30 January 2016

Resources District Manages Habitat at Valentine Mill Pond

Clearing of unwanted red cedar trees at the Valentine Mill Pond has recently been done by the Middle Niobrara Natural Resources District.

The removal of the cedars was done in accordance with fire concerns of the community, said Zac Peterson, the natural resources technician of the NRD. There was also vegetative trimming to clear the corridor associated with overhead power lines. Some stumps will remain from the larger trees removed so area visitors will recognize their presence will walking around the site.

A portion of the lumber from the larger cedar trees will be used to create a sign to commemorate the Big Rock fire that occurred ten years ago, just to the north of the Mill Pond and Valentine City Park.

Smaller portions of the removed trees have been mechanically chipped. These chips have been used to stabilize recreational trails in the area.

The NRD is also chipping cedar trees removed at Schlagel Creek WMA by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. Reducing the tree piles to chips is a portion of research investigating whether tree chips as soaked with cattle and hog manure, when spread upon land, can provide mineral nutrients to plants and soil.

Grants from the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality and U.S. Forest Service have been instrumental in this research associated with local landowners.

29 January 2016

Bird Feeding at Valentine

For a few residents of Valentine, a quick flash of color outside the window gets them grabbing binoculars and looking closely at a visitor to their bird feeder.

The bird may be a species not seen before, such as grosbeak or unusual woodpecker. Typically there are the regular black-and-white and grey sorts of visitors, the coloration sometimes including a prominent dash of red. The food at the feeders during winter are beneficial for cheery chickadees, nuthatches, woodpeckers and finches. Juncos – a visitor from northern lands - also regularly appreciate the food. A boisterous Blue Jay or two is another area resident that may occur. Each of these species are present daily where food is available. Occasionally a predatory Sharp-shinned Hawk or Cooper’s Hawk arrives in search of avian fare.

Although feeding the wild birds is best known as an activity for the winter months, it is not limited to this season for some bird watchers at Valentine, especially in the vicinity of the mill pond, where there are least five households with feeding enthusiasts.

At the Ray Scholl residence along Lake Shore Drive, sunflowers seeds are kept available year-round.

“I enjoy seeing different kinds of birds,” he said. There are three bird guides and binoculars readily available at the picture window so he can identify any avian visitors. Orioles and buntings of the warm months have also been appreciated, he said. His now deceased wife, Jackie, started feeding birds about 30 years ago.

The feeder is usually filled daily, notably because some squirrels can quickly consume the tasty seeds.

At 8th and Main Street, Kerry Krueger also provides food for the birds throughout the year.

“I enjoy God’s little creatures,” he said. They are a “finer thing of life.”

“I love my cardinals,” Krueger said. The view of the golden color of the American Goldfinch is also a regular event. Among other species that have occurred, has been the Black-headed Grosbeak. At his feeder, along with another at his next-door neighbor, many birds visit to forage.

A bunch of English Sparrows linger in some shrubs nearby here this winter, within their chosen shelter by a regular source of food.

Krueger has been feeding birds for five years.

Sunflower seeds are the normal fare, though he sometimes provides a fruit and nut mix for the woodpeckers, represented by the Hairy Woodpecker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker and Northern Flicker, both the red-shafted and yellow-shafted variety.

John Harms, another resident along Lake Shore Drive, uses a standard feed mix available at local stores. He and his now deceased wife Jokay started feeding birds 30 years ago. “I enjoy seeing them,” at the feeder just south of his house.

This is the sentiment of a nearby neighbor, who also likes to watch the lively birds which visit the back year feeder, also adjacent to the Mill Pond.

Within Valentine, a feeder at the 400 block of north Main Street has been attracting many American Goldfinch. A flock of about 30 of these finches have been seen this month.

Elsewhere in the vicinity, winter birds have included American Robins feeding on berries of red cedar trees. Cedar Waxwings have also been seen occasionally, feeding at berry trees. The flock of Eurasian Collored Dove have moved west from the livestock market, to where there is more tree shelter and a source of feed by the Danielski building.

Other wild birds have been appreciating the flow of unfrozen water of Minnechaduza Creek, below the Mill Pond dam. A few Mallards and a foraging, fish-eating Belted Kingfisher have been noted.

05 January 2016

Winter Survey of Birds in the Valentine Vicinity

A first survey of birds present in the immediate vicinity of Valentine convey the winter avian diversity. With fine weather conditions, a walk-about was undertaken January 3, 2016 to denote the species at the usual places visited during the past four months of 2015.

The survey day started with hearing the Great Horned Owl hoot-hoot-hooting at 6:45 a.m., outdoors beneath the celestial view. The owl was obviously sitting on a tree branch somewhere near the west end of the mill pond. This was the same general locality where an adult Bald Eagle was seen flying around later in the day, after the walk-about survey was already finished.

A very few Mallards continue to swim along nearly daily on Minnechaduza Creek, below the pond dam, though in lesser numbers than when first seen. Flying flocks of the Canada Goose that provided the basis for the count, were going northward during about 10:30 to 11:30 a.m.

Three bird feeders about the mill pond are an attraction for songbirds, being especially beneficial for finches, the nuthatches and chickadees, woodpeckers, blue jays, juncos and the sly cardinals. Glutton squirrels are also getting their fill as they quickly reduce a brief, yet ample seed supply. There are also a couple of feeders within the heart city were little songbirds are attracted to a source of food.

There were two nice additions for the winter avifauna of the area, which had not been previously observed this season. A Belted Kingfisher was heard and then seen foraging along the open section of Minnechaduza Creek, from below the mill pond dam and its western section within the city park. A Rough-legged Buzzard (formerly known as the Rough-legged Hawk) was noted flying over the ridge north of the mill pond.

There were 21 species observed during the three hour survey period. There was still ample snow cover among the woods, skies were sunny and temperatures were in the upper 20s. There was no wind.

Common Name Valentine Valentine
City Park
Mill Pond
Ward Place,
Canada Goose 270 - - - - - -
Mallard - - - - 3 - -
Wild Turkey - - - - - - 1
Bald Eagle - - - - 1 - -
Red-tailed Hawk - - - - - - 2
Rough-legged Buzzard - - - - - - 1
Rock Dove 17 - - - - - -
Great Horned Owl - - - - 1 - -
Belted Kingfisher - - 1 - - - -
Red-bellied Woodpecker - - 1 1 - -
Downy Woodpecker - - - - - - 1
Hairy Woodpecker - - 1 1 1
Blue Jay - - - - 1 - -
American Crow - - - - 2 - -
Black-capped Chickadee 2 1 5 3
Red-breasted Nuthatch - - - - - - 1
White-breasted Nuthatch 1 2 3 1
House Sparrow - - - - 27 - -
House Finch - - - - 4 - -
American Goldfinch 7 - - 4 - -
Dark-eyed Junco - - 3 6 - -

Surprisingly, there were no Eurasian Collared Dove observed at their usual haunts north of the Mill Pond and at the livestock market. Sparrows were also missing, again!

Probably lurking somewhere in the vicinity, there was also likely a Northern Cardinal or two. A covey of the Northern Bobwhite, previously noted, were probably also busy with their activities at some place beyond the realm of my tracks.

Despite the large extent of the Sand Hills region, there is only a limited extent of winter bird surveys.

04 January 2016

Research Investigating Aspen Decline in Niobrara Valley

Research was initiated in 2015 to understand what may be causing a decline in the extent of hybrid aspen trees along the Niobrara River.

The hybrids (Populus xsmithii) are a genetic mix of the quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) and bigtooth aspen (Populus grandidentata).

Two primary tasks were completed during the year.

1) “Leaf material for genetic analysis” and “root cuttings for clonal propagation in greenhouse experiments” were collected by Nick Deacon, a postdoctoral associate, and Jake Grossman, a graduate student, according to a project report provided to the National Park Service, the project sponsor. Both are from the University of Minnesota.
Root cuttings were collected from “all Niobrara aspens stands of as well as stands of quaking aspen and big toothed aspen from NE, SD, MN, IA, and WI.
2) An analysis of aspen stand condition at Smith Falls State Park was completed by James Robinson, a graduate student at the University of South Dakota. Also evaluated were the “effects of herbivory and management on growth and condition of aspen suckers. Findings provided implications for future management of aspen stands.”

Two manuscripts were prepared from these analyses, the report said.

The unique hybrid aspens – relicts of a Pleistocene age northern boreal forest - occur in the cool and moist spring-branch canyons along the river, notably on the southern slope of the Niobrara valley. The stands are currently in decline, “due to pathogen infestations, fire suppression, competition with invasive red cedar, ungulate browsing, drought stress and potentially changes in the spring freeze-thaw cycles due to climate change,” according to the project proposal.

“An understanding of the genetic diversity and hybrid status, age structure and health, ecological niche and historical rate of range contraction, and drought and freezing tolerance physiology, is of paramount importance for understanding the fate of these important heritage organisms,” the proposal said.

This is a three year project, financed by the Niobrara National Scenic River office of the National Park Service at Valentine. The project grant was for $381,439.81.

December Birds of the Valentine Vicinity

Winter reigns as a fine variety of bird species continue to occur in the vicinity of Valentine, Nebraska. Prominent conditions during December have been variable, with notable changes by the end of 2015. Some moderate weather brought numerous robins mid-month. Following an approximate 4-inch snowfall about near the end of the third week of the month, cold weather prevailed with lows in the 0o range or less, and daily high temperatures in the lower to mid 20s. The average daily high is the mid-30s. Wind chills many degrees less make being outdoors even more chilly, and this chill index seems to be a regular occurrence. Snow cover continued to prevail as there was no melting. The mill pond is mostly entirely ice-covered, so there has been little use by Canada Goose.

» Canada Goose: more prevalent early in the month, with lesser numbers noticed in flight nearly daily during the month. Apparently they are roosting on the Niobrara River southeast of Valentine, as indicated by other observers. They fly northward to forage on corn fields.
» Mallard: a few arrived at the end of the month, with 5-6 noticed on the unfrozen Minnecaduza Creek, below the dam at the Valentine Mill Pond; these fowl have been readily seen swimming about as noticed from the nearby north end of the main street.
» Northern Bobwhite: the covey continues to be present amidst the pine-clad bluffs north of the Valentine Mill Pond. These are an especially appreciated species. They are looking for places without snow cover so they can forage. This includes bare ground beneath pine trees.
» Wild Turkey: the local flock has not wandered near my vicinity with only a single bird arriving a couple of times to see if there was any horse feed left behind that it could eat
» Bald Eagle: the best sighting of the month was an adult slowly flying at a low level over the livestock market.
» Eurasian Collared Dove: continue to be prevalent near the livestock market, and are most readily seen just to its south, near the power substation. Across the street to the west is a corn storage facility, with kernels on the ground near an end of an auger, after trucking loading/unloading operations. This may be a source of food for these doves, though they have not been seen there, perhaps due not being present at an appropriate time. Rock Doves may also feed there, as they are also common about the market. Two to four ECDs are regularly among the housing and pines north of the mill pond.
» Red-breasted Nuthatch: probably more prevalent than indicated, but recorded to a lesser extent due to fewer visits into the pine lands.
» House Sparrow: continue their occurrence in gathered flocks; the largest number is present in shrubbery along north Main Street, at the southeast corner of the Mill Pond area; another bunch is known to occur near the livestock market.
» American Goldfinch: only occasionally seen, with the greatest number seen once within Valentine, associated with a bird feeder.
» Dark-eyed Junco: regular loose flocks of 10-20, with birds at two-three known localities, with high counts a combination of numbers counted on the same date at different localities; south-facing slopes with a lesser extent of snow cover, are important foraging areas.

Most of the species seen are regular winter residents. There is a definite dearth of sparrows. Some flighty birds were seen but could not be identified since the spotting scope was not available.

Some bird feeders are being regularly used by the song birds. There is one located on the north edge of the city, just west of Main Street which is enjoyed by the Red-bellied Woodpecker, and White-breasted Nuthatch, especially. There are also two on the north side of the Valentine Mill Pond. Chickadess and the irregular cardinal are appreciative of these food sources.

The 28 species indicated are listed in the taxonomic order as designated by the International Ornithological Congress, 2015. The top row of numbers is the julian date corresponding to the date of the month. Not all species present on each day are listed as the intent is to get representative counts, and to especially denote notable occurrences.
Proper Name 343 344 346 347 348 351 352 353 355 362 363
Canada Goose 1300 1300 15 -- 30 -- -- -- -- 125 165
Cackling Goose 10 10 -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
Mallard -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- 7 6
Northern Bobwhite -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- 12
Wild Turkey -- -- 1 -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
Sharp-shinned Hawk -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- 1
Bald Eagle -- -- -- -- -- 1 -- -- 1 -- --
Red-tailed Hawk -- -- -- -- -- -- -- 2 -- -- 1
Rock Dove -- -- -- -- 31 -- -- -- 40 -- --
Eurasian Collared Dove -- -- 4 -- -- -- 6 2 30 8 --
Great Horned Owl -- -- -- 2 -- -- -- -- -- -- --
Red-bellied Woodpecker -- -- 1 -- 1 -- 1 2 1 1 --
Downy Woodpecker -- -- -- -- 1 -- -- -- 1 -- --
Hairy Woodpecker -- -- 1 -- 1 -- 2 -- 1 1 --
Northern Flicker -- -- -- -- -- -- -- 3 -- -- 1
Blue Jay -- -- -- -- -- -- 1 2 -- -- 2
American Crow -- -- 1 -- -- -- -- -- -- 1 2
Black-capped Chickadee -- -- 4 -- -- -- 3 -- 6 3 --
Red-breasted Nuthatch -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- 1 -- --
White-breasted Nuthatch -- -- 2 -- -- -- 2 5 4 4 --
American Robin -- -- -- -- 2 -- -- -- 35 -- --
House Sparrow -- -- 20 -- 30 -- -- -- 25 20 --
House Finch -- -- -- -- 3 -- -- -- -- -- --
American Goldfinch -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- 3 12
Harris's Sparrow -- -- 1 -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
Dark-eyed Junco -- -- 12 -- 16 -- 30 -- 5 12 29
American Tree Sparrow -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- 2 -- 1
Northern Cardinal -- -- 1 -- -- -- -- 1 -- -- 1

There have been 62 species recorded for this bit of a north-central Nebraska vicinity from late August through the end of December. There were 462 records kept for 54 distinct days here, with fewer than ten records the typical daily tally. The most number of records being 30 on October 1st and 28 on November 28th. All records are derived from the specifics kept in a relational database with 147,649 bird records for the Great American Sandhills and central Niobrara River valley.

There would be additional species recorded if visits were made to relatively nearby Borman Bridge WMA and the fish hatchery and adjacent Government Canyon WMA, but were not done due to weather conditions and a lack of suitable transportation. A species that would be especially enjoyed would be a Winter Wren. Also an expectant is the Townsend's Solitaire, or maybe a Rough-legged Hawk or Golden Eagle or Prairie Falcon.

Consideration is being given to watching some particular birds at the feeders on the north side of the city.

If a vehicle was available, the bird-watching range would increase to include outings to regional, riverine spring-flows to look for the feathered mite, as well as wintering Marsh Wren and Virginia Rail. It is just too dang cold to walk or bicycle the distance needed to get to the localities to replicate visits made years ago. There are key birds present, but their occurrence is not known by any ornithologists.

Considerations for Archiving Cherry County Governmental Records

Unique in perspective, the official records of Cherry county convey precise details of the life and times of residents for more than 130 years. Once initially created, the necessities have been continually updated on a regular basis by county staff and officials. The source documents are various sorts of bound books or singular pieces of paper which indicate marriages, land transactions and associated deed records and prices, mortgage specifics, interments at county cemeteries, taxation particulars which indicate the progress of county residents, and other miscellany associated with the history of the county and its people.

Most of the information, especially for past times associated which convey some wonderful details for the early years of county history, are stored on paper-based documents kept within the county building – some in the basement - at Valentine. Only a small portion of this historic record is available via an up-to-date electronic method.

In order to retain the history extant within the county records, it is essential that a permanent, digital record of the material be initiated and established, using acceptable and current methods of historic preservation.

There are numerous steps to initiate an effort to suitably conserve the original history of Cherry county. They include, but are not necessarily limited to these items:

1. Identify all source documents, and list them in a catalog to ensure that each and all items are documented and known and identified as a part of the county records.
2. Ensure safe and suitable storage of source documents to do the best possible to keep them in the best possible condition for the long-term.
3. Determine how to digitize source documents; this facet includes many issues including which record sources to start with, how they should be digitized (including consultation with an archival professional(s) to determine any equipment needs, establish protocols to indicate proper file format, file naming conventions, key word details, content topics and grouping, etc.).
4. Establish a suitable means of public access so source documents can be reviewed in a manner that will ensure they are not stolen, damaged, nor diminished in any manner; including the need for users to pay an access fee to assist with document retention and provision, if deemed appropriate.
5. Evaluate any opportunities for grants or other sources of funding to assist in the conservation of county history; these may include private donations, county funds, state of Nebraska funding, or perhaps even national entities that would contribute to the preservation of history associated with the county.

County officials can, and should as soon as possible, establish permanent protocols to ensure ongoing record conservation and establishing archival records. Efforts need to be done to establish an inclusive and permanent archive for the wonderful source documents of information associated with the expansive history of the residents of rural Cherry county. This effort will obviously require funding. Foremost should by a fund to be established by county officials to initiate the ongoing effort. An initial amount of county funds need to be designated to establish a Cherry County Record Archive.

DRAFT documented submitted first via email to the Cherry County Commissioners for discussion at the 29 December 2015 meeting. Prepared by James E. Ducey, Valentine; and creator of the digital archive of the Great American Sandhills. The one-page document was prepared in response to a request by a county commissioner.

Addendum to Document

The request for record access was discussed at the county commissioners meeting in the morning on the 29th. There are considerations that need to be addressed. This topic is not a usual consideration for county officials. There was consensus on moving forward on this matter. A protocol needs to be defined, especially regarding how the records would be accessed in a manner that would not be an undue burden on county staff, as well as an appropriate space suitable for a researcher to review the records.

Following the meeting, an email request was sent to an archival specialist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, asking for suggestions on how to implement proper archival methods. This was in response to a request by a commissioner member. A question at the meeting was: Have other counties undertaken a similar effort.

Commissioners Adamson, Storer and Van Winkle have been receptive to records access, and have also been suitably considering the means and methods to conserve the history associated with Cherry county records.

On December 30th there was also a discussion with Eric Scott — the Cherry County attorney — on this matter, as the commissioners had asked that a "request" be provided in regards to records access. The question of the day was what the request should include and how it might best be conveyed? A secondary question was about a charitable foundation where tax-deductible funds might be denoted to help fund a "Cherry County Heritage Project." Other birdly topics of common interest were also a part of the discussion at his main street office in Valentine.

The three commissioners are supportive, as are county officials. It is the methods that need to be determined. Rightely, county officials are ensuring that the records are properly dealt with to ensure long-term considerations of suitably maintaining the records, while allowing public access.

This document is posted for archival purposes.