30 December 2011

Bird-Mortality Coverup in Wind Turbine Industry

Biologist Jim Wiegand was asked by someone "involved with Nationwide Group trying to get some regulations put in place on this runaway industry. They wanted my input because I am an expert on the subject and a wildlife biologist." Wiegand will be providing further details on particular points addressed in his comments. The following are his comments, given as received via email.

Changes needed to put an end to the bird mortality cover-up from the currently unregulated activities of the wind industry. Below is a list of the nationwide changes needed.

1) First and foremost a new agency should be formed to oversee the wind industry and enforce regulations. This is needed because the Department of Interior, BLM, USFWS, State Wildlife Departments, and every State Energy Commission have demonstrated for 28 years an inability to govern or even acknowledge the true impacts caused by this industry. These agencies are so hopelessly dysfunctional that creation of a new governing body would be the quickest way to remedy the problem. This agency would acknowledge the true limitations of wind energy to fulfill the energy needs of America and also be given authority over State Renewable Energy Portfolios.

2) Researchers should have total unencumbered access at every project. Access by wind personnel or any other party should be reported to and cleared by the research team before entering a study area. This will stop workers from sweeping through the turbines to pick up bodies ahead of researchers. It will also stop other activities such as farmers/lease holders from deliberately tilling or mowing the ground around turbines ahead of researchers.

3) The wind industry with their clear history of fraud and profit bias should have no say or control over any mortality studies. They presently have total control as they have for decades.

4) Hiding bodies from wind projects by wind personnel, lease holders, researchers or for that matter, by anyone, should be a felony. This has been an ongoing practice of the industry since the 1980's and it must be stopped.

5) Mortality studies with adequate search areas should be conducted on 24-48 hour cycles and include first year of project operation. The first year of operation is when the highest number of local species are killed off. Why the needed 24-48 hour cycle, I will explained in detail at a later time later. Undersized mortality search areas are one of the wind industry ploy to minimize keep birds and bat mortality numbers.

6) There should be a moratorium all wind farm development until wind mortality impacts can be properly assessed. At this time the cumulative impacts to birds can never be understood because of the body of flawed mortality studies, flawed data analysis, and decades long wind industry mortality cover-up. Some cumulative impact analysis has been generated by the industry but this has been nothing more than rehashing previously generated bogus mortality data for a desired outcome.

7) Wind farm mortality should not be assessed by MW but instead by rotor sweep area, and by kill/speed/ hours (KSH) which would represent the wind turbine hours in operation while rotating at kill speeds(60-250 mph tip speed). These figures should then be analyzed in conjunction with a habitat placement factor. Rotor sweep, tip speed and turbine placement are the primary wind turbine factors that slaughter our birds.

8) It is time for the scientific community to take an honest look at Altamont Pass to identify the true impacts from the propeller style wind turbine. An accurate raptor survey is badly needed taking into account the numbers of, or lack of, permanent raptors living in the habitat in and around the wind turbines of Altamont Pass. Instead of just counting bodies under the turbines there needs to be a meaningful raptor nest inventory and study that looks at the actual ongoing impacts to the populations living in the Altamont Pass region. I guarantee that with an honest study, the 59 pairs on nesting golden eagles once claimed (a wind industry generated report) to be living within a 19 mile radius of this wind farm, will not be found. I also suspect that any study area of several hundred square miles would clearly show more raptors residing per square mile in similar habitat the further away one gets from Altamont Pass. It is my understanding that no eagles have nested in the 86 square mile region of Altamont pass for over 20 years even though this is prime golden eagle habitat. How much further does this void extend? This is the most critical information needed from Altamont pass or and it has been deliberately avoided.

9) Sensitive impact sensors should be placed in the hub of each turbine. They should be foolproof and encased in a black box so to speak so the can not be tampered with by wind industry personnel. If these were put in place the world would be astounded by the numbers accumulated.

10) Despite objections from the industry, the use of trained dogs and video surveillance would not only save time but also greatly enhance researcher efforts. The use of dogs would also make it more difficult for wind personnel to hide or dispose of bodies.

11) All gag or nondisclosure clauses written into wind industry contracts between lease holders, researchers and all wildlife groups should be eliminated.

12) There is a worldwide environmental crisis developing from the propeller style wind turbine. There have been dire warnings issued to State and Federal energy commissions of the coming population crash of birds and bats across the world from the mortality caused by the installation propeller style wind turbines. Government agencies need to start telling the truth and put into place an aggressive alternative wind turbine design program because there is no way to ever make these turbines safe for birds and bats.

A Carter Lake Birder's Christmas Story

It was the day before Christmas on another visit to Carter lake, where a big bunch of fowl swan upon some water, all free of ice.

The weather was fine and not too cold, which made a day's outing via bicycle not even quite bold.

Pedal by pushed pedal — one after another with more or less of a delay — one birder made his way, along the trail in the east Omaha park where temperate winter conditions held sway. Juncos or starling and other songbirds — including woodpeckers — were few, but soon the fowl gathering could be seen without any doubt, prominent further along the lakeside route.

Fowl of several sorts swan about with glee, on the small portion of water which was ice-free. It was a suitable haven, which any visiting bird watcher could readily see.

There were grebes and an abundance of geese. Coots and canvasbacks continued to as they had for many previous days; mallards and goldeneye among the ruddys and redheads. And not to be forgotten were the other sorts of ducks, including a few ring-necked and scaup and many more shovelers stopped along their way.

At a park point one bird-watcher sat, eyeing the waterfowl with a gaze intent like an owl. Binoculars and out-dated field guides were his tools, and if anyone might think he was not bird-watching, they would certainly be a fool.

Floyd sat in the sun watching bird behavior, during one stop along his day's walk, a route which usually did not waver. The park and its birds were there to enjoy, away from the shelter with people and noise.

Another birder came and sat nearby, asking upon arrival: "Have you seen anything exciting?"

"Not really," was the apparently slow reply. The two birdmen continued to gaze upon the lake scene, but did strike up an active dialogue about birds and their ways.

Have you seen any grebes? Did you notice the ring-necked ducks, with their multi-color bills? The large and distinct Canvasbacks are surely a joy, as mild weather has kept them around. Some diminutive Pied-billed Grebes continue to be present though late in the season, diving for food at the lake, recently renovated. On this day there were no small geese.

The tally for the day was similar to the notations of previous days. Numbers changed but the species of lake fowl remained the same.

Unseasonal golfers at shore of Carter Lake.

For the new watcher of birds, his route followed a regular routine ... from the Omaha riverfront, to Freedom Park and onward to Carter Lake's edge, then back to North Downtown. He had only been birding about a year. Bird watching was a pastime away from the noise and crowd of somewhere else, and important in a day's routine. Sitting lakeside was a preferred way to wile away some hours.

Upon inquiry, Floyd said he would walk further about the park, visiting the north pond to see if cardinals or other birdlife was about, or if some juncos or sparrows might be heard without doubt.

After counting the fowl in the usual way, the cyclist left to ride further for this particular day. A visit to Adams Park held sway.

Three days after Christmas — a mid-day Wednesday — the cyclists route once again went along the urban lake, derived from an interest in the lake's fowl that could not be slaked. Few song birds there were, but the waterfowl numbers were still quite fine.

Weather was temperate for late December, languid under mostly clear skies, with comfortable temps, nearly in the fifties.

After some time of bicycle riding, into view came a few acres of water that continued to be a fowl's haven, enjoyed by two guys, with one a bird maven.

Coots swam about and fed in a spree. Newly arrived Cackling Goose could be heard and readily seen. An adult Bald Eagle sat on the ice, feeding on a carcass for which it was not nice. Many other waterbirds were gathered on the lake, with its available features they did partake.

The setting was quite serene, until there came there come some disturbance upon the scene.

Up on the shore, there rose with a clatter, a bunch of Canada geese leaving, having been made to scatter as some walkers did not consider how their presence might matter. In the blue they did fly, soon landing back on the lake, after settling from the sky

On these warm days, some people came with their own intentions, creating a vivid disturbance which established a setting which was not quite the same as normal. Dogs not on a leash wildly ran around, causing great disturbance to the grazing geese, apparent in the scape sound. An ignorant with a cell phone clicked away, and then walked to the swings.

The result of the intruders was quite obvious, though the people which caused the situation where oblivious.

Into the air flew many ducks and the geese, which had formerly been resting with ease. For one bird watcher trying to conduct a count, it was a situation which did not please.

Suddenly due to two foreign-looking men at the beach, the biggest disturbance of all they did breach. A motor-driven boat they brought to the water, was a dramatic disturbance to the fowl, and the species did not matter.

Away flew the geese. Gadwall and others did flee, wanting a place that was much more serene. A nice view of the ducks the two birders could no longer see.

The troubling play motorboat and operators at Carter Lake, December 28, 2011.

The troubling play motorboat — as intentionally operated — bothering Canada geese Carter Lake, December 28, 2011.

Into action one birder did go — after a quick quip of a certain sort — to confront the cause of the matter. With quick pedals for a relative short distance, a confrontation with two guys with a subdued yet certain stance.

Words were spoken back and forth. Why bother the birds? There is no law against having a boat! Though from the birders perspective that perhaps should be left for a vote. The remote-control boat was harassing the fauna, an act in violation of federal laws. They pulled the toy from the water's edge, after senseless words of protest, even asking if pictures had been taken. This particular item was not an action unforsaken. They drove away in a white pickup truck with Nebraska plates, their departure closely watched with intent. Perhaps they will consider there actions henceforth, as they probably do not want to contend with enforcers of law of a federal sort, with results they might lament.

A subsequent few moment later — after one birder inquired why a dog was not on its leash and should enforcers be called — a quiet time among the Browne Street Woods thence followed. The brushy habitat this day conveyed only one bright red cardinal of an appreciated sort.

At the east edge of the park pond, the bird men convened once again, to talk in an obtuse way about what had happened. The bigger interest was about owl pellets and what they convey. Well, that would depend, one of the two did say. A pellet might convey a history of bones, but more especially if there are many, rather than one alone. The object was found beneath some small lakeside trees, eastward of the park's so-called meadow in the making.

A jawbone could indicate a mammal's id, but a group would indicate the species eaten, you would be able to see. Break apart the pellets for further study, to convey an owl's preference to eat. Considerations of the contents of owl pellets are a regular feature of birder studies.

During the interlude, some few details about Floyd were derived, before the cyclist continued on the day's ride. A homeless man, he lived in a shelter. Suggestions were provided where he might learn more about local birds or perhaps ask questions, using online resources available the public library. Learn and share were options which could not compare.

After the cyclist left the lake, the route continued to a park with a lagoon.

At Fontenelle Park, there were hundreds of Canada goose gathered about. They have a preference for this place, without a doubt. During a walk-around, they were all attentive, expressing their view with many a sound. Only a few flew into the air, flying and landing with their typical flair.

After a count of the gathered birds, the birder departed after using an available stick to remove remnants of droppings spread across the grass. The green stuff stuck to the bike's tires.

While pedaling south along the boulevard, thoughts of a possible holiday giving did not go away.

Further on, the thought was unknowingly expressed by some young man walking by the street, who say a sight.

"Hello Santa," he loudly expressed to a red-coat-clad, bearded bicyclist riding along the sidewalk. The situation was obvious, and was continued on this Wednesday evening.

After supper in a warm, safe place, and following a phone call, an indirect drive — in a car rather than upon a bicycle — was made to the shelter on Nicholas Street, at 17th.

Where was Floyd? Last name not known.

Go to that building across the street, with a helpful worker pointing the way.

At the desk, the inquiry was: Is Floyd here, the guy with a beard that likes to look at birds?

"He's doing laundry." After some minutes when Floyd arrived, it was not the right man. He was too tall with and without enough beard.

Another inquiry meant a walk through the dining room, each table completely full on this winter's night in December. A worker sort of knew a Floyd but he was not the right man.

After looking further, someone seemed appropriate but his name was not Floyd, after being asked.

Just about when it seemed time to leave the maelstrom of mostly men seeking a warm respite for another winter's night, the right Floyd came down the hall, obvious in his green-colored stocking cap and recognizable day's attire. It was certainly one of the birdmen of Carter Lake.

After a brief hello, he was given the items gathered to give as a holiday present, primarily a current bird guide issued by the Smithsonian, preferable to the 1960s and 1970s versions he'd been using. Another book about long-gone birds with feathers was also presented, along with three readily available copies of a book about the birds of the untamed west, as presented for Nebraska.

Some cash, provided by a sister and mother, was also included, and mutely appreciated.

In the new year of 2012, the two bird men might meet again in a subtle, shared bond of interest in the fowl splendors of Carter Lake! Whatever, the essence of this lake has been established with no uncertain certitude.

The preeminence of the Sandy Griswold Bird Sanctuary continues, as represented by bird enthusiasts on the shore of Carter Lake during the end of December, 2011.

Herrick a Prominent Bird Enthusiast in mid-1880s Vermont

Francis H. Herrick was living in Burlington, Vermont and working at the Rock Point Institute when his series on the fauna of Vermont began in the Burlington Free Press newspaper.

Francis Herrick,
from the Chautaquan, volume 35.

The paper editor, G.G. Benedict noted Herrick's credentials, indicating articles in Scientific American and other publications had "given him a wide reputation." The editor's introduction issued in the April 27, 1883 edition also stated:

"We have gone to large expense in procuring these articles, but we are sure that we will be well repaid in the increased attractiveness and value of our paper. We commend the series to the attention of our readers as well worthy of perusal and of permanent preservation."

A series on flora by George H. Perkins, Harvard Professor of Natural History at the University of Vermont, was also started at the same time.

The fauna columns were primarily limited to birds as a specific topic, though they obviously could have covered a greater variety of animal types. During some of the prose about an outing, rabbits or squirrels and flora may have gotten a brief mention.

This series is important for its breadth of subjects for the period when it was published, and for providing a well-presented personal perspective. The columns also use archaic bird names characteristic of the era.

The newspaper issues - in a digital format - are available in their entirety at the Chronicling America website.

When a particular species was referred to within a title for a section of a column, the scientific name was included, though these are not included in the following column details. Notable in the written is the standard to refer to everyone in the masculine sense, as there was little attention given to bird watching as a pastime for anyone of either gender.

The Fauna of Vermont

I. Studies in natural history - introduction. The bluebird. April 27, 1883. Burlington Free Press 56(43): 2.

The bluebird was the first species to receive particular attention by Herrick. He noted they arrived at the end of March as the "true usher of Spring" and said: "In the bluebird the earth and sky meet." Then expressed was lore of their natural history, including their having two-three broods a season, and dislike for wrens and martins. Early settlers called this bird "blue robins." Spring arrival date for several species' ends the column, and are records helpful for bird phenology during this historic period.

II. The robin. May 4, 1883. Burlington Free Press 56(44): 2.

First noted at Burlington on March 30th, "it is a bright spring day when the robin comes." It is "unpopular with many ignorant agriculturalists, because he makes a raid on cherries and small berries." Some are slaughtered for eating.

III. The song sparrow. The cow-bunting. The pewit flycatcher. May 11, 1883. Burlington Free Press 56(45): 2.

Each of these were abundant to common in the area. This rhyme was included with the song sparrow section:

"The sky is warm, the air is clear.
"The prince of spring is listing near,
"Anon the northeast the pine,
"And 'works of men' begin to shine
"With that prophetic light. The day
"Is ushered by the bluebird's lay,
"The sparrow adds his changes sweet,
"And earth and sky seem now to meet."

For the cowbird, Herrick noted that the nest of this species had not yet been discovered, and whether they ever had or "will ever do so is a mere matter of conjecture." A discussion of its laying eggs in nests of other birds is then discussed.

A relative few words were given about the phoebe.

IV. The return of the birds. The flicker. Other nest-carvers. May 18, 1883. Burlington Free Press 56(46): 6.

Spring is the "annual awakening of life in spring," and Herrick wrote poetically about the change of the season.

A variety of names were given for the flicker, including hittock, yucker, yarrup, high-hole and others derived from its coloration, habits or calls. Brief notes are given for the downy woodpecker and other species typical in the region.

This column also ended with arrival dates, listing twenty-five species, and given to "serve as a general guide to those who are watching the mysterious movements of the birds"... .

V. The revolving seasons. The blackbirds. The purple grackle. Red-winged blackbird. The rusty grackle. May 25, 1883. Burlington Free Press 56(47): 6.

As the season changes, a New Englander could from a "window or field" may "watch the procession as it slowly crosses the stage." Continuing, Herrick wrote: "The scenes are constantly shifting and new players coming to the front." He then presents a concise view of the weeks.

Accounts for the blackbirds summarize their local habits, including a study of numerous red-winged blackbird nests at a swamp in nearby Lake Champlain during the previous breeding season.

VI. The belted kingfisher. The loon. The red-throated diver. June 1, 1883. Burlington Free Press 56(48): 3.

General notes on habits were given for these three species.

VII. Bird haunts. The thrushes. The veery. The hermit thrush. The olive-backed thrush. The mocking-bird. Oven-bird. June 8, 1883. Burlington Free Press 56(49): 6.

Someone had inquired about where to look for birds, so some briefs comments were given on local, interesting habitats. "June is the month in which the student of ornithology will reap his richest harvest," Herrick wrote.

Brief notes were given on the local thrushes and mockingbird.

Spring arrival date for sixteen additional species ended this column.

VIII. The catbird. Brown thrush. The goat-suckers. The night-hawk. June 15, 1883. Burlington Free Press 56(50): 6.

The catbird was a "parodist" that occupied a "conspicuous place in the rural life of New England." The brown thrasher was a "welcome tenant of the early morning saluting the day, or offering his love song at evening."

The common nighthawk and whip-poor-will were the two representative goatsuckers.

IX. A good season for the birds. The whippoorwill. June 29, 1883. Burlington Free Press 56(52): 7.

The season had "proved exceptionally favorable to bird-life" according to this column. The whip-poor-will was discussed in this installment.

X. Ruby-crowned kinglet. Chipping-sparrow. Purple grosbeak. Indigo-bird. Scarlet tanager. July 13, 1883. Burlington Free Press 57(2): 3.

A few paragraphs were written about each species.

XI. The flycatchers. Kingbird. Wood pewee. Least flycatcher. Great-crested flycatcher. Traill's. Olive-sided flycatcher. July 27, 1883. Burlington Free Press 57(4): 2.

Short notes on the habits of these bug-eating birds. Only a few words were written about the olive-sided flycatcher.

XII. Bird-flights. The swallows. The martin. Barn swallow. Eave swallow. Sand martin. Purple martin. August 3, 1883. Burlington Free Press 57(5): 3.

This is one column which discussed a mammal, the bat with its "tumbling flight."

The swallows - with five species in Vermont - were noted for the "untold benefit they confer to agriculture," and that they "form a feature in the landscape which none of the feathered tribe could supply."

The martin was the "white-bellied" swallow. The barn swallow was abundant in the area. The eave swallow was an old-time name for the cliff swallow, with sand martin referring to the bank swallow. Purple martins were only "occasionally seen in small parties occupying an artificial house or cupola."

XIII. A double tragedy. The sparrows. Grass-finch. Savanna sparrow. Field-sparrow. Swamp-sparrow. Other sparrows. August 17, 1883. Burlington Free Press 57(7): 2.

The tragedy was a black snake caught in the midst of swallowing a sparrow. The reptile was slain by Herrick, certainly making it a double tragedy.

General notes of their natural habits was given for the seasonally resident species and four migratory congeners. Also mentioned was the non-native English Sparrow, first introduced in New England at Portland, Maine, with the refrain "going up all over the land: the Sparrow must be blotted out!"

XIV. Bird notes. Chimney swift. Humming-bird. The cuckoo. August 24, 1883. Burlington Free Press 57(8): 3.

After a general perspective on bird songs and calls, the swift was discussed. This "little winged stub" was noted as having formerly nested in old hollow trees, but developed a preference to human chimneys, despite the hazards of rain and smoke. A large hollow elm near Middlebury was "nightly tenanted by 'millions' of chimney 'swallows'" until it was "lopped off by the wind in 1791."

Verbiage on the hummer and cuckoo seemed to be a missive on the two species as derived from another bird book, as no unique or distinct features were mentioned.

XV. Birds' nests. American goldfinch. The vireos. Warbling vireo. Red-eye. September 7, 1883. Burlington Free Press 57(10): 3.

The distinctive character of nests for each species sums up the comments on this topic. General notations about the vireos.

XVI. Birds' eggs. The warblers. Summer warbler. Chestnut-sided warbler. Redstart. Maryland yellow-throat. September 21, 1883. Burlington Free Press 57(12): 2.

Coloration and size were discussed, apparently while viewing a collection of eggs from different species. Nests had been founded for the four particular species mentioned, and the features were presented.

XVII. The fall departure. American starlings. Bobolink. The oriole. Meadow-lark. October 3, 1883. Burlington Free Press 57(14): 2.

Autumn migration in the area would begin by the end of August, with the gathering of swallows a notable occurrence. None of the species discussed were true starlings, but at the time were considered to have similar characteristics sufficient to be grouped into a common category. Migration times and nesting lore were presented for the readers to consider.

XVIII. Egg suckers. American crow. November 9, 1883. Burlington Free Press 57(19): 5.

Egg suckers referred to predators. The crow, with its air both of antiquity and mystery" had its dialect, behavior, nesting and other habits well presented in a short format.

XIX. Shifting the scenes. Autumnal pictures. The hen of the woods. November 16, 1883. Burlington Free Press 57(20): 5.

Seasonal migration was a time of change, and "autumnal pictures" were presented for an outing on August 21, September 16 and 30 and October 15. The ruffed grouse was the hen of the woods, the "favorite gamebird of Northern New England." Notes on its natural history as observed in October and early one May were included.

XX. The features of fall. Cedar-birds. Bohemian waxwing. November 30, 1883. Burlington Free Press 57(22): 4. Number 20.

Views from outdoor jaunts were used to present perspectives of the season, including a brief mention of the golden-crowned kinglet and brown creeper.

A monthly view for the cedar waxwing was conveyed. Winter notes for the larger waxwing were given, along with notes on its plumage and behavior.

XXI. November notes. A sure sign. The duck. The dusky duck. The sheldrake. Vermont water fowl. January 25, 1884. Burlington Free Press 57(30): 2.

Notes for the "battle-ground" of winter and fall. A poetic presentation of an outing on the 3rd was a good part of this week's column. The sure sign of the cold times were the arrival of flocks of the Canada goose. Ducks also readily convey the changing seasons.

Sheldrake is another archaic name, referring to the merganser.

A summary list of twenty species of waterfowl were those typical to the state, but only about "one-half" of the species noted in the New England states.

XXII. November notes. I. II. Nature. III. Birds of prey. The hen-harrier. February 8, 1884. Burlington Free Press 57(32): 6.

The text of this column was very light, making it difficult to read, otherwise the many-lined rhyme given for the section on Nature would be included in its entirety.

Section III was an account of a days outing on the 10th of an undesignated month.

Brief notes on the two eagles, owls, the goshawk and northern harrier were written for the paper.

XXIII. The inroads of the cold. December days. The hearty snowbirds. The merry chickadee. Offended nature's revenge. February 29, 1884. Burlington Free Press 57(35): 1.

About the slow advance of winter and how the cold influences the occurrence of birdlife. This is primarily a free verse perspective of the season and exquisite tidbits of the birds enjoyed during crisp, outdoor jaunts.

XXIV. Winter waifs. The pine grosbeak. The nuthatches. March 7, 1884. Burlington Free Press 57(36): 2.

This article started with a paragraph describing the study of birds:

"The student of nature need never be idle. Each season reveals a new order, every day a new fact. But the secrets of nature are revealed in no sluggish sense. He must be ready to gather the hints dropped carelessly here and there, to improve the chance opportunity when it comes. There is the constant challenge to couple fact to fact, to bring the hidden to light."

The forest and fields about Burlington, provided many a varied scene to consider and describe. Sleet was even a suitable topic. The grosbeak was mentioned in the context of noting a flock, as were the white-breasted nuthatch and its diminutive cousin, the red-breasted nuthatch.

XXV. Snow tracery. The snow-flake, the red-poll, and the crossbill. March, 28, 1884. Burlington Free Press 57(39): 3.

Snowy New England meant a different palette upon which to place words of apt description. The snow-flake refers to the exquisitely colored snow bunting of the northlands, with the redpoll mentioned as the "waif from the boreal regions."

Both the red-billed and white-winged crossbills occurred, thought the latter only rarely.

XXVI. The glaciated landscape. Winter waifs. The impatient jay. April 11, 1884. Burlington Free Press 57(41): 2.

A brief discussion of the local land forms, was followed by an encore of attention to the chickadee, pine grosbeak, before getting to the raucous blue jay. The Canada jay was noted to occur in the mountainous region of northern New England.

XXVII. Bird fare. The case of the English sparrow. May 9, 1884. Burlington Free Press 57(45): 2. Number 27.

The primary topic issued from the writer's pen, was the feeding habits of birds, using a few species as examples.

Regarding the introduced English sparrow, Herrick mentions that the American Ornithologists' Union had issued circulars, "inquiring carefully" into the status of "this little wretch" with the moniker used in the column as given here, based upon the author's view of the species.

XXVIII. The gulls. The peet-weet. The rail of the marsh. Woodcock. June 13, 1884. Burlington Free Press 57(50): 8. Number 28.

The herring gull was the prominent species in the vicinity of Burlington, and the only one mentioned.

The peet-weet was the pectoral sandpiper. Rails known for the state were the sora and Virginia rail. Feeding and flight habits of the American woodcock were noted.

XXIX. Birds and their study. I. II. III. IV. Conclusion. June 20, 1884. Burlington Free Press 57(51): 5. Number 29.

The apparent end of this feature, provided an opportunity to convey a general perspective on nature and its close study. In New England, it "often runs to the very threshold of the towns, and a short journey in any direction will bring you to what is as good almost as the primitive woods."

"Nature is found to be everywhere a secret and retiring goddess, not to be wooed by forced marches over land and sea, who recedes the faster we advance, like the rainbow's arch.
"The study of birds opens up a new field, full of wonders and delights, to every intelligent person who has the eye to see. It is a perpetual source of profit alloyed with recreation. The more the student knows the more he wishes to learn, and nature has ever a surprise awaiting him at every step. It supplies a means of change from the real business of life, giving zest and an object to every step we take, to every hour spent in the open air, and the field of observation in nature can never be swept clean. There is always the chance of discovering something new, new at least to ourselves."

Further along in the words, Alexander Wilson is given credit as a pioneer of American ornithology. He went through New England twice, and had even visited Burlington on occasion, including during September, 1812.

"The student learns the characteristics of his feathered friends by degree."

In his conclusion, Herrick said the notes given in his columns were "largely the records of a year's experience with the birds." One of his goals, was to reproduce as best he could, "freshness" in his descriptions.

The series ended with a note that about two hundred species had been noticed in Vermont, and that a supplemental list had been prepared as a supplement. Perhaps this was available at the office of the Burlington Free Press.

His study of birds continued, and evolved with the methods available for their study. He eventually became a professor of Biology at Western Reserve University. In 1901, he was the author of "A New Method of Bird Study and Photography" which includes numerous pictures which he'd taken, including many of nesting birds.

Bird Records

There were nineteen articles which had specific details of bird occurrence, especially the date observed, mostly during 1883. A mention of the Pileated Woodpecker from the fall season, is the only one from 1881. There are four from 1882, with three from Lake George, in New York, south of Lake Champlain. Ten records correlate with 1884, as based on Herrick's details of days afield, primarily in February.

Among the 117 specific records, there were 106 with a specific date of occurrence.

Overall, there were 71 species represented, not including any mentions of generic sorts of birds such as ducks or woodpeckers. Specific types of woodpeckers were mentioned, but not for any particular date. Proper names in the following list have been updated to reflect modern taxonomy.

Species Noted in Herrick's Articles

Ruffed Grouse
Common Loon
Northern Harrier
Virginia Rail
American Woodcock
Spotted Sandpiper
Eastern Whip-poor-will
Chimney Swift
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Belted Kingfisher
Northern Flicker
Pileated Woodpecker
Eastern Phoebe
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Least Flycatcher
Eastern Kingbird
Great Crested Flycatcher
Warbling Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Bohemian Waxwing
Cedar Waxwing
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Bank Swallow
Purple Martin
Barn Swallow
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
House Wren
White-breasted Nuthatch
Gray Catbird
Eastern Bluebird
Veery
Swainson's Thrush
Hermit Thrush
American Robin
American Goldfinch
Common Redpoll
Purple Finch
Pine Grosbeak
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Blackpoll Warbler
Magnolia Warbler
Myrtle Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
American Redstart
Ovenbird
Common Yellowthroat
Canada Warbler
Brown-headed Cowbird
Red-winged Blackbird
Rusty Blackbird
Common Grackle
Bobolink
Fox Sparrow
Song Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
American Tree Sparrow
Chipping Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Vesper Sparrow
Eastern Towhee
Scarlet Tanager
Indigo Bunting

Ten species were noteable three times each. Forty-three were only mentioned once in a manner that provided a date of occurrence. Nearly fifty records were derived from the lists indicating spring arrival.

Herrick did effectively convey the magic of our feathered friends and captured an essence of observing their behavior in an appreciative manner, whenever seen in the birdly habitats of New England.

23 December 2011

Cherry County Group Facilitating Turbine Development

December 8, 2011. CCWEA working to facilitate turbine development into region. Grant Count News 127(18): 1, 4.

The recently established Cherry County Wind Energy Association is actively working to facilitate turbine facility development in the region.

A presentation - available online - as given by George Johnson at the Nebraska Wind Power 2011 Conference in Kearney on November 15-16, indicates this group was started in March 2010 after the Cherry County Commissioners asked several people to "develop policies to become the leading county in Nebraska for wind energy production."

The goals for the committee were to "encourage community based development that would maximize benefits for landowners, communities, and all residents of Cherry county by:

"Strengthening and broadening the tax base.
"Being mindful of our wildlife resources.
"Providing high quality employment
"Maintaining our quality of life.
"Growing our economy."

In July, 2011, the committee created the non-profit association to facilitate landowners being able to commit acres to the project, and to enact assessments to complete environmental studies and erect meteorological towers, according to Johnson's presentation.

The association would provide "collective bargaining power, local control of the project, increased cooperation on environmental studies and greater revenue potential for all involved," Johnson indicated.

A wind energy trust fund created would receive a nominal fee for each enrolled acre per year, with 50% going to the landowner if a turbine farm is established, 25% to the landsite, and 20% to other members. Five percent of all association revenues would go to the trust the following purposes, according to Johnson's presentation:

* "Funding infrastructure to support expansion of the workforce;
* "Educational and health care facilities;
* "Support and enhance the future economic well being of Cherry County; and
* "Help restore Cherry county after the life of the project."

Members of the Wind Advisory Committee are Johnson (chairman; operates a vinegary at Cody), Matt Coble (vice-chairman; in 2009, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development office assisted the Coble and Sons Ranch with a $14,725 grant through the Rural Energy for America Program to offset expenses for five Skystream wind turbines installed at the ranch in central Cherry County), Tom Cooper (treasurer), Adam Fischer (secretary), rancher Todd Adamson, Mike Burge, John Hansen (an employee of Turner Enterprises) and Gary Garvin.

Informational meetings for interested landowners were held November 21 at Valentine, and on the 22nd at Mullen.

Johnson, Coble and Adamson gave the presentation, Coble said. There "was strong interest in wind development," said Coble, noting that about 70 people attended at Valentine, and about 60-70 at Mullen.

The association hopes to have one million acres pledged for wind turbine development, though a lesser extent of acres is more likely, according to a group member. Cherry county spreads across about 3.8 million acres.

Thedford, Mullen and Hyannis are also within the rural region where economic development through wind turbine development "would be beneficial," Coble said.

"We are interested in economic development that will help sustain family farms and ranches," Adamson said.

The group hopes to receive membership enrollment forms back in December. A project manager would likely be hired in the future, Adamson noted in a phone call.

Transmission and Projects

Developing power from the wind within the county is dependent upon a sufficiently sized transmission line to distribute the generated electricity where the power could be used.

The Southwest Power Pool has proposed that a transmission line be built northward from Sutherland, and extend at least into the central sandhills. The Nebraska Public Power District has requested that the line be "moved into Cherry County," and then extend east to Hoskins in southwest Wayne County, and then south to Brownville, on the Missouri River.

Two turbines farms have already been proposed by Power Works Inc., for farm land near Valentine, according to information given on their website.

The "Galileo Wind Farm" would produce 105 megawatts, with the "Starry Night Wind Farm" rated at 47 megawatts. The number of turbines at each site is not indicated, but using turbines which generate three mw, there would be 35 at the Galileo site. The second site may use 1.6 mw turbines.

Ecological Considerations

A large portion of Cherry County has been classified as habitat sensitive to wind energy development, according to a map, updated on October 1, 2011, which shows an "an index of the sensitivity of wildlife habitats" as developed by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. More than half of the eastern portion of the county is indicated with a higher ranking of "relative sensitivity." More than half of the western portion of the county is also ranked, but with a lesser index value, according to the map for the entire state as prepared by the state agency.

Areas with a lesser extent of "sensitivity," occur along the western two-thirds of the county north of the Niobrara River to the South Dakota boundary, the western edge of the county, and a section from north of Thedford to north of Mullen along the southern portion of the county.

Particular siting concerns include the occurrence of wetlands including lakes, rivers and creeks, presence of protected species and their habitats, and potential impacts to migratory birds and bats.

"Poorly-sited utility-scale wind turbines and cellular/television towers" are listed as "stresses affecting species and habitats," according to the Nebraska Natural Legacy Project, recently updated by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

Conservation strategies to consider in this regard, according to the plan, are to:

* "select turbine sites that minimize fragmentation and impacts to native species
* "avoid placing wind turbines in native prairies or sites used or inhabited recently by threatened and endangered species" - the American Burying Beetle and Whooping Crane; other "sensitive species" can also be effected by large turbines
* "wind farms should not be located within the recommended radius of prairie grouse leks and nesting grounds"
Wind turbines can influence the occurrence of the Greater Prairie-Chicken up to 180 meters from a turbine, according to information given by another speaker at the Kearney conference.
* "turbines can be halted temporarily during peak migration periods for bats and birds
* "pre- and post-construction monitoring should be implemented."

Migratory birds are legally protected by the taking clause of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Any bird deaths caused by a wind turbine is a violation of the MBTA.

The Fish and Wildlife Service in Nebraska, based upon several recently developed wind turbine projects in Nebraska, has not enforced this clause. They have required that wind turbine developers provide funds to finance easements to protect habitat (especially grasslands), based upon a mathematical calculation based upon the habitat impacted in the immediate vicinity of each turbine.

Price Ranch Easement Proposal - Eastern Sandhills

December 1, 2011. Price Ranch easement. Grant County News 127(17): 1, 5.

A grant application submitted to the Nebraska Environmental Trust requests funds to help establish a conservation easement on an entire ranch, to ensure it remains an intact landscape representative of the Nebraska sandhills.

The application by the Sandhills Task Force requests $395,627 over a three year period to use along with other funding for an easement on the 25,450 acre Price Ranch, in the eastern sandhills, north of the Calamus Reservoir, near Burwell.

Additional funding would be provided by the Sandhills Task Force ($120,000), Price family ($445,375 contribution), Nebraska Land Trust ($188,000) and the Natural Resources Conservation Service ($890,750).

The total cost of the project is $2,039,752 or about $80 per acre for the easement.

The ranch, according to the trust application, is part of a recently designated important bird area, according to the National Audubon Society. The endangered American Burying Beetle occurs on the ranch, based upon surveys done by conservation officials. There is a variety of wetlands used by different birds and other wildlife, typical for the sandhill's region.

"The Price families' leadership and commitment to sound ranching practices coupled with a holistic approach has resulted in a conservation ethic that will provide a lasting legacy for the citizens of Nebraska," the grant application said. The ranch also "provides suitable habitat for a tremendous diversity and abundance of grassland nesting birds," according to a letter of support from the Nebraska field office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Funds being provided by the Nebraska Land Trust are derived from an agreement between the developers of the Broken Bow Wind Project and the FWS regarding direct or indirect impacts to habitat associated with the placement of wind turbines. A valuation of $108 per acre, for 1762 acres, was used to derive the total amount of $190,000 which was then contributed to the land trust, according to information provided by a representative of the FWS. The land trust agreed to then allocate funds to the Price Ranch easement.

This request for money is the most recent submitted in association with the Gracie Creek Landowner's Association effort in this area.

In 2011, funding from the Environmental Trust was provided to the Nature Conservancy for an easement on the 1,742.4 acre Horseshoe Bend parcel of the Switzer Ranch along the Calamus River. NET provided $190,000 though the request was for $292,800.

Based upon the amount requested and the acreage, the cost of the easement would be about $168 per acre. The expressed goal was to prevent subdivision of the property and exclude development. The easement property includes a "mile-long stretch of the river at the upper end" of the Calamus reservoir.

The project was identified as the "first easement acquired in a landscape where the Conservancy, Sandhills Task Force, local landowners, and the NRCS would like to eventually protect 40,000-50,000 acres from development," according to details given with the 2011 application summary.

Also in 2011, the Gracie Creek Landowner's Association received $90,000 to restore habitat for priority species. The application requested an additional $60,000 in 2012 and 2013.

This project would "improve ecological processes, conserve and protect native species and habitats, engage landowners in management, be livestock-friendly, build local expertise, and provide education and outreach." Efforts would include prescribed grazing, prescribed burning and cedar tree removal. This application summary indicated a goal of including 100,000 acres.

The environmental trust has asked for public comments on current grant applications, which will be accepted through January 2012.

22 December 2011

Considerations for Master Plan Proposal for Adams Park

A recently developed draft master plan for Adams Park indicates one perspective of its potential future. The given vision statement is:

"Building upon its striking landscape and location on Omaha's historic boulevard system, Adams Park will be recreated as a safe, vibrant, and signature part of Omaha's park system, serving as a regional destination, a catalyst for continued neighborhood revitalization, and community identity and well-being." — September 2011

The proposal lists ten particular goals, as depicted upon a site plan which illustrates potential changes, some which are quite dramatic. Goal number 7 states: "Redesign Adams Park based on its unique topography, natural features, and potential for landscape diversity and beauty."

Graphic for draft master plan for Adams Park.

Unnecessary curvy roads, a multitude of pavilions, expanses of mown grass, a greenhouse, bare dirt of a BMX site and other intrusions do not convey landscape beauty that takes advantage of the site's distinctive terrain and location.

Only a small part of the features proposed for the future park, reflect this statement. There are really no native, unique natural features that are currently present to be enhanced. There is nothing shown that takes advantage of its siting along the Missouri River bluffs, which provides a scenic vista. The proposal to increase landscape diversity — seemingly reflected by a larger wetland — would be the result of pumping water into a basin during some mid-year months that establish an artificial setting, established with a cost of providing water. Or will stormwater drains empty into the wetland, as part of the CSO! project?

The community was instrumental and essential in developing the proposals for modifying the park land. Their perspective has been essential in understanding interests with could be an instrumental part of the park's future.

The proposed future condition reflects a "catch-all" perspective - including no available consideration of cost - rather than a holistic view taking advantage of the park features and specific means to enhance these conditions to create a unique park setting enjoyable to all visitors.

The plans do, however, deserve further consideration. A park is an area set aside for public use. It is also a greenspace where visitors can enjoy the green space and the features it can provide within an urban landscape. The cost of any proposed features also has to be considered.

There are certainly more details involved in this proposal than can be derived from a graphic image and summary of goals, but there are some items worth further consideration.

A Closer Look

It will not be possible to implement the design as depicted, due to property ownership. An overall cohesion in the plan does not prevail in the design plan.

There is certainly an opportunity for improving the public use of the current/potential features at Adams Park. There is the Gabrielle Union Wetland, some spots with tree growth, a meadow in the making tract where the place reflects the condition of the indicatory signs ... tilted in an awry manner reflective of neglect. This current feature was completely ignored in the planning process.

Specific considerations of revisionary nature include the following items, given in no particular order:

1). More than half of the area indicated as a "multipurpose field" is not owned by the City of Omaha, according to parcel ownership details (as indicated by the Douglas County Assessors Office website on December 20, 2011). Private property indicated includes a parcel at the northeast corner, and a second parcel of 5.03 acres which are privately owned. The city land comprises the southern extent.

Unless there are plans to acquire this property, the field could not be established in the manner depicted. There is a large warehouse on the site as of late-December.

A similar situation exists in the northwest corner of the park area. A corridor — formerly a railroad right-of-way — is privately owned. The extreme corner is city property however. The plan graphic indicates the park property as including this entire area, so private property would have to be purchased to accomplish this.

2). Creating a "park drive" through the middle of the park is problematic as it would might in vehicular traffic through the middle of a greenspace meant for recreation, not driving. The vehicles would be a safety hazard, introduce unwanted noise, fumes would degrade the quality of the space and resultant trash — and that would more than likely include large items wantonly disposed of on streetsides, including tires ... as occurs in many Omaha parks — would have to be removed and increase the maintenance requirements for the park.

Having a road through the middle of a park does not fit any concept of greenspace. Having a street on the flats east of the community center would exclude any field sports activities at one of the few flat places within the park.

A roadway through Elmwood Park was closed in the past, which was a great improvement to that place.

The addition of concrete surfaces - with its regular stormwater runoff - would also add a burden to the stormwater system. Who would pay for these streets? They should not be financed by the City of Omaha, which already have limitations on its street care budget.

Landscape beauty and diversity — particular goals of this plan — are not met by putting a street through the middle of everything.

3). The proposed BMX bike track would be situated upon a steep hillside, subject to regular runoff and subsequent erosion. Having bicycles on a bare earth area or trails on a hillside would increase runoff and led to a degradation of water quality. How would parks officials address the rutting and dirty runoff that would result?

On the south side of this place — with individual property parcels indicated — is one of the best vantage points in the entire park. Sitting on the hilltop, beneath the warning siren, provides an expansive view of the park and nearby Missouri River valley. The view can be especially appreciated and enjoyed on a fine autumnal evening, watching the Common Nighthawks moving along or looking for Chimney Swift congregations. This feature is not considered in the plan.

4). A curvy road: the roadway alignment suggested for the western edge of the park is not straight and includes the planting of many tress along the right-of-way. The design seems to adhere to a sense of curves rather than reflecting a sense of road building. Trees are great. Having a curvilinear alignment could require the purchase of property from adjacent parcels, and would increase the cost of the roadway, because of an interest in having a "pretty street."

A portion of this alignment is also privately owned. The street would intrude into several parcels of private property. Much of this concern could be eliminated by having a straight and narrow street.

5). There is no mention of improving the community center by reducing its energy demands. The use of solar panels and other energy efficiency measures would indicate an attention to reducing energy costs and contribute a local and immediately obvious effort to eco-education, one of the items listed in the master plan goals.

6). Park planners seem to have a penchant for curvilinear walkways. Indicated in this plan is something similar prevalent throughout the park. Creating an island within a wetland and then placing a walkway across the feature, significantly reduces any naturalistic value. There is also a safety issue. A walking circuit does not need to occur so extensively.

7). The City of Omaha cannot currently remove snow in a quick and effective manner - as experienced recently at Memorial Park - so how will it maintain the walkways in a safe condition during the winter?

8). Where would the funds be available to build the ten identified park pavilions? A picnic table among the trees often is more than suitable, as after some years the conditions of structures deteriorate. Consider the condition of the former restroom facilities at Mandan Park, and at Elmwood Park. The three buildings provide no use and are useless. The walls are often nothing more than some spot for unwanted graffiti.

9). The plan completely ignores an opportunity to provide a connection from the King Primary School to the park. These parcels are currently wooded and undeveloped. If they continued as a greenspace, they might be included in the plan, and significantly improve the value of the park to the school children.

There are privately owned parcels between Adams Park and the school grounds. Among the tracts are two corridors for unbuilt streets, which might be useful in providing a suitable route to the park.

10). What would be the source of funds to create a tree-lined boulevard and a tree-covered roundabout? This would seem to require an increase in street width, which would certainly be an expensive proposition. The City of Omaha cannot currently maintain it streets — consider the adjacent Creighton Boulevard which is very "rugged" at many places — so how would it pay for this sort of change.

11). Where would the funds be acquired to build a multi-structure "urban farming and community gardening center" that would require additional money for heating and maintenance. Would staff have to be hired to care for the place? Would users have to pay a fee to grow things? Its operation may be difficult at worse.

The site for this proposed center would be more suitable as a location for the "adventure playscape." This feature would then be closer and more readily accessible to the current community center, and not situated between a well-used boulevard and the proposed park drive.

12). Why doesn't the walking circuit connect to the community center, which is where many recreational activities would occur and where an outing on the walkway could begin and end, and also where parking is already available. Where is the connectivity?

13). The siting of pedestrian sidewalks appears to be problematic. Placing a sidewalk immediately adjacent to a street is a safety hazard. It also often results in snow being plowed onto the sidewalk, perhaps blocking a portion of the sidewalk and often resulting in icy conditions when melting occurs in the winter. Any sidewalks — and especially an all-season bicycle trail — should be several feet distant from the street so snow does not encroach when plowed. This also makes it easier to have a clear and safe walkway.

The sidewalk along a portion of Happy Hollow Boulevard east of Memorial Park, as well as the sidewalk along Fontenelle Boulevard in Fontenelle Park are two obvious examples of improper placement and which reveal problems which result.

14). There is nothing on the master plan graphic that denotes a natural habitat setting, other than the wetland. And this feature is surrounded by a walking circuit, seemingly placed as close as possible to its outer edge. If any fowl did find this place attractive, there would be nearly constant disturbance from people along the way (such is the case at Benson Park). Any benefit gained from an island is obviously negated by placing the walkway directly through its middle.

A walkway and a wetland can coexist in complete harmony. For example, rather than loop into a peninsula, have the concrete path go straight at a some distance from the waters. At another place, also put the trail a further distance from the habitat feature, and place some trees or shrubs as a visual barrier. Someone walking the trail doesn't need to be next to the wetland to get the benefit they want from their outing. It is park planners which indicate this unnecessary proximity.

Having two bridges over the wetland provide a perfect opportunity for someone to throw trash into the water, where it will languish, as its removal would be very unlikely, based upon the longevity of occurrence for a tire currently in the wetland.

Suitable park habitats are used by a variety of birds, yet other than the trees and wetlands, there would be little space giving to a naturalistic setting attractive to birds and the people that enjoy watching them. A vibrant avifauna would fit well with the sustainability, eco-education purposes and nature deficiency items listed with goal number 8.

15). How will any park design features be integrated with the Malcolm X center expected to be built to the north, and to the King primary school a short distance to the west. Both can benefit from being considered in a holistic approach focused on site connectivity and as a means to leverage current and proposed resources to gain a maximum advantage to area users.

16). The multi-purpose field looks like a vast expanse of grass. This would be a boon for park maintenance, as it could be quickly mowed. Surely there could be more potential for this expanse, especially as it is northward of the Head Start school grounds. Perhaps they might suggest what they would like to have there. This effort might be useful for their education and which they could help maintain through civic responsibility.

17). Having the bicycle route divert to the southern ridge of the park is ridiculous. The trail follows along the boulevard in an easy flow, then suddenly a incline is introduced for some unknown reason. This diversion takes the route away from the park lands, makes the trail longer and thus more expensive to construct.

It appears to be another example of a planner's preference for an indirect route. The trail is a route to elsewhere, not an attempt to get a scenic view. The trail should flow a route along the boulevard and not go off on a tangent through the proposed woods. A tree-sheltered trail can be prone to being snowy or icy, which are two hazards a seasoned rider wants to avoid as much as not wanting to have to push up some hill when there could have been an easy coast.

Area of the proposed multipurpose field.

Hilltop view showing a portion of the scenic vista of the Missouri River valley.

Awry sign for a supposed meadow in the making feature.

View westward up the hill proposed for BMX activity.

The presented master plan is tenuous, indicating numerous items of concern. It is dependent on acquiring private property, with an availability of unknown funds, and concerns about providing suitable maintenance for any new facilities.

An Adams Park in the near future can provide a new potential for the community if done in a manner suitable to the features of interest as placed within the park-scape.

19 December 2011

Winter Count Denotes Birdlife of Missouri River Valley

A primary winter bird count of a region along the Missouri River valley, once again denoted the many species of birds present in mid-December. The count circle - a five-mile circle centered at Offutt Base Lake - includes four quadrants, with a different number of participants within each section, which included an official reporter. There were about 40 count participants - the usual number of volunteer observers - which spent the day visiting localities where birds could be seen, that were then carefully counted and tallied.

Results were presented at an evening gathering, graciously hosted by Betty Grenon, the count compiler. Before the evening meal, the bird survey results were given in a group gathering. Each species were mentioned, and results were carefully tallied in two manners. The birders heard about each species and were able to ask questions, focus on particular details and even appreciate some history of the count, as quickly provided by Jim Kovanda, count historian with his paper sheets listing details from previous years.

There were 70 species recorded during the day, on Saturday, December 17th. The tally in 2010 was 78 species.

Identifiable sites which provided considerable bird records within the cound circle which is a summary of all contributed observations, included these individual localities:

  • 13th Street Parkway, representing habitats northward of Mount Vernon Gardens to Missouri Avenue, the northern edge of the count circle
  • Bellevue Cemetery
  • Brown Park
  • Camp Wakonda
  • Fontenelle Hills Golf Course
  • Fontenelle Forest Floodplain
  • Gibson Bend - the riverine area eastward of Mandan Park
  • Gibson Bend SWA - in Iowa, as observable from the west side of the river, but not actually visited
  • Gifford Point WMA - a very limited portion of this tract, adjacent to the Great Marsh, was trekked
  • Glenwood Hills
  • Great Marsh at Fontenelle Forest; 99.5% frozen
  • Handsome Hollow, Fontenelle Forest
  • Hidden Lake, Fontenelle Forest and the nearby river; the water area was completely frozen
  • Jewel Park
  • La Platte Bottoms - access was somewhat blocked due to highway construction activities, according to an observer's report.
  • Lake Manawa
  • Lake Manawa State Park
  • Manawa Bend - the riverine area eastward of Gifford Point
  • Mandan Flats - area adjacent to the river, east of the park; it was too muddy to trek around this place which during drier times can be hiked southward, to a point at the northern edge of Fontenelle Forest; this is a corridor from the forest to Mandan Park, though there is no recognition for this distinctive feature
  • Mandan Park - always special due to its constantly expressive flora
  • Midamerica Energy Power Plant settling ponds
  • Mount Vernon Gardens
  • North Uplands, Fontenelle Forest
  • Oreapolis Wetland - a newly established wetland mitigation site north of Plattsmouth
  • Private residences here and there as appreciated by count participants that visited bird feeders; muffins were provided at one stop
  • Rumsey Station
  • Saint Marys Island SWA
  • Schilling WMA - only limited access, with species most prevalent where flooding did not occur, such as the railroad tracks
  • South Uplands, Fontenelle Forest
  • Swanson Park
  • West Oak Forest

Base Lake was closed. Apparently there was some supposed bacterial condition as indicated by the military officials, so site access continued to be restricted, and could not be visited.

View of the south stream, Fontenelle Forest floodplain.

Floodplain trees which illustrate the depth of the water during the great flood.

Gifford Farm perspective.

View of Iowa as taken from Mandan Park.

Site and Species Highlights

It was a grand day for birding, considering the weather conditions occurred with variably clear skies, and temperatures which eventually reached about 50o; a grand condition in comparison to what the situation might have been! There was no snow present.

Early morning temperatures were slightly chilling - sufficient for walkers to be covered with a hat sufficient for appreciated warmth - and kept the surface of the ground hard for easier walking, in comparison to the muddy situation in late morning and during the afternoon. As the sun spread about the Fontenelle Forest floodplain, there were few birds seen during the walk about done during pleasant conditions. Gifford Point farm and adjacent wildlife area presented nothing of birdly interest except some a couple of crow and flyover geese of two sorts, heading north. The land was basically bare of any understory vegetation due to inundation resulting from the great flood of 2011, many weeks earlier in the year which prevented any plant growth during the season. The trees were still a haven for arboreal species, such as woodpeckers or chickadees. One Pileated Woodpecker was notable, and led to a bit of discussion regarding the number of this species which occur in the area.

It wasn't until about fifteen minutes before noon that the first Northern Cardinal - a brilliantly colored male - was seen flitting about in shrubbery along the floodplain stream.

Conditions of the land at Schilling WMA were a similar bare expanse, according to count participants.

Two flocks of Green-winged Teal appreciated the open water flow along the stream of the Fontenelle Forest floodplain; with an errant Northern Shoveler. A single Wilson's Snipe was also present, enjoying the open water resulting from spring flows from the adjacent river bluffs of the forest.

The nine Great Blue Heron seen surpassed the previous record of three.

Bald Eagles were reported from each of the four quadrants.

There were twelve Belted Kingfisher noted, with a previous high count of seven.

An impressive 126 Red-tailed Hawks were denoted within the five-mile diameter count circle; last year 146 were observed.

Each of the two Merlin seen were appreciated.

The thirty Hairy Woodpecker tally ties an earlier high number of this species recorded within the count circle.

Other notables to mention: 293 Black-capped Chickadee and eighteen Brown Creeper; five hundred junco were also appreciated for their contribution to the avifauna of the region.

A Northern Shrike at Lake Manawa State Park was a nice addition to the birdlist for this locality, having been reported also a few years ago.

One new addition to the count tally of species was the Savannah Sparrow, seen at the Saint Marys Island mitigation area. This was one of the few new localities visited during the day.

There was no Snowy Owl seen, except for a false state record derived from a depictive stuffed toy on a shelf in the Fontenelle Forest Nature Center shop. This was the closest anyone came to seeing this species, which has occured in a prevalent nature elsewhere in Nebraska and adjacent states.

This count started in 1963. There have been many changes in land use. One long-time observer quipped: There are more houses that have been built than the birds that have been counted. He was referring to the hills of western Iowa.

One shared recollection of particular interest referred to a similar count something like 25 years ago, when a newby participant to the Saturday bird event walked out on the ice of the great marsh on the Fontenelle Forest lowlands (for some unremembered reason), then dropped through the unapparently weak ice-cover, and into the shallows. Upon escaping from the water hazard, and being drenched to the waist, a retreat to warm conditions was stymied by a vehicle stuck in the snow along the road back to the forest nature center, according to the shared details given in recollections of count participants, though long forgotten by the bird guy involved. It was certainly a hoot to hear of this, as the main character continues to have a penchant of wanting to walk upon ice of unknown thickness in order to get some sort of perspective of personal interest on the birds at one lake or another, whether it was the Great Marsh in the past, or most recently, Carter Lake. None of the instances have been fatal, so the intent continues, though restrictions are more applicable now.

It was a fine gathering in Bellevue after dark to discuss the day and share a communal meal, with folks spread about three rooms. Was there some bird talk?

Early History the Celebrated Belled Buzzard

Nearly two centuries ago, some folks found an unescapable buzzard and decided — for whatever sort of reason — that a small bell should be affixed upon the bird. The event was a unique and pivotal event, especially about the eastern states — especially once the bird took flight to ring its way along.

Sightings of a belled buzzard eventually became a distinctive facet of lore for the history of ornithology. Occurrences of the tinkling bird(s) became prominent in the eastern states, according to the numerous accounts as obviously noted in many newspapers of the era.

Original accounts occur in the 1870s, but there are anecdotes from earlier times.

"Local history has it that the buzzard was captured and belled by pioneer residents shortly after the war of 1812." — denoted the Jasper News 25(5): 8, as issued from the Missouri town, though the event occurred elsewhere. Though this record is from many decades after the first observation of a buzzard thus marked, it does indicate some perspective for a first known occurrence.

One account noted the extent of survival for a belled buzzard, in the vicinity of Paris, Kentucky:

"For several years a belled buzzard has been seen flying over a dozen counties in this section of the state, and had frequently been reported in the southern part of the state, 150 miles from here. The other day three lads, Willie Hall, Kenney Nicholas and Wilmot Kenney, of this place, captured the bird. It had been strapped to its neck by a piece of rawhide a small brass bell on which was engraved 'Atlanta, Ga., April 21, 1865.' The bird had gorged itself on a carcass near by and couldn't fly. After detaining it for a few hours they permitted it to fly away again." — Omaha Daily Bee 18(188): 2, issued on December 19, 1888.

An South Carolina account provides an original view from the latter 1870s.

"A few weeks since a strange sight was presented to a farmer living in the vicinity of Branchville in this wise: A dead pig lay in a field close by his house whose scent attracted a very large buzzard. A little girl in passing had her attention drawn to the spot where the pig was by the ringing of a bell. Upon examination she discovered that the bell was hung to the birds neck. She repaired at once to the house and informed her father of the fact, who immediately went in quest of the novel spectacle. To his surprise he found what his daughter had said to be true. The buzzard was belled, and when frightened flew off with the bell ringing in the air." — Orangeburg News and Times 10(50): 3, February 3, 1877.

The news item was then subsequently noted in Georgia, as reported by the Chronicle and Sentinel.

An 1881 report from Texas was contributed by R.H. Floyd:

"Richardson, Dallas County, December 12. — In your issue of October 28 you stated that a belled buzzard had been seen in the neighborhood of Captain Westbrook's, on Cow bayou, and again in your last issue (December 9) you state that it is now 'circulating around Howard and Stampede, across the Bell county line.' I will state that Mr. Chris. Huffhines, of this place, about the 15th of October, caught a buzzard in a steel trap, and tied a small bell around it and turned it loose. The buzzard flew off to the southwest, and I presume it is the same buzzard that has been 'worrying' the people of Bell county. Mr. Huffhines claims the buzzard, and wishes the citizens of Bell county notified of his claim through your paper."

In early March of 1884, a belled buzzard was noted near Taylorsville, Pennsylvania:

"The story of the celebrated bird is an interesting one. Nearly two years ago it was a pet in a barnyard of a farmer named Freeman in Paulding county. One of his children one day attached a sheep bell to the bird's foot and the tinkling sound so scared it that it immediately flew away. The first night out is alighted on the roof of a negro cabin in Heard county. One of the inmates went out to ascertain the cause of the bell ringing, and immediately the buzzard rose from its perch, and flew away. The night was clear and cold, and as the inmates rushed out and beheld a great black object and hear the tinkling of the bell hundreds of feet in the air, great fear seized the. They all took to their knees under the impression that the end of the world was at hand. Ever since the bird has pursued its migrations through the State arousing the fears of the superstitious, who regard its visits as omens of evil. The negroes and many whites, too, along the track of the late storm insist that they heard the fateful bell before the terrible wrath of the wind had come upon them." — Lancaster Daily Intelligencer

The last paragraph of the story presented some additional historic details, with different specifics. This particular account noted that in 1867 an buzzard had been belled in Putnam County, and up until 1889, when his presence was last reported in Green County, he was vouched for as having visited points as west as Meridian, Miss., and several northern counties of Tennessee. Other newspaper accounts with basically the same text, gave years of 1817 and 1850, respectively for when the bird got belled and was still being heard. The account made its way to the desert southwest, being included on the pages of the Arizona Silver Bell, issued at Globe City.

During the summer of that year, a short notice indicated a buzzard was ringing "its bell quite lively at the farm of John Davis and other places last week and afforded considerable interest and amusement to the young people as well as the old. This buzzard seems to lead a charmed life and it is hoped no one will attempt to destroy it." the Lancaster Daily Intelligencer

States of the east are known for more occurrences of these birds. With the widespread and seemingly continual reports, it would appear there was more than just one buzzard ringing along its way.

"Messrs William Hales and Sam. Hulett caught a buzzard and put a bell on it. Anyone hearing 'music in the air' need not become alarmed and join the Millerites." — an item in the local news for Antioch, as published in the May 16, 1885 issue of the Frankfort Roundabout 8(35): 4.

It apparently wasn't enough to have a buzzard flying around with a bell. There had to be derivatives, which add to the folk's lore:

"Some of the boys of White Rock, Little Britain township, captured a turkey buzzard last Saturday in a cave along the Octoraro and in order to coin a new species of the avis tribe painted its feathers alternate stripes of white and yellow and let it go. He will make a companion for the belled and Everhart's buzzards" — May 27, 1885, Lancaster Daily Intelligencer 21(227): 4 issued in Pennsylvania.

The following spring, "a buzzard with a bell has been creating a sensation on Pleasant Run, scaring horses and creating panics among flocks of sheep. Even the other buzzards are afraid of the one with the bell, and when it approaches they retire to a safe distance and allow it to feed in solitary state." — attributed to the Lebanon Standard as published on May 26, 1886 in the Daily Evening Bulletin 5(157):3 of Maysville, Kentucky.

An account of the marked buzzard in early spring of 1887 provides these details:

"Advices that have reached us, state that the belled buzzard that has been spoken of in the south for years and which was recently seen in this county, was shot the other day by J.C. Corrington at Tunis, Texas. The bell was well toned, of brass, and about two and a half inches across the base. It was hung to the bird by a copper wire, twisted around the neck. There was no chafing, the skin being protected by an abundance of down; '1879' was scratched on the narrow, flat top of the bell. The last heard of the bird was in Virginia, a short time ago, and it was presumably on its way south at the time. The constantly recurring visits of the birds to this locality have been a standing local for a number of years and it is a matter of great regret that we will not, in the future, be able to chronicle the wanderings of the bird. " — from the Centreville (Md.) Observer as published in the Alexandria Gazette 88(51): 4, issued on March 2, 1887.

Though this report is from Texas as attributed to an eastern newspaper, another report from Texas in January 1888, provides further details of occurrence in the northern part of that southern state.

"Some two or three years ago a buzzard was caught and belled in one of the northwestern states. It was seen in northern Texas last year. On Thursday last it was seen again on the farm of Mr. J.M. Nicholson, near Chappell Hill. It is supposed to be the same buzzard, as there is no account of any other being belled. Let us see now where it will be heard from next."

This report may have referred to a buzzard in the northeastern states.

The newspapers which were the source of these accounts are available at the Chronicling American website, with many subsequent stories through 1922 available for perusal. A search option allows quick access to items of particular interest. Additional — and more recent accounts from even modern history — can be appreciated by doing an internet search of online content and alternative newspaper archives, including those which are pay-for-a-view.

Buzzard Considerations

Consensus regarding the identification of the belled buzzard is that it was a vulture, according to the chronicles. Facets of the bird's behavior support this contention, as it was seen roosting prominently, taking advantage of dead animal carcasses, and readily found and accessible for attaching a bell, which may have been during the period when the species was nesting and the juvenile bird(s) could not fly. The term buzzard has also been used to refer to species' of hawk, though their young are raised in tree nests and fledglings are somewhat less likely to be so easily approached.

Whether it was one of two species of vulture is not at all apparent. Potentially it may have been the Black Vulture, or perhaps the Turkey Vulture. The belled buzzard could have been either species of vulture, with each having a seasonal range in the states where accounts of occurrence were reported. A mention of the turkey buzzard would indicate an attribution to the latter species.

Although somewhat vague, notes of the bell burdened buzzards also indicate the longevity of the birds which certainly attracted attention. Multiple instances are recorded, but if a particular buzzard occurred within a region, some of the accounts spanned a relatively long period of time, indicating the many year which a buzzard would live. Birds found with a date scribed on the bell they carried, are more notably accurate in defining the period the bird endured with its unwanted attachment.

Whatever the actual specifics, the many details available provide an extensive history which establishes an ongoing legacy of the belled buzzard. What a special history, so completely unique in the ornithological history. That it continues to be presented — even in current times — is an indication of an enduring legacy originating from someone's quirky perspective while in the presence of a wild buzzard, while having a bell readily accessible.

Future of Fontenelle Park Considered at Public Meeting

A design charrette held the evening of December 15 at the park pavilion was the second opportunity for community input on the future of Fontenelle Park in north Omaha. About 55 residents, concerned citizens and others gathered along with government officials to continue the planning process started at a previous meeting a few weeks earlier.

The officials spoke first.

There is a "98% probability" that the lagoon will be expanded, according to introductory comments. Questions or concerns about the future of the golf course - which is currently losing money - were prominent in the comments prior to the charrette process.

Representatives of the CSO! Omaha project were present, though they did not make any statements, nor provide any details about the sewer/stormwater runoff facilities currently in the park.

Ben Gray, a member of the Omaha city council, spoke about activities westward of the parkland and how it could be related in a "holistic" manner to the park. The Northstar group has razed several buildings between the park and the campus of the Omaha Home for Boys, and has "outward bound" activities on the east side of their campus. The park lagoon could provide a place for canoeing or kayaking activities.

Gray would like to connect the Northstar activities with future park features, and create a local destination from the park westward to 52nd and Ames avenue.

There is a community garden also present in this area, which was active during the 2011 growing season. There are plans for improvements, Gray said. The "park and nearby environs should be attractive to city residents," Gray said during his time with the microphone.

After introductory remarks — including some extended comments by a couple of individuals from this area the city — each table of attendees was given about thirty minutes to discuss among themselves their goals for the park, and indicate them - using colored markers - upon an aerial map of the parkland, which did not indicate in detail features of the park now present.

Following the discussions, a representative of each group then presented a brief summary to the entire gathering, with their interests conveyed in about three minutes, due to time constraints.

There was a variety of comments given, with differing items of particular emphasis:

Group 1: keep the golf course, and maybe lease it to another group so it could be operated without a financial loss to the city; add practice putting greens
Group 2: keep the golf course and add a concession stand to help promote golfing
Group 3: This group presented a "naturalist approach," being proponents for adding native vegetation plantings, including a park-prairie on the hilltop at the southeast corner, with native plantings continuing northward, which would also reduce maintenance requirements and costs; establish plantings to buffer the park's green space from the adjacent urban setting, especially in the northwest corner of the park; establish an all-season walking trail through the area; visually connect the park with the Northstar effort and community garden to the west; keep sport facilities in one focused area; encourage forest trees; expand the lagoon with an area which has varying depths to promote aquatic flora; establish a creek from the south side of the park and into the lagoon, with a bioretention garden, bioswale or wetland at its south end. This group did not want to have a disc golf course at the park.

Depiction of suggestions for the future Fontenelle Park.

Group 4: enlarge the lagoon and have an extent of water suitable for water-based activities such as boat races; develop a virtual golf facility where the current maintenance buildings occur; have a wildlife area in the southeast corner of the park, which could "incorporate an appreciation of nature for kids."
Group 5: establish a nine-hole "walking golf course, and use "dead space" within the park to add to the current extent of the course.
Group 6: this group presented a "bunch of questions" regarding park features and their future; they suggested having the pavilion developed into a community center similar to the A.V. Sorensen center in Dundee; develop parking on the west side of the park to increase accessibility; provide naturalistic aspects at the southeast hilltop; develop a plan for safety, which could include improvements in lighting
Group 7: this group was "not for golf" as they said when presenting their comments; would like to have an indoor sports complex; provide a walking trail suitable for bicycling; create an outdoor amphitheater on portion of the park eastward of Fontenelle Boulevard; have a community garden; improve the basketball court which is currently present.

A subsequent meeting in latter January or early February will be held to present the details developed during this meeting, and to allow additional discussion of the plans for this urban park area.

Comments related to creating the future features and setting at Fontenelle Park can also be submitted via email to fontenelleparkideas@gmail.com.

Any construction of features is expected to occur in a few years, in association with the CSO project of Omaha, a major reason for this meeting.

15 December 2011

Perspective on Chimney Swift Season 2011

Chimney Swifts. December 2011. Meadowlark 40(10): 4-6. Newsletter of the Audubon Society of Omaha.

Chimney Swifts were around Omaha before the city was just a few shacks and fields west of the Missouri River in the mid-1850s. As the settlement grew, buildings of many sorts were placed upon the land, and the small, darting black bug eaters of the sky took advantage of the chimneys which were an essential construct for each new building.

More was better. There were a myriad of places for the swifts to rest during the breeding season and roost during migrations. Suitable places were used again and again as havens by so many birdly generations.

For the swifts, every year of their presence locally is affected by actions beyond their influence. Bug eaters require a proper chimney, with the extent of suitable places constantly changing, often dramatically, as indicated by the 2011 season.

After arriving in mid-April — providing an exciting notice of spring — swifts were typically seen in the urban skies of the metropolis. Thenceforth they could be readily appreciated, with records of their mighty presence noted during bird surveys of city sites.

As summer waned, groups gathered at their typical roosts in larger chimneys, with prominent eastern Omaha locales known to some extent after ten years of swifting.

Salvation Army Center Oct. 13, 2011

The peak of the season was October 9 and 10 when three roosts — within a mile radius — swarmed with activity. Near 44th and Izard Streets, there were 925 the first evening, 1025 the next morning at the 9.5x9.5 brick chimney at Duchesne, and then the phantasmagoria of circa 1400 at the Blackstone District church the second evening. A second visit to the latter site provided the same dynamo of a display two days later. This is the largest known congregation of swifts ever recorded in Nebraska, based upon 1,835 known records which date to 1899 in Omaha.

A new roost location was found near the end of the season when about 90 swifts dived into the multistory, towering chimney at the Salvation Army facility west of Bemis Park. There was another roost across Cuming Street.

A tragedy of the year occurred in the autumn when an important chimney roost (about 300 used the roost in early October 2009) was blocked. The Dundee Presbyterian Church installed new heating equipment, a vent was placed within the chimney and its entrance was capped. Officials of the church were indifferent to the impact when informed.

At Leavenworth Street and St. Mary’s Avenue, renovation of the Canterbury apartment buildings meant the loss of several chimneys as they were obliterated with the installation of a new roof. Another large chimney was capped when a new vent was installed.

These two instances are symptomatic of the regular, ongoing decline in the extent of chimneys suitable as old structures are modified or razed. There is no new swift habitat being constructed. The decline hampers the lives of the city’s swifts and the visiting migratory flocks.

Swifts were last seen on the evening of October 15 near 49th Avenue and Dodge Street, though the eventual roost for the four birds could not be determined as the birds flew away into the evening’s gloom.

The latest date for swifts in the metro area, based upon 1,221 known records for Douglas and Sarpy Counties, is October 21, 2009 when nine were noted early in the morning near Criss Library on the UNO campus.