01 February 2013

January Tour of the La Platte Bottoms

It was a vividly cold, January day to be looking for birds, but it was the last day of the month, and plans might have negated common sense. The temperature was in the single digits, and there was a brisk breeze from the north meant an oppressive wind chill.

But purpose was the intent, and besides, someone else drove. It was a group endeavor to take a look at the La Platte Bottoms. There were eleven people within the big, red van filled with participants that first gathered at the Papio-Missouri Natural Resources District office at Wehrspan Lake. We then went forth, bundled within a variety of clothing, with layers of various sorts most prevalent. There was no especially distinctive hat.

The first bird of the outing was an American Kestrel along a highway corridor.

Upon arriving at the land eastward from La Platte, a single meadowlark was the first bird obvious. Nearby was a small flock of tree sparrows.

The tour of the bottoms continued eastward, and then along the levee. We went past Iske Place, on the west side of the Missouri River, where there are few remaining residents.

The NRD is moving forward with plans to buy Iske Place, and revert the properties to greenspace. It could be done with assistance of FEMA and NET grants. There is a similar intent for another another tract to the north at Elbow Bend. These places have been regularly ravaged by flood flows associated with the mighty Missouri River, so the time is apparent for the destruction to end.

Everyone got to see the upside-down crane — in the same situation as when the reported accident occurred earlier in the week — at the construction site for the new bridge over the Missouri River. A prominent sign indicating the number of accident-free days, had not yet been updated.

A couple of Bald Eagles were prominent because of their size. The two obvious were adults.

There were no deep drifts or any sorts of getting stuck problems because of the inches of snow a couple of days ago on the top of the levee. Marlin Petermann with the NRD, kept up an informative narrative. Especially notable features included local deer, former wells, a pump house and water control structures, fencing associated with a former dump, and prominent boundary markers.

An essential aspect were the colorful maps indicating property boundaries, landscape features which included a definitive indication of wetland areas, and other miscellany so essential to the day's endeavor.

Along the way, a suggestion to lead a bird hike was meet with vividly expressive silence.

Among the verbiage of the tour time, were some anecdotes about the local security man, who apparently has a deep well of stories. He was certainly attentive, as a nearby gate was quickly opened, though the route of the van was to go elsewhere.

With the fine mix of people riding within the big, red van, there were other ancillary topics of conversation, especially appreciated because it was a wonderful opportunity to listen and learn, with a purpose and strident effort to achieve a common goal!

The personal highlight of the afternoon drive was a Red-tailed Hawk, which had been sitting on a tree branch, until disturbed. It was hanging about an area on the north side of the Platte River where are significant portion of the native trees had been decimated by the flood, well remembered. The high-water mark was obvious on the tree trunks.

A short list of tasks was decided in the parking lot of a nearby convenience store, along Highway 75. A biologist with the Fish and Wildlife Service, quipped to me: "You're seeing how the sausage is made," in reference to how decisions can be made by a group sitting in a van on a cold Thursday afternoon. This was after a break where nearly everyone had a refreshing something to drink, whether it was a coke or a rootbeer or some other liquid.

There is so much more to convey about the results of the afternoon tour about the confluence of the Platte at the Missouri River. Specifics convey opportunity and the results of the group will be known, and appreciated in the future.

Special thanks to the staff of the Papio-Missouri NRD for sponsoring the tour with its lively discussion and attention to further efforts to conserve the greenspace at the La Platte Bottoms.

The bird species observed are the first known records for this locale, for January.