13 January 2012

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.