14 April 2013

Phantasmagoria of Birds and Trash on a Carter Lake Morning

It was a stupendous time to be birding among the Carter Lake environs on the morning of April 13th. There was a great variety of species and distinctive numbers present at the various locales at this place.

The usual bicycle route started once again at Kiwanis Park, and continued northward and westward and then northward again, as necessary to get a comprehensive perspective.

Two highlights at the first place were two each of the Hooded Merganser and Red-breasted Merganser. Three more of the latter were also seen near Bird Isle, amidst the southern waters of Carter Lake.

This same island was a haven for many Double-crested Cormorants. Some were perched on treetop snags, while others stood in a bunch on the dirt beach on the north point.

It was not even 7 a.m. when the outing started, and was a chilly time to be focused upon the phantasmagoria of birdly actions. At the scene as seen and appreciated in some sort of detail, were many types of ducks and geese, too many coots, gulls and grebes, and mergansers and robins looking for worms amidst the turf. The sun was shining which added a bit of an ameliorating effect to temperatures in the low 30s.

There was a certain bit of despair upon seeing the feathered congregation, because, how could a count be done with so many birds and ongoing flights and movements and others diving beneath the top of the water? Any boundaries for a census effort seemed vague. Cormorants were going hither and yon, or back and forth if that might be preferable language. Add into the mix a juvenile Bald Eagle... that decided to sit atop a tree snag very near the roosting cormorants, much to the chagrin of the smaller fish-eaters that flew away and around until deciding that their point of origin was really okay.

So many fowl were westward from a perspective on the eastern side of the lake. Additional sorts were further north. Even more were settled further away upon the lake waters.

The result was a minute by minute perspective. Look once and then look again. Do a count and then do another, and with so many birds present, this was a repetitive process of review and denote.

An especially significant observation at this time were eleven Great Egrets along the shore on the southern extent of the Iowa West Ranch. Wow! This is only the fifth known record of occurrence here for this species, and the day's tally was nearly three times the greatest number previously seen, which was four in October 2012. There were all within an extent of shoreline less than a football field in length.

The two primary places for the birds was the eastern and western extent of this oxbow lake. At the northern extent, the rowers from Creighton University disturbed the waters so the fowl were forced to linger elsewhere.

There were about 70 Pied-billed Grebes noted overall, whereas there had been fewer than ten on other visits this month. Nearly 5000 American Coots were about, a dramatic increase in numbers, and representative of counts a year ago. At the north "beach" area, two white Snow Goose continued to be present. The seemingly injured blue phase of this species further southward, was not seen., but had been present on the most recent visits.

Cormorants gathered at Bird Isle.

The well-filled Horseshoe Pool at Levi Carter Park.

As the route of the morning continued, the day's purpose underwent a transition. It was apparently the time for a community effort to cleanup trash around the lake. The participants were first seen gathered near the pavilion at the western portion of the lake, from which they moved forth, in a large group. Other people scattered about, with the same intent.

My route went southward, along the west side of the lake. The area on the western side of the street was a obvious mess, and by indicating the debris, as thrown across the street, that was trash to remove. While focused on larger extents of trashy material, my ride languished along the street.

One of the participants asked if my bicycle — prone upon the street edge — should be taken away, in a facetious manner. My reply: "only if you'd be giving me a ride home."

Particular attention was given to a removal of the most prevalent trash marring this portion of the park. It was done to obviously indicate that attention be given to an extensive extent of nearby trash. This seemed to work, because the trash on the west side was part of the focus for the Saturday volunteers.

Later in the morning, most of the volunteers had left, but three people were focused upon the purpose of the morning, and continued to remove trash along the road. As they slowly moved along, a comment was made that this portion of the parked had never been a part of previous trash removal efforts. Perhaps on the 14th, someone might appreciate a trash-free perspective?

Included among my trashy efforts, three tires were removed, including one from the lake shore, which was heaved to the upland along with some sort of former furniture. The debris was hauled over the concrete rubble along the bank.

A broken up toilet along the same street received the same treatment. The bunch of cardboard near the southwest meadow, as had been dealt with on at leas two previous visits, was moved to the east side of the street, and then was finally taken away on Saturday morning.

It was nice to notice that some other trash removed from the meadow area on the 12th, had already been taken away.

By late in the morning, there were only three people removing litter, and there were no more empty trash bags available.

Two of these bags had been taken earlier for use later. One was stuffed to nearly overflowing after picking up trash at the northwest pond, where no one else ventured. It was only a 2/3rds cleanup of this area, but certainly an improvement.

Going southward, my last bag was filled along the western area of Levi Carter Park, and discarded into the bed of the pickup driven by the park caretaker. He certainly appreciated the results of the days' efforts, as indicated during our personal discourse along the street.

This day went from birds to trash. Both endeavors went well, though the bird focus languished later in the morning. Perhaps on the 14th if someone visits the park, they might notice the clean grounds that could contribute to their enjoyment of the day.

As to the tally of bags of trash personally removed, that would be something more than six, because the effort was not done to get a count, but to make a difference. Big things were initially moved to where they would be taken away. Boards and three tires were included. A vexing extent of cardboard, dealt with yesterday in something sort of a preparation, was particularly gotten rid of. It would have been senseless to count the many glass beer bottles.

Everyone there focused upon this effort contributed, so any effort by an individual was just the part of many intent upon a task. A particular, new focus of the effort, was to remove the trash from both side of the southern road on the west side of the lake. Upon my departure it was certainly looking better. More time might have been taken to remove the remaining trash, but there was nothing available to place it in, though an effort was made to see if there might have been some appropriate bags available.

During this event, there was no one from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources seen at the scene. Nor was there anyone present from the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. No mayoral candidates from the City of Omaha cared enough to show up to assist in this community event. The City of Carter Lake employee involved with the lake project was also not seen anywhere near the western portion of the lake, during my ventures back-and-forth to count birds and get rid of trash. Apparently some city officials, as well as staff of the Iowa and Nebraska natural resource agencies were indifferent to this community effort for improvement!

The only person present from the Omaha Parks Recreation and Public Property Department was the very attentive park caretaker. No one else from this agency cared enough to help, including the acting director, Brook Bench, nor any of the park planners.

Trash removed from the southwest meadow.

Trash taken from the ground surrounding the northwest pond.

The bird tally for the visit was 57 species, with more distinct records derived than upon any other day during the more than 130 surveys done in mostly-the-same manner -- upon a bicycle -- since late-March 2011. One reason for the increase is the addition of distinctive places among the parklands, especially the Horseshoe Pool and Northwest Pond.

From sunrise to nearly noon time, my morning was spent being involved in documenting bird use associated with the Carter Lake area, and contributing to its cleansing.

It was mostly all good this Saturday, on the fourth visit of the current month.

This table indicates the different bird species which have been noted in mid-April in the area of Carter Lake during the past three years.

Common Name 2011 2012 2013
Snow Goose - - - - 2
Canada Goose 9 24 33
Wood Duck 18 18 46
Gadwall - - 14 22
American Wigeon - - 2 1
Mallard 34 44 44
Blue-winged Teal 39 27 34
Northern Shoveler 6 25 209
Green-winged Teal 1 - - 21
Canvasback - - 1 14
Redhead - - 12 2
Ring-necked Duck - - 3 25
Lesser Scaup 12 80 333
Bufflehead 3 - - 21
Hooded Merganser - - - - 2
Red-breasted Merganser - - - - 5
Ruddy Duck 37 70 130
Pied-billed Grebe 1 47 70
Double-crested Cormorant - - - - 185
Great Blue Heron - - - - 1
Great Egret - - - - 11
Black-crowned Night-Heron - - - - 1
Bald Eagle - - - - 1
Red-tailed Hawk - - - - 1
American Kestrel - - - - 1
American Coot 12 975 4860
Killdeer 1 4 14
Greater Yellowlegs - - - - 1
Lesser Yellowlegs - - 7 - -
Franklin's Gull 365 - - - -
Bonaparte's Gull - - - - 23
Ring-billed Gull - - - - 185
Eurasian Collared-Dove - - - - 1
Mourning Dove 3 7 9
Belted Kingfisher - - 1 2
Red-bellied Woodpecker - - - - 2
Downy Woodpecker 1 - - 1
Hairy Woodpecker - - - - 1
Northern Flicker 1 2 4
Eastern Phoebe - - - - 3
Blue Jay - - - - 1
Purple Martin 4 4 6
Tree Swallow - - 15 - -
Northern Rough-winged Swallow - - - - 5
Barn Swallow - - 6 12
Black-capped Chickadee 2 - - 2
White-breasted Nuthatch - - - - 1
Carolina Wren - - - - 1
Ruby-crowned Kinglet - - - - 7
American Robin 74 58 76
European Starling 58 27 38
Chipping Sparrow 2 2 2
Fox Sparrow - - - - 1
Song Sparrow - - - - 7
Harris's Sparrow 1 - - - -
Dark-eyed Junco - - - - 25
Northern Cardinal - - 1 4
Red-winged Blackbird 12 9 15
Common Grackle 79 42 74
House Finch - - - - 2
American Goldfinch 2 2 - -
House Sparrow - - 3 8

There are certainly more sorts of pending bird excitement to be found about Carter Lake. But, if you don't go, you won't know!