27 February 2009

Efforts to Mitigate for Habitat Changes Continues Along the Missouri

Another new mitigation project along the Missouri River in Nebraska is currently underway on and near Boyer Chute NWR.

The Boyer Bend Billabong/Lower Calhoun Chute project is being done at a cost of $3.818 million dollars, using federal funds provided through a congressional allocation to the Army Corps of Engineers.

The project is for the benefit of the endangered Pallid Sturgeon, according to Matt Krajewski, Corps project manager.

This and other sites are selected through an extensive review and selection process, to include a review of historic maps and aerial photos showing the location of former riverine habitats. River engineers were also involved in the site selection process.

"This project meets the goals of mitigation without hindering the authorized uses of the river, including navigation and water supply," Krajewski said.

Project components include dredging an 11-acre chute and a 39-acre backwater along the west bank of the Missouri River at Boyer Chute Island, about 1.5 miles north of the south end of Boyer Chute along the west river bank.

The Lower Calhoun Chute project site north of Boyer Chute, has been designed to include multi water-levels of variable depths. The plan is to provide water habitat that will emulate conditions which occurred historically with the spring rise in the level of the water and the spreading of the channel into side channel backwaters and sloughs.

"This project will create habitat diversity by introducing historic water depths and velocities to the river channel," Krajewski said. "The Corps has been working with state and federal partners for years to develop viable projects, and this project is now underway after several years of planning and work with project partners. We worked closely with refuge staff to agree on a mutually acceptable project."

Krajewski explained that this project is one of many completed by the Corps as part of a biological opinion. It required creating a particular amount of habitat connected to the river, with water less than 5 feet deep and a flow less than 2 feet per second.

Projects have been done during the past two decades in order to mitigate for the ecosystem diversity prevalent along the Missouri River before it was channelized.

Clearing and grubbing - removing trees and getting rid of debris - is currently underway at the site of the billabong.

Equipment is being moved in via river barges rather than being transported across refuge lands. "This effectively minimizes disruption to habitats and wildlife," said Krajewski.

The project will be completed by March 2010.

"I look forward to finding Pallid Sturgeon in the new habitats," Krajewski said. [Boyer Chute billabong project site]

The Lower Calhoun Chute billabong project site is shown along the west river-bank on the right side of the aerial photograph. A billabong is known as a "a stagnant backwater or slough formed by receding floodwater."

25 February 2009

A Soldier’s View of Birding in Iraq

After reading a post by Randel Rogers on Mideast Birdnet, I posted him an email and received the following response, presented as it was received. It provides a very interesting view of this soldier's great effort for learning more about the birds of Iraq, and their conservation.

Randy Rogers birding at the base in the western desert of Iraq. Images courtesy of Randy Rogers.

"The most surprising thing about birding in Iraq has been the diversity. I had no idea that Iraq had about as many birds on its checklist as Ohio does, and certainly didn’t think I that being stationed in the western desert would allow me to see so many of them! I have seen over 110 species in Iraq, 104 of them here at Al Asad Airbase.

"Many of them have been common regional species, but some of the special birds here include the Iraqi sub-species of grey hypocolius, little grebe, and the Mesopotamian hooded crow.

"One of Iraq’s endemics can be found here, the Iraqi babbler, and a couple of vulnerable or threatened species in the ferruginous duck and marbled teal. Fall migration was fantastic – mostly for passerines. Where rain storms can result in migration fallouts at home, here sandstorms can do the same. We put out an improvised bird bath, and there were times when 5 species of shrikes could be seen around it! It would also attract 4-6 wrynecks at any given time, and a number of other birds such as barred warblers or spotted flycatchers.

"Some of the birds have been real eye-catchers, such as European roller, blue-cheeked bee-eater, golden oriole, and bluethroat. Little crakes, water rails, European and Egyptian nightjars, marsh harriers, grey wagtails - the list goes on and on!

Improvised bird bath.

"But birds are only part of the story here.

"I have also been able to see two jungle cats, striped hyenas, three species of fox, Indian crested porcupines, honey badgers, and golden jackals. I have pictures of many species of dragonflies, flower flies, hawk-moths, and butterflies.

"My collection of wildflower photos may take the rest of my life to key out!

"Most satisfying is that I have been able to establish a partnership between Nature Iraq and the Ohio Ornithological Society and the Columbus Audubon Society. We have been able to support their efforts to survey and protect the natural areas of Iraq with nearly $3,000 worth of equipment so far, and my observations here have been included in Nature Iraq’s annual report – giving them data on a part of the country that they cannot yet reach and that has not been described by any naturalist for at least 30 years, if ever.

"My only regret is that I have not been able to travel to see the mountains in the north or especially the southern marshes (Basra reed warbler!).

"Iraq has such promise for ecotourism – the history of Babylon and Ur, a fabulous diversity of flora and fauna, and a lot of friendly people. Hopefully the day will soon come when Iraq’s natural beauty can be enjoyed by both the Iraqi people, who often could not visit these areas under Saddam, and tourists as well."

Here are some additional details given on February 23, 2009, in his posting on the birdnet…

Common Redstart.

Mon, 23 Feb 2009 10:55:36

"Over the last 48 hours, I have seen some additional signs of spring here.

"Numbers of small brown warblers seem to be up - some appeared to be willow warblers, and one may have been a yellow-browed.

"Another black-winged stilt showed up yesterday, as did two additional ruffs, bring the total present to four. It appears to be three females and one male.

"A can't miss sign of spring was a grey wagtail found today, and also prominent were the male shoveler ducks, bobbing their heads and issuing their strange mating sounds.

"A pair of little crakes were acting frisky in the wetlands, and many resident birds are acting territorial or have been seen carrying nesting material or paired up."

I have seen a photo of a little owl here in 2005, but have not found this species, so I invested in an owl whistle and have been trying it out near suitable habitat all over the base, but so far I still have no evidence of this species currently residing here.

24 February 2009

Sandhills Wildlife Refuge in Management Limbo

Several years since the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service received an estate donation that established the John W. and Louise Seier NWR, the agency is still awaiting the resolution of legal matters to get started on management activities and to allow the public to access and enjoy the property.

John and Louise Seier donated 2,400 acres of meadows and grasslands at the headwaters of Skull and Bloody Creeks - in southwest Rock County, Nebraska - that had been in the family since 1880.

The ranch is at the center of what was once the historic community of Duff, with a post-office which had been active from 1886 to 1953. Only the small, well-kept cemetery remains as a reminder of a place once active with a store, four schools and other accoutrements of a thriving neighborhood.

Louise Seier made the donation to create the refuge as a legacy to the family, according to a December, 1999 news article.

"We like wildlife and thought it was a good idea to donate the ranch," Louise Seier said, in a gesture on behalf of her and her late brother, John W. Seier, who died in 1997. Louise Seier was born and raised on the ranch property.

On January 1, 2000 the federal agency accepted possession of the property and established a refuge on what had been the family ranch in the eastern sandhills. There were two tracts: one at the upper extent of the creeks, and upland grasslands along the county road to the east.

The property includes the former family residence, a couple of barns and other buildings and sheds typical for a small, though formerly robust cattle ranch in the eastern sandhills.

Habitats include wet meadows at the headwaters of Bloody creek on the east, and Skull creek on the west side. The upland is primarily native sandhill grasses. Around the buildings are numerous trees which provide arboreal habitat, especially for birds. On the south side of the main ranch sections, a row of large, mature cottonwood trees remain from shelter-belt plantings in historic times. During wet seasons, the creek meadows may retain water and provide marsh conditions for a diversity of bird species, especially in 2007, for example.

There have been only a limited number of activities on the refuge due to unexpected constraints.

In the autumn following the donation, refuge officials granted access for a volunteer to conduct bird surveys, by issuing a special use permit. At least 68 different species have been noted as a result of nine surveys at different times during 2000 to 2007, primarily during spring and autumn seasons, and two times during the May and June breeding season, at the main area of the ranch property. The European Starling, Red-winged Blackbird, and American Tree Sparrow have been the species noted in larger numbers.

[Wetland at Seier NWR]

Roadside wetland at Seier NWR in May, 2007.

On May 11, 2007, when water levels were higher than normal, a whole new bunch of species were noted at the meadows north of the buildings, along the county road. There were 36 different types noted, including numbers of Wilson's Phalarope, Blue-winged Teal, Lesser Yellowlegs, Canada Goose. Among the 33 types noted in June 2006, a larger number were upland species, especially the Dickcissel and Brown-headed Cowbird. Barn Swallows are always around in the summer, with Chimney Swifts noted to be using the small chimney of the former ranch residence.

Since the original donation, there has been "an ongoing process with the estate funds," according to Todd Frerichs, deputy project leader, headquartered at the Fort Niobrara complex, which also oversees the Seier refuge. "The Seiers also intended to give all assets to the Fish and Wildlife Service to be used for the management of the property once Louise passed," which was believed to be in 2002. The FWS is still "dealing with lawyers to gain access to the estate trust fund."

Resolving legal matters has an essential role in managing the Seier property.

Some of the first expected management priorities, according to Frerichs, are to:

1) "Erect a memorial monument in memory and appreciation of John W. and Louise Seier."
2) "remove cedar from the property"
There is now an extensive growth of invasive cedars in the eastern prairie tracts of the refuge, which the FWS intends to manage as grasslands. The trees will initially be removed by mechanical means, however, controlled burns may also be used.
3) "rehabilitate water wells"
In order to conduct needed grassland management with livestock, reliable water for the livestock is needed.
4) "fix fences," and
5) "work with neighboring ranchers to conduct needed habitat management."
"Historically, native prairie has evolved under occasional defoliation from fire and grazing. In order to replicate this, prescribed fire, haying, and livestock grazing are common tools used to maintain the health of the prairie. Haying and grazing is usually accomplished through Special Use Permits issued to neighboring farms/ranchers."

Most of the ranch buildings are not being maintained, as they have no significant cultural or historic value. A few of the old ranch building may be maintained as infrastructure needed for management, however, the majority will be sold and/or demolished, Frerichs said.

With the intent of providing housing in anticipation for on-site refuge personnel, a home was built several years ago on the refuge.

Subsequent budget cuts, and attention to "higher priorities" within the agency prevented this, Frerichs said.

In 2008, a temporary Nebraska Game and Parks Commissionemployee, as a refuge volunteer, "did some general habitat and wildlife surveys on Seier while living there," before going to a different job after six months.

This year, another employee of the NGPC is living there since early-February.

"We hope to have them do some general work and start a management plan." Frerichs said. Their volunteer time given to Seier refuge efforts, will be "after other duties are accomplished for Game and Parks."

Until legal and fiscal matters are resolved, and a management plan is approved, Seier NWR will remain closed to the public, unless specific permission for access is provided through a volunteer agreement.

"Once we have access to the estate fund, we hope to work out a shared position with the Nebraska Game and Park Commission so we can get more done on Seier NWR," Frerichs said. "General habitat management can occur once the funding is available, however a management plan needs to be prepared, and evaluated by a public review process, and eventually approved, before public use can be allowed. Once this is accomplished, the refuge may be open to some public uses. Management planning is very time consuming. The Fort Niobrara/Valentine NWR Complex (which Seier NWR is part of) is scheduled to rewrite their Comprehensive Conservation Plans in 2014. Seier NWR will be included in this planning process, however, if staff time allows, some of the planning may be accomplished before that."

"We look forward to managing the habitats on the John W. and Louise Seier NWR to support the native flora and fauna typical of sandhills wetlands and grassland," he said.

21 February 2009

Icon of Bird Banding and Education Leaving Nebraska

An end of an era has happened as Nebraska ornithology lost a preeminent bird bander and educator that had a vital role in the state and region for more than four decades.

Ruth Green is "extremely sad" to leave Nebraska and its many birding attractions, and so many friends throughout the state. The move takes her closer to family in Virginia.

It was however a bit of destiny for her to come to Nebraska, since as a child in Greenway Arkansas, Ruth Cummings had studied maps as a hobby, and the state was one place she obviously wanted to go.

"I was thrilled to death to come to Nebraska."

Robert and Ruth Green moved to Bellevue in 1958, coming with a transfer from the Bermuda Islands, as a result of a military reassignment. He was in military communications at Offutt Air Force Base. She worked as a school teacher at Avery, Central and then Wake Robin Elementary Schools, mainly teaching 6th grade students.

After a few years, a dramatic change was wrought when a grant from the National Science Foundation to Fontenelle Forest ignited a passion that led to decades of preeminent contributions to ornithology. The money was used to train volunteers about birds and Ruth Green was among the group in 1966.

The experience brought about an intense interest in birds that continued for decades. It was expressed by education and handling birds and placing little metal bands on their legs, and keeping records required by the government.

"I've taught people interested in birds from east to west, and north to south." She was the instructor at 37 Elderhostels when sandhill cranes and their annual spring migration along the Platte River were the primary topic. Halsey Forest was another place where she taught people about the importance and value of birds.

Her banding efforts were directed towards teaching the value and importance of birds to their environment.

"Every bird has been a thrill to band," Green said. "I find so many different things with each one and it has always been exciting."

Ruth Green educating children at a Saturday morning banding at Schramm Park. - April 2008

She received the Ludlow Grisom award from the American Birding Association, for her indefatigable efforts for advancing ornithology. And is the only individual in the Midwest to win the award.

Her efforts included teaching many children about the value of birds, and how to appreciate and protect them. Many of her former students still enjoy the birds, and some of them are active in biological sciences.

"People learning about birds leads to their learning about other aspects of nature," she noted. Her "experiences were wonderful," Green said, during an interview in her Bellevue home undergoing the transition needed to move elsewhere.

Especially notable have been those early spring outings with a bunch of interested people out looking at a multitude of sandhill cranes, then on one occasion mix the drama of a whooping crane, and a bit further onward on the route was a common crane with two young that were the result of a hybridization with a male sandhill crane.

She has banded more than 100,000 birds, starting in 1972 when she was getting started at Fontenelle Forest, a known haven for birds for many decades. Her intense interests took her west to the forest-lands planted at Halsey, first with birding, then banding starting about 1973, while a charter member of the Nebraska Science Teacher's Association.

Her top three banding recollections are all from Nebraska:

1) curve-billed thrasher at Scottsbluff; this species was not only out of its expected area of occurrence, but also occurred during an unexpected time
2) black-throated sparrow, at a residence in South Omaha
3) summer tanager, with the banding of a breeding pair along the Platte River, in Cass County; also banding a western subspecies at Halsey Forest, which was "such a delightful place to band birds."

Another noted highlight was banding of the only scissor-tailed flycatcher in Nebraska, known at Fontenelle Forest.

"Nebraska has a wonderful variety of birds. I used to most enjoy going to Halsey Forest." Schramm Park and Fontenelle Forest are other places notably important. "The Rainwater basin now has more birds than any other place in Nebraska," Green said.

One of the many birds banded by Ruth Green. This is an Eastern Bluebird. - April 2008

There were other special outings over the hills at Fontenelle Forest, where she came to recognize 242 species of a wonderful variety during the mid-1970s.

Ruth Green is a master bander, with distinct skills and knowledge learned through practice. Her legacy is unsurpassed in the state with a tenure helping many other bird enthusiasts learn the requisite skills in this ringy endeavor. A few people, from neighboring states, have been apprentices under her guidance of how to brand the proper way.

With her departure, the banding efforts in Nebraska will be lessened, or lost? There will no longer be her there on Saturday morning, banding some more morning birds at Shramm Park along the Platte, an effort for which she received recognition from the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission in 2008.

Although she "hated to give up her books," seven full apple crate sized boxes - about 500 books - went to the Levitt Library, at the York College of Nebraska. This repository was selected since the school is associated with the church she belongs to. Some other treasured books went to birding acquaintances.

In considering a state so essential to her for so many years, Green considers that the challenge for Nebraska birds in current times includes just finding species.

"Populations are down due to the decimating effects of the West Nile Virus. There have been two outbreaks," Green said. "Chickadees, nuthatches, woodpeckers and other species have been impacted and there are lesser numbers."

"I used to be able to put up a mist-net in good habitat and almost always count on getting some chickadees ... now it is questionable. During the past winter at Schramm Park while doing Saturday morning banding, not one woodpecker has been captured which is a dramatic change." There are also fewer white-throated sparrows and white-crowned sparrows.

At Halsey Forest, among the indomitable sandhills, there have been changes shown she has noted after decades of experience. There are fewer woodpeckers, she said, as well as very few red-breasted nuthatches. "West Nile virus has certainly been a factor."

"I used to enjoy driving along Highway 2 through the sandhills from Broken Bow to Halsey - a designated scenic byway - but with so many center-pivots replacing grasslands, it is now very depressing."

Green said she will no longer band any birds with the move to the east. "It is too difficult to maintain the records required by the bird banding laboratory" that regulates bird banding permits and efforts. "They seem to have more of a focus on scientific purposes rather than the educational value of banding birds" such as her many, sharing moments at Schramm Park and Halsey Forest.

Nebraska has also been of special interest due to the occurrence of eastern and western species, Green said. The occasional presence of southern species has also been notable.

Nebraska has been wonderful with Ruth Green. Her efforts are undeniably laudable and will continue to evoke an obvious dedication of so many times treasured during decades of times gone by.

She is leaving Nebraska the last week of February.

I was one of Ruth’s boys, though I missed her sixth grade class at Wake Robin by a year. My brother started third grade there and impressed Ruth that he knew birds then. I hooked up with her more later as I started helping out at Halsey with the banding.

I can remember many a time driving with Ruth to or from Halsey, her Marty Robbins tape in the cassette player, trying to there to get the nets up or trying to get back to Bellevue in time for 6 p.m. church service (which, leaving the Field Station at 1 p.m., often made for rapid transit).

Dr. Ray Korpi
Dean of Basic Education, English, Communication, and Humanities
Clark College, Vancouver WA

Ruth has been more than a mentor to be, she has been a wonderful friend for almost 10 years now.

I was first introduced to her at the First Saturday Bird Banding Workshops at Schramm Park. I got to the point that I was showing up earlier and earlier to watch the process, and Ruth noticed and asked if I wanted to learn about Bird Banding. The journey began from there.

Ruth helped enrich my interest in birds, and showed me the joys of photography. We had a wonderful road trip out to Utah to attend a photography class together, and I certainly had my work cut out for me to try and keep up with that lady!

We took several trips out to Halsey together to band, as well as several years of banding an the Nebraska Crane Elderhostels. There is nothing like watching the sun go down on the Platte River during Crane season. It is always cold, but you don't feel it when those clouds of birds come in to roost on the river. I got to share that every year with Ruth, and this year just won't be the same.

The wealth of knowledge that Ruth has just astounds me, even now. She is always willing to share and help others learn. Most especially, working with children is where Ruth seemed to shine. I can't count the times I've heard her tell a group, 'An environment that is not safe for birds is not safe for you and me.' Words that I take to heart.

Kris Hammond
Bellevue, NE

20 February 2009

Bird-Friendly Lighting Schedule for Omaha Pedestrian Bridge

A recent change in illuminating the Bob Kerry Pedestrian Bridge at Omaha was the start of a schedule where the structure will pose a lesser threat to migrating birds.

[Omaha pedestrian bridge]

Omaha pedestrian bridge, showing the cables and deck, on a foggy October morning.

The 80-90 lights illuminating the cable are now turned off at 1 a.m., whereas they had been on throughout the night.

“We’ve now implemented the regular schedule for the lights,” said Steve Scarpello, administrator of the Omaha Parks and Recreation Department. “The lights had been on longer since they were being tested.”

“The current schedule is a pretty good way to do it, since it was not necessary to always have the lights on all night,” Scarpello said. The deck and pylon lights will remain on throughout the night for safety and legal reasons.

The lighting system was designed to be flexible in the times when used, and Scarpello noted the possibility of doing “anything we want” with their scheduling and use.

There will be less energy used with a reduction in the hours the lights are on.

Also, having the cable illumination turned off at 1 a.m., will help reduce the threat of confusing lights for a myriad of birds migrating along the Missouri River valley, in comparison to their being on throughout the night.

Lights out save birds' lives

Now that the lights are off late at night on the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge, this policy should remain in place through the first week in June.

The period of mid-April to the start of summer is when numerous wild birds migrate along the Missouri River valley. The bright lights of the bridge can confuse flying birds and very easily could cause birds of a number of species to strike the bridge cables and be killed immediately. Or they might be stunned, fall into the water and drown.

The policy of limited nightlights also should be in place from the last week of August through the end of October for autumn migrants. Turning the lights off can conserve birds and save money.

Monday, February 23, 2009. Letter in the Public Pulse, Omaha World-Herald 144(121): 6B.

18 February 2009

Poetic Expressions Evoke Wonders of Flighty Vagabonds of the Skies

The Nest. May.
When oaken woods with buds are pink,
And new-come birds each morning sing,-
When fickle May on Summer's brink
Pauses, and knows not which to Ming,
Whether fresh bud and bloom again,
Or hoar-frost silvering hill and plain -
Then from the honeysuckle gray
The oriole with experienced quest
Twitches the fibrous bark away,
The cordage of his hammock-nest,—
Cheering his labor with a note
Rich as the orange of his throat.
High o'er the loud and dusty road
The soft gray cup in safety swings,
To brim ere August with its load
Of downy breasts and throbbing wings,
O'er which the friendly elm-tree heaves
An emerald roof with sculptured eaves.
Below, the noisy World drags by
In the old way, because it must,—
The bride with trouble in her eye,
The mourner following hated dust:
Thy duty, winged flame of Spring,
Is but to love and fly and sing.
Oh, happy life, to soar and sway
Above the life by mortals led,
Singing the merry months away,
Master, not slave of daily bread,
And, when the Autumn comes, to flee
Wherever sunshine beckons thee I
Palinode - December
Like some lorn abbey now, the wood
Stands roofless in the bitter air;
In ruins on its floor is strewed
The carven foliage quaint and rare,
And homeless winds complain along
The columned choir once thrilled with song.
And thou, dear nest, whence joy and praise
The thankful oriole used to pour,
Swing'st empty while the north winds chase
Their snowy swarms from Labrador:
But, loyal to the happy past,
I love thee still for what thou wast.
Ah, when the Summer graces flee
From other nests more dear than thou,
And, where June crowded once, I see
Only bare trunk and disleaved bough,
When springs of life that gleamed and gushed
Run chilled, and slower, and are hushed,—
I'll think, that, like the birds of Spring,
Our good goes not without repair,
But only flies to soar and sing
Far off in some diviner air,
Where we shall find it in the calms
Of that fair garden 'neath the palms.
Anonymous. 1858. Atlantic Monthly, page 523.

Times afield during decades now gone may evoke again a divergent view or convey reminiscences worth remembering again. For birds there were flighty antics with an effusive song or maybe some vivid glimpse of a colorful bit of feathered wonders. Whether at the seashore, among the dank forest, while heaving across the surreal prairie, or across the indomitable mountains, birds in their regular lives of natural glory were captured in a so many manners of prose.

Subtle birds of different lands were remembered among printed verse. Birds of so many places have been presented in words worked by scribes through the ages, even though only some wrote their thoughts in a distinct form of abbreviated words ... especially a poem to appreciate.

Some 1870s prose of John Burroughs is an apropos introduction to poetic expressions of birds known by many scribes of their times, although there were earlier, profound writings, especially from across the great Atlantic Ocean.

"It might almost be said that the birds are all birds of the poets and of no one else, because it is only the poetic temperament that fully responds to them. So true is this, that all the great ornithologists - original namers and biographers of the birds - have been poets in deed if not in word," he wrote, then mentioning John James Audubon and Alexander Wilson, who was apparently inspired by the majesty of flight by a red-headed woodpecker.

In his article "The Birds of the Poets" Burroughs set forth personal thoughts on essential characteristics for birds based on their inspiration for one person:

"The very idea of a bird is a symbol and a suggestion to the poet. A bird seems to be at the top of the scale, so vehement and intense in his life - large brained, large lunged, hot, ecstatic, his frame charged with buoyancy and his heart with song. The beautiful vagabonds, endowed with every grace, masters of all climes, and knowing no bounds - how many human aspirations are realized in their free holiday-lives - and how many suggestions to the poet in their flight and song!"

A notable example of one flighty vagabond within the poetical literature, was the mockingbird. Then there were the sonnets of the thrushes among the trees. The skylark of the west, or Sprague's lark, was another notable species. Not forgotten was the bob-o-Lincoln, or the reed-bird, a species of such unmutable song that is was a profound sighting distinctly remembered and recalled by many bird watchers during former eras.

"He affords the most marked example of exuberant pride, and a glad, rollicking, holiday spirit that can be seen among our birds. Every notes expresses complacency and glee. He is a beau of the first pattern, and, unlike any other bird of my acquaintance, pushes his gallantry to the point of wheeling gayly into the train of every female that comes along, even after the season of courtship is over and the matches all settled; and when she leads him on too wild a chase, he turns lightly about and breaks out with a song that is precisely analogous to a burst of gay and self-satisfied laughter, as much as to say, 'Ha! ha! ha! I must have my fun, Miss Silverthimble, thimble, thimble, if I break every heart in the meadow, see, see, see!'"

The prose continued by revealing a personal view of the lore of the bobolink. In the article, the poems "Robert of Lincoln" and "The O'Lincoln Family" were given in entirety.

"I know of no other song-bird that expresses so much self-consciousness and vanity, and comes so near being an ornithological coxcomb. The red-bird, the yellow-bird, the indigo-bird, the oriole, the cardinal grosbeak and others, all birds of brilliant plumage and musical ability, seem quite unconscious of self, and neither by tone nor act challenge the admiration of the beholder."

Burroughs continued to espouse, writing on the cuckoo and wood-pewee; then he presented the illustrative poem "The Sandpiper" by Celia Thaxter, of the coastal islands and their expansive character. The last page of the article was a brief bunch of words and how they might also be a muse for poetic expression of the feathered wonders of the natural world.

The song-sparrow has a joyous note,
The brown thrush whistles bold and free;
But my little singing-bird at home
Sings a sweeter song to me.
The cat-bird, at morn or evening, sings
With liquid tones like gurgling water;
But sweeter by far, to my fond ear,
Is the voice of my little daughter.
Four years and a half since she was born,
The blackcaps piping cheerily, —
And so, as she came in winter with them,
She is called our Chicadee.
She sings to her dolls, she sings alone,
And singing round the house she goes, —
Out-doors or within, her happy heart
With a childlike song o'erflows.
Her mother and I, though busy, hear, —
With mingled pride and pleasure listening, —
And thank the inspiring Giver of song,
While a tear in our eye is glistening.
Oh I many a bird of sweetest song
I hear, when in woods or meads I roam;
But sweeter by far than all, to me,
Is my Chicadee at home.
Anonymous. 1859. Atlantic Monthly, page 52.

Burroughs continued to espouse, writing on the cuckoo and wood-pewee; then he presented the illustrative poem "The Sandpiper" by Celia Thaxter, conveying the coastal islands and expansive character of the Atlantic shore. The last page of the article was a brief bunch of words and how they might also be a muse for poetic expression of the feathered wonders of the natural world.

His article had this ending sentence:

"I only know the birds all have a language which is very expressive, and which is easily translatable into the human tongue."

The quality of that expression varied, but was certainly ongoing in various means and manners by subsequent writers.

Birds as an inspiration were discussed by another writer some years later.

"We find rarest delight in listening to the varied bird-notes; the robin's song, clear and buoyant as the air of a spring morning; the tender coo of the turtle-dove, soothing the senses as the murmur of the brooklet - and even the defiant caw of the crow and the scream of the jay are not altogether inharmonious; the hum of insects, the rustling of leaves of the trees, the sparkle and shimmer of sunlight upon the waters, or the lurking shadows which haunt the still, dark pools, the ever-changing lights and shades which play over the landscape, and, in short, all the glorious sights and sounds of the great out-door world, are but inspirations that touch some responsive chord in our natures, and lift us out of the narrowness of human life, - as it were, cramped within square walls, - making us for a time forget that the world in which we move is not always bright and blithe and beautiful." - Sherman Richards, 1885
"Nature is the mother of the poet. ... Nature is the poet's true ally; she lends herself to all his moods, and, if he is sympathetic, she suggests some of his loftiest strains. Every poet, not deflected from the natural course of his genius, turns to her for inspiration help, and companionship. Most poetical natures seem to be born with the observant spirit fully fledged, and no slightest glance of their great instructress is unregarded."

Here is a bit of a sampler of poetic expressions of a birdly theme that convey an ultimately unmatchable aspect of historic ornithology.

The Pewee
The listening Dryads hushed the woods;
The boughs were thick, and thin and few
The golden ribbons fluttering through;
Their sun-embroidered, leafy hoods
The lindens lifted to the blue:
Only a little forest-brook
The farthest hem of silence shook :
When in the hollow shades I heard —
Was it a spirit, or a bird ?
Or, strayed from Eden, desolate,
Some Feri calling to her mate,
Whom nevermore her mate would cheer ?
"Pe-ri! Pe-ri! Peer !"
Through rocky clefts the brooklet fell
With plashy pour, that scarce was sound,
But only quiet less profound,
A stillness fresh and audible:
A yellow leaflet to the ground
Whirled noiselessly: with wing of gloss
A hovering sunbeam brushed the moss,
And, wavering brightly over it,
Sat like a butterfly alit:
The owlet in his open door
Stared roundly : while the breezes bore
The plaint to far-off places drear, —
"Pe-ree I pe-ree ! peer!"
To trace it in its green retreat
I sought among the boughs in vain ;
And followed still the wandering strain,
So melancholy and so sweet
The dim-eyed violets yearned with pain.
'T was now a sorrow in the air,
Some nymph's immortalized despair
Haunting the woods and waterfalls ;
And now, at long, sad intervals,
Sitting unseen in dusky shade,
His plaintive pipe some fairy played,
With long-drawn cadence thin and clear, —
"Pe-wee! pe-wee! peer!"
Long-drawn and clear its closes were, —
As if the hand of Music through
The sombre robe of Silence drew
A thread of golden gossamer:
So sweet a flute the fairy blew.
Like beggared princes of the wood,
In silver rags the birches stood ;
The hemlocks, lordly counsellors,
Were dumb; the sturdy servitors,
In beechen jackets patched and gray,
Seemed waiting spellbound all the day
That low entrancing note to hear, —
"Pe-wee! pe-wee! peer! "
I quit the search, and sat me down
Beside the brook, irresolute,
And watched a little bird in suit
Of sober olive, soft and brown,
Perched in the maple-branches, mute:
With greenish gold its vest was fringed,
Its tiny cap was ebon-tinged,
With ivory pale its wings were barred,
And its dark eyes were tender-starred.
"Dear bird," I said, "what is thy name?"
And thrice the mournful answer came,
So faint and far, and yet so near, —
"Pe-wee! Pe-wee! Peer! "
For so I found my forest-bird, —
The pewee of the loneliest woods,
Sole singer in these solitudes,
"Which never robin's whistle stirred,
Where never bluebird's plume intrudes.
Quick darting through the dewy morn,
The redstart trills his twittering horn,
And vanisheth : sometimes at even,
Like liquid pearls fresh showered from heaven,
The high notes of the lone wood-thrush
Fall on the forest's holy hush :
But thou all day complainest here, —
"Pe-wee! pe-wee! peer !"
Hast thou too, in thy little breast,
Strange longings for a happier lot, —
For love, for life, thou know'st not what, —
A yearning, and a vague unrest,
For something still which thou hast not ? —
Thou soul of some benighted child
That perished, crying in the wild !
Or lost, forlorn, and wandering maid,
By love allured, by love betrayed,
Whose spirit with her latest sigh
Arose, a little winged cry,
Above her chill and mossy bier!
"Dear me! dear me! dear!"
Ah, no such piercing sorrow mars
The pewee's life of cheerful ease!
He sings, or leaves his song to seize
An insect sporting in the bars
Of mild bright light that gild the trees.
A very poet he! For him
All pleasant places still and dim :
His heart, a spark of heavenly fire,
Burns with undying, sweet desire :
And so he sings; and so his song.
Though heard not by the hurrying throng,
Is solace to the pensive ear:
"Pewee! pewee! peer !"
J.W. Trowbridge. 1863. Atlantic Monthly. Page 451-453.
The White-throated Sparrow.
Hark! 'tis our Northern Nightingale that sings
In far-off, leafy cloisters, dark and cool,
Flinging his flute-notes bounding from the skies !
Thou wild musician of the mountain-streams,
Most tuneful minstrel of the forest-choirs,
Bird of all grace and harmony of soul,
Unseen, we hail thee for thy blissful voice !
Up in yon tremulous mist where morning wakes
Illimitable shadows from their dark abodes,
Or in this woodland glade tumultuous grown
With all the murmurous language of the trees,
No blither presence fills the vocal space.
The wandering rivulets dancing through the grass,
The gambols, low or loud, of insect-life,
The cheerful call of cattle in the vales,
Sweet natural sounds of the contented hours, —
All seem less jubilant when thy song begins.
Deep in the shade we lie and listen long ;
For human converse well may pause, and man
Learn from such notes fresh hints of praise,
That upward swelling from thy grateful tribe
Circles the hills with melodies of joy.
A. West. August, 1863. Atlantic Monthly, page 224.

  [Music of white-throated sparrow]

The Bobolinks.
When Nature had made all her birds,
And had no cares to think on,
She gave a rippling laugh — and out
There flew a Bobolinkon.
She laughed again,— out flew a mate.
A breeze of Eden bore them
Across the fields of Paradise,
The sunrise reddening o'er them.
Incarnate sport and holiday,
They flew and sang forever;
Their souls through June were all in tune,
Their wings were weary never.
The blithest song of breezy farms,
Quaintest of field-note flavors,
Exhaustless fount of trembling trills
And demisemiquavers.
Their tribe, still drunk with air and light
And perfume of the meadow,
Go reeling up and down the sky,
In sunshine and in shadow.
One springs from out the dew-wet grass,
Another follows after;
The morn is thrilling with their songs
And peals of fairy laughter.
From out the marshes and the brook,
They set the tall reeds swinging,
And meet and frolic in the air,
Half prattling and half singing.
When morning winds sweep meadow lands
In green and russet billows,
And toss the lonely elm-tree's boughs,
And silver all the willows,
I see you buffeting the breeze,
Or with its motion swaying,
Your notes half drowned against the wind,
Or down the current playing.
When far away o'er grassy flats,
Where the thick wood commences,
The white-sleeved mowers look like specks
Beyond the zigzag fences,
And noon is hot, and barn-roofs gleam
White in the pale-blue distance,
I hear the saucy minstrels still
In chattering persistence.
When Eve her domes of opal fire
Piles round the blue horizon,
Or thunder rolls from hill to hill
A Kyrie Eleison,—
Still, merriest of the merry birds,
Your sparkle is unfading, —
Pied harlequins of June, no end
Of song and masquerading.
What cadences of bubbling mirth
Too quick for bar or rhythm!
What ecstasies, too full to keep
Coherent measure with them!
O could I share, without champagne
Or muscadel, your frolic,
The glad delirium of your joy,
Your fun un-apostolic,
Your drunken jargon through the fields,
Your bobolinkish gabble,
Your fine anacreontic glee,
Your tipsy reveller's babble!
Nay, — let me not profane such joy
With similes of folly, —
No wine of earth could waken songs
So delicately jolly!
O boundless self-contentment, voiced
In flying air-born bubbles!
O joy that mocks our sad unrest,
And drowns our earth-born troubles!
Hope springs with you: I dread no more
Despondency and dullness;
For Good Supreme can never fail
That gives such perfect fullness.
The Life that floods the happy fields
With song and light and color
Will shape our lives to richer states,
And heap our measures fuller.
C.P. Cranch. 1866. Atlantic Monthly, volume 18, page 321-322.
The salt sea-wind is a merry-maker,
Rippling the wild bluff's daisied reach;
The quick surf glides from the arching breaker,
And foams on the tawny beach.
Out where the long reef glooms and glances,
And tosses sunward its diamond rain,
Morn has pierced with her golden lances
The dizzy light-house pane.
Gladdened by clamors of infinite surges,
Heedless what billow or gale may do,
The white gulls float where the ocean-verges
Blend with a glimmer of blue.
I watch how the curtaining vapor settles
Dim on their tireless plumes far borne,
Till faint they gleam as a blossom's petals,
Blown through the spacious morn.
Anonymous. 1868. Atlantic Monthly, volume 22, page 584.

  [Barn swallow]

The Swallow.
The swallow twitters about the eaves, —
Blithely she sings, and sweet and clear;
Around her climb the woodbine leaves
In a golden atmosphere.
The summer wind sways leaf and spray,
That catch and cling to the cool gray wall;
The bright sea stretches miles away,
And the noon sun shines o'er all.
In the chamber's shadow, quietly
I stand and worship the sky and the leaves,
The golden air and the brilliant sea,
The swallow at the eaves.
Like a living jewel she sits and sings:
Fain would I read her riddle aright;
Fain would I know whence her rapture springs, —
So strong in a thing so slight!
The fine clear fire of joy that steals
Through all my spirit at what I see
In the glimpse my window's space reveals, —
That seems no mystery!
But scarce for her joy can she utter her song;
Yet she knows not the beauty of skies or seas;
Is it bliss of living, so sweet and strong?
Is it love, which is more than these?
О happy creature! what stirs thee so?
A spark of the gladness of God thou art.
Why should we strive to find and to know
The secret of thy heart?
Before the gates of his mystery
Trembling we knock with an eager hand;
Silent behind them waiteth he;
Not yet may we understand.
But thrilling throughout the universe
Throbs the pulse of his mighty will,
Till we gain the knowledge of joy or curse
In the choice of good or ill.
He looks from the eyes of the little child,
And searches souls with their gaze so clear;
To the heart some agony makes wild
He whispers, "I am here."
He smiles in the face of every flower, —
In the swallow's twitter of sweet content
He speaks, and we follow through every hour
The way his deep thought went.
Here should be courage and hope and faith;
Naught has escaped the trace of his hand;
And a voice in the heart of his silence saith,
One day we may understand.
Celia Thaxter. July, 1870. Atlantic Monthly, volume 26, page 106-107.

There are many more of these in the Atlantic Monthly editions available on the internet. It would seem an anthology that would compile the known bird poems from the first history of ornithology would be a worthwhile endeavour. What pleasure to read the glorious and artistic expressions in poems written more than a century in the past.

09 February 2009

Red-tailed Hawk Pair Reside Within a Midtown Cityscape

[February skies at Memorial Park, for a pair of Red-tailed Hawks]

On a balmy day just gone by this present February, a couple of big wildbirds soared above a midtown river city west of the Missouri River valley, while up in vivacious cerulean skies of a tainted bit of greenery amidst an otherwise dreary urban setting. Thermals were appreciated as the pair of birds - two dedicated hawks in this instance - showed their essential pairing behavior for another pending season of a dedicated couple.

Their vital residence - a successful nest - is a bunch of sticks atop a white pine tree, among a constricted grove between two streets, among so many people and so much developed country known as urbanization.

The subsequent day - while one of the two was perched near the nest, and the other soared nearby over Wood Creek - provided just a brief yet glorious glimpse of potential by a lowly person cleaning up some of a winter's accumulation of trash spread among timber of the ravine by students of the adjacent University of Nebraska campus. A bunch of them obviously have a slight or more than nil concern for a unique, urban green space but would rather carelessly trash the place.

[Pine grove essential for a pair of Red-tailed Hawks]

This couple of cream-coloured buzzards - using a bit of historic lingo - deserve to have a clean place for their pending time of breeding when a female nourishes eggs created by the pair. Nearby or off on a hunting foray, will be the male in his role as protector and provider of a nourishing tidbit of some edible animal.

Another new season is just getting underway for a pair of Red-tailed Hawks, in an ongoing and dramatic scheme of events that transcends a single year, but are basics across eons of time, hopefully unending. This species of hawk has been noted here since 1915, with more numerous observations in the most recent years during their season of prominence. And now, another nesting season has arrived.

Last year two hawks had a successful season. Two young Red-tailed Hawks were raised by a dedicated couple of adults. For an observant bird-watcher, which does not include any students except for a rare youngster walking along that just happened to look up, the young hawks could be easily seen sitting upon a hefty tree branch.

[Red-tailed Hawk feeding on a rabbit carcass]

Urban Red-tailed Hawk, ripping on a rabbit carcass.

Looking closer one day, there were two young fledgling sitting together, patiently, just east of a parking garage. The two were together along the road where the primary interest is usually getting a parking place. This pair of young hawks indicated so much for a season to appreciate.

Rabbits are an essential part of this scheme and understandably a good trade if a bunch of these critters provide sustenance for a couple of magnificent raptors and their young. One instance of an adult ripping apart a carcass were a profound few minutes over on the Hamilton Street hilltop.

There are some bird-moments to appreciate pending for this season in mid-city. Best wishes to the hawks, with an expression of concern and hope that something idiotic does not thwart your attempts. There may be many unknown and potential threats by ignorants that could wreak havoc on your attempts.

Continue on red-tails, and may you have another year of success!

[Fledgling Red-tailed Hawk, Elmwood Park, 2008]
[Second view os a fledgling Red-tailed Hawk, Elmwood Park, 2008]

Fledgling Red-tailed Hawks from the 2008 season among the pines.

This is the 200th retained posting on this blog, placed here on the day of the Full Snow Moon, when there was rain around with balmy conditions.

Birdstrikes at Newspaper Building in New York a Historic First

Rendition of the New York Tribune building in 1877.

When the New York Tribune built a new sky-scraping office building in 1875, it became an architectural wonder to behold. It was originally nine stories in height, topped with a dramatic cupola. Large glass windows are shown throughout in classic imagery of the structure.

At the time, the building was described as "the highest building on Manhattan Island" and was located on Park Row, across from trees and urban landscaping. History also relates that it was the "first building in New York to surpass in height the 284-foot spire of Trinity Church."

The structure has another claim to fame of a different sort as a result of a short article published by a bird watcher.

Ernest Ingersoll was a preeminent American naturalist, and after going west in 1874 on with F.V. Hayden, on a government-sponsored expedition, described in "Knocking 'round the Rockies." He wrote various bird-related stories, including some about the autumnal migration of birds for the Christian Union, and a several, just in 1875, for the fledgling outdoor's journal Forest and Stream, for which he was natural history editor at the time. He was instrumental, along with Franklin Benner, in setting up a meeting in March 1878, that led to establishing the Linnaean Society of New York, and was the organizations first recording secretary. Starting in 1880, he wrote a number of books, the first about the nests and eggs of North American birds.

It is one of the latter items which has some bird-related details pertinent for the newspaper building. In a November 1875 issue, there was a brief note about several species which during the New York nights - around midnight - flew in at the upper windows of the Tribune offices during the previous month, October.

Species noted were: pine-creeping warbler, dark-eyed junco, green black-capped flycatching warbler or Wilson's Warbler, ruby-crowned kinglet, golden-crowned kinglet, white-eyed vireo and two instances of the white-throated bunting, better known now as the White-throated Sparrow. There were no details on the fate of the birds, whether they were captured alive and released, or identified once dead.

This is the first known detailed report in the historic literature for ornithology that indicates an occurrence of bird interaction with a building. There undoubtedly were earlier instances of birds being impacted by buildings in New York, as well as other large eastern U.S. cities with tall buildings, but the information was apparently not written up and sent in to get published in any of the other natural history serials of the era.

Here is a brief account from Rochester, New York, with particular details on birds being killed by striking glass windows.

"Birds And Windows. The library building of the Rochester University — across the street from us — has very clear windows opposite one another, and during the year, especially in the spring and autumn, many birds are killed by flying against them. The greater part are found on the north side. Most of the birds are small; but lately two Robins and one Golden-winged Woodpecker were found among them. Curiously enough there are no English Sparrows among the slain, they probably being sufficiently acquainted with windows to avoid them. — Frederic A. Lucas, Rochester, N. Y."
April 1881. Bulletin of the Nuttall Ornithological Club 6(2): 125.
"I believe that every person should regard himself as a trustee of nature for the benefit of his fellows and posterity; and that the wanton destruction of animal life is a sin against nature, against heaven and against humanity. I believe that the man or woman who commits that sin should be looked upon with such stern disfavor as that which society metes out to those who transgress the laws of the land." - text from a lecture by Ernest Ingersoll, circa 1888

Burroughs Notes Bird Strike at Washington D.C. in 1860s

The famed John Burroughs adds another bit of historic lore to the first records of bird strikes. During his years at Washington D.C. from 1863 to 1868, he was an avid bird-watcher, and devoted an entire chapter on this topic in his book, The Writings of John Burroughs."

The chapter "Spring at the Capital - With an Eye to the Birds" has particular detail of interest:

"The occupants of one of the offices in the west wing of the Treasury one day had their attention attracted by some object striking violently against one of the window-panes. Looking up, they beheld a crow blackbird pausing in midair, a few feet from the window. On the broad stone window-sill lay the quivering form of a purple finch. The little tragedy was easily read. The blackbird had pursued the finch with such murderous violence that the latter, in its desperate efforts to escape, had sought refuge in the Treasury. The force of the concussion against the heavy plateglass of the window had killed the poor thing instantly. The pursuer, no doubt astonished at the sudden and novel termination of the career of its victim, hovered for a moment, as if to be sure of what had happened, and made off."

This recollection certainly adds a distinct view to the history on this topic.

Birds and Windows. Reading in the April Bulletin to note by Mr. Lucas on "Birds and Windows" brings to mind that when in business in Hartford, Conn., in 1871 and 1872, I found in the spring the following birds that had been killed by flying against the Charter Oak Life Ins. Co.'s building - a very high building with "the windows opposite one another." Myiodioctes canadensis, Geothlypis trichas, Icterus baltimore, Chaetura pelasgia, Trochilus colubris (6 specimens). - John H. Sage, Portland, Conn.

1881. Bulletin of the Nuttall Ornithological Club 6(3): 188.
"Birds and Plate-Glass. I fancy that the introduction of plate-glass into our windows must have been very fatal to the birds. Since my residence here many birds of many kinds have come to a sudden and untimely death by a flight against the glass. At first this destruction was quite distressing, but I am happy to say that each year it is becoming less. I suppose that they (the survivors) have gained experience. Plate-glass alone could have withstood the impetus with which some have met their fate, coming with a bang against the pane, like the report of a pistol. Amongst the victims I may mention a few: a sparrowhawk, two partridges (which being in season did not grieve me much), a misletoe and many common thrushes, chaffinches, two nightingales, and many other species; and a few days ago, during a severe frost, and in the dusk of the evening, seeking shelter from the cold, a golden-crested wren flew against the window, but was fortunately only stunned : I brought it in, and, before it had quite recovered, placed it in a small covered Japan basket upon a bed of rose-leaves. It never moved, and, fearing it might be dead, I carried the basket across the room some hours afterwards, and though the cover was removed in the full glare of the light the beautiful thing was not disturbed : it was asleep, and one round ball of feathers, the bead and neck invisible. Upon coming into the room next morning I found it all alive and well, and gave it its liberty. Birds when asleep must fall an easy prey to their enemies; they are very deaf, and, except some (which sleep, as they say Bristolians do, with one eye open), blind to approaching danger. — W. C. Hewitson; Oatlands, February 22, 1864."
1864. Zoologist 22, page 9019. This journal was published at London.

08 February 2009

Bird-Related Names Graphically Depicted in Oglala Roster of 1883

Pictograph for Big-Road.

For a mighty Oglala tribe on the plains, nature was an innate aspect of each day. The people knew outdoor scenes in intimate and depictive ways that were reflected in the manner of living, myths and legends, tribal societies and to the extent of being the origin of names for some of the people. This practice across ages of existence was certainly revealed in a winter census for the band under the guidance of Big Dog.

Birds, the winged ones, were especially of great symbolic importance. As they flew in the sky, different species known by their size and feather coloration were close to the heavens where tribal gods dwelled. This gave the winged ones power to bear messages from the heavens. An Indian attuned to the environment would notice a bird flying overhead or sitting obvious on a nearby tree branch. Each species would indicate a particular message to a tribal member, with the avian aspect conveyed in a meaningful way, such as a name designation.

The primary source of details for this pictographic census was scribed by Garrick Mallery, and published 1882-1883 in "Pictographs of the North American Indians - A Preliminary Paper" reported by the Bureau of Ethnology, published by the Smithsonian Institution.

The article presented these essential historic facts:

"Plates LII to LVIII represent a pictorial roster of the heads of families, eighty-four in number, in the band or perhaps clan of Chief Big-Road, and were obtained by Rev. S. D. Hinman at Standing Rock Agency, Dakota, in 1883, from the United States Indian agent, Major McLaughlin, to whom the original was submitted by Chief Big-Road when brought to that agency and required to give act account of his followers."

Standing Rock Agency was in the vast Dakota Territory of the northern plains of united states, west of the well-traveled Missouri River.

"Chief Big-Road and his people belong to the Northern Ogalala (accurately Oglala), and were lately hostile, having been associated with Sitting-Bull in various depredations and hostilities against both settlers and the United States authorities. Mr. Hinman states that the translations of the names were made by the agency interpreter, and although not as complete as might be, are, in the whole, satisfactory. Chief Big-Road 'is a man of fifty years and upwards, and is as ignorant and uncompromising a savage in mind and appearance, as one could well find at this late date.'
"The drawings in the original are on a single sheet of foolscap paper, made with black and colored pencils, and a few characters are in yellow ocher - watercolor paint. On each of the seven plates, into which the original is here divided from the requirements of the mode of publication, the first figure in the upper left-hand corner represents, as stated, the chief of the sub-band, or perhaps, 'family' in the Indian sense."

This roster is such an important revelation for historic ornithology. It provides details for a time when troops and settlers were invading land that had been tribal territories and homes to many native peoples with their distinct appreciation of distinctive nature. The tribe used vivid depictions rather than a bunch of words. The graphics are profound though some more words would have been helpful to provide more understanding of an era now long gone.

Here are the English name translations of the figures depicted in the Oglala Roster. There are a notable number which allude to prominent birds or birdly features. Birds were a prominent aspect for tribal life, so when it was appropriate to designate a moniker for someone's life, the new infant was attributed a name recognizing the lively and majestic eagle or hawk, the mysterious crow, or a feather or plume in a bit of subtle yet appreciative recognition. The list is simple, while the graphics are colorful and profound, while detailing an essential tribal view of bird life from a bit more than 125 years ago for the history of the Great Plains.

The renditions are presented in a simple manner, with a sketch showing a head and the presentation of their name sake hovering above. Sometimes a small amount of rouge or another color is used for a particular dramatic emphasis. Each person has an image, with only some of pertinence presented here.

Big-Road and Band
1. Big-road.
2. Bear-looking-behind.
3. Brings-back-plenty.
4. White buffalo.
5. The-real-hawk.
6. Shield-boy.
7. The-bear-stops.
8. Wears-the-feather.
9. Dog-eagle.
10. Red-horn-bull.



Low-Dog and Band
11. Low-dog.
12. Charging-hawk.
13. White-tail.
14. Blue-cloud (woman).
15. Shield.
16. Little-eagle.
17. Spotted-skunk.
18. White-bear.
19. White-hair.
20. His-fight.
21. Center-feather.
22. Kills-Crows (Indians).



The-Bear-Spares-Him and Band


23. The-bear-spares-him.
24. White-plume.
25. Fears-nothing.
26. Red-crow.
27. The-last-bear.
28. Bird-man.

Particulars for this naming could likely be enough for a completely distinct story. Would the name convey the ability to recognize the grouse, the sparrow and hawk, as well as the oriole and lark, or would it indicate an ability to move around with a flighty grace without tromping on hard ground or noisely like a romping horse?

29. Horse-with-horns.
30. Fast-elk.
31. Chief-boy.
32. Spotted-elk.
33. Carries-the-badger.
34. Red-earth-woman.
35. Eagle-clothing.
Has-a-War-Club and Band
36. Has-a-war-club.
37. Little-buffalo.
38. Has-a-point (weapon).
39. Returning-scout.
40. Little-killer.
41. Whistler.
42. Tongue.
43. Black-elk.
44. Lone-Woman.
45. Deaf-woman.




Long-Dog and Band
46. Long-dog.
47. Iron-hawk.
48. Pretty-weasel.
49. Short-buffalo.
50. Bull-with-bad-heart.
51. Four crows.
52. Tall-white-man.
53. Eagle-hawk.
54. Lone-man.
55. Causes-trouble-ahead.
56. Makes-dirt ("foul").
57. Black-road.
58. Shot-close.




Iron-Crow and Band
59. Iron-crow.
60. Running-horse.
61. Owns-an-animal-with horns.
62. Blue-cloud-man.
63. Fingers.
64. Sacred-teeth.
65. Searching-cloud.
66. Female-elk-boy.
67. Little-owl.
68. Pretty-horse.
69. Running-eagle.
70. Makes-enemy.
71. Prairie-chicken.
72. Red-flute-woman.
Little-Hawk and Band



73. Little-hawk.
74. Standing-buffalo.
75. Standing-bear.
76. Iron-white man.
77. Bear whirlwind.
78. Sacred crow.
79. Blue-hawk.
80. Hard-to-kill.
81. Iron-boy.
82. Painted-rock.
83. Yellow-wolf.
84. Made-an enemy.

Mallery included this addendum: "The information yet obtained from the author of the pictograph concerning its details is meager, and as it will probably be procured no unimportant conjectures are now hazarded. It is presented for the ideography shown, which may in most cases be understood from the translation of the several names into English as given in the preceding list."

07 February 2009

Destruction of Birds from Striking Light-houses Prevalent in the 1800s

If telegraph wires were known deadly hazards for migrating birds in inland places, it would be remiss to not convey that at an earlier period of time in ornithological history, picturesque and prominent icons, primarily along the eastern seaboard but also at coastal New Orleans and San Francisco Bay, were also the cause of numerous bird deaths.

[White Island lighthouse - Wikipedia]

White Island Lighthouse.

Flights of seasonal migrants were confused by bright lights emitted across the horizon during what had once been dark nights lit only by the glow of stellar constellations or a full moon orb. The artificial lights were especially threatening in the blatant darkness during subdued and seemingly unending days of low clouds, dramatic winds and storms of profound intensity.

An illumination so right for boat navigators concerned with the shore of the land as they sailed along an obtuse realm of changing waters, was so wrong for little feathered critters following pathways etched into memory by millennia of tradition. Multitudes of bird species died at lighthouses built to assist human navigation, during natural avian migrations that had previously not been so influenced by hindrances of emitted light.

There was deadly confusion caused by beams of bright light along the birds' pathways of flight.

In the history for the Cape Hatteras lighthouse, it notes that this 112-foot-tall structure was built just before 1800. Ducks, geese and other species were soon noted as flying into the windows, cracking the glass. After just six years, "a wire enclosure was woven around the top of the lighthouse, interlaced through the rails and outer braces of the lantern room, to screen the flocks of birds away from the glass."

It was a few decades later that a completely unique perspective reveals more lore on lighthouse bird strikes.

In the poetic prose "The Lighthouse" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, one stanza says:

The sea-bird wheeling round it, with the din
Of wings and winds and solitary cries,
Blinded and maddened by the light within.
Dashes himself against the glare, and dies.

The Sandpiper By Celia Thaxter

Across the lonely beach we flit,
One little sandpiper and I,
And fast I gather, bit by bit,
The scattered driftwood, bleached and dry
The wild waves reach their hands for it,
The wild wind raves, the tide runs high,
As up and down the beach we flit,
One little sandpiper and I.
Above our heads the sullen clouds
Scud, black and swift, across the sky;
Like silent ghosts in misty shrouds
Stand out the white lighthouses high.
Almost as far as eye can reach
I see the close-reefed vessels fly,
As fast we flit along the beach,
One little sandpiper and I.
I watch him as he skims along,
Uttering his sweet and mournful cry;
He starts not at my fitful song,
Nor flash of fluttering drapery.
He has no thought of any wrong,
He scans me with a fearless eye;
Stanch friends are we, well tried and strong,
The little sandpiper and I.
Comrade, where wilt thou be to-night,
When the loosed storm breaks furiously?
My driftwood fire will burn so bright!
To what warm shelter canst thou fly?
I do not fear for thee, though wroth
The tempest rushes through the sky;
For are we not God's children both,
Thou, little sandpiper, and I?

At the Isles of Shoals in the Gulf of Maine, a youngster at the White Island was profoundly influenced by the natural scene, with her view conveyed in vivid and lively poetry. Celia Laighton, born in 1835, lived on the island in 1845-47 and then later also lived on nearby Appledore Island. Her times with the sea were well remembered in poems, letters and memoirs. A few words on birds hitting the White Island lighthouse were part of the collection.

"Many a May morning have I wandered about the rock at the foot of the tower, mourning over a little apron brimful of sparrows, swallows, thrushes, robins, fire-winged blackbirds, many-colored warblers and flycatchers, beautifully clothed yellowbirds, nuthatches, catbirds, even the purple finch and scarlet tanager and golden oriole, and many more beside, - enough to break the heart of a small child to think of! Once a great eagle flew against the lantern and shivered the glass."

In her older years, Celia Thaxter was one of the first preeminent women with a profound interest in birds in a poetic sense. Her verse was regularly published in the Atlantic Monthly with birds a predominant topic in "The Burgomaster Gull," "Great White Owl," The King Fisher," "The Shag," "The Swallow," "The Return of the Birds," as well as "The Song Sparrow." Another bit of land among the Isles of Shoals, she mentioned "the windfall of birds killed by the lighthouse in the spring," in a March, 1869 letter.

Essential findings were distinctly reported by Joel A. Allen in the Bulletin of the Nuttall Ornithological Club, in its fifth volume, as a correspondence investigation originated by Ruthven Deane some few years previously. He sent about sixty letters of inquiry to lighthouse keepers.

The reported result listed a number of light-houses, with an abstract for each, conveying notable conditions for the period about 1877-1878.

"In many cases the information is rather meagre, as would be naturally expected, owing to the inability of the reporters to recognize the species of birds that are destroyed by the lights, or to appreciate just the nature of the information required; yet their replies contribute something of value respecting the frequency of such occurrences and the circumstances attending them."

These are the light-houses listed, with pertinent details, including some recognition for the original source of information, if it was presented by someone striving to gather information via a distant manner of communication:

"1. Wood Island Light, near entrance to Saco Harbor, Maine. A flashing red light; height above sea level, 62 feet. Albert Norwood, keeper." A few strikes during foggy weather, in August and September
"2. Egg Rock Light, near the entrance of Frenchman's Bay, Mount Desert, four miles from Bar Harbor, Maine, and two miles from any headland. A fixed red light; height, 76 feet. A.H. Wargatt, keeper." Strikes notably from April 15th to May 15th.
"3. Cape Ann Lights, three fourths of a mile from Cape Ann, Mass. Two fixed white lights; height 165 1/2 feet. Albert W. Steele, keeper." Very few strikes noted, except in May and June.
"4. Marblehead Light, Marblehead Neck, Massachusetts. Fixed white light; height, 43 feet. James S. Bailey, keeper." Very few bird strikes.
"5. Minot's Ledge Light, Cohasset, Mass. Fixed white light; height 92 feet." William Sears, the keeper said: "I think hundreds are killed and fall in the water."
"6. Plymouth Light, Gurnet Point, Plymouth, Mass. Fixed white light; height, 102 feet. Levi L. Creek, keeper." Few particulars provided.
"7. Race Point Light, northwesterly point of Cape Cod, Mass. Fixed white light, varied by white flashes; height, 51 feet." No strikes noted by James Cashman, keeper.
"8. Long Point Light, entrance to Provincetown Harbor, Mass. Fixed white light, height 37 feet." Strikes occurred rarely.
[Cape Cod Lighthouse, Wikipedia]

Cape Cod Lighthouse.

"9. Cape Cod Light, Highlands, North Truro, Mass. Fixed white light; height, 195 feet. David F. Loring, keeper." A lighthouse was first built here in 1797, with the current structure built in 1857. This correspondence was dated March 5, 1877 according to the article:
"Now no sea birds fly against the light, as was the case in former years, except occasionally a Petrel, or Mother Carey's Chicken, and a small bird called by the fishermen 'bank bird' (the latter said to resemble 'Shore Birds or Peeps'). These never come except in driving easterly storms, when they are occasionally very plenty. Two hundred are seen at one time, a few of them now and then killing themselves by flying against the glass. They come mostly from the last of September till the middle of October. As many as 20 have been seen dead at one time. The large sea birds, as Ducks, Coots, etc., do not now come near the light, as they used to, which may be because they are not as plenty as formerly. Nearly all the different species of small land birds come about the light, but the Sparrows seem to take the lead in striking it. Frequently in the fall of the year we pick up 8 or 10 in the morning outside the light; the cats get a great many that fall on the ground. A great many birds alight on the window-frames outside the lantern, and sometimes stay there all night, fluttering against the glass, trying to get inside to the light. The light partially blinds them, as they allow themselves to be taken in the hand. These birds are the most numerous in September and October. A great many Plovers, it is said, used to fly against the light, but have not done so during the four years I have been here."

Henry David Thoreau wrote an article from a historic point-of-view about this place in the Atlantic Monthly, December of 1864. His words of pertinence:

"Sometimes even small birds flew against the thick plate-glass, and were found on the ground beneath in the morning with their necks broken. In the spring of 1855 he found nineteen small yellow-birds, perhaps goldfinches or myrtle-birds, thus lying dead around the light - house ; and sometimes in the fall he had seen where a golden plover had struck the glass in the night, and left the down and the fatty part of its breast on it."

He also noted the bank with breeding swallows, crow blackbirds, and upland plover involved with their nesting activities.

"10. Hyannis Light, Hyannis, Mass. Fixed white light; height, 42 feet. Alonzo F. Lothrop, keeper." Waterfowl noted to fly above the structure, situated in the village, so no strikes were mentioned.
"11. Succannessett Shoals Light-ship, 14 miles west of Hyannis. A fixed white light; height, 40 feet." Prior to 1877, ducks and coots would strike the light, and fall to the deck of the ship.
"12. Sandy Neck Light, entrance to Barnstable Harbor, Mass. Fixed white light; height, 59 feet. Jacob S. Howes, keeper." Only a dozen strikes noted during a year-and-a-half period.
"13. Cape Poge Light-house, northeast point of Martha's Vineyard, Mass. Fixed white light; height, 57 feet. E. Worth, keepeer." Only about a dozen bird strikes noted during an eleven year period.
"14. Point Judith Light, southern point of Narragansett shore, Rhode Island. Flashing white light; height, 67 feet. Josephy Whaley, keeper. ... seldom find any birds dead."
15. Black Island Light, northern extremity of Block Island. "Fixed white light, height, 204 feet." Sometimes struck by waterfowl.
"16. Montauk Point Light, extreme east end of Long Island, New York. Fixed white light varied by white flashes; height, 172 feet. N.A. Babcock, keeper. ... a few small birds fly against the lantern in summer."
"17. Navesink Light, Highlands of Navesink, New Jersey. Fixed white light; height, 248 feet. Daniel P. Caulkins, keeper. ... found most frequently in heavy weather."
"18. Cape May Light, Cape May, New Jersey. Flashing white (revolving) light; height, 152 feet. Samuel Stillwell, keeper. ... Reports that great numbers of small birds of all kinds strike the light in spring. Sometimes as many as 200 are seen dead on the ground at one time. The kinds especially mentioned are Chipping Birds, Robins, Catbirds, Flickers, Red Birds, and Sparrows."

The first lighthouse at Cape May was built in 1823, but the 64' structure only lasted 24 years. The next version only lasted twelve years. In 1859, the Army Corps of Engineers built the version present at the time of this article, and which is still operating at a natural area, which is a popular place for viewing fall bird migration.

"19. Cape Hatteras Light, North Carolina. Flashing white light; height, 191 feet. N.P. Jennett, keeper. ... 60 to 75 frequently found dead at one time. ... myrtle birds ... come in great numbers, 200 to 300 being sometimes killed in one night." Detailed notes were given for October 17, 1876 on a dark, misty night with brisk 35 m.p.h. winds from the northeast. Jennett said it was a "grand sight" with the dazzling light illuminating the birds gathered around the light. He gathered 350 from the balcony and another 140 off the ground the next morning. Some of them were "excellent food.".
20. Hunting Island Light, South Carolina; at entrance of St. Helena Sound. "Flashing white light; height, 136 feet. S.B. Wright, keeper. ... March 30, 1877. Birds killed by flying against the tower embrace nearly all kinds of Ducks and sea-fowl, and of wood and marsh birds. They are mostly killed in the fall and early winter, but are found dead at intervals all winter." During the winter there were ducks, teal, wigeon and coots. The cats and hogs had all they could eat as a result of the conditions during a "severe gale of northeast wind and rain."
21. St. Augustine Light, St. Augustine, Florida. "Fixed white light, varying with white flashes; height, 165 feet. W.A. Harn, keeper." Notably reports conditions on October 13-15, 1876: "each morning the keepers raked up more than two bushels of dead birds."
22. West Rigolets Light, entrance to Lake Pontchartrain, Louisiana. "Fixed white light; height, 30 feet." Information submitted by H.W. Henshaw noted: " ... The history of birds striking the Rigolets Light is, in fact, repeated, with more or less change, at all the lights on our coast, and indeed on all coasts, during the migrations."
23. Alcatraz Light, Alcatraz Island, harbor of San Francisco, California. "Fixed white light; height, 166 feet. J.T. Huie, keeper." During seven years, there were no bird strikes noted.
24. Fort Point Light, harbor of San Francisco, California. "Fixed white light; height, 83 feet." This locality also reported that "no birds came against it."
The information has a value that transcends any particular focus on present time indicated by its author. Allen wrote that the list represented "only about one twentieth of the whole number supported by the United States." His summary of the given details was provided by in brief, by a relatively few words:
"The Cape May Light is the first on the list which great numbers of birds were killed; at the Cape Hatteras, Hunting Island, St. Augustine, and Rigolets Lights the destruction is far greater, the keepers of the last-named lights reporting that hundreds are sometimes killed in a single night at each of these lights. This seems to show pretty conclusively that the southern light-stations are far more destructive to birds than the northern ones are.
"The foregoing shows that the destruction of birds by light-houses on the coast of the United States must amount to many thousands annually."

In a seminal research paper, William Brewster spent seven weeks - August 13 to September 1885 - investigating bird migration at Point Lepreaux at the apex of the cape, on the west shore of the Bay of Fundy, New Brunswick, Canada. At the time, Brewster was in charge of the bird department of the Agassiz Museum in Cambridge and also President of the Nuttall Ornithological Club.

Special attention was being given to the nocturnal migrants, with a "rush" underway starting in early September. His notes convey the casualties:

  • 1st: Nine birds, of eight species
  • 4th: during the four hours between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m., about fifty were killed or disabled, with others also examined; in these proportions: Common Yellowthroat (40%), Red-eyed Vireo (40%), Gray-cheeked Thrush, Swainson's Thrush, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, Bay-breasted Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, American Redstart and Canada Warbler.
"At the height of the mélée the scene was interesting and impressive beyond almost anything that I ever witnessed. Above, the inky black sky; on all sides, dense wreaths of fog scudding swiftly past and completely enveloping the sea which moaned dismally at the base of the cliffs below; about the top of the tower, a belt of light projected some thirty yards into the mist by the powerful reflectors; and in this belt swarms of birds, circling, floating, soaring, now advancing, next retreating, but never quite able, as it seemed, to throw off the spell of the fatal lantern. Their rapidly vibrating wings made a hze about their forms which in the strong light looked semi-transparent. At a distance all appeared of a pale, silvery gray color, nearer, of a rich yellow. They reminded me by turns of meteors, gigantic moths, Swallows with sunlight streaming through their wings. I could not watch them for any length of time without becomming dizzy and bewidered.
"When the wind blew strongly they circled around to leeward, breasting it in a dense throng, which drited backward and forward, up and down, like a swarm of gnats dancing in the sunshine. Dozens were continually leaving this throng and skimming towards the lantern. As they approached they invariably soared upward, and those which started on a level with the platform usually passed above the roof. Others sheered off at the last moment, and shot by with arrow-like swiftness, while more rarely one would stop abruptly and, poising a few feet from the glass, inspect the lighted space within. Often for a minute or more not a bird would strike. Then, as if seized by a panic, they would come against the glass so rapidly, and in such numbers, that the sound of their blows resembled the pattering of hail. Many struck the tin roof above the light, others the iron railing which enclosed the platform, while still others pelted me on the back, arms, and legs, and one actually became hopelessly entangled in my beard. At times it fairly rained birds, and the platform, wet and shining, was strewn with the dead and dying.
  • 5th: 15 birds picked up; mostly
  • 7th: caught and picked up about 25 birds
  • 8th: three birds noted
  • 9th: no strikes noted
  • 13th: only one bird was disabled

In summary:

1) No birds came about the lantern except during densely cloudy or foggy weather.
2) That they came in the greatest numbers when the night for the first hour or two was clear and free from fog.
3) That with a single exception all the nights on which the heavy flights occurred were preceded by clear, cool days.

This effort was so notable it was reported in the popular press after it was published as the first issue of "Memoirs of the Nuttall Ornithological Club." A brief summary was issued first in the Montreal Witness the following July. The story was then picked up by the New York Times and printed in an edition on August 2nd. Details were repeated later, in a book entitled "Our Family Friends," and again in Bird-Lore with an account of former life.

[Sombrero Key Light - Wikipedia]

Sombrero Key Light. This structure was installed in 1858, and is still in use.

Down south in Florida, the lighthouse at Sombrero Key is well known for bird strikes as a result of a comprehensive investigation on the distribution and migration of warblers in North America, by Wells Woodbridge Cooke.

"The largest single addition to the knowledge of movements of birds along the southern border of the United States is due to records of species striking the lighthouses off the south coast of Florida. Several thousands of these instances have been recorded. They furnish the best available data so far collected on the length of the migrating season, and afford also much-needed information concerning the time when many species of birds begin their migration in the fall. The keeper of the lighthouse at Sombrero Key, in particular, has taken much interest in the matter, and has spent many hours counting and identifying birds, either killed by flying against the glass protecting the light or resting bewildered on the balcony after striking. Eight hundred and sixteen records were received in five years from this one lighthouse. They comprise a total of 2,011 dead birds and 10,086 birds which struck the light with so little force that on the return of clear skies or daylight they were able to resume their flight."

Records are available from 1884-1889; and provide details for items such as earlist or latest seasonal occurrence and nights when large numbers of warblers were making migratory flights. Species documented from this locale include: Prothonotary Warbler, Swainson's Warbler, Worm-eating Warbler, Northern Parula, Cape May Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Pine warbler, Ovenbird, Connecticut Warbler and American Redstart.

This place was especially hazard for the Common Yellowthroat: "The flight of March 3, 1889, was one of the largest spring-flights of Maryland yellow-throats ever noted at Sombrero Key. It lasted nearly all night, and during its continuance about 150 birds struck the light. On the same night Maryland yellow-throats also struck the lighthouse at Fowey Rocks on the coast of Florida 95 miles northeast of Sombrero Key, which is just south of Cape Sable." There were more than 2,000 records of this species striking this lighthouse.

William Dutcher, in his notes about birds from Long Island, N.Y., mentioned some notable details. A Prothonotary Warbler that struck the light at Montauk Point during the night of August 26, 1886, was the first record of the species for this locale.

A year later on the island, at the Fire Island Light, there was a massive kill on September 23, 1887. The death tally was 595 birds, with about 350 of them Blackpoll Warblers, included one albino. Overall, 25 species were represented, with nearly half of them wood warblers, Dutcher wrote in his article.

In latter years, Dutcher went on to get involved with bird conservation through an involvement with the fledgling Audubon Society.

These accounts convey how a vast multitude of birds met their demise due to human constructs that barred their migratory pathways, is a vivid portrait of a historic era.

The navigational aid light-houses for the boats, were present for many previous decades, and prevailed during subsequent years. The "destruction of birds by light-houses" undoubtedly was occurring for years previous, and other years beyond what was reported by Mr. Allen in a dramatic article in a bird journal.