30 December 2016
During this period, three items approved by the Board of Commissioners would be completed by members of the Planning and Zoning Commission:
1) An independent appraisal of any land valuation changes associated with wind turbine facilities
2) A plan for how local fire departments would respond to any turbine fires
3) Are there any health related issues; information from Lancaster county would be reviewed.
These three items would need to be completed in a “timely manner, not to exceed six months.” Any proposal would then be acted upon by county commissioners.
Commissioner comments included:
Tanya Storer: “these are reasonable and proactive steps";
Mark Adamson: regulations concern “personal property rights versus those of neighbors”;
James Van Winkle: regulations need to “support all landowners in property rights” and “that the commissioners “can’t make arbitrary decisions” on any decision regarding a moratorium on wind developments. A “suspension” is an effective “taking” of landowner rights, he also said.
The vote on a motion to undertake these steps was Mark Adamson and Tanya Storer, yes for approval. James Van Winkle - a member of Cherry County Wind L.L.C. - voted no.
Wind development opponents had requested the minimum of a one year, with some people having also suggested either two or six years, according to public testimony during the review process for the BSH Kilgore application.
The commissioners would work with planning and zoning to determine any costs, especially for the land valuation study.
Commissioners would not address any wildlife or wetland issues, as they are considered through other “venues,” Storer said (i.e., the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and the Army Corps of Engineers).
The Planning and Zoning Commission has been meeting monthly, primarily working on an update of the zoning regulations. Several county residents have also been in attendance, providing suggestions and comments.
29 December 2016
Request for an Immediate Moratorium on CUP Applications for Wind Turbine Facilities in Cherry County
On July 19, 2016 a six-month moratorium on requests for any conditional use permit request for a wind energy conversion system was recommended by Planning Commission.
After the initial recommendation, with an unanimous vote, commissioners did not act. There were also subsequent requests - notably in October - by several county citizens that the county commissioners enact a moratorium.
Commissioners have continually and repeatedly not acted, based upon notably prevalent words heard at various venues where inaction - based upon verbal proclamations - has been the norm.
Six months later, there has still not been any action taken on enacting a moratorium for conditional use permit requests to place industrial wind turbine facilities within the county.
This is another request, today, that the county commissioners immediately enact a moratorium on any requests for a conditional permit to construct an industrial wind turbine facility within Cherry county.
This moratorium should be for at least one year, and perhaps longer. There are ongoing changes being considered for the zoning regulations. Any new requests should not be allowed until all proposed changes are considered and passed by the zoning board; and then as considered and either accepted or rejected by the county board.
There are several other essential topics also associated with any permit requests for any wind turbine facility that need to be clarified and specifically identified to ensure that each suitable - and more importantly, legal - requirements are properly met by each and every permit request.
It is very obvious that consideration of wind turbine facilities by Cherry county officials is in a dramatic condition of flux. There has , however, already been enough delay in making a decision on this topic.
Until there is some agreement and stability in the county development plan guidelines and planning regulations, no further permit requests should be considered. This would allow not only the commissioners to evaluate accepted provisions, but also - more importantly - provide an accepted and common set of guidelines for county residents and any development interests to consider.
Cherry County Commissioners need to make an immediate decision, without any further delay.
28 December 2016
The extent of ice on the river varied. At Fort Falls at Ford Niobrara, less than one-half of the channel width was open water. At Berry Bridge, more than half of the channel was open water flow. At Smith Falls, the river was nearly entirely ice-free across its entire width.
|Looking westward at the Niobrara River as seen from Berry bridge. The waterfowl here were congregated along the northern portion of the river water at the bend in the upper portion of the picture.||Looking eastward at the Niobrara River as seen from Berry bridge. |
These are some of the particular highlights at the country places:
|Open water creek below Smith Falls; the banks of which provide foraging places for the Winter Wren.|
- Lapland Longspur: with the horned larks; foraging in a livestock pen at Smith Falls state park. They were found after locating the larks, with the common flock then checked in detail; plumage details were obvious and well seen, and just minutes after their observation, these features were compared to a field guide to make their identification certain. The last known record of this species in Cherry county was in 1974. There are numerous records from the 1930s from Wood Lake and a two from the 1910s at Niobrara Game Preserve.
- Winter Wren: after viewing Smith Falls and discussing geologic features and ice characteristics, as well as a discussion of management needs to ensure aspen survival, this wren was seen below the falls, just a short distance southward of the lower falls; it behavior was characteristic and well seen. A previous known records as last seen here was 18 December 2004. The water edge habitat here is distinctly similar to other sites with open flowing water throughout during even the coldest days of winter.
- Golden Eagle: soaring above the Niobrara River at the refuge.
- Northern Harrier: one soaring above the grasslands in the vicinity of the ponds east of the refuge buildings.
- Great Horned Owl: heard hooting at 1:11 a.m.
- Great Grey Shrike: well seen at the confluence of the Minnechaduza Creek; was it flew past closely, it was to be carrying a small prey item.
- Bald Eagle: in addition to the three at the refuge, three were seen later in the day just north of the refuge, apparently feeding on a road kill in a field west of Highway 12.
- American Crow: numbers were seen along Highway, in close proximity to two roads kills, one was known to be a deer.
- Wild Turkey: prevalent at the state park and foraging in open ground areas on the north side of the valley, where sunrays had melted away part of the snow-cover.
This list of 34 species is also based upon personal records kept while walking to the NPS office soon after sunup, and then back to my residence in mid-afternoon.
Each of the localities are well known places, with the exception of west Berry Pond, a small pond along the county road west of Berry Bridge and before the east boundary of the federal refuge.
This tally is based on 61 distinct records kept during the day, starting at 8:30 a.m., with departure from Valentine starting at 10 a.m. and ending shortly after 2 p.m.
|Common Name||North Lake Shore Hills||Valentine Mill Pond||Valentine||Fort Niobrara NWR||West Berry Pond||Berry Bridge||Smith Falls State Park|
|Canada Goose||- -||- -||- -||35||- -||- -||55|
|American Wigeon||- -||- -||- -||- -||6||- -||- -|
|Mallard||- -||- -||- -||185||5||- -||- -|
|Ring-necked Duck||- -||- -||- -||18||5||- -||- -|
|Common Goldeneye||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||4||- -|
|Common Merganser||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||4||2|
|Wild Turkey||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||37|
|Sharp-tailed Grouse||- -||- -||- -||2||- -||- -||- -|
|Golden Eagle||- -||- -||- -||1||- -||- -||- -|
|Northern Harrier||- -||- -||- -||1||- -||- -||- -|
|Bald Eagle||- -||- -||- -||3||- -||- -||- -|
|Rock Dove||- -||- -||20||- -||- -||- -||- -|
|Eurasian Collared Dove||15||- -||6||- -||- -||- -||- -|
|Great Horned Owl||- -||1||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -|
|Downy Woodpecker||- -||1||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -|
|Hairy Woodpecker||1||- -||1||- -||- -||- -||- -|
|Northern Flicker||1||- -||1||1||- -||- -||- -|
|Great Grey Shrike||- -||- -||- -||1||- -||- -||- -|
|Blue Jay||- -||1||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -|
|American Crow||3||- -||- -||4||- -||- -||2|
|Black-capped Chickadee||- -||2||- -||- -||- -||- -||1|
|Horned Lark||- -||- -||- -||10||- -||- -||15|
|Winter Wren||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||1|
|Red-breasted Nuthatch||1||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -|
|White-breasted Nuthatch||1||2||- -||1||- -||- -||1|
|Common Starling||- -||- -||- -||5||- -||- -||- -|
|Eastern Bluebird||- -||- -||5||10||- -||- -||- -|
|Townsend's Solitaire||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||1||- -|
|American Robin||- -||8||- -||45||- -||10||- -|
|House Sparrow||- -||- -||10||- -||- -||- -||- -|
|House Finch||2||- -||35||- -||- -||- -||- -|
|American Goldfinch||- -||3||5||4||- -||- -||- -|
|Western Meadowlark||- -||- -||- -||1||- -||- -||- -|
|Dark-eyed Junco||6||- -||2||8||2||- -||7|
|Lapland Longspur||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||4|
Signs of river otter, as well as other mammals, were also noticed, both at Fort Falls and Smith Falls.
Weather conditions were sunny skies, temperatures in the lower to mid 40s and winds from 10-15 which increased in the afternoon hours. Snow cover of two to three inches was prevalent on the southern slope of the river valley.
Winter Horned Larks and Lapland LongspursA reason the flock of Horned Lark at Smith Falls State Park were given a closer look, is that other species are known to mingle with larks at feedlots during the snow times of the winter season. A video clip illustrates this occurrence. These birds were at a cattle feedyard just northward of Ainsworth during a snowstorm on March 20, 2006. Horned Lark were more prevalent. Notice during one short segment of the video, that blackbirds can also been seen in the background. Waste grain and somewhat bare ground associated with the cattle are two especially notable reasons for the presence of the wild birds.
15 December 2016
During this month, records were denoted for ten distinct days. In addition to the usual places given attention especially at the north side of the city there was a distinctive visit made to Government Canyon and its woodly haunts, as well as a morning hike about Borman Bridge WMA, on the east side of the ever-flowing Niobrara River.
It was quite a diverse month of avian sightings. Numerous geese were continually at the Mill Pond. An occasional Bald Eagle soared above the gathered fowl, apparently looking for a weak something to eat.
Regular bird residents continued their prevalence. There was on particular sighting while bicycling along Government street to the grocery store. A small-sized raptor was holding a Rock Dove on the ground at the parking lot of the livestock market. Its identity was not immediately obvious, but after circling around, stopping to get a better look while the bird held the pigeon on the ground until it would die. The details of size and coloration were then given special consideration. It was a feisty Merlin. This was an initial sighting of the month. At this time many American Robin were present northward of the Mill Pond.
A highlight subsequent to this sighting of significance, was seeing - once again - this species flying above the scene at Borman Bridge WMA the next day. On this same Sunday, there was a Great Grey Shrike in the treetops.
Quite surprising for one day of the month, a bunch of flying birds became dramatically noticeable. The trill of the Eastern Bluebird was prominent. The initial thought was that it was a single-species flock. Thankfully most of the flyers landed upon a nearby powerline. With further consideration, the approximate count was more than a hundred American Goldfinch, 60-70 House Finch and an approximate 45 Eastern Bluebird. For the bluebirds, this was a new primary peak count for the county. These species continued to occur in numbers for the next three days at the same locality.
During a morning hike through Government Canyon with Gordon Warrick on the 24th (Thanksgiving), we were talking about some sort of bird species which maybe be seen. Red Crossbill were mentioned. Quite nicely - within less than a minute - a bunch of about ten were seen actively foraging atop a nearby pine tree. To add to the nicety, another flying flock of about 45 were at the same place. This is largest occurrence of this species, based upon an evaluation of more than 80 sandhills' region records for this species. The other extensive count was at the former Circle J Reserve - now Chat Canyon WMA - when 35 were counted on April 20, 2004. There was determination of the subspecies present.
A local addition to this vicinity was a Townsend's Solitaire perched atop one pine or another in the pine trees on the hills north of the Mill Pond.
Also appreciated during the month, was a calling Eastern Screech Owl and to the west was a Great Horned Owl, each heard to cap the evening as a "super moon" became increasingly evident above the eastern horizon, as seen from a prominent hilltop at the Water Tower Tract, north of the city park.
Narrative about the resident species in the Valentine vicinity is notably less, even though individual records are kept of their presence. Eurasian Collared Dove, Northern Flicker and other woodpeckers are denoted, as well as the diminutive nuthatches and chickadees with their cheery call. Always appreciated is the sound of the Red-breasted Nuthatch. The Northern Cardinal is not pervasive, but a bird or two is seen once in a while. They are appreciated visitors to bird feeders. Rock Dove are always present in the vicinity of the livestock market.
This is the tally for the month.
|Canada Goose||22||- -||- -||73||- -||85||- -||525||- -||275|
|Cackling Goose||- -||- -||- -||2||- -||6||- -||5||- -||2|
|Mallard||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||2|
|Bald Eagle||- -||2||2||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||1|
|Red-tailed Hawk||1||1||- -||1||1||- -||- -||3||- -||1|
|American Herring Gull||- -||1||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -|
|Rock Dove||45||- -||- -||55||- -||- -||12||- -||- -||- -|
|Eurasian Collared Dove||4||- -||- -||9||- -||4||6||- -||4||- -|
|Eastern Screech Owl||- -||- -||- -||1||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -|
|Great Horned Owl||- -||- -||- -||1||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -|
|Belted Kingfisher||- -||1||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -|
|Red-bellied Woodpecker||- -||- -||1||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -|
|Downy Woodpecker||- -||- -||1||1||- -||- -||1||1||- -||- -|
|Hairy Woodpecker||1||1||- -||2||- -||- -||- -||1||1||1|
|Northern Flicker||1||2||- -||1||- -||3||1||3||3||- -|
|Merlin||1||1||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -|
|Great Grey Shrike||- -||1||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -|
|Blue Jay||- -||- -||1||1||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -|
|American Crow||3||14||- -||- -||1||1||2||6||- -||2|
|Cedar Waxwing||9||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||2||2||- -|
|Black-capped Chickadee||- -||- -||- -||4||- -||2||- -||6||- -||2|
|Red-breasted Nuthatch||- -||- -||2||- -||- -||- -||- -||3||1||- -|
|White-breasted Nuthatch||- -||- -||2||4||2||2||- -||2||- -||3|
|Common Starling||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||2||- -||25||- -||- -|
|Eastern Bluebird||4||1||- -||1||- -||- -||45||19||6||12|
|Townsend's Solitaire||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||1||1||3||- -||- -|
|American Robin||65||10||- -||40||- -||25||- -||39||30||- -|
|House Sparrow||- -||- -||- -||- -||5||- -||- -||2||- -||- -|
|House Finch||2||- -||- -||2||- -||8||65||42||100||12|
|Red Crossbill||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||55||- -||- -|
|American Goldfinch||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||2||110||44||35||13|
|Pine Siskin||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||1||- -||- -|
|Red-winged Blackbird||- -||- -||40||2||- -||7||- -||20||- -||- -|
|Song Sparrow||- -||- -||- -||2||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -|
|Harris's Sparrow||- -||- -||1||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -|
|White-throated Sparrow||- -||- -||1||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -|
|Dark-eyed Junco||18||2||- -||- -||6||7||15||24||20||25|
|American Tree Sparrow||- -||- -||- -||- -||4||6||5||- -||- -||3|
|Northern Cardinal||- -||- -||- -||1||- -||- -||- -||1||- -||- -|
The number of species seen during this month, this year perhaps due to a broader extent of time afield and timely bird hikes was 39. This compares to 32 species during the same month of outdoor observations in 2015.
After many months of record-keeping, the yearly calendar of species occurrence is becoming better known, and perhaps better understood in the Valentine vicinity.
In addition to numerous other reasons to not approve this permit request, there are three points of particular concern that need to be given attention and consideration.
In regards to wetlands, the applicant has not fulfilled the process required to receive a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers.
“In order to determine if a wetland is isolated, and that the Corps does not have jurisdiction, we must complete an Approved Jurisdictional Determination. The AJD is requested by the person proposing the work of landowner,” – John Moeschen email, Nebraska Regulatory office, Army Corps of Engineers.
Based upon recent correspondence with the federal agency, no request has been made so the project applicant is not in compliance with federal law. The consulting company that prepared the permit request document, as amended, has stated that they cannot determine whether the wetlands at the project site are jurisdictional.
It needs to be indicated that the Cherry County Comprehensive plans states that “All development ... potentially affecting wetlands must comply with state and federal wetlands protection programs.” The permit applicant has blatantly ignored this provision. There is no information within the permit application indicating how any of the proposed development will a) “leave a naturally vegetated buffer surrounding all wetlands,” or b) how the site plan for turbines, roads or utility lines will minimize placing fill in the myriad of wetland features on the project site.
A "draft bird and bat conservation strategy” was prepared for BSH Kilgore in July 2016. This document states that “various processes will be employed to:
- “Comply with all state and federal bird and bat conservation and protection laws and regulations during the Project.
- “Ensure that impacts to bird and bat resources are identified and analyzed.
- “Implement various avoidance and minimization measures to address any impacts that result from the operation of the Project.”
This document does have informative details, yet there is only some light words that address these stated goals.
There is nothing indicated on how the project would comply with the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, where it is a violation of a federal law if any single wildbird is killed due to collision with the turbine blades. It is a well-known fact, as shown by multiple studies, that migratory birds are regularly killed by turbines.
In regards to the second item, there is an allusion to “post-construction monitoring,” yet it supposedly will occur for only one year. The project plan is for 20 years and any habitat impacts or deaths due to collisions would for this entire period. There is no indicated plan for any sort of post-construction evaluation on impacts to wild birds or the bats present.
There are more than 300 bird species that are known to occur in Cherry county. The draft document mentions very few of these. During the past 34 years, starting in May 1982 in Cherry county, it has been readily obvious that numerous surveys during every month of the year are required in order to determine the overall extent of bird occurrence at any place. After doing multiple hundreds of bird surveys within the Sandhills, my realization is that bird-related knowledge and understanding requires extensive study and research. These key aspects are not apparent in the slight report prepared by some big-city consultant company.
One section of the report is about “adaptive management.” However, none of these so-called “strategies” are indicated by definitive details. They are not expressed within the conditional permit application, so the project developer has not documented how any of these items will actually occur.
The consultant report states: “To minimize risk to Whooping Cranes and other birds, bird flight diverters will be installed on all Project overhead transmission lines in accordance with Avian Power Line Interaction Committee guidelines.” This is a superbly ridiculous statement as the next line in this report states that all inter-project transmission lines will be buried. The project developers will seemingly thus do nothing of this sort.
It also needs to be pointed out, that a few days of survey time in June does not convey the entirety of bird use for a locality. This is what the applicant report is using to try to indicate how there has been a suitable evaluation of the local avifauna. The report is misleading and inadequate. There are species likely to occur yet are not listed for the breeding bird survey tally, including very common species in the county such as the Killdeer, Downy Woodpecker, White-breasted Nuthatch and Common Nighthawk.
There has been no survey done to determine the occurrence of any cultural resources at the project site. Once again, the applicant is indifferent to undertaking a proper determination, and disregarding this possible legacy of the historic landscape, and the many people that have been present at one time or another at the project site land.
Each of the items indicated in my public testimony have not been suitably considered by the project applicant. Much of what has been said is simply empty words on paper.
It would be a travesty for county officials to approve this application because this permit request is wrong in so many ways.
A special place to be for birders interested in local avifauna of the magnanimous Sand Hills is Cherry County. In addition to sightings of species new to the region, there have been several other important avian occurrences in recent weeks.
A Canyon Wren lingering at the Crooked Bar D Ranch in the Goose Creek country is especially prominent, as reported online. Having never been seen anywhere else within the Sandhills, a single bird arrived in late October, and continued to occur through the end of November.
Initially noted at the ranchyard by Mary Sue Shoemaker, and as then reported by a visiting birder friend, other bird enthusiasts from Lincoln, Ames and Creighton, Nebr., as well as Sioux City, Iowa, enjoyed the welcoming ranch hospitality to visit and see the antics of this itty-bitty wren. The significance is that this birds' usual range is the Black Hills and other places in western states.
Online reports convey some tidbits about the behavior of this bird which has become famous in Cherry county. A jacuzzi was mentioned as a point of perspective. One day it got into the ranch house and moved about until it was directed back outside, with the occurrence denoted by some few pictures posted online. During another time, when Mrs. Shoemaker drove about 5 miles of travel, she realized that the wren went along for the ride, as reported on the NEbirds forum. During the wrenly days, a visiting photographer got some right-nice images that will be useful in confirming the species’ occurrence for the state bird group which keeps records on distinct occurrences. When two bird watchers from Bellevue and Omaha carpooled for a trip westward during the second weekend of December, the little bit of wren was not seen. Real cold temperatures had happened during the previous and the days of this late season visit, so weather could be a prominent influcence.
During a Sunday bird outing, Gordon Warrick and I once again visited the Vanderploeg Ranch. A first highlight subtly seen a short distance away from the man’s house, was a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker active on a tree snag. It was not vocal as its “cat-like” call is distinctive but was obvious due to its active antics on a tree snag. This sighting is the first record for this species in Cherry county. We both realized that this would be the highlight of our outing.
After driving onward along a country road through prairie and then treescape of pine and oak land, more birds were seen. A Greater Yellowlegs was surprisingly seen walking its way along shallow waters of the Niobrara River. This is the first winter record for the region. This wader regularly occurs from spring to autumn, but notably not during cold times.
Each of these details are known because of a personal database, extending back to 1886 and comprising more than 152,000 distinctive records. Records have been carefully kept by many people for many decades during this period.
Another significant sighting during recent days about the Heart City was on Thanksgiving day at Government Canyon. Just after pondering about the possibility of Red Crossbills, they were heard nearby, feeding atop a pine tree. There were about ten, and then suddenly a flock of another 45 or so, flew past above the creek. This is the greatest number of this species ever seen within the Sand Hills, where they most typically occur in the Niobrara valley.
On November 23rd, a flight of birds on the north side of town was exciting because of the numbers, based upon a birdly perspective. The prominent calls from the flock were those of the Eastern Bluebird. Most of the flighty birds landed for a short time on an available powerline perch. A quick count indicated there were 45 bluebirds (another distinctive extent of occurrence), about 110 American Goldfinch and more than 50 House Finch. These birds continued to occur in the vicinity for another few days.
Two Trumpeter Swan occurred at the Valentine Mill Pond on the first day of December. It is always a joy to see them stand around, as they are so distinctive, being the largest waterfowl in North America. On Sunday the 4th of December, there were two standing around on a Niobrara River sandbar, on the north side of the Vanderploeg Ranch haven for birds.
When the big freeze descended in December, avifauna activities were adaptive. The hundreds of Canada Goose present at the Mill Pond went elsewhere. With a potential food source gone, a soaring Bald Eagle was no longer seen. Mallards were not apparently present, as well, not a one was noted eastward along Minnechaduza Creek, below the dam where they were seen last winter when flowing waters continued.
Permanent bird residents do continue to occur, as our feathered friends strive to survive. Bark-eaters seen after days of sub-zero, brutal, weather included hearing one or two White-breasted Nuthatch. Among the trees are a Downy or Hairy Woodpecker or two. Some very few Black-Capped Chickadee appreciated at least one feeder along Lake Shore Drive. Crows continue to course in the area skies as they search for something edible on the landscape places. These are the resident crows, notable different from those crows that deceided to fly elsewhere and were seen only on one day or another.
Some Canada Goose continue to fly above the city-scape. They have not been stopping the most recent week at the Mill Pond, but continue northward to feedings grounds. Open water habitat is their refuge, and shallow-water habitat along the ever-flowing Niobrara River provides a place for them to roost and survive during winter times of extreme cold.
Trees of these local places currently experience multiple days of hearty below-freezing temperature - day and day again - at least have a flicker or two at the Valentine Mill Pond. On the ground, a minimal few Dark-eyed Junco have continued to forage for any available seed on ground where there is a lot of snow.
There is significant interest in birds by many people residing at Valentine. Bird feeders are present at many residences. For someone that cares to look, many sorts of birds can be seen in a particular discovery on any day if time is spent looking and listening.
Perhaps, with some potential excitement is an enthusiasts plan to do a first ever winter bird count about Valentine. There is a protocol that is regularly followed during decades of these surveys, but this requirement may not be met locally due to time constraints. Plans being considered would make sure that the several fine, known birding spots would be visited by people with finding aids, birds would be counted, and results might be reported, remembered and subsequently known and appreciated.
There is a phantasmagoric variety of local birds. Our friends are anywhere, though they will not indicate any human presence - as it may be somewhat insignificant - as these bit of birddom are busy living during their few years of avian survival.
More than 300 different species of birds have been noted to occur in Cherry county. Some of these most recent observations contribute to this number.
28 November 2016
Unique in its landscape features as appreciated by people representing generations, the Great American Sandhills have many special spaces with scenic views and distinctive perspectives many residents want to save and preserve for now and future generations. The sand dunes domain has places such as these shown here without cellular towers, industrial powerlines that traverse so many miles of country land, and especially where there is not a single wind turbine visible anywhere while enjoying some time atop a hill, perhaps enjoying a great view of the local landscape.
Known places of these sorts are much fewer every year, because some businesses and people are completely focused on towers and changes which they convey as delusional improvements. The results are deplorable.
This land of various sorts of dune with some many sorts of grass and plants, is the last vestige of an expansive natural landscape in the western hemisphere. These pictures convey a singular perspective. Some of the shown places were images taken with one camera of another during past years, during my project to drive atop each of the known tallest sand dunes in the region, as previously reported.
Each and every one of these images are copyright (c) 2016 James E. Ducey. They may not be reused or reposted in any manner elsewhere, either via print, electronic or any other sort of media, without express written permission.
Dora Lake meadow after a seasonal storm, 1993
Wild Horse Hill, Grant county looking southeast; 6 Sep 1993
OO Reserve, Grant county, view to the south after a rainstorm; 6 Sep 1993
Irwin area meadow ranch; summer 1995
Eldred Ranch cattle and marsh as observed from Vic's sky horse; 27 Sep 1995
Baldy Hill, view to the west; 18 May 1995
Carson Lake perspective; 02 Jun 1995; just to the south of this distinctive lake - especially notable for its birdlife - the R-Project industrial powerline is planned for construction by the Nebraska Public Power District, with the desecration to be initiated in 2017
Mother Lake cloudscape, Adam Ranch place; 10 Jun 1999
Irwin area meadow ranch; summer 1995
Olson contract crew harvesting hay at Fawn Lake Ranch, Cherry county; 16 Aug 1999
Henderson Dry Box horses, Carrico Lakes, Cherry county; 10 May 2000
Longhorns in Cherry county during drive taking them from Fort Niobrara NWR to Fort Robinson State Park; 13 Nov 2000
Aerial view of the Mother Lake county, Cherry county; 3 May 2002
Old Baldy Hill view, looking westward; 30 May 2001
Wolf Lake perspective, western Cherry county; 27 Jun 2002
Merz Ranch hay meadow, Swan Lake southwest of Brownlee; 16 Jul 2002
Snowy road view, Abbott Unit of the Rex Ranch, western Grant county; 12 Apr 2008
Horses in Wamaduze Valley, view from along Brownlee to Highway 97 road; 16 Jul 2009
East Tennessee Valley, Fawn Lake Ranch; 2 Jun 2010
Farm Flat livestock, central Cherry county; 2 Jun 2010
Defair Lake WMA south of Hyannis; 8 Jun 2010
Steverson Lake WMA, Cherry county; 8 Jun 2010
Goose Creek valley, southeast Cherry county; 10 Jun 2010
Goose Creek valley hay meadow, southeast Cherry county; 25 Sep 2011
Sibbitt and Henderson meadow just north of Hyannis; 29 Sep 2011
Vinton Ranch horses with Snyder Valley in the background; 30 Sep 2011
Self-portrait taken atop Indian Hill - looking eastward - right near Old Baldy Hill in southwest Cherry county; 18 October 2001
Each of these places were visited with landowner permission. Many miles were driven and so many pleasurable hours were part of my pictographic and birdly travels. Many thanks to those property owners that were so cordial in allowing access. Otherwise any attempt to capture these unique perspectives would not have been possible. A number of these pictures are part of the Great American Sandhills photographic collection as denoted to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln many years ago.
23 November 2016
Fine victuals were featured, especially three soups: classic chili made by Ann Manning-Warren, a hearty chicken noodle by Merrial Rhoades and an appreciated shrimp clam chowder by Barb Welch. Other fixings included corn chips, rolls and breads, jello as well as a variety of deserts representing the exceptional quality of sand hills’ cooking.
While enjoying the food, event attendees discussed views and ongoing activities, especially concerning the R-Project and the proposed Kilgore wind turbine facility. There were many tables where people sat and with various others their opposition to industrial energy facilities being imposed on the unique sandhills setting.
A particular topic mentioned was the impact of the R-Project industrial powerline on ranch operations, including wind mills. Windmills may have to be moved away from the powerline corridor, and in one instance, a central windmill would need to be replaced by two windmills. The Nebraska Public Power District indicated it would only replace one windmill. Also, one well company has said it would not work on windmills in the “immediate vicinity” of an industrial powerline.
The auction held along Highway 2 after supper offered a variety of donated items, including, for example, books, wagon wheels, cowboy ropes, a barbeque, art, furniture and eggs from ranch-raised chickens. Auctioneer Duane McCain, of North Platte, kept the auction active and fun, regularly reminding the bidders that “It’s not what you are buying, it’s what you are donating to.” A Valentine business also donated a feed bunk and discount on services. Among the last items purchased were homemade cinnamon rolls and pecan pies. Beef to be delivered in February, was also bought.
“People at the auction were gracious, kind and magnanimous,” said Merrial Rhoades.
It was estimated that more than 45 people attended the event, and a nice amount of money was raised to support the ongoing efforts of Preserve the Sandhills. An out-of-state couple staying at a nearby Thedford hotel, attended to get a perspective of the local activism.
Prescribed burns were held by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on October 25-27 on about 3100 acres south of School Lake and near the Pony Lake headquarters of the refuge.
There is significant planning for prescribed burns, as they are best done while weather conditions are suitable, notably when there are dry conditions and low winds, said Juancarlos Giese, manager of the refuge.
For this autumn’s prescribed burns, assistance was provided by “personnel from the National Park Service (Wind Cave National Park and Jewel Cave National Monument), the U.S. Forest Service (Pine Ridge and Bessey Ranger Districts), a veterans fire crew from the Student Conservation Association, and various U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service offices,” Giese said. There were 15 to 22 people present each day to control the extent of the fire and to make certain it was contained within the intended area.
“It’s very rewarding to see such a diverse set of state, federal and non-governmental organizations come together to combine resources in order to conduct a safe and effective prescribed burn,” Giese said.
Some of the land burned had been previously burned, Giese noted. "We constantly modify our burn units based on ecological needs, safety concerns and logistical measures. The 2000 wildfires were the last big burn, and touched parts of all three prescription burns" done this October.
Portions of the Wednesday burn around Center Lake and 21 Lake had been burned in 2008, 2010 and 2015, Giese indicated. The bulk of the Thursday burn area south of Pony Lake has not been burned in recent history.
Following the burns, some county ranchers noticed the barren appearance of the hills and expressed some concern that seasonal winds could mean the start of "blowout" areas since there was a lesser extent of vegetative cover. Ensuing dry conditions with unseasonably warmer temperatures contributed to worry about the vitality of the ground cover. A three inch snow on November 17-18th was welcomed moisture.
"Before the snowstorm, there was already a carpet of grass and wildflowers sprouting over the sandhills and meadows, which will provide additional stability," Giese said.
"The root masses of the prairie plants are still viable, ready for the proper conditions to resprout. These roots, combined with standing dead and living vegetation, hold the sandhills in place. People driving past will no doubt see blowing sand and ash, but this is most likely the loose materials at the ground level.
"Many people have asked if these late season burns will create blowouts, but we have never seen any evidence of new blowouts created after or because of a prescribed burn."
These blackened areas do attract a diversity of wildbirds.
Many species made quick use of an area burned last year, including prairie grouse, pheasants, unidentified sparrows, with longspurs reported, along with horned larks, and probably other species, based upon observations by Mel Nenneman, refuge biologist.
During the breeding season after a prescribed burn, the prairie land attracts a variety of avifauna.
Birds that may nest in the short prairie vegetation in the spring following a burn, include Long-billed Curlew, Killdeer, Horned Lark and Upland Sandpiper, Nenneman said. The habitat is "also good for lekking grouse."
"It will be interesting to see what happens next spring for nesting and migration," Giese said. “As these habitats progress through the years, the refuge biological staff will continue to monitor the vegetation to see how these burned areas are affected by weather patterns, different grazing intensities, and invasive species. Biologists will also be monitoring use by migrating and nesting birds to see how wildlife responds over the years to the ecological changes.
“Fire and grazing have always been integral components of the prairie ecosystems. Incorporating prescribed burning in the Valentine National Wildlife Refuge management regime has the capability to benefit all species of wildlife - from the smallest pollinating bees and butterflies, to the birds, deer and antelope that make the refuge home.”
04 November 2016
October in the immediate vicinity of Valentine was a month with multiple events of occurrence for migratory species. The change in the season was obvious.
Most notable were flights of the American Crow and Sandhill Crane.
On October 21st, at least 900 crows were prominent in their flight southward. Observational notes were made throughout the day: from 12:15 to 1 p.m. - 157 observed; then 409 during the 1:10 to 1:15 minutes; 80 at 2:30 p.m.; another 80 at 3:30; and finally 175 at 5:15 p.m. Some of these birds were seen as they would "kettle" over the city environs. Winds of the day were westerly then later, going northwesterly. A couple of days later, twice, there were many crows observed during their local flight. These passage crows are different from the few local residents, which number 3 to 4.
Also on the 21st, Sandhill Crane were flying southward. Counts at various times were at 1:10, with 45 seen in a loose flock; at 5 p.m., another 150; also 225 at 5:15; then 135 at 5:20, 435 at 5:30 and towards the end of the day, a final bunch of 125 at 5:50. The overall tally 1400 flying cranes, with their presence obvious because of their appreciated vocalizations being helpful in finding the birds in the sky. Flights continued two days later. There were various groups going southward: 39 at 9:35 with calm winds; 375 at 9:40; 42 at 10:15; 288 at 10:25 with some kettling in the sky; then 16 at 10:55; another 85 at 4:25 as vocal in their presence; finally 220 at 4:50 p.m. when there were still calm winds.
A highlight of these weeks was seeing a solitary Townsend's Solitaire atop a pine tree, a short distance northward of the bluebird shack. Another new addition to the local avifauna was a single Prairie Falcon flying above the North Lake Shore Hills. Also apprecited were the Audubon's Warbler (a.k.a. yellow-rumped warbler) prominent a few times during their search for sustenance amidst the horse pens. Many Red-winged Blackbird lingered, spending time amidst the cattail habitat at the west end of the mill pond. Some Harris's Sparrow were vivid because of their larger size and feathery facets. Also about were some White-throated Sparrow.
As the month ended, numerous American Robin were present, apparently foraging on the seeds of cedar trees. Canada Goose numbers increased at the Valentine Mill Pond. There were also some few hundred of Common Grackle present as the month waned, being boisterous and obvious among treetops north of the pond.
During the month, 47 different species were observed with 200 records kept in the BirdRecords table of my Database of the Great American Sandhills. Many permanent residents can be appreciated nearly each day. It is always nice to hear the Red-breasted Nuthatch, and then moments later hear the White-breasted Nuthatch in the same vicinity. There were bluebirds hither and yon to enjoy. The resident Great Horned Owl are rarely seen though continually present. At least the pair of Red-tailed Hawk can be more readily seen. On one rainy day, one of the two sat for hours atop a hill-top pine as it waited for the precipitation to dissipate.
The monthly tally in October 2015 was 40 species. The variance is indicative of behavior by the birds and how keeping records for multiple years is necessary to try to derive some sort of limited understanding of occurrence details.
It should be noted that this listing conforms with the standards of the International Ornithological Congress, so names and taxonomic sequence may differ from what is used on a state or national level.
|Species Proper Name||276||277||279||281||282||283||285||286||288||292||293||294||295||297||299||303|
|Canada Goose||- -||4||10||9||- -||7||- -||29||- -||30||225||30||- -||55||40||- -|
|Wood Duck||- -||6||- -||7||- -||- -||- -||2||- -||- -||- -||- -||2||17||- -||- -|
|Mallard||- -||- -||- -||2||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -|
|Blue-winged Teal||- -||- -||- -||7||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -|
|Wild Turkey||- -||- -||6||- -||- -||1||6||- -||- -||6||- -||6||- -||- -||- -||6|
|Pied-billed Grebe||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||2||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -|
|Great Blue Heron||- -||2||- -||- -||- -||- -||1||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -|
|Turkey Vulture||- -||- -||2||21||- -||1||- -||- -||- -||- -||1||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -|
|Western Osprey||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||1||- -||- -||- -||1||- -||- -||- -|
|Cooper's Hawk||- -||- -||- -||- -||1||- -||- -||1||- -||- -||- -||- -||1||- -||- -||- -|
|Bald Eagle||- -||- -||- -||1||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||1||- -||- -||1||- -||2|
|Red-tailed Hawk||- -||- -||1||- -||- -||2||- -||- -||- -||- -||1||- -||2||2||- -||1|
|Sandhill Crane||- -||- -||- -||- -||35||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||175||1400||1065||- -||- -|
|Rock Dove||- -||35||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||5||33||- -|
|Eurasian Collared Dove||7||- -||8||8||- -||1||- -||- -||4||7||5||- -||- -||4||9||6|
|Mourning Dove||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||1||- -||- -|
|Great Horned Owl||1||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||1||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||1|
|Belted Kingfisher||- -||- -||- -||1||- -||1||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -|
|Red-bellied Woodpecker||- -||- -||1||- -||- -||1||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||1||- -||1||1||- -|
|Downy Woodpecker||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||1||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||1||- -||- -|
|Hairy Woodpecker||- -||1||- -||- -||- -||1||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||1||- -||1|
|Northern Flicker||3||- -||1||- -||- -||2||- -||1||- -||- -||- -||- -||1||1||3||1|
|Prairie Falcon||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||1||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -|
|Eastern Phoebe||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||1||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -|
|Blue Jay||1||- -||2||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||1||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||1|
|American Crow||- -||39||2||- -||160||- -||- -||140||30||- -||- -||- -||900||142||195||- -|
|Cedar Waxwing||- -||- -||4||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||5||1|
|Black-capped Chickadee||- -||3||2||- -||- -||2||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||3||3||- -||2|
|Red-breasted Nuthatch||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||2||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||1||1||- -|
|White-breasted Nuthatch||- -||1||1||- -||- -||2||- -||2||- -||- -||- -||- -||2||2||1||1|
|Brown Thrasher||1||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -|
|Common Starling||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||36||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||9||1|
|Eastern Bluebird||- -||2||4||- -||3||- -||5||- -||2||- -||- -||2||2||3||- -||- -|
|Townsend's Solitaire||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||1||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -|
|American Robin||40||- -||- -||- -||- -||5||- -||20||- -||50||- -||- -||- -||25||10||310|
|House Sparrow||- -||30||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||15||6||1|
|House Finch||- -||- -||4||- -||- -||- -||3||4||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||5|
|American Goldfinch||- -||- -||5||- -||- -||3||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||3||2||- -||2|
|Orange-crowned Warbler||- -||- -||- -||- -||2||- -||- -||1||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -|
|Audubon's Warbler||- -||- -||4||- -||4||- -||4||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||1||- -||- -|
|Red-winged Blackbird||- -||- -||- -||5||- -||- -||- -||60||- -||- -||- -||- -||235||30||- -||15|
|Common Grackle||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||3||500||- -|
|Lincoln's Sparrow||- -||1||1||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -|
|Harris's Sparrow||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||2||2||- -||- -||- -||- -||1||- -||2|
|White-throated Sparrow||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||4||3||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||1|
|Dark-eyed Junco||- -||- -||2||- -||3||- -||6||4||2||- -||- -||5||- -||8||- -||30|
|American Tree Sparrow||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||25|
|Spotted Towhee||- -||1||1||- -||2||1||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -|
The month ended with relatively balmy conditions. A day with northerly winds brought an influx of Dark-eyed Junco and American Tree Sparrow. These two species were prevalent on the north side of town. A few Harris's Sparrow added to the wildbirds diversity.
It was an exciting month since there were regular surprises to appreciate and denote. At least during the month, there were opportunities to venture to other wildlife areas that meant an opportunity to denote further findings of wildbirds at Cherry county lands.
This month's records might contribute to some sort of understanding for the occurrence and distribution of birds in Nebraska. Kept records are essential.