18 June 2007

After 70 Years, Piping Plover Breeds Again at Crescent Lake NWR

Two Piping Plover fledglings and adults from Clear Lake, June 17, 1902 as collected by J.E. Wallace. Clear Lake is now part of Valentine NWR. Specimens at the University of Nebraska State Museum.

By James Ed. Ducey

The Piping Plover is nesting again - after a 70 year hiatus - at Crescent Lake National Wildlife Refuge.

"A pair of plovers are nesting on an island in Goose Lake," said Neil Powers, manager of the refuge in the western Sandhills. "Early reports stated that there were two nests and numerous adults. However, our wildlife biologist has confirmed one nest with four eggs, and two adult" Piping Plover on Friday, June 15.

Six plovers and two active nests were reported for June 9th on the refuge, by a visiting birder.

The record of breeding is the first for the refuge since a small group of Piping Plover, including young, were noted during mid-June 1937.

Islands where the plover are nesting were "reconstructed beginning in the fall of 2005 and were completed last year." Powers said. "In addition to the plovers, over 50 avocet pairs are also calling the islands home."

The islands were reconstructed using a low-ground-pressure bulldozer which simply pushed material from the lake bottom into an island already present,” he explained. “The two islands comprise about 2.5 acres, and are designed to provide secure nesting and loafing sites for migratory birds.”

"Frequently, our management efforts are a conglomeration of partnerships involving the assistance of neighboring cattle producers and other entities," added Powers. "It's very rewarding to see all steps in the planning process come together to complete a project and even more so when these management activities attract species of special concern."

In 1993-94, these plover were noted at Bean Lake, adjacent to the west side of the refuge. A pair was present, with no specific documentation of breeding, though birds were present during the proper time.

A number of Piping Plover are typically resident at Lake McConaughy each season, with a small chick seen June 3, by a Nebraska birder.

The species is a regular migrant in the sandhills region, with a few birds occasionally noted especially at lakes with barren, sandy shores. The belted subspecies is usually observed.

The Piping Plover is classified as a threatened species by wildlife agencies.

Great Plains Piping Plover.

15 June 2007

Fabric Garment Celebrates the Plumage of the Meadowlark

[Meadowlark garment.]

Meadowlark garment in the studio (Courtesy photo).

James Ed. Ducey

A distinctive cloak inspired by the colors, textures and patterns of meadowlark plumage was created by Robert Hillestad to commemorate the 2007 season of the Meadowlark Music Festival.

Meadowlark in Fiber has qualities with a remarkable similarity to plumage, achieved by careful attention to the selection of materials, said Hillestad, an internationally known fiber artist chosen for this season's festivities. Each year The Lark Society, sponsors of the annual event, invite a visual artist to create art work inspired by the meadowlark, to enhance the series of concerts.

Members of the Lark Society and their guests saw Meadowlark in Fiber presented by professional dancer Daniel Kubert during an afternoon soiree on April 28th at the Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center, near Denton.

With a wonderfully stylized dance, Kubert started out among the wild grasses, and continued to the nature center, Hillestad said. "It was quite amazing that the dance was similar to the behavior of a meadowlark. Daniel understood the piece and how it should be used." Kubert is New York trained, but now from Lincoln.

[Meadowlark garment on the prairie.]

Meadowlark garment at Spring Creek prairie (Courtesy photo).

To achieve authenticity of color, texture and pattern in his art piece, Hillestad used a variety of resources.

The recent purchase of the J.J. Audubon meadowlark print, as well as other artistic renderings were visually exciting. In addition to dyeing some of the yarns to match specific colors associated with the meadowlark, sweaters were unraveled to use the crimped characteristics of the once knitted yarns to duplicate the texture of plumage, he explained. Through a hand knitting technique that produces pile, the effects of plumage were created while building the garment structure.

"It was like working with brick to create veneer while building the frame of a house," he said in a recent interview at his central Lincoln home. "The process involved working simultaneously with two sets of threads that included an assortment of silk yarns combined with bias strips of fabric to suggest plumage on the outside and rayon seam binding tape for creating the underlying support structure."

A convincing suggestion of plumage results from his use of silk fabric streamers cut on the bias, Hillestad said. "I carefully selected light weight silk fabrics in colors representative of the meadowlark, then cut them into bias strips, rubbing the edges to create a feathered effect, and building multiple layers of texture by knitting them into the garment structure."

Hillestad started working on Meadowlark in Fiber in January, 2007, spending about 300 hours in its creation.

His interest in bird plumage and colors started once he learned of the legacy of the sandhill cranes, shortly after settling in Nebraska, where he moved to make a career change from being a designer in the apparel industry to a textiles design educator in the Department of Textiles, Clothing and Design at UNL.

A fascination with their colors, textures and patterns soon evolved into an appreciation for the plumage of other native birds. "From there, the urge to observe and study the plumage of parrots, macaws, cockatoos and other exotic birds from far away places was an easy leap," he quipped.

He approaches the study of plumage by first analyzing the interrelated effects of color, texture and pattern followed by attempts to duplicate them through various experimentations with dyes and pigments in his studio.

The professor also recently acquired Birds: the Art of Ornithology, a splendid coffee table book with renderings by leading bird illustrators, and is currently being inspired by the rich patterns in the plumage of tragopans, among the world's most charismatic birds, and the subtle coloration of blue magpies.

"The open spaces of Nebraska make me much more sensitive to birds, trees and other aspects of nature than when I lived in the urban center," he said.

Hillestad regards Meadowlark in Fiber as an initial effort toward moving his oeuvre in a new direction. With ideas for new work usually an outgrowth of his most recent creations, he is already on his way. Although continuing to explore features of plumage, his next piece of art will be in the form of an accessory for the body.

Fabrics from the meadowlark garment will be used for future projects, and Hillestad has also been collecting other fabrics with an eye to future pieces with a plumage motif.

[Detail of Mourning Dove plumage.]

Detail of the plumage of a Mourning Dove, showing the variation in color and patterns that could be depicted in a fabric garment.

"The changes in bird plumage coloration are fantastic," he said. "Plumage is what it is because it is color and texture integrated, and it is an exciting subject where one cannot extract one from the other. The fabrics will look like feather texture of hues, color combinations and iridescent qualities. These are a form of expression for advanced work with fabric color and texture, when worked up to build a piece."

After being displayed on an armature during selected concerts in various concert halls during the Meadowlark Music Festival, Meadowlark in Fiber will likely be on display in a few other local sites before being added to the permanent collection of the Museum of Nebraska Art in Kearney, Nebraska as part of The Meadowlark Collection.

In mid-June, Hillestad was the artist in residence, creating a fabric art piece at the Midwest Weavers Conference, being held at Dana College, Blair.

A comprehensive collection of Hillestad's most recent work, including explorations of plumage, is scheduled to be shown in The Robert Hillestad Textiles Gallery on the UNL East Campus in Lincoln, Nebraska in April, 2008.

The exhibition will be sponsored jointly by Friends of the Robert Hillestad Textiles Gallery, the support group for the Gallery, and The Department of Textiles, Clothing and Design at UNL in which Hillestad holds the rank of Emeritus Professor. The gallery was named in his honor in 1996 upon his retirement from a 32-year career as a design educator at UNL.

08 June 2007

Ongoing Expansion Threatens Chimneys for Urban Swifts

Property Acquisition Continues on Northeast Creighton University Campus

James Ed. Ducey

Acquisition of additional properties for the ongoing expansion of Creighton University will mean the further ruination of chimneys useful for breeding and migratory swifts.

The northeast portion of the campus and adjacent properties in North Downtown have a number of buildings with chimneys in the older buildings. A number of these on several city blocks - 16 individual parcels - are being acquired by Creighton University from Modern Equipment Company. The property will be used, possibly according to the campus master plan showing athletic fields southwest of 17th and Cuming Street. Student residences are shown on other portions of the purchased parcels.

An additional consideration is the ongoing discussion for a north downtown ballpark near 16th and Cuming Streets. This will mean removal of all buildings present on that tract. Other developments have altered the area, with new constructions of buildings - without chimneys - for the trendy NoDo.

Several chimneys used by swifts will eventually be removed from the area of the announced Creighton acquisitions. The parcel on the north side of the 2000 block of Cuming Street is being suggested for economic development as retail, service or residential use.

[Creighton Campus chimneys and swift habitats]
Chimneys and swift use in the northeast Creighton University campus area in northern Omaha. According to a university official, area A will be refabricated into housing and parking. Area B will be a ball field. Note the buildings recently demolished for the soccer complex now southwest of 17th and Webster streets.

During autumn surveys to record migratory birds, special scrutiny was given to these city blocks and to evaluate the status and features of its chimneys. The first few visits to this area were in the autumn of 2003 (Ducey 2003). Autumn 2005 research surveys were various intervals from 6-13 September.

Information on the buildings with chimneys includes street address, with parcel ownership and building date (usually) from the Douglas County Assessor's website. Other notes are based on the surveys or information from Creighton University.

Chimney List

There are many chimneys for the buildings of the area. The structures date to 1883, 1886, from the 1890s to 1920s and to 1949 and 1951. Smaller chimneys get used by breeding swifts, while larger sizes are roosts for local and migratory flocks. Those chimneys noted to be suitable for swifts are generally 2x2.5 bricks or larger, based on an evaluation of more than 90 chimneys in Lincoln during seasonal breeding.

Creighton University, established in 1878 - recent expansion extensively west of 17th and south of Cuming streets, and to a limited extent on 16th Street
- 611 North 16th Street; 2.5x2.5 bricks; since 1900
- 713 North 16th Street; formerly Parker Heating & Cooling, Inc., bought in 2000; 2.5 bricks square; since 1880
- 1702 Webster Street; Project One building: tallist 6x6 bricks square; since 1916
- 702-08 North 18th Street: 3 chimneys, with two of them vented, one which was still used as a roost for more than 50 swifts on 16 Sep 2003; since 1922
- 723 North 18th Street: Facilities Management building; 2.5 bricks and 6x6 bricks square; since 1916
- 815 North 19th Street; 5x5 bricks; since 1919
- 1913 Cuming Street; 2.5x2.5 bricks constricted and 4 bricks square, larger one a companion roost to 1819 Cuming building, though with a lesser number of birds; since 1919
- 723 North 20th Street; former Worley Body Shop, demolition planned for autumn 2005 according to a facilities official; 2x2 bricks, 2x2 bricks constricted and 2 x 2.5 bricks; since 1942
- 2002 Burt Street; Pittman building; 3.5x5 bricks; since 1949
- 2019 Cuming Street; 2x2 bricks; since 1900
- 2101 Cuming Street; 4.5x4.5 bricks; since 1926

12 chimneys possibly suitable, with some of these already removed with the demolition of the building since the survey was conducted.

Modern Equipment Co. Inc. - now Creighton University
- 816 Florence Boulevard; former service garage; 2x2 bricks; since 1949
- 1809 Cuming Street; 4x4 constricted; since 1918
- 2010 Cuming Street or 902 North 20th Street; 3x3 bricks with a second capped one of similar size; since 1925
- 2011 Cuming Street; 2.5x2.5 bricks; since 1898
O'Keefe Elevator Company Inc.
- 1624 Webster Street; originally M.F. Shafer & Co.; 7.5x8 bricks, used as a roost by a large number of autumn swifts, with at least 400 on 4 Sept 2003 and a video-count of 625 on 12 Sep 2005, that showed when some swifts were going into the chimney, others are leaving, probably not able to get a roost spot and then left to fly around before another reentry; 1917 date on building. Purchased by Creighton University. The building is currently undergoing renovation.
- 815 North 18th Street; compares favorably to 4x4 bricks; since 1886
Automatic Printing Company
- 1713 Cuming Street; 2x3 bricks capped; since 1916
- 1721 Cuming Street; 3x4.5 bricks and 5 bricks square capped with a vent
1 possibly suitable; 2 potential
1515 Cuming Street LLC
- 1504 Burt Street; former public warehouse now with broken windows and weeds growing along the roofline of what appears to be an unused building; cf. 2x2 bricks square constricted
- 1507-19 Cuming Street; 2x2 bricks in northeast corner, and 4.5x4.5 bricks; since 1913
1 chimney of roost size, and two possibly too small for breeding swifts
- 1502 California; private owner; 2x2 bricks; since 1900
- 601-603 North 16th; was M. Tatle, hotel and now rooms, with the Happy Bar on the ground floor; 1910 date on building
- 610 North 16th Street; Sol's Jewelry and Loan Co., Inc.; 2x2 bricks, five 2x2.5 bricks and 2.5 bricks square; since 1880 making this the oldest multi-chimney building in Nebraska likely used by swifts
- 717-723 North 16th street; private owner; two 2.5 bricks, one constricted; since 1930
- 802 North 16th Street; Walker's Inc.; two 2x2.5 bricks; since 1922
- 1608 Webster Street; Moreco Plating Inc.; 2x2 bricks; since 1920
- 1607 Cuming Street; Cuming Building, now Aero Rooms, 1607 LLC; 2x2.5 bricks; since 1913
- 1702 Cuming Street; J.F. Bloom & Co. building, now Bank of Bennington; cf. 4x4 bricks; used as an autumn roost; since 1906
- 1715 Izard Street; Holy Family Church; 3.5x3.5 bricks; 1883 date on building cornerstone
- 1809 Burt Street; Precision Tool Inc.; cf. 2.5x2.5 bricks; since 1951
- 1801 Cuming Street; Grace Tabernacle Church; 2x2 bricks
[Two threatened chimneys at the Creighton University campus]

Two of the threatened chimneys at 1819 Cuming Street, on the Creighton University Campus.

- 1819 Cuming Street; private landowner; 2x2 and 3.5x3.5 and 5x5 bricks; the big chimney is a companion roost to 1913 Cuming building with about 175 birds roosting on 12 Sep 2005; since 1890
- 801 North 20th Streets; Lutherans of Nebraska, Inc.; cf. 2x2 bricks, possibly too small to use as breeding habitat; since 1906
- 2020 Cuming Street; Omaha Machine and Supply Co.; 2x2 bricks and 4 bricks square; since 1922
- 2109 Cuming Street; Weston's Tavern; 2.5x2.5 bricks constricted; since 1925
14 chimneys

There are more than 30 chimneys of interest as swift habitat in North Downtown (see figure). The structures are scattered about the area at a variety of buildings of different age and condition. Since the 1880s when the first buildings were erected, there have been many decades, and likely more than a century of annual use of distinct chimneys by breeding and roosting swifts.

The oldest buildings noted in the area are dated to 1880, 1883 and 1886. If the chimneys at these locales are used by swifts, it would make them the oldest known structures used by swifts in Omaha.

Buildings owned by Creighton University account for most of the total. This number would have been greater in the recent past, but with ongoing expansion, buildings and their chimneys are being demolished. The oldest known building in the area - from 1880 - is university property with chimney apparently large enough, and probably suitable for breeding swifts.

New construction will remove additional properties in the long term, about 10-12 years according to an official in the university facilities department.

Expansion that University officials had previously said would occur in several years, has moved ahead. Further expansion can occur as new parcels are being acquired.

Regarding 723 North 18th Street, redevelopment would occur in several years. There were no current plans for the building at 1913 Cuming Street - dating to 1890. The place is in poor condition, including the east wall next to the roost chimney that is splitting away from the remainder of the structure. There were no plans for the University properties along 16th street, and these may be sold, according to the facilities official comments three years ago.

Elsewhere on campus, Creighton medical Center expansion meant a bunch of buildings were also removed to make way for a parking lot north of California Street and west of 30th Street. One house remains, with a small sized-chimney.

Other buildings also have a tenuous future. A second building from 1880 sits empty, and has a smaller sized chimney that may be suited for nesting swifts. At 816 Florence Boulevard, a very small, unused building sits empty on a prime corner lot within the projected campus area. Other places appear they are not used and await a new property future, one without regard to any importance of the chimney to resident birdlife.

While university and city officials promote development of the area for students and pedestrians, and feature outdoor events, there is a reduction in a key aspect of the community. There is no regard to the chimney dwelling birds which each day during the summer season eat a myriad of insect pests, improving the scene for people.

Nearly two-thirds - the majority - of the chimneys noted will be gone in the long-term, causing a dramatic decline in suitable places for swifts.

This urban setting has a continuing decline in habitat structures, with no mitigation for losses caused by demolition of buildings. Efforts are needed to provide replacement nesting towers and to conserve present chimneys where feasible to ensure representative sites featured at older buildings are maintained.

The trend for swifts, because of changes underway, indicates that these bugeaters habitat will severely decline in an area where they are now regularly so common in autumn. Habitat loss will cause a decline in their community status during the breeding season. Chimney Swifts migrating southward along the Missouri Valley will have fewer options for finding a safe haven for the night.

This north Omaha portion of the city is integral with the mix of the chimney swift's occurrence in other parts of this city, which is such an interesting place to study swift habits.


March 2003. Autumn roosting habitat for Chimney Swifts in eastern Omaha. Nebraska Bird Review 71(3): 1-8. Published in August 2005.

September 23, 2005. Article regarding chimney swifts on Creighton Campus. Creightonian. Omaha.

06 June 2007

Dry Conditions for Spring Shorebird Migration in Crescent Lake Sandhills

By James Ed. Ducey.

Continuing dry conditions meant lesser shorebird numbers during spring migration in the western sandhills.

“This year, dry conditions precluded above average rainfall after the majority of the migration had past,” said Neil J. Powers, manager of Crescent Lake NWR.

Shorebird and migratory waterfowl numbers were so far down this year in this part of Nebraska because it was so dry, so long, Powers explained during a visit May 24th by an ornithology class from the Cedar Point Biological Station, operated by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln along the Platte River in Keith county. Then the rains came too late to attract and keep the birds.

The instructor, John Faaborg of University of Missouri, Columbia, expressed disappointment and apologized for an absence of typical birds according to a student’s post on NEBirds.

The shorebird migration was lighter than normal, said Marlin French, wildlife biologist at the refuge of lakes and prairie in central Garden county. “Most notably we did not have the large groups of phalaropes. Breeding bird numbers are the same to slightly up.”

Several thousand Wilson's Phalarope have been regularly noted during May bird counts, and is the most numerous migratory shorebird at refuge habitats, such as Gimlet Lake, Border Lake, Crane Lake and Roundup Lake.

There were about 14,000 counted on May 1, 1978 at Goose Lake, according to refuge records, this being the largest count of this species for the sand hills region. Another large count was 12,500 noted during a birders survey on May 6, 2006 at nearby Alkali Lake, on the Eldred Ranch.

Large numbers of the Red-necked Phalarope are occasionally noted in the Crescent Lake region. Long-billed Dowitchers, Baird's Sandpiper and Least Sandpiper can also be especially numerous during refuge surveys.

Rainfall on April 24-25, nor the heavy rains of ca. 2.5” on May 29-30, did improve water conditions for the onset of the typical breeding season for shore- and water-birds.

“Water levels are still low but slightly better than the past few years,” French said.

“In any given year, our annual evaporation is almost triple that of our annual precipitation,” Powers said. “With below average snowfall and a relatively dry early spring (March and early April) leads to conditions which unfortunately drive wetland associated migratory birds to areas with better habitat conditions.”

“This situation could be completely reversed next spring and is one of nature’s dynamics which keeps wetlands productive,” Powers added.

Homepage of Crescent Lake NWR

02 June 2007

Threat to Birds Transformed by Public Art

Portion of window screen mural in place, showing the difference in the reflectivity of the skywalk glass.

By James Ed. Ducey

Public efforts to "transform a skywalk into a public art piece" will also benefit birds migrating through downtown Lincoln.

Two murals have been placed along the sides of a skyway connecting the parking garage to the building.

"My composite of people presents the diverse culture of the city," said the artisan, Larry Roots, of Lincoln. "Socially it has a broad audience."

Workers installing the window screen art, showing visibility with and without the screening. Window strike bird carcasses have been found at two locations within two blocks of this locale.

Roots had numerous issues to consider during 2.5 years preparing "Our Community ... Larger than Life," including street clearance, weight considerations, while maintaining the visibility to the outside for people within the walkway. Meetings were held with community groups to develop the images.

This art was selected from among 50 proposals that were submitted. Roots had been involved with the Stories from Home project, and continued with the subject of people. The skywalk mural is a new genre he said, and "represents the potential for a consortium of visual artists to present additional works." Roots works with Modern Arts Midwest.

The project was sponsored by the City of Lincoln, Downtown Lincoln Association and Lincoln Arts Council. It is within the 12th Street Art Zone.

[Window screen artwork on skyway in Lincoln]
South side of the finished art mural on the skywalk from Energy Square, 1111 O Street, and the adjacent Center Park Parking Garage to the Magee's Building, 1201 O Street.