valentine Mill Pond; 08/13
  40. Big Bluestem — Andropogon cristatum; Valentine Mill Pond; 08/15
  41. Common Arrowhead — Sagittaria latifolia; Valentine Mill Pond; 08/15
  42. Common Evening Primrose — Oenothera latifolia; Valentine Mill Pond; 08/15
  43. Gumweed — Grindelia squarrosa; Lake Shore Drive; 08/15
  44. Indian Grass — Sorghastrum nutans; Valentine Mill Pond; 08/15
  45. Jewelweed — Impatiens biflora; Valentine Mill Pond; 08/15
  46. Water Hemlock — Cicuta species; Valentine Mill Pond; 08/15
  47. Wild Bergamont — Monarda fistulosa; Valentine Mill Pond; 08/15
  48. Annual Wild Buckwheat — Erigonum annuum; Water Tanks Tract; 08/16
  49. Black Nightshade — Solanum interius; North Lake Shore Hills; 08/16
  50. Purple Lovegrass — Eragrostis spectabilis; North Lake Shore Hills; 08/16
  51. Gilia — Ipomopsis longiflora; Water Tanks Tract; 08/20
  52. Blazing Star — Liatris glabrata; Water Tanks Tract; 08/26
  53. Horseweed — Conyza canadansis; North Lake Shore Drive; 08/26
  54. Prickly Pear Cactus — Opuntia humifusa; North Lake Shore Hills; 08/26
  55. Barrel Cactus — Coryphantha vivipara or Coryphantha missouriensis, with species identification not possible as the plant pictured does not have any flowers, an essential needed to determine their coloration; North Lake Shore Hills; 08/27
  56. Bristlegrass — Setaria species; Valentine Mill Pond; 08/27
  57. Cocklebur — Xanthium strumarium; Water Tanks Tract; 08/27
  58. Fringed Sage — Artemisia frigida; North Lake Shore Hills; 08/27
  59. Prostrate Vervain — Verbena bracteata; North Lake Shore Hills; 08/27
  60. Snakeweed — Gutierrizia sarothrae; North Lake Shore Hills; 08/27
  61. Lamb'squarters — Chenopodium album; North Lake Shore Hills; 08/29
  62. Broad-leaved Cattail — Typha latifolia; Valentine Mill Pond; 08/30
  63. Bulrush — Scirpus species; Valentine Mill Pond; 08/30
  64. Purple Loosestrife — Lythrum salicaria; Valentine Mill Pond; 08/30
  65. Blue Cardinal Flower — Lobelia siphilitica; Valentine Mill Pond; 08/31
  66. Boneset — Eupatorium perfoliatum; Valentine Mill Pond; 08/31
  67. Common Duckweed — Lemna minor; Valentine Mill Pond; 08/31
  68. Dandelion — Taraxacum officinale; Valentine Mill Pond; 08/31
  69. Green Foxtail — Setaria viridis; North Lake Shore Hills; 08/31
  70. Late Goldenrod — Solidago gigantea; Valentine Mill Pond; 08/31
  71. Puncture Vine — Tribulus terrestris; North Lake Shore Hills; 08/31
  72. Rough Barnyard Grass — Echinochloa muricata; Valentine Mill Pond; 08/31
  73. Field Sandbur — Conchrus longispinus; North Lake Shore Hills; 09/01
  74. Red Clover — Trifolium pratense; North Lake Shore Hills; 09/01
  75. Bearded Flatsedge — Cyperus squarrosus or C. acuminatus; Valentine Mill Pond; 09/08
  76. Lady's Thumb — Polygonum persicaria; Valentine Mill Pond; 09/08
  77. Nodding Beggarticks — Bidens cernua; Valentine Mill Pond; 09/08
  78. Pale Smartweed — Polygonum lalathifolium; Valentine Mill Pond; 09/08
  79. Redroot Flatsedge — Cyperus erythrorhizos; Valentine Mill Pond; 09/08
  80. Straw-colored Flatsedge — Cyperus strigosus; Valentine Mill Pond; 09/08

    This visit to the Mill Pond involved wading out to the terrestrial flats just west of the open water of the pond, where the beggartick plants were profuse in their blooming.

  81. Siberian Elm — Ulmus pulima; Water Tanks Tract; 09/14
  82. Aromatic Aster — Aster oblongifolius; Water Tanks Tract; 09/14; some of these were blooming late in October at the Cherry Street Nursery and were attractive to small butterflies
  83. Catalpa — Catalpa speciosa; Valentine — 09/14
  84. Golden Aster — Heterotheca villosa; Water Tanks Tract; 09/14
  85. Little Bluestem — Andropogon scoparius; Water Tanks Tract; 09/14
  86. Sand Bluestem — Andropogon hallii; Water Tanks Tract; 09/14
  87. Sand Reedgrass — Calamovilfa longifolia; Water Tanks Tract; 09/14
  88. Sugar Maple — Acer saccharinum; North Lake Shore Hills; 09/14
  89. False Boneset — Brickellia eupatorioides; North Lake Shore Hills; 09/21
  90. Heath Aster — Aster ericoides; North Lake Shore Hills; 09/21
  91. Ponderosa Pine — Pinus ponderosa; North Lake Shore Hills; 09/21
  92. Common Boneset — Eupatorium perfoliatum; Government Canyon; 09/28
  93. Green Ash — Fraxinus pennsylvanica; Government Canyon; 09/28
  94. Peach-leaf Willow — Salix amygdaloides; Government Canyon; 09/28
  95. Riverbank Grape — Vitis riparis; Government Canyon; 09/28
  96. Water Cress — Nasturtium officinale; Government Canyon; 09/28
  97. Western Water-Horehound — Lycopus aster; Government Canyon; 09/28
  98. White Aster — Aster lanceolatus; Government Canyon; 09/28
  99. White Water-Crowfoot — Ranunculus longirostris; Government Canyon; 09/28
  100. Woodbine — Parthenocissus vitace; Government Canyon; 09/28

    Wetland plants were notably gathered during this outing from the upper extent of the stream, with other distinctive plants also present in this scenic canyon.

  101. Switchgrass — Panicum virgatum; Valentine Mill Pond; 09/30
  102. Windmill Grass — Chloris verticillata; along the road at the Valentine Fish Hatchery; 09/30
  103. Black Walnut — Juglans nigra; Valentine Mill Pond; 10/01
  104. Box Elder — Acer negundo; Valentine Mill Pond; 10/01
  105. Honey Locust — Gleditsia triacanthos; Water Tanks Tract; 10/02
  106. Bur Oak — Quercus macrocarpa; Valentine Mill Pond; 10/07
  107. Eastern Cottonwood — Populus deltoides; Valentine Mill Pond; 10/07
  108. Small Soapweed (yucca) — Yucca glauca; North Lake Shore Hills; noted on 10/07 though obviously present throughout the season, though flowering was not noted
  109. Skunkbrush Sumac — Rhus aromatica; Water Tanks Tract; 10/16
  110. Northern Red Oak — Quercus rubra; Lake Shore Drive; 10/27
  111. American Elm — Ulmus americana; Lake Shore Drive; 10/31

Additional early spring species could most likely be denoted if the Valentine City Park woodlands were visited early in the growing season.

Of the thousands of pictures taken, only about 10% were retained and suitably named and saved.

22 October 2016

An Autumn Ride in the Country

A knock on the front door was the start for a Sunday ride along the Niobrara River. The outing was not much of a jaunt beyond Valentine. It was however, another visit to the distinctive Vanderploeg ranch with its great wetland where the water always flows, next to the well-known Schlagel Creek and elsewhere among places of history.

After an appreciated brief visit with Marvin Vanderploeg at his residence - which is a tribute to the enjoyment of birds - Gordon Warrick drove onward along the country trail in the valley of the L’Eau Qui Court, to use a historic name. There was no travel along any sort of hard-surface so there was a complete lack of stop signs, traffic lights or any other vehicles. The pace was slow and right pace, with regular intermittent pauses – key turned off and most times the transmission moved to the park position later - to get a better look at some birds of a sort.

A first pause to get a good look - using binoculars and a spotting scope - at a grayish bird atop a pine, initially noticed because of a glance towards the sky-scape. It was a Townsend’s Solitaire, which had not been seen for years by either of us; was also a new addition to the great variety of wild birds that appreciate the wild land habitats of this ranch.

The plant-free marsh water along the lowland of the valley next to the river was a haven for several sorts of waterfowl. Prominent were the three juvenile Trumpeter Swan raised during the past summer season, Vanderploeg said. Migrants included Green-winged Teal, with many Mallards typical for the season also present. Out vantage point was a distinctively unusual and slight promontory on the south side of the valley flat.

A bit later, four adult swans were vivid in white on a place they found suitable along the Niobrara riverway.

With two bird-men with biological interests in the cab of a pickup, the discussion along the way included words about the local land and the ongoing tree management, the attention taken to create this place of unique heritage, plants of various types and other pertinent natural history miscellany. A particular personal conjecture was being able to throw a fly-line into Schlagel creek, and perhaps fish out a trout to enjoy for a short time, before it would be placed back into the cold, flowing, piscatorial waters. That would be a magnanimous story of its own accord.

Trees were a prominent feature. Oaks had leaves of many colors. Among the mix of flora were other sorts of plant species of lesser extent. It was a cloudy day, but at some time when light and sky combined to create a picturesque view, that created the right time for a photograph by a Canon camera.

During the slowly drive, there were other typical wild birds of the fall. They included a wonderful variety of Western Meadowlark on the uplands. The few wonderfully colored Eastern Bluebird could not be ignored, so weren't.

Among the arboreal setting on the river terrace there were glimpses of the distinctive White-breasted Nuthatch and the always cheery sound of the Black-capped Chickadee. The quiet meant prominent avian sounds were heard, which helped to be certain about the identity of some species of another. We heard the always vociferous flicker among the woods!

An especially exciting sighting were three Red Crossbill perched atop the snags of a deciduous tree, by the Schlagel. During this highlight time, the trio kept their place for a relatively long time of multiple minutes, which when it comes to determining an identity derived by bird action. There was enough of an interlude to get a good look and derive a proper name, especially since their crossed bills - used to extract pine cone seeds - were obvious. Neither of us would be willing to make any effort on which subspecies was present, as there are at least a dozen to consider. This occurrence provided a view, which among this place’s chronicles, is another addition to the known bird history.

The day’s tally was 29 species of birds. This is the largest number of species denoted during a single day survey of wild birds at the Vanderploeg, Niobrara property, based upon a comparison for a multitude of details for other dates, going back to the early weeks of 2000.

During the drive across this land it was obvious how this is a special place. We were able on our Sunday sojourn to appreciate - due to a landowner’s hospitality – so many nice, dinky scenes due to the continual efforts of active conservation. A multitude of land-scape features amidst the valley, are always there though only relatively slightly known. There will hopefully be another time when the mixture of land and sun will express, once again, more vivid views, with, perhaps some time spent on contributing some work time to help a bit with the efforts done to make this such an important example of private land conservation measures.

This is a compilation of the day’s complete avian tally, as noted in variable numbers during the midday record keeping: Canada Goose, 7 standing on a river sandbar; Trumpeter Swan; Wood Duck; Mallard; Green-winged Teal; Common Pheasant; Pied-billed Grebe at the marsh; a single Great Blue Heron; Bald Eagle, soaring above the land; Cooper's Hawk; Red-tailed Hawk; Ring-billed Gull, more than 20 with some sort of a larger gull in a seasonal drab plumage which, as it flew away westward, meant no identification was not possible; Belted Kingfisher as so easily known by its distinctive call; Downy Woodpecker; Northern Flicker with its primary feather feature having a reddish tinge; Blue Jay which is blatantly expressive; American Crow; Horned Lark about the upland grassland; Black-capped Chickadee; White-breasted Nuthatch; Eastern Bluebird along the upland fence boundary; the appreciated Townsend's Solitaire; American Robin; Orange-crowned Warbler so subtle in the river-side foliage; Audubon's Warbler (a.k.a. yellow-rumped warbler); Song Sparrow; Western Meadowlark represented by about 15 birds on the upland on the ranch, with another dozen eastward along the Schlagel Creek Road; Red Crossbill; and, American Goldfinch.

There were some little brown birds that preferred to flit rather than sit, so any opportunity for identification was futile.