18 October 2012

Bugeater Chronicles of Autumn at River City

After getting many wonderful views of the well-known congregation of the Purple Martins at their midtown roost, the bird-watching focus changed direction this autumn. Starting on the first day of September, evening birding efforts were to determine where Chimney Swifts gather.

This was not the first sort of effort among the urban setting of eastern Omaha. Previous findings were very important in arriving at a locale where swifts could be expected, because the intent was getting survey results, so there was a particular focus on going to where swifts could be readily found. On some occasions when a prognostication was errant, so quick moves were needed to get positive results elsewhere.

It is an arduous task to document the occurrence of swifts at roosts, because only one site can be checked on an evening, in a large area where there are many known or potential suitable chimneys. Even during a month's period, many sites were determined, but there was no opportunity to revisit places or look elsewhere to derive a comprehensive perspective.

During this multiple weeks period, there was only one other report of a swift gathering, and that was at Mercer Woods in the Cathedral area. Another report from late August was provided for the Dundee area, at an apartment building. There were no other contributions that could add specifics to the knowledge of Omaha swifts during this autumn.

These findings available do indicate that the swifts roost at a wide variety of buildings throughout eastern Omaha, as indicated by their occurrence in various geographic districts. Very specific details are not given for the actual site because it there is a realization of the birds' presence, the result may be placing a cap on the chimney. Some of the primary sites surveyed were visited because of previous efforts that determined places where swifts occur in Omaha during the autumn.

Each of the counts are a result of individual counts, done with attention given to determining a particular number of birds entering a chimney, in a regular manner. No count is expressed based on a previous survey, since every survey was a distinct effort to provide a valid indication of the number of birds. Count methods were obviously similar.

Church Chimneys of East Omaha

Church of Jesus Christ Whole Truth

Our Lady of Lourdes Church

Harvest Community Church

  • Creighton University Campus; 09/01/2012; 136 swifts into the chimney
  • Gifford Park Neighborhood; 09/02/2012; 381 in a morning departure from the chimney of an unused apartment house
  • Old Market; 09/02/2012; 120
  • Florence; 09/03/2012; 240 at a chimney which where the plan is for its demolition
  • Izard Industrial Zone; 09/04/2012; 75
  • Hanscom Park Neighborhood; 09/05/2012; 197 at a church
  • Drake Area; 09/06/2012; 222
  • Downtown South; 09/07/2012; 68
  • North Downtown; 09/08/2012; 11
  • Blackstone District; 09/09/2012; 525 at a church which is recognized for having the largest count known in the Omaha area, based upon a visit in 2011
  • Dundee at Dodge Street; 09/10/2012; 316 at an apartment house, easily recognized for its ongling importance
  • Benson; 09/11/2012; 23 in the vicinity at several sites
  • Drake Area; 09/13/2012; 325 about 24th and Leavenworth Streets
  • Park East Neighborhood; 09/15/2012; 130 at an apartment house on a first visit to the place
  • North 24th Street Corridor; 09/16/2012; 450 at a church
  • Turner/Dewey Park; 09/17/2012; 75
  • Miller Park Neighborhood; 09/18/2012; 56
  • North 24th Street Corridor; 09/19/2012; 480 at a second church in the area north of Ames Street
  • Downtown Omaha; 09/20/2012; 145
  • Downtown South; 09/21/2012; 225
  • Izard Industrial Zone; 09/22/2012; 335
  • Midtown District; 09/26/2012; 365 at an apartment just south of Dodge Street, by the former Turner Park
  • South Omaha; 09/27/2012; 65 in an area of many buildings where there is certainly more than one suitable chimney; an entire autumnal season could be spent within this area to get an accurate depiction of swift habits
  • Downtown South; 09/28/2012; 260
  • Drake Area; 09/29/2012; 225
  • Blackstone District; 09/30/2012; 85
  • Gifford Park Neighborhood; 10/01/2012; 68 during an evening watch at an apartment where a previous count occurred early in the morning
  • Cathedral; 10/03/2012; 96, near 40th and Cuming Streets

Though many places were found to provide suitable roost habitat for the swifts, there are ongoing indications of an regular decline in chimneys suitable for swifts. Witnessed this year: two recently capped structures along the North 24th Street corridor, and the pending demolition of an important roost in the Florence neighborhood. These are just known instances, with other instances of this sort possible elsewhere.

In early October, the focus changed to giving attention to one chimney where swifts were congregating in large numbers on a nightly basis. Each of the following records are for an area designated as the Izard Industrial Zone in east-central Omaha, for record-keeping purposes.

  • 10/04/2012; 660 swifts into two chimneys within one block of each other
  • 10/05/2012; 630 into a single chimney, one of the two used the previous night
  • 10/06/2012; 59

The change in numbers would seem to indicate that local birds went southward, and different swifts then arrived from the north.

  • 10/07/2012; 1325
  • 10/08/2012; 1325
  • 10/09/2012; 1350
  • 10/10/2012; 625
  • 10/11/2012; 585
  • 10/12/2012; 625
  • 10/13/2012; 710
  • 10/14/2012; 6 into the chimney
  • 10/15/2012; 8, with only one entering the big chimney at a business building used so many nights by so many swifts. It was quite a dramatic change from previous times when many hundreds were prevalent.

On the evening of October 16th, the bird watching highlight was two Mourning Doves, appreciating some water recent rains. No Chimney Swifts were seen in the silent skies.

The extent of swift use of this single chimney is obvious, and indicates this structure as one of the most important habitats for swifts in the city, as indicated by repeated use, large number of swifts present, transitional use, etc.

There is a sad, long-term prospective for swifts in Omaha. Chimneys are being capped or razed. There is no community-based effort to document occurrence, determine important roost sites, educate buildings owners that the winged things using their chimneys are swifts not bats. Atop the list of detriments, there is no broad-based effort to indicate and protect the places so important to so many swifts during their season in Omaha, especially during the autumn migration.

Perhaps the efforts of the past weeks might raise some awareness, though there are no expectations in this regard.

Based upon a joy in seeing the swifts in the cerulean skies, and so many times appreciating their presence above, the bugeater chronicles are finished for the autumn season of 2012. There may have still been swifts about as there are records in earlier years for later dates; but it is a matter of searching a large expanse for few birds. So be it for these birds.

The skies are from one perspective of attention, apparently empty of an iconic species, until next spring, when the cycle starts once again. Activities of the bugeaters will then, once again be prominent and somewhat appreciated in the urban skies.