31 January 2013

Breeding Birds Appreciate Sandhill Refuge Habitat

It took some time for local birds to respond and take advantage of a habitat conditions at Crescent Lake refuge.

A renovation project — involving bulldozer work to create two islands — occurred at Goose Lake ca. in 2005-2006, by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the federal agency which owns and manages the refuge in Garden County, Nebraska.

Most recently, the site was appreciated by many Double-crested Cormorants.

About 50 pairs nested, and young were raised during the 2012 breeding season, said Marlin French, an refuge biologist. Refuge staff observed fledglings, although there were no particular surveys.

"The original island disappeared below the waters in the early 1990s," he noted, so cormorants "nested in other areas including goose tubs and other loafing structures."

Piping Plover have also taken advantage of the island habitat at Goose Lake. These small shorebirds nested on the island in nested on the Island 2008-2009, and along the road in 2010, according to refuge records.

There are known observation records from 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2010. Previous breeding records from the area are known for the 1990s at nearby Bean Lake.

This is an species of concern for the Great Plains region, and to have them occur at this refuge is significant.

Nesting by this species is "a bonus", French said during a phone interview.

In the first few years following renovation, numerous American Avocets nested at this place in the middle of the lake. There were as many as seventy nests in 2007, French said, and they did successfully raise young.

"During the period of record wet years of 2009-2010," the avocets went elsewhere, French said. The small island was completely inundated by higher water levels in 2010.

The small Island once again appeared above the lowering water in 2012, allowing the cormorants to nest. Currently, in late winter of 2013, the island is obvious amidst the lake, French said.

Hopefully there will be nesting habitat this season that can be "appreciated by the birds," according to a perspective conveyed by the refuge biologist.