29 March 2010

Dumped Paint Taints Creek in Omaha Park

Unwanted paint dumped by some unknown perp into what was probably a storm-water sewer in the Fairacres neighborhood of Omaha flowed south and tainted Wood Creek where it starts at the northwest corner of Memorial Park.

The water was an opaque white, with a solid film on some bits of the downstream portion of the pool, just to the south of Underwood Avenue, near J.E. George Boulevard.

In the background is the storm-water drain that was the source of the paint pollution. The watershed for this creek extends quite a distance to the north.

This was the situation when the scene was revisited mid-afternoon March 29th, after having appreciating a pair of boisterous Carolina Wrens present during the noon hour. After writing an appreciative essay about the wrens, which undoubtedly struggled to survive the perils of winter, it seemed very apropos to get a view of the scene to get a view of the setting.

It was quite a surprise to arrive to a polluted place in no way conducive to a natural setting.

There were no wrens, yet four Wood Ducks were about, going about their daily routine. Thankfully they were chased away before their beauteous feathers could get tainted by some foreign substance.

What was the situation? How should it be dealt with? Something needs to be done. Now.

After taking some pictures to importantly document the condition, with righteous vigor my bicycling continued to a phone where a call was made to 911, with the report of a hazardous waste spill. Details were given and the operator said an appropriate response would be dispatched.

So my afternoon outing meant pedaling back to the scene, and an arrival about the same time as a truck of Omaha Fire and Rescue. The men jumped out, and walked over to take a look from up along the street. Soon the suitably equipped Haz-Mat 2 rig arrived, and this crew had to go to work to analyze the situation.

One man got suited up with boots, supplemental air, sealed garb and the whole works, and the crew then made their their way down the very steep west bank of the creek.

A sample of the material was taken, placed into a vial and carefully returned to the truck for analysis.

The rest of the gathered Omaha agency men watched closely, and this included two officers of the Omaha Police Department.

During the time, the cars with students from St. Margaret Mary School, a couple of blocks downstream, were driving past, along the avenue, surely wondering what was happening.

While awaiting results of the analysis a query was posed to the police officer, as to whether it was proper to have called officials? He said yes.

The same question was asked of the haz-mat crew, and they agreed, saying that it was their job to respond to situations and to evaluate the situation to determine if there was a hazard.

At least a proper decision had been made about making the call.

The final verdict? It was latex paint, as determined by a computer analysis.

The fire department men thought it best to let the water flow dilute and carry away the dumped paint, without any assistance.

If there is one slight benefit of the whole event, it was timing. There may be some people wondering what had happened at the creek. At least the creek might get some attentive consideration of one sort or another.

After their well-done work, and an attentive discussion of the situation, the emergency responders were thanked for their effort and attentive response. Then they left.

My next 30 minutes were spent using a hefty stick - as hazardous matter may be present - to move around leaves, concrete rubble, sticks and twigs, as well as plastic trash bags to improve the flow of the waters so the gathered paint pollution would move along and flow onward, away from the culvert-created pool on the south, park-side of Underwood Avenue.

With the constricted flow at the site, over some concrete rubble and among fallen tree matter, at least there will be some ripple effect and mixing to aerate and improve the quality of the water somewhat before it continues to flow along the west side of Memorial Park, then further along into the natural habitat of Elmwood Park. The whole stretch is a current haven for a bunch of Wood Ducks which had been counted during the morning's bird survey.

Wood Ducks obviously do not mix well with paint in the waters.

The Carolina Wrens were not heard or seen during the whole time. What a shame if the pair were chased away by disturbance due to an ignorant perp in some so-called uptown neighborhood ... some person obviously indifferent and ignorant to what they wrought by doing what they thought was something so simple and in no way malicious! What ignorance this conveys.

The perp(s) should be billed for the expenses of the emergency responders, and then have to pay a hefty fine for dumping and water pollution.

While talking with the two police men, they said what happened would not be littering, but would go to the next level and be classified as dumping. This would mean a greater fine for the ignorant violator. This seems to be proper considering what happened once the paint was poured into the drainageway.

Idiots abound, apparently indifferent as Omaha officials, the parks, and its natural residents deal with the unwanted and negative results.

View of the tainted water scene taken about 4 p.m.

View of the tainted water scene taken about two hours later.

Carolina Wrens Again in Midtown Omaha Despite Severe Winter

A sultry day of late-March when the winds were still somewhat subdued and the snow was not all gone, meant it was a good morning to walk along and survey what birds were present at a couple of parklands in midtown Omaha.

Nothing special was expected, whilst hiking along Happy Hollow Creek, then Wood Creek.

And there was no exciting bird seen on the scene.

One especial observation was a bunch of Wood Ducks on the east side of the Wood Creek Pond. Their whistles were especially notable and prevalent in comparison to the lesser calls of the Northern Cardinal or American Robin. The duck drakes were competing with the invasive European Starlings to claims the tree cavities that would provide a fine place for their mate to lay eggs and raise a brood.

After an interlude in the library, the route for this survey continued on the west side of Memorial Park. Nothing special here either, at least not until reaching the north end of Wood Creek, near Underwood Avenue.

Into the mid-day scene there burst forth the rapturous and vivacious call of the Carolina Wren.

Wow! What an unexpected delight.

The songster certainly had to be seen to be appreciated, so the walking was went into a pause mode. After some moments, a dun wren popped forth on a tree branch just a short few feet away. Its details were obvious as it chattered as if my presence was an intrusion.

The minutes watching this bird were sublime, and appreciated for what was wrought during the former winter season, now nearly entirely gone. Within a bit more of an interlude, there came the realization that there were two of the Carolina Wrens.

How grand to have an apparent pair in a woody habitat where these songsters had been but after the decimating times of snow-falls with big depths, and dramatic cold, had been unheard and unseen for nearly four months.

The last observation was one seen on the west side of Shadow Lake, in Elmwood Park, where there was were morning fresh depths of snow, and the prognosis for the wren was not good, which was readily apparent in subsequent outings. There were no Carolina Wrens heard again while bicycling or walking among natural habitats in Elmwood and eastern Memorial Park, along what had formerly been a Happy Hollow for the species.

The wrens were gone. And this included the diminutive Winter Wren.

In March of 2008 and 2009, there were notations in my records which indicated that these wrens were about.

The March morning now gone this year, was a new indication of occurrence. Formerly, they had occurred in Elmwood Park, through March and into early and mid-April. Then nothing time and time again when many other species were busy with their summer home-making.

A gap of 75 days occurred. There were wrens, but it was their cousin the House Wren that was noticed, and not the preeminent Carolina Wren., which were heard again until July 5th in 2009, and then were noted on numerous occasions in the Omaha parklands in the subsequent months.

The best count was four heard early in December 2009.

Then severe winter happened. Three days later, the woods were struck silent. Week after week it was a struggle for birds to find needed nourishment with multiple inches of snow upon the ground, as well as frigid air temperatures.

Whether the pair noted today, with conditions warming in the early spring season, survived in the neighborhood, perhaps feeding at a backyard feeder, is not known. However they made it, and it makes no difference that they might have moved in from some other local place, their renewed existence is profound, and for two to be together is an exciting indication of what may occur as the warm season beckons.

Hopefully the pair of wrens will continue in a happy bliss and raise a brood in the woods of Wood Creek, midtown Omaha. Sing on wrens ...

Bryophytes of Nebraska Celebrated at Educational Session

The intricate details of bryophytes were recently described at an educational seminar sponsored by the Nebraska Native Plant Society, and hosted by Dr. David M. Sutherland. The session was held in a laboratory on the fifth floor of Allwine Hall, at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, on March 27th, a Saturday morning with gray skies, morning precipitation and somewhat chilly temperatures prevalent.

Weather conditions outside may have been a factor why more than 30 people attended the inside program hosted by Professor Sutherland, a UNO biology professor. Dr. Robert Kaul, a career botanist from the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, also attended to assist with informing people about flora.

Both of these professors have had an essential and profoundly important role in the recent history of Nebraska flora, and to have both of them present was indicative of the value of the event.

Dr. Sutherland started by giving an hour-long visual presentation which showed the intricate, and prominent details of bryophytes - in amazing detail - to the attentive audience, and where applicable, included maps of distribution for species in Nebraska which had never been previously presented in a public venue.

Dr. Sutherland handling a fresh growth of bryophyte material..

Dr. Kaul and Dr. Sutherland.

It was obvious that understanding bryophytes included knowing essential details of their life-cycle and morphology, based on accepted and essential scientific terminology. Dr. Sutherland provided a handout listing definitions for terms essential to understanding and identifying species of bryophytes.

The images used were from a variety of sources, ranging from locally focused efforts to the exquisite works of bryophyte enthusiasts of the world, with each image distinctly attributed in the manner typical of a botany professor cognizant of the essentials for defining the scholarly source of information.

There are about 130 species of bryophytes in Nebraska, which includes liverworts, hornworts and mosses, Sutherland explained.

Many of the species discussed were from local parks, natural areas and other similar areas with a variety of settings conducive to bryophyte survival. Particular places mentioned included Fontenelle Forest - a privately-managed preserve, at Hummel Park and Dodge Park which are maintained by the Omaha Parks and Recreation Department, and at Schramm Park State Recreation Area, a state of Nebraska property.

Some very common species could be found among urban places, including the relict natural habitats of the creeks in Elmwood Park, adjacent to the UNO campus.

One species shown has a history based upon a single instance of occurrence from 1888.

One detail worth noting, was that many species of bryophytes do not have a common name, and are only known by their scientific moniker.

After the presentation, attendees could look very closely at fresh examples of the miscellaneous species typical of the Missouri River valley. There were more than a dozen dissecting microscopes setup with various samples that could be viewed in closeup detail.

The history of bryology in Nebraska is mostly based in the past. There are exceptions, including the information derived by Roland Barth, from his pictorial depictions for the natural history of Fontenelle Forest along the floodplain and bluffs of the Missouri River in Sarpy County.

Kay Kottas, Roland Barth and Loren Padelford at the bryophyte session. Barth and Padelford are involved with NatureSearch, an online guide to living things in Fontenelle Forest and Neale Woods.

Not much has been done on bryology in Nebraska since it received some attention more than 35 years ago, with the efforts of Steve Churchill, Kaul and Sutherland said. Churchills was a university student at the time and focused on identifying the species known, and where they were known to occur in Nebraska.

In preparation for the seminar, Dr. Sutherland, with some help, visited Schramm Park on the Platte, to gather samples of fresh material for the Saturday program, and the result was quite spectacular.

There were several new records of occurrence for species of bryophytes in Sarpy County, Dr. Sutherland said.

Dr. Sutherland and Dr. Kaul agree on the biggest challenge for knowing more about the bryophytes of Nebraska.

They both explained more surveys need to be made to be able to better realize the current distribution of bryophtes in Nebraska.

Enthusiasts need to get out and make new records, the botany professors said.

Babs and Loren Padelford, and Dr. Sutherland discussing features of bryophytes at Allwine Hall.

Biological Features of Saline Wetlands in Lancaster County, Nebraska

1987. Biological features of saline wetlands in Lancaster County, Nebraska. Transactions of the Nebraska Academy of Sciences 15: 5-14.

The natural history of saline wetland areas near Lincoln, Lancaster County, was evaluated. Most remaining salt marshes occur on saline soils along Little Salt Creek. Numerous plant species of saline soils occur that are limited to this part of the State. The avifauna is diverse, with 67 species recorded during the breeding season, 47 of them breeding. Because wetlands are limited in distribution in Nebraska, key biological elements, potential threats to the areas, and management considerations are discussed.

Introduction

Salt marshes occur in eastern Nebraska only near Lincoln, on lowlands in the Salt Creek Basin. They are very limited compared to other plant community types in Nebraska, and have been considered an endangered habitat (Kaul, 1975). A few small salt marshes are found here and there in the Sandhills and North Platte River Valley.

The Lancaster County salt marshes were once extensive on lowlands along the creeks, but changes in land use through the decades have drastically reduced them. The remaining sites are so limited that additional disturbances could destroy entirely a representative plant community.

There is need for an active conservation effort to identify, evaluate, and protect the remaining salt marshes. Conservation of these sites would protect:

1. unique salt-marsh plant communities that are the result of prehistoric conditions on the Great Plains.
2. salt-marsh vegetation important in ecological research.
3. wetland habitat used by an impressive variety of native wildlife, especially birds.
4. natural lands and the value they have for environmental education and outdoor recreation.
5. native prairie land.

The saline wetlands result from groundwater seeping to the surface from the Dakota Formation (Shirk, 1924). The salt was initially formed millions of years earlier when a vast inland sea covered central North America. White alkaline deposits can often be found on the ground in some of these wetlands.

I have compiled information on these areas to identify their biological features that should be conserved.

Methods

I determined the location of some wetlands from references listing areas visited by bird watchers, and I found other sites by using U.S. Geological Survey topographic maps. I also used aerial photographs to assess the extent of marshland along Little Salt Creek. I made nearly 60 visits since 1980 to evaluate the avifauna in the North 27th Street area, and I visited the over sites periodically from 1984 through 1986.

Other biologists provided information from their field work, including persons from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the University of Chicago, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, and bird watchers from the Wachiska Audubon Society. Popular articles also have information on the history of saline marshes near Lincoln (Cunningham, 1985; Ducey, 1985, 1987).

Soils

The saline soils belong to the Salmo Series of deep, poorly drained bottomland soils of low permeability (Soil Conservation Service, 1980). They formed on silty alluvium that is slightly to moderately affected with soluble salts. This soil type commonly occurs near creeks, intermittent lakes, and marshes, and is usually only briefly flooded (Table I). Salt-marsh soils in general are highly saline and have a high water-holding capacity (Ungar, 1969).

Three soils are classified in the Salmo Series:

1. Salmo silt loam, Sa, is a nearly level, poorly drained soil of bottomlands, and is occasionally flooded. Shallow depressions and meandering drains are common.
2. Salmo silty-clay loam, Sb, is channeled with ~2% slope. It is a nearly level, poorly drained soil found frequently on bottomlands. Shallow depressions and meandering drains are common. Prairie cordgrass is the commonest plant, but overgrazed areas are invaded by inland saltgrass.
3. Salmo silty-clay loam, Sc, ~2% slope. It is located on poorly drained bottomland that is occasionally flooded.

Table I. Characteristics of Salmo Series soils in Lancaster County.

 

Flooding

Salinity

Soil Type

Range Type

Acres

Percent

Duration

Months

Mmhos/cm

Sa

Saline lowland

900

0.2

Brief

Mar-Oct

4-16

Sb

Saline subirrigated

2,300

0.4

Brief

Mar-Oct

4-16

Sc

Saline subirrigated

2,480

0.5

Brief

Mar-Oct

4-16

Salt-Marsh Vegetation

Although there have been no complete botanical surveys, herbarium specimens, literature notes, and field observations document most plant species of the saline soils. Several species are abundant, but others occur in just few of the wetlands. The growing conditions are so variable that the flora varies from site to site. Table II lists representative species in the sites.

A variety of terrestrial and aquatic plant communities have been identified at some of these saline wetlands (Ungar, 1969), and their distribution, as well as that of other habitats typical of southeastern Nebraska, is summarized in Table III for most of the salt-marsh areas visited. (Scientific names of plants are given in Table II.)

Subtle differences in topography, soils, and drainage influence the vegetation and create, in some places, many different plant associations in small areas. The most important factor affecting plant occurrence and distribution in the salt marshes is the osmotic concentration of the soil solution (Ungar, 1969). A reduction in soil salinity results in an increase in cover or species numbers, but not necessarily both. Sea blite is the most salt-tolerant species, and is usually the first to invade barren salt flats; where salinity is reduced along the border of saline areas, numerous prairie species invade (Ungar, 1969).

Because the distribution of salt-marsh plants (halophytes) fluctuates with precipitation and temperature within and among the sites (Shirk, 1924), an extensive area of saline soils is needed to ensure that suitable habitat remains somewhere.

Table II. Representative flora noted at saline wetlands near Lincoln, Lancaster County. Additional species would be expected with a more comprehensive survey.

 

Locality

PLANT SPECIES

Common Name and Scientific Name

Airport Flats

Capitol Beach

R.R. Yards

Lagoon Park

North 40th

North 27th

North L. Salt

Alkali bluegrass. Poa juncifolia Scribn.

X

Alleghany monkey-flower. Mimulus ringers L.

X

Annual iva. Iva ciliata Willd.

X

X

X

X

Bearded sprangletop. Leptochloafascicularis (Lam.) Gray

X

Bluestem. Andropogon spp.

X

X

Blue grama. Bouteloua gracilis (H.B.K.) Griffiths

X

X

Buffalo grass. Buchloe dactyloides (Nutt.) Engelm.

X

Cattail. Typha spp.

X

X

X

X

X

Common reed. Phragmites australis (Cov.) Trin.

X

Cottonwood. Populus sp.

X

X

Ditchgrass. Ruppia marifima L.

X

Elm. Ulmus sp.

X

Fern flatsedge. Cyperus filiculmis Vahl

X

Gayfeather. Liatris sp.

X

Goldenrod. Solidago spp.

X

Hackberry. Celtis occidentalis L.

X

Large alfalfa dodder. Cuscuta indecora Chois.

X

Ludwigia. Ludwigia peploides (H.B.K.) Raven

X

Plains bluegrass. Poa arida Vasey

X

Prairie cordgrass. Spanina pectinata Link

X

X

Prairie cupgrass. Eriochloa contracta Hitchc

X

Prickly pear. Opuntia sp.

X

Redroot Cyperus. Cyperus erythrorhizas Muhl

X

Redscale. Atriplex rosea L.

X

X

X

Sago pondweed. Potamogeton pectinatus L.

X

Salt grass. Distichlis spicata L.

X

X

X

X

X

X

Saltmarsh aster. Aster subulatus var. ligulatus Shinners

X

Saltwort. Salicornia rubra L.

X

X

X

X

X

Sea blite. Suaeda depressa (Purch) Wats.

X

X

X

X

Sedge. Carex spp.

X

X

X

X

X

Sideoats grama. Bouteloua curtipendula (Michx.) Torr.

X

Seaside heliotrope. Heliotropium curassavicum L.

X

Seaside saltgrass. Distichlis spicata (L.) Greene

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

Slender flatsedge. Cyperus ferruginescens Boeckl.

X

Spearscale. Atriplex spp.

X

X

X

Spikesedge. Eleocharis spp.

X

X

X

X

Swamp milkweed. Asclepias incarnata L.

X

Switchgrass. Panicum virgatum L.

X

Texas dropseed. Sporobolus texanus Vasey

X

Tooth-cup. Ammannia coccinea R.H.B.

X

Westem snowberry. Symphoricarpos albus L. Blake

X

X

Westem wheatgrass. Agropyron smithii Rydb.

X

Willow. Salix spp.

X

X

X

Yerba-de-tajo. Ecliota alba (L.) Hassk.

X

 

Table III. Summary of habitat types of saline wetlands near Lincoln, Lancaster, County.

 

Locality

Habitat Type

Airport Flats

Capitol Beach

R.R. Yards

Lagoon Park

North 40th

North 27th

North L. Salt

Alkaline Meadow

X

X

X

X

X

Cattail Marsh

X

X

X

X

X

Cordgrass Meadow

X

X

Lowland Woods

X

X

X

X

Mud Flats

X

X

X

X

Native Prairie

X

X

X

Open Water-Lake

X

X

X

X

X

Riparian Woods

X

Sedge Marsh

X

Shrubland

X

Weedy Lowland

X

Diatoms

Diatoms specific to saline environments are known from these salt marshes. Elmore (1921) collected five species near Little Salt Greek at the now-vanished settlement of Arbor: Synedra fasciculata, Navicula crucicula, Entomoneis alata, Nitzschia hungarica, and N. acicularis.

Avifauna

Bird enthusiasts have been keeping records of salt-marsh bird life for nearly 100 years (Hunter, 1900, and about 30 other references in publications of the Nebraska Ornithologists' Union). The open water, marshes, meadows, prairie, and woods provide habitat for a large and diverse avifauna. More than 230 breeding and migrating species have been recorded in the last 90 years (Ducey, 1985). Nomenclature used here is from American Ornithologists' Union (1983), and scientific names are given in Table IV.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the avifauna is the diversity of non-breeding shore and water birds. Historic observations of migratory species include white-faced ibis, snowy egret, lesser golden plover, Hudsonian godwit, black-bellied plover, snowy plover, mountain plover, red knot, and long-billed curlew. Recent records include sightings of the black rail, king rail, black-necked stilt, and black-legged kittiwake (Ducey, unpublished manuscript).

Notable breeding birds recorded in the early 1900's included snowy egret (Eiche, 1901), piping plover (Pickwell, 1925), and scissor-tailed flycatcher (Dawson, unpublished notes). Potential breeders were least tern and sedge wren.

Among the 67 species noted in recent years are some of very limited breeding occurrence in the State (Table IV): least bittern, common moorhen, king rail, and great-tailed grackle. Waterfowl, shore birds, and icterids are the largest groups.

The habitat diversity of the saline wetlands is apparent in the breeding avifauna. Each area has certain vegetative communities needed by particular species. At the North Little Salt site, the wetland meadows are used by bobolinks. Federation Marsh, with its bordering woodlands, has five species not noted elsewhere: green-backed heron, green-winged teal, northern rough-winged swallow, marsh wren, and northern cardinal. A limited amount of prairie at the North Little Salt and North 40th Street sites is used by the grasshopper sparrow.

Breeding species at Capitol Beach that have not been found breeding in the other sites are northern shoveler, ruddy duck, king rail, Virginia rail, rock dove, tree swallow, and blue grosbeak (Table IV). The rock dove indicates the proximity of the area to the urban nesting sites that these birds use.

TABLE IV. Species and location of breeding season occurrence of birds associated with Salt Creek wetlands. Species that have had nesting confirmed are marked with an asterisk (*). These are combined observations of J. Ducey (1980-83, 1985, 1986) for areas along Little Salt Creek, W. Garthright (1983-85) primarily for Capitol Beach and Federation Marsh, D. Showen at Lagoon Park (1984-86), and P. Johnsgard for [student surveys at] Lagoon Park and North 27th (1985-87).

 

Location

Bird Species

Capitol Beach

Lagoon Park

North 40th

North 27th

North L. Salt

American coot. Fulica americana Gmelin

X*

X

X*

American goldfimch. Carduelis tristus (Linnaeus).

X*

X

X

X

American robin. Turdus migratorius Linnaeus

X*

X

X*

X*

X

Barn swallow. Hirundo rustica Linnaeus

X

X*

X

Bell's vireo. Vireo bellii Audubon

X*

X

Belted kingfisher. Ceryle alycon (Linnaeus)

X

X

Black-billed cuckoo. Coccyzus erythropthalmus (Wilson)

X*

Black-capped chickadee. Parus atricapillus Linnaeus

X

Blue grosbeak. Guiraca caerulea (Linnaeus)

X

Blue jay. Cyanocitta cristata (Linnaeus)

X

X

X

Blue-winged teal. Anas discors Linnaeus

X*

X*

X*

X

Bobolink. Dolichonyx oryzivorus (Linnaeus)

X

Brown thrasher. Toxostoma rufum (Linnaeus)

X

X*

X

Brown-headed cowbird. Molothrus ater (Boddaert)

X*

X

X

X*

X

Canada goose. Branta canadensis (Linnaeus)

X

X*

Common grackle. Quiscalus quiscula (Linnaeus)

X

X

X

X

Common moorhen. Gallinula chloropus (Linnaeus)

X*

X

Common yellowthroat. Geothlypis trichas (Linnaeus)

X

X

X

X

Dickcissel. Spiza americana (Gmelin)

X*

X

X

X

Downy woodpecker. Picoides pubescens (Linnaeus)

X

Eastern kingbird. Tyrannus tyrannus (Linnaeus)

X*

X

X

X*

X

Eastern meadowlark. Sturnella magna (Linnaeus)

X

European starling. Sturnus vulgaris Linnaeus

X

X*

Field sparrow. Spizella pusilla (Wilson)

X

Grasshopper sparrow. Ammodramus savannarum (Gmelin)

X

X

Gray catbird. Dumetella carolinensis (Linnaeus)

X

X*

Great horned owl. Bubo virginianus (Gmelin)

X

X*

Great-tailed grackle. Quiscalus mexicanus (Gmelin)

X*

X

X

X*

Green-backed heron. Butorides striatus (Linnaeus)

X

Green-winged teal. Anas crecca Linnaeus

X

House sparrow. Passer domesticus (Linnaeus)

X*

X*

X*

House wren. Troglodytes aedon Vieillot

X*

Killdeer. Charadrius vociferus Linnaeus

X*

X*

X*

X

X

King rail. Rallus elegans Audubon

X

Least bittern. Ixobrychus exilis (Gmelin)

X*

X*

Mallard. Anas platyrhynchos Linnaeus

X*

X*

X*

Marsh wren. Cistothorus palustris (Wilson)

X

Mourning dove. Zenaida macroura (Linnaeus)

X*

X*

X*

X*

Northern bobwhite. Colinus virginianus (Linnaeus)

X*

X

Northern cardinal. Cardinalis cardinalis (Linnaeus)

X

Northern flicker. Colaptes auratus (Linnaeus)

X*

X

Northern oriole. Icterus galbula (Linnaeus)

X

X

N. Rough-winged swallow. Stelgidopteryx serripennis (Audubon)

X*

Northern shoveler. Anas clypeata Linnaeus

X*

X

Orchard oriole. Icterus spurius (Linnaeus)

X*

X

X*

X

Pied-billed grebe. Podilymbus podiceps (Linnaeus)

X*

X

X*

Red-headed woodpecker. Melanerpes erythrocephalus (Linnaeus)

X

X*

Red-tailed hawk. Buteo jamaicensis (Gmelin)

X

X*

X

Red-winged blackbird. Agelaius phoeniceus (Linnaeus)

X*

X*

X

X*

X*

Ring-necked pheasant. Phasianus colchicus Linnaeus

X*

X

X

X

Rock dove. Columba livia Gmelin

X*

Rose-breasted grosbeak. Pheucticus ludovicianus (Linnaeus)

X

X

Ruddy duck. Oxyura jamaicensis (Gmelin)

X*

X

Sedge wren. Cistothorus platensis (Latham)

X

Song sparrow. Melospiza melodia (Wilson)

X*

X

X

Sora. Porzana carolina (Linnaeus)

X

X*

X

Spotted sandpiper. Actitis macularia (Linnaeus)

X*

X

Tree swallow. Tachycineta bicolor (Vieillot)

X*

Virginia rail. Rallus limicola Vieillot

X*

X

Warbling Vireo. Vireo gilvus (Vieillot)

X

X

Westem Kingbird. Tyrannus verticalis Say

X*

X

Westem Meadowlark. Sturnella neglecta Audubon

X

X

X

Willow Flycatcher. Empidonax traillii (Audubon)

X

X

Wood Duck. Aix sponsa (Linnaeus)

X

X*

Yellow Warbler. Dendroica petechia (Linnaeus)

X*

X

X

Yellow-billed Cuckoo. Coccyzas americanus (Linnaeus)

X*

X

X

Yellow-headed Blackbird. Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus (Bonaparte)

X*

X*

Number of species with: Confirmed nesting

30

7

2

29

3

Possible or probable nesting

4

28

18

24

18

Total

34

35

20

53

21

Invertebrates

Another notable biotic feature of the saline marshes is a mosquito, Aedes sollicitans (Walker), that has been collected in Nebraska only here (Lunt and Rapp, 1981). A beetle of very limited occurrence in Nebraska has been observed at the saline flat near the Lincoln airport (1987, B. Ratcliffe, personal communication).

Wetland Locations and Characteristics

Saline wetland soils are less than 1% of the land area in Lancaster County (Soil Conservation Service, 1980), but they have very diverse wildlife habitats. Relatively bare, open flats with true salt-marsh halophytes are extensive at some sites, but others have extensive growths of cattails and sedges. Cordgrass meadows survive on some lowland areas along creeks, and on the fragments of untilled upland there is woodland and prairie grassland.

Below is a listing of saline wetlands along Salt Creek and Little Salt Creek, including legal and general descriptions and comments on their biota and present condition.

1. Airport Flats

N 1/2 of the NW l/4 of Section 21, T10N, R6E.
Soils: Sa, Sb

The area is mostly saline meadow in what was once known as the Salt Basin, and is now known as Capitol Beach. Interstate Highway 80 separates this tract from lakeside property along Capitol Beach (Salt) Lake, and therefore the area has no ready access. Erosion could become a problem if repair of the berm on the east side of the Flats is not made. The runways of the Lincoln Airport are adjacent, and should prevent development of this area.

2. Capitol Beach (Salt Lake)

NE 1/2 of Section 21 and NW 1/4 of Section 22, T10N, R6E.
Soils: Sb and Sc to the east of the lake

This was the historic Salt Basin. A dam built in the 1890's increased the depth and extent of standing water (Barbour, 1895). Bird watchers have enjoyed visiting this spot for decades because of the unusual avifauna (Ducey, 1985). Small, marshy areas, including semi-permanent wetland basins, remain east of the lake along an intermittent stream that flows into Salt Creek. More than 30 species of birds have been noted during the breeding season, and nearly all are confirmed nesters. Eight are species not recorded at other salt-marsh localities: northern shoveler, ruddy duck, king rail, Virginia rail, black-billed cuckoo, western kingbird, tree swallow, and blue grosbeak. The king rail and common moorhen are especially notable.

Most of the Capitol Beach wetland has been destroyed by residential and industrial development. The remaining small areas are threatened by further industrial encroachment, and camping by transients and dumping of debris further degrade the value of the area for wildlife.

3. Burlington Northern Railroad Yards

N l/2 of Sections 28 and 29, T1ON, ROE.
Soil: Sc

This area, also on the west side of Lincoln, was an area where several saline plant communities once grew in soils of different salinity (Shirk, 1924). It has been mostly destroyed since then by development of railroad facilities such as switching yards and parking lots, and there is no valuable saline area remaining. Only very small, heavily disturbed areas remain. Salt grass and annual iva are still present in a few places, as are seablite, saltgrass, and spearscale.

Along Middle Creek in the southern half of section 27, to the south of the railroad yards, is a sizeable tract with wetland basins, salt flats, and lowland grassland with scattered trees. This area is being disrupted by construction of the K and L street extensions, and a park will be constructed in the remaining area.

4. Oak Lake

SW 1/4 of Section 14, T1ON, ROE.
Soils: non-saline

Formerly there were two lakes, but one was bisected by Interstate Highway 180, and now there are three. They contain some plants of saline waters, most notably ditch-grass.

5. Lagoon Park

SW 1/4 of Section 32, T11N, R7E.
Soils: Sb, Sc

The saline habitat is a weed-free saline meadow southeast of the west lake. Saltgrass is predominant, with many other unusual species more typical of western grasslands: rough dropseed, western wheatgrass, blue grama, and buffalo-grass. Cordgrass grows along the edge of the lake. Prickly-pear cactus occurs here, its only known occurrence in saline communities in the Lincoln area.

The permanent deep-water habitat has a good number of aquatic plant species, including Ludwigia peploides, which has been collected here and only at one other site in the State. Other species are redscale, seaside heliotrope, swamp milkweed, yerba-de-tajo, and numerous sedges. A cattail marsh is at the northern edge of the east lake.

Burning, which improves grasslands, was done by the Wachiska Audubon Society in 1987. The area will be developed as a city park when the adjacent city landfill is abandoned.

The best saline habitat is immediately adjacent to the city landfill. A fence separates the two areas, but trash blows into the meadow. A more serious threat would be earth-moving that will be needed to grade the surface of the landfill. Such activity would destroy the small saline meadow. Drainage from mounds of earth-covered trash could influence the growing conditions of the meadow. The Lincoln Parks and Recreation Department recognizes the value of this area and plans to designate the lagoon area for natural history uses.

Improvement of this area would provide an anchor site for additional protection efforts to the north and west along Little Salt Creek. Drainage work by the City of Lincoln has diverted the constant flow of water that once drained into the lake, and since then there has been greater fluctuation in water levels. The permanent results of this change in the water regime are uncertain.

6. North 40th Street

NW 1/4 of Section 32, T11N, R7E; NE l/4 and NE 1/4 of the NW l/4 of Section 31, and W 1/2 of SE 1/4 of Section 30.
Soils: Sb, Sc

The second area (Section 31) has an excellent example of cordgrass meadow. A small cattail marsh continues to the east, and joins with the first site given above. The meadow continues along the flats adjacent to the creek, but to the west it has been affected by agricultural plowing, which was unsuccessful, and the potential for re-establishment of cordgrass appears good. The property is also seriously disturbed by overgrazing. Some areas of the saline flats have an extensive growth of western wheatgrass, kochia, and wild barley.

The best example of saline flats occurs in Section 30. The flat land has open areas of mud and clumps of vegetation. The typical salt marsh indicator plants—saltwort, sea blite, spearscale, annual iva—grow among areas of alkali bluegrass. To the north is a growth of sedges that grades into a small cattail marsh. This site has fewer weeds than any other meadows visited, has the best remaining examples of salt-flat vegetation, is an excellent place to observe shorebirds, and appears to be the least disturbed of any of the meadows visited.

The area is threatened by erosion and periodic agricultural disturbance. Control of erosion, removal of cattle, and periodic burning would improve chances of survival of the plants. A threat to the north is a change in drainage. The flats are dissected by ditches formed by runoff, and erosion will continue to deepen them. This could change the soil-water characteristics, and an increase in runoff would drain the small, shallow basins that retain water. The landowner to the south closed a dike to reduce erosion on his property, causing the southern half of the area in Section 30 to be flooded through spring, but it is usually dry by early summer.

There are extensive saline flats directly to the west, across the railroad from the site described above, in the N 2/3 of the W 1/2 of Section 31, T11N, R6E. The soils there are Sa, Sb, and Sc. These open flats have been used for agriculture, especially for grazing cable, and a portion was plowed in 1985 for cropland.

7. North 27th Street

W l/2 of the SW 1/4 Section 19, T11N, R7E.
Soils: Sa, Sb, Sc

7a. Arbor Lake

On the east side of the road is an extensive area of saline meadow and an open, slightly vegetated mud flat. The meadow has alkali bluegrass, saltwort, sea blite, spearscale, and annual iva. Saltmarsh aster occurs here and at nearby saline sites, its only known locations in the State. Texas dropseed also is found here and nearby, some of the few sites it is known from in the State. Bearded sprangletop is common in the State but the population here has different floral characteristics that make the plants especially interesting (D. Sutherland, personal communication).

Disturbance in this area appears to be limited to erosion, which is beginning to cut into the flats on the south end. The water-retention dike along the south property line has a hole, and the runoff and erosion rates have increased.

Shorebirds are numerous when standing water is present, especially during migration. Killdeer and red-winged blackbirds are the primary breeding species on the flats and limited emergent vegetation.

7b. Federation Marsh

On the west side of the road is a very diverse area of woodland, grassland, and wetland, but there is little saline wetland. The only example is saltgrass in a saline meadow; bluestem and cordgrass also occur. There is also open water and cattail-sedge marsh. Seaside heliotrope was collected at the edge of one basin, on bare mud during low water, the only record of this western species from eastern Nebraska.

Water is usually pumped from adjacent Little Salt Creek each year to raise water levels and improve conditions for hunting of waterfowl. This influx of freshwater may influence the salinity of the wetlands, reducing growth of salt-marsh plants, but the water attracts a large diversity of migratory and breeding birds.

Most of the flats along the creeks have been heavily disturbed, and apparently an attempt was made to cultivate the property early in the century, according to the landowner. As a result, the predominant plants are annuals, including ragweeds, sunflowers, thistles, and Japanese brome, but there are some native species where the ground is wet.

Another area of grassland occurs on upland on the eastern edge of the site. There are native plants, including bluestem, gayfeather, and wild rose. This prairie is very disturbed and would require extensive rejuvenation. There are two areas of successional grassland. The upland site on the western edge is predominantly rough dropseed and little and big bluestems. The shrubby western snowberry is invading the area. On low land along the creek the successional area is mostly Kentucky bluegrass and smooth brome. Woody plants include ash, locust, hackberry, elm, and snowberry.

Remnant riparian woodland occurs along the eastern and western edges of the site. The grove on the east side is almost entirely of elm, with a few cottonwoods along the edge of the basin. The woodland on the west side of the basin has thickets of American plum, ash, locust, mulberry, willows, snowberry, and juniper. They are very dense in places and provide extensive cover for wildlife. There is a replanted warm-season grassland west of the wetland area, in which big bluestem and Indiangrass are planted.

This site has the highest diversity of breeding birds, with 30 of its 50 recorded species known to nest there.

A potential threat to the area is erosion of the dike on the lower end of the east site. Burning would control weed growth along the creek and remove exotic species from the remnant upland prairie.

8. North Little Salt Creek

The lowland along Little Salt Creek north of Lincoln is still mostly native vegetation; it is used only for grazing because it is so wet and saline. The two sites listed here represent the most notable areas identified and visited; other saline areas can be expected elsewhere along the creek, where appropriate soils exist.

8a. First Street and Raymond Road

S 1/2 of the NW l/4 of Section 2, T11N, R6E.
Soils: Sa, Sb

This area is heavily grazed by the lessee, but there is excellent potential for rejuvenation of the wetland and native prairie on the nearby upland through reduction in grazing intensity. The habitat diversity is very good.

The lowland area includes lowland cordgrass meadow, small saline flats, limited cattail marshes, and two channels of Little Salt Creek. Saline plants noted on the bottomland include spearscale and saltwort.

On the upland in the southwest corner of this tract is a native prairie with big bluestem, little bluestem, blue grama, switchgrass, sideoats grama, and gayfeather. A small area where there was once a quarry has two ponds, and the excavation work has exposed Dakota sandstone. There is an oxbow lake to the west, along the creek.

8b. Little Salt Fork

T12N, R6E, middle 1/3 of W 1/2 of Section 34.
Soils: Sa, Sb

This area has several marsh habitats along two forks of Little Salt Creek, and is biologically rich. There are mud flats, emergent wetland, lowland meadow, and upland bluestem prairie. There are rolling hills of native prairie with wetlands between them. The increase in elevation creates a transition from barren ground and meadow along the creek to wetlands and upland prairie. Grazing has reduced the biotic diversity.

Acknowledgements

The habitat assessments for the North 27th Street, North 40th Street, and Lagoon Park areas were prepared with the assistance of David Sutherland of the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Robert Kaul of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln also helped by providing floristic information based upon his knowledge of saline wetlands. Bird records were contributed by William Garthright of Lincoln (for Capitol Beach and Federation Marsh), Paul Johnsgard of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (for Lagoon Park and North 27th Street), and Don Showen of Lincoln (for Lagoon Park).

References

American Ornithologists' Union. 1983. Checklist of North American Birds, sixth ed.: 877 p.

Barbour, E.H. 1985. Lincoln Salt Lake and the occurrence of Strepsilas interpes. Auk, 12: 297.

Cunningham, D. 1985. Villains, miscreants and the salt of the earth. Nebraskaland, 63: 14-19, 45-47.

Ducey, J. 1985. Nebraska's salt basin: going, going, nearly gone. Nebraskaland, 63: 20-25.

Ducey, J. 1987. Frank H. Shoemaker: turn-of-the-century naturalist, Missouri Valley and Salt Lake. Nebraskaland, 65: 12-17, 45-46.

Eiche, A. 1901. Breeding of the snowy heron and swallow-tailed kite. Proceedings of the Nebraska Ornithologists' Union, 2: 96.

Elmore, C.J. 1921. The diatoms (Bacillarioideae) of Nebraska. University of Nebraska, University Studies, 21:22-215.

Kaul, R.B. 1975. Vegetation of Nebraska. Map, 1:1,000,000. Conservation and Survey Division, University of Nebraska.

Lunt, S.R., and W.F. Rapp, Jr. 1981. An annotated list of the mesquites of Nebraska. Mosquito News, 41: 701-706.

Hunter, J.S. 1900. The bird fauna of the salt basin, near Lincoln. Proceedings of the Nebraska Ornithologists' Union, 1: 18-21.

Pickwell, G. 1925. Some nesting habits of the belted piping plover. Auk, 42: 326-332.

Shirk, C.J. 1924. An ecological study of the vegetation of an inland saline area. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Nebraska-Lincoln: 126p.

Soil Conservation Service, 1980. Soil survey of Lancaster County, Nebraska. U.S. Department of Agriculture: 174 p.

Ungar, I.A., W. Hogan, and M. McClelland. 1969. Plant communities of saline soils at Lincoln, Nebraska. American Midland Naturalist, 82: 564-577.

26 March 2010

Birdly Depictions of Historic Nebraska

These are some interesting pastoral scenes of historic Nebraska which feature birds in a variety of unique ways.

View of Hamilton County, south of Central City.

Platte River, south of Silver Creek.

Platte River and prairie, Merrick County.

Platte River near North Bend, Dodge County.

Platte River, near Central City.

Platte River valley, near Grand Island.

Loup River, near Columbus.

Charles Dana Wilber. 1881. The Great Valleys and Prairies of Nebraska and the Northwest.

24 March 2010

Tsunami from Chile Quake Hits Ducie Atoll

The tsunami which moved westward from coastal Chile following the earthquake, was projected to hit Ducie Atoll within a few hours, according to projections issued by the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, operated by the NOAA.

These are two projected times, giving the first time and then the Pitcairn Island group as a comparison...

CHILE TALCAHUANO 36.7S 73.1W 0729Z 27 FEB
PITCAIRN PITCAIRN IS. 25.1S 130.1W 1455Z 27 FEB

A 5 meter wave hit Juan Baptista Island (Robinson Crusoe), according to the National Geophysical Data Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

In response to the NOAA office, they provided this information in regards to the tsunami in the area of Ducie Atoll.

..."our forecast model did show a 0.17m maximum wave amplitude just east of Ducie Island in deep water. This is pretty big wave. If I use the Green's law to extrapolate the run-up at Ducie Island, it would be in the range of 1-2 meters. However, Ducie Island has a fringing reef, which dampens the wave energy (some studies show the reefs can reduce the run-up by as much as 40% or more). So the run-up at Ducie Island could have been somewhat less than 1-2 meters. This is just our estimate, in the absence of an inundation (fine-mesh) model for the Pitcairn Islands region."

Even a small tsunami would have washed the Atoll, which has a surface height of ca. 3.6576 m (12 feet) and is one 1/3 miles long, and a mile wide. Vegetation increases the overall height.

There is no information available on how the tsunami would have impacted any of the Pitcairns. The Tsunami Office commented that: "The only tsunami observations we have from the Chile 2010 tsunami near Pitcairn Island are from tide gauges in French Polynesia, Rikitea, Tahiti, Hiva Oa, and Nuku Hiva.."

This is a representation of the magnitude of the tsunami within the Pacific basin.
The maximum magnitude indicated is 1 meter.

Location map for Ducie Atoll, showing its location in the southern Pacific Ocean, at the east end of the Pitcairn Islands. Note that it is located within the region where the maximum magnitude of the tsunami occurred.
With the earthquake happening at ca. 3:30 a.m. local time, Ducie Atoll would have had impact within a few hours.

Current conditions at Ducie Atoll are unknown, as there are no residents on this little speck of a place, and the atoll is too remote to be regularly visited, and for any assessment to be made.

Ducie Atoll — with a land area of 0.7 km2 — is among the Pitcairn Islands, including Henderson, Pitcairn and Oeno Islands in the deep Pacific along the Tropic of Capricorn.

According to the National Geophysical Data Center, the last large tsunami that occurred in the region took place in 1946, when a 9.5 meter wave also was recorded as hitting Juan Fernandez Island.