27 February 2013

Birdnotes of a Section of the Lower Missouri River

With the variety of bird activity underway amidst the Missouri River valley, it seemed appropriate as the Great Backyard Bird Count was underway, to consider again what species occur at different places.

Associated with this interest, an inquiry was submitted to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, asking if the agency had any information on bird occurrence at mitigation sites.

The agency has no information, nor do their partners in land management, which would be the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

According to an ACE representative:

"After visiting with United States Army Corps of Engineers, Nebraska Game & Parks Commission and Iowa Department of Natural Resources biologists I have gathered the following information on your request for bird information on Missouri River Recovery Program sites: ... There were no known recently conducted bird surveys that anyone could provide me."

The Corps of Engineers has bought many thousands of acres, spent millions of dollars of public funds, and yet, they know nothing about the birds present on that property! Nor how their habitat management efforts have been beneficial to the local avifauna.

Obviously there is a myriad of information available, if the agency decided to give some attention to bird occurrence. They have spent tens of millions of dollars, but as for determining one aspect of their responsibility to mitigate impacts on fish and wildlife, documentation of birds has been completely ignored between Ponca State Park and southward to the southeast corner of Nebraska.

The following list indicates bird details associated with this particular extent of the Missouri River. The summary includes only those details since the latter 1880s, with an even more interesting set of facts available for prior decades, especially during early explorations.

The majority of sites given in the following list are public property, and thus readily accessible to bird watching outings. Details on bird occurrence have primarily been derived from a personal database, with other facts from online resources.

This is a personal perspective on status, and subject to change as additional records become available from places where birds surveys continue to occur. Examples of these sorts of sites include Desoto NWR with its seasonal surveys, Carter Lake with the many sightings associated with this birding hotspot, and Squaw Creek NWR, which also conducts regular surveys of waterfowl and seasonal shorebirds.

The following listing starts at Ponca State Park, and extends southward to the Squaw Creek vicinity.

Site Name Bird Information River Mile Acreage Site Details
Ponca State Park 151 species, with records dating to 1938 753 2400 Dixon County; Nebraska Game and Parks Commission; recognized as an Important Birding Area
Upper Dakota Bend no bird records available 725 21.49 river mile 724-726; Woodbury County, IA; Iowa Department of Natural Resources
Mile Long Island WMA no bird records available   234 Woodbury County, IA; Iowa DNR
Tannery Lake 19 species   0 Woodbury County, IA; Iowa DNR
New Lakes no bird records available   0 Woodbury County, IA; Iowa DNR

Glovers Point Bend

no bird records available

 

1859

Monona/Woodbury County, IA; ACE

Browns Lake SWA / Bigelow County Park

41 species dating to 1917

 

1158

Woodbury County, IA; Iowa DNR; Bigelow State Park, with 36 acres, managed by Woodbury County Conservation Board

IPS Property SWA

no bird records available

 

168

Woodbury County, IA; Iowa DNR; west of Browns Lake tract

Owego Wetlands

no bird records available

 

1311

near Owego on the river floodplain; Woodbury County Conservation Board

Snyder-Winnebago Bend

22 species dating to 1837

711

3144.57

Monona/Woodbury counties, IA and Dakota/Thurston counties, NE; ACE

Ivy Island SWA

no bird records available

 

313

Monona County, IA; Iowa DNR

Omaha Mission Bend WA

no bird records available

 

138

Monona County, IA; Iowa DNR

Blackbird/Tieville-Upper and Middle Decatur Bend

50 species dating to 1919

693

3861

r.m. 693.8-697; Thurston and Burt counties, NE and Monona County, IA; ACE and Iowa DNR

Blencoe Bend SWA

no bird records available

664

0

r.m. 664; Monona County, IA; Iowa DNR

Onawa Materials Yards WA

no bird records available

 

0

Monona County, IA; Iowa DNR

Blue Lake and Lewis and Clark State Park

44 species dating back to 1921

 

865

Monona County, IA; Iowa DNR

Badger Lake SWA

no bird records available

 

1109

Monona County, IA; Iowa DNR; a designated Important Birding Area

Louisville Bend and Oxbow/Louisville Bend SWA

2 species from 1936 and 2006

 

1086

Monona County, IA; ACE and Iowa DNR

Soldier Bend

no bird records available

660

248

r.m. 660-664; Harrison County, IA; Iowa DNR

Middle Little Sioux/ Fawn Island

no bird records available

669

16.68

Harrison County, IA; Iowa DNR

Deer Island WA

no bird records available

 

285

Harrison County, IA; Iowa DNR

Little Sioux Bend [Three Rivers]

no bird records available

669

0

r.m. 669-670; Harrison County, IA; Iowa DNR

Little Sioux Bend

no bird records available

666

190.61

r.m. 666.8-668.5; Harrison County, IA; ACE

Bullard Bend

five species noted during 2009

663

25

r.m. 663-664; Harrison County, IA; Iowa DNR

Soldier Bend WA

one record from 1931

660

248

r.m. 660-664; Harrison County, IA; Iowa DNR

Sandy Point Bend

no bird records available

656

251.6

r.m. 656-657.5; Harrison County, IA; ACE

Tyson Bend

three species

654

697.86

r.m. 654-657; Harrison County, IA; Iowa DNR

California Bend

three species

649

420

r.m. 649-5-650.6, Harrison County, IA - IA DNR

Desoto NWR

238 species represented from both sides of the river

642

8362

Washington County, NE and Pottawattamie County, IA; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Wilson Island State Park

40 species, starting in 1980

641

544

Pottawattamie County, IA; Iowa DNR

Nobles Lake SWA

31 species, starting in 1979

 

236

east of De Soto NWR in Pottawattamie County, IA; Iowa DNR

Hitchcock Nature Center

at least 126 species , many from hawk watch effort, and raptor banding

 

1248

Pottawattamie County Conservation Board

Boyer Chute NWR, including Horseshoe Lake Flats

180 species at a minimum

634

3350

Washington County, NE; FWS; an Important Birding Area

Neale Woods, including Krimlofski Tract

minimum of 198 species

631

600

Fontenelle Nature Association; an Important Birding Area

N.P. Dodge Park

133 species, dating back to 1983

628

445

Douglas, NE; Omaha Parks Recreation and Public Property

Pigeon Creek SWA

17 species

627

 

Iowa DNR

Big Lake Park

42 species

620

163

Pottawattamie, IA; Council Bluffs Parks and Recreation

Blackbird Marsh

32 species

620

14

Pottawattamie County Conservation Board

Narrows River Park

seven species

619

36

Pottawattamie County Conservation Board

Riverside Park

no bird records available

619

95

Pottawattamie, IA; Council Bluffs Parks and Recreation

Carter Lake / Levi Carter Park

207 species, dating back to 1886

618

519.5

lake 320 ac., park 519.5 acres; Douglas, NE; OPRPP

Council Bend

three species

615

89

r.m. 617-618, Pottawattamie, IA; Iowa DNR

Gibson Bend SWA

18 species

612

 

Iowa DNR

Mandan Park

65 species

611

71

Douglas County; City of Omaha park; the flats along the river, designated as Mandan Flats, are also City of Omaha property

Lake Manawa/Lake Manawa State Park

239 species, dating back to 1898

607

1529

lake 772 ac., park 1529; Iowa DNR

Fontenelle Forest

254 species, dating back to 1891

603

1400

approx 2000 at both Fontenelle Nature Association tracts

Gifford Point WMA

124 species, dating back to 1919

604

1300

including Gifford Farm; NGPC, with agland leased

Heroes Park

no information available

603

30

Sarpy County; city of Bellevue

Haworth Park

112 species

602

153

Sarpy County; city of Bellevue

Offutt Base Lake

144 species

599

113

Sarpy County; United States Air Force

Saint Marys Bend/St. Marys Island CA

109 species

596

2419

Mills County, IA; ACE

La Platte Bottoms

146 species

595

600

Sarpy, NE; Metropolitan Utilities District; PCS

Schilling WMA

218 species

593

1500

Cass, NE; NGPC

Gilmore WMA/Tobacco Island

52 species

588

1609

Cass County, NE; ACE; managed by NGPC

Nottleman Island

no bird records available

583

1232

Mills County, IA; ACE and DNR

Auldon Bar

six species

578

1329

Fremont County, IA; ACE

Van Horn Bend

no bird records available

576

534

Cass County, NE; ACE

Copeland Bend [WMA]

no bird records available

566

2788

Fremont County, IA; ACE and DNR

Upper / Lower Hamburg Bend

86 species

593

1896.64

Atchison County, MO; ACE

Kansas Bend

ten species

543

1056

Nemaha/Otoe County, NE; ACE

Nishnabotna River Mouth [Nishnabotna Conservation Area]

four species

540

2434

in two tracts; Atchison County, MO; ACE

Brownville Bend

no bird records available

533

89.96

Nemaha County, NE; ACE

Langdon Bend WMA

nine species

530

1667.96

1283 or 1308 ac.; Nemaha County, NE; ACE

Aspinwall Bend

no bird records available

528

309

Atchison County, NE; ACE

Deroin Bend CA

no bird records available

518

1082

Atchison/Holt County, MO; Missouri DNR

Indian Cave State Park

157 species

517

3399

Richardson County, NE; NGPC

Hemmies Bend / Corning Site

no bird records available

514

2003

Atchison/Holt County, MO; Missouri DNR

Thurnau Addition

no bird records available

510

1372

Holt County, MO; ACE and Missouri DNR
H.F. Thurnau Conservation Area 74 species 510 366 Holt County, MO; Missouri DNR
Rush Bottom Bend Conservation Area 72 species 500 811.2 Holt County, MO; Missouri DNR

Rush Bottom Bend

no bird records available

500

1197

Holt County, MO; ACE

Rulo Bluffs

no bird records available; though TNC has kept some records

495

450

ca. 450 acres; Richardson County, NE; The Nature Conservancy

Squaw Creek NWR

249 species

490

7350

Holt County, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; an Important Birding Area
Bean Lake SWA 24 species 488 416 Platte County, MO
      Overall, at least 42,019.76 acres  

Overall, at least 392 species have been seen at places along this portion of the Missouri River floodplain, dating back to 1887 as derived from more than 63,000 individual records.

It is obvious that the Corps of Engineers should give birds some attention along this portion of the Missouri River. It would be appropriate for them to initiate an active effort to promote bird surveys on mitigation properties. They should also be attentive to getting the records included within an online repository of avian information, such as ebirds, so results, both past and present, would be publicly available through online access.

It is a mistake for the agency to continue to ignore bird occurrence at mitigation places.

26 February 2013

Snow-storm Q Results in New Species at Carthage

Winter storm "Q" arrived at Omaha and, finally, after all the hype as expressed for days by weather reporters, the actual event did leave several inches of snow broadly spread across the city. At least seven to eight inches were prevalent atop the bluffs beyond Saddle Creek and the Radial Highway.

One shovel-amount at a time, the gathered flakes were initially moved away in the early night when an initial shoveling effort was done during the early hours of the snow fall. It was a preliminary effort to ease the extent of the overall chore.

The next morning, with any places of any interest closed due to the "dire conditions" as reported time and time again by the media, it was a time to instead focus upon a shovel and covered concrete on the morning of February 22nd. Rather than riding elsewhere because of prominent closures, the time was spent removing snow from the sidewalk, the long driveway, the prominent front steps, as well as skiffs of white stuff blown onto the porch. Similar efforts were obvious about Carthage, in eastern Omaha, near the Dundee district.

It was a grand situation of fresh snow spread everywhere, wonderfully blue skies and warm sunshine. Snow removal was the prominent endeavor, but the natural conditions were also superlative.

While moving an aggregated amount of somewhat light white stuff from one place to a nearby spot suitable for piling, an expressive sound was heard. It meant an obvious hesitation along north 49th Street, and provided a lapse to relax and consider the source. Then it was heard again, just a small distance away, to the north, over near Izard Street.

There seemed to be an expressive cat in the trees, as it was a sound like a meow. The subsequent realization: it was the call of the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. Then it was heard again, despite the noise of shovels across concrete as being moved by men, raucous snow-blowers and only slight traffic. The sound always came from above, up among the trees. Some time might have been taken to get the spotting scope and get a visual view, but? Neighbors already might wonder why my pedestrian perspective seems to be focused towards the skies, with short stops along the way to gaze above, seemingly looking at nothing from their perspective, along with any other actions associated with bird watching among a residential area, with its many peering eyes.

With the shoveling task done, a bit of time was taken to warm up inside the house. After loitering outside a short time later, the "cat call" was heard again, but further south, near Cuming Street, while still up above the scene.

The call of the sapsucker is distinctive, and has been heard many time prior to this morning. Its expression was the sound heard on the morning after winter storm Q. The record meant the latest addition to the neighborhood bird list, being species no. 72 for the area, since records have been kept starting in 2003.

Most recently this year, now in the last days of February, territorial robins are about. The first cooing Mourning Dove has been heard early in the morning. Cardinals continue to sing in their expressive way amidst the place. These neighborhood birds are sounding off early about their claim on a breeding space. The birds convey an exquisite indication of a pending spring.


25 February 2013

Comparing February Bird Occurrence at Carter Lake

A bird survey done at Carter Lake in the past few days matches a similar survey done within the same period on the calendar a year ago. There was a whole bunch of fowl about during the most recent visit to the places about Carter Lake. The view from the west side was wonderful. The birds were active and readily observed.

The most recent visit was during a weekend afternoon, to take advantage of western light, and after the recent snowfall of at least eight inches among metro Omaha. The parking lot near the west pavilion at Levi Carter Park had not been plowed, which meant a hesitant thought regarding whether or not to drive into the place because of a hesitation to avoid getting stuck or becoming immobile among the snow. There was an obvious tire route to follow, so that was the route, without any deviation from the path to get to a place to park where the primary congregation of birds could be easily observed.

Near the eastern dock, the same though applied, but the place was traversed in a suitable manner, and provided a perspective to observe more birds elsewhere about the lake, other than its western extent.

There was one species more seen this year; comparing a tally of 24 for 2012 and 25 in 2013. This year, some usual birds were not seen nor heard during the visit period, especially the typical Downy Woodpecker and Northern Cardinal, so there might have been a greater variety if they had been expressive.

Two Trumpeter Swans were the day's highlight. They were both obvious from a distance and appreciated even more once seen upclose through a spotting scope once parked. In past weeks' there had been three. During the weekend visit this year, they both walked eastward across the ice to a bit of open water, away from most of the other waterfowl. For a time, they, along with one Pied-billed Grebe, were the only birds at the spot. Within a few minutes, however, a bunch of Canada Goose replicated the steps, and there were lines of geese moving towards the place. Soon there was a big bunch of geese present with the swans. They were establishing a new place to float and forage.


The two swans are in the background. Note how the geese are making their way to the swan waters.

Two other species of geese were prevalent in 2013 versus 2012. There were 26 Greater White-fronted Goose present compared to none a year ago. A larger number of Cackling Goose were also lingering. The count of Canada Goose was also higher this year.

Perhaps because of the snow and cold, there were many fewer Gadwall, with numbers of 133 vs. 1. More Mallard were denoted this year, while the number of Northern Shoveler continued to be consistent.

As for diving ducks, lesser numbers of Canvasback and Redhead were present, in a comparative sense. The occurrence of both species has been exceptional during the winter, with the numbers of the "lord of the ducks" especially appreciated.

A record of the Bufflehead and a couple of Hooded Merganser did not happen in 2012. Some Ruddy Duck continue to be present.

There are fewer American Coot at the lake in comparison. Last year the count was 310, with the tally this year only about 20. This continues the obvious trend of fewer numbers of this species in recent months compared to previous surveys following the lake renovation project.

This year, there was too much snow for Killdeer to be about. The same perspective might be significant as an indication for the lack of any American robin.

Carter Lake continues to be a birding hotspot, a moniker indicated by some detached perspective as presented online. The place is best known and appreciated by spending time lake side watching the birds. It is just a great place to bird watch.

Winter Wrens Missing at Former Park Haunts

Where are the Winter Wrens? Park spaces in Omaha where readily seen in past years, this bit of a feathered mite have not been seen recently.

This difference is most prominent at Memorial Park and Elmwood Park amidst midtown Omaha.

Shadow Lake and along Wood Creek in Elmwood Park were places where this wren has been regularly observed. At Memorial Park, last year, they were recorded at both Happy Hollow Creek and Wood Creek during January or February.

There have been no sightings at either park this year.

Instead, there is a single report of a Winter Wren occurring within Omaha, the actual site being mapped to an industrial zone in midtown. One was indicated by a survey associated with the Great Backyard Bird Count, during mid-February. It would have been more indicative if there was some greater accuracy of the place where the count occurred.

At Happy Hollow Creek on the east side of Memorial Park, this bit of a bird had been recorded every January for the past three years. And one also occurred at Wood Creek on the west side of this midtown park in January 2012.

Yet there were none in 2013.

At the Elmwood Park Ravine, they were readily seen in April, October and November 2012, but not more recently. There are previous records during January.

Yet there were none in 2013.

All of these places have been visited intermittently to survey the birds present, along with other regular attention and interest in species occurrence, especially along the Happy Hollow. During two recent avian surveys of both parks, no Winter Wrens were heard or seen.

The situation has changed for the Winter Wrens, which were formerly a regular winter resident associated with places that had flowing water at east Omaha parks. This would include Spring Lake Park and Mandan Park.

They do not appear to be wintering further north, as, once again, results of the GBBC did not indicate any records for this species at any places northward of Omaha, on the great plains.

The winter status of this bird has apparently changed. Details to indicate its winter range are lacking, especially in comparison to more wide-spread indications from previous years.

This situation is worthy of further focus and effort beyond a count effort done during a few days of late winter.

Changes in the occurrence of this species are indicative, but the details need to be better understood. Why are Winter Wrens gone from Shadow Lake and other urban Omaha haunts? The habitat has not significantly changed, so perhaps it is climate change?


24 February 2013

Crows Congregate Among Place of the Dead

During these latter times of winter, American Crows continue to gather, as they have for several years in eastern Omaha. The place they prefer as a nightly roost is the Holy Sepulchure Cemetery, northeast from 50th and Leavenworth Streets.

Nearly every morning this month, and most likely every morning if there had been given particular attention to this topic, the crows could be seen flying northward over the bluffs of Carthage. After having seen the flight of these black birds, a hunch needed to be followed to determine where these birds were spending their nights.

American Crows at Holy Sepulchure Cemetery; Feb 2013There was an expectation about the roost site, but it had to be actually discovered, again. On a relatively warm Saturday night in mid-February, a dusk time visit was made to the cemetery. It was the right place to see many crows gathering at dusk.

Initially, there were a bunch of expressive crows among the treetops, as observed from 50th Street, with more than 200 counted. Continuing on into the place, my route went along the cemetery drives. It was an opportunity to hopefully get a closer look at the crows perched atop the trees, but they were mostly flying away, especially to the southwest.

Crows, being smart birds, preferred to go elsewhere, rather than deal with an unexpected intruder. The birds' flight continued during the evening visit.

The apparent usual routine for the crows is to gather at their night's roost. They would likely ignore the drive through at dusk by the cemetery's hired security firm, and then settle in within the trees surrounded by open space, and enclosed by a fence to keep away any intrusions.

Typical for the crows, obviously in the morning, they would fly along to other places.

A few crows typically seen here and there at Carthage, Dundee, Memorial Park and the UNOmaha campus are birds most probably from the Leavenworth Street congregation. The crows have also been notable in expressing their perspective about raptorial birds, especially being expressive about the occurrence of Cooper's Hawks, among the midtown district.

In early February 2010, the gathering of the crows was also documented at this locale, with a county of 300.


23 February 2013

Omaha Parkland Surveys During Bird Count



Elmwood Park Ravine.

Several east Omaha parks were surveyed during the recent Great Backyard Bird County.

The seven places visited were:

  • N.P. Dodge Park, as surveyed by Jerry Toll;
  • Carter Lake and Levi Carter Park;
  • Fontenelle Park, including a second checklist from Sunday morning;
  • Adams Park;
  • Memorial Park, which included Happy Hollow Creek and Wood Creek on the west side
  • Little Elmwood Park on the 17th; and
  • Elmwood Park, including the northern portion of the golf course, along Wood Creek, at Shadow Lake and the ravine along Happy Hollow Boulevard.

Metcalfe Park was visited on the 17th, but there were no birds present within the park space, but a very few were heard nearby.

Park Birdlife

Overall, 46 species were documented, as indicated by a tabular summary of the count results.

Common Name N.P. Dodge Park Carter Lake Fontenelle Park Adams Park Memorial Park Little Elmwood Park Elmwood Park
Cackling Goose 4 45 - - - - - - - - - -
Canada Goose 99 275 73 - - - - - - - -
Gadwall - - 6 - - - - - - - - - -
American Wigeon - - 4 - - - - - - - - - -
Mallard - - 165 - - - - - - - - 7
Northern Shoveler - - 225 - - - - - - - - - -
Northern Pintail - - 2 - - - - - - - - - -
Canvasback - - 80 - - - - - - - - - -
Redhead - - 70 - - - - - - - - - -
Ring-necked Duck - - 100 - - - - - - - - - -
Lesser Scaup - - 145 - - - - - - - - - -
Bufflehead - - 1 - - - - - - - - - -
Common Goldeneye - - 40 - - - - - - - - - -
Hooded Merganser - - 12 - - - - - - - - - -
Ruddy Duck - - 4 - - - - - - - - - -
Pied-billed Grebe - - 1 - - - - - - - - - -
Bald Eagle 7 - - - - - - - - - - - -
Cooper's Hawk - - - - - - 1 1 - - - -
Red-tailed Hawk 1 2 - - - - - - - - 2
American Kestrel - - 1 - - - - - - - - - -
American Coot - - 35 - - - - - - - - - -
Ring-billed Gull 6 - - - - - - - - - - - -
Rock Pigeon - - - - 10 - - - - - - - -
Red-bellied Woodpecker - - - - 1 - - 1 1 5
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker - - - - - - - - - - - - 1
Downy Woodpecker 1 - - 1 2 3 - - 7
Hairy Woodpecker - - - - - - - - - - - - 2
Northern Flicker - - - - - - - - - - - - 2
Pileated Woodpecker 1 - - - - - - - - - - - -
Blue Jay 2 - - 1 - - 2 - - 2
American Crow 2 - - - - 5 3 - - - -
Black-capped Chickadee 4 - - 4 8 7 2 15
Tufted Titmouse - - - - - - - - - - - - 1
White-breasted Nuthatch 1 - - 1 1 3 1 6
Brown Creeper - - - - - - - - - - 1 - -
American Robin - - - - 6 2 55 2 - -
European Starling - - 3 - - - - 6 1 - -
American Tree Sparrow 18 - - - - - - - - - - - -
Song Sparrow 7 - - - - - - - - - - - -
Swamp Sparrow 1 - - - - - - - - - - - -
Harris's Sparrow 1 8 - - - - - - - - - -
Dark-eyed Junco 12 - - 2 1 7 - - 19
Northern Cardinal 1 - - 2 5 3 1 8
House Finch - - - - - - - - 8 1 4
American Goldfinch - - - - - - - - - - - - 4
House Sparrow - - - - - - 3 - - 4 6

Carter Lake continues as a winter's haven for various species of waterfowl. The number of Canvasback submitted required additional details of confirmation. The same for the Pied-billed Grebe and American Coot.

New arrivals are the Gadwall, American Wigeon and Northern Pintail. An American Kestrel was unexpected. There were few song birds present.

Waterfowl at Carter Lake, including a bunch of Cackling geese.

Many of the regular species present during an Omaha winter were denoted to one extent or another at the parks, especially juncos and cardinals. Chickadees were cherry especially cherry at the Elmwood Park environs.

An exceptional place for Mallards was Shadow Lake at Elmwood Park, where just a few of these ducks occurred, at what is a regular seasonal haven.

N.P. Dodge Park was the place for sparrows, with Swamp Sparrows most notable.

A Pileated Woodpecker was seen, which required additional commentary. This species has been observed at this locale since December 2010.

Missing at Memorial Park and Elmwood Park were any Winter Wrens.

It would have been nice to have gotten to have able to include Hummel Park up north, and to the south, Spring Lake Park and Mandan Park. Perhaps another time. Also lacking from the count effort, was a survey from Lake Manawa, to allow a comparison of waterfowl at the two urban lakes.

Illegal ATV at the northwest woods of Levi Carter Park. This vehicle drove among the woods, despite the signs indicating that doing so was illegal, and despite the many tree trunks blocking the way.

Elsewhere, on the City of Carter Lake side of the lake, two guys had a five-gallon bucket partially filled with golf balls, and were using a bat to hit them into the lake.

These are two examples of the illegal and moronic behavior which occurs at the lake and park.

22 February 2013

Wind Facility Proposed for Cherry County

A wind energy facility is being planned for western Cherry County, south of Cody upon a mix of pasture and cropland owned by Schied Ranch L.L.C. The site is primarily along the county road from about four miles south of Cody, and another two to three miles southward along the Mogle Bridge road towards the Niobrara River.

A request for clearance of turbines was filed with the Federal Aviation Administration in March 2012 by project communicator Nebraska Winds L.L.C., giving an address of Tracy, California. Approval was given in November. There would be 31 white turbines, each 492 feet in overall height, topped by a red blinking light.

Construction is proposed to occur in May-December 2014, according to FAA documents.

County officials, including the zoning office, as well as a county commissioner were not aware of the proposed project. It must be approved before construction can occur.

Officials with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Nebraska Game and Parks Commission were also not aware of the proposed project, when contacted. This project must undergo an environmental review.

No details are currently available on how generated electricity would be distributed from the facility to the overall power grid and whether this would require construction of a transmission line, nor what power company would purchase the energy.

There is currently no transmission line in the area that could support the generation of energy from 31 wind turbines, according to a Nebraska Public Power District spokesman. The company has not "issued any request for proposals," nor have they "signed any agreements for wind farms in Cherry County."

Schied Ranch L.L.C. owns about 12,680 acres in the Cody area, extending from Cody Lake at the South Dakota state line, and extending 12 miles to the south to within a couple of miles of the Niobrara River. The southern property includes more than ten center-pivot irrigation systems.

The proposed turbine facility is in the upper center of this map graphic.


View Tower and Hill Locations - Northern Sandhills, Nebraska in a larger map

Bird Coloring Contest Held by Niobrara Council

The Niobrara Council recently announced the winners of their first ever bird coloring contest, held in conjunction with the Great Backyard Bird Count, in mid-February.

There were 86 entries, said Michelle Garwood, representing the council staff. The species selected for Preschool was the Red-headed Woodpecker; the American Robin and Wood Thrush for Kindergarten to 2nd grade, and the male and female American Goldfinch for grades 3-5. These species were "selected because they live in the area. And then selected by grade level based on the technical difficulty of the coloring sheets as well as the difficulty of research (i.e. K-2 had two species to identify, older kids had to realize that male and female had different colors in their species)."

"Schools represented were Valentine (public and Zion Lutheran) and Springview as well as home school students," Garwood said. "It was open to all children in the Niobrara National Scenic River area (including the communities of Ainsworth and Bassett)."

Winning pictures of the American Goldfinch. All images courtesy of the Niobrara Council.






A kickoff for the contest was held during an open house at the Council offices, during the annual Valentine Bull Bash.


There were 86 entries, said Michelle Garwood, representing the council staff. The species selected for Preschool was the Red-headed Woodpecker; the American Robin and Wood Thrush for Kindergarten to 2nd grade, and the male and female American Goldfinch for grades 3-5. Each sheet included the birds' scientific name and seasonal range.

These species were "selected because they live in the area. And then selected by grade level based on the technical difficulty of the coloring sheets as well as the difficulty of research (i.e., K-2 had two species to identify, older kids had to realize that male and female had different colors in their species)."

"Schools represented were Valentine (public and Zion Lutheran) and Springview as well as home school students," Garwood said. "It was open to all children in the Niobrara National Scenic River area (including the communities of Ainsworth and Bassett)."

A kickoff for the contest was held during an open house at the Council offices, during the annual Valentine Bull Bash.

Winners were:

Preschool: Rylee Ward - 1st Place
Grades K-2: Raden Orton - 1st Place, Alyssa Schubauer - 2nd Place, Baillee Palmer - 3rd Place
Grades 3-5: Brandon Mundorf - 1st Place, Summer Mayhew - 2nd Place, Jenna Cox - 3rd Place

Judges — Niobrara Council staff — looked "closely at the accuracy of the bird markings and colors and then at neatness and attention to detail," when making their selections, Gardwood said. "First place winners received a ribbon, certificate and bird feeder with seed."

Winning pictures of the American Robin and Wood Thrush.






Picture of goldfinch, by winner Alexandra Taylor, Grade 12.


Pictures were returned to the entrants, Garwood said.

18 February 2013

Red-tailed Hawk Breeding Season Underway in Omaha

An extended weekend of birding has led to the discovery that the breeding season is well underway for Red-tailed Hawks residing amidst the urban setting of eastern Omaha.

Three very recent instances are particularly interesting.

Saturday morning, the 16th, a pair soared above the Elmwood Park pines, lazily spiraling, as a couple of mated hawks would. A bit of ways southward was where three had been seen four days previous at the southern extent of the parks' golf course, so these birds are obviously present.

This species has already been known to successfully raise young in this vicinity. It was a few years ago when the fledged young were so vividly appreciated among the pines westward of the Elmwood Park Ravine.

Then a bit past an ample arrival of sunlight on Sunday morning, while driving down Creighton Boulevard towards Adams Park, a pair were copulating atop a tree a couple of blocks north of Hamilton Street. This is an obvious indication of territoriality.

Early in the afternoon on the same day, while bicycling along Happy Hollow Boulevard, one of these hawks flew past, overhead, while carrying a short stick in its talons. It was an obvious clue, and sure enough, within moments it landed atop a massive pine.

A direct vantage point is available from the adjacent alley, and during the visit a big dog barked again and again. Apparently the birds are indifferent to barking by a big dog in a yard below their chosen place.

Perhaps this treetop is associated with an adult bird seen at the nearby school to the west, some time ago, that was so notably enjoyed, as it protectively ate a fresh rabbit carcass.

These observations indicate the possibility for three different pairs of these hawks looking to spend the coming breeding season, each within a relatively small extent in a bit of extent in the eastern portion of the river city.

Indifferent rabbits and squirrels, perhaps even errant pets will be the target of these predatory raptors looking for prey. And once there are young hawks in the nest, which will hopefully occur, the parent birds will be much more intent upon finding a meal.

Most of these observations are a result of outings, done while walking or riding upon a bicycle, or in the most limited sense via motor vehicle, while participating in the Great Backyard Bird Count.

Ongoing Demise of Cherry County Viewscape

Construction of four cellular-service towers in Cherry county continues the ongoing demise of the viewscape in this portion of the north-central Sand Hills.

In April 2012, the cellular company Viaero applied for permission to construct the towers from county officials.

One tower location was in section 6, T34N R26W, along Highway 12 northeast of Valentine, and about one-half mile northward of the northern edge of Fort Niobrara NWR, and within three miles of the Niobrara River. This tower is self-supporting, with a 195 foot height.

It would be nothing new in particular, as there are other towers in this vicinity of the town.

Another tower locale was for the south side of Merriman, in section 20, T34N R37W, and self-supporting, meaning no guy wires were needed. Its height is 120 feet, apparently being a locus for service in the immediate area.

Further south were two new towers which significantly changed the landscape perspective. Both constructs were 330 feet in height, included guy lines and had a blinking line on its top.

The so-called "James Valley" tower occurs in section 7, T29N R37W, which is along Highway 61 and just south of Clifford Creek.

Further south along the same roadway, is the "Rothwell" tower in section 11, T25N R38W, on property recently sold by the Wearin Brothers Cattle Company. The tower site is directly east of the former headquarters for this ranch operation.

The blinking light at the apex of the tower is undoubtedly visible from the other hilltop in the area, perhaps even Old Baldy, off west near the county boundary. Two nights spent atop this dune years ago, provided a perspective to remember.

The Highway 61 corridor is also the location of two other communication towers.

Miles south of Merriman, past the Niobrara River valley, is the 1000+ foot-tall tower which issues the signal for Nebraska Public Radio, and maintained by Nebraska Educational Telecommunications. This tower has many guy lines. It is a dominant feature.

In 2001, a cellular company got permission to construct a tower in section 20, T27N R37W, just a few miles east of the highway.

Depending upon the perspective, and viewing conditions, the prominence of these towers varies. The blinks of lights are certainly obvious on a clear night from any of the local hills hilltops.

The leases provide cash money for the property owners. The only thing they have to do is enter into an agreement, and then sign the back of the checks regularly received.

Lights of a 330 foot tower can certainly be visible from more than 15 miles distant on a clear night. A 1000 foot tower, with even a greater number of lights can be seen from ever a broader extent of the hills. The overall impact, spreading across a vast number of miles, has permanently altered the sandhills. It is obvious that their construction meant a loss of the very essence attributed to the region as a vast landscape, the proverbial sea of grass.

The demise of the night skyscape will continue. Its essential nature is already gone.


View Tower and Hill Locations - north-central Sand Hills, Nebraska in a larger map

17 February 2013

Birdly News Suggestions Used by Omaha Newspaper

A top of the front-page picture of massive numbers of flocking Snow Goose at Squaw Creek NWR, greeted readers of the Omaha World-Herald Saturday morning, February 16th.

It was a dramatic presentation by the paper, with the bird picture comprising more than half of the page, above-the-fold, and above the banner indicating the date, etc. of the sunrise edition. This was not a regular occurrence, so the bird photo had a special significance because of its timeliness.

In a posting on Friday, superlative was the indicative word in the title of my posting on the same subject. That same theme was indicated in the newspaper headline by paper editors. They used the title: "Migration's majesty." The story was at the top of the page, and given more attention than sport and taxes stories.

Authors were Nancy Gaarder and Marjie Ducey. They reported that more than one million of these geese were present at Missouri refuge, along with more than 400 Trumpeter Swan. There were a few other bits about differences of birdlife in comparison to Squaw Creek and Desoto NWR, according to details provided by refuge personnel.

My call to the sports department of the Omaha paper on Thursday afternoon was a suggestion that the massive number of fowl present at the refuge near Mound City, Missouri, might be an interesting story. A particular focus of the call was a mention of the record number of swans present.

The result was obvious. And the story had legs, and so was continued elsewhere.

On the KETV morning news on Sunday (the 17th), they had a reporter live on the scene, with video of Mallards and a bunch of Bald Eagles sitting in a tree.

Last Sunday, outdoor writer Mark Davis did a story about the Great Backyard Bird Count. He called me, and based upon a my suggestion he visited the bird feeders cared for by Neal Ratzlaff in west Omaha, on Friday. A phone call on the day indicated the paper photographer was on the way to this place. Birds at Ratzlaff's residence, along with a picture of him, were subsequently presented in the Sunday sports section of the newspaper. There were some great photographs shown.

An ancillary topic given to Davis during our phone conversation was a report issued on the abundance of cormorants, pelicans and grebes in the Sand Hills region, by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. That was the second topic of his Sunday article.

In latter January, another exciting occurrence, as personally observed, were Trumpeter Swan at Carter Lake. These magnificent birds had also been seen by other birders, and upon considering the situation, obviously it was bird news.

So a call was made to the local newspaper, and photojournalist Davis was soon on the scene, after calling back to get specific directions to where the birds were gathered. He made more than one visit during the weekend, being stealthy, he said, in order to get close to the birds, being intent on getting some great pictures, and they did appear in the paper with a spread across a full-page of the paper, which included a close-up picture of local birder Justin Rink.

There is also a remembrance as to the attention given to an errant Snowy Owl in downtown Omaha last November. It was the subject of wide-spread media focus. People involved with Raptor Rehabilitation Nebraska did not know why there where so many media calls. Perhaps, some of the inquiry was the result of local prompting by specific phone calls.

Any suggestions made regarding possible news stories have been provided because they might convey something important or distinct that could be shared about the wonder of birds present in the region. The news media obviously appreciates tips, and they can't write anything if they aren't aware of a potential story.

16 February 2013

Mitigation Project Restoring a Sandhills Lake

Because of impacts on less than two acres of wetlands, a lake expanse of at least 400 acres is being restored within the central Sand Hills of Nebraska.

Two landowners in Grant County and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad have agreed to restore natural hydrology to an altered lake.

The railroad was constructing dual-track alignment in the eastern sandhills and needed to mitigate for impacts, i.e., placing fill upon two sorts of wetland soils, comprising 1.23 acres and .46 acres.

Because of the loss of the wetlands, a review by the Army Corp of Engineers was required, in accordance with Section 404 regulations. The lost habitat needed to be replaced.

Results are now known, according to federal documents provided by the Corps through a Freedom of Information Act request.

BNSF would restore no less than 10.14 acres of wetland habitat, and it would be done at Egan Lake, in southeast Grant County. In May 2012, railroad consultants visited the site, evaluating its suitability for mitigation measures.

Lake features present included pumps to remove water, and which has been "heavily manipulated for the past 40 years by drainage" and was a situation of "highly altered hydrology regime and spread of invasive reed canary grass in the hay meadow, it is not nearly the high quality avian wildlife habitat that it once was prior to drainage," according to details given among the permit documentation. An estimated 1,900 acre feet of water was annually pumped from the lakebed, over a low dune and into the adjacent valley. Removal of the water helped dry meadows to facilitate hay harvest, and fall stock grazing.

"Performance Standards" and "Success Criteria" include, primarily "Completion of physical site improvements (e.g. abandon drainage ditch and remove pumps) and implementation of altered management (e.g. terminate pumping of surface water).

The lake once had a "viable and productive fishery," according to the federal documents.

A conservation easement has also been placed on the property. Documents filed at the Grant County court house, with a mid-December date, indicate an easement was placed upon 389.17 acres, with the the Wellas Cattle Company and Hebbert Charolais.

Financial details of transactions associated with the restoration and easement are not publicly available.

The two landowners will continue their normal ranching activities around the lake. BNSF has also indicated, according to permit documentation, that they would provide "costs related to construction, protection, and potential monitoring."

A "verification letter" indicating compliance with permit conditions must be provided by June 30, 2013 to the Nebraska Regulatory Office, according to a Corps official. The letter would especially indicate that the water pumps and pipes have been removed, and that the drainage ditches have been abandoned.

Egan Lake baseline conditions. Images from mitigation plan provided by the Army Corp of Engineers regulatory office.

Egan Lake mitigation plan.

15 February 2013

Superlative Fowl Numbers Along Missouri Valley

Bird surveys in the past few days convey an occurrence of immense numbers of fowl along the Missouri River between Squaw Creek NWR and Desoto NWR.

A most significant count was February 11th, when 418 Trumpeter Swans were observed during the weekly waterfowl count at Squaw Creek refuge. This is the largest count for this species since the mid-1990s when these birds first started to occur at the refuge, said Darrin Welchert, the biologist that does the counts. Among the swans were two or three which have neck-collars indicating an association with the Iowa population.

There were also two Tundra Swans present, known to occur from time-to-time in the past, Welchert said. They were formerly more prevalent than the trumpeters, but since about 2000, more trumpeters have been observed. On the January 29th survey, there were 364 Trumpeter Swans, which was is another record count.

Amidst the valley, Trumpeter Swans have also been seen, notably several times at Carter Lake (3), and also at Desoto NWR (4) and Offutt Base Lake (5).

More than a million Snow Geese were denoted for the mid-February survey at Squaw Creek refuge, according to count details available at the refuge website. The particular number indicated was 1,003,600 as derived by a grid method of counting, based upon the number of birds within an area covering a certain length and width, Welchert said. Counts done in February 2012 also indicated the occurrence of more than a million Snow geese.

More than 15,000 Canada geese were denoted during the first bird survey of the year, on February 12th, by biologists at Desoto NWR.

On the 9th, there were more than 5000 at Carter Lake, where this species has been present in large numbers, throughout the winter.

Occurrence of a single Wood Duck at Squaw Creek on February 11th, is a certain indication of spring's arrival.

Notably significant is the ongoing presence of diving ducks at Carter Lake. There was the regular number of Canvasbacks present on the 9th, with more than thirty present. There has also been a regular number of Redhead. Also significant during these days, is the presence of Hooded Mergansers. They have been a regular occurrence at the urban lake in the past weeks. The tally has been around a half-dozen, which is the same number given for the most recent waterfowl survey at Squaw Creek.

The only known occurrence of the Ruddy Duck and Pied-billed Grebe in the river valley, has been at Carter Lake. In regards to Northern Shoveler, they have also been most prevalent here, in comparison to other locales where observations have been reported.

Bald Eagles are seemingly ubiquitous. Greater numbers have been indicated at Desoto NWR (172) and Lake Manawa (153). Lesser numbers have been observed at Boyer Chute NWR and Offutt Base Lake. Surprisingly, only a dozen were noted for Squaw Creek NWR during the most recent bird count.

Additional details, based upon a limited extent of survey efforts indicates the presence of songbirds. Most birders record every species observed during an outing, while refuge biologists only denote species of particular interest. Some additional highlights are obvious, as the cusp of spring is encroaching along the Missouri River.

Birders have visited places in the Omaha metro, so special thanks to Clem Klaphake, Loren and Babs Padelford and Justin Rink, who led an Audubon Society of Omaha field trip to Boyer Chute NWR. Particulars have been posted online, so are readily available, with their contributions certainly appreciated.

The irruptive bird the season is the Common Redpoll. There were 200 reported as occurring at Boyer Chute NWR on the 9th. A dozen were indicated by Mr. Klaphake as being present at Schilling WMA on Wednesday, the 13th.

More than fifty different species have been recorded along the Missouri River in the past few days, with the bigger birds getting the most attention. Many more will soon be arriving.


The known details are based upon information from just a few places. If there was an larger perspective from additional sites, including, perhaps, Forney Lake, Tobacco Island, or any of the other wildlife lands along the Missouri River corridor, the value of valley habitats could be properly realized in all of its spectacular detail.

More notes may occur this weekend, in association with the national bird count effort.

14 February 2013

Shorebird Habits to be Investigated in Rainwater Basin

Starting in late March, when shorebirds arrive at the Rainwater Basin, they may be subjects of a new research effort. Some birds will get captured in a net, be humanly handled to have their physiological traits evaluated and then be released, with a newly attached band.

The purpose is to determine the condition and fueling rate of shorebirds using agricultural field habitats in the area, according to Dr. Joseph Fontaine, Assistant Unit Leader of the Nebraska Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and faculty advisor for the project. Research findings will further an understanding of shorebirds as they choose a wetland that meets their resource needs during migration.

The focal species for this study are in the genus Calidris, small artic nesting shorebirds, generally referred to as "peeps."

Previous research is South Dakota has indicated that peeps show a preference for moist-soil habitats associated with agricultural fields, rather than wetlands in grasslands, Fontaine said.

Field studies will be conducted by Caitlyn Gillespie, a student working on a Master's degree at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Research findings may be useful in evaluating management options concerning migratory birds in the region.
If shorebirds benefit from foraging in flooded agricultural fields, this could be an option that habitat managers in the region can consider, Fontaine said.

The Rainwater Basin is a well-known, and internationally recognized region, and was selected as a study site because of its importance to a wide variety of migratory bird species including many species of Artic nesting shorebirds.

This research is being funded by the U.S. Geological Survey National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center and the Rainwater Basin Joint Venture.

Results of previous studies on this topic, carried out by Dr. Fontaine and student Ryan Stutzman, were presented February 6th, at the Rainwater Basin Joint Venture, 18th annual informational seminar held at Hastings, Nebraska.


13 February 2013

Birdly Details and Pictures From Clear Lake, Lakeland

As a bit of blue among the dunes of Lakeland, Clear Lake has a history of bird use which dates to centuries in the past. The prairie on the hills attracted many species, but the waters were a distinctive attraction.

Geese would gather, and perhaps each year there would be goslings. Ducks would dunk their bills after a tasteful tidbit or dive for a bit of tasty plant. There were swans, grebes and other sorts of aquatic fowl unknown by any known chronicles.

It was not until 1915, nearly a century in the past, that the Franklin's Gull and Forester's Tern were noted in mid-June by a regional survey by U.S. government officials. Then in the mid-1980s, Canada Geese, those obvious and ubiquitous fowl were noted by a state survey of geese.

In July 1996, following years of change that had been wrought upon the lake district of southern Brown county, about a dozen different sorts of summer birds were recorded, representing a typical occurrence of summer-time bird.. None of them were, however, waterfowl upon the lake's waters, and especially surprising was that there were no ducks observed during a quick visit. The known tally conveys the occurrence of about a dozen species mostly present at upland habitats.

An ongoing interest in birds prevails at Clear Lake, most recently by wonderfully evocative photographs. These are some indicative pictures of seasonal residents in recent years, and as taken by attentive observers at the lakeside.


Pictures courtesy of Bruce Beebout. Taken at Clear Lake and the local area.



Adult Bald Eagle.



Ring-necked Pheasant at AGA Marsh WMA.



Great Blue Herons.







Barn Swallows.



Trumpeter Swans.





Wild Turkeys.




Upland Sandpiper.


Pictures courtesy of Pat Connor, taken at Clear Lake.



Blue-winged Teal.



Mallard eggs.



A gathering of American White Pelican.

There are also written records of bird observations, which though current not known, might perhaps be further considered, and convey another unique indication of the avian legacy for this lake.

Especially significant now, is how various birds will respond to the improved situation at Clear Lake, following the removal of an unwanted, invasive fish species. There will be dramatic differences, based upon known responses associated with another "rough-fish" removal effort in Nebraska. If aquatic vegetation thrives, it will be a food source attractive to different sorts of many sorts of fowl, and there might be surprise occurrences.

At least 173 different species of birds are known to occur among the Lakeland District of southwest Brown county, predominantly west and northward from Clear Lake.

The pictures included in this post are Copyright protected material of the respective photographer.