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.