30 March 2013

Birding on a Worm Moon Morning

By six a.m., as the worm moon orb was waning in the west, Am. Robin was singing a greeting to a springly sort of day, finally for an outist. Once among the naturistic space minutes later, vivacious cardinals were heard expressing the same perspective. Nearby a single crow sat in the arboreal splendor, occasionally giving an occasional caw or two. A dove was cooing.

Surrounded by the vigor of song, fresh water was placed in the bird bath, and the bird-feeder was filled so the local birdlife of Carthage would have a nourishing and fresh morning.

Upon departure, via self-propelled conveyance, my route went through kingly Dundee to the Happy Hollow. Along the stream at the latter space, more cardinals were singing, and the mating flight of a pair of Mallards was noticed as they flew above the trees.

Above the scene, upon passing the park of memorials, regular streams of gulls were going westward, as they regularly do during their passage from a riverside lake to a suitable foraging ground.

After a ride along the golden way towards the muddy river, past the wall of many deaths, through the zone of toil, and along the place with eagles of stone, to reach the fowl waters.

Feathery antics meant lingering under a bright and warming sun, with little wind to roil the seen.

More than two hours were taken to determine the sorts of birds specific about the oxbox. An initial highlight were the eleven Red-breasted Mergansers along the eastern shore of an Iowa ranch. Nearby were many Hooded Mergansers. Eventually after continuing along, there were several Common Mergansers.

It was something of a merganser morning of the worm moon. It sounds like the title of some tepid personal novel of some sort or another.

There is so much more to the species seen, with 46 noted during the morning visit among the environs of the lake district. There were no new species observed. But every sort seen, usually through a spotting scope, were indicated by numerous scribbles upon a well-used piece of paper using a sharp pencil.

After pedaling then along the busy Ames way, and continuing push-by-push along the gritty boulevard, the next place to watch was the park of Fontenelle.

The situation was typical ... being a regular dearth of species since there is an obvious lack of habitat. The primary attraction for fowl is the pond, or if you prefer, it is a lagoon.

Many of the Canada Goose were expressive and involved in antics concerned with pairing and territory and other sorts of things associated with the breeding season, which is underway.

On the north side of the island, there was a congregation of ducks, which necessitated a closer look. There were drakes and females, with the males vividly resting, and it meant a couple of views to determine a particular identity to be certain.

They were Ring-necked Ducks, that were gone in minutes. The way of the day's morning went past the desecratory construction comprised of a concrete route on the north side. It is a new place for vehicles so people can loiter or linger and leave their litter behind. It's an instance of an supposed improvement degrading the park green space. It isn't quite an instance of paving paradise to put in a parking lot, but the result will be more bland and hard concrete.

The flock of ring-necks was the latest species to add to the tally for Fontenelle Park. Notably a Lesser Scaup. was also seen this month, which was another addition to the avifauna.

It was a special worm moon daytime, on the 28th.

28 March 2013

Birds of Early Spring Along Platte River in 1813

During the first days of spring in 1813, a journal kept by leader among a small party of men provides details of a few birds along the Platte River, Nebraska. The accounts are brief, but still exquisite for the era, when survival was of primary importance.

The party was walking overland experiencing every difficulty possible while traveling across a wilderness frontier. They had started their trek from the Pacific Fur Company fort Astoria on the lower Columbia River, by the coast of the Pacific Ocean. After weeks, they were continuing their eastward travel, including a crossing of the Rocky Mountains.

Their were an expeditionary force for mail delivery Company dispatches had to be delivered to John Jacob Astor, president of the company with offices in New York City, on the east coast.

The group started the first day of July, 1812. The party of "Astorians" included Robert Stuart, John Day, Ramsay Crooks, Benjamin Jones, Robert McClellan, Francois LeClerc and Andre Valle.

Along the way, the group interacted with various residents of the local community. On occasion it might have involved a trade, other times it could have been a battle for life, or other sorts of the sublime activities necessary as different cultures met, often in an adversarial manner.

In so far as the particulars of interest for spring on the central plains, they are terse, but significant. After crossing the South Pass of the mountains, and being the first Euro-Americans to traverse the place, the group continued onward, striving to reach a better time and place. Eventually they reached the north fork of the Platte River, and stayed for awhile, starting on January 1, 1813. The first day of the new year was "solely devoted to the gratification of our appetites," Stuart wrote. Several buffalo had been killed in the previous couple of days, so there was meat to eat. Since their tobacco was long-gone, they smoked McClellan's tobacco pouch instead, to commemorate the new year.

This camp was along the bank of the North Platte River, and either in modern-day Wyoming or Nebraska, depending upon the source being considered. Certainly they foraged for edible game among a wide area during their two month encampment, so certainly were amidst both states.

During their sojourn at this seconds winter's quarters among the cottonwoods, they felled a couple of hollow trees to create canoes. They would be useful for floating downriver, the men figured. There were no journal entries for these weeks.

They soon realized the challenges of navigating the slight waters of this prairie river. The troubles started on the first day of their departure, March 8, 1813. A small canoe was tolerable, Stuart indicated. The other one, well consider what was written in the chronicles: "it was with considerable labour in wading and dragging that ours was got down 8 miles by the middle of the afternoon." What followed was a wait of a few days for the "rise of the water."

It was mid-March, when the durable men of the frontier reached the portion of the flat river in what would, more than four decades later, be definitively within the central portion of the state of Nebraska. They wanted to paddle along, but had to make their way over land. Weather conditions were harsh, with severe conditions on the 20th, and on the same day, the group decided to continue travel by foot.

A "very fat goose" was killed on Sunday, March 21st, along with some buffalo, according to the notations in the journal kept by Stuart. The locality was along the North Platte River, many miles west of the confluence of the two forks, as indicated by the essential book prepared and edited by Kenneth A. Spaulding, and issued in 1953.

The original account is most interesting, with excerpts convey only some of the specifics. To realize the particulars, read the book. Reading about the times of these men is a profound glimpse into history of former times.

"Nothing but a boundless plain, plentifully stocked with animals, appears before us ... " are among the words Stuart wrote for the area where they were, which is now in Morrill County, Nebraska.

As the group made their way continually to the east, some events with birds occurred. There were many indicated along the Platte, along with many other unique events.

On March 26th, with cold weather, the group saw 65 wild horses, and the country was "literally covered with buffalo." At this time, the men working so hard to continue onward, were less than ten miles westward of the forks of the Platte.

Mr. Stuart was particularly effusive in his account for the next day, which was a Saturday.

"Some distance above and below last nights station is an extensive swamp, the resort of innumerable numbers of Geese, Brants, a few swans, and an endless variety of ducks; during the latter part of this days march, we found several similar places, all well stocked with water fowl."

It was spring along the river, and the men, moving along, were at a place recognized as the Black River Swamp, where a creek flowed into the Platte. The tributary waterway is now known at Blue Creek.

Later in the day, three swans and a goose were killed with one shot. Later in the day at their camp-site, they group "raised" five pheasants, otherwise known as prairie hens. These might have been either Greater Prairie Chickens or Sharp-tailed Grouse.

At the west end of the big bend, along the western Platte, Stuart commented about the local features, indicating that "prickly pears, antelopes, and wild horses have completely disappeared during within the last 3 days, but our dearly beloved friends the buffalo still remain to comfort our solitary wanderings, and five fallow deer ran across our path some distance above."

This expeditionary force moved eastward on April 1st, and reached the vicinity of the Grand Isle, with its timbered shores and nearby extent of migratory wild birds.

Stuart wrote: "we traversed only one swamp, tho' from the number of Wild Fowl there must have been many in the neighborhood," according the journal entry for the day.

On the 4th, they went past a "Panee" camp, terrifying three "squaws" who were appeased by a gift of some dried meat.

The Pawnee tribe was prevalent in the region.

On the 5th of April, two geese and two swans were killed. An interesting point given in Stuart's journal was that in the "craws" of the swans was found "the identical root dug by the Natives of the Columbia below the Falls of the river, and called by them Wapatoes--"

The game taken might have been a of several sorts of geese, but as for the swans, they were likely Trumpeter Swans.

An especially interesting indication of Platte valley species was expressed in the account of travels on this Tuesday.

The particular words, according to the "Journal of Discovery" were: "of late kurlews and old field larks are the only birds, except water fowl, that we see--."

During subsequent days, the men were focused on getting further down the Platte. There are many words in Stuart's journal, but few in regards to the local avifauna. Larger animals such as elk, especially deer, and beaver were mentioned. The grand isle was estimated as being 72 miles long.

One of the last indications of birds along the lower Platte river was on April 11th when a turkey was killed. It was the first of this species to have been observed, according to Stuart's journal, as edited by Spaulding.

Stuart's chronicle continues, with many more expressive times. There were words about an Otoe village, and in the same words for the day, the Loup Fork was noted. Nearby was the Grand Pawnee Village. During this day, a "turky" was killed.

On their western frontier, indifferent to news stories and more focused upon survival, the Astorians were told it had been a harsh winter in the vicinity of the Missouri River and, "beyond any seen in this country for the last 20 years," according to the journal, with snow depths reaching 4 1/2 feet in depth. They got news of the ware between American and Great Britain.

It snowed during the night of April 14th. A canoe elk and buffalo hides, sewed together with strong sinews, was finished during the evening of the 15th, according to the journal. Stuart's conveyed the details in his verbage for the 16th, as the men went along.

On April 16th, they floated passed the mouth of the Elkhorn River, noting that its "water is exceedingly black." On the 18th, with a set of oars available, they went past the "saline" creek. They soon arrived at the Missouri River confluence, leaving the flat-water behind, and continued their travels, along a river with ample flows, sufficient to float any sort of canoe.

They successfully traversed the Missouri, eventually reaching St. Louis on April 30th, which was the edge of the frontier, and an essential place for the people involved with any journey beyond, and into the relatively unknown western frontier.

Each of the Astorians endured. They had an epic journey, and at least three books have been written about these particular times of adventure on the frontier. Perhaps the accounts, as subsequently published are available at a local library. These personal accounts of former times can best be appreciated in their original, unique detail, without any interpretation.

26 March 2013

Comparing Historic and Current Spring Arrival of Robins

Some of the first records for spring arrival of various species in the Missouri River valley area of Nebraska,
provide details useful in comparison to the modern era.

Map of features in the lower Platte River area in 1857.

Dr. Albert Lyman Child arrived in Nebraska in April 1857, being the third settler in the Louisville Precinct of Cass County, Nebraska, and west of the Missouri River. The next spring, among his many other endeavors, during this time on the frontier, he recorded the first arrival of robins in the spring. The date was March 22nd.

His interest in birds, locusts and weather continued for many years. Initial observations occurred at the country place at the Glendale farm, then continued once the current family moved to Plattsmouth in the autumn of 1869.

A.L. Child was a descendant of a family with its America origins started in 1630, at Massachusetts. He was born in 1810 in Rochester, Vermont. Mr. Child was a robust man. His first child was from a marriage to Margaret Tozier. They had several children, from August 1834 to December 1843. Then there was a son Harry Preston birthed by Rebecca Coates Child in October 1848 at Clermont Phalanx Ohio. The last of his kids was Julia E. Child, from a union with Eliza Hampton Child, born in November 1850 at Walnut Hills, Ohio.

Child Family coat of arms. "Imitari quam invidere" translation is: "To imitate rather than to envy"

There were no more infants once A.L. Child arrived in Nebraska. He was living with Cora W. Child — apparently his fourth wife? — and two children Everett (18) and Julia, in association with the Glendale Post-office, according to the 1860 census. After he moved to Plattsmouth and became a probate judge, he was living with Cora W., who was keeping house. The other inhabitant was daughter Julia E. Child. The name indicated in association with both census records is not Child, but Childs.

Dr. Child was a communicator. His meteorological records extend from 1866-1882, and were presented to the Nebraska Historical Society for prosperity's sake, in 1887 when he was living in Kansas City.

He was involved with the U.S. Signal Corps, and conveyed weather commentary.

A report he issued in 1875 indicated a humongous swarm of Rocky Mountain locusts passed over Plattsmouth for five days, and effort and observations indicated its extent as 1800 miles long and 110 miles wide.

These are some details not included in the Nebraska bird journal. Mr. Child contributed commentary to other publications, including Popular Science Daily. He was the author of the "Centennial History of Plattsmouth City" which was issued in 1877.

As to robins. The average date of arrival was julian date 74 or 75 which would be mid-March. These are each of the dates reported. Those through 1869 were at the Glendale location between Plattsmouth and Louisville, a short distance south of the Platte River.










4/20/1867 * latest date








2/3/1877 * earliest date on record



present throughout winter of 1880



There are details on the weather conditions also available, with some particulars given in Dr. Wolcott's article.

In 2013, the American Robin had been present from January 3rd, and intermittently to the current time now at the end of March among the environs of eastern Omaha. Snow-covered ground and cold temperatures have certainly been a challenge. There have been multitudes at Memorial Park, and on a most recent Monday, on the south side of the Strauss building on the campus of the University of Nebraska, Omaha. In comparison, at past times, they would not have even been present.

There is no longer some so-called spring arrival. This species can occur most any time throughout the year, if an observer is looking at a suitable place. This spring, the birds have appreciated crab-apple trees. In the neighborhood, one or two have been loitering beneath a bird-feeder, unusually eating seeds and at times, seemingly dormant among the situation. Obviously they have relied on seed upon the ground as a ready source of food, as well as other species have.

The difference in arrival date is obvious. It is the details of the historic records which are so important, as they are an obvious indication of the value chronicles kept by A.L. Child, a pioneer of Nebraska in many ways.

Bird-Effigy Pipes Indicate Iowa Birds Two Millennia Ago

Nearly 2,000 years ago, an Indian interested in local fauna, perhaps along with others of his clan were drawn to the loud, spring-time expressions of some prairie chickens gathered at a barren prairie space atop bluffs nearby their village close to the "Father of Waters."

It must have been an impressive sight, as the male birds crouched, moved with stamping feet, while booming expressively during their timeless and dramatic presentation to attract females to mate with and create another generation.

Whether it was a personal observation during one particular spring, or the outcome of repeated observations and appreciation, the result created was certainly due to continued thought and careful expression. In a manner suited to tribal tradition, an exquisite hand-made object vividly captures the spirit of the prairie birds.

For the loud chickens among the grass, features for a ceremonial smoking pipe are of a displaying prairie chicken, and indicatively a male. The features are diagnostic, including the body shape, characteristic heads tufts and upturned tail, swept-back wings and also, the beak size and shape.

This particular pipe bowl was among three bird-effigy creations taken from the ancient mounds at Toolesboro, along the edge of a bluff, over-looking the lower Iowa River, only two to three miles west of the confluence of the Mississippi River.

An initial intrusion into the burial mounds occurred in 1875, by a party of three consisting of W.H. Pratt, his son and Charles E. Harrison.

According to the results, the pipes were carved from pipe-stone. This seems to indicate the use of "catlinite" from the diggings in south-western Minnesota.

One of the other two pipes might possibly be some sort of waterfowl, perhaps representing a goose or maybe some sort of duck, because there is no long neck indicated. The pipe bowl "was furnished with eyes of pure native copper, which, doubtless, had answered all purposes to the satisfaction of the artist," according to W.H. Pratt, author of the article in the Proceedings of the Davenport Academy of Natural Sciences, issued in 1876. Especially exquisite is the subtle indication of movement, shown by the forward placement of its right leg.

The use of native copper, might indicate the use of trade material, as metals might not ave been mined at the tribal village associated with the mounds.

The third bird-effigy pipe is less definitive in its indication of a particular species. Because of the prominent and massive size of the bill, it might convey an American White Pelican, which would have regularly occurred along the Mississippi, and been prominent during their seasonal migrations, when large and expressive, whether on the waters or moving across the sky.

Image from Pratt's article.

Other zoomorphic representations created as pipes included a frog, something similar to a dog, and a larger four-legged animal.

These bird effigy pipes are among the oldest known for North America.

According to details as now known and indicated online, these mounds are associated with the Hopewell Tradition, and were created between 100 B.C. to A.D. 200. There are still seven mounds present at this public, protected site, with perhaps twelve having originally been present. One of them is known for being the largest Hopewell Tradition mound in Iowa.

25 March 2013

Painted Vulture a Former American Species

Particular rationale to add a species of extinct bird to the avifauna of North America, have been recently issued. An article, "Validity of Bartram's Painted Vulture" as written by Noel F.R. Snyder and Joel T. Fry, was published earlier this year in the journal Zootaxa, volume 3613, issue 1.

It is a splendid effort of investigation, that considers original sources which convey ornithological history, and all of the other appropriate nuances necessary to convey to scholars and skeptics.

The Painted Vulture (Vultur sacra) is certainly an enigma. There is essentially only the report by William Bartram. And, the report by Eleazar Albin, from fifty years earlier for a captive vulture in England during the 1730s, with distinctions that conform to the same sort of bird. Its provenance is not certain.

There was enough evidence to entice Snyder to take a closer look.

"I was puzzled about the response to Bartram's report," Snyder said. He looked into the accounts more-in-depth, and found the topic "more interesting than anticipated. There was no reason to question the accuracy" of this report. "The history of how ornithology has treated Bartram's report is very curious," Snyder said. "His report was originally accepted as valid by ornithologists, but this acceptance disappeared in most accounts of the late 19th and 20th centuries."

The article indicates details sufficient for scientific recognition of this species.

Ancillary material discussed includes an original portrait by Bartram of Mico Chlucco, the Long Warrior or King of the Muscogulges, shown holding a "royal standard" comprised of feathers of the Painted Vulture. A limestone bowl from central Alabama has a handle suggested as representing either the King or Painted Vulture.

Snyder hopes that this species gets recognized as a valid species as once present in North America.

Whether the American Ornithologists' Union and ornithologists worldwide, such as the International Ornithologial Council, will agree with this perspective, remains to be seen.

"Failing to recognize Bartram’s Vulture as a taxonomically distinct former resident of Florida would be to
ignore the probable existence of one of the most interesting birds in the historic avifauna of our country, to say
nothing of perpetuating a sorry history of unconvincing criticism of both Eleazar Albin and William Bartram." - Snyder and Fry, 2013 in the Zootaxa article

Snyder has written about other species formerly present in northern America, with a book done about the Carolina Parakeet (The Carolina Parakeet: Glimpses Of A Vanished Bird), as well as the Ivory-billed Woodpecker and Imperial Woodpecker (The Travails of Two Woodpeckers), to mention two examples, and has coauthored other books on endangered birds with his wife Helen.

Dr. Snyder is currently retired and living in Arizona.

There is an online abstract available for the article about the Painted Vulture.

22 March 2013

Mayor Candidates Comment on Hiring Parks Director

Mayoral candidates for the City of Omaha have some obvious thoughts on hiring a new director for the Omaha Parks, Recreation and Public Property department.

Following the panel portion of the event, when the five candidates answered specific questions presented by a three-member panel, they visited with members of the crowd.

The opportunity was taken at ask how the candidate would select a new director for the Parks department.

Brad Ashford: was gone before he could be talked with.

Dave Nabity: "I am concerned with the way parks is being run now" he said. He would like to provide neighborhood associations funds to they can hire workers, rather than rely on government. The Parks department and neighborhood associations should work together as a partnership.

Jean Stothert: "I would hire a qualified and best person possible." Their having a vision for the parks and how to manage them was mentioned in particular. An evaluation should be done on what is needed for the parks, and then develop a plan for their revitalization. Public and private partnerships would be important, mentioning how this did not work so well at Elmwood Park.

Jim Suttle: He is looking to get a professional to lead the department, including someone with a suitable educational background and applicable experience.

Dan Welch: "We would have a conversation with the director and where to take the city," he said. We would do what we can to make it better.

Most of the candidates agreed that local residents have a better understanding of needs for their parks, and could be helpful in efficiently achieving neighborhood goals.

The City of Omaha has 224 parks, which encompass more than 10,000 acres.

Earlier this week, it was announced that the acting director, Brook Bench was recently placed in a new position within the department, becoming assistant to the director. This is a civil service job, and the person is not hired by the mayor.

The timing of this change, may be possibly be done to ensure Bench has a job if a new mayor is elected in May.

The public forum, "Midtown Matters: A Mayoral Candidates Panel" was held from 6:00-8:00 p.m. on Thursday, March 21 at the Field Club of Omaha. Candidates remained afterwards to answer questions. More than 150 people attended.

21 March 2013

Planning Underway for Missouri Backwaters Renovation

Planning is currently underway for two projects that will renovate backwater habitat along the Missouri River. One site is on the Nebraska-side of the river at Desoto National Wildlife Refuge. The other is at Wilson Island State Recreation Area.

Partners with the Army Corps of Engineers on these projects are the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

About 25 people attended the first public scoping meeting — held at the refuge visitor center the evening of March 19 — where information on the project was explained, and officials were present to answer any questions, said David Crane, an environmental resources specialist with the Corps. There was an opportunity for attendees to provide any comments.

The Wilson Island site is associated with an existing backwater along the eastern boundary of the area. The Desoto Bend area is a relict backwater area.

There are numerous expected benefits, Crane said:

"The purpose of site-specific Missouri River Recovery Program Shallow Water Habitat (SWH) projects such as those at Wilson Island State Recreation Area and Desoto National Wildlife Refuge is to restore habitat for and population sustainability to federally endangered pallid sturgeon and to mitigate the loss of fish and wildlife habitat that occurred due to construction of the Missouri River Bank Stabilization and Navigation Project. SWH also provide nursery and refuge environments for young fish and foraging areas for other native fish, conditions in SWH environments are able to produce high amounts of macroinvertebrates and plankton which feed pallid sturgeon and other native fish and wildlife. As native wildlife communities are established in these restored environments recreational benefits are also derived by people who enjoy fishing, hunting, hiking, taking insect photographs, etc.

Final design for the two projects is still being evaluated, Crane said. Once a final plan is prepared, it will be available for public review.

"Final plans and specification are expected to be ready to be advertised by the end of August 2013, with construction beginning after the contract is awarded. Once construction begins the contractor will be given 12-24 months to complete the project. The anticipated construction cost of the different alternatives currently ranges between $3.0 million and $4.9 million, though these figures are based on order of magnitude estimates and final construction costs will be based on final project design which public and agency input can help shape."

The Corps of Engineers will pay all project costs, since it is a Missouri River Recovery Program habitat creation effort (shallow water habitat and emergent sandbar habitat).

Comments on the project may be mailed to U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, Omaha District, ATTN: CENWO-PM-AC (David Crane), 1616 Capitol Avenue, Omaha, NE 68102-4901; or via email to david.j.crane [@] usace.army.mil

"We are taking comments between now and about the end of May- the end of the public comment period depends on when the draft environmental assessment. A public notice will announce the timeframe of the assessment comment period, but comments are welcome before that announcement. If there is an optimal time it would probably be after the draft environmental assessment goes out - that way folks have some substantive content to comment on."

Images courtesy of the Army Corps of Engineers.

Superlative Number of Canvasbacks at Carter Lake

Another bicycle survey of Carter Lake, this time on a Tuesday afternoon in mid-March provided details of a wonderfully significant number of Canvasbacks at this place within the Missouri River valley.

With a big variability in the spring weather, the afternoon of March 19 was a suitable time-frame to make another excursion to the vicinity. The survey route was similar to more than one hundred previous visits, with many done via bicycle transportation, well suited to getting to the variety of places around the lake. As to the normal route, it typically begins at Kiwanis Park, goes north, then west and then there is a whole mix of options to either observe from the pavilion, to get a good look at the pond or horseshoe pool, and then go further north to the northwest pond, and perhaps along the abandoned railway corridor.

Graphs indicating the number of Canvasback ducks counted on different surveys at Carter Lake.

On Tuesday, the aggregate count indicated there were something like 350 Canvasbacks. It was not a single derivative, but an aggregation of birds spread about at more than seven portions of the lake's water, from its east side to more notably on its western extent.

This is the largest gathering of this "lord of the ducks" ever recorded in the Missouri River valley. The claim is based upon a consideration of more than 500 available records, dating back to 1919 when an initial count occurred.

On March 24, 2006, more than 300 were present at Lake Manawa, according to local birder Clem Klaphake, as reported online. On December 8, 2012 a count made at Cater Lake indicated at least 250, Justin Rink reported online. There are several counts of approximately 200 for Lake Manawa and the MidAmerica Energy Ponds, both in Iowa.

The first known count of this species of waterfowl occurred on October 19, 1928 at this oxbow lake, with only five known count records from 1997 and dates prior. Initial counts in 1998 are available for Kiwanis Park, during March.

From then, until April 2011, there are no known counts associated with Canvasbacks at water environs about Carter Lake. On the 1st date of this month, no fooling, two were seen. Then no more until October 22nd when the significant occurrence of this diving duck started to occur in the modern era.

They have typically been present through the second or third week of April. After an obvious absence, their autumnal arrival occurs during the late days of October.

Most significant is the numbers recently present. In addition to the 350 count presently made, there were 120 on the 15th and 100 on the 13th of March.

These birds are especially prominent because of the white plumage of the drakes bright in the sunlight. Upon a closer lake, perhaps through a spotting scope, there is a more vivid perspective of the males and females, with their readily seen characteristics.

This species has been interspersed among the many other sorts of waterfowl present upon the lake in recent weeks.

On the day of this visit, the pumps appeared to be working to add more water to the lake, as there was a vivid flow into the lake, at the pump station.

There are several days, or maybe a week or two, pending for any especially indicative occurrence of Canvasbacks at Carter Lake this season ...

However, the peak seems to have occurred and, thankfully, was noticed and appreciated.

Wintery weather will inhibit any further attemps in the next few days. Chilly temperatures, hearty winds and even snowy conditions hinder bicycle-based surveys about Carter Lake places.

19 March 2013

Mitigation Details Indicated for Saddle Creek Project

Impacted wetlands and stream channel alterations associated with the lower Saddle Creek area CSO! project will be replaced to a greater extent, because of government regulations.

The City of Omaha is required, through provisions of Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, to replace .017 acres of wetland and 417 linear feet of stream, according to the just available mitigation plan. The impacts will occur because of a street runoff/sewer flow separation project — associated with Clean Solutions Omaha — now underway on the east side of Westlawn-Hillcrest Memorial Park cemetary, in the 55th and Center Streets area within the river city.

Site plans for mitigation areas. Both images from the Army Corps of Engineers mitigation/restoration plan.

Wetland mitigation will occur on the east side of cemetery. It will include a 50-foot "permanent, native herbaceous and woody buffer" around the site, as well as a 20-foot buffer along the stream channel, according to the official plan.

Seeds and saplings of a large variety of plant species will be sown. The wetland seed mix will include red top, bristly sedge, dark green bulrush, fowl manna grass, fox sedge, prairie cordgrass, soft rush, Virginia wildrye, water plantain, arrowhead, blue flag iris, blue vervain, joe pye weed, monkey flower, swamp milkweed and sweet flag. Each of these species were listed in the mitigation plan.

Of these species, red top is not a native species, according to David M. Sutherland, professor emeritus at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

Impacts on trees were also considered and any removed tree will be mitigated. The official plan, indicates that 684 trees need to be replaced, so there will be plantings of native willow species, dogwood, spring birch, maple, hackberry, red mulberry, paper birch, butter-nut hickory, black cherry and American Basswood.

For the tree species mix, Sutherland said: "The tree list looks okay except for paper birch, which is not native to this area. I wonder where they are getting the red mulberry, a native, but rather uncommon tree. It would be good to plant, but I wonder if it won't turn out to be just white mulberry."

Although there was an indicated loss of some few cottonwood trees, they are not, apparently, going to be replaced.

Channel mitigation — to replace "R4SB channel" — will occur closer to Little Papillion Creek, lower in the basin area, and also within the urban confines south of Center Street, especially westward from 60th Street. The property where this mitigation will occur has purchased from private land owners.

Basics of the locale include a requisite flow channel of particular extent and slope, with adjacent 9-12 foot terraces, and having an overall twenty foot width, according to the mitigation plan. "A series of 3 pools and rifles are also planned as part of the proposed stream channel."

On the upland buffer portions of both mitigation sites, the species indicated in the expansive list of species to be seeded include little bluestem, buffalo grass, sideoats grama, blue grama, black-eyed susan, blanket flower, blue flax, butterfly milkweed, dwarf red coreopsis, grayhead coneflower, Illinois bundleflower, lance-leafed coreopsis, leadplant, lemon mint, Mexican red hat coneflower, New England aster, pale purple cone flower, perennial lupine, pitcher sage, plains coreopsis, purple coneflower, purple prairie clover, showy partridge pea, thickspike gay feather, upright coneflower, white prairie clover and white bergamont.

This apparently matches a seed mix available from a local seed company.

"On the upland list," Sutherland commented, "there are a few odd choices: Blanket flower, lemon mint, perennial lupine, and white bergamot are not native to this area. Blue flax is not native and does not persist for long. Showy partridge pea is a somewhat weedy native annual that will be showy the first year or two but will not persist."

The mitigation plan indicates that the created features will be monitored for several years, following their completion, and be the responsibility of the City of Omaha.

Nine separate criteria are listed in the mitigation plan, and are, as summarized:

  1. assessment of vegetation
  2. soils evaluation
  3. vegetation, which includes field sampling
  4. hydrology, including identification of surface water and/or saturation indicators
  5. photographs taken at a minimum of eight "photo station points" at both localities
  6. fauna, which includes "any fauna found to be using the east wetland mitigation site or west stream site will be recorded by species and, if possible, documented by photograph; indicators include actual sighting, scat, nests, feathers, fur, bird calls/song are examples of faunal evidence.
  7. sight inspection
  8. inlets/outlets, or a visual inspection of conditions at the diversion pipes
  9. cross sections - "three cross sections ... will be taken of each of the restored channel, existing channel and created channel; this measurement, according to the permit requirements, will be measured after final grading, then for five more years.

Monitoring will start in the fall of 2014, after cover vegetation is established, and be done by a hired firm, according to Public Works staff. This information, once gathered would need to be submitted to the Corps of Engineers for evaluation.

There is a deed restriction on the project site, and according to city officials "is an agreement between the West Lawn Cemetery, the City of Omaha and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which has regulatory jurisdiction over the said wetlands area(s). The West Lawn Cemetery and the City of Omaha agree that the area shall be for perpetual use as a conservancy area in accordance with the terms and condition of the Department of the Army permit regarding fill material in the wetland area."

Initial construction associated with this project are currently underway.

The multi-page mitigation/restoration plan, which included color versions of map graphics, was received — free of charge — through a Freedom of Information Act request to the Army Corps of Engineers, office of counsel at Omaha.

Created Spaces Are Places for Omaha Birders to Visit

Habitat work associated with the CSO! project in the Saddle Creek basin along Center Street, will establish a changed habitat and create a different space for local birdlife or other things of nature.

There will be an increased floral diversity along the creekway on the east side of Westlawn-Hillcrest Memorial Cemetery once the many types of plants are established along a defined corridor. Any animal life associated with this spot, along with the creek channel mitigation site to the westward, has to be monitored, according to the Section 404 permit acquired by the City of Omaha. This includes an indication to denote bird activities, occurrence of nests, or findings of feathers, or even visual observations that might be captured by a quick click of a camera.

Any efforts by members of the community could be helpful in achieving this goal. The question is what incentive is there for the bird-watching public to visit CSO! project green-spaces to do a bird survey and report their findings? And also have enough interest to share their findings with city officials?

For example, further details on birds, and even other wildlife could be helpful in indicating that the rigorous environmental review and need for mitigation has resulted in something beneficial. Several prominent CSO sites are within the confines of eastern Omaha, and with each of them are readily accessible, so it would be so easy to take a quick look on a day of fine weather.

Birders, during an outing of discovery, might convey that created habitat diversity and green-space are an asset to the city environs? There might be an appreciated view of some expressive bird of some subtlety? Or, with the new additions to the floral landscape, some unexpected, vivid moment might occur.

Or to convey a phrase: "You don't know if you don't go."

These surveys can also be done prior to any habitat modifications, and allow a before/after comparison. This sort of information is already available for Adams Park, Fontenelle Park and Spring Lake Park in eastern Omaha.

It would be helpful if a representative of the CSO! project would give a presentation to a local conservation group, perhaps at Fontenelle Forest or at a usual monthly meeting of the Audubon Society of Omaha. The speaker could tell the attendants about current and proposed projects, changing habitats, and that any effort to assist in some manner could be a contribution to the community!

18 March 2013

Survey Indicates Nebraskaland on Iowa Side of Carter Lake

The survey to indicated the boundary line for property on the eastern extent of Carter Lake has been completed. There are numerous lathes prominent along the side of the lake, especially on the western extent of the lakes' eastern section.

The markers indicate that a relatively large section of land is within the Nebraska boundary, and therefore not Iowa property. One particular area has a variety of settings, including lowland habitat adjacent to the lake waters, mud flats when the water level is kept low.

How the parcel areas, apparently within the boundaries of the City of Omaha will be permanently classified by the Douglas County assessor is not yet known. At least two parcels are associated with an Iowa homeowner yard, and where the lake-edge was filled and the bank anchored by rip-rap to allow establishment of a lawn. Another tiny parcel is on the west side of the Iowa West Ranch. There are decrepit bock docks at one particular area, and since the City of Omaha does not allow private construction on public property, perhaps they will be removed and the site restored to a condition similar to what occurs adjacent.

There needs to be a legally binding decision to ensure that these unique parts of the Carter Lake environs continue to be a green space, and not land in limbo where Iowans have done what they wanted for so many years.

The area has been obviously indicated at land within Nebraska. Its permanent fate is pending, though there is some indication the land will be marked, and become park of Levi Carter Park. No written confirmation of this is available. Several calls to the acting director office of the Omaha Parks and Recreation Department to determine the outcome of the land survey have not been returned.

The City of Carter Lake also owns property within the area, so perhaps a dedicated green-space could be established, and provide a new place where people can enjoy a different view of the lake and its birds.

Stateline Property at East Carter Lake

Mud flat at the lakeside portion of the area.

One of the many temporary markers indicating the state boundary.

The stateline boundary markers are visible on the left portion of this picture.

Private docks on Nebraska land, east Carter Lake.

17 March 2013

Forest Service Proposes More Roadways Through Sandhill Grasslands

A notice just issued for the Bessey and McKelvie divisions of the Nebraska National Forest, proposes that additional vehicular travel be allowed on trail roads at both grassland places.

"The project would address access needs and potentially reduce effects of concentrated travel by allowing motorized use of certain user-created routes ...," according to a agency notice.

Four-pages of information were the only details provided via a mailing, and as presented online. Any facts to support the need for more trails through the grassland tracts of both forest area was not indicated, other than this statement:

... "numerous comments from other agencies and the public indicating a need for additional motorized access to other areas of the forest for hunting, fishing, general recreation and other uses."

This statement is indicative. More vehicular access would make it easier for hunters to drive somewhere to hunt and kill deer and prairie grouse. Apparently some of them do not want to walk so much... It appears that the trails were created by users, which were probably ranchers with grazing rights and are routes used to check cattle and to visit windmills, although the federal agency has not made public how these trails originated.

The proposal is especially problematic at McKelvie National Forest, where tracts of the McKelvie Forest, especially, will be altered to conform with people focused upon changing a situation which has obviously worked for decades. Here are nine routes "proposed for additional motorized access." According to the maps provided by the agency, any access for increased fishing opportunities would occur only on the north side of Merritt Reservoir.

A reclassification of these routes is not warranted. The proposal as conveyed to the public does not present any details associated with several key concerns:

  • what is the current status of these trails and the present extent of their use; this is a key item, because details should be provided on the need for the proposed change
  • if the proposed trails are not part of the current authorized travel routes designated by the Forest Service, have they been previously abandoned, or used in any manner?
  • how would trail reclassification have any influence on the value of an unbroken prairie expanse
  • would "improved" access have any impact on wildlife resources?
  • would there be any potential increase in erosion or other ground disturbance due to a possible increase in traffic
  • and, last, but not least, would this change increase the need for trail maintenance that would become a new financial burden on the agency?

Perhaps there should be fewer roads, not more? This effort by the Forest Service is just the latest example of an improvement, which in reality will degrade the natural quality of the landscape.

Any comments conveyed to the agency will be used to help in preparing an "environmental assessment of the proposed action."

There are so few details given by the action proposal, it is difficult to suitably evaluate impacts and alternatives.

Public comments on this proposal will be accepted through early April, with public meetings held at Thedford, Grand Island, Valentine and Alliance during March 19-28, 2013.

Map of proposed new vehicle routes at McKelvie National Forest. Image from Forest Service notice of proposed action.

Energy Propaganda Conveyed by Advertising Insert

A four-page insert titled "Energy for Nebraska" was included in the Omaha World-Herald in its March 15, 2013 issue. It was an associative effort by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the Nebraska Public Power District.

It is blatant industry propaganda, meant to indicate that both entities care for the people of Nebraska and only want to provide energy which is environmentally suitable.

"Developing clean, efficient, renewable energy sources for Nebraskans is an ambitious long-term challenge."

This is the first sentence on the lower-half of the front page of this "partnership effort."

UNL was indicated first, so NPPD was obviously taking advantage of a collaboration with the state university.

Anytime some spokesman indicates that there was a "visionary pledge" to create the Nebraska Center for Energy Sciences Research, the comments are hyperbole. There were a couple of portraits of officials associated with the two entities, as if the two "white guys" shown had actually personally done anything to promote truly sustainable green energy?

More significant, was the top-of-the-page graphic on the first page of the insert. Prominent in the foreground was a solar panel. On the second page, a UNL director indicated that solar energy was a "key area of research."

UNL has not actually developed any solar energy facilities, so the graphic is completely misrepresentative. Similar vagueness continues on the rest of the four pages. There were no particular details given about any project now operational to develop local solar power. NPPD does have a solar energy facility at a building at Norfolk, and is considering solar energy use with pivot irrigation systems.

There is minimal effort in further developing solar power, due to current price considerations, according to the 2013 Integrated Resource Plan recently released by the agency, and which covers long-range planning for the next 5-20 years. The report says: "Although the cost of solar technology has declined significantly over the last few years, current assumptions still show it to be higher in cost than other renewable resources, particularly wind. For this reason, wind generation is used as a proxy for future renewable resource development in the current IRP analysis."

This apparently indicates a primary focus on wind turbine construction for the long-term."

How can NPPD cannot make any claim to being involved with water conservation. The terse story "Making every drop count" as included in the insert was probably provided by UNL to fill space on a page.

It was interesting to see the story titled "Field study focuses on grouse habitats and wind energy" during the same week when an associated story was issued by the Ainsworth Star-Journal, and included a picture.

Nothing was said about the R-Project. Nothing was said about the demise of landscape vistas because of powerlines to be built across land in Nebraska.

Nothing was said how negative impacts when wind turbine facilities are built. Prominent on this list is land fragmentation, loss of landscape vistas, road construction on native habitats, etc.

Nothing was said about regular deaths of birds due to wind turbines.

Undoubtedly, it cost many thousands of dollars to issue this insert. It is so easy to spend money to convey a bias, and indicate that it is a public education effort.

It would be preferable that these sorts of advertising efforts provide a comprehensive perspective! Commentary on the pages were certainly "efficiently harnessing the wind" it took to issue this propaganda!

Images from newspaper flyer.

Research Denotes Early Season Bird-Strike at Omaha

The earliest date in the year for deaths associated with birds striking windows in eastern Omaha occurred on March 15, 2013.

Two dead American Tree Sparrows were found on the west side of the CenturyLink Center, in the 08:00 hour. The date of occurrence for these two fatalities, was 22 days previous to any other know window strikes, as first recorded in 2008, and obviously expands the temporal period for these events. Previously, the first instances were during the latter days during the first week of April.

This is not the first record for this species being killed at this building. It happens every year and are among the more than 450 records documented along its west side.

Both carcasses were removed for suitable disposal elsewhere amongst a green space, rather than getting tossed into a nearby trash can!

This is the most dangerous building in the area, with more bird deaths having occurred here than at any other structure in eastern Omaha.

The building managers are apparently indifferent to the bird deaths, as they have done nothing suitable to reduce the fatalities, and despite a letter of concern sent to them a few weeks ago by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority manages this City of Omaha owned facility.

15 March 2013

Aztec Ruler Moctezuma of Tenochtitlan a Bird Enthusiast

When a military force arrived in new Spain from across the Atlantic Ocean, the Spanish leader Hernando Cortés effusively described the features and scenes.

The Aztec culture was flourishing in Mexico, and if there is but one advantage to the discovery, it is five particular letters — or cartas-relaciones — which express features of the country and actions to the Spanish emperor. The signature given at the end was "Hernán Cortés."

The second letter most vividly conveys conditions at Tenochtitlan at Lake Texcoco, the capital of the Aztec empire at the time, with interesting descriptions of a variety of topics, without the latter prevelant reports of conquest and warfare. Among a lengthy missive, sent on the 30th of October 1520 from Segura de la Frontera, Cortés mentions captive raptors, bird-watching from one of the ruler's palaces, and the sorts of birds which could be purchased at one of the local markets on a city square. Cortes was a resident in the city from November 1519, at least until May 1520, according to details given in this particular letter.

This letter was sent to: "Most High Mighty and Catholic Prince, Invincible Emperor, and our Sovereign Leige," otherwise known as Charles V, the son of Queen Dona Juana of Spain.

The following details are associated with the march to Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capital, under the reign of Moctezuma, or as spelled Muteczuma by Cortes.

The city of Iztapalapa, with 12-15,000 inhabitants, was located on the shore of a large salt lake, where "wild duck, widgeon, and other waterfowl," occurred, "and in such number that often they almost cover the surface of the water," the military officer wrote.

Depiction of a market at Tlatelolco. From Wikipedia.

Just beyond was the "great city" of Tenochtitlan, situated at the center of a vast saltwater lake. There was also an adjacent freshwater lake, according to the chronicles.

There were many open squares within the city, in "which markets are continuously held and the general business of buying and selling proceeds."

Cortes described one particular market area in detail, conveying the first personal account for a game market in the Americas.

"The city has many open squares in which markets are continuously held and the general business of buying and selling proceeds. One square in particular is twice as big as that of Salamanca and completely surrounded by arcades where there are daily more than sixty thousand folk buying and selling. Every kind of merchandise such as may be met with in every land is for sale there, whether of food and victuals, or ornaments of gold and sliver, or lead, brass, copper, tin, precious stones, bones, shells, snails and feathers; limestone for building is likewise sold there, stone both rough and polished, bricks burnt and unburnt, wood of all kinds and in all stages of preparation. There is a street of game where they sell all manner of birds that are to be found in their country, including hens, partridges, quails, wild duck, fly-catchers, widgeon, turtle doves, pigeons, little birds in round nests made of grass, parrots, owls, eagles, vulcans, sparrow-hawks and kestrels; and of some of these birds of prey they sell the skins complete with feathers, head, bill and claws."

More than a dozen species are indicated, although the sparse details limit any opportunity to identify particular species, though many are known from the era. In particular:

  • hens were probably domestic chickens
  • partridges were probably some sort of grouse
  • the wild duck was probably the Mallard
  • flycatchers probably included a variety of small songbirds
  • widgeon may have been the American Wigeon, or other small ducks
  • turtle doves might have been the Mourning Dove, but other types of doves were present in middle America at this time
  • the vague appellation of pigeons had to have included any one of several species, ranging from the Rock Dove, the anyone of several other possible species
  • it would be impossible to define an id for the parrots, because of the many sorts present in the vicinity
  • owls ... nothing can be added on this
  • a few species of eagle could have been taken for sale in the market
  • vulcans were probably vultures, either the Black Vulture or Turkey Vulture
  • as to "sparrow-hawks and kestrels" this could refer to the American Kestrel.

Moctezuma personally had an obvious interest in live birds of many sorts. The narrative continues, with details on the "many houses of recreation" maintained by the Aztec ruler:

"... Another palace of his (not quite so fine as the one we were lodged in) had a magnificent garden with balconies overhanging it, the pillars and flagstones of which were all jasper beautifully worked. In this palace there was room to lodge two powerful princes with all their retinue. There were also ten pools of water in which were kept every kind of waterfowl known in these parts, fresh water being provided for the river birds, salt for those of the seam and the water itself being frequently changed to keep it pure; every species of bird, moreover, was provided with its own natural foods, whether fish, worms, maize or the smaller cereals. And I can vouch for it to your Majesty that those birds who ate fish alone and nothing else received some two hundred and fifty pounds of it every day, which was caught in the salt lake. It was the whole task of three hundred men to look after these birds. Others likewise were employed in ministering to those who were ill. Each pool was overhung by balconies cunningly arranged, from which Muteczuma would delight to watch the birds."

The Spaniard's letter continues and describes another interesting place kept by Moctezuma:

"He had also another very beautiful house in which there was a large courtyard, paved very prettily with flagstones in the manner of a chessboard. In this palace there were cages some nine feet high and six yards round; each of these was half covered with tiles and the other half by wooden trellis skilfully made. They contained birds of prey, and there was an example of every one that is known in Spain, from kestrel to eagle, and many others which were new to use. Of each species there were many examples. In the covered part of every cage there was a stake upon which the bird could perch and another under the wooden grating, so that the birds could go inside at nighttime and when it was raining and in the daytime come out into the sun and air. They were fed daily on chickens as their sole fare."

Obviously, Moctezuma was the first known bird enthusiast/watcher in the western hemisphere, thanks to the letter.

Other details given in the five letters make them a very interesting read, rich in details of a time and place 500 years in the past.

13 March 2013

Ongoing Improvements Continue to Desecrate the Distinctive Sandhills

As so-called improvements have continued unabated, distinct characteristics and features of the sand hills have been destroyed or have disappeared. Some features are known only as history associated with times in decades long gone.

Prominently, the region was once an immense expanse of dune covered with prairie grasses, interspersed with small blue lakes and wetlands, with a few trees here and there. Any horizon presented an expanse of unending hills and natural vistas of a unique natural ecosystem.

The hills are now a fractured landscape because of the ongoing and continual imposition of development and civilization, one step at a time. There are roads, towers, endless powerlines, changed habitats and landscapes obvious during the day. More subtle are pervasive invasive species. At night, lights can hardly be avoided.

There is currently a peak in the deleterious conditions, dubitably achieved after one change and another throughout many decades of endless change — i.e., so-called improvements — after another. More will occur, and more features will certainly disappear.

Historic Origins in the 1850s

U.S. Army caravans, more than once or twice, forced native residents from the hills, forcing them into smaller and smaller territories, and eventually onto reservations. Was this an improvement in the lives of the Indians.

Officials land surveyors indicated townships and sections lines upon across the dunes. Was this an improvement for what had been an unmarked place without individual claims of ownership?

The U.S. Government would provide a land claim to pioneers, as long as it was improved by breaking the sod and cultivating a crop in sandy soils, or adding some trees. Was this an improvement upon the native prairie which had developed naturally for thousands of years?

Railroads were built to the edge of the frontier, opening new places to towns and settlers. Was this an improvement as civilization encroached further and further?

The first attempt by the U.S. Government to get the land settled was not quite as successful as it could have been, so the claim law was changed, by a politician. A claimant could get 640 vs. 160 acres. The settler had to still till the ground. This was not an improvement on the earlier Homestead Act.

With the extirpation of elk and bison, gray wolves, residents for eons, tried to survive by eating "slow elk." A bounty was enacted so soon this native mammal was completely extirpated. There are stories among the chronicles that celebrate the death of the wolves. These predators were among the last of the lingering original condition of the sandhills. All the elk were killed long before the wolves.

Ranchers claimed land, and as government officials enforced boundaries, they were limited to property they actually owned. There are a bunch of ranch entities, some still operating which were involved in this ruse. There were illegal land claims, and how did the many instances benefit the sandhills, since the intent was to benefit a land-owner's pocket-book?

Limitations on range land meant that land actually owned was the sole source of grass where cattle could range and hayland for a ranch. Early in the 1900s, ranchers decided upon a new option. Ditch the wetlands to provide a hay meadow rather than an unwanted swamp. In Cherry County in July 1900, N.S. Rowley, of Kennedy, was cooperating with Messrs. Bachelor and Ball to complete a drainage ditch two miles in length, ten feet wide, and five feet deep to drain the Boardman Swamp. Further details followed, as issued on a page of a local newspaper, or in a book of reminiscences by an oldtime rancher.

How was this effort an improvement for the flora and fauna present? What did the birds think when they arrived at a former haven, only to discover that there was no water habitat?

Most of the prairie dog towns present within the sandhills have been destroyed, because they created unwanted holes recognized as hazards. How did their extirpation benefit burrowing owls and other species present at these places?

How many snakes have been killed because, they are also an unwelcomed resident. The same for gophers.

These are obvious examples of animal eradication. Add the elk to this list. Then include unique plants associated with plants that formerly thrived in inter-dune valleys, especially fens which are a unique habitat, and which have mostly been ditched and partially drained.

REA lines spread electric power throughout the region. It was a wonderful comparison to the pioneer times when kerosene lamps or candles where the only light available during the night. With electricity always available, the radio, refrigerator and television spread into every household, provided by wires strung along poles built to every residence. It was a boon to the people. After the initial effort, there were subsequently more power distribution lines constructed by utility providers to give improved service to residents. The poles and lines connect every community within the region. Each segment was carefully constructed, with reliability a focus.

A line from Stapleton connects to Tryon and then to Arthur. Hyannis is serviced by a powerline built to its south, through the Sandhills National Natural Landmark. Along the Highway 20 corridor through northern Cherry county, there is a powerline. For each of these lines, no one was asked whether or not they wanted these constructs. It was just done by a utility company to improve service.

Because it was easier to dump things over the hill, beyond the ranch buildings, there are many unknown dumps, places where unwanted equipment, machinery or things called trash has accumulated, or spots of a similar context, whatever they might be called. The sort of discards is unknown, but is obvious at some places, especially north of Ashby. It may have been easy to get rids of unwanted things, since out of sight, out of mind.

How does dumping discards into an available swale indicate any respect for the land? It is certainly not an improvement, but rather a disgraceful situation that will linger forever, once done, and as never removed.

Cellular-phone towers have proliferated in recent years. The intent is obviously to provide complete coverage, because self-centered people had to have instant access to others. The towers, usually hundreds of feet in height, regularly have a blinking light on its top. They are obviously an essential during emergencies, but cell towers are not built to provide emergency communications.

How does the placement of many towers more than 400 feet in height, contribute to any appreciation of a dark sky at night within, in particular, Cherry County?

These are among the most recent improvements contributing to the demise.

There are more pending.

The R-Project being promoted by the Nebraska Public Power District is a juggernaut by a public utility which expects nothing more than an approval for their proposal. Rate-payers will pay to provide a transmission line to distribute electricity generated by turbines in Nebraska to elsewhere. It will be imposed across 220 miles of landscape, though the constructor did not receive permission from anyone for its construction.

There are plans to place wind turbines at various place within the sandhills. Two prominent spots are south of Cody and westward of Baldy Hill, in northeast Arthur County. Others will certainly be proposed because there are efforts underway in this regard. Each turbine complex will be presented as an improvement to provide green energy ... and how wonderful it will be while the only reason the facility is being built is because of subsidies paid by power users and the general public. The turbines will be hazards to birds and bats, fracture habitat and further the decline in open spaces. The generated power will likely be sent outstate. The impact will be imposed locally while the benefactors will be distant, including the people making money. Of course a few local land-owners will be getting checks, while they gaze in wonder at massive turbines, slowly turning on their property, and the associated access roads and buried powerlines. Ain't that sweet?

Throughout these 150 years of history, there have been only a few murmurs expressing views associated with conservation of natural vistas and an opportunity to enjoy a natural horizon of just land and sky.

Several years, a personal opinion was indicated in an article published in the Lincoln Journal Star, regarding the imposition of cellular service towers in northern Cherry county. It meant nothing, because there are more cellular towers present now within the region than ever before.

The Nebraska Public Power District has recently decided to impost a new transmission line upon Cherry County. It will be built. There will be more turbines.

There will be more and more things placed upon the land, based upon economic benefit for businesses and land-owners.

The land has no opinion. Birds can't express any perspective, and when one hits and turbine blade and falls to the ground to be eaten by a coyote, there is no report in the newspaper. Plants are mute when ripped from the round when a new turbine access road is constructed.

When some light atop a cellular tower blinks ever night now and forever, no one has complained.

Improvements and monetary gain are the primary focus. And don't forget doing any and everything to promote any benefit to the livestock industry, even if that might include killing as many coyotes as possible. Or carrying to pistol to shoot any gopher seen, because they are no longer welcomed in the cattle pastures.

The sand hills' environment is under an ongoing assault which will result in a huge loss of features which future generations might want to appreciate and enjoy. Each year, any such opportunity is lessened. It's such a shame.

This commentary conveys a basic perspective which reflects an obvious reality.

Improvements in many instances are actually degradation, but there is no voice for the land?

Congregation of Flying Crows Continues Above Carthage

The initial intent for a Monday evening outing was to get involved in civil discourse at the mayoral forum scheduled at a church on the west side of Dundee. However, the Dundee Presbyterian Church was completely closed because of the snow, as dramatically shown by a sign on the door. The people responsible for this decision obviously did not give any attention to the evening event's time, because the streets were free of snow, and basically dry. There was no hindrance to anyone wanting to attend the monthly meeting of the Dundee-Memorial Park Association. It was supposed to be an opportunity to visit with mayoral candidates, yet it did not happen because of a lame excuse by holy officials, which they spread upon the public. Sounds typical for a religious entity.

Upon my arrival on the east side of the place on the west side of Happy Hollow Boulevard, not even the two Boy Scouts leaders and the boys loitering outside could get inside to have their usual meeting.

With the initial intent quashed, the evening's walk continued northward along the Happy Hollow, and transitioned into an evening time to listen to the antics of robins. Their voice was certainly more pleasing that any verbal linguistics by politicians in the basement of a church.

Because of a caw or two or more descending from above, the realm of the natural sky became the place to focus upon, as there was the usual evening passage across the realm by the crows above Carthage. They fly here every day, hither and yon. It is a representation of the wild spirit of the world within a urban scape. There is nothing fake associated with the crows, whereas at the church, which is a structure where birds are not welcome, and conveys an obvious indifference to the natural world. Not everyone is welcome, despite what the pathetic signage of the church conveys on their placard signage near the intersection of Underwood Avenue and Happy Hollow Boulevard. These words are nothing but a bunch of trivial nothing.

Beyond the place of hypocrites, a few expressive crows were winging southward just a few minutes past 7 p.m. It was of no special significance, but was given attention because of an interest in these birds, as enjoyed on days earlier in the year.

The skies at the time were a sublime blue of a late winter sky. Only a few small, actually insignificant clouds there were, towards the east.

About ten minutes past the 7 p.m. hour, daylight savings time, the grand flight began. Groups of crows were going southward to a place near Leavenworth Street. There was an actual stream of black birds. Only an occasional caw occurred. Then there were more above and beyond the street place which was nothing but a pedestrian route, but obviously a spot to bird watch.

There was an effort to count every bird going past, up in the blue space of the sky. It was mostly accomplished, even though about 7:15 p.m. local time, there had to be some quick denotions, when a big bunch of spread-apart crows went past overhead.

After this extent of vivacious crows, it seemed that the number was so similar to another count, that there was a thought that perhaps more birds would be seen, and possibly convey something unexpected and new?

Then it happened. After a couple of minutes, nearly one hundred more flew past, readily visible from the hilltop perspective that can be uniquely appreciated only within the Carthage neighborhood.

Crows have been gathering and vividly expressing their presence during various hours of the lingering days of this enduring winter. Their occurrence has been specially seen and appreciated in a sublime manner or two or three, within this urban neighborhood of eastern Omaha.

The final date of any congregation this year is still not known, now.

Perhaps a pair lingering near a nearby conifer, might indicate a pair intent on a breeding space. So maybe the caw of the crow in Carthage will continue. Once spring weather arrives, the situation will be better known.

Nearly 200 of these beautiful birds flew past by 7:20 p.m., daylight savings time, on Tuesday, the next day. It was a bit of a repeat of the beating wings from Monday. How wonderful ... and a particular appreciation of the outing was a policeman on North 49th Street, doing his duty.

11 March 2013

Comparing Winter Birds of March at Carthage

During the languid days of 2012 in mid-March, there were a bunch of birds obvious in the Carthage neighborhood. Highlights included an errant Red-winged Blackbird, and a bunch of Common Grackles were present on 7 March, or which was the 67th day of the year.

View on March 8th, when the snow had been melting away.

Realizing that some sort of bird survey at been done a year ago, another survey was done to conform with the same time this year. And then winter weather, with blowing snow and inches of white stuff, so more attention was given to determining the birds present. Weather on Sunday was the primary factor in the situation, where an expected extent of 2-4 inches of snowfall became 6-9 inches by the end of Sunday.

There were 19 species present during the past weekend, including the unexpected visit of some White-throated Sparrows, obviously taking advantage of the food available at a backyard bird feeder. They were the most obvious addition during Sunday, while snow was falling and blowing about the neighborhood. Because of the harsh weather, particular attention was given to making sure that food was available.

About daylight, the unwanted black cat sitting beneath the feeder was chased away. Within minutes, some juncos arrived. The first bit of the mornings' snowfall was raked away so that seeds upon the ground would be available. With the arrival of more snow, the raking routine was repeated, and the actual feeder was refilled. The same effort occurred later in the afternoon, and once again in the evening, when the cardinals were gathered about, eating the seed a a late winter storm raged about.

A comparison of bird life from current days and the during the same time last year, conveys that more than twenty different species have been present, as indicated by the following summary.

Common Name 3/7/2012 3/8/2013 3/9/2013 3/10/2013
Cooper's Hawk - - 1 - - - -
Red-tailed Hawk - - - - 1 - -
Ring-billed Gull - - 14 - - 8
Rock Pigeon - - 3 - - - -
Mourning Dove 3 3 - - - -
Red-bellied Woodpecker - - 1 - - - -
Downy Woodpecker 2 2 - - - -
Northern Flicker 11 - - - -
Blue Jay 2 3 - - 2
American Crow 2 11 - - 2
Black-capped Chickadee 43 - - 2
White-breasted Nuthatch 1 1 - - - -
American Robin 2 12 - - - -
European Starling 27 12 - - 2
White-throated Sparrow - - - - - -2
Dark-eyed Junco 6 7 - - 11
Northern Cardinal 2 3 - - 6
Red-winged Blackbird 1 - - - - - -
Common Grackle 6 - - - - - -
House Finch 3 3 - - 2
House Sparrow 20 30 - - 20

The bird feeder scene.

Along the street. The two women ran their snow blower along 1.5 blocks of the sidewalk.

Completely missing has been the call of the screech-owl, which has been heard in the night hours in times past, but its presence has been missing in the most recent months at Carthage.

The weather is expected to moderate by early in the week. Food provided at the feeder was obviously helpful, as personally observed. Perhaps in a few days as temperatures will moderate, and any Mourning Doves will coo on the rooftops and not have to deal with inches of snow on the ground.

An arrival of the grackles could certainly convey the start of spring in midtown Omaha. This date will certainly be later in 2013, in comparison to 2012.

December Sales of Prairie Chickens at Chicago Market

Wholesale prices for prairie chickens during December started at $4.00 to $4.50, with many dozens of lots being purchased. By mid-month, representative prices were between $4.50 and $5.00 per dozen. Price details for the month indicate a lively market, with many lots sold nearly every day.

The monthly summary indicates the fluctuations in the number sold and prices.

  • 12/04: 8 dozen at $4.00; 4 dozen at $4.50
  • 12/05: 6 dozen at $4.50; 7 dozen at $4.00; 9 dozen at $4.50
  • 12/07: 7 dozen at $4.40; 4 dozen at $4.25; 5 dozen at $4.00
  • 12/08: 7 dozen at $4.00; 2 dozen at $4.25; 9 dozen at $4.00
  • 12/10: 5 dozen at $4.50
  • 12/11: 3 dozen at $4.50
  • 12/12: 10 dozen at $4.25; 3 dozen at $4.75
  • 12/13: 10 dozen at $4.50; 2 dozen at $4.75; 4 dozen at $5.00
  • 12/14: 4 dozen at $4.50; 7 dozen at $4.75; 3 dozen at $5.00
  • 12/15: 2 dozen at $5.00
  • 12/17: 15 dozen at $4.75; 10 dozen at $5.00
  • 12/19: 6 dozen at $5.25; 17 dozen at $5.00
  • 12/20: 17 dozen at $5.25; 1 dozen at $5.00
  • 12/21: 46 dozen at $5.00; 2 dozen at $5.25
  • 12/22: 44 dozen at $5.00; 60 dozen at $4.75
  • 12/24: 40 dozen at $4.00; 50 dozen at $4.00
  • 12/26: 40 dozen at $4.00
  • 12/28: 87 dozen at $3.50; 4 dozen at $3.00; 3 dozen at $2.75; 40 dozen at $3.25
  • 12/29: 300 dozen at $3.75 per dozen; 200 dozen at $3.50 per dozen
  • 12/31: 49 dozen at $3.00

The month closed with an influx of a large number of salable lots, quotable from a low of $2.75 for poor condition birds to $3.75 for birds in prime to choice condition. Prices in December peaked for the year, with $5.00 per dozen for choice lots, and dozens sold on December 20-21 for $5.25 per dozen. The greatest number sold on a single day was December 29th, when 500 dozen, or 6000 birds, were purchased.

More than 13,000 Greater Prairie Chicken were sold at the Chicago wholesale market in 1866, according to the nearly daily reports given in the Chicago Daily Commercial Report and Market Review, starting on August 16th, and for the remainder of the year. Obviously the number would be greater if there were comparative details for the entire year.

08 March 2013

Years Before Turbines Built in Cherry County?

It will likely be a few years before any wind turbine facilities will be built within Cherry county, according to particular details indicated at a meeting on February 21, 2013 at Lincoln.

There are no transmission lines currently available to distribute any generated electricity, based upon specific considerations associated with any pending construction of turbine facilities within the county, according to comments made at the meeting.

The meeting, held at the offices of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, included Michelle Koch, the state agency's Environmental Analyst Supervisor, a representative and attorney associated with Bluestem Sandhills L.L.C. which is a proponent for turbine construction, and someone from Olsson Associates which is the environmental consultant hired by the Cherry County Wind Energy Group. A representative of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, was also involved via telephone, at the invitation of Bluestem Sandhills L.L.C.

Three particular "zones" are currently being considered as suitable for turbine facility development, Koch said. They are in the north-central part of the county around the Nenzel-Kilgore area, within the southeast section and also in the south-central area.

One region that has been excluded, in association with the turbine facility developer present at the meeting, was in the vicinity of the Valentine National Wildlife Refuge.

Other topics discussed where when a facility might be constructed and its extent, Koch said. Wildlife and habitat concerns associated within the county and its biologically unique features were also considered. She also asked if the turbine facility developer had any interest in participating in research regarding the placement of turbines and any ancillary effects upon local features.

The federal agency is willing to provide "technical assistance" if necessary, said Michael George, supervisor of the Nebraska field office of the Fish and Wildlife Service.