21 July 2014

Feds Investigating Wildbirds Being Killed at Omaha

A local bird enthusiast indicated on a recent morning a few second-hand details that some midtown Omaha residents had killed several hundred wildbirds.

The details given were that the birds, especially blackbirds, had been killed by people of a foreign nationality at area lakes by use of a slingshot. Also, hundreds of carcasses had been found in a resident's freezer. Multiple people were involved. There was also the indication that a $40,000 fine had been levied.

It seemed like rumor, so on a later visit, he was asked again about this, and the details remained the same.

To learn more about this, and since birds are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, enforced by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, an email was sent to the Nebraska Field office as an inquiry.

The response received indicated that an "active investigation was underway" so no details could be provided.

Since their is an investigation underway, this indicates the veracity of the report. Rumor seems to be fact...

Results of this investigation by a public agency should eventually be made available to the public, not only for informational purposes, but to understand the whys and hows of how the killings occurred, and how they might be prevented?

The likelihood of the F.W.S. releasing any details, does however seem unlikely.

08 July 2014

Dickcissel Days at Audubon Prairie Preserve

Bird observations have been kept on a daily basis during several recent visits of a working purpose to the native prairie preserve owned and maintained by the Audubon Society of Omaha. This place is north of Omaha along Bennington Road, about a half-mile east of 72nd Street.

The prairie is now lush and newly verdant with grasses and so many other plant species surging forth with their warm-season growth. This place is of utmost importance, as one vital link among a key portion of the overall area. To the south are residential properties with some bits of woodland and mown lawns. To the west is a replanted grassy space which was formerly cropland. Its northern edge is a marked by a line of free-growth trees. Beyond the north side of the property is an agricultural field. Construction is now underway here on houses among another suburban development.

While working to remove unwanted vegetation — yellow sweet clover — from among the plant growth of the prairie during the first days of July, any birds heard or seen were recorded every day to indicate what species were present and to provide a perspective of birdlife on a daily basis. Observations were primarily between 6 and 9 a.m. CDT.

No day had a similar tally of species.

The most regular and appreciated sounds where those of the Dickcissel. Several pair of Dickcissels live here. During the morning hours their song is continually heard spaced at places the males have found appropriate. Deep within the grasses they certainly have hidden nests. An adult carrying food was well seen on July 6th.

During the first two visits two students — from a local university — were apparently gathering details about the territoriality of these birds. Research is great, but when they were seen throwing sticks at a territorial Dickcissel on my initial visit, they crossed a line indicating that they were not following proper research protocol. When the "stick approach" did not work they reverted to multiple plays of an playable version of this birds song, using a cell phone or some other electronic device. The guy and gal were obviously harassing the Dickcissels so they could get results for their day afield!

Nothing was said to them despite my aggravation at their aberrant and unacceptable behavior.

Sublime among the grasses were Common Yellowthroat pairs. They have chosen a breeding season space deep among the grasses of this upland prairie. Their voice is another bit of the morning orchestra of birds sounds that were heard.

Also appreciated was the sublime Eastern Meadowlark. Their evocative song wasn't heard very often, but their calls were appreciated and they were seen flitting about a few instances.

It was early in July, yet seasonal movements are underway, as indicated by visiting American Bitterns, a rather unexpected species for Douglas County. A local birder was intrigued by the possibility of observing this species which is missing from his extensive list for this area along the Missouri River. Passing flocks of bluebirds had most likely raised their young in the vicinity and are now transient across the landscape.

Common Name 7/2/2014 7/3/2014 7/4/2014 7/6/2014 7/7/2014
American Bittern - - - - 3 1 1
Turkey Vulture 1 - - 3 - - - -
Cooper's Hawk 1 - - - - - - - -
Red-tailed Hawk - - - - 1 - - - -
Killdeer 1 2 1 1 2
Mourning Dove 2 1 1 2 2
Yellow-billed Cuckoo - - 1 1 2 1
Belted Kingfisher 1 - - - - - - - -
Downy Woodpecker 1 1 1 1 - -
Northern Flicker 1 - - - - - - 1
Eastern Kingbird 1 1 1 - - - -
Blue Jay 2 1 1 2 1
American Crow - - 1 - - 3 1
Barn Swallow 9 3 3 3 3
Black-capped Chickadee 1 1 4 2 2
White-breasted Nuthatch 1 - - 1 1 - -
House Wren 2 3 3 3 4
Eastern Bluebird 2 1 14 6 - -
American Robin 2 6 2 2 3
Gray Catbird - - 1 2 - - - -
Brown Thrasher 1 1 - - 1 1
European Starling 1 - - 1 - - 3
Common Yellowthroat 2 3 3 3 3
Chipping Sparrow 1 - - 1 - - 1
Field Sparrow 1 1 1 1 1
Northern Cardinal 2 1 3 2 1
Indigo Bunting - - - - - - 1 1
Dickcissel 5 5 5 6 5
Eastern Meadowlark 2 3 1 1 1
Common Grackle - - - - 2 2 4
Brown-headed Cowbird 2 2 1 2 2
Baltimore Oriole 2 - - 2 - - - -
American Goldfinch 1 2 2 2 1
House Sparrow 2 2 3 2 - -

During these five days of July as the heat and humidity descended upon the landscape, there were 34 species seen or heard while traversing the prairie in search of yellow sweet clover to yank out or otherwise eradicate. Pulling worked most times, but on a regular basis, the stalk broke so the root remained. Some of the plants were so-welled established that it was not possible to pull them from the ground. Their tenacity with the soil made the work much more strenuous, as there were moments when an attempt to extradite was nothing more than a useless strain with the result being a breaking of the stalk to just get rid of the above-ground portion of the clover plant. The larger plants are a great challenge to pull from the ground, and although the plant may be removed, it is a great strain to remove the entire plant, including its root, well buried and anchored in the soil of this prairie.

The primary removal effort was amidst the south part of the prairie, where intent was given to eradicate every one of these weedy species. The effort then continued northward, along the edges of the expansive extent of flowering plants.

There is an obvious difference upon the crest of the hill for this prairie on its hilltop crest. To the south, the unwanted clover is sparse. To the north, the clover plants are thriving in such an extent that manual removal would be a task that could not in any manner be completed this season, and not even next year because there are so many of the yellow sweet clover, a biennial plant. Seed set this season will sprout next year, and there will be an ongoing occurrence of those vivacious plants.

While working on weed removal for the Audubon Society of Omaha, the intent was to remove woody vegetation from their eastern fenceline, and then find and remove yellow sweet clover plants wherever they were growing among the prairie. This goal was only partially achieved because there are so many clover plants present, so there was no potential to achieve an eradication. There was some success in limited portions of the prairie. However, the worst infestation of clover comtinues in the northwest quarter of the property and nothing was done during my hours afield to suitably deal with its weed infestation.

A special thanks to society for the opportunity to work at their prairie.

My personal apologies to the resident Dickcissels for disturbing their place, including a disruption of their habitat by removing plants and otherwise altering their summer life. Dramatic vegetative changes are not appreciated by birds at this time of the season when key elements of plants provide essential cover for nests with young.

Booby an Exciting Occurrence for Nebraska Birders

The occurrence of a Brown Booby in eastern Nebraska has caused great excitement in the ornithological community of Nebraska and elsewhere.

According to details, the bird was present from June 28-30 at Hansen Lake, in southern Sarpy County, adjacent to the lower Platte River.

Justin Rink, followed up with additional details:

"The closest this species has come to Nebraska is southern Arkansas (adult female). There are NO records for the Midwest or western Great Lakes region. An adult female was observed at Niagra, New York on October 13, 2013. Another bird was apparently observed an documented in inland North Carolina close to the Virginia border. This bird is an occasional visitor to the warm waters off of southern Florida and the Gulf Stream. A few coastal Texas records also exist The Atlantic race breeds as close to the U.S. as the Caribbean. The western subspecies is sometimes observed in Arizona and California, and nests on an island just south of San Diego in Baja California Norte, Mexico.

If accepted this will constitute the first Sulid for the state of Nebraska."

Rink visited the lake on July 3rd, to see if the bird was still present. Through the courtesy of Steve and Patty S., he was able to ride along in their boat around the lake. The bird was not seen. Rink then also looked around the vicinity at several other prominent lakes, to see if the booby might be found elsewhere. His search was not successful.

The lake was described as:

"I learned many different attributes about this lake including the fact that it is very clean, and has a huge number of baitfish that will swirl at the surface. Because of this, feeding was probably a breeze for the Booby. Most of the 'backyards' contain a beach from Platte River sand that probably made the bird feel at home."

"The four photos clearly showed an adult male Brown Booby of nominate Atlantic race leucogaster sitting on a boat covered by a tarp," according to details given on the NEbirds forum.

Brown Booby at Hansen Lake. Both pictures were taken June 30, 2014. Images are courtesy of Mark Brogie, Nebraska Ornithologists' Union record committee.

 

Hansen Lake is private property, with no "public access" to the lake waters.

01 July 2014

Corps to Consider Public Works Wetland Filling at Elmwood

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been asked to investigate the possibility of illegal filling of wetlands at Shadow Lake, Elmwood Park.

The filling activity would involve the placement of numerous sandbags by the Omaha Public Works department within the water of the park pond and on the east pond bank of the berm.

Section 404 requires a permit to place material within waters of the United States without a permit. Placing sandbags within the pond, would involve such an activity.

Omaha Public Works apparently does not have such a permit, according to a Corps spokesman visited with later in the morning on July 1st.

Shadow Lake is considered a jurisdictional wetland because of its hydrologic connection via the brook west of Shadow Lake, which connects to Wood Creek, that flows through Elmwood Park. This eventually connects to the Missouri River, a well-known waterway where most all wetlands are jurisdictional.

There is also the likelihood that any repair work at the lower west side of the berm would require earthwork, that would more than likely involve placement of a minimal amount of dirt within the flowing brook.

The following pictures were taken late morning on July 1, at the problem site.

The western portion of the berm, showing the gully due to the erosion and the spot where the water enters the ever-flowing brook. The pipe on the left side of the picture was put in place a few years ago to provide pond drainage.

View from the brook-side to the west.

The next three images show were sandbags were placed within the waters of Shadow Lake. On the south side is where the water has already bypassed this now useless barrier, and continues to flow improperly. Due to the advanced loss of integrity in the dam berm, some of the bags have already fallen into the large hole present.

View from the south.

The green plant in the picture is duckweed (Lemna species); this is the reason why the pond is such an attractive haven for the numerous Wood Ducks and Mallards now present

View from the north.

A view of the plastic fencing and cone placed upon the berm top. The northern section of this fencing was repositioned during my first Tuesday visit, because it was mostly fallen over and was providing a barrier less than two-feet in height, rather than its entire possible barrier capacity.

View to the south.

The sewer line which traverses the berm, showing the extensive erosion to the supportive earthwork due to the adjacent stream of water.

Apparently, some time Monday, the sand bags were put in place, along with additional fencing at the problem site. These items were not present mid-morning Monday, but were there mid-morning Tuesday, July 1.

Update: According to an email received from Public Works, this site was visited by department staff on July 2nd, and that the Army Corps of Engineers was contacted that afternoon. Temporary repairs were made on July 3rd when the sewer line was stabilized, and numerous additional sandbags were placed in the pond waters, to make certain that any drainage would occur through the pipe. As of July 7th, Public Works indicated no further work will occur at Shadow Lake until a site visit occurs with Public Works and Corps staff.

Omaha Public Works Contends with Possible Wetland Fill

The Army Corps of Engineers is requiring that Omaha Public Works respond to a complaint regarding the potential filling of wetlands south of Levi Carter Park.

After an initial visit, a representative of the Corps met again at the site on June 18th with Martin Grate (environmental quality manager of the department) and Nina Cudahy, also of Public Works.

"We identified that fill material may be entering wetlands that are present on the site. Marty and Nina are going to have a wetland delineation done in order to identify where the wetlands are. If wetland is delineated next to fill material, we will assume that some wetlands have been filled. If wetland is not present next to the fill, we will assume that the fill is in upland." — information received in email from the Omaha office of the Corps.

No timetable was given on when the delineation will occur. Once it is completed, the Corps and Public Works will have another meeting, according to the email. They will then discuss the results, any "potential actions that may be taken" by the Corps, and "how to keep fill material out of the wetlands onsite."

27 June 2014

Waterfowl at Shadow Lake, Elmwood‏ Park

The following email was sent 27 June to the director of Omaha Public Works, the director of Omaha Parks and Recreation, as well as the office of Omaha's mayor.

During the morning of 26 June, Shadow Lake was visited once again to evaluate how waterfowl are using this unique urban habitat.

There were more than 20 young Wood Ducks present, along with at least three adult females. Upon my arrival, most of them were congregated at the west portion of the pond, along the dam. They eventually dispersed elsewhere upon the waters, and due to my diligence to minimize disturbance, none of the birds flew elsewhere.

There are probably three broods of Wood Ducks. Some of them were larger and would have hatched something like two weeks ago. There were nine very small hatchlings, so itty-bitty that two could be held in the palm of a hand. They scurry about like little bits of feathered furry, and this is because Shadow Lake is a haven, necessary for their immediate survival.

It takes 8-10 weeks for a Wood Duck duckling to mature to the extent that it can fly.

Also present was a female Mallard with five larger ducklings.

Shadow Lake now provides a safe habitat for these waterfowl. Any activity which would degrade the quality of this habitat would be extremely detrimental for these birds. If the water is pumped away to allow repair of the berm, the lives of the young ducks would be threatened since there is no similar, alternative habitat in the vicinity. Or if action was undertaken that drastically reduced the extent of pondweed, it would also not bode well for the fowl that already face a difficult time of survival. Forced to wander through Elmwood Park, they could be subject to predation by feral-acting cats from neighboring houses, or perhaps an attack by a wandering dog not on its leash (which occurs regularly within the park, despite it being an illegal action).

Any action which results in the death of any of these wildbirds would personally be considered as a "taking" action.

Taking of any protected bird species is not allowed by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. A taking can include the unintentional destruction of birds through a deliberate action. This act is enforced by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and a state representative of this agency is now aware of this situation.

If there is any action done which threatens the ducks, I will ask that FWS undertake an investigation and potentially an enforcement action, and that fines be assessed.

The lack of action by Public Works in May, when the dam degradation was initially indicated, does not mean that some sort of emergency action now should preempt retaining water at Shadow Lake. Failure to act is not an excuse.

26 June 2014

Dam Damage Threatens Pond at Elmwood Park

Shadow Lake at Elmwood Park is threatened by extensive erosional damage to its dam. In response, the following email with four pictures was sent to the director of Omaha Public Works, the director of Omaha Parks and Recreation, as well as the office of Omaha's mayor.

Attached are some pics showing the severely damaged condition of the dam at Shadow Lake, as noted on June 25th.

When this is repaired, how will water be kept in the pond to allow survival of the more than 20 pre-flight wood ducks now present? Draining of the pond will threaten their survival and this will be their status for another month.

This situation would not have occurred if the berm had been fixed soon after the initial report of damage as noted on May 15th...

The dam damage is significantly greater now than it was six weeks ago. It is also a greater hazard as well as a threat to the large sewer line, which can readily be seen down in the deep hole caused by the ongoing erosion.

Water improperly flowing through the earthen dam structure, rather than the installed drain.

Painted turtle enjoying the sunny setting at Shadow Lake.

Midday view of Shadow Lake on June 25th. There were more than 20 Wood Ducks present during the first, mid-morning visit.

Damage here had been originally noted on May 15th, and reported then to Public Works. There was no repair work done in response, other than placement of sandbags in an attempt to inhibit the improper drainage.

The dam which created Shadow Lake, was built to provide a route for a neighborhood sewer line.