27 June 2016

Nightjars During a Niobrara River Night Float

A night float on the scenic Niobrara river recorded bird species active in late evening and during the first hours of a full moon night.

The float from Berry Bridge to Brewer bridge was held June 20th and was sponsored by the National Park Service. Ten participants spent from about 9:15 p.m. to a bit after midnight traversing the river by canoe or kayak.

There were nine species noted, with the calls of the Eastern Whip-poor-will especially prominent.

The greatest variety of species was during put-in at Berry Bridge and near Berry Falls. In addition to the American Cliff Swallow associated with the bridge, there was the American Yellow Warbler, American Crow, a Double-crested Flycatcher, and with the Great Crested Flycatcher and Spotted Towhee in the woods.

Nightjars were first seen or heard a short distance east of the falls, where there was a short section of riffles in the river. Here there was a vociferous whip-poor-will in the valley near the river and a flying nighthawk.

Further along a short distance — where there is an area where steep bluffs are adjacent to the channel — there were three more whip-poor-will heard loudly expressing their presence. Each was notable heard at a distinct location.

Another of this species was heard on the north bank of the river at Allen Bridge, then again at the bit of rapids eastward of Smith Falls. While removing the watercraft at Brewer Bridge, the last whip-poor-will was heard to the north and west of the parking area, on the north side of the river valley.

Common Nighthawks were again seen at the first cliffs area east of Berry Falls and again near Allen Bridge.

It was a splendid night to enjoy a portion of the Niobrara National Scenic River. There was no appreciable wind and with comfortable temperatures. At times mist floated above the flowing waters.

This float was very helpful in establishing the relatively common extent of the Eastern Whip-poor-will. Surveys of this sort should continue next season, with additional sections of the easily floated river surveyed during early night hours when the species is readily heard.

Other Breeding Season Occurrences

There have been two other reports of the Eastern Whip-poor-will this season in the valley associated with the scenic portion of the Niobrara River.

Clem Klaphake noted its occurrence on June 10, while visiting the Niobrara Valley Preserve, and notably on the south side of the river in Brown county. He noted it was “not uncommon in this area,” adding that “campers complained about the singing all night long,” according to a report issued on NEBirds.

More recently, a large number of this species was noted in a seven-mile stretch of county road starting at Thomas Creek WMA, then south and eastward along Riverview road. Dave Heidt, of Norfolk, took advantage of suitable weather on June 26th to do the survey, starting at 3:20 a.m. His count reached forty, when he then stopped recording numbers. “The only place that I didn’t hear Whip-poor-will’s calling in the entire seven miles stretch was where the one farm had a pump motor running that drowned out everything,” he wrote in his NEBirds post. Other species he noted were the Yellow-breasted Chat, Great Horned Owl, Brown Thrashed, Dickcissel and Western Meadowlark.

These records were in Keya Paha county.

Each of these reports contribute to a better realization of the extent of this whip-poor-will in the Niobrara valley.