31 January 2012

Winter Wanderings About Missouri Valley Land

With exceptional warmth underway as the norm of winter weather, it is an obvious time to get out and along into significant wild settings, using available horse power, well fed to make certain of a steady ride.

A seemingly false spring? The daytime's a time to travel to lands of wonder so sublime and hidden beneath form and structure.

It started with what Black Elk conveyed. There was a mystic association to be derived from the name and its green. At the same land space was Quail Hollow, an obvious natural aspect sprung forth. Listen and look for the never-more call of the bobwhite. Winter doves were in the basin. A gathering of finches called from a treetop. Among the woods spread across many square feet of space, were tree-loving chickadees.

Resonance of the Red-bellied Woodpecker conveyed a sublime indication by its persistent hammerings upon bark of a standing tree.

The theme of specially named places continued its expression two days later. It was a Monday, and onward was a trail supported by essential horse power.

By early afternoon the cheery Black-capped Chickadees were obvious among the diversity of trees that help establish the nature of the west, fair acres. The calls of the feathered residents could be a harbinger of spring, but it's not even February. The scene was a stop at a work camp along the path of the day. Hammer hard, break-apart and then carry away the unwanted surface was the chore for some time.

Then more travel -- associated with the job -- meant riding onward. Pawnee Road was soon reached after making a way along the bluffs of the hills some distance from the Missouri River. Further along in the miles, was Pheasant Point.

There were not any grouse, and not even a prairie-chicken. Two Red-tailed Hawks perched in some minimalist trees along the questionable creek. A Blue Jay used the same space.

Once done with the weigh and pay, onward the steady ride continued. Wild geese walked upon some of the ice majority at Lake Bennington, known for its namesake.

Other places of some twisted or not, naturistic sort were bypassed. There was nearby Heron Haven which pigeons found suitable this month. Southward, a Copper's Hawk was noticed near the Miracle Hills, with its unspoken message. There was a lack of bird activity at the east-to-west links known as Deer Creek.

Back at the west fairacres, additional birds of an American sort were active. The robin and crow were readily obvious as the sun shone on a day, mostly pleasant outside.

Travels for this narrative of one way, was nearly done in going eastward, going past Mulberry Lane along the fair avenue. A relative short ride to the east, beyond the hill up there, was an unobvious George Lake near northern Wood Creek.

Wild passage pigeons flew along above the memorial place, which as a parkland sort-of-place was active with throngs of dusky visitors.

Further along a short ways, a flock of the American Crow were gathering for their nightly adventure, just west of the well-known Happy Hollow.

Thus closes a three day period with hard-road traverses, including crossing over hazardous creeks, avoiding lake entrapments, skirting tree grove obstructions, and past swatches of grass. It finally ended in Carthage, especially known as a Canadian community, and which dominantly continues its foreign character.

The bird tally was 15 species of a stupendous sort from an urbane perspective. The names are evocative in conveying a forlorn nature nearly most obvious by words on wood.

29 January 2012

Increasing Habitat Diversity at West Omaha Greenspace

A federally-required mitigation project to replace wetlands will revise the diversity of habitat at a greenspace in the suburbs of western Omaha.

On December 20, 2011, the expenditure of $279,000 was approved by the city council of the city of Omaha for work at Black Elk Park in the Quail Hollow sanitary and improvement district (SID 437), as approved by the Park Advisory Board of Omaha. Work would also apparently occur in an adjacent property parcel owned by the subdivision.

These dollars would be used to create approximately 1.76 acres of mitigation wetlands within the tract, according to details given in a document submitted to the city council, as associated with the spending request, and by Omaha Parks Recreation and Public Property.

About 1999, the subdivision received a nationwide permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, according to staff of this wetland regulatory agency. The permit considered stormwater runoff and ancillary measures, and required mitigation for water-related impacts associated with the development of the subdivision.

Temporary stormwater detention basins will be removed during this project. Tree mitigation would also be required, according to details in a city council document. Sidewalk removal and addition will also occur.

Details on tree replacement were not indicated within the documentation provided to the Omaha City Council.

The expenditure derived an interest, with details requested for further consideration, including an email or two, and a phone call to the Omaha regulatory office of the Corps of Engineers.

Considering the place, it was apparent a visit was necessary. A visit on Saturday afternoon January 28th required mechanical, gas-driven transportation as conveyance to this distant suburb.

A portion of the trees removed at the project site. The large tree removed would have provided foraging habitat for the resident Red-bellied Woodpecker, and other species.

The tiny water flow, showing its disturbed condition.

Project boundaries were marked by flags stapled upon wooden laths.

There was an obvious extent of removed trees, with material piled in dumpsters.

A bit of a southerly stream flow was present and unfrozen, though it is a small feature through the site. Tracks of contractor equipment had slightly imposed on the flows of water during this winter. There was no other water-space at this place, though some skeptic might point to the trash-laden, southern terminus of the stormwater detention basin nearby, with a pond a few feet in size.

Stormwater basin at the site.

Second stormwater basin at the site.

Black Elk Park, located at Z Street and 161st Avenue, comprises a couple of acres of city of Omaha property. Adjacent tracts are owned by the SID, which based upon the visit include Quail Hollow Park, west of 163rd Street and Quail Hollow Nature Preserve which is a linear space northward from W Street. This place is on the north side of the designated park.

The park-associated space has about sixteen acres based upon a limited extent of public information, and includes nearly three acres of woodland west of 163rd Street where there is a bench and bridges across the ravines. An unknown number of acres comprise the designated parcel north of W Street.

Property owned by the Quail Hollow SID is open only to visitors who are residents of the subdivision.

27 January 2012

Newspaper Reports of Wild Pigeons 1843-1850

Chronicles of wild pigeons are prevalent on the pages of historic newspapers. Stories of various length typically revolve around the flights of the immense flocks, and anecdotes of shootists and others. It was death and mayhem in many ways.

The news also conveys considerate details on the occurrence of the Passenger Pigeon several decades before it was to become extinct. It is all essential elements of a bird species which now has nothing but a history.

An article representative of the era is about a Wisconsin roost, where the term "innumerable" applied, and which conveyed subsequent results.

"A Mr. McDowell came to our office yesterday, and told us that there is an immense Pigeon Roost in the forks of the Musquoketa in Jackson county, such as has never been seen in this country before -- it is three miles long, and half a mile in width. There can be no estimate of their numbers. Their roosting places are about a mile distant from their nests and feeding places, being three in number, and each one covering a section of land! and in passing to and fro, they darken the air with their number, and break down young trees with their weight, and hundreds are killed by getting entangled in the falling limbs and branches. The people kill them with clubs, and the noise is so loud that when a gun is fired amongst them, the report cannot be heard -- and a person can stand in one place and shoot all day, the birds returning as soon as you can load. They are building their nests, and the people are much alarmed, lest they may destroy their crops." — May 1843

Another great pigeon roost was also notable, in Illinois.

"There is one now, about sixteen miles north of this place, near Kirkersville, Licking county; which, it is said, covers a tract of five miles in diameter, and which has been visited by many of our citizens. We noticed a wagon in our market yesterday morning; loaded with live pigeons, brought from the same place." — June 1843

Later in the same year, on October 26th, 1843, near Canton, Ohio, many hundreds were taken. The "Repository" noted that several parties of sportsmen went in pursuit. One party "killed 1100, another 1000, another 900, and several others from 5 to 600. The game was afterwards distributed gratis to the citizens of Canton.

In 1844, near Nashville, Tennessee in October, flights were going over the city: ..."the skies have been literally hid from the view by immense flocks of wild pigeons -- so heavy that they can only be computed by square miles and acres."

On the morning of February 21, 1847, wrote a writer for the Cincinnati Chronicle: "the whole southern horizon was covered with pigeons, which continued to move on over the face of the skies, in squadrons of various magnitude, forming an innumerable army of this prolific bird. They were moving northwardly, as the Spring approaches." A followup report indicated the immense flight continued, and noting that woods of nearby Kentucky were also filled with these birds.

The report for a roost on the lower Licking River indicated: "...the fields around are strewn with the dead and wounded birds which have escaped the search of their destroyers."

The Sunbury, Penn. market had a vast supply in the spring of 1850.

"During the past week, large quantities of pigeons were flying. Many have been taken by our farmers and others, fond of the sport. Live pigeons have been selling from 37½ to 50 cents per dozen. Dead ones as low as 18¾ cents per dozen."

Easton also had a vast supply in their market. One state paper reported the capture of seventy dozen in two hauls with a net, near Upper Mount Bethel.

It was a busy time for the bird hunters, as indicated by this account from someone at Laurel, Indiana:

"I am completely worn down. the pigeons are roosting all through the woods, and the roosts extend for miles. Our neighbors and ourselves have for several nights built large fires and keep up reports of fire-arms to scare them off.
"While I write, within a quarter of a mile, there are thirty guns firing; the pigeons come in such large quantities as to destroy a great deal of timber, break limbs of large trees and even tear up some of the roots. The woods are covered with dead pigeons, and the hogs, are getting fat on them. Our old friend Hetrich, formerly of Baltimore killed fifty at four shots." — April 1850

In York, Penn., a Mr. Herbert arrived in town on Monday "with a wagon loaded with about 700 wild pigeons, which had been taken with a net." Someone else near Lancaster had taken about two thousand with a net.

The paper also reported on a "dreadful accident" where Wm. Emmons and Augustus Judon went out after some pigeons. The returned to the store in town, and when going through "military evolutions with two guns," supposedly not loaded. Judon pointed a gun at Emmons, pulled the trigger. A unexpected bullet pierced the latter's head, above the left eye. The 23-year-old was survived by his mother and younger brother.

26 January 2012

Tree Removal First Step for Omaha Projects

For two projects underway in city of Omaha parks, the first step has been tree removal.

Along Happy Hollow Creek, on the east side of Memorial Park, the channel is going to be stabilized using tons of rock that will be dumped on the banks. Dozens of trees were being removed first.

Levi Carter Park

Massive and ancient cottonwoods were taken down in Levi Carter Park. The area will be used as a large "spoil pile" for earthen material to be dredged from the lake, to increase its depth. Not sure what the Red-bellied Woodpecker in the immediate area thought about the loss of what had formerly been foraging habitat, or even possibly its roost and nest.

Note the size of the tree trunk, in comparison to the equipment which caused its destruction.

View of some fowl as seen from Wavecrest Park

A variety of 12-15 species of waterfowl have been typical each day during the recent weeks. The bird use continues despite some periods of cold and just a small area of water that is not ice-covered.

24 January 2012

The Death of the Blue Bird

Madge Elliott. January 27, 1876. Fancier's Journal 3(4): 42.
"He is dead!" said the Wind,
"Oh, who?" asked the Rose,
"The prince of the wildwood — the Blue Bird."
"And he died," said the Wind,
"Oh, why?" asked the Rose,
"Because she he loved was no true bird."
 
"Alas!" sighed the Rose,
"Ah, me I " said the Wind,
"So handsome, so tuneful, so clever."
"And she?" asked the Rose,
"False one!" said the Wind,
"In the maple chirps gaily as ever."
 
"And he lies," said the Wind,
"Oh, where? " asked the Rose,
"At the foot of the oak, in the clover."
"And the grass," said the Wind,
"Droops low," wept the Rose,
"O'er the form of the ill-fated lover."
 
"Oh, list!" said the Wind,
"I hear," sighed the Rose,
"The grave-digging beetles are coming."
"And that sound?" asked the Wind,
"Is a hymn," wept the Rose,
"That the Bee folks are solemnly humming."
 
"They are there, " said the Wind,
"And at work?" asked the Rose,
"Yes, the ground very softly they're breaking."
"They are kind," said the Wind,
"Most kind," wept the Rose,
"Such a pretty wee grave to be making."
 
"They are done," said the Wind,
"And I'll fling," said the Wind, "A rose leaf or two where he's lying."
"Take myself," sighed the Rose,
"All myself," wept the Rose, "He is dead, and for him — I am dying!"

23 January 2012

Destruction of Prairie-Chickens by Telegraph Wires in Iowa

Referring to Dr. Coues' article on this subject, in the Naturalist and elsewhere, I wish to add my testimony to the destruction of much larger birds than any mentioned by this writer. Many prairie chickens (Cupidonia cupido) are annually destroyed in this way. In December, 1868, near Cambridge, Story County, Iowa, I saw many of these birds lying dead on the snow beneath the line of telegraph, and was informed that they killed themselves by striking the wire in their rapid flight. Some of the birds had their heads cleanly cut off, and most of them were torn and lacerated to a greater or less extent. One or two wounded were still alive and fluttering. The spot seemed to be a favorite one for the flight of chickens. A high belt of timber skirted the river, and beyond this lay the river-wide expanse of "Skunk Bottom," bounded by high bluffs on the east. For certain reasons — possibly owing to some peculiarity of the winds at this point, or to the protection afforded by the belt of timber — the birds were accustomed to speed like arrows down across this bottom, and slight contact with the single wire that stretched across would either maim or kill them outright. Since that time I have heard of several instances in which these birds have been killed in the same manner. The destruction of these birds is so general along some of the railroad lines in the West that section men make a regular business of gathering them up as an addition to their own stock of provisions. The telegraph lines may therefore be set down as one reason, and not an insignificant one, whereby the extermination of the prairie hens is proceeding with a degree of rapidity which would be astonishing had we any means of making even an approximate calculation.

Charles Aldrich, Webster City, Iowa. American Naturalist, November.
December 8, 1877. Destruction of birds by telegraph wires. The Country 1(7): 79.

20 January 2012

Mowing Carter Lake Waters Like a Lawn

Once aquatic vegetation growth gets going this spring, officials plan to mow submerged plants in the water like a lawn.

This was one portion of the effort to improve water quality and fisheries for the Carter Lake project, as presented at a January 19th information meeting, held at MAPA offices in north Omaha.

Three speakers provided comments to a crowd of about fifty interested people, along with about a dozen officials.

There will be a "more aggressive plan this year" to remove vegetation from the lake, said Chris Larson, a fisheries biologist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. He presented information on a vegetative management plan. Following alum treatments and removal on rough fish, "incredibly clear water" resulted in an abundant growth of aquatic vegetation.

The plants were not welcomed by boaters and water-skiers, with this point-of-view apparent at the Thursday evening meeting.

Mechanical, chemical and biological options to inhibit vegetative growth were presented by Larson.

"Liken it to mowing a lawn," said Larson, while presenting options for mechanical removal. The effort would start in late April or early May, and continue throughout the growing season.

Answers to some basic questions were not available at the meeting. An inquiry to three officials was focused upon:

* What are the actual dates when mechanical clearing would occur?
* What areas would be the focus for mechanical clearing efforts?
* What are the expected costs of the mechanical clearing effort?
* Who would pay for the mechanical clearing?
* How would mechanical clearing impact other known uses of the lake waters?

Plant harvesting would likely commence in late April or early May and continue fulltime through the growing season, Larson said.

At least $30,000 was spent for this effort during eight weeks in July-August 2011, according to Larson's presentation. This cost did not include the funds provided by the city of Omaha and Carter Lake to pay someone to operate the equipment.

Larson said a plan indicating specifics of mechanical clearing efforts might be available in early March. There will be attention given to the main lake and boating area, especially where there is a 4-8' water depth.

Though no cost estimates were available, based upon an approximate calculation, it would require about $4000 per week the expense of clearing vegetation. One option mentioned was the purchase of mechanical clearing equipment for ca. $170,000. It could then be used each year.

While listening to comments on the "so-called problem" with vegetation, one project proponent was overhead saying "we need to do whatever we can and if that doesn't work, try something else."

Chemical options are also being actively considered. There is a requirement for a permit, according to Iowa regulations. Most of the lake waters are in Nebraska.

Iowa would prefer a single permit to cover all areas of potential application. One permit would be issued to the City of Carter Lake to allow all applications.

A graphic shown during his presentation showed an ungiven number of linear feet of lake bank — especially in the Carter Lake urban area — where chemicals could be applied by a licensed applicator.

Officials in a Des Moines regulatory office are already agreeable to such a permit request, Larson said.

There would be only a few sites where chemical control of plants would occur on the Nebraska portion of the lake. The presenter suggested that the Iowa permit could also be used for these places within Levi Carter Park.

An application of chemicals costs about $200 per acre, according to figures given at the meeting.

Biological applications were a third option.

Suitable plants could be established, with a particular indication of the value of water-lilys. A primary area of water dredging in the east arm of the lake will exclude the known water-lily wetland.

The use of grass carp is not allowed in Iowa waters. The legality of their introduction into Nebraska waters was not presented.

Earlier in the meeting comments were given about what has already been done and what will happen in the coming months, associated with the project.

In the next eight months, project facets include, as presented by a representative of TetraTech:

  • shoreline stabilization using earth and rock fill
  • construction of groins that will be 25' long and 25' wide; they will have an earth core stabilized by rock
  • construction of offshore breakwaters
  • construction of perpendicular breakwaters that will be 30 feet long and placed into the lake, with a top elevation one foot above the normal water elevation
  • dredging to increase water depth in some places of the east arm of the lake, with some dredged material dumped into the lake near the island, to reduce lake depth; 50,000 cubic yards will be removed based upon the removal of 2-3 feet of the lake bottom
  • building a wet detention basin
  • impeding runoff through the Levi Carter Pond by dumping rock to create barriers and by promooting vegetative growth; this particular site was mentioned as not having; this water area was "not reaching the efficiency it could" to provide a reduction of pollutants from adjacent urban runoff, according to the speaker from TetraTech.

Project items already completed were given by Brad Richardson, project coordinator, at the start of the 35 minutes of given presentations. They were:

  • alum treatment;
  • fisheries renovation;
  • watercraft management, including buoy management and marking of a no-wake zone;
  • construction of bioretention and bioswale areas on the southern shore of the lake, within urban Carter Lake;
  • meeting water quality goals; and,
  • publication of a "success story" by the Environmental Protection Agency.

A bid of $2,637,426.12 was approved December 6th, 2011 by the Omaha City Council. Western Construction Corporation will be the primary contractor, who will:

"furnish labor and materials to install water quality improvements, including shoreline stabilization, dredging and construction of a water quality basin at Carter Lake in Omaha, Nebraska and Carter Lake, Iowa." ... "Funds in this amount shall be paid from the 2006 Parks and Recreation Bond Fund No. 13354 and Organization No. 117315, 2010 Issue Parks and Cultures Bond."

At this council meeting, there was also a hearing on an appeal by K&L Construction Inc. on the rejection of their October 26, 2011 bid submitted for the Carter Lake Water Quality Improvements project. Their appeal was denied in a 7-0 vote.

Project construction will start Monday, January 23rd. It will begin at the south end of the west arm, and continue clockwise around the lake. During construction, portions of park roadway and the recreational path will be temporarily closed.

Work included in the approved bid, does not include any additional steps associated with vegetative management, including mechanical clearing and chemical spraying.

Anonymous the Keyword for Carter Lake Group

When it comes to the Carter Lake Advisory Group, anonymous is the keyword for how this team which has directed technical features of the project, but which is now focused on implementation and funding. Group members are regularly making decisions on the project underway at this Missouri River oxbow which has and will cost millions of dollars. These are primarily public funds.

It was possible to determine some of the people involved with this group's efforts and the agency with which they are involved:

  • George Antoniou - lake restoration program, Iowa Department of Natural Resources
  • Gerry Bowen - natural resources planner, Papio-Missouri NRD
  • Paul Brakhage - Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality
  • Nina Cudahy - stormwater program coordinator, city of Omaha stormwater program
  • Lynn Dittmer - Associate Planner, Community Development, Metropolitan Area Planning Agency
  • Rachel Glaza - Iowa DNR project officer
  • Jake Hansen - community and economic development manager, Metropolitan Area Planning Agency
  • Bobbi Holm - Extension Educator-Urban Environments, Douglas County Extension Service
  • Steve Hopkins - Nonpoint Source Program coordinator, Iowa DNR
  • Russ Kramer - mayor, City of Carter Lake
  • Chris Larson - fisheries biologist with the Iowa DNR
  • Mike McGhee - lake restoration program, Iowa Department of Natural Resources
  • Sara Mechtenberg - with the engineering firm TetraTech
  • Paul Mullen - executive director, Metropolitan Area Planning Agency
  • Heather Tippey Pierce - general services manager, City of Omaha Public Works Department.
  • Mark Porath - aquatic habitat program manager, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission
  • Brad Richardson - project coordinator; this is the only person whose name is given on the website for this project
  • Steve Satra - fisheries, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission
  • Mary Schroer - Source Water Coordinator, Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality
  • Kevin Seevers - Pottawattamie County Soil and Water Conservation District
  • Pat Slaven - parks planner, Parks Recreation and Public Property, city of Omaha
  • Mike Sotak - TetraTech
  • Dave Tunink - Nebraska Game and Parks Commission
  • Bob Waters - Iowa chapter of National Association of Conservation Districts

There may be others and perhaps a couple of the names given on the list are not regular group participants.

At the informational meeting held on January 19th, the first speaker did not identify himself, until asked. None of the other people answering questions from the community members present had name tags, nor where they introduced at the start of the meeting.

The two other at the Thursday night meeting, did identify themselves before presenting their remarks.

Also at the meeting last night, project representatives would not allow any questions to be presented in a group setting, which completely stifled any public discourse on the project. Individual questions were okay, after the brief presentation, but this is not the same as getting a shared perspective to develop consensus and help interested community members to know hear other perspectives and comments.

They did not even provide — during the 35 minutes public portion of the meeting — the name of the contractor and the cost (apparently more than $2.5 million) for a project expected to begin January 23rd. This could not be located on the project website, either.

The anonymous character of this group extends to their meetings. Dates and times are never announced to the public (notably lacking on the project website), neither are agendas or meeting minutes provided. Nor are the regular advisory group meetings, composed primarily of public officials are not open to the public.

The reason for the situation is not known, but indicates an obvious and repeated modi operandi of secrecy.

These practices are the opposite of open government.

19 January 2012

Waterfowl Outing to Carter Lake Environs

Typical winter weather has descended upon the Missouri River valley, making it more an effort in timing ongoing visits to Carter Lake to view the fowl gathering. Temps were moderate on Wednesday, the 18th, so despite the winds, the bicycle route was taken about the oxbow.

View of the lakescape from a point near where a sign representing the Sandy Griswold Bird Sanctuary could have been placed.

The lake was mostly ice-covered, except for a small patch on the north-central section. There were hundreds of lively waterfowl. Most of the typical species that have been present were noted, except for the Lesser Scaup.

The dead coot carcass is along the side of the ice. Perhaps it would provide a morsel for a Bald Eagle?

Considering Trash

A visit was made to the northwest section of Levi Carter Park, to view the results of the trash removal.

It was nice to see that sometime between January 9th and 17th, the trash problem originally reported on November 7th was addressed. It was disappointing to see that the job was not suitably finished. When visiting on the 18th, the work done was obvious, then about ten minutes were taken to further the cleaning. The items shown in the attached picture were gathered together from the city parcel. Perhaps this will help to get the place cleaned up entirely? And so that the tires will be gone!

These logs were placed as a deterrent to further access by trashers.

This is a view of some of the trash present when the problem was first reported on November 7, 2011.

18 January 2012

The Slaughter of the Innocents

Mary Thatcher. May 22, 1875. Harper's Bazar 8(21): 338. What a poignant voice for bird conservation!

If a stranger to modern ways of doing things had strolled through our Northern cities during the last few months, he might well have asked, "Did not the birds go South last year?" For wherever he could turn, some bright-winged bird would meet his puzzled eye. In all variety of plumage, from the gaudy colors of the tropics to sombre brown and gray, these "children of the air" flit through oar streets. The scarlet tanager has forgotten his sunny Southern haunts, the indigo-bird bravely faces our icy blasts, and even those delicate little fairies, the hummingbirds, have not deserted us. But, alas! these brilliant visions have been only ghosts of birds, mute warblers, little captives deprived of life and light and song. The outspread wings have lost their magic power, and the little feet, instead of clasping some swaying bough, have been hopelessly entangled in meshes of velvet and lace. Here, there, and every where the same strange phenomenon has been visible. At least every other woman on the street has worn a hat surmounted by a bird, or by an ingenious patchwork affair which reminds one of the bug manufactured to puzzle Professor Agassiz. Tall women and short women, richly dressed women and shabbily dressed women, little girls and big girls, have decorated themselves with these spoils of the forest. Not only in the street, but in the ballroom, on head-dresses and in the hair, these feathered ornaments have been worn; so that "a fashionable lady's coiffure," to quote a recent Paris letter, " has famished material for a naturalist's study." Have the little songsters committed some unpardonable misdemeanor, that this edict of death has gone forth, or has popular opinion decreed that the groves are no longer the fitting haunts of birds, and that their proper nestling place is a woman's hat?

To be sure, the custom of wearing feathers can boast of respectable antiquity, for even the nimble god Mercury wore a cap with wings. Savages have decorated themselves with the tufts and plumes of birds from time immemorial, but they have been influenced by deeper reasons than the love of display. The battle-field had no terrors for the natives of New Guinea when they wore the skins of "God's bird" the bird-of-paradise. The American Indians believed that all the good qualities of certain birds were bestowed upon the wearer of their feathers. But a bird on a woman's hat to-day has but one meaning, and that is vanity. Wallace, in the account of his travels in the Malay Archipelago, says the natives were deeply puzzled to know why he preserved so many birds and insects. At length they arrived at a solution of the mystery, and an old man, with an air of profound conviction, exclaimed, "They all come to life again : that's what they do they all come to life again!"

I see a beautiful bird perched on the crown of a woman's hat, with bent head and outspread wings; its whole poise is suggestive of the famous blackbird in the nursery rhyme; and if the little victim before me should "come to life again" and take a similar revenge, I should not be surprised. If a woman must wear a bird, why does she not show a little taste in her selection, and choose one whose appearance will harmonize somewhat with her own? Why do meek little maidens overshadow themselves with "winged flames" from tropical wilds, and stalwart matrons affect the dainty humming-birds? Fashion delights to set all the laws of nature at defiance, but she never showed more plainly her ignorance of the fitness of things than when she took the birds from their native haunts and perched their lifeless bodies upon the heads of our mothers and sisters and daughters.

But in comparison with other aspects of the subject, the mere question of good or bad taste is of little account. That the fashion of using birds for ornament is a cruel one probably never entered the minds of most women. When our fashionable ladies or fair young girls stand before a counter covered with rich plumes and stuffed birds of rare beauty, do they pause to think how many joyous lives were sacrificed, how many happy woodland homes destroyed, how many gushes of song stilled forever, that they might deck themselves with these colors stolen from the woods and fields and shores? Unfortunately this fashion is not confined to the cities. Many young women who live in the country persuade their brothers or friends to shoot every bright-winged bird they see. These are easily preserved without the aid of the taxidermist; and when the ruthless winds blow off the head or tail of one little victim, another is ready to take its place. Yet these very women have tender hearts, and would shrink from inflicting needless pain on any creature had not love of "style" blinded their eyes. The number of birds sacrificed to this senseless custom has caused an alarming diminution of some of our most beautiful species; and in certain localities the indigo-bird, and other birds of bright plumage, are almost extinct. The apostles of dress reform might find here a worthy field for their efforts, for it rests with women alone whether this cruel custom shall be abandoned or perpetuated. The value of the smaller birds to mankind is a truth not yet fully recognized, or, if generally known, it is every where disregarded. Longfellow's poem, "The Birds of Killingworth," gives a truthful description of what has happened in many places both here and across the sea, where a "St. Bartholomew of birds" has been inaugurated only to be followed by the most disastrous consequences. Happily the days when farmers made a business of killing the winged wardens" of their orchards and grain fields have gone by. The annual shooting matches of the rural districts, when each party strove to destroy the largest number of wild creatures, have, to a great extent, been abolished; and the accounts of the immense bird hunts, like that which occurred in North Bridgewater, Massachusetts, in 1820, where the birds were killed off in such quantities that cart-loads of them were sold to the farmers for fertilizing the soil, seem now like some pitiful tale of fiction. Yet in all parts of the country for the last few years there has been a steady decrease in the number of birds. A speedy retribution follows when the nicely balanced laws of nature are disturbed. Those deadly enemies of vegetation, the hosts of devouring insects, are upon us, and new species are constantly appearing. If we consider the astonishing rate at which insects multiply, we shall better understand these rapid inroads. Reaumur says that one of those little pests known as plant-lice, or aphides, may become the progenitor of six thousand millions in one season. This marvelous power of reproduction may well make us tremble. A careful writer on this subject estimates the annual loss from destruction of property by insects in the United States to amount to four hundred millions of dollars, and to this devastation he attributes the high price of farm produce, and the increase of distress and want in our large cities. At least one-eighth of this loss might be avoided, he declares, by the careful protection of birds. Innumerable instances might be given of important services thus rendered by birds in different parts of the world, Michelet says one pair of sparrows carries to the nest 4300 caterpillars in a week; and, according to Audubon, a woodcock will eat its own weight of insects in a single night. A titmouse introduced into a conservatory has been known to cleanse, in a few hours, rosebushes which were infested with thousands of the aphides. If the birds are banished or annihilated, shall we not be at the mercy of these myriads of destroyers Even now what suffering is caused at the West by the ravages of grasshoppers! The devices of man are of little avail, our deadly poisons are woefully insufficient, and sooner or later we are forced to imitate our sharp-shooters in the late war, and "pick off the enemy one by one." How much more effectually the birds would do it for us! Multitudes of birds are yearly killed for scientific purposes and for public and private collections. Only a few weeks ago a gentleman returned from Arizona with a thousand bird-skins for the Smithsonian Institution. With all due reverence for science, it must be conceded that naturalists are not as scrupulous about taking life or inflicting pain as they might be. Few of them are as humane as our own Thoreau, who told an ornithologist, who insisted upon holding his bird in his hand, that he would rather hold it in his affections. Many people, who do not aspire to possess collections of birds, contrive to ornament their rooms with single specimens. Which is more painful to see a winged creature shut up in a cage, or to discover these lifeless ornaments, poor effigies of birds, perched upon the picture - frames, hidden under glass cases on the mantel, or perhaps sitting on their rifled nests, which have been transported, branches and all, to the parlor? Leonardo da Vinci bought singing birds in cages merely to set them free. In these days of cheap and beautiful pictures and statuettes, among the variety of small ornaments to be had almost for the asking, can we not emancipate the birds?

Birds are even more desperately pursued for their flesh than for their plumage. Audubon says that when he first went to Kentucky the pinnated grouse was so abundant that no hunter deigned to shoot it. Twenty-five years later the grouse had abandoned the State. Prairie-chickens are now slaughtered in such quantities at the West that there is reason to fear the shy, pretty creatures will soon be exterminated. Men hunt them with trained dogs, kill all they can, and wastefully throw away all of the bird but the breast. At a prize hunt in Minnesota last summer nine hundred prairie-chickens were killed in a day within the area of one township. The passenger-pigeon, now rarely seen in the Eastern States, once bred in Massachusetts woods, and the ruffed grouse and several species of wild-ducks were abundant in the same State. The bird laws are as stringent as the prohibitory law, and quite as effectual. The abominable snares and traps, the deadly broadsides from batteries and pivot-guns, the ingenuity of sportsmen, who by their decoys and mock-whistles lure whole flocks of birds within rifle range, have done their work, and we doubt whether posterity will ever hear of "quail on toast," or know the flavor of woodcock or grouse. Game is yearly diminishing in Europe as well as in this country, and it is only within recent years that protection has been secured there for the small birds, which have been attacked and slaughtered with ferocious zeal. Italy, whose delightful climate attracts many species of birds, has been described as " that land of song where a man no sooner hears a feathered warbler sing than he desires to shoot and eat it." It is said that a veteran Italian hunter is as proud of a string of dead linnets as any English boy of his first bag of grouse. The ancient Eomanspoor benighted heathen! feasted on flamingoes' tongues and the brains of pheasants and peacocks. But in this era of the world, in the boasted nineteenth century, man, who is a little lower than the angels, sits down to a banquet of thrushes, eats the lark which at heaven's gate sings, even devours the nightingale! Mrs. Somerville, in her Personal Recollections, speaks of a gentleman who won her heart at a dinner-party in Rome by crying out, "What! robins--our household birds! I would as soon eat a child."

Foolish superstition has caused the destruction of many useful birds, such as the chimney-swallow and whip-poor-will, which have been considered birds of ill omen. Then, too, the birds which go south often perish in large numbers on their perilous journeys. "The eagle waits on his crag; man watches in the valley." The light-houses, which save so many human lives, are terribly fatal to the birds, which are killed by flying against the thick glass of the lantern. Mrs. Thaxter tells us that three hundred and seventy-five dead birds have been picked up in one morning at the foot of the light-house tower on the Isles of Shoals.

Thus it certainly seems as if the whole race of birds were doomed. Few people besides naturalist? know what interesting and intelligent little creatures they are, how wonderfully organized, how delicately susceptible to joy and pain. "I turn this thrash in my hand," writes a lover of birds, "I remember its strange ways, the curious look it gave me, its ineffable music, its freedom, and its ecstasy, and I tremble lest I have skin a being diviner than myself." The widespread belief that birds and animals were created only for the use and amusement of man is a doctrine unworthy of Christendom. The whale, otter, and seal have been so relentlessly pursued that they are fast disappearing. In Europe an oyster famine is predicted, for that favorite bivalve has been "dredged to death." The wholesale slaughter of buffaloes on the Western plains is another instance of our folly and reckless waste of life. The penguin, which is valued for its oil, is chased by small vessels fitted out for that purpose, and these vessels take, upon an average, three hundred thousand penguins each. The pursuit of this bird is compared to that of the wingless auk, and the same fate is predicted for it--that of utter extinction. "Birds are given for the use of man," says a well-known sportsman's book, "and if they serve to supply him with food or healthful exercise, they have answered their purpose." O heartless and godless creed! Let us go to the East, and learn a lesson of heathen nations. The instinctive tenderness and reverence felt by the Orientals for life in any form is to many the great charm of the East. The Buddhists established hospitals for sick animals, and the Egyptians saw something divine in all living things. The same kindly spirit prompts the people of Sweden and Norway to place sheaves of barley and oats on high poles before the houses at Christmas-time, that the birds too may have a feast.

Nebraska Agency Ignores Compromise on Bird Signage

A compromise regarding signage proposed for the Griswold Bird Sanctuary has been ignored by an administrative official at the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

In mid-November, a phone conversation was held with Jim Douglas, deputy director, regarding the placement of a simple sign to recognize the conservation efforts of Sandy Griswold. Placement of the sign would recognize the pioneering conservation efforts of this outdoors writer for four decades in Nebraska, and where such a sign could get placed. A phone call was made as a means of transportation was not available to get to their Lincoln offices.

The request for a compromise was to have the state agency agree to not have one groin fishing structure placed along the southeast side of Carter Lake. Not including this one structure — among the more than 20 to be constructed — would help to provide a view-scape somewhat reflecting the historic character of the lake.

A proposal to place the sign on the end of a groin was rejected, as it would not reflect the character of "Sandy's Creed" and his ongoing appeals for conserving habitats for birds.

This request was also supported by Melinda Pearson, director of the Omaha Parks and Recreation Department in a letter to members of the Carter Lake Technical Advisory group. Her letter of 21 September 2011, stated, in part:

..."remove groin structure "XXIII" at the southeast corner of the Lake from the project, along with the rip-rap between that structure and the drainage ditch from Kiwanis Park to the west." ... "There are many other things he'd like to see removed from the project; however, he is willing to compromise by just identifying this one location. It seems a reasonable request and I'm asking the Technical Advisory Team to consider approving this change."

The resulting emails indicated that the advisory group would need "NGPC concurrence" according to one respondent. Fisheries staff of the agency had already rejected the request. The fishing groins — basically a formed pile of rocks dumped into the water — were needed because people "do not like to fish from the bank."

This is another example of the staff indifference to an alternative view. They have not shown any interest in considering current details of bird use at the lake. They have hung up the phone when they decided not to further discuss the situation.

During the phone conversation with Mr. Douglas, he indicated he would look further into the matter and then provide a response.

An email response received November 29th — based upon an inquiry — was that no decision had been made yet.

It is now January 18th, and there has still not been any information received from the agency, showing an obvious indifference. A phone call made January 17th was not returned.

Deputy director Douglas — interested in becoming the new director of the agency — could not take the minute to provide a reply to a valid request.

Actions by employees of a public agency — who work for Nebraskans — regarding this matter indicate an unacceptable bias in favor of a publicly-subsidized project that can provide revenue to the agency through the purchase of fishing and boating licenses.

17 January 2012

Levi Carter Park Master Plan Considerations

Once Nebraska and Iowa officials finish the industrialization of Carter Lake, their focus will be turned to altering Levi Carter Park. A master plan concept indicates the proposed changes, of which some are slight but others quite significant.

Plan proposed for Levi Carter Park.
Received from Omaha Parks Recreation and Public Property, November 2011.

Getting right into details, two primary weaknesses in the plan are the indicated extent of the park area, and land parcel ownership.

The park boundary shown does not include, for example, the City of Omaha parcel at the northwest corner. The Boyd Park area is not even included in the plan, though it is adjacent to the park, and one map seen in park facilities, indicates this area as part of Levi Carter Park. It was ignored, possibly because a railroad right-of-way separates it from the park space. There are two property parcels, according to details shown by the Douglas County assessors office. Both are mostly wooded. The landowner adjacent to the south side of the west tract, has been allowed to encroach onto the city property, reducing its value as a green, park space that would be perfect for a minimal develop hiking/nature trail.

There are areas of private company ownership associated with Levi Carter Park:

1). a bit more than 2 acres at the south end of the west side is owned by the Chicago Central and Pacific Railroad
2). along the west side, a corridor cuts through the middle of the park lands, which was formerly a railway corridor, but which has been abandoned.
3). a corridor on the north side of the park is a long abandoned trackway owned by the Union Pacific Railroad. It has been recognized as the Browne Street Woods, and would be a valuable addition to the park's extent, as it has a long existing buffer from industrial and residential area to the north. A representative of the company and a city were put in contact in November, 2011 to see if the Omaha corporation would donate the few acres to the Omaha Parks foundation. Nothing has been heard subsequently.

Parcel id. no. 0203530010 owned by Virgil Anderson, Omaha. This parcel continues to the north.

Parcel id. 0209580000 owned by Chicago Central & Pacific, Waterloo, Iowa.

Information valid as of December 31, 2011, Douglas County Assessors office website.

Resolving land ownership should be a top priority, and should be atop any list for any site planning. The final disposition of land use cannot occur unless the City of Omaha owns the property.

Additional items deserve further consideration, starting on the south and west side of the park lands:

The necessity of proposed new street lights along Carter Lake Shore Drive West would require additional power lines and provide light. Upon entering the park-scape from the south along this route, the most obvious presentation is already power lines and poles which dramatically reduce the view presentation. Any new power lines should be buried.

A new off-leash dog park is proposed on what is now a holding yard for city of Omaha material, primarily tree waste. Having the dog park here would require construction of additional parking and place what could be a prominently used feature a distance away from other places where people would congregate in the park. A dog park should be located at a place associated with other uses, so that while someone is enjoying a picnic, has an acquaintance playing a field sport, or some other event, could walk to the dog park to let their pooch run. Having it separated at a distance conveys a theme of "dropping park features into any space where they fit" rather than an attention to conjunctive use and thoughtful design.

The loop trail along the lake side follows a usual norm of park planning. It is apparently placed as close as reasonable to the lake, as indicated to the most part in this park's plan. Wherever possible, there should be a minimal 50 foot distance from the lake, and screening vegetation — especially shrubs — should be added as a visual barrier. Users of the trail do not require a continual, unobstructed perspective, and obscured places add a sense of mystery to what might be seen at the next place. It is only because of project planners that a trail is proposed for construction that would be as close as possible water feature, irregardless of any natural use, i.e. migrant wild birds which would obviously react to any walker, biker, dog not on a leash or other sort of traffic near the water spot which thought might be a temporary haven.k,

There is — in an obvious omission — no recognition given to the "meadow in the making tract" on the west side of the street. A sign currently indicates this feature, of which a portion is owned by a private landowner. This latter area has some features representative of wetland conditions, and are unique in the vicinity.

The failure of this plan to recognize the meadow feature, which includes wet soil conditions, indicates a bias against existing green habitat and the many values it provides. The plan does not indicate how the distinctive cottonwood tree grove will be retained. Any retention of this feature is impossible as once the already mature trees age and fall over, this dramatic vista will be gone. Instead, it will have a tepid condition of scrub growth and taller, though unwanted red cedar trees. There has been no effort by anyone to remove invasive cedar trees anywhere in the park.

Two wetland areas are indicated north of Cornish Boulevard. How they will be established and maintained might be associated with the CSO! project, as the parks department will not create such habitats. The big question is how the requisite hydrologic condition would be established?

The northwest corner wooded area has a relict pond but is been completely ignored, as if it was not a part of the park. The place should at least be recognized as a valuable green space to buffer the parklands from the adjacent neighborhood. Perhaps it could be a specifically identified habitat where flora and fauna could flourish, undisturbed.

Although the summary document available — and which was the only information provided upon a request to the Omaha Parks and Recreation department — does not present the particular details essential to understand any park plan, an obvious question is what the source of funding will be for many of the proposed additions or changes. Particular items that would have to be paid for are picnic shelters, sand volleyball courts, interpretive exhibits, improvements of construction of parking lots at multiple sites, renovation of the historic pavilion and bath house, building a new boat dock near the current "beach" site, and providing a two-lane boat ramp, where there is now a single access ramp suitable for boaters.

There is an indicated proposal for sand volleyball courts along the lake's edge, south of where the decrepit buildings currently occur. The plan seems to convey that this area is a beach. It isn't. The ground is covered by grass. Will there be tons of sand hauled in to create a beach? What would be the extent of use for volleyball courts? Would they be built and used once or twice a season? The bottom line ... put this feature somewhere else where there would be a trivial cost to provide the sandy area proposed. The many dump-truck loads hauled in to fill sand bags last year, would have been sufficient, but the stuff was taken away, rather than be repurposed, as city employees have time and trucks for anything an administrator tells them to do.

Three multi-use fields are obviously indicated for the large extent of mown lawn currently present north and somewhat east of the decrepit buildings along the north shore of the lake. This feature would include a new parking lot. There is now a bunch of grass here, so a better use of the space could be beneficial, though the ongoing requirement for mowing would not change.

It is near here that the dog-park should be placed as it would then be much more convenient to more park users.

Changes at the "northeast park site" include the boat ramp expansion. Then the list includes clear brush along shoreline, for some unknown reason except to allow a clear view for gawkers, as it does not require the removal of shoreline vegetation for boaters to see what is happening when they rev their motors upon unloading into the lake.

Nothing in the plan graphic indicates how the trees now present — primarily cottonwoods many decades old — would be replaced to continue to convey a dramatic arboreal setting. Many of these trees are now broken-down condition, which would necessitate their removal.

Nothing is given in the plan design which is pertinent to the lake-shore setting on the "interior" of the lake, adjacent to the city of Carter Lake. The area is part of the park — according to Carter Lake officials — and a wetland, as indicated by federal criteria. Specific efforts should be made to ensure the current land use continues and is not encroached upon and not buried under rip-rap. This bit of somewhat of a natural setting is perhaps the last extent of this sort of place along the lake.

City and state officials were made aware of an interest to place a sign in recognition of the Sandy Griswold Bird Sanctuary, first recognized in the 1920s. Any attention to this aspect and valuable natural feature of the lake has nonetheless not received any attentive consideration. This is an indication of bias in planning which seemingly favors a trend of the moment, while ignoring prominent historic features. Once the lake is "industrialized" by dredging and dumping of hundreds of tons of rock into the lake, any reason for indicating this feature would be a travesty, as why recognize a setting where masses of rock will be the predominant feature?

Sandy Griswold was astutely aware of nature and its subtle presentation, as expressed again in his poetic prose. His recognized legacy cannot be presented in a view-scape where huge amounts of rock dumped into an oxbow lake are the prominent feature.

The park master plan strives to present more, based upon additions and construction. Yet, little if any attention has been given to what is currently present and represents the park legacy, since it was established by the donation of Mr. Carter, many decades ago. While community input is essential, the demands need to be moderated by the realities of cost and other considerations.

For Levi Carter Park, the indicated plan has an obvious lack of focus, gives only a tepid attention to detail, ignores land ownership, and conveys a lack of consideration as to how the actual property aspects could truly create a unique setting in the urban area. The lake could also be appreciated rather than be deformed by ignorant demands./P>

15 January 2012

Millinery Trade and Bird Protection Advocacy

A fashionable accessory for women of the 1880s was a fine hat which expressed the latest in style as especially recognized by the couture mavens of New York.

Using colorful feathers plumes, or perhaps an entire skin of a bird were all the rage for milliners, responding to the demands of their women customers.

A short perspective conveys some of the details for this distinct topic associated with the known record of historic ornithology.

This account focuses on a time of change during the mid-1880s. The use of bird items was prominent. There was also a fledgling opposition.

At some unknown time, a bird feather was used to adorn a hat, placed upon prominent display in shop window. It attracted the discriminating eye of a female buyer. Her adornment garnered attention, and others wanted the same.

An early indication of feathers' importance for fashion was expressed in a perspective of current trends for the autumn millinery, from a New York City point-of-view by an anonymous author well versed in the descriptive terminology of the trade.

"Fancy feathers will be the leading feature of the trimmings of winter bonnets. Merchants call these fancy feathers because of the fanciful shapes in which they are mounted, but the feathers themselves are of natural colors — not dyed — and are plucked from rare birds. These feather ornaments combine many rich colors, and are mounted in flat pieces that conform to the shape of the bonnet. Occasionally the whole bird is placed in a natural poise on the front or side of the hat, but far oftener one bird is made to do service for two hats by being split in halves from bill to tail, and having a spirited little top-knot or some tail feathers added. The beautiful Brazilian humming-birds that glisten like jewels are more used than the larger birds. Sometimes an ornament consists of five or six of these tiny birds clustered together as if in a nest, their heads and long bills crowded as if pushing each other from the nest, and thus showing their upturned throats with their beautiful plumage. There are coronets with two heads meeting in the centre, a number of tiny wings stuck next in fan shape, and tail feathers at each end; these are to be set between the crown and brim, and will serve to trim the bonnet. The object seems to be to combine as many brilliant colors as can be massed together in one of these clusters. Sometimes an Alsacian bow is formed of birds, or else of their wings, and there are feather butterflies and foliage similar to those used last year. Golden pheasants' feathers, especially the small 'eyes' of the feather, and guinea-hen feathers on borders, are shown for turbans. Bits of tinsel, of jet, and many jet beads are added to make the feather ornaments. The pompons are in great variety; one of the prettiest is the rose pompon, with feather petals tipped with tinsel; among these are black pompons and bronze with gold edges, also amaranth, plum, white and blue. Natural gray long ostrich plumes are imported, and all the new shades are shown in the tips, demi-long and Mercutio plumes, some of which are tipped with jet, or else they are waved and curled like willow plumes. Feather fringes and borders are made of the tiniest tips closely curled. Odd little tufts of white feathers like snow-flakes are dotted about in dark feather borders. Solitary birds are mounted to show their feet, and sometimes the feet are stuck in pompons or in the flat ornaments; on other pompons a dragon-fly is poised, while still others have either black or white herons' feathers standing stiffly erect in the centre." — August 1879, Harper's Bazaar, though it was the "Harper's Bazar" when published

In 1883, a newspaper article about the latest in New York fashions, included this particular indication that the color and presentation of bird parts could create a prominent statement for a fashionable urban woman.

"Feathers are in immense demand and in every gradation from the entire hat or bonnet of them will take an important rank in millinery. Feather bands will give a coveted finish on felt, velvet or other material, a feathered crown may serve as a offset to lighter surroundings, while there is an abundant supply of wings, heads, breasts and entire birds among which swallows are particularly sought after. Grotesque little imitation birds are made up of feathers and the eye rests amusedly on such small burlesques as a rooster not three inches long, pea fowls scarce larger, displaying with natural vanity a genuine plumage, etc."

During the mid-1880s, based upon a limited extent of source material, bird advocates were very much opposed to the millinery industry use of bird parts to establish their fashion.

"The destruction of millions of birds annually results from the present fashion of wearing birds on hats and bonnets. The women who wear them, and give countenance to the fashion, have doubtless done so thoughtlessly, as regards the serious destruction of bird-life thereby entailed, and without any appreciation of its extent or its results, considered from a practical stand-point. Until recently, very rarely has attention been called to the matter, or the facts in the case adequately set forth. They have therefore sinned, for the most part, unwittingly, and are thus not seriously chargeable with blame. But the case is now different, and ignorance can no longer by urged in palliation of a barbarous fashion." — Science, February 26, 1886

These words were among a multitude expressed in a special supplement to this journal, urging the protection of birds. The newly created American Ornithologists' Union added their support.

One article entitled "Destruction of Birds for Millinery Purposes" presented facts and figures on the topic. Recognition was given to an outdoor sports publication, Forest and Stream for coverage that occurred in 1884. One South Carolina dealer had prepared more than 11,000 skins for the trade.

Cobb's Island, Virginia, was prominent as well, since an "enterprising woman" had a contract to deliver at least 40,000 birds skin to a Paris millinery firm, and would receive 40 cents for each one. Species being taken included gulls and terns.

"Similar butchery has been carried on along the sandy shore of Cape Cod ... it being reported that 40,000 terns were killed here in a single season by one party for the hat-trade."

Egrets and herons were also subjects, obviously "annihilated" in "supplying the exhaustless demand for egret-plumes." The "soft, furry plumage" of grebes, also made them a target. Among the smaller birds, the birds with brighter plumage were of particular interest, including orioles, tanagers, grosbeaks, cedar waxwings, bluebirds, meadowlarks, and flickers, as well as warblers, cuckoos and other woodpeckers.

The focused view of an "ornithological friend" provides an inventory of species represented by the "hat embellishment" of eleven women among a group of thirteen riding in a Madison Avenue horse-car. The tally was:

"(1) head and wings of three European Starlings; (2) an entire bird (species unknown), of foreign origin; (3) seven warblers, representing four species; (4) a large tern; (5) the heads and wings of three shore-larks; (6) the wings of seven shore-larks, and grass finches; (7) one-half of a gallinule; (8) a small tern; (9) a turtle-dove; (10) a vireo and a yellow-breasted chat; (11) ostrich-plumes."

This exhibition was not considered as being exceptional.

Another article in this special supplement, presented details of the "destruction" of the bird-life in the vicinity of New York. There was an especially great demand for "sea-birds of white or delicate shades of color." This included terns, and they were said to have been practically exterminated in the vicinity of Moriches, Long Island. A thousand cedar-birds have been shot by one gunner. A single New York taxidermist had 30,000 birds skins in his shop.

Spare the Birds

Inscribed to the Audubon Society, New York.
Yes, spare the birds in springtime, when violets paint the ground,
When in the shady hollows the pink anemones abound,
For then they are in sweetest voice, their souls are full of song.
Their softest notes, their loftiest notes they all the day prolong.
 
Yes, spare the birds, the lovely birds, the birds of light and air,
The little feathered minstrels, whose chants ring everywhere;
Yes spare as in life's journey thou would'st be spared from death,
When helms are clove and plumes are shorn and fails the gasping breath!
 
When now the morn salutes the air with all that's fresh and sweet,
Ah! let the wine that fill they air thy quickened senses greet;
Then full of joy the brown thrush sings upon the garden hedge,
The swallows twitter on the eaves of the old barn's mossy edge,
The speckled meadow lark upsprings upon its joyous wings,
And, sweeping the salt meadows, the endless praises sings!
 
The sweet-voiced, gay-dressed emblems of innocence and love
Are surely sent to bless us by the Creative Hand above!
To charm us with their plumage, delight us with their aire,
And sing away our sorrows, anxieties and cares.
 
The apple trees are white with bloom, a wreath of rich bouquets,
The peach is pink with color, the lilac blue with sprays,
These are the honied haunts of redbreast and oriole,
And now they strike their silver harps and pour the liquid soul.
 
I do not know a sweeter gush than blackbirds' mellow strain,
Whether they skim the daisies or sweep the yellow grain,
But ah! the richness of the notes, the blazon of the plumes,
May naught avail to rescue from the butcher's dooms!
 
There is a little sprite, the tern, the white gull of the main,
That whistles by, that flitteth by, along the sandy plain.
And yet these little spectres, as spotless as the snow,
Are slaughtered - to be tossed in pride o'r snowy breast and brow!
 
Yet all this cruel slaughter of these children of the air,
Goes on, year after year, and few to say, forbear!
For long as youthful beauty will wear her bird-crown crest
The sordid gold will end the life in every downy breast.
Isaac McLellan; Greenport, Long Island
February 25, 1886 issue of Forest and Stream

An observant Frank M. Chapman — a pioneer of ornithology during these times — gathered further specifics by a couple of walk-about jaunts through the uptown business districts of the metropolis. The "native birds seen on hats born by the ladies" were summarized in a detailed list.

Robin, four.
Brown thrush, one.
Bluebird, three.
Blackburnian warbler, one.
Wilson's black-capped flycatcher, three.
Scarlet tanger, three.
White-bellied swallow, one.
Bohemian waxwing, one.
Waxwing, twenty-three.
Great northern shrike, one.
Pine grosbeak, one.
Snow bunting, fifteen.
Tree sparrow, two.
White-throated sparrow, one.
Bobolink, one.
Meadow lark, two.
Baltimore oriole, nine.
Purple grackle, five.
Bluejay, five.
Swallow-tailed flycatcher, one.
Kingbird, one.
Kingfisher, one.
Pileated woodpecker, one.
Red-headed woodpecker, two.
Golden-winged woodpecker, twenty-one.
Acadian owl, one.
Carolina dove, one.
Pinnated grouse, one.
Ruffed grouse, two.
Quail, sixteen.
Helmet quail, two.
Sanderling, five.
Big yellowlegs, one.
Green Heron, one.
Virginia rail, one.
Laughing gull, one.
Common tern, twenty-one.
Black tern, one.
Grebe, seven.

Some of the species could not be identified, as they had been mutilated, Chapman said. Of the 700 hats noted, 542 were decorated with feathers of some kind, or more than 75 percent.

One reporter suggested that an effective measure to abandon the practice of wearing dead bodies to bedeck garments, would be enforcement of the already existing laws. "Every one of the ten thousand women in Rochester who has a stuffed song bird on her hat is liable to imprisonment for a year or a fine of $25," E.R. wrote in the Rochester Post-Express, and which article was reissued in Forest and Stream. "If the satisfaction you derive from wearing a glass-eyed bird perched in an unnatural position on your hat, is equal to the pain you would undergo in the hands of the law, ..., then, according to one of the maxims of an ancient philosopher, you may take the risk." The state game constable and city game constable were going to "prosecute a vigorous spring campaign" against the practice.

A vivid account of the feather industry of New York city was written by a representative of Forest and Stream, then printed in the March 25, 1886 issue. The most famous "feather foundry" was operated by A.H. Alexander, in West Hoboken. "Millions" of bird skins had passed through his establishment during its 35 years in business.

"It is a trade of many turns and sudden whims; but I find that it runs in a cycle say of seven years. Now it is this bird, now that. Once we had a run on seafowl, and the sea swallow, as they were called, was on every hat. Then we hunted the seashore. Then, perhaps, humming birds were in demand, and down into South America we went. Just now it is whole birds for hat fronts or set pieces for turbans. What it will be next fall the Lord only knows, I don't.. It may take a sudden turn back to ostrich. A feather fancy runs about three years. In the first year the fashion is set by the best people, who pay the best prices. There willowy aigrettes are now the fashion, and so the long, slender egret points sell for $40 per ounce. The man who foresaw the fashion and has a supply makes a fortune; the man who is loaded up with stock which is not the style cannot give it away." — A.H. Alexander

The business man said that about 10-15% of the feathers came from the United States, mostly from Florida, Louisiana and Texas.

"As the feather maker talked he drew out drawer after drawer, opened tin boxes by the dozen, drew out the wrapped skins, until every section of the earth had contributed its quota. Down below stairs were coops of ring doves, sleek and coy, and genuine white doves, too, not the ordinary white pigeon. Strutting about the yard outside were peacocks in all the glory of full strut, waiting the day when in height of plumage, a severed vertebra should give them the happy dispatch and give their feathers to the adornment of some elaborate screen. Chinese pheasants too were in other coops, and all about were evidences that Mr. Alexander was an ornithologist, and differed from the ordinary feather dealer in knowing his stock in trade; for with a single feather as a text the genial tradesman could preach of family and genera, of habitat and habits, of past and present trade history, and tell, too, of trips into every nook of the world in feather quests." — Forest and Stream reporter

An especially expressive statistic was presented by C. Burton Rouse, editor of the Millinery Trade Review. He thought that $10,000,000 per year would represent the feather trade, with about 40% of that representing the amount paid to the "bird killers."

Some of the feathers used were taken from legally hunted game birds, which at the time included the prairie chicken and sandpiper, as well as various species of waterfowl.

The story ended with an indication that the feather dealers were each in favor of protection for "home birds" that could be a success through local efforts and law enforcement.

There was an active dialogue on the topic at this time. Forest and Stream editors had garnered widespread support for creating a society to protect native birds. It was named in recognition of John James Audubon. Issues of the periodical in early 1886 included letters of support and news of efforts to reduce the use of bird material by milliners.

Taxidermists expressed their opinion. John Burroughs wrote a letter of support for the bird protection group.

Dramatic changes were underway which were an essential part of the history of North American birds, though it was a period when fashion eclipsed conservation. Wild birds had attracted numerous advocates who that would actively pursue measures for their protection and conservation of habitat.

Description of Plate.

No. 1. Black felt toque, with black velvet brim, a gauze scarf crossed behind and brought forward and tied in a bow under the chin, trimming of black velvet around the crown with bows on rear right side, drooping feather on left side.

No. 2. Velvet bonnet, navy blue shade, twist of velvet in front, with gold and steel ornament for face trimming. Outside trimming, fancy Spanish cock plume ornamented with jets; red bird and navy blue bow.

No. 3. Black velvet hat, high crown, trimmed with sulphur colored ribbon and black ostrich tips.

No. 4. Beaver hat with large rough brim. Two ostrich plumes are fastened in front with steel ornaments, and fall back over crown.

No. 5. Gray felt hat with cock feather trimming around the crown. Blue green bird fastened on front the long tail feathers falling behind the hat over the crown.

No. 6. Ivory colored beaver hat, trimmed with seal brown plush, right side trimming of cream and scarlet blossoms with chenille twigs. Fancy green bird of brilliant plumage on top of crown, strings of brown plush.

Description from Millinery Trade Review 1(12): 1. Issued December 1876. Additional images are certainly in other issues, but this year and 1889 are the only two of the period found online.

Reference resource available online: A Woman's Nature: Attitudes and Identities of the Bird Hat Debate at the Turn of the 20th Century, a thesis by Amelia Birdsall.

13 January 2012

Fort Niobrara Refuge Celebrates 100th Anniversary

An edict signed January 11, 1912 by President William Howard Taft created the "Niobrara Reservation," from federal property that had been Fort Niobrara. The area was "... set apart for the use of the Department of Agriculture as a preserve and breeding ground for native birds," according to the executive order 1461.

The place had been Fort Niobrara with its frontier origins basically starting with its construction in 1880. The military reservation of circa 60,000 acres was officially abandoned on July 31, 1906, but then repurposed to become one of the first significant federal bird refuges established in the United States. The Niobrara Reservation is considered the 27th National Wildlife Refuge.

During May, 1912 Fred M. Dille collected some bird specimens which were a fledgling start for the bird history associated with the refuge lands. The skins are now part of the collection at the University of Nebraska State Museum. The species taken were the: Spotted Towhee, Lark Sparrow, Black-and-white Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Gray-cheeked Thrush, Orchard Oriole, Horned Lark and Harris's Sparrow.

Dille was the preserve manager for several years.

In subsequent years, the tract was best known as the Niobrara Game Preserve, with additional significant bird history developed in 1934 by W.E. Beed. It then eventually became part of the national wildlife refuge system, administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The place attracted the attention of William Youngworth of Sioux City - based upon an invitation - and he wrote an article about birds of the Quicourt Valley. The term Quicourt was derived from a French term for rapid river.

Youngworth wrote about his 1947 sojourn, the fourth to the refuge area:

"Our camp on the collecting trip was a small one room tin clad cabin at in the woods beside a tumbling waterfall just east of the Berry Bridge. This delightful spot was about eleven miles east of Valentine. My waking hours were spent in collecting, as Mr. Dille was incapacitated and spent most of his time making up specimens and writing notes on the new species. About my first coup was to collect a Cardinal, which Dille had never seen in that region. The Cardinal was not common, but I saw several later on. Mr. Dille was at this time interested in passerine birds, so the bulk of my collecting was in this group."

This legacy of birds would continue, as there have been uncountable birders to the refuge through the years, each enjoying the wildbird habitats along the Niobrara River in their distinctive manner.

Modern Legacy

On the day of its anniversary, current and retired staff from the Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service employees and representatives of the Sandhills Prairie Refuge Association (a "friends" group) gathered to consider appropriate centennial activities, said Steve Hicks, manager of the Fort Niobrara/Valentine refuge complex.

"We would like to get the public involved," Hicks said, noting that refuge tours to closely observe bison, educational programs highlighting notable natural features, the quarter-century of military history and other options are being considered. Events would occur when the weather is more conducive to visitors.

NPS staff from the office of the Niobrara National Scenic River in nearby Valentine would be a partner in the programs.

The hundred year anniversary is very significant for Fort Niobrara, Hicks said. The current FWS staff "have a lot of responsibility and a legacy to care for in a manner that would be right for the refuge."

"We have to conserve habitats for the species present, and maintain the quality of places used by the flora and fauna," Hicks said.

Current challenges include maintaining habitat conditions that promote species diversity, limiting the encroachment of invasive cedar trees and making certain that in future decades, efforts done now will continue the features of a "special place" for plants and animals, and the visitors which appreciate them.

A proclamation recognizing this anniversary was issued by the governor of Nebraska.

Bird Checklist Available for Scenic Niobrara Valley

Bald Eagle, adult and nestling. All photographs courtesy of the National Park Service/Stuart Schneider.

A bird checklist for the Niobrara National Scenic River is available now from the National Park Service. It is a single over-sized sheet which lists the species and their known relative abundance and seasonal occurrence. There is a blank space with each, useful for marking which birds have been seen.

This list will be useful for the casual birder to record species observed along the river, perhaps as they float along the placid waters.

There are some species that occur in this portion of the river valley which aren't on the list. They include the following, which are given as suggestions for inclusion in a subsequent version of the checklist.

  • Cackling Goose: noted in February 2006 at Turpin Lake, northwest of Bassett, and expected where flocks of the Canada Goose occur during the winter
  • Canvasback: in July 2002, along the scenic river in Cherry county
  • Neotropic Cormorant: in May 2001, also in Cherry county
  • Great Egret: in May 1986 on the river near Fred Thomas WMA
  • Merlin: in 1981 along the river in Cherry County, and October 2004 at Borman Bridge WMA
  • Broad-tailed Hummingbird: noted by a Nebraska birder in May 2008, along the river in Rock County
  • American Pipit: observed in October 2005 at Fort Niobrara NWR

One glaring omission is the Winter Wren. There are several records of this feathered mite — an uncommon, yet iconic species present primarily during the winter — at places where groundwater flows provide open water, even during the coldest weather. This species also occurred late one spring at Fort Niobrara NWR.

Red Crossbill, male.

The Tundra Swan, Common Raven, Tufted Titmouse and American Dipper have also been recorded in past times, but are understandably not included as there has not been any modern occurrence.

A species recently added to the valley avifauna is also not yet listed as it has just recently been seen. A Pygmy Nuthatch was noted in November 2011 at Smith Falls State Park, by NPS staff.

There are a few names improperly presented, such as yellowlegs being given as yellow-legs. Wood-Pewee is preferable to the list's use of Wood Pewee. The "McCowan's" Longspur includes an obvious typographic error, and Brewer's is the proper spelling for the blackbird. The short version of the common name is given for what is now the Eastern Whip-poor-will.

There is no indication of the potential for bird hybridization among the buntings and orioles, for example, and which could have been done with a few words in the introductory paragraph. The use of a typographic mark could have been used to mark those species with which this might occur.

The Niobrara National Scenic River extends 76 miles from southeast of Valentine to the Highway 7 bridge north of Bassett. A diverse variety of habitats in the area provide an interesting landscape for casual or serious bird watching.

Red-breated Nuthatch.

12 January 2012

No Further NET Funding for Carter Lake Project

The following comments were submitted via email to the Nebraska Environmental Trust for consideration by members of the board.

The Nebraska Environmental Trust should not provide any further funding for the Carter Lake Restoration and Rehabilitation Project, project number 11-174-2.

This project though it is expressed as a water quality/fisheries project is primarily a fisheries project, to the exclusion of other uses of the lake, as has become apparent after closely following this project during the past few months. Numerous documents have also been reviewed to provide additional specifics used to develop this conclusion.

Particular pertinent items to convey, include one item or another, and indicate a common thread of a single purpose project with only just one purpose, despite what additional empty words were submitted in the grant application.

The Omaha City Council accepted and approved a bid for the project. The council would not have approved a bid unless sufficient funding was available. Thus, there is no need for the NET to provide any further dollars as the bid would not have been approved if sufficient funds were not available to cover the expected cost.

If this is a water quality project, why has nothing been done to address runoff from Eppley Airfield at the east side of the lake. There are several drains from this site, yet the project does not include any features to address its runoff which could include oil, gasoline and other transportation-related things.

The inclusion of bank stabilization, dredging to increase water depth, dumping rip-rap to create groins, removal of unwanted fish and placing breakwaters are conveyed as being beneficial for improving the fishing resource. Yet, there has been no evaluation of how these features will impact current values of the lake.

Placing more than 12,000 tons of rock — based upon bid specifications — in Carter Lake is not an improvement. It is a focused effort that will degrade the quality of this oxbow lake — with a history dating to 1877 — and create an unsightly lake of an industrial sort. Rather than finding environmentally benign options, the project proponents accepted the use of rip-rap which is in no manner conducive to a naturalistic setting.

This project appears to be nothing more than an effort to subsidize fishing, to the exclusion of other values.

Funds provided by the Nebraska Environmental Trust should reflect a holistic view, rather than providing a subsidy to two state agencies so they might be able to sell some more fishing licenses.

The primary runoff feature is in the northwest corner of Levi Carter Park. The pond will be dramatically altered because of this focus. The pond is now an important micro-habitat for birds but will cut-apart, once bisected by four fill structures of an immense extent of rock meant to impede water flows. Work associated with the placement of the necessary rock riprap will also clear vegetative growth along the pond's shore, causing further degradation. During many bird surveys in the area, the fowl like the pond setting and swim along freely, and massive amounts of rock will create a changed habit. There was no consideration presented in the planning documents as to how this alteration would impact the avifauna associated with the pond.

The in-lake breakwaters to be dumped into the lake will negatively impact use of the lake by waterfowl. The birds will no longer be able to swim to these portions of the lake, so the habitat important to their survival has been constricted.

These communications have included concerns regarding just one groin at the northeast part of the lake. This one bunch of rock is among the more than twenty to be placed in the lake waters, and for the inane reason given by the state agency staff: people do not like to fish from the bank.

Most of the project proponents have not been interested in any sort of compromise to exclude one groin to provide a setting conducive for signage that would recognize the Sandy Griswold Bird Sanctuary, established in the latter 1920s - then forgotten and unknown for decades — until newly expressed in an editorial published in the Omaha World-Herald. Numerous discussions have occurred with staff of the NGPC about one groin and birdlife of the lake. One discussion in this regard - concerning one unnecessary groin — occurred with an senior administrator of the NGPC occurred on November 17, 2011. Even after nearly two months, he did not respond, despite expressive comments that he would. Subsequent inquiries as to the status of this met with no reply other than a decision had not been made.

The reality of bird use has been derived from more than fifty bird surveys done about Carter Lake since late March, 2011. Even though staff with NGPC has been told of this effort, they have continually ignored these facts.

Use of the lake by birds has not been considered in any manner by project proponents. Based upon numerous communications, this is readily apparent, especially based upon comments from staff at the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. Staff have said — again and again — that the lake is not important for birds. This is an erroneous opinion.

How incorrect they are, since when it comes to bird use they have no current information and have not shown any interest in considering the known aspects of fowl at the lake in the past few months.

It is now obvious that the NGPC staff have made a decision based upon a focus on fisheries, and have no interest in considering other values and uses that can be derived from the waters of Carter Lake.

The history of this cutoff lake date to origins in 1877. Changes again and again have altered this oxbow, and reduced its value to migratory birds. Least terns and piping plover formerly raised young here. Bird enthusiasts conducted numerous surveys in the latter 1920s and subsequent years to document bird use. None of this history has been considered in the current, short-sided planning for a project designed to reduce the value of the lake for birds, which is a perspective derived from three decades of studies of birds and the habitats where they occur.

Carter Lake has had a greater extent of bird use by some species during the past few months. This is based upon an evaluation of details from Missouri River valley sites from Desoto NWR and southward to Lake Contrary, near St. Joseph, Missouri.

Also worth considering is the response due to the removal of the unwanted fish from the lake. There was a "great bloom of growth" by aquatic vegetation. Then boaters complained, so a boat was used to clear away the plants. Yet this is an essential reason for the ongoing occurrence of many sorts of waterfowl.

This is disingenuous. The project proponents wanted to improve water quality, and when it happened and water flora flourished, they did not like the results. This indicates, again, a weak plan which deserves not further funding from the NET.

Considering bank stabilization, this is another questionable project feature. Carter Lake has a very consistent water level, as maintained by a pump. During bicycle rides along the lake shore, there have been no problematic bank erosion noted. The plan calls for placing tons of ugly rock along the bank, without any consideration given to how the currently sufficient situation is foraging habitat for birds and more aesthetic than glaring piles of rock! An option was given to where the rock would not get covered by earth which would at least make it have an appearance more suitable for the park setting.

The number of groins proposed is excessive. More than twenty of these will be built, with most along the east shore of the lake, and a spaced just a short distance apart. The extent of these intrusive constructs is another indication that this is primarily a project with an intent to promote fishing, i.e., a subsidy for selling fishing licenses. The reason for these is that apparently people do not like fishing from the bank. So a massive amount of rock riprap will be dumped into a lake to make it easier to fish, but without any consideration of how these intrusions will change the lake's condition.

Quarterly reports provided by the entity which has already received money are incomplete. There is nothing given in the two most recent reports which indicate a number of email communications which expressed concerns or provided up-to-date options for project modifications. The response was that the project was already designed and would not be changed, no matter what might have changed. This indicates a blatant disregard to public input and any interest in utilizing the best possible design.

There was no public meeting for the final project design where the proposed options could be presented, discussed and suitably considered. This is another obvious disregard of public involvement. A public meeting to discuss project goals and a timeline is being held in mid-January, but none was held to receive final comments on project options, or to accept plan improvements. There should have been such a meeting for project planners to hear comments regarding the massive changes to occur to the lake and adjacent Levi Carter Park, an appreciated public green space.

The project website also has not given details of any significance. Any details presented have been trite and lacking in detail. So there has obviously been an ineffective effort to inform the public. Yet this project relies upon millions of public dollars!

This project does not convey any effort to consider all aspects of the project environment about Carter Lake. It is instead focused upon one particular intent — fishing — with additional inadequate measures for another project purpose thrown to convey benefits which are dubious or only partially implemented.

The results will establish an industrial lake — changed from a Missouri river oxbow to a setting created by engineers sitting at their desks — which does not reflect a multiuse project beneficial to the environment.

It would be wrong for the Nebraska Environmental Trust to provide any additional funds for this project. Site plans convey a design which will degrade the lake environs. The NET promotes project which benefit the environment and are done in a thoughtful manner. The Carter Lake project does not — in many ways — conform with the standards of broad-based and multi-purpose projects which are beneficial to the general populace which provide the NET its funds.

There are a multitude of other proposals which could derive a greater benefit if funded. The Nebraska Environmental Trust should not be involved with any project that has an obvious bias, which misrepresents project purposes, which avoids public scrutiny, and that will result in an overall negative impact to a unique oxbow lake of Missouri River valley.