08 July 2014

Dickcissel Days at Audubon Prairie Preserve

Bird observations have been kept on a daily basis during several recent visits of a working purpose to the native prairie preserve owned and maintained by the Audubon Society of Omaha. This place is north of Omaha along Bennington Road, about a half-mile east of 72nd Street.

The prairie is now lush and newly verdant with grasses and so many other plant species surging forth with their warm-season growth. This place is of utmost importance, as one vital link among a key portion of the overall area. To the south are residential properties with some bits of woodland and mown lawns. To the west is a replanted grassy space which was formerly cropland. Its northern edge is a marked by a line of free-growth trees. Beyond the north side of the property is an agricultural field. Construction is now underway here on houses among another suburban development.

While working to remove unwanted vegetation — yellow sweet clover — from among the plant growth of the prairie during the first days of July, any birds heard or seen were recorded every day to indicate what species were present and to provide a perspective of birdlife on a daily basis. Observations were primarily between 6 and 9 a.m. CDT.

No day had a similar tally of species.

The most regular and appreciated sounds where those of the Dickcissel. Several pair of Dickcissels live here. During the morning hours their song is continually heard spaced at places the males have found appropriate. Deep within the grasses they certainly have hidden nests. An adult carrying food was well seen on July 6th.

During the first two visits two students — from a local university — were apparently gathering details about the territoriality of these birds. Research is great, but when they were seen throwing sticks at a territorial Dickcissel on my initial visit, they crossed a line indicating that they were not following proper research protocol. When the "stick approach" did not work they reverted to multiple plays of an playable version of this birds song, using a cell phone or some other electronic device. The guy and gal were obviously harassing the Dickcissels so they could get results for their day afield!

Nothing was said to them despite my aggravation at their aberrant and unacceptable behavior.

Sublime among the grasses were Common Yellowthroat pairs. They have chosen a breeding season space deep among the grasses of this upland prairie. Their voice is another bit of the morning orchestra of birds sounds that were heard.

Also appreciated was the sublime Eastern Meadowlark. Their evocative song wasn't heard very often, but their calls were appreciated and they were seen flitting about a few instances.

It was early in July, yet seasonal movements are underway, as indicated by visiting American Bitterns, a rather unexpected species for Douglas County. A local birder was intrigued by the possibility of observing this species which is missing from his extensive list for this area along the Missouri River. Passing flocks of bluebirds had most likely raised their young in the vicinity and are now transient across the landscape.

Common Name 7/2/2014 7/3/2014 7/4/2014 7/6/2014 7/7/2014
American Bittern - - - - 3 1 1
Turkey Vulture 1 - - 3 - - - -
Cooper's Hawk 1 - - - - - - - -
Red-tailed Hawk - - - - 1 - - - -
Killdeer 1 2 1 1 2
Mourning Dove 2 1 1 2 2
Yellow-billed Cuckoo - - 1 1 2 1
Belted Kingfisher 1 - - - - - - - -
Downy Woodpecker 1 1 1 1 - -
Northern Flicker 1 - - - - - - 1
Eastern Kingbird 1 1 1 - - - -
Blue Jay 2 1 1 2 1
American Crow - - 1 - - 3 1
Barn Swallow 9 3 3 3 3
Black-capped Chickadee 1 1 4 2 2
White-breasted Nuthatch 1 - - 1 1 - -
House Wren 2 3 3 3 4
Eastern Bluebird 2 1 14 6 - -
American Robin 2 6 2 2 3
Gray Catbird - - 1 2 - - - -
Brown Thrasher 1 1 - - 1 1
European Starling 1 - - 1 - - 3
Common Yellowthroat 2 3 3 3 3
Chipping Sparrow 1 - - 1 - - 1
Field Sparrow 1 1 1 1 1
Northern Cardinal 2 1 3 2 1
Indigo Bunting - - - - - - 1 1
Dickcissel 5 5 5 6 5
Eastern Meadowlark 2 3 1 1 1
Common Grackle - - - - 2 2 4
Brown-headed Cowbird 2 2 1 2 2
Baltimore Oriole 2 - - 2 - - - -
American Goldfinch 1 2 2 2 1
House Sparrow 2 2 3 2 - -

During these five days of July as the heat and humidity descended upon the landscape, there were 34 species seen or heard while traversing the prairie in search of yellow sweet clover to yank out or otherwise eradicate. Pulling worked most times, but on a regular basis, the stalk broke so the root remained. Some of the plants were so-welled established that it was not possible to pull them from the ground. Their tenacity with the soil made the work much more strenuous, as there were moments when an attempt to extradite was nothing more than a useless strain with the result being a breaking of the stalk to just get rid of the above-ground portion of the clover plant. The larger plants are a great challenge to pull from the ground, and although the plant may be removed, it is a great strain to remove the entire plant, including its root, well buried and anchored in the soil of this prairie.

The primary removal effort was amidst the south part of the prairie, where intent was given to eradicate every one of these weedy species. The effort then continued northward, along the edges of the expansive extent of flowering plants.

There is an obvious difference upon the crest of the hill for this prairie on its hilltop crest. To the south, the unwanted clover is sparse. To the north, the clover plants are thriving in such an extent that manual removal would be a task that could not in any manner be completed this season, and not even next year because there are so many of the yellow sweet clover, a biennial plant. Seed set this season will sprout next year, and there will be an ongoing occurrence of those vivacious plants.

While working on weed removal for the Audubon Society of Omaha, the intent was to remove woody vegetation from their eastern fenceline, and then find and remove yellow sweet clover plants wherever they were growing among the prairie. This goal was only partially achieved because there are so many clover plants present, so there was no potential to achieve an eradication. There was some success in limited portions of the prairie. However, the worst infestation of clover comtinues in the northwest quarter of the property and nothing was done during my hours afield to suitably deal with its weed infestation.

A special thanks to society for the opportunity to work at their prairie.

My personal apologies to the resident Dickcissels for disturbing their place, including a disruption of their habitat by removing plants and otherwise altering their summer life. Dramatic vegetative changes are not appreciated by birds at this time of the season when key elements of plants provide essential cover for nests with young.