27 September 2010

A Thousand Hurts - Nebraska Bird-strikes Tally

Finding a bird strike victim in Lincoln years ago started a trail which hit a sad mark. This morning, a bit after 7 a.m., while bicycling about downtown Omaha to survey the latest bird strikes occurrence, the 1000th example was noted.

After a tally of 11 victims on Sunday, there was a certain expectation with migration actively underway, that the next day would be when this figure would be reached. And it was ... Monday, September 27, 2001 is a day of infamy when the hurts and pains of so many birds hit such a peak of numbers which have suffered from bird strikes.

The following are the three latest victims.

Number 998

Nashville Warbler at the Harper Center, Creighton University.

Number 999

Black-and-White Warbler at the Qwest Center. Note in the first picture how the bird as its head tucked away, as it suffers from hitting the glass on the west side of the building. The second picture is taken after the bird was taken elsewhere for improve its conditions for a hopeful recovery.

Number 1000

Nashville Warbler at 1200 Landmark Center. The carcass was obviously stepped on or smashed in some other manner.

A new rhyme is being used to describe what happens with each bird strike found:

If the bird is dead, leave it lay
If there is life, take it away

Live birds are placed in a dark, comfortable container and then taken to a nearby green space and placed into a tree where they can safely recover.

There is so much more to say about this campaign which has been going in spurts since 2007, but those comments will have to wait. It is such a shame that so many bits of feathered color have lost their lives, and ended up being indifferently thrown into the trash, just like a piece of paper refuse from a fast-food joint.

Another Day, More Dead Birds

The following three fatalities were found on the morning of September 28, 2010. They were at the Holland Performing Arts Center, with its obviously hazardous glass.

Number 1001

Number 1002

Number 1003

How Omaha Welcomes Migratory Birds

On Wednesday morning, September 29, 2010, a bird-strike victim was found at a building where there had been no previous occurrences. A dead Wood Thrush was found outside the Convention and Visitor's Bureau office at the 1000 block of Farnam on the Mall.

This strike is an indication of how Omaha welcomes bird, and it is ironic and sublime that the thrush was found dead outside of the Visitor's Bureau. The "Visi" of the sign can be seen in the upper portion of the glass doors.

Number 1009

15 September 2010

Morning Turkeys at Midtown Omaha

It was quite a surprise on the morning of September 15th, to see several turkeys along my bicycling route through Dundee and onward to the UNOmaha campus.

Each of the turkeys had a common theme as they went about their own business. Each was ignorant to the presence of any of the people in the neighborhood. Their own task was most important, regardless.

The following are the four main turkeys of the day. Not all of the turkeys are actually shown, but their presence is illustrated none-the-less.

A turkey drove this stopped fuel truck; AB's 66 at 50th Street and Underwood Avenue.

A turkey drove this parked beer truck; Grandpa's C Store, just east of 51st Street and Underwood Avenue.

A turkey drove this pickup truck, stopping across the crosswalk at the light; 52nd Street and Underwood Avenue.

A turkey drove this landscaping 4x4, parked on the sidewalk near the Criss Library.

The common theme was that each of the four turkeys had parked their vehicles, either on or obstructing sidewalk, blocking the route for any pedestrian or bicyclist.

They were obviously indifferent, and blatantly rude, so each of them get recognition for being a turkey of the day.

Wild Turkeys

The real excitement and purpose of this post was seeing a nice flock of Wild Turkeys at UNOmaha, and then in Elmwood Park. Though a wild turkey has been previously seen in Memorial Park, this is the most recent occurrence, and obviously the largest number ever known to be present.

The birds were first seen at the northeast corner of the Eppley Administration building, and were steadily moving eastward as they foraged. They went by Kayser Hall, and eventually crossed the street into the Elmwood Park pine grove.

The turkeys - seemingly a bunch of juveniles on a romp - were basically as indifferent to the people on campus as nearly all of the people on campus were indifferent to them.

Two men in one landscaping truck did stop for a minute to watch the birds. In the park, an older student though it was pretty neat that there were turkeys about, as he stopped for a couple of minutes to watch them move along.

All in all, the morning of this day was full of turkeys!

Later, it was determined that a brood of twelve turkeys were raised at a place near 67th and Farnam Streets. The juveniles have been seen elsewhere, including walking about Fairacres, on the north side of Dodge Street.

13 September 2010

Deaths of a Thousand Hurts - Bird-strikes U.S.A.

With the southerly bird migration underway, there are flocks of birds making their way along their route which includes many natural and artificial perils. A prevalent hazard is buildings with glass exteriors, which unsuspecting birds of many sorts hit and either die or are stunned and fall to the ground, perhaps to recover or be taken by some other hazard.

Bird-strikes are now occurring across the northern hemisphere, with millions of bird casualties occurring now, this autumn.

The following eleven bird-strike instances, are Omaha examples of the deaths and pains invoked upon the birds migrating southward along the Missouri River Valley.

11 Sep
• Gray Catbird - Omaha-Douglas Civic Center; carcass on the plaza, south of atrium area
• House Wren - 1200 Landmark Center; disabled bird, writhing about; north side, west section; this bird could not even sit upright because it was still suffering from its direct impact with the glass facade.
• Nashville Warbler - Holland Center for Performing Arts; disabled bird, south side, east end; beneath outer glass wall which is the upper section of structure
• Purple Martin - Kiewit-Clarkson Skywalk; carcass at the north half, west side; on the south end of this section
• Purple Martin - Kiewit-Clarkson Skywalk; stunned bird at the north half, west side; on the north end of this section; lying in street; moved to off-street location
12 Sep
• Common Yellowthroat - Qwest Center Omaha; carcass outside north-facing entryway at the south end of the west side

Common Yellowthroat, Qwest Center Omaha.

• House Wren - 1200 Landmark Center; stunned bird on the north side of the lower, eastern part of structure; east half, west portion
13 Sep
• Wilson's Warbler - 1200 Landmark Center; disabled bird at entry at glass wall east of south, atrium entry
• Common Yellowthroat - Holland Center for Performing Arts; carcass on the south side, almost at the west end
• Marsh Wren - First National Tower; disabled bird at entry at northwest corner

Marsh Wren, First National Bank tower, downtown Omaha.

• Wilson's Warbler - Loft 610, Midtown Crossing; disabled bird at Loft 610, north-central side of building on north side of Farnam Street; flew away before picture could be taken.

It was only a matter of time before bird strikes were expected to occur at the recently completed Midtown Crossing development. The wall-like buildings have glass windows, and are adjacent to trees in the former Turner Park, so it was inevitable that strikes would happen. Architectural renders provided the details to indicate the structures as hazards, as noted previously, and accurately predicted.

Loft 610, Midtown Crossing, showing the scene where a warbler was injured upon hitting the glass facade.

Ongoing Misery

The region's migration season is just getting underway, and the misery caused by many more bird strikes, will continue unabated. Each death is the sad loss of the life for a bit of feathered treasure, and the obvious pain caused is appalling.

What is most appalling however, is the apparent indifference by the building managers/owners who are so obviously indifferent to what they are causing. Then add in the obvious and repeated ignoring of never-ending violations of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and the whole situation is a complete tragedy.

Warbler taken from the sidewalk on the north side of the Zorinsky Federal Building and placed into a tree, so it cover recover at a safer place. February 14, 2010.

10 September 2010

Ground-breaking at Glenwood Interchange for Highway 34 Project

On Thursday afternoon, September 9th, a ground-breaking ceremony for the Highway 34 - Bellevue Bridge project was held west of the Interstate-29 interchange, near Glenwood, Iowa. It was on public property, which, based upon earlier communications, was an important and essential condition of the day.

About 200 people had gathered, including too many politicians and business proponents from the surrounding area, with the most prominent listed on the flyer, handed-out for the ceremony.

Among the crowd were four birders cognizant of the special values which the La Platte Bottoms have for a myriad of birds.

Once the law men noticed our initial look-about with a pair of binoculars - to see if the rest of our group had arrived and explanation of our purpose - they laid down the rules of the day. We could stay if we did not cause any problems, did not disrupt the event and would basically comply with what they said was okay.

Justin Rink holding his "Barry the Bittern" sign at the event.

Justin Rink's sign - carefully and personally made the evening before - featured a hand-drawn Least Bittern - notably a male with the name of Barry, though only one person noticed - with the words "Evicted" to indicate how the pending ruination of the wetlands will destroy its summer habitat.

Once we made our way to the "official" area, we were immediately shown where we could stand. The sheriffs from Mills County did not want any trouble. Once we were noticed in the parking lot, the two of us forged onward to the our designated place, the "protester box" on the north side of the gathering.

The crowd was noisy, and we quietly chatted among ourselves, while keeping the signs out front and obvious.

The law enforcement officers soon noted the arrival of the better half of our group. Since after some angst of pondering, with a timely and appreciated arrival, up went three other signs were finely made in detail by Shari Schwartz. John Carlini was also on the scene. They stood next to the "Barry the Bittern" sign, at our spot upon the grass, north of the throng.

We were there to present an opposing view, with each of us soon holding a large sign expressing a terse but pertinent message how the highway will ruin the unique wetlands. Each of us four held high our expressive placard, making sure it would be readily seen others at the scene.

We stood together the first ever, visible expression of dissent for a highway project in this region. It was a new reality in more ways than one.

For two of us on the scene, we had also never been visibly expression in opposition to wetland ruination, and the day was a grand time to get out of our box, and make a prominent statement.

Capitalists and Politicians Talk

Once the "ceremony" began, it was a basic litany of politicians talking about nothing of consequence, inane comments about football, and other self-congratulatory words given to a crowd which hung on every word, clapping appreciably while photographers and videographers milled about capturing the day's so-called significance.

When the welcoming comments were finished, the speaker had all the "dignitaries" stand up, and they applauded themselves for accomplishing a "number 1 priority project."

The theme of the day was: "Meet You in the Middle in 2013!" which referred to the ribbon-cutting which will occur once the project is completed.

After some more opening remarks, Governor Dave Heineman was at the podium. He noted it was "very significant" that Iowa and Nebraska worked together on a project important to both states, but readily made more comments about football than the topic-of-the-day. It was a lame speech, but certainly not from his perspective, and he could have talked about the years' corn yield and the weather and the crowd would have still clapped.

Next up was the Lieutenant governor of Iowa, Patty Judge. Her theme was how the road project will help to "grow" southwest Iowa ... as "bridges open up communities" and that this particular bridge will "tie together two states with a lot in common." And, the "possibilities will be endless," she said.

All of these comments were noted while sometimes holding up a sign, to one extent or another, while listening to a tepid sound system on a windy day on the floodplain of the Missouri River. The two Mills County sheriffs were right next to our gang of four, so these were the safest notes ever made during three decades of writing about things.

Football rivalry was a common theme during the hour and 15-minute ceremony, and was just too much, to express an opinion. The event would have been half as long if there had been no comments about collegiate athletics, lame challenges, but public officials can quip about different inane subjects, tell a joke or do whatever they deem suitable for their brief time in front of the gathering. It did not matter to the majority of the people present, though we did have some fun making our own remarks about what was being heard.

Ongoing Political Talk

This highway project was an "adult-project" according to Tom Harkin, Senator from Iowa. After first talking about football, he said it was a "great day" for a project that took time to happen, indicating that it was accomplished through the use of earmarks. And it was a sterling "example of persistence" that will be a "major shot in the arm for development on both sides of the river."

Harkin was "proud and pleased to be among those that made the project possible." He mentioned several times earmarks passed in the halls of political Washington, D.C. that led to this project being possible. It was a way to bring back to the local area the money which had been paid by taxpayers.

Nearly silently, the words Pork!, Pork!, Pork! were subtly expressed by someone at the north side of the event.

Bird proponents at the ground-breaking ceremony. Justin Rink on the left, John Carlini in the middle and Shari Schwartz on the right.

About this point in the ceremony, the sign-wielding four were required to move eastward, based upon the directive from a greater force, apparently the two men in black suits which were the escort for the Nebraska governor. Apparently it was not proper that we were standing within 15-feet of the governor's black suburban. Our new spot was about 15-20 feet distance, which was actually better, as our spot was more towards the "front" of the crowd.

Further comments by the project proponents expressed the general theme of how wonderful the new highway would be...

"Bridge a symbol of communities working together" - letter from Congressman Lee Terry,
We are "planning for what businesses and industries we should look forward to" to promote development along the right-of-way - Larry Winum, president of Glenwood/Mills County Economic Development

It was readily apparent that the chambers of commerce, and the overall throng at the event were thrilled with the pending highway and bridge and how it would promote economic development from Glenwood to south of Bellevue.

This theme is consistent with the comments given in the project documents, which, especially on the Nebraska side of the river, express hopes for industrial and commercial development on 3,000 acres, apparently including the remnant wetlands east of La Platte.

They want to pave a bird paradise and put up a bunch of buildings and parking lots.

None of the commentators made any reference to the environmental impacts of the project. Also, during the time we were present, no one came up to our group to ask what we were expressing.

It is quite telling that none of the officials, politicians, or anyone else had the verve to approach us and ask our reason for being present. This is quite indicative of how these people could not accept a different view, and even be neighborly enough to express an interest in an alternative view. At least I mingled as allowed, and was able to convey the events of the day, with numerous other communications have been previously made to at least a couple of the people present, whom made sure to ignore our outstanding presence.

Shari Schwartz gets recognition for having the strongest arms, as she held her sign the highest, for the longest time. This is based upon her response from a nearby someone, asking about her focused effort. The response was that she was well-experienced in holding things up, and thus a great appreciation for that today, as well as her and John's focus on seeing the birds about the bottoms.

Law Enforcement Officers

Since the sheriffs, wanted to have a day with no trouble, the two of them flanked us on each end of our small group.

When the time to throw dirt approached, they were notified of an intent to go get some video of the politicians and capitalists when they grabbed shovels to provide the iconic scene of the day, and portray the start of the pending earthworks for the highway and bridge.

The sign being held was left behind, a commitment was made to keep quiet, and then an escort was provided, in case someone might want to bother me, was the reason the sheriff said.

Nothing happened. There were a bunch of politicians and capitalists acting like clones, pushing a shovel into the dirt, then holding it aloft for a few seconds, a time long enough for those wanting to get a picture to capture the image, and then to throw the dirt after a countdown. Then the main-stream media descended for interviews to capture more biased words about the project.

Our gang did get a bit of attention from one Omaha television station. The videographer had shot a short clip earlier during the ceremony, but we retained our place to ensure anyone could capture an opposing view. A television guy came by, and was given two documents - the editorial piece in Bellevue Leader on September 1st, and the testimonials on the birds of the La Platte Bottoms, as contributed by a few local bird enthusiasts - so he would have the details to understand the reason why we were standing in the sun of an autumn afternoon, with signs in opposition to the common viewpoint.

Once the primary part of the ceremony was finished, and it was time to depart, a view was expressed about going to get a cookie, and without any sign or any intent except to grab a snack, my spot moved on. Upon getting four cookies for me and others, a glance backward noted a sheriff was just a few feet away. It was another effort for them to ensure that no one in the crowd could cause a confrontation.

This is the first time to have ever - repeat ever - having been given a sheriff escort while getting some cookies. Wow!

A hearty hand-shake was expressly given to the three law enforcement officers, upon leaving the scene, a few moments later. This was an important gesture to expressly thank them and to convey a positive attitude.

Our presence did, however, convey a vivid alternate to the self-congratulatory comments generally expressed during the ceremony. Our signs of expressions were a bit of a prick to their balloon, but as the officials and politicians involved with the project had neglected to consider many essential aspects associated with this environmentally damaging project, we did succeed in expressing our view.

A hearty thanks to the three compatriots present and for the fine signs. We had the verve to express our views on a topic which was wrong in the manner in which it was dealt with, and this was the primary facet of the day.

It should be noted that there were no representatives present from any of the local conservation groups, including the Nebraska Wildlife Federation, Nebraska Sierra Club, Wachiska Audubon Society and Audubon Society of Omaha. This is despite repeated efforts to inform numerous birders of the event - notably via the NEBirds forum - of the time and place when the ground-breaking would occur, and specifically asking for their participation.

This is especially dismal, considering that in 2007, the metro-Omaha area Audubon society notably expressed concern about the highway project in their newsletter, yet, based upon documents reviewed, they did not make any effort to protect the wetlands east of La Platte.

Many birds will suffer from ruination of the La Platte Bottoms, but the demise of the place will not be forgotten, nor is the issue finished. It was a grand day to have a dedicated group express views in support of the birds which do not have a voice.

Officials throwing the first bits of dirt, that vividly mark the start of a project that will ruin, forever, wetlands at the La Platte Bottoms.

09 September 2010

Wildlife Conservation Society Continues Arctic Bird Research and Conservation

The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), with funding support from a variety of sources, continued and expanded its research in 2010 to provide scientific details of the Arctic region and its resources.

During late-May to early-July, more than a dozen WCS field biologists investigated reproductive biology of all bird species nesting on study plots they established. According to Joe Liebezeit, the Arctic Alaska Field Coordinator for the group, "We continued our work at the same site in the Prudhoe Bay oilfields where we’ve worked since 2003, and at a second new site to the west, in a remote region of the Arctic near the Ikpikpuk River in the National Petroleum Reserve - Alaska."

The focus at both sites is to get a better understanding of how successfully birds are able to reproduce and thereby better understand population trends of key species, Liebezeit said. They focused their research on shorebirds including the Semipalmated Sandpiper, Red Phalarope, and Red-necked Phalarope. Other species were also given attention, including the Bar-tailed Godwit.

The Ikpikpuk River study site is within the a National Petroleum Reserve – Alaska, the largest piece of public land in the U.S.A. Funding for research here was provided by the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Liz Claiborne/Art Ortenberg Foundation.

Liebezeit and his cohorts noted high densities of shorebirds and other tundra birds at the Ikpikpuk study area. Their investigations at both sites include finding and monitoring nests, evaluating reproductive success and documenting other particulars of the natural history of the birds present.

Ikpikpuk Field Camp, 2010. Images courtesy of Joe Liebezeit, WCS.

Banding a Semipalmated Sandpiper.

Two new aspects of the WCS research this season included the use of remote cameras to identify nest predators that will often eat the eggs and young at active nests, and color-banding adult shorebirds to better understand adult survivorship.

Fifteen remote cameras, about the size of a shoebox, were used at both study areas to evaluate nest predation, Liebezeit said. When a would-be predator crosses the infrared beam while it is raiding a nest, pictures are taken enabling the predator to be identified. This is helpful in evaluating differences between the Prudhoe Bay site - which is a human-altered area with a greater preponderance of predators such as the Arctic fox, Common Raven and gulls - to the Ikpikpuk site which is a remote locality with a lesser number of human-related predators, he said.

A second new focus is placing colored bands on the legs of captured, adult shorebirds. Trapping and marking birds is an effective means of determining the survivorship of the adult birds since it enables the same bird to be identified and resighted multiple times, Liebezeit said. If marked birds are recaptured or resighted in subsequent years, a statistical analysis can be used to evaluate this feature of the bird's life cycle. This research is a cooperative effort with the Arctic Shorebird Demography Network.

Liebezeit, in association with the WCS, has been studying birds in the Arctic region since 2002. Each season, recent college graduates with a desire to gain field experience studying birds, apply for a few coveted positions to spend two months on the tundra working with an array of different birds.

"A lot of people want to go to the Arctic to study birds, and we have no problems getting help" Liebezeit said. "Our projects afford a good opportunity for young people to get research experience."

"WCS is concerned with conservation of natural resources of this region. Conditions in the Arctic are a complex situation," Liebezeit said.

"Climate change is happening faster in the Arctic than anywhere else on earth," he said, then indicating notable concerns based upon his experience, including:

  • A rise in sea levels which would inundate shoreline which is important foraging habitat for a variety of species
  • A drying trend on the tundra which may lessen the extent of wetlands, noting that this needs further study as wetland dependent species such as phalaropes and dowitchers may lose habitat, while a species such as the Black-bellied Plover may benefit as they prefer drier habitat
  • An early indication that species more prevalent in boreal forest habitat may be moving their range further northward, which may alter the local food web. One example he noted was more red fox seem to be moving into Arctic Fox habitat.

The information obtained by this research will enable effective management and conservation of nesting birds and other wildlife in the region, Liebezeit said. The North American Program website of WCS has the latest information about their Arctic research.

"Every year I also contribute a summary of our annual findings from each of our study sites to Arctic Birds" an international project which reports details from numerous surveys of breeding birds. "This is valuable since this compilation of information is the only circumpolar synthesis of information on arctic breeding birds," Liebezeit added.

A report on the results of four years worth of studies at Teshekpuk Lake, will be published in the journal Arctic, in March 2011.

The WCS - formerly known as the New York Zoological Society - has a long history of interest in the Alaskan Arctic. Some of their first research surveys were done in the early 1900s. In the 1950s, Olaus and Marty Murie were supported by the organization for their investigations evaluating unique aspects of the area which was eventually established as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

In the latter 1990s, the Society - with its headquarters in New York City - restarted its North America conservation initiatives, including efforts to investigate the Arctic.

07 September 2010

Correcting Expedition Records Essential to Historic Ornithology of Great Plains

Among the original sources of information for historic ornithology in the northern Great Plains are records from surveys by topographic engineers in the mid-1850s. The preeminent source for this particular region is - of course - the 1855-57 expeditions led by Lieutenant Governeur Kemble Warren, along with a whole cadre of support personnel, including the renowned Dr. Ferdinand V. Hayden, the expedition geologist and naturalist.

Since this was a government sponsored expedition, natural history specimens eventually became a portion of the vast collection at the Smithsonian Institution.

While investigating the bird records from the original journals of the Warren related expeditions, and while reviewing the specimen catalog as provided online by the Smithsonian, there were obvious differences.

It has been an interesting trail of investigation while considering the differences in record attribution, and just one example of improving the records related to some birds denoted during the early history of a growing nation.

Record Details

An original evaluation of records for the 1855-57 expeditions being considered, accepted the record details as being correct and were presented with this perspective. This was wrong, as the specimen records, based upon a closer evaluation, had obvious errors.

During the past three years, the specimen records have been more closely evaluated. This has included a review of the original journals from the expeditions - available on microfilm from the New York State Library in Albany - as well as a closer evaluation of details presented in S.F. Baird's seminal tally of bird notes. Only by entering each and every available record into a database, with all essential details, were obvious differences apparent.

Subtle differences are significant. Errors in designated dates, incorrect locality details and other specific details which were not correct, do not present an accurate view of occurrence for the bird specimens. There were also typographic errors, which are a scourge to providing a consistent and readily searchable set of records.

Correcting the Historic Record

An evaluation of dates and site of occurrence could be done only once all pertinent expedition records were entered into an electronic format which allowed sorting and grouping individual records. Once uncertain details became apparent, they were given further attention, and comparison to other records for similar dates and places. This helped to indicate corrections which were needed in the historic record.

Once the different records from the 1855-57 expeditions were entered into a relational database, certain discrepancies became readily apparent. Dates attributed to some specimens did not match the locale where the expeditionary party was present, based upon the original journal records. States did not match the designated locality. Years were apparently wrong for when the military group occurred at a specific place.

With some attention to details, these apparent errors were submitted to the curator of the bird collection at the Smithsonian Institution. The following are some examples were - based upon detailed consideration - meant record information was corrected and thus designated in an accurate manner.

Starting in September 2008, on item of consideration was USNM A4520, which had a locality of "Big Siorix River," which actually meant Big Sioux River, and was corrected to this site, with a designation to the state of Minnesota.

When two specimens of the Ovenbird were collected in April 1956, their record indicated they were taken in 1857. By noting a difference between the location of the expeditionary force during these two years, it became apparent that the 27 April dated should be for 1856, not 1857.

The Smithsonian curator checked into the details, and found that an 1856 date was correct, based upon a "catalog ledger" and so the collection record was revised.

For many of the specimens of the belted Piping Plover - Charadrius melodus circumcincta - the state given for their occurrence was the Loup Fork, which for several records, was a location in Wyoming. This was changed to its proper place, since it is obviously a site in Nebraska.

For A9017, the record base of the government institution, cited the species as the Little Tern. This was changed to Least Tern, to conform with is being another of the specimens collected at the Loup Fork of the Platte River, in mid-July 1857. The specific locale of the Loup Fork has not yet been designated for this and related species. The pertinent species records had a county designation of Howard, in the state of Nebraska, but this has been deleted and needs further evaluation of the expedition route and dates to derive an accurate place.

This applies to additional specimens, including A8819, A8820 and A8837 which had been attributed to Howard County. In looking at the map route provided by the journal records for the 1857 expedition, these records could not have been seen at this place on the lower Loup River. It would be more appropriate to indicate the occurrence of the specimens - representing the Common Yellowthroat - which occurred on or about August 3, 1857, to the western middle extent of the Loup River, more likely in Thomas County. The Brown Thrasher, also denoted by specimens, would have been further west, as the records are from a few days later, on August 6th, which, based upon expedition maps, would have laced the expedition in an area corresponding to the present Hooker County.

Most of the suggested changes have been readily made by Institution staff, though it some instances, further research is required, so particulars that require additional investigation, i.e., specific county, the incorrect designation may just be deleted and left empty until time is available to determine an accurate entry.

Considering Historic Ornithology

Historic records of birds are an essential glimpse into former occurrence of species at a particular place at some time. If the details are not correct, their value is diminished and is not acceptable to any scrutiny. Only through close attention to the particulars, can errors be detected, considered and perhaps revised.

Most of the suggested changes have been readily made by Institution staff, though it some instances, further research is required, so particulars that require additional investigation, i.e., specific county, the incorrect designation may just be deleted and left empty until time is available to determine an accurate entry.

With further attention to this aspect of historic ornithology, can essential features for the original ornithology of North America be readily appreciated, and contribute an accurate indication for modern evaluation.

Habitat Conservation in Sandhills Helps With IBA Designation

Land conservation efforts which benefit birds has resulted in the recent recognition of the Greater Gracie Creek Landscape as an Important Birding Area.

The Greater Gracie Creek Landscape area - within the area marked by a yellow line, and the Calamus Reservoir IBA, the area indicated by the blue line. Image courtesy of the Nebraska IBA committee.

Located north of the Calamus Reservoir in the eastern Sandhills of Nebraska, the area comprises 48,802 acres on the Switzer and Scherzberg Ranches, the Morgan Ranch and Gracie Creek Ranch.

The tract abuts the Calamus Reservoir State Recreation Area IBA, which comprises 10,000 acres, including the reservoir and adjacent upland, which was designated by the state's IBA committee in 2006.

The Nebraska IBA selection committee, sees "a value in an area getting recognized, in terms of publicity, increased awareness of birds and habitat, and greater land stewardship," said Kevin Poague, the manager of the IBA program in Nebraska, which is sponsored by the National Audubon Society.

This particular area, met four of the five site criteria, according to the submitted nomination. The bird information was derived from observations made within the area, and from an analysis of 15 Breeding Bird sites within a 25-miles, as prepared by a consultant.

1). Noted for species of significant concern...
a). Breeding population: notable population densities of Greater Prairie-Chicken, Upland Sandpiper, Burrowing Owl, Grasshopper Sparrow and Bobolink. BBS details indicate the local presence of other species of concern.
b). Migrating populations: numbers of Greater White-fronted Goose, Franklin's Gull, Long-billed Curlew, Wilson's Phalarope and Sandhill Crane. Also, Whooping Crane, White-rumped Sandpiper, Baird's Sandpiper and Stilt Sandpiper, present at three or more of the BBS route sites.
2). Birds that congregate in significant numbers; mentioned were waterfowl, shorebirds, waders, and gulls and terns.
For terrestrial habitats, the nearby Calamus Reservoir is notable for its high density of wintering Bald Eagles, with "some 100 species of passerines" at the area and as noted at the BBS survey sites.
Many of the waterfowl species would occur in greater numbers at Calamus Reservoir.
3). The primary species mentioned in the public education and Research category, was the Greater Prairie-Chicken, whose habitats are being studied in the area by researchers from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
The Switzer Ranch has also worked with a consultant of the World Wildlife Fund on "developing a ranch and management plan that is focused on supporting and sustaining the bird diversity and other wildlife," according to the IBA nomination.
4). The GGCL is comprised mostly of upland grassland prairie, which represents well the native grassland habitats which some conservation groups designate as threatened on a global level, according to the nomination.
There are also "blowouts" within the IBA, and the endangered Blowout Penstemon has been transplanted in some of these.

Overall, 218 species are claimed to occur on the GGC Landscape area, according to the nomination.

Birding Economics

Since the GGCL IBA is private property, access is limited.

The Switzer Ranch does operate the nature-based Calamus Outfitters: "Over time it is our intent to increase our capacity to provide naturalist and ornithological interpretation and education for guests to the area. This is part of our ongoing ranch and business planning, and part of our program of relationship building with our neighbors," the nomination form said.

"For a commercial business, an IBA recognition is certainly something they can promote for their own good. But it also makes them more willing to keep their habitat in good shape for the sake of their birds (and their livelihood)..." Poague said.

"The more qualified sites that are recognized, then that could mean more publicity for birds and conservation for the owners of these sites, which in turn may increase their interest in keeping the habitat in good condition for birds."

Ongoing Land Conservation

Two ranches within the GGCL have been involved in landscape conservation projects in association with the Sandhills Task Force, and local resource-conservation agencies.

In 2006, the owner of the Gracie Creek ranch, was involved in efforts to conserve their ranch land, as indicated in the 2007 annual report of the STF:

"Years of building vigor in range condition has allowed" the ranch owner "to rest 20% of the ranch each year. In 2007, the STF installed two water structures, designed to seasonally hydrate wetlands, meadows, and stop downcutting. The ranch includes several expansive, flat, meadows, that provide superb migratory waterfowl habitat each spring."

A second phase of this project was completed in 2009, involved the placement of two water-control structures along Gracie Creek, according to the STF annual report. "As a result of [the] entire project three miles of Gracie Creek and approximately eleven acres of wetlands and surrounding wet meadows will benefit by a renewed groundwater table and higher quality wildlife habitat."

On the Switzer property, following the stream restoration effort along Gracie Creek, the Switzer family partnered with the STF, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Nebraska Game and Parks Commission to undertake another stream restoration project.

"The entire project consisted of removing eastern red cedars and renewing the natural hydrology to a portion of Gracie Creek. The stream restoration project consisted of installing a water control structure designed to slow down the flow of Gracie Creek and return [the] stream to a natural gradient. The project was completed in July of 2009," according to the 2009 STF report.

Local Avifauna

In evaluating the bird information, it is apparent that the "15 BBS sites within 25 miles of the GGC Landscape," must refer to the multiple stops made for each BBS route. The two closest known BBS routes are Swan Lake in southwest Holt County, and Almeria in southwest Loup County, with the latter route the possible source of observations.

By using a records-based analysis, it is possible to derive a bird species list based on locations within the GGCL IBA and the adjacent Calamus Reservoir IBA. These include, obviously, Calamus Reservoir, the Calamus-Loup winter count area, and the few particular notes of birds known for Gracie Creek and Nichol Lake. Each record includes the species noted at a particular site on a specific date, and where available, and importantly, the number of birds counted when this is available. All of these records are maintained in the BirdRecords table of the Sandhills Database.

For these four localities, the presence of 174 distinct species is documented.

By expanding this area to additional, nearby areas with bird records the tally increases. Notable places nearby where birds have been surveyed during recent decades, include Carson Lake (in northwest Garfield County) as well as Horseshoe Bend Lake and Mud Bayou, along the Loup River.

Using this analysis, the overall species list increases to 192 species.

Though a species list can be readily devised using various known sources, there is little actual data on the occurrence of different species, and their numbers, which occur within the boundaries of the Greater Gracie Creek Landscape.

And, expressing an opinion, having a reliable source of the bird details specific for an IBA, the easier it would be to determine its value within the IBA context.

During travels in the past three decades among the sandhills region, my route only a very few times were at a couple of places within the GGCL IBA. The compiled, records-base has more than 142,600 specific records which provide the essentials for any sandhills-based consideration of avifauna, which also includes more than 53,000 instances of bird occurrence from nearly 1000 specific locations, gathered during personal forays starting in 1982. Another source includes historic records which extends back to at least 1855.

The current IBA being considered is especially notable for the efforts which forward-thinking land-owners have undertaken to conserve and improve habitats utilized by a variety of birds. This is the most notable aspect, as other regional landscapes within the Sand Hills have a similar diversity of bird species.

02 September 2010

Bridge Will Cause Birds to Suffer


By James E. Ducey
Guest Columnist

As officials gather in September at their "joyfest" to commemorate the start for the Highway 34 and Bellevue bridge project, it is necessary to indicate how state and federal agencies did not suitably consider its environmental consequences.

During an evaluation of project documents, wetland evaluations, site plans and impacts, at a regulatory agency meeting, through a bunch of emails, as well as - most importantly - an investigation of the bird diversity prevalent at the La Platte bottoms within the corridor, obvious shortcomings in the evaluation process became readily apparent. Certainly there were public hearings, and conservationists should have been present and expressive, but this does not mean the responsible agencies could ignore obvious facets of the site, because as I was repeatedly told, "no one told them."

Agencies involved in the process were the Iowa Department of Transportation, Nebraska Department of Roads, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Environmental Protection Agency.

Since spring this year, the lowlands near Harlan Lewis Road and La Platte Road, is an area which some may think is a watery wasteland, but has actually been a bird mecca. Many people trekking there observed the diversity, and some took documentary photographs.

During 2010, an obviously wet year, greater water levels have meant habitat suitable for 89 species, as noted from mid-March to mid-August, by a known minimum of a dozen observers, many whom have returned again and again to get a glimpse into the bird life among the watery realm. There have been 133 types of birds noted at different seasons since 1984.

Avian diversity is a profoundly obvious value of the La Platte Bottoms. Yet, the occurrence of a plethora of migratory birds was not considered at all in any of the environmental reviews document, as required by the National Environmental Policy Act.

One particular item completely ignored is the ongoing occurrence of the threatened Least Tern. It is the responsibility of the FWS to address this topic, yet they indicated in an email that the terns could not have found any food since there couldn't be any fish present due to the ephemeral nature of the wet lands. There is a picture and personal observation of a Black Tern catching fish at the bottoms. Yet the agency readily dismissed the obvious sightings by skilled birders, as well as photographic evidence.

This is but one prominent indication of a myriad of obvious shortcomings. Particular points to consider also include:

  • The Platte River received its name about 27 decades ago when French explorers floated past the confluence a voyage down the Missouri. This preeminent cultural site will now be ruined by a bridge that will dominate the visual landscape and the ceaseless noise of vehicular traffic on the highway.
  • When the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a Section 404 permit to allow filling of wetlands within the project corridor, they indicated an impact to only 4.97 acres. Its been obvious all summer that there are more acres than this present at the bottoms, based on the occurrence of water, wetland plants and waterbirds. Another agency document indicated about 20 acres would be filled, but this meant nothing in the review process.
  • Since project developers are required to mitigate for filling jurisdictional wetlands, they selected a tract of land near Oreapolis, in northern Cass County. The choice is absurd, as water conditions are only vaguely similar, and the site is adjacent to a two-track railroad right-of-way. Neither birds nor birders prefer a site regularly assaulted by the noise of passing trains.
  • Across the Missouri River in Iowa, and west of Glenwood, the pending highway will bisect the St. Marys Bend mitigation site acquired by the Corps of Engineers to provide wildlife habitat. The IDOT did purchase some acres to replace the land upon which the highway will be built, but the natural value of the entire site will be lessened by a noisy highway predominant across the floodplain.

From a birder's perspective, each of the agencies involved with the environmental review for this project no longer have any credibility to prepare an adequate review that with suitably considerations impacts on natural features important to a myriad of birds and other critters.

The prevalent intent for the La Platte Bottoms, as expressed by numerous project proponents is to establish commercial and industrial development on approximately 3000 acres near the highway and interchange; i.e. secondary impacts which are also supposed to be considered, but were not. Look at 27th Street and Interstate 80, north of Lincoln to get an indication of what most of the project proponents hope for, at the expense of most natural features.

What might the breeding birds expect in 2011? It will probably be construction equipment, constant disturbance and dirt filling their former homes. There is nothing to indicate that any of the ephemeral water habitat at the bottoms will be conserved for birds. Though the Corps of Engineers has spent tens of millions of dollars to establish mitigation habitat for wildlife along the Missouri River, an area which could be kept as it is, at basically no expense, will soon be destroyed so people can more easily drive somewhere.

Correct, yet improper, decisions have been made by numerous public officials in association with the project. Any decisions which ignored prominent information, are decisions which are completely wrong.

The information I've been able to review indicates a prevalent bias for development, with an obvious disregard of a unique wetland resource which so many birds find valuable. If birds could indicate their view, they would obviously express a dirge of mourning.

If you'd like to appreciate the wonder of birdlife about the La Platte Bottoms, get there now as the place will soon be ravaged by development.

This was an editorial in the Bellevue Leader, and as published September 1st, on page A4.

01 September 2010

August Finale at Martin Mecca Midtown

The numbers of Purple Martins is waning at their midtown mecca now that the final - though still hot - days of summer are finally ending. Impressive numbers of martins still abound, but the great spectacle of the evening is a spectacle which should be appreciated, sooner rather than later.

Swarming Purple Martins at the roost in midtown Omaha; August 24, 2010.

Morning Visit an Individual Experience

View times of the past weekend, started with a morning visit on August 26th. There was just a low chatter upon arriving at the roost at 5:30 a.m., with little or no birdly action. Only occasionally did a martin fly a few feet to a different spot on a different branch of one of the green ash trees.

As the nearby electronic clock shown time was ticking closer to 6 a.m., the chatter increased until it finally was loud enough to mask the din of the relatively few vehicles moving about at this time. Shortly past 6, the first bunch of martins took flight.

In the morning, the bird's behavior is completely different than in the evening. There are no swarms in the skies similar to when the martins gather, and thus, none of the aerial acrobatics. Instead, the birds are intent on leaving the roost, and getting to their day's haven.

The flight is like a changing river of birds through the air. They head straight north along 44th street, flying beneath the upper floors of the hospital buildings, and just over the top of the parking garage on the northeast corner of the intersection at Farnam Street. If a person stretched out an arm at the right time, it would be an obstacle. Some of the birds are just a few feet distant, with others within a half-block to the west, and everyone of them winging away.

A morning show by the martins is a completely different event, and a joy as experienced in a pure manner with just one man present and experiencing the a.m. flight of these grand birds. The only other people around were trudging their way to their job on the medical center campus.

Martins streamed past, flying just above the treetops and away, for about 30 minutes, with the vast majority gone by 6:30 p.m.

Nearly all the martins were gone before the sun had even started its climb above the eastern horizon.

Evening Spectacular

In the local newspaper, also on Thursday, dedicated martin reporter Nancy Gaarder had a brief, but essential article about the martins swarming at the roost.

A relatively huge crowd of bird watchers gathered in the evening because of the announcement. In looking around, they were in the parking lot east of the Kiewit building. To the east a few gathered at the bus stop bench. On the south side of Farnam Street, the viewers were lounging - at least until the bird action got underway - on the lawn of the J.P. Lord School, with its steps the most used martin place in Omaha. Some more newly aware martin aficionados were also in this buildings parking lot. Then going eastward, a well-aware few were at the corner of Kiewit Tower. Not to be forgotten, were cars and martins fans in the purple parking lot, on the east side of the Clarkson Building South, the "official" parking lot as graciously provided by the Nebraska Medical Center.

Martin watchers on August 26, 2010.

In a manner somewhat less difficult than counting the gathered martins, there were about 150 watchers. Some of them brought lawn chairs. Others used a blanket thrown onto the grass knoll. The rest found some other suitable place to watch.

As for the martins, multiply the human crowd by about 465, and that is the number of birds whose antics were visibly enjoyed, with a whole bunch of pertinent comments effused.

With the excitement - viewed at no cost - provided by the flock of martins, the crowds continued to be impressive, and endured through the weekend.

On Friday and Saturday evenings, there were at least 165 observers. Justin Rink, the recognized martin ambassador, moved around the school lawn, ready to answer questions, inquiring if people were newbies, indicating the difference between the early arriving starling and Common Grackles in comparison to the main attraction, and indicating the martin swarms overhead off in one direction or another. Once in a while he would provide the standard quip on how the birds are counted. This answer always causes a perplexing look in response, and which can be heard only by being at the roost, at the right place.

Saturday evening (August 28th) the show was an especially grand sight. The martins obviously acted differently and gave a grand performance which was dramatically different that what had been seen on the past few evenings. It was as if they knew it was a Saturday night, and the right time to make it a special performance, suited to the weekend.

Martin watchers at the midtown martin mecca, August 28, 2010.

When the birds are most prevalent, as they are finally gathering among the ash trees, it is quite a sight to see so many people with their head pointed back and intently watching the sky above ... in complete awe and pleasure.

The response of the crowd was obvious. A highlight is that it has been a family time. There have been a fine number of kids present, with a few tykes sporting binoculars to get their focused look at the sky.

Sunday evening, there were about 150 watchers. There were also fewer martins, with at least a 20% decrease in the overall count. The number still present now - in 2009 - still surpasses the greatest number seen in 2008, so the show continues to be distinctly impressive and a wonder for anyone to enjoy.

Numbers remained about the same, with about 50 watchers present on Monday evening, before the storm.

Martin Ambassador

Another crowd - ca. 125 - gathered on Monday evening, including a particular bunch who thought the bird gathering would be a fine time for a field trip. Boy Scout troops 42 and 365 arrived in small groups, but were eventually a large part of the crowd. The martin ambassador - Justin Rink - with a bit of a nudge, went over to convey details of the birds. His shined in his ambassadorial role on the lawn along Farnam Street, as he provided accurate answers to question-after-question from the gathering of young men, used hand gestures to visibly convey flight antics of the martins, and explained other facets of natural history, with an expressive flair which added so much to the bird-watching experience for the scouts. Justin Rink, M.A. - that would be "Martin Ambassador" - should get some recognition for his continued effort to explain, evening after evening, the basics of the gathering to a crowd of diversity, present night- after-night at the midtown roost. He's answered many of the same questions, time-after-time, explaining martin essentials to people, allowing them to end their night feeling more knowledgeable about martins and birdlife in general. His effort is more than commendable and deserving of recognition.

Elsewhere on the scene, there was a couple from New York state, which took the opportunity to see the gathered martins while visiting friends in the metro area. Many others - of unknown provenance, but obviously from different neighborhoods - congregated in the usual spots.

Monday evening was muggy again, with notable winds, certainly representative of late summer time. There was less of a show by the martins, but the expressive comments could still be heard as people effused about what is actually a normal situation; but that would be for only a small cadre of dedicated observers.

August's End

As August closes its tenure this year, the spectacle of the martins remain a superlative of the season. There are so many memories for those whom have taken the time to experience this great natural wonder.

More memories will occur, and be shared as recollections by people from near and far.

As it has been said before, this event is best experienced, and truly appreciated, based upon a personal view while sitting on the grass beneath the birds of Omaha's midtown sky.

Swarming Purple Martins at the roost in midtown Omaha; September 2, 2010.