03 October 2010

Birds Not Considered in Carter Lake Renovation

When the 300 acres of Carter Lake were renovated, bird use of the oxbow lake was not considered in any manner, according to several comments from a state agency involved in the project.

"Birds aren't a concern," said a manager of the fisheries District 5 in Nebraska involved with the project, when asked to convey a view of how the renovation of Carter Lake - basically to remove fish - as it occurred on Monday, September 27th, would influence bird use of the lake.

There were 84 barrels - each comprising 30 gallons - of the chemical Rotenone spread across the waters of the lake, a Missouri River oxbow. The fish-kill project involved the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

"Birds will go elsewhere where food is available," according to the three fisheries men of the Nebraska agency whom were asked about this project, each of them indicating there were other nearby places where the birds could find food. Specific localities mentioned included Desoto Lake at the federal wildlife refuge northward on the Missouri River, Lake Manawa to the southeast in Iowa, and some other local reservoirs, such as Zorinsky Lake.

Comments heard from the Nebraska representatives of the two natural resource agencies involved in this project, included a common theme ... "birds will go elsewhere where food is available." The several guys talked to also said that the best time to do the water treatment was in the autumn, since it was a good time to schedule the people needed. It was also, a time "agreeable to the people living on the lake." And they all referred to the public meetings where this particular item was never mentioned, at least four Nebraska fisheries personnel said.

It sounded like a mantra, after it was heard again and again.

The treatment of the lake at the end of September, 2010, will basically make the lake unsuitable for fish-eating - piscivore - birds, as there will not be any forage fish for about a year.

From a birds' perspective, it would seem obvious that any agency people - as they are the "professionals" responsible for evaluating the project and its impacts - would consider all aspects of a particular project.

Particular species to consider, are those which have been present historically and utilized the food resources of this oxbow lake of the Missouri River. These include the following species: American Coot, Bald Eagle, Belted Kingfisher, Bonaparte's Gull, California Gull, Common Loon, Common Merganser, Double-crested Cormorant, Forster's Tern, Glaucous Gull, Herring Gull, Hooded Merganser, Horned Grebe, Osprey, Pied-billed Grebe, Red-breasted Merganser, Redhead, Ring-billed Gull, Thayer's Gull and Western Grebe.

Each of these species rely on an available resource of fish or would scavenge upon this sort of food resource. Yet this aspect of the renovation effort was not considered in any manner, based on repeated comments from staff of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, both in Lincoln and onsite at the north shore of Carter Lake.

If the treatment was scheduled for a different time - most obviously in latter spring 2011 - this situation could have been avoided. The unwanted fish could have been removed in early April, and newly stocked fish could have been out in place in latter May, with the potential to breed, with small fish fry present by summer and readily present by autumn. The forage-fish resource would have continued without interruption, which is completely different from the situation which will now occur with a fish kill in late September.

With the complete dearth of fish in Carter Lake for the current autumn season, through the winter, during spring, and onward into the summer, the birds will certainly have to go elsewhere. There will be no small fish for different species of mergansers to dive for and catch.

The Belted Kingfisher heard on the morning following the chemical treatment, will have to go elsewhere to forage for a suitably sized fish to eat.

This will be a common feature for the birds which have found Carter Lake to be a suitable haven in the past, which will not be the situation for many of them in the coming months.

On the morning following the treatment of the lake, there were at least 20 people present from the Iowa DNR. During an early-morning visit on Tuesday, the NGPC fisheries people had not yet arrived, and they would add to the days tally of people working to remove the dead fish, mostly buffalohead carp and bullhead. There were very few "game fish" such as Bass and Crappie which were fatalities of the chemical treatment. Nothing was heard about any Catfish.

Fish to be stocked in the lake will be bass (measuring 6-8 inches), catfish (8-10") and bluegill (2-4").

There are additional changes expected to occur at Carter Lake, which occurs in both Nebraska and Iowa.

The Omaha Parks and Recreation Department has applied for a 2011 grant from the Nebraska Environmental Trust, to continue the effort the lake improvement project at Carter Lake. The application requests about $900,000 which would be used for another alum treatment of the lake, and to stabilize the lake shore, which would basically involve placing rip-rap along the shore.

Though improving the lake waters by removing "rough fish" will improve water quality, and eventually be beneficially for various water reliant birds, the project could have - yet was not - done in a manner which basically involved timing, to ensure that there would not be any negative impacts to a variety of migratory birds.

A Meadowlark a Significant Sighting at Carter Lake

Whilst looking at the multitude of dead fish lingering on the north shore of Carter Lake, a meadowlark was readily seen flying about as it was foraging on the short-shorn grass. It was most likely an eastern variety of the species. There was no question that it was this species, which is more typically seen in a grassland situation. There was no mistaking the characteristics of this species on the grass, and its prominent white-colored tail feathers.

It has been too long since one of these larks has been seen, so it was a time of appreciation which was not lessened in any manner by the odor of a multitude of dead fish on the nearby shore of the lake.

This observation the afternoon of October 2nd, is significant because there has not been a meadowlark noted for this locality since March 21, 1929 when three were seen, according to a note in the Letters of Information of the Nebraska Ornithologists' Union.

The observation is an indication of those unexpected sightings which can occur while looking about and keeping track of what is observed. The late-afternoon, Saturday outing occurred to see if a bunch of birds were about because of the dead fish present due to the lake renovation which occurred a few days earlier. Seeing a meadowlark was a special treat and indicative of the unexpected occurrence of birds since they can be present at a place suited to their nature.

Watching the lark flit about was a pleasure of the day in an urban setting which the bird did not care about in any manner as it was there, near the shore of the lake.

What a surprising thrill!