Beneath a beautiful cloud-free cerulean sky and with warming temperatures, Gordon Warrick and I took a drive amidst a bit of Cherry county country on a pre-spring Sunday the 17th. During our foray, my sharpened pencil was kept busy writing notes. Then later, more time was taken later to derive a suitable geographic designation for a bunch of bird observations.
Across the land southward of Valentine, there was lots of ice but some birds were indifferent because flocks of geese arrived or were flying into local habitats as wintry conditions moderated.
During our drive, we once again focused on the spaces along the Brownlee Road, with a start at the Heart City, down Highway 97 and then beyond to see what wildbirds were present.
A great grey shrike was on a wire at the Mcsky Ranch. Merritt reservoir was nearly 100% ice-covered. Three fishermen from Nebraska county 15 were huddled aside the dam looking at their nearby gear. They gave a hearty wave as we drove quickly past because there were no birds on the ice-covered waters.
In the vicinity of Gordon Creek along Highway 97, waterfowl of the day became especially obvious. There were lots of Canada geese obvious in the meadows as flying above. Most dramatic were eight trumpeter swans at the lowlands. They were waiting for ice-free water where they might establish a home for the pending breeding season.
Near the top of a big meadow tree a pair of bald eagles built upon a seeming balcony – because they reside at a nest of historic renown – were easily seen from the highway, while being attentive to their season’s brood. What were they doing during the so recent blizzard? Hope was no choice for them but it seems they did their work well and the nest survived the blasting winds with blowing snow and frigid cold.
Eventually we reached our Brownlee Road route, a uniquely scenic drive way amidst country with lakes, valleys and high country hills. There were plowed away snow drifts at more than one place.
Another couple of trumpeter swans were seen at Packingham Lake. With the water still ice-covered, we pondered how they might avoid any nightly wanderings of coyotes looking for a meal. They certainly have the right moves to avoid that sort of trouble.
A strutting common pheasant rooster was along the road in Wamaduze Valley (isn’t that a distinct name of historic derivation). Territorial red-winged blackbirds were prevalent at many places and numerous at more than one place. Rough-legged buzzards were obvious. There was even a common pheasant that added some color to the scene.
Many meadow expanses were filled with water topped with ice that will soon melt. These places will be hay meadows later this year.
We two bird-watchers were excited upon seeing two vividly blue birds atop some fence posts in the valley. They were soon identified as mountain bluebirds. Neither of us had seen them for a long time. The last reported record of this species in the county was in 2009 at Merritt Reservoir. That is a historic matter. To actually to see these two birds togetherly active in Cherry county supersedes many things.
A bunch of birds were notably active along the North Loup River in the Brownlee vicinity. Mallards were flying around. Red-winged blackbirds were busy in moving north or selecting a territory for the season. Migratory common mergansers were lingering as the flowing river was a haven.
During our transit of more than 20 miles along the road, there was only one pickup loaded with a big round bale, and then, later, two other vehicles east of Brownlee.
We tried to visit Rat and Beaver Lake WMA but the road was too muddy, rutted and not very suitable for vehicular travel. County ranchers have to deal with this reality every day, but we experienced a single effort and turned around. Ranchers deal with these conditions know much more on how to successfully deal with any travel issues. We gave up since the pending route was so tentative even while 4x4 travel was available. It was a vivid reality associated with country life.
Northward along Highway 83 upon our travel back to the city, and just a relatively short distance south of the Y, a field usually associated with corn, many geese had congregated on ice covered. There will be no plow on this ground for a particular time.
The overall bird tally for the day was 34 species, with raptors (six species including a vivid view of a beautifully colored ferruginous hawk and a singular American kestrel), waterfowl and flocks of red-winged blackbirds being notably prevalent.
It was a quite nice drive that can be appreciated any day. Our Sunday outing was a fine time to look around for the birds of the pending spring. Various landscape features of the hard surface Brownlee Road are a certain treasure of Cherry county. Any time spent along this route is an opportunity to appreciate a special sand hills setting.