21 April 2011

Eastern Omaha Swifts Chimney Future Uncertain

An apartment house with a chimney well known to Chimney Swifts currently sits abandoned in eastern Omaha.

The Nottingham Apartments, at 33rd and Burt Streets, is a prominent chimney in the neighborhood, and is known to be regularly used by hundreds of swifts during the autumn migration. There were about 350 counted one evening in mid-September 2008.

The building is now uninhabited - with windows and entries boarded over - and has been for sale for several months.

Apartment house chimney on April 20, 2011.

The two adjacent houses to the west are also boarded up.

What the future portends for this apartment houses is uncertain, but the loss of this particular chimney would be a significant loss of a roosting site used by numerous Chimney Swifts. It would also continue the trend in the loss of chimneys in the local area.

Activities at Hummel Park Degrade Forest

There are two activities underway in the hills of Hummel Park which are having a negative impact on its unique forest setting.

Example of the ground disturbance associated with creating a frisbee golf course.

Prominent in this situation is an effort to create a frisbee golf course.

This effort - as noted in October 2009 - was supposedly ended, but during a bird survey a few days ago, two guys were moving things around in the woods to establish the course.

"The city wants us to get this done," they said when asked about what they were doing.

The course is meant to increase visitation to the park.

It is obviously changing the nature of the forest.

Corridors through the woods are being established to provide an open "lane" for throwing a frisbee. Deadfall is being moved to indicate the lane to the participants can have a readily apparent route.

Add in the land clearing for the "throw pads" which have included removal of vegetation and moving dirt around by mechanical means, and creating "artificial piles" of fallen tree limbs.

Additional examples of ground disturbance caused by guys installing the golf course.

There were options present by two years ago to perchance reduce the impact on the woods, but apparently those suggestions were ignored. In the past few days, requests to city of Omaha officials for further information have been completely ignored.

Nature Center Construction

Also during this time in April, it became readily apparent that work associated with the construction of the Hummel Park Nature Center, was also impacting the park woods.

Obviously apparent is a corridor through the woods, southward from the pending building. This change has removed all of the vegetation to create what looks like a path through the trees.

Apparently, this is the corridor for a new water line. There will not be a ditch dug but it will be buried by "careful construction" and the site seeded to typical vegetation.

It was quite fine to be on the site while a city official and the constructors discussed the project, as they all huddled in a close group.

The city man said plants typical of the area would be planted, mentioning grass as the current option.

How does grass replace woodland vegetation? After a few other comments, the official of the Omaha Parks and Recreation Department said he needed to talk with the constructors and that my comments should occur later as they were all "busy."

The corridor created through the woods to allow installing a new water line. the Omaha Parks and Recreation man at the site said grass would be planted here.

Construction site for the new Hummel Park Nature Center.

Talking about the project at the site.

Closure barricade preventing access to the parks picnic grounds. One reason for installing the frisbee golf course was to increase usage of the park. It is not possible to readily use the park if one of its primary public use areas is not accessible. These four pictures taken April 20, 2011.

Hummel Park has been one of the most unique settings in the Omaha park system, but its value is changing because of disregard for its natural value, with more emphasis being given to increased usage by people ignorant of the actual natural importance of the sites features.

Cutting through the woods, creating throw pads for frisbee golfers, destroying native vegetation, not seeding disturbed sites to suitable woodland species, or even expecting that natural regrowth might suffice to get plant growth on sites where the woodland where dramatically altered does not indicate that there was any concern for the unique natural values of this woodland.

Orange Paint Defaces Magnificent Trees in Omaha Park

While doing a bird survey a few days ago at the north portion in Omaha's Hummel Park, very soon after my hike got started it became readily and blatantly obvious that most of the largest and tallest trees along Ponca Creek were marked with orange numbers.

Starting on the east, and increasing digit by digit towards the west, each of the trees had a number, starting with 1, and as was eventually realized, increasing to over 50.

This sort of numbering - as seen in other Omaha parks - indicated a count for the number of trees to be removed for some reason.

These walnut trees in the park's forest environs were not dead. They would probably not pose a threat to the local wildlife if they naturally fell over with age. The reason for them being defaced by paint was not known.

It took one phone call to clarify the situation.

Apparently, there is no other setting where there are so many walnut trees occurring at a single site in Nebraska. In order to document the number of the walnut trees, an official of the city of Omaha, and apparently the state of Nebraska forester(?) visited the place, and marked each tree.

The men involved used orange paint, sprayed upon the bark at about chest height, to derive a count.

They defaced each and every large walnut tree. If anyone might want to get a naturalistic picture of these arboreal wonders, they will now have to make an effort to exclude the markings on the bark.

When an official of the Omaha Parks and Recreation Department was asked about this situation, he suggested they would do something to get rid of the paint.

What that might indicate is not readily apparent.

Using orange spray paint to mark trees to derive a count, does not make sense. To use orange paint to mark trees which are considered to be so distinct and unique is simply inane.

"These trees are so great, lets spray them with orange paint so we can get an accurate count!"

A flag at each tree could have sufficed. Using chalk would have been suitable as a temporary indicator. Etc., etc. Paint should have been the last option, yet it was the people responsible first choice.

When an important resource is recognized, it should never, ever have to be defaced in such a manner when less intrusive options are available.

The trees don't care, but this is a vivid and dramatically blatant example of a complete disconnect in recognizing a completely unique forest land resource in an Omaha park.

To express an opinion, the people involved in marking these wonderful walnut trees should have to do something to mitigate for their ruining the trees appearance.

16 April 2011

Bioretention Gardens Pending for Elmwood Park

An area of Elmwood Park will soon be transformed by a project to deal with stormwater runoff from Omaha streets.

General plan for the project in Elmwood Park. Information provided by Public Works department.

The general development plan indicates a linear project site is along the west side of 60th street, and southward from Elmwood Drive. This area is currently lawn which is regularly mowed during the growing season, as well as interspersed trees.

This project will receive stormwater runoff from about 35 acres of housing on the east side of 60th street, according to Ned Tramp, of the Public Works department of the city of Omaha.

The work being done is part of a larger effort to separate sewage and stormwater in the eastern part of the city.

Water going into the stormwater drains will be diverted to the park site, where a pond, three bioretention gardens and several weirs will slow the rate of drainage of the water into Wood Creek, northward in the park.

There will also be a capture basin where trash and grit will captured and kept until it is removed by city workers on a regular basis.

The primary features of the bioretention gardens are flowering plants and different types of grass species.

Planting plans for the gardens - devised by the Big Muddy Workshop Inc. - indicate that sneezeweed, spotted bee balm, little joe-pye weed, prairie spiderwort, swamp milkweed, prairie blazing star, purple coneflower and golden alexander.

Grasses to be seeded are Virginia wildrye, Canada wildrye, western wheatgrass, red top, side oats grama, and little bluestem. These are all native species except for red top.

Preliminary design for the bioretention gardens at Elmwood Park.

Garden A planting plan.

Garden C planting plan.

Garden F planting plan.

Vegetative features associated with the project will create a different habitat setting within the park environs.

Construction is expected to occur in late summer, or early autumn.

Public Works staff worked with the Parks and Recreation Department in developing this plan.

Current views of the project site in Elmwood Park. Pictures taken April 16, 2011.

Looking northward.

Looking southward.

Southern section of the project area.

13 April 2011

South Africa Thrills Nebraska Botany Professor

A unique opportunity to visit South Africa allowed Dr. David M. Sutherland a chance to experience and enjoy new sorts of flora and fauna.

Ibis at Capetown

Protea at the Kirstenbosch Gardens

All photographs courtesy of David M. Sutherland, and used with permission

During his two week vacation to the Cape Town vicinity of South Africa - with its distinctive "Fynbos" type of vegetation - he enjoyed the endemic flora and African fauna of the area.

The Kerstenbosch Botanical Gardens were "simply gorgeous," Dr. Sutherland said, "and were a jewel of the city." Especially appreciated were examples of plants such as the representatives of the families Proteceae and Aizoaceae, which are seldom seen in North America.

Two days were spent at the Garden Route Game Lodge, a private facility where a variety of large animals roam the property. There were white rhinos, antelopes, zebras, giraffes and others which could be enjoyed up close. Since the group stayed overnight, there were able to get among the animals during different parts of the day.

Giraffes at the Garden Route Game Lodge

Penguins at Boulder Beach

During a visit to two coastal colonies of African penguins, the visitors were able to get quite close to the birds, which were actively breeding.

At the West Coast National Park, there were the showy flamingos to enjoy.

Black oystercatchers at West Coast Park

Flamingos at West Coast Park

"The idea of going to this area really appealed to me," Sutherland said. The flora, animals and birds in this area are extremely interesting," noting his visit was the "thrill" of a lifetime.

As a retired botany professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, Dr. Sutherland is well acquainted with the plants and vegetation of the Great Plains. His only other previous trips overseas were to England.

Dr. David M. Sutherland in Africa.