21 October 2010

Weekly Activities - October at Crescent Lake NWR

Refuge week 2010 has come and gone at Crescent Lake NWR located among the grassy, rolling dunes south of Ellsworth, in western Nebraska.

A highlight of the week - though there were not any particular activities for the "official" event - was the passing of migratory Sandhill Cranes, flying southward, as noted by Marlin French, a refuge biologist working on surveys of the vegetation. The evaluations indicate habitat conditions, and the plant cover available for different species of animals.

"We are in the second year of a wet cycle," French said, "and there is now more vegetative growth on the refuge in comparison to dry seasons."

At the 45,849 acre Crescent Lake refuge, the prairie setting is managed for grassland species, with prescribed fire and grazing two of the most essential and important methods of management.

"Our goal is to increase forb and insect diversity," French said, which are beneficial to the animals of the sand hills' grasslands on the refuge.

The numbers of wetland birds has been greater in the past two season, French said, noting that the number of Sora and Virginia Rail have been more pervasive. On the dry prairie areas, there have been fewer Horned Larks due to more vegetative cover.

Trends in bird occurrence are determined by annual point counts and nest surveys. These counts have been done for many years, and indicate a relative status for the species present.

Smith Lake has been especially notable for colonial nesting birds, including the White-faced Ibis, Black-crowned Night-Heron and Cattle Egret, with the Great Blue Heron also a notable breeding species.

There are also the Barn Owls, with the refuge having a local population. Its occurrence obviously benefits from the 24 nest boxes maintained by refuge staff. About 90 birds are produced each season, French said.

A cycle of the season continues at the refuge, which has been recognized for the local avifauna since the early days in the 1880s when ranchers ran livestock, and visiting shootists periodically hunted waterfowl. Prominent in those times were Miles Maryott and Sandy Griswold.

Not recognized during the few days of a week, yet always prominent at the federal refuge, are the generations of fowl, resident or migratory, for which the refuge is managed.

The peak in the local Sandhill Crane season is expected soon in this area of the sand hills. These big birds and a myriad of others continue their use of the hills' habitats which refuge staff closely consider in order to manage for the benefit of birds and other fauna.

There will soon be another week at the refuge and the cycle will continue, as it has for decade by the Fish and Wildlife Service staff, and prior to that by others whom had an influence on the lakes and land in this portion of the western sandhills.