22 May 2009

Birds of a May Weekend Along the Central Niobrara River Valley

View of the northern Niobrara River valley from Fred Thomas WMA. May 15, 2009.

During a three-day weekend outing to north-central Nebraska, a variety of different bird species were noted at places along and amongst the valleys of the Niobrara River. Localities visited for some time or another during drive times or while on a local hike of some sort or another, included:

  • Fred Thomas WMA; the overlook is a great place for lunch
  • Norden Chute
  • Rock Barn Campground
  • Fritzs Island
  • Fritzs Island Campground
  • Sharps Campground
  • Sunny Brook Camp
  • Wazi Oshki: this was the headquarters for the period; notable for this place is an extensive tree removal project scheduled to occur here in June, when cedars trees will be cut and piled
  • Conservancy Swamp
  • Big Cedar Creek and Falls
  • Conner Rapids
  • County Line Bridge
  • Stairway Falls
  • Brewer Bridge: a fine list of species noted during the interval here, which included watching the moving of cows and calves across the bridge to their summer pasture on the Niobrara Valley Preserve

The amount of time at each site was highly variable, and often so slight that the only notations were prominent species seen while driving by, or during a few minutes' visit. When time allowed, more detailed looking and a local hike occurred. None-the-less, noting whenever possible the bird type seen was essential in determining the list of observed species:

  • American Crow
  • American Goldfinch
  • American Kestrel
  • American Robin
  • Bald Eagle: a juvenile seen once
  • Baltimore Oriole
  • Bank Swallow: regularly seen along the river, with nesting in the earthen banks on the hill slopes
  • Barn Swallow
  • Black-and-white Warbler: on Sunday morning at Wazi Oshki
  • Black-capped Chickadee
  • Blue Jay: only heard on Sunday morning
  • Blue-winged Teal: along the river's way
  • Brown-headed Cowbird
  • Canada Goose: nesting along the river
  • Cedar Waxwing
  • Chipping Sparrow: a bird of the pine woods
  • Cliff Swallow: a large gathering along the river road was a view to appreciate
  • Common Grackle: likes the bridges over the river; nest building activity was underway at Brewer Bridge
  • Common Poorwill: heard on Friday evening towards the western portion of Wazi Oshki; their call is characteristic and was an event to appreciate
  • Common Yellowthroat: something to appreciate in wetland places adjacent to the river
  • Eastern Bluebird: contending with Tree Swallows for a nest box at Wazi Oshki
  • Eastern Kingbird
  • Eastern Phoebe
  • Field Sparrow
  • Golden Eagle: a fine sight while along the road when riding in the car
  • Grasshopper Sparrow: in the upland prairie
  • Great Blue Heron: associated with riverside environs
  • Great Crested Flycatcher
  • Great Horned Owl
  • Hairy Woodpecker
  • Horned Lark
  • House Wren: mostly in the valley
  • Killdeer: much less prevalent than the Spotted Sandpiper
  • Lark Sparrow
  • Loggerhead Shrike
  • Long-billed Curlew: in the valley north of the road in the vicinity of Fritzs Island Campground
  • Mourning Dove
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Northern Flicker
  • Ovenbird
  • Red-breasted Nuthatch: in the upland pines
  • Red-eyed Vireo
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Red-winged Blackbird: obvious in places adjacent to the channel of the river water
  • Rose-breasted Grosbeak
  • Spotted Sandpiper: seen along the river at several places
  • Spotted Towhee: a typical species throughout
  • Swainson's Hawk: in the aerial realm
  • Tree Swallow
  • Turkey Vulture: especially notable at Vulture Heights in the southwest corner of Keya Paha county, but regularly seen in the valley skies
  • Western Kingbird
  • White-breasted Nuthatch
  • Wild Turkey: the big bird of the valley seen in flocks of variable size as they foraged in fields along the roads of the valley
  • Willow Flycatcher
  • Yellow Warbler: along the running water
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Etc. as there would be other species present as this is a migratory period

Most of the species in this annotated list are residents for the summer season.

These sightings have been entered into a database of bird records for each particular site, indicating when and where noted during the weekend of 15-17 May 2009.

Cedar clearing along Turkey Creek. All of the cedar trees present in this vicinity are being removed. May 17, 2009.

It was often a challenge to determine the proper name for a particular locality within a mile's distance or so, as the place names can be rather vague at some places within the valley. Many of the river valley sightings were attributed to the particular region of a specific campground. Some of the landmarks along the river channel were other possible place names.

A notable activity taking place in the river valley that was seen and discussed during the outing, was the removal of invasive eastern red cedar trees. There were obvious places next to the roadway where this treatment had been applied, with some sites just recently done. A particularly notable place was along Turkey Creek. It was quite dramatic to see the thorough removal underway on the slopes of steep hill-slopes and along the creek. What a dramatic difference! Removal of each of the cedar trees creates a total change in the landscape and profoundly revises the condition of the woodland habitat for the local fauna. What remains after the clearing is a big piles of removed cedars, which await burning in future months.

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