30 April 2015

Sparrow Dies at Downtown Omaha Building

A first bird window-strike fatality of the season was found the morning of April 30th. There was a dead white-throated sparrow on the north side of the tower at 1200 Landmark Center.

The carcass was removed for suitable disposal.

There were no birds found along the usual route on the morning of April 28th. More fatalities are certainly expected in the pending days.

Banner Proclaims BRK Profits from Pollution

A banner placed on a prominent pedestrian bridge at Omaha was an obvious message of environmental concern.

The morning of April 29th, a banner proclaiming "BRK PROFITS FROM POLLUTION" was placed on the west side of the Dodge Street pedestrian bridge between Memorial Park and Elmwood Park.

BRK apparently refers to Berkshire Hathaway as this is its stock ticker symbol. The company is holding its annual stockholder meeting this weekend at Omaha.

There is no indication of what the banner referred to, though there are certainly possible topics, especially the transportation of hazardous crude oil (a.k.a. in some parlance as "bomb trains").

The sign was present in time for the morning rush hour traffic going eastward on Dodge Street. The message was obviously seen by thousands of commuters.

By about 11 a.m., it had been removed by the Public Works Department, as there was no permit issued for it to be placed on the bridge.

It is not known who placed the banner. It was obviously well done, as the typography was uniform and not haphazard looking.

This is a video of the banner just before it was removed.
Best viewed with sound on mute.

27 April 2015

OPPD Powerline Management at Mandan Flats

The following details were received from the Omaha Public Power District on April 22nd, in response to a request for information. An initial meeting to discuss this situation occurred on April 6th. Information was received from Paula Lukowski. The Corps of Engineers had been contacted on this in regards to any potential impact on wetlands at the site. Based upon the action to be taken by OPPD, the federal agency ruled there not be any adverse effects. In addition, both the Omaha Parks Recreation and Public Property department and Omaha Public Works were contacted via email and asked what management options pertain to the site. They did not send any reply. The Nebraska Office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was also sent emails as they are responsible for enforcement of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act as it would pertain to nests and eggs in the vegetation. They also did not responsd so were worthless in providing any assistance.

"This spring, OPPD is conducting vegetation management work in an area east of Mandan Park along a 161-kilovolt transmission line.

OPPD’s Vegetation Management Program controls vegetation growth within transmission line right-of-ways to maintain the safe and reliable operation of the electric transmission system. The goal is to return each corridor to its historic maintained condition.

The area is adjacent to the city of Omaha’s sewage treatment plant on land owned primarily by the city. At the site, the utility is taking steps to ensure the work has minimal adverse impact on the environment.

With more than 1,200 miles of metropolitan and rural transmission right-of-ways in southeast Nebraska, OPPD follows a three-year cycle. This ensures that one third of all the lines get maintenance each year to keep the lines clear and minimize impact on the environment. Federal, regional and electric industry regulations and standards require minimum safety clearances to ensure vegetation does not come into contact with high-voltage overhead transmission lines.

If vegetation located in a transmission right-of-way is not compatible with the safe operation of the system, it can result in widespread electric power outages and/or unsafe conditions for the public.

These maintenance activities are necessary to provide safe and reliable service to all customers within and outside OPPD’s service territory. OPPD uses certified contractors to do the work, and this maintenance work follows guidelines in the OPPD Avian Protection Plan, created in 2008.

The following work is being done at the Mandan Flats area:

  • Remove woody vegetation (located within the wire zone) that has sprouted since the last maintenance cycle in 2012.
  • Prune trees along the established corridor to secure clearances from electrical conductors, taking sag and sway of the transmission line into consideration.
  • Manually trim trees and remove brush using chainsaws; no mechanized equipment or vehicles will be utilized to perform this maintenance work.
  • Remove, chip and haul away all debris from trimming and removal of vegetation

The project does not require mechanized land clearing, and the vegetation maintenance activities will not cause any soil disturbance."

April 6, 2015 at the north end of Mandan Flats, looking southward at the powerline corridor. Photograph by James E. Ducey

07 April 2015

Screech Owl in a Carthage Pine

Night-time calls of the Eastern Screech-owl have been heard for many years in the Carthage neighborhood of eastern Omaha. This year, the sounds took on a new significance, as they were repeated night-after-night at a particular spot suitable for a person to listen and make notes of their expressive occurrence. While appreciating the subtle and exquisite owl sounds this year, notes were also kept to indicate the date and time when heard.

Attention to the details meant that a timeline of call sounds was compiled which indicates the particular intervals when the resident screech-owl sat among the pine tree branches and called forth into the night. The sounds indicated that it was its territory. It is not known if there was a search for a season's mate, though hopefully there is a pair in the community, and they will find a suitable residence and raise some young owlets! Only the owl knows.

Notes on the sounds of the screech owl were kept from mid-March through early April when the usual sounds no longer occurred.

The sound of this owl was quite obvious as heard above the din and dissonance of urban Omaha. This particular bird was most active after midnight and for the next few hours, based upon what was heard.

This owl was obviously cognizant of the ambient sounds of the neighborhood. The bird was quiet when there where noises associated with vehicular traffic, planes or helicopters flying above, barking dogs, loud resident voices and other sorts of obtrusive noise. The tempo of the calls would decrease when noises were pervasive, i.e., there would be a longer interlude between the calls.

Weather was also an influence. When there were thunderstorms, the owl was silent until after the rain was gone.

The owl obviously liked its spot in the pine tree, as there were multiple nights when it was vocal multiple times. Early in the season, the little owl would vocalize once and then again, and then there would be an interlude of silence. Then the sound of the owl would occur again when it returned to a roost of choice and convey its calls some more times. The owl would vocalize once and then there was a period of time when nothing was heard. Then the calls occurred again in a similar routine. Where it went elsewhere is not known because my listening was done indoors from a comfortable spot.

During the early hours when heard, the expressions of the owl were quick and brief, the duration notably just ten minutes or less, as ten minutes was the shortest time span considered for the timeline of the owl sounds.

Near the end of March, the little owl with its vocal expressions happened about every 30-40 seconds for a time of more than an hour, as considered.

On March 26th, as the bird vocalized from 4:35 to 4:45 a.m., the notes seemed to have less vibrato and was abbreviated a couple of times. The voice also seemed to have less volume. The difference was significant enough that there was a personal thought that it was maybe a different bird?

During the night of March 28th, the owl sounded off for one hour and 20 minutes. This was the longest duration at this locale during the entire time of when records were kept.

As dawn approached on one night, the sounds of the owl were less than regular, and less strident. The owl sounds seemed to not be as loud as it had typically been earlier in the night.

Of course, the screech owl knows nothing about all of this. It continues to survive in the manner of which it knows best. Continue on screech owl!

The Eastern Screech-owl was not heard again until the morning of May 12th at 2:25 a.m. It was in its usual tree and only vocalized for a few minutes.

02 April 2015

Oil Train Derailment and Community Evacuation‏

The numerous trains carrying hazardous materials which travel through sandhill's communities has raised concern over safety and protection of residents, especially if a derailment occurs and if a fire ensues.

If a train with dozens of cars loaded with petroleum products such as oil would derail from the tracks, the standard practice is to evacuate everyone except emergency responders within a one-half mile distance (equals 2640 feet), according to Department of Transportation regulations. If there is a fire, the distance is one mile.

For informational purposes, an evaluation of distances was done for several communities to map the extent of evacuation required if a Burlington Northern Santa Fe train derailment occurred at a prominent point at a particular location. This site is typically where a highway or other prominent roadway crosses the railway tracks. Distances were measured using the online national map program provided by the U.S. Geological Service.

Lakeside: within one-quarter of a mile of where Highway 250 crosses the tracks, nearly the entire community would have to be evacuated.

Ellsworth: a one-quarter mile distance from Highway 27 crossing would require evacuation of the entire community.

Bingham: a one-quarter mile distance would include nearly the entire community, except for its very eastern extent.

Ashby: a quarter-mile would include the majority of the village, and a one-half mile distance would extend as far north as the Thurston place along the North Ashby road.

Hyannis (distance from railway track crossing at Highway 61) - one-quarter mile: north to the airport and east to the inter-village gas-station; one-half mile: the entire village to the north, west and south including the courthouse, elementary school, Winter building and as far east to nearly the motel; one-mile: the entire village and as far east as the Hebbert place and including the high school.

Within Hyannis, the hotel is slightly more than 220 feet from the railway tracks, the courthouse about 330 feet, the elementary school a bit more than 500 feet and the high school about 730 feet. Alden Avenue is less than 150 feet from the tracks, and most of the associated homes are 200 feet or less of a distance from the main railway. A majority of the buildings to the south are also just a few hundred feet away from the tracks.

In case of any derailment anywhere along the railway through town, there are no buildings more than one thousand feet distance north or south along the alignment.

Highway 2 and Highway 61 would have to be closed in the case of nearly any derailment within the Hyannis setting, since they are within the primary evacuation zone.

Whitman: all structures within Whitman, except for the few houses at the very western end of Weaver Street, are within one-quarter mile of where the road north crosses the BNSF tracks. The post-office is about 175 feet distance to the north.

Mullen (a one-quarter mile distance from where Highway 97 crosses the tracks includes courthouse square and the entire downtown): most of the village is within a one-half mile distance of the evaluation mark, which would include both schools, the nursing home and majority of residences. Only a portion at the west and east ends would not be included. No portion of the primary part of Mullen is more than 2000 feet distance from the railway.

All of Mullen is within three-quarters of a mile of the highway railroad crossing.

Thedford (distance from where Maple Street crosses the tracks on the south side): all of the village is within a one-half mile circle, except for a few places on the northern edge. The lumber-yard is about 175 feet north of the tracks. The courthouse is less than 390 feet distance away. The school on north Maple Street is about 1100 feet from the tracks.

Highway 2 is about 730 feet from the crossing, so a derailment would require that the highway be closed. The Middle Loup River channel is 850 feet to the south. Also note that Highway 83 is within one mile, so that highway may also have to be closed to traffic.

Halsey (distance from where Main Street and the railway tracks): the entire village is within one-half mile of the railway crossing. The school is less than 700 feet distance to the north.

Dunning (distance from where Carney Street crosses the tracks at the southwest area of the village): a quarter-mile circle does not reach Highway 2, but does include the majority of the downtown area, the school and reaches the Middle Loup River on its northern edge. A half-mile circle includes the entire place, including the Highway 2 - Highway 91 intersection. A mile distance would include the gas station along Highway 2 to the north, and the Zutavern feedyard at the south. None of the buildings within Dunning are more than 2000 feet from the railway.

Graphic images depicting a one mile radius circle centered at BNSF railroad crossings at four sandhill's villages.


Rings are spaced at a one-tenth mile distance.


Rings are spaced at a one-quarter mile distance.