13 June 2011

Malaise of Flooded Missouri Valley Habitats

A white-tailed deer belly-deep in flood waters covering the Horseshoe Lake Flats was the forlorn sign of the malaise along the in bird habitats along the Missouri River of Nebraska. It stood still for quite a time, not moving in any particular manner, as if not knowing what to do next. It was surrounded by water of variable depths, and may have lost its nurtured fawn?

For wild birds, there have undoubtedly been similar tragedies of the summer breeding season as merciless water creeps across dry land, flooding habitats and havens for so many birds.


A visit to some known floodplain places was carried out on June 11th.

It started with an arrival on the east bluff lookout at Hummel Park a bit after 5 a.m., to have proper siting for a sunrise during the summer solstice month. Access was available from Ponca Road as Pershing Road was closed at the river bridge near Florence. Above this road, the Interstate had also been closed, as flooding on the Iowa side meant a closed section of I-29.

Along the steep route outward, the clay soil was tacky, giving a good grip for shoe soles, and thankfully suited for the careful steps to get along on a suitable vantage point or two.

Upon looking downward in a vast expanse, an Eastern Phoebe found the situation suitable, though it was a place where an errant step would be into a dangerous, big hole or a long fall from the sheer bluff wall.

Songsters expressed the pending day, vocal in a scene without car or plane traffic. Fog in the sky masked portions of the Missouri valley in the dim and expressive light of pre-dawn.

The lowland was liquid H2O, mostly covered.

The corn field to the east was mostly flooded, with another Duda Farm field to the north was entirely flooded. N.P. Dodge Park was all covered. Scant glimpses of sun and changing sky conditions meant it was time to relocate.

A quick jaunt was made to the Horseshoe Lake Flats. Along the way - after the dreadful traffic control situation due to recreational trail construction - the Surfside Club was closed due to flood conditions, especially in its parking lot. The usual road taken along the lowlands by the Krimlofski Tract was closed and blocked by cement barricades. An alternative western route was taken that ended at the drainage ditch along County Road P49. Where it was barricaded, with signage.


Nearly everything eastward of this point was under some depth of water. It looked like a lake to the east, though the road signs sticking up here and there readily indicated usual purposes. In the distance were inundated buildings. A center-pivot irrigator was useless as it was partially under water.

The most interesting consideration from this point: What is the entire flooded land was actually part of the Boyer Chute NWR. Forget growing crops on a floodplain but allow the river to reclaim land it undoubtedly spread across in former years. The scene was wild and dramatic in its presentation of a time many decades ago when there was natural flooding which was the nature of the Missouri River.

Resident tragedies would eventually disappear. There would be less personal disasters and economic impact if the land was managed differently.

After an interlude, the day's route went southward to the entrance of N.P. Dodge Park where the local flock of Canada geese were gathered. The gaggle of geese were gathered on a spit of grass. One gander was using a spot reserved for handicapped parking. Boisterous goslings were big but not yet ready to fly. This bit of turf was among the few square feet of the park which were not inundated.


An unusual bird sighting here was two Green Herons, also adapting to the conditions. A Killdeer had a miniscule place where it could forage.

Along Pershing Drive, a jogger came along, and upon inquiry said there was no water on the road to the south. That route was actually accessible. Here, and elsewhere during the day, were gawkers getting their own perspective of the Flood of 2011.

Returning to the Hummel Park bluffs, intermittent sun and fog clouds presented a suitable dichotomy of the situation.

After safely maneuvering the park bluffs - more suited to a phoebe or bunting than a human hiker - it was time to go further south, moving first along Pershing Drive. The Corps of Engineers had built a berm of several feet around the Omaha Moorings staff building. Coast Guard people had done the same. Beneath the Mormon Bridge, a officer of the Omaha Police Department sat in his cruiser, controlling inbound access onto the drive. Leaving was not being controlled.

The guy was given a wave.

Near Carter Lake, contractors were placing sand bags around at least four electrical facilities - transformers, etc. - along Abbott Drive, by Eppley Airfield. Preventive efforts certainly?


La Platte Bottoms

Safely transversing the traffic officer radar spot north of La Platte, the always expressive La Platte Bottoms were reached. Water levels were notably higher than an earlier visit in June. There were however, barricades and road closed signs at the junction of La Platte Road and Harlan Lewis Drive, similar to those from the latter months of 2010.

Upon driving east to see what birds were about, my excursion was brought short by a man in a big pickup, making a kindly gesture. He asked if my residence was further along? No. He then said the county sheriff was issuing tickets to people present along the road, as it was officially closed. The apparent fine was $57.

My route - after noting the Great-tailed Grackles - went eastward to the first turn-around and continued to a stopping point at the intersection, just a few feet west of the barricades and signs, and certainly out of the zone of potential conflict.

It was not a good time to be trying to watch birds. There was too much traffic, especially dump trucks of various sorts. Some were taking fill material to a nearby site along Papillion Creek where the military was apparently filling sand bags to armor the creek's levee. A bit west, other trucksters hauled quantities of dirt to create a berm around a power company facility.

During a stop at the western edge of the bottoms, with the car parked completely off the roadway, there was a bit of time to see more Black Terns, and snap a pic after getting stable following the gusts from passing trucks. While there, a county sheriff drove past.


Great Marsh

The road to the floodplain of Fontenelle Forest and Gifford Point was completely blocked by barricades about a mile to the west, near Camp Logan Fontenelle. There were four barricades joined by a cable preventing any vehicular access, though there were no directives limiting foot traffic.

It did require a hike among the forest with beautiful birds to arrive on the floodplain. There certainly was water on the road, a few hundred feet eastward of the railroad tracks. Most of the lowland of Gifford Point is covered by some extent of river flows at this place directly below the city of Omaha.

The Great Marsh is greater than it has been in any recent year. The expansive marsh includes aquatic forest to the east - perhaps it might be called a swamp - and there are probably continuous liquid conditions to Hidden Lake.

Rust on the tracks indicate a lack of use for the BNSF railroad line.

Evening Time

Barricades along the county road east of Fort Calhoun were noted in a visit during in the early evening with ample sun. A partial barricade was bypassed to access to the barricade point. During the very brief visit, a patrol car of the Nebraska State Patrol came on the scene, but left without asking any questions.

A second visit to CR P49 indicated an increase in water levels. The bit of road present in the morning - as used by foraging Common Grackles and Killdeer - was gone. A female gawker here would not go beyond the barricades and signage because it said no trespassing.

The day went smoothly with no harangues for being anyplace. No inadvertent mishaps. And any citations for trespassing or speeding were avoided. All it took was time and money for high-priced gasoline.

Flood. Original artwork (c) 2011 Scott Malone.