30 August 2010

Final Hootenanny at 49'r in Dundee

Saturday, August 28th, was an appropriate time to be a night owl, as it was the final hootenanny to ever be held at the 49'r lounge at 49th and Dodge Street. The capitalists plan to build a CVS pharmacy on the site, and the local establishment will be torn down - along with other adjacent buildings - in a few weeks.

It was also Dundee Day about the business district over near 50th Street and Underwood Avenue, so there certainly was a party attitude in the neighborhood.

The hootenanny kicked off soon after 6 p.m., as jukebox tunes suited to the situation set the scene; featuring, prominently, classic songs by pioneers of the genre, Ralph Emery and Johnny Cash.

Food - an essential for this sort of event - was BBQ sandwiches, corn on the cob, potato salad, veggy salad and chips. My contribution was a bag of sun chips, and a $7 cover charge, which was apparently the day of cost, as an earlier figure mentioned had been $5, but the difference was nothing to quibble about.

It was a great meal spread to start things in the evening. My quip about the buffet: "It looks good ... smells good ... and tastes even better!"

Chris Kaan, a.k.a. "Kwami" was the man of the day, putting everything in order. He did a fine job, returning to his former digs to arrange for the food, bands and the necessities for a good time. A big shout of thanks to him.

Western Electric was the first band of the night, with their five men pumping out a lively set of tunes. A couple of their selections were "Driving Nails in My Coffin Over You" and another song called "Train Wreck." This is a great band, with distinctive sounds - including a unique steel guitar player - and they have always given a rousing performance at the 49'r, having also been featured at a previous hootenanny.

Western Electric at the 49'r Hootenanny.

With the arrival of dusk, my local scene changed to that of the nearby "martinpalooza." It was a real joy to see the many people gathered, in what was a distinctly family event. There were perhaps a few future birders based upon seeing some small tykes with binoculars and cameras to document the spectacle and many eyes to the sky for a free performance, which seemed to have a few added attractions since it was a Saturday evening.

Back at the local establishment a few blocks to the west, the hootenanny was going along with Sarah Benck singing her heartfelt tunes at the microphone. She noted that her first gig at the 49'r had been ten years ago, when she was just 17. "It is very special to me" to be playing at the last hootenanny.

Next on the stage was "Shift on the Fly" with a rocking set of tunes. The lead singer noted that "you can't have a hootenanny without a song about truck driving," then let it go. Their tune fit the mood perfectly. He then worked the crowd to get them on their feet, dancing and stepping out. He made certain that this would happen with words of encouragement and how the crowd needed to get expressive. It worked.

One of his best comments was a recognition for Kwami, and the heartfelt expressions - shouted again and again with encouragement - by the patrons in appreciation for this event. Kaan also played the harmonica, joining in with several sets.

There were more cowboy hats seen here than have been seen in a long time. Perhaps even more than seen at a ranch in the western Sandhills, during June at a branding time not forgotten but distinctly now ignored. Some of the boots made for walking were more for show.

Cass Brostad, i.e., Cass Fifty, was the second female balladeer to take control of the mic, with profound songs in a compelling set appreciated by the crowd. A song named "Dust Out of My Eyes" was quite expressive in conveying the attitude of the listeners.

Among the attendees were a couple of artists from the Bemis Project ... one from New York, and the other from San Francisco, whom happened to venture from downtown to the bar along Dodge Street. They did not realize the significance of their visit to this place at 49th and Dodge Street. Michael was inspired to sketch some views of the place, which are perhaps, the first ever, original 49'r hootenanny art ever created, which were done because of the ready availability of paper and two sharply pointed pencils.

We had some good discussions of the Omaha scene, including night life - including the need to visit Benson and, that based upon an obvious personal bias, that they should experience the martin gathering which is one of the hottest places to be on these late August evenings, bar none.

Music went on and on, sometimes inhibiting conversation. Oh well... . The crowd was mixing it up, with some dancing and the usual antics of late night in a bar. Band tunes were more expressive as time went onward and it was soon after 1 a.m. It was a unique experience to still be out at this hour, but it was necessary to continue being at the scene.

As the hands of time were moving towards 2 a.m., it was time to go. The departure was, however, cut short, by an appreciably fine, tattooed women - with special skills in dancing - whom said just the right things to keep my attention from wavering. We - and that would include the Bemis artists - had a hoot of a time at the picnic table out back, a.k.a. the smoking section outside, where nary a puff occurred amongst our cozy group, including a curvalicious, and vividly expressive woman.

Overall, it was a grand success at the 49'r. Other attendees would certainly have their own appreciative expressions for the time, something will be sadly missed since their cannot be anything similar once the building is demolished. The local landmark will be gone, with memories of the place fading to dim recollections of times gone by, including those of the last hootenanny in the Dundee district of Omaha.

28 August 2010

Update Underway on Status Report of Least Tern in Northern America

An update is underway for the Least Tern account for the Birds of North America series, a preeminent source of information on the many species which occur on the continent.

"The original account was very well done, but a huge amount of work has been done on this species since 1997," said Casey Lott of American Bird Conservancy, who has volunteered to prepare the revised edition. "I refer to it regularly, and found sections about regional population sizes and distribution, for example, were especially out-of-date."

The 1997 version, prepared by Bruce Thompson and five coauthors, had about 230 references, Lott said. He has currently compiled more than 700 distinct sources to review for an authoritative revision.

Nesting Least Terns on the Missouri River. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Lott has been personally involved with research on the Least Tern (Sternula antillarum) since 2004, and is currently working on an "individual-based simulation model of least tern reproduction that could be used to assess the population consequences of alternative management strategies."

"I get my head deep into the literature," Lott said, and this knowledge of the published findings, provides a familiarity with the broad range of material essential for an update to the Birds of North America account, originally issued by the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia.

"There is a great need to collect information for the right reasons," Lott said, based upon his review of a myriad of tern-related articles and reports. "A broad range of information needs to be gathered to help with conservation of the species," which is classified as threatened or endangered throughout its range in North America, which includes the Caribbean region.

For example, there is a greater need for research that directly addresses the success or failure of management responses to the common threats of habitat loss and degradation, flooding mortality due to river management, and predator and human disturbance impacts that have been identified for many years. There is also a need to focus more clearly on large populations that receive relatively little attention (e.g., breeding populations on the Red or Arkansas rivers on the Southern Great Plains or Gulf Coast populations that suffer enormous pressures from development and heavy beach use, which have been exacerbated by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill).

"I hope to especially expand the sections on conservation and management for the revision," Lott indicated. For this, he is working with four "co-revisers" to summarize the literature and insights of the many professional biologists that have worked on Least Terns over the past decade. Recently, Lott sent out a request for information to over 400 people whom he knows have been involved with tern studies, and has received a "regular flow of information" in response. Online bird forums are also being regularly checked to determine any additional sources or pertinent details.

One notable change in recent years, Lott noted, is an increase in knowledge about the distribution and abundance of Least Terns (Sternula antillarum athalassos) in the interior United States and in the Caribbean, where complete inventories of potential breeding areas have been completed only recently.

The revision - expected to be completed in a couple of years - will rely on the assistance of the co-revisors with regional knowledge of Least Tern populations in California, the Atlantic Coast, and the Gulf of Mexico Ocean, as well as the participation of Bruce Thompson, the author of the original account for the Birds of North America series, who will help to ensure continuity with the original account.

Once completed, the revised account about the Least Tern will be available online at the Academy website, which is easily accessible on a subscription basis.

The first status review for the interior Least Tern was issued in 1981 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Since then, there has been a dramatic increase in research on the species, with a constant change in the available knowledge. The pending revision of the Bird of North America account will be a valuable addition, and will be helpful in understanding the species, and as an aid in its conservation and management.

24 August 2010

Seasonal Pinnacle of Martins at Midtown Roost

The Monday evening gathering was a completely new phenomenon as a plethora of Purple Martins made for dramatic skies at the midtown roost.

From Carthage, through Dundee and onward there were bunches of these birds in swirls and groups against the blue and gray of their aerial realm.

A fine group of about a dozen watchers were gathered at the roost observation steps. It was an especially fine bunch including the Kovandas, Padelfords, and the martin ambassador, Justin Rink.

Antics of the martins were among the finest ever seen. Words are not enough to describe the scene above and beyond ... ever changing in a dramatic mix ... and hither and yon. All of the birds derived from their provided homes during the summer.

A view of a single scene of the birds' multitude.

A first estimate of the numbers was 50,000. More watching and birdly talk ensued. Topics included local concerns and activities, including the La Platte Bottoms, potential dog run at Hanscom park, Spring Lake Park and what may happen with the pending sewer separation project, and an appreciation for the bird mecca now at the Horseshoe Lake Flats.

The final tally agreed upon by all six birders was an amazing 65,000 Purple Martins which had gathered at the roost. There was one bird strike, where an immature was stunned and unable to fly, so it was moved to a place safer than the drive below the Kiewit-Clarkson walkway.

The bird strike victim.


There was a greater number of martins present on the evening of the 24th. Their behavior was completely unique, including a never-before-seen clinging to the side of the Clarkson tower.

Martins clinging to the south side of Clarkson Tower.

The count estimate was 70,000 birds, with about 22 observers.

Horseshoe Lake Flats Currently a Birdlife Mecca

The Horseshoe Lake Flats is the hottest birding place - in more ways than one considering recent temperatures - during August, along the Missouri River in east-central Nebraska.

Partially inundated crop fields with what are now rapidly decreasing levels of water, still continue to provide a haven appreciated by a great diversity of shore and water birds.

One of the most distinctive features is the number of Killdeer noted on the foggy Sunday morning, August 22. Arrival was before the sun had tinged the eastern horizon, and for a suitable time afterwards, among which would - during dryer years - be fields with crops, but have been a significant field of dreams for birding enthusiasts in pursuit of rare species, among a whole plethora of bird types. Each day is different.

Ground fog conditions prevailed on the most recent Sunday morning, the subdued light expressing subtle hues of color. Views across the lowland landscape were muted, and the stately Great Blue Herons stood grandly among the wisps. Once the glowing orb of the sun moved over the eastern horizon, light and shadows tinged the wet lands where birds were involved with the first hours of their typical routine of another day.

Loudly expressive was a horde of birds appreciating wet places for them to forage - as they have for so many days - gleaning a fine morsel among the flooded fields about the the Horseshoe Lakebed. Always vocal, they flew hither and yon, stood on the adjacent roads, interspersed on the barren, yet wet, dirt as they gleaned the neccisities for a day's diet.

On the flats, the Killdeer have been all around and ever expressive. They have been standing on the county roads, for whatever reason they deem appropriate, and taking flight upon the approach of some passing vehicle. Then they land back from whence they came, looking upon the intrusion with a woeful perspective based upon a disturbance which they would have preferred never happened. Purple Martins, as well as swallows, on the hardtop certainly have a similar perspective.

Looking closely on an August morning on Sunday, there were different places, each with their own bunch. While going back-and-forth in search of fine light, notes were kept on how many of this prevalent plover could be counted when a particular space got its own close-up through a spotting scope.

The whole variety of flats about the former Horseshoe Lake had their own expressive bunch. An overall tally from the various places among the overall locality of ca. 335 was summarized as 50, 100, 33, 85, 62, and which was certainly not a count of every killdeer. This is the largest known count - ever - for this species along the Missouri River valley in the Nebraska region - including as far south as Squaw Creek NWR. This claim is based on a review of more than 1100 records with a count, and about another few hundred where no numbers were given.

Another count of 120 at the same vicinity on August 11th, is the second highest tally known. Lesser counts were for about a hundred of this plover, when apparently not enough attention was given to denoting how many of these plovers were about. It is also highly probable that more birds have arrived from elsewhere to take advantage of the situation.

About the lowlands near Horseshoe Lake on the most recent weekend now past, there were other unique occurrences that have been reported to the birding community and created a buzz of interest sufficient to attract visits by different watchers.

A particular highlight was a Red-necked Phalarope. Urban Lehner reported it to Justin Rink as they stood around on the county road west of Boyer Chute NWR. Within their view were Buff-breasted Sandpipers, Stilt Sandpipers as well as a fine variety of other shorebirds. Even a couple of Green-winged Teal were lurking among the ephemeral wetland habitat.

There have always been a fine gathering of Great Blue Herons standing or stalking about ... their prevalent calls also distinctive to this country space.

The occurrence of new species in the area can be indicated by reviewing a composite list for waterfowl, waterbirds and shorebirds in the immediate vicinity. The following is based upon available records for the three localities. The value given is a composite total for the number observed on different occasions during previous years, except only for August 2010 at what is designated as the Horseshoe Lake Flats locality, along County Road P51 and P34, basically west of the primary area of Boyer Chute NWR. Two asterisks (**) indicate an occurrence when no count was made.

Common Name

Boyer Chute NWR

Horseshoe Lake Flats

Nathans Lake

Greater White-fronted Goose

-

-

11

Snow Goose

30

-

15

Canada Goose

10

121

40

Wood Duck

15

-

63

Gadwall

-

-

497

American Wigeon

1

-

41

Mallard

15

9

532

Blue-winged Teal

107

161

93

Northern Shoveler

5

91

50

Northern Pintail

-

-

44

Green-winged Teal

16

2

383

Canvasback

-

-

48

Redhead

-

-

3

Ring-necked Duck

-

-

163

Lesser Scaup

1

-

56

Bufflehead

-

-

6

Common Goldeneye

-

-

6

Hooded Merganser

-

-

5

Common Merganser

-

-

11

Ruddy Duck

-

-

5

Pied-billed Grebe

4

11

7

American White Pelican

325

24

2

Double-crested Cormorant

279

6

36

Least Bittern

-

-

2

Great Blue Heron

9

223

84

Great Egret

1

27

31

Cattle Egret

-

318

1

Green Heron

-

-

11

Yellow Rail

-

-

1

Virginia Rail

-

-

2

Sora

1

-

5

American Coot

63

2

172

Sandhill Crane

-

-

5

Black-bellied Plover

-

3

-

Semipalmated Plover

-

8

4

Piping Plover

-

-

1

Killdeer

5

825

23

Spotted Sandpiper

4

3

3

Solitary Sandpiper

1

2

2

Greater Yellowlegs

36

17

19

Willet

-

1

23

Lesser Yellowlegs

22

29

24

Upland Sandpiper

1

3

-

Hudsonian Godwit

-

-

2

Marbled Godwit

-

1

-

Semipalmated Sandpiper

-

-

14

Least Sandpiper

-

49

15

White-rumped Sandpiper

-

-

**

Baird's Sandpiper

-

9

**

Pectoral Sandpiper

3

73

22

Dunlin

-

-

22

Stilt Sandpiper

-

14

-

Buff-breasted Sandpiper

-

9

-

Short-billed Dowitcher

-

1

-

Long-billed Dowitcher

3

1

-

Wilson's Snipe

3

10

38

Wilson's Phalarope

34

26

2

Red-necked Phalarope

-

2

-

Ring-billed Gull

-

5

-

Least Tern

-

1

-

Black Tern

-

33

126

Common Tern

-

9

-

Forster's Tern

-

18

-

Obvious differences in occurrence are quick striking. The ephemeral water habitats of the flats have been utilized by a number of species not noted previously. The numbers for some of the species is quite dramatic as well, which readily indicate the value of the ephemeral habitat.

With at least 200 Killdeer or more present each day, for at least the past two weeks, these ground gleaners obviously find the flooded fields to their liking. Add to this the many Cattle Egrets, Great Blue Herons, sandpipers, plovers, et al. and it's very obvious that high water conditions in Washington County has created a mecca for many birds that have found a suitable place to roost, forage and otherwise occur because of finding what they need to live on. It has probably been a long time since bird survival was the prominent value of the land on the Horseshoe Lake Flats on the floodplain of the nearby Missouri River.

There is no reason this situation could not occur again, but the farming interests certainly would prefer that they get a hefty crop each year. The network of ditches to remove water are the prominent feature of the lowlands, and until an equitable mix is created, the extent of places for birds will always be lesser than greater.

Wonderful Diversity of Species

There have now been 70 species observed at this locality during August, this year. New additions during the weekend were - in addition to those already indicated - Turkey Vulture, Bald Eagle, Gray Catbird, Downy Woodpecker, Yellow-headed Blackbird, and even a couple of Ring-necked Pheasants were heard.

Some of the wet fields are drying, and will continue to do so because of temperatures in the 90s, beneath a basically cloud-free sky.

Habitat conditions are ever-changing, as is the variety and numbers of birds. It is all good and a wonder to enjoy, and appreciate. Water levels suitable for attracting this new mix of avifauna are rare occurrences.

The following is a list of species observed at the Horseshoe Lake Flats, based upon seven visits from 11 August to 22 August - by several bird watchers - as listed in a taxonomic sequence.

Canada Goose, Mallard, Blue-winged Teal, Northern Shoveler, Green-winged Teal, Ring-necked Pheasant, Pied-billed Grebe, American White Pelican, Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Cattle Egret, Turkey Vulture, Bald Eagle, Red-tailed Hawk, American Coot, Black-bellied Plover, Semipalmated Plover, Killdeer, Spotted Sandpiper, Solitary Sandpiper, Greater Yellowlegs, Willet, Lesser Yellowlegs, Upland Sandpiper, Marbled Godwit, Least Sandpiper, Baird's Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper, Stilt Sandpiper, Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Short-billed Dowitcher, Long-billed Dowitcher, Wilson's Snipe, Wilson's Phalarope, Red-necked Phalarope, Ring-billed Gull, Least Tern, Black Tern, Common Tern, Forster's Tern, Mourning Dove, Belted Kingfisher, Downy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Eastern Kingbird, Blue Jay, American Crow, Purple Martin, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Bank Swallow, Cliff Swallow, Barn Swallow, Sedge Wren, American Robin, Gray Catbird, European Starling, Common Yellowthroat, Chipping Sparrow, Field Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Indigo Bunting, Dickcissel, Red-winged Blackbird, Eastern Meadowlark, Yellow-headed Blackbird, Common Grackle, Orchard Oriole, American Goldfinch, House Sparrow.

It is quite exciting to consider what other species might yet occur as autumn migration season progresses - since it is still early in the season - and how many distinctive birds may yet occur. The water habitat of the flats is slowly but steadily receding and its extent is decreasing, but the wet spaces still provide a haven on each and every day they linger.

Birdlife Variety Mostly a Historic Treasure at Hanscom Park

A proposal to create a dog run in an urban park in east Omaha is the latest potential threat to bird habitats within metro area.

In an article published a few days ago in the local newspaper, neighborhood associations (Hanscom Park, Leavenworth and Field Club) expressed their intent to create a dog run area at Hanscom Park, a city of Omaha park.

There were four sites presented as alternatives, but the obvious focus was on the northeast corner of the park property.

"The most attractive to the group is in the northeast corner of the park. It is a little used area of the park and has good parking and lighting from the streets. It's a big space with trees."
"Area 3 - ... Large area, available street parking, near business area, utilizes and underused area of the park, good topography, easily fenced, placement immediately adjacent to problem area, easy access from the street, existing (partial) lighting from the street, multiple entrance possibilities."
... people "think the idea of a dog park in the northeast corner of Hanscom Park is appealing. It would help with the revitalization of the area around the park and keep that corner of the park cleaner and safer," said a representative of the Fort Birthsite Neighborhood Association.

This preference indicates an obvious choice to possibly ruin the only little bit of natural woodland - designated as a reforestation area - which remains in a park space which was formerly a prominent place for birdlife in an urban setting.

The three other potential sites have similar features noted, but there are comments that they may not be visible from the street, the topography is hilly and thus possibly more difficult to fence.

This neighborhhod project would have to undergo a review by the Omaha Parks and Recreation Department, and would involve having public hearings.

Historic Ornithology

If a dog park is to be considered it would need to consider the other current uses, and this includes birds. Thus material was compiled to present pertinent details for a park which seems to have more of a history than for being a current haven, undoubtedly due to the ongoing demise of suitable habitats that could promote species diversity.

The first known note about the avifauna of Hanscom Park was about one species that appreciated the suitable arboreal splendor. In 1899 the following few words are indicative: "409 Red-bellied Woodpecker. Summer resident, not common. Specimen seen in Hanscom Park -- 1899." The unknown author of this unpublished manuscript on the birds of Omaha, expressed their words of history to the material among the records of the Nebraska Ornithologists' Union. The entire account has been dutifully transcribed and is not available online.

One of the best sports writers of the midwest, Sandy Griswold, wrote in a March 1900 column for the Sunday World-Herald, about spring fever, and included in his commentary, a mention of Hanscom Park.

"Although this restlessness comes to every one except the most hardened business man, it does not come to all at the same time or by reason of the same causes. One man may recognize its first symptoms as he walks down Farnam street and feels a warm, soft air of spring blow upon his face; another may be stricken as he walks through Hanscom park and sees the swelling buds of the maple and the elm; another may sit at his desk dreaming for an hour over something he has seen in a newspaper which sends his thoughts a thousand miles afield, or yet another may find the sweet poison in some vernal odor, or in the voice of a newly arrived bird. Whatever its cause all know the symptoms of the disease and all know the remedy."

During this time, another Omaha naturalist was making his own forays to a readily accessible place. The renowned Frank H. Shoemaker prepared a complete account of birds seen during an unknown number of visits. There had to be several, as his list includes species typically present during different seasons, and as it takes more than one survey to prepare a list comparable to what he prepared from his east Omaha residence.

"Probably the most convenient place for a short trip of observation is Hanscom Park. It is well within the city and easy of access, and the birds are always there. If one will make occasional visits to this place, on holidays and after business hours, keeping a list of the birds he sees, he will be surprised at the number of species his list will show after a few trips. The following notes are the result of a series of lists made in this way, all within the limits of Hanscom Park."

The entire text, which conveys comments about each species, is also available among the content of the Birds of Nebraska website which is essential for any consideration of Nebraska's first bird history.

Bird enthusiasts described the species prevalent, while others had an intent to modify the landscape to create what they thought was a better use, and as shown by the following comments, did not consider any impacts to habitat of the wild things.

The following comments are from a bird editorial written by an editor of the Sunday World-Herald, issued on January 14, 1917. The author was probably Miles Greenleaf, based upon its source publication, the year, and other items relative to Omaha and its local bird-watching enthusiasts.

"Spring is not so far away, and the time is rapidly approaching when gangs of men will be put at work in the public parks. In their labors they should be so directed that benefit may be derived therefrom, rather than destruction.

"During his years of service, Commissioner Hummel has done much to deserve commendation, which is freely accorded him. His establishment of baseball diamonds in the public parks and playgrounds has been useful in running rowdyism out of the national game in its amateur state. His skating rinks and football fields, both soccer and American, have been boons to advocates of these sports, while the accompanying equipment of dressing rooms and equipment are luxuries unknown until the Hummel regime.

"Nevertheless, Park Commissioner Hummel has his limitations and it is well that he acquaint himself with them. In his restless efforts to 'beautify' Omaha's parks, Mr. Hummel has indulged in a campaign which will prove to have been destructive rather than constructive.

"The rustic features of our parks need not the hand of man to aid in their beauty. Already every mysterious ravine and draw in Turner Park, for instance, has been cleaned of all shrubbery and underbrush, filled with dirt and neatly levelled to smooth and unsightly nicety." The author then specifically mentioned Hanscom Park.

"We have an idea that the Chewinks, Thrashers, Vireos and Thrushes thus thrown from their homes are protesting in their honeysweet voices to some spirit above, while we mere humans, who would have them with us always, must stand by and watch their deportation by a day laborer with an ax and spade!"

The demise of an albino American Robin - which had been thriving at Hanscom Park - was lamented in another editorial, issued July 4, 1920, and most likely by the same author. The article indicated:

"A very estimable and valuable bird student, strongly identified with the Nebraska Audubon society, the Boy Scout Council of Omaha and the Biological Survey of the United States Government chanced to stroll homeward one day - and saw an Albino Robin in a tree in his yard. Recognizing this as a chance in a lifetime - he shot it. He previously had applied for a permit to take specimens, but had not, at the time, received his permit.

"Well, by the time all this is in print, the man who killed the bird will have been legally punished; the specimen will have taken its place forever in the Cornhusker museum; the birds will continue to sing, breed and cavort around - and there you are!"

In 1921, Editor Greenleaf, in another Sunday World-Herald also wrote about "birdologist" Billy Marsh and his studies of wildlife around Omaha, including this comment: "Nor can we see Hanscom park as a tangled wildwood any more than a specter of Beau Brummel in overalls." It was obvious that the author knew that Hanscom park could not be a wild place, but certainly his expression did not convey any thought that the place should have only mown lawn. Consider that he also expressed this opinion: "Why bother the remaining rustic sections of this expanse of natural beauty?" in reference to Elmwood Park.

The same applies to Hanscom Park, as place whose bird-related history, has just a brief resume of bird history from the 1930s.

A few decades later, apparently in the 1960s, Clyde and Emma Johnson, residing near 22nd and St. Marys Avenue ventred forth to Hanscom park to view the birds. They didn't keep records but this changed once they mover closer to Elmwood Park, and their notations are an essential guide to species there during many years.

The bunch of bird history does indicate the variety of species known for Hanscom Park.

A Comparative Species List

Bird records available for Hanscom Park, provide an dramatic comparison of birds noted in 1900 to those few known from more than a hundred years later. It should be noted that because of the sparse availability of habitat beneficial for bird diversity, there have been very few surveys at the park. If a greater number of visits had occurred, there is always a larger number of species.

Though there are not enough records of sightings to provide the basis for a truly indicative comparison, the following list does is somewhat indicative, and is the only information which can be used to show any differences. And despite the lack of sightings, there are obvious differences shown by the details.

Common Name

1900

2003-04

Red-tailed Hawk

**

**

Rough-legged Hawk

-

**

American Kestrel

**

**

Killdeer

-

**

Rock Pigeon

-

**

Mourning Dove

**

**

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

**

-

Eastern Screech-Owl

**

-

Common Nighthawk

**

**

Chimney Swift

**

**

Belted Kingfisher

**

-

Red-headed Woodpecker

**

-

Red-bellied Woodpecker

**

-

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

-

**

Downy Woodpecker

**

**

Hairy Woodpecker

**

**

Northern Flicker

**

**

Eastern Wood-Pewee

**

-

Least Flycatcher

-

**

Eastern Phoebe

**

-

Great Crested Flycatcher

**

-

Eastern Kingbird

**

**

Loggerhead Shrike

**

-

Warbling Vireo

**

-

Red-eyed Vireo

**

-

Blue Jay

**

**

American Crow

**

**

Purple Martin

**

-

Barn Swallow

-

**

Black-capped Chickadee

**

**

White-breasted Nuthatch

**

**

Brown Creeper

**

**

Carolina Wren

**

-

House Wren

**

-

Golden-crowned Kinglet

**

-

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

**

-

Eastern Bluebird

**

-

Veery

-

**

Swainson's Thrush

**

-

Wood Thrush

**

-

American Robin

**

**

Gray Catbird

**

**

Brown Thrasher

**

**

European Starling

-

**

Cedar Waxwing

**

-

Yellow Warbler

**

-

Yellow-rumped Warbler

**

-

Black-and-white Warbler

**

**

American Redstart

**

-

Common Yellowthroat

**

**

Hooded Warbler

-

**

Scarlet Tanager

**

-

Eastern Towhee

**

-

American Tree Sparrow

**

**

Chipping Sparrow

**

**

Clay-colored Sparrow

**

-

Field Sparrow

**

-

Fox Sparrow

**

-

Song Sparrow

**

-

White-throated Sparrow

**

-

Dark-eyed Junco

**

**

Northern Cardinal

-

**

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

**

**

Western Meadowlark

**

-

Common Grackle

**

**

Brown-headed Cowbird

**

-

Baltimore Oriole

**

**

Purple Finch

-

-

House Finch

-

**

American Goldfinch

**

**

House Sparrow

-

**

There are 71 species represented on this list. The overall tally from the 1900 list was 58 species; with 40 known from more than a dozen surveys during different months from 2002-2008.

The following comments convey some of the obvious differences. Further evaluations could be made if further specifics were considered, especially differences in breeding species, time of occurrence, etc.

  • Differences in the occurrence would be due to the extent of trees suitable for foraging, and with cavities for nesting.
  • Vireos which occur in tree canopies are probably present at different times, but just not noted.
  • Wrens prefer shrubby habitat, which was apparently present in former times, but which is not now available.
  • Kinglets also occur in lower-canopy vegetation, which is sorely lacking in a place like Hanscom Park.
  • Sparrows also prefer shrubs or low-lying habitat to forage for seeds of different plants; grassy lawns are not suitable in any manner as a place for wild sparrows to find something to eat.
  • The developed nature of the park would not be suitable at all for any meadowlarks now, nor in a number of past decades, as well as the Eastern Bluebird which prefers open country.
  • When the Shoemaker list was prepared around 1900, the European Starling had not yet been brought to North America, and the House Sparrow had not yet reached the environs of this park in the river city.

It should also be noted that there are no records to indicate any bird use of the lagoon waters during either period. Typically an errant duck or two might occur at the water habitat.

The bird variety of this east Omaha park during modern times would undoubtedly be greater than the species listed, but it would require that there be enough habitat to make the place interesting and worth a visit. Shorn lawn among isolated trees is a relatively barren landscape which can be utilized by arboreal species, but overall Hanscom Park is a whole lot of "artificial grounds" with so little natural spaces, that any bird watchers rarely visit.

Park Management

In 2005, some emails were sent to city officials regarding tree removal in the northeast portion of Hummel Park, once again based upon an article in the local newspaper. Concerns were expressed about spring-time tree removal and any possible impacts to nesting birds, which are legally protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, as well as a Nebraska statute.

The Audubon Society of Omaha also sent an email to the city agency to express their preference for having a reforestation area in this area of the park. This effort to conserve the northeast portion of the park seems to have been forgotten, as neighborhood associations and representatives have indicated a preference that this same place now become a place where dogs came romp.

What will it take for this area to be suitably retained as a tiny bit of wilds, which represent what was formerly more prevalent, as indicated by bird history? Parks should not only be barren lawn, isolated trees, playgrounds only for a select group, flower beds, and related features - with manicured spaces prevalent and predominant - but they also need to include plants and vegetation representative of the lands natural history and where the song of resident and migratory birds can be readily appreciated by birders on a walk around their neighborhood.

A dog space and a bird woodland can both be assets for Hanscom Park, but only if a suitably devised plan which conserves the woods is proposed so that this bit of wild can be a feature to continue to enjoy.

16 August 2010

Avifauna Diversity at Missouri Bottoms Inundated by High-Water

Habitat situations created by greater than normal water levels are providing a ongoing haven for many types of birds along the Missouri River in east-central Nebraska during the early times of seasonal migration.

The occurrence of an impressive variety of species is notably apparent in an area near Boyer Chute National Wildlife Refuge and other sites on the river's floodplain to the south, including Nathan's Lake, and the swamplands north of, and at the Krimlofski Tract at Neale Woods. There are also flooded lowlands at N.P. Dodge Park and corn-land to its north.

Representative lowland areas with water in the vicinity of the former Horseshoe Lake.

Lowland Waters

The prevalence of standing water is the result of two factors: increased flows in the adjacent Missouri River, and greater than normal precipitation in the vicinity.

River flows have been higher than average for several weeks prior to mid-August.

On August 12, the flow rate was 81,200 cubic feet per second, based on measurements taken at a gauge in North Omaha, according to details provided by a U.S. Geological Survey web-site. The average is 37,700 c.f.s. In 1997, the rate of water flow was 70,500 c.f.s., which was the previous maximum, with a minimum value of 23,600 c.f.s. in 1962.

The amount of water within the river channel is also indicated by its measured stage. On August 12th, it was at 26.67 feet, according to Kevin Stamm, a senior hydrologic engineer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers offices at Omaha.

The water levels are due to large amounts of runoff from tributary streams below Gavins Point Dam, including the James River, Vermillion River, Big Sioux River and Little Sioux River, Stamm said. "Continuous rains have resulted in high runoff."

The current amount of water going southward along the Missouri, are contributing to an expected high extent of flow for the year, Stamm indicated. Once final details are available, the acre feet of water measured as flowing past the gauge site will probably be among the top three years on record, he said.

Greater rainfall has also contributed to their being standing water in what are normally cropland fields.

During June, there were 9.25" of rain as measured by the Omaha office of the National Weather Service. This is 5.30" departure from what is considered to be normal. A greater extent of precipitation continued in July, when a 6.32" total rainfall was 2.46" inches above the normal value of 3.86 inches.

With this amount of rainfall, the accumulated water has not drained away - despite the presence of ditches established by the local drainage district - but is gathered in low lying areas to an extent sufficient to create a variety of water-based habitats suitable for shore and water birds.

Water Habitats Attract Birds

"There has been an extraordinary benefit for birds this year" at Desoto and Boyer Chute National Wildlife Refuges, according to Tom Cox, manager of both areas. "We are getting water-based habitats which were historically prevalent."

Much of Boyer Chute NWR has been "under water," he said. More than 600 acres of the 4,400 acres of the designated refuge property have had standing water, and once the river flow decreases, about 25% of the refuge will retain standing water.

The water conditions now present provide several benefits, Cox said, including: creating ephemeral habitat for migratory ducks and other water-dependent birds, creating sedge meadows and helping to provide the wet soils conducive for the regeneration of the cottonwood forest, especially at Desoto refuge.

The flood conditions have meant a closure of Boyer Chute refuge several times during the past couple of months. The most recent closure started on August 1st, and continued at least through August 15th, when this article was posted.

Developing a new comprehensive conservation plan for the refuge is to be started near the end of August, and the high water conditions are providing new insights for developing wet habitat conditions on the refuge, Cox said. "Flooding is influencing the vegetation, and indicates how we might - in the future - let river flows help create plant communities."

The paved road between Nathan's Lake and County Road P51 into the refuge, have also been closed.

Extensive private property adjacent to refuge lands also have water present, especially in the area around the historic Horseshoe Lake. These flats - typically a corn or soybean field - have large expanses of wetlands of various sorts, which has attracted different species of birds. More than 600 acres of what is typically cropland is presently standing water in varying depths and extent, based on a visual evaluation and demarcation on an aerial photo of the region.

Partially flooded hayfield habitat used by shore and water birds, east of the Horseshoe Lakebed. Picture taken August 11, 2010.

Shorebirds on a flooded county road, west of the Boyer Chute NWR entrance. Picture taken August 12, 2010.

Floods at an Omaha Park

N.P. Dodge Park - a city of Omaha park - has been closed five times during the summer due to flooding, according to Randy Garlipp, the park caretaker. The first closure occurred right after Memorial Day, with the most recent occurrence starting in early August, with portions of the park reopened again around the 10th.

After each closure, the area was cleaned up, with an expectation that the excessive water conditions were over. This was obviously not the case. The most recent flooding has been the most prolonged.

"It's a nightmare," Garlipp said. About 150 acres of the 400 acre park were flooded during the most recent interval. Cleanup is progressing slowly, with efforts targeted to dealing with those areas typically used by the public, getting the most attention for restoration efforts.

Just to the north, crop lands were also flooded, as apparent on August 6th, as apparent from a vantage point on the bluffs on the east side of nearby Hummel Park.

As of August 12th, water remained high at Dodge Park, with the playground flooded, the nearby campground closed, shallow water over the road to the marina, with the boat dock access and parking lot under water, and the area adjacent to the river still inundated.

View of partially flooded corn field and north edge of N.P. Dodge Park. August 6, 2010 as taken from bluff at Hummel Park.

Formerly flooded campground at N.P. Dodge Park. Picture taken August 11, 2010.

"We've seen lots of herons in the camping area," Garlipp said. This area is typically a grass-covered area among cottonwood trees. Killdeer have also been prevalent. Earlier in the summer, a fledgling Barred Owl was found, and left in place after a call to the Raptor Recovery Center to inquire how to deal with the situation.

Garlipp noted that there were a lots of frogs about which this species of owl could pursue as a meal. The next morning, the owl was gone.

On August 11th, a Lesser Yellowlegs was noted foraging about a bit of remaining water at the campground, which seemed most suitable for Killdeer, rather than any other visitors.

The campground and play ground are expected to remain closed for the remainder of the 2010 season, according to a news article published on August 14th, with an expected loss of revenue which any campers would have had to pay to stay and camp.

Bird Variety of Horseshoe Lake Flats

A first report of the occurrence of avian variety was indicated by a message on the NEBirds forum, based upon a cursory, drive-by look on August 6th, along the roadside between Nathans Lake and the closed entrance to the Boyer Chute NWR.

Three focused visits on mornings of the 11-13th, indicated the presence of a great number of birds associated with the flooded crop fields in the same vicinity, primarily on private property. The site was designated as Horseshoe Lake Flats because of its association with the historic lake and to differentiate it from the nearby refuge property. This is a new place name as there is no other known name and the habitats are associated with the former oxbow lake of the river floodplain.

The most notable wetland habitats are east and north of the historic Horseshoe Lake, which is publicly owned, but was not surveyed as it is not readily accessible, and could not be viewed from the roadway vantage points.

Birds are immediately obvious starting at Nathan's Lake. Though there were few birds - perhaps a grebe or coot - upon the lakes' ample waters, there have been a bunch of Cliff Swallows about the bridge over the drainage channel on its northern edge. Upon passing this crest, the inundated fields are obvious towards the northeast.

While slowly going along in a northward manner on the hard-surface road - with shallow waters flowing across at one place or another, depending on the day - bird of a fine variety have been prevalent. As of mid-August, the greatest variety of species have been noted in a flooded hay field to the west of the road, south of Horseshoe Lake Lane, which is the address on the sign for the farmstead.

The diversity has been different during each visit, with some species seen each time, but others seen on only one occasion. There are numerous shorebirds - especially Killdeer with more than 100 present at times -and which includes more than 30 Great Blue Herons and numerous Great Egrets, as well as waterfowl such as Blue-winged Teal gathered on the flooded lowlands. Not only wetland-dependent species are congregating. Many Purple Martins have been noted on the wires near Nathans Lake, as well as northeast of the Horseshoe Lake Lane farmstead. A myriad of other swallows are also about, especially foraging above the waters which are apparently rich with bugs upon which the birds might capture with ease.

Among the tall grasses and similar spaces are the secretive Sedge Wrens, boisterous Dickcissels, Common Yellowthroats, with an occasional expression of the Song Sparrow and Field Sparrow.

The roiling waters this season about the diminished confines of Horseshoe Lake are now an appreciated haven. Whether expressive in flight or sublime while resting, each bit of bird life appreciates the liquid vistas. For the three days when the scene was considered, the watery realm was a haven of bird life, as indicated by the following composite list of what was seen at the scene. It was not a situation of August doldrums, but a vibrant place for birds when enough attention was directed towards seeing what was present.

  • Canada Goose: heard more than seen, but they were obviously present on the flats, as heard or seen in flight; also seen congregating while eating grass near the entrance to the marina at N.P. Dodge Park.
  • Blue-winged Teal: small bunches in flight above the waters of the lake flats
  • Northern Shoveler: more easily seen than any teal
  • Pied-billed Grebe: heard more than seen, while they make their way in the wetlands where they thrive.
  • American White Pelican: resting on the local runway for a plane.
  • Double-crested Cormorant: just a few about.
  • Great Blue Heron: prevalent on the bottoms, in numbers.
  • Great Egret: a bunch at one time yet relatively uncommon a few days later.
  • Cattle Egret: a few near the grazing horse and cow, south of the refuge entrance.
  • American Coot: just a couple among atop the water and among the vegetation.
  • Killdeer: not a "ton" as expressed by one observer, but since more than 100 were undoubtedly present, their abundance and obvious appreciation indicates the areas is most certainly suitable for their occurrence.
  • Spotted Sandpiper: heard.
  • Greater Yellowlegs: only a few have thus far appreciated the habitat suitable for them to forage.
  • Willet; a single bird noted on the north side of the closed entrance road to the Boyer Chute NWR headquarters. Justin Rink and I arrived on the scene, where I quickly proclaimed our arrival for the meeting which we were in no manner aware, but apparently included people from the refuge as well as the Washington County Road Department. The presence of multiple vehicles indicated something was happening, so my proclamation was based on conjecture, and was apparently confusing to the refuge men. The FWS guys did not know what bird they were looking upon across the flowing waters, so while my babble was underway, Justin made the obvious identification. Us two birders then noted two Great Egrets to the north, and both were an addition to the variety seen. We left the road situation discussions behind as we continued onward in our quest to look at birds of different places where water provides habitat.
  • Lesser Yellowlegs
  • Upland Sandpiper: only a couple seen on Friday morning.
  • Least Sandpiper: on the mud flats as well as being obvious upon the road when water flows occurred.
  • Baird's Sandpiper: it took some time to view this particular shorebird species, whose presence also indicated the suitability of the habitat for so many species.
  • Pectoral Sandpiper: subtly present.
  • Stilt Sandpiper: noted first because of the distinct coloration patterns in their plumage.
  • Buff-breasted Sandpiper: birder Rink located the few birds present, which were, with direct directions, found moving north through the somewhat barren ground of a portion of the formerly flooded hay field. This was a special find as it was species number 304 observed in Nebraska by master birder Rink. Their coloration and occurrence was distinctly subtle and certainly a wonderful occurrence.
  • Long-billed Dowitcher: a big bird with their long beak pressed into the mud.
  • Wilson's Snipe: subtle yet distinct.
  • Wilson's Phalarope: their fall plumage is very benign, but the flock was readily obvious as they stayed together whilst flying around.
  • Least Tern: notable because of their small size.
  • Black Tern: it took special focus to note their occurrence.
  • Common Tern: a subject of continued discussion, as seen and considered, then looked at again and heard and eventually identified with certainty as they continued to express they unique characteristics while resting at the water's edge and while calling and flying about the scene near our vantage point.
  • Forster's Tern: fall plumage characteristics provided the distinction needed to make a decision on this species' identification.
  • Mourning Dove: obvious during a focused look.
  • Belted Kingfisher: two perched on a wire, certainly looking for a fish to catch
  • Northern Flicker: on the lawn at the farm yard.
  • Eastern Kingbird: in the top of a tree in the vicinity of the place being observed.
  • Blue Jay: heard in the distance.
  • American Crow: heard.
  • Purple Martin: bunches on the wires
  • Northern Rough-winged Swallow: among the flying horde of swallows.
  • Bank Swallow: flitting about.
  • Cliff Swallow: many flying about in the aerial realm.
  • Barn Swallow: most notably around the farmstead.
  • Sedge Wren: very expressive yet secretive in the planted grasses of the refuge lands
  • American Robin: about the Horseshoe Lake Lane place.
  • European Starling: bunches about, including those which found the round hay bales a suitable roost, for some time or another.
  • Common Yellowthroat: calling in the places which they find are fine for them to occur.
  • Chipping Sparrow: occur because of suitable conifers.
  • Field Sparrow: call prevalent
  • Song Sparrow: also expressive in the vicinity
  • Indigo Bunting: also readily apparent based upon their musical expression
  • Dickcissel: easily apparent by their expression spread across the flats
  • Red-winged Blackbird: hither and yon among the scene, as their time is moving towards going elsewhere.
  • Common Grackle: just a few.
  • American Goldfinch: only a few heard if an observer's attention considers the entire spectrum of sounds across the landscape.

The birds which expressed their presence represents more than 50 species, each one heard and considered individually with enough attention to indicate a proper identification.

If water habitats on the flats endure as the autumnal migration season continues, there should be a great variety of species that can occur and be appreciated due to the prevalence of water on the flooded fields and inundated croplands near the Missouri River in Washington County, east of Fort Calhoun.

There are opportunities at this locale which might provide continued habitats for resident and migratory shore and water birds to occur. The planning for the future effort to be carried out for Boyer Chute NWR is an obvious effort which can be beneficial to providing water-based habitats, yet those results will be unknown for a few years, so the current situation is one to appreciate now for the presence of so many unique birds.

A Marbled Godwit was observed at the shorebird area on August 16th, by Matthew Cvetas, as reported on NEBirds. Also reported were Semipalmated Plover and a hundred Cattle Egrets. A similar number of Cattle Egret were noted on the 17th, along with a Black-bellied Plover.

Cattle Egrets at the Horseshoe Lake Flats. August 17, 2010.

Martins Gathering Noted in Early 1900s at Midtown Omaha

Photographs taken by a Nebraska naturalist indicate that Purple Martin gatherings occurred in the Omaha area more than 100 years ago.

Among the many glass negatives of the Frank H. Shoemaker Collection at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Special Collections and Archives, with the two given here showing their typical behavior of gathering on the wires. This is typical behavior for the species near their midtown Omaha roost.

Purple Martins. The fall convention; image number A113. Both images courtesy of Archives & Special Collections, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Libraries.

Purple Martins assembling for autumn migration; image number B0141 and B0142

There is no date given for any of the photographs. The locality is noted as Omaha, Douglas County.

Based upon the image numbers, it is probable that the pictures were taken circa 1901 or 1902.

Shoemaker was an Omaha resident from 1895 to 1911. He lived in the midtown area, with one regular place of occurrence at the 2900 block of Dewey Street, where there was the "bird room" at the Van Sant residence. His writings includes accounts of birds noted at Hanscom Park and forays to Childs Point.

The home shown in the photograph is very distinctive with its multiple chimneys, roof line adornments and distinctive lighting rod.

These sorts of chimneys are still present at a few historic homes in the Blackstone area of midtown, and may further indicate where the photographs were taken.

The photos indicate martins gathered in urban Omaha more than a century ago, and visually conveys the occurrence which continues so prominently in midtown, as well known for 2008-2010 at the Nebraska Medical Center campus.