On June 30th, a secondary survey was done to determine breeding occurrence of Least Tern and Piping Plover at two localities at the eastern extent of the Niobrara National Scenic River. My outing was done as a volunteer of the National Park Service, along with Gordon Warrick, a biologist that provided transportation and other essentials.
The first location visited in the morning was the Turpin Colony, named because it was a short distance eastward on Turpin Lake, at the northern edge of Rock county, northward of Newport and west of the Highway 137 bridge.
During the time, other birds in the immediate vicinity were noted. Additional notes were kept while driving along county roads at places where a location and associated place name was obvious.
A special highlight of the visit to the Turpin Colony were two Common Tern aflight above the river. They were obvious in their larger size!
While among the tern and plover colony, the agreed upon protocol was to first place flags at found nests. Once this was done, each flag site was revisited, with pictures taken of each nest in order to provide documentary details useful for further consideration of nest characteristics. Egg float samples were also taken in order to evaluate incubation.
The time among the nesting locality was limited, and was certainly less than 30 minutes on a morning with relatively cool temperatures. Time spent among the colony was intentionally limited in order to minimize disturbance to the wild birds.
There was no GPS reading kept since the government equipment did not work. The initial intent was to demark the nests and then get an overall reading for the extent of the entire sandbar. Since there were equipment difficulties, these details were not kept. Knowing the details for the sandbar for this season would allow a comparison to other, future years in order to get an understanding of changes at this locality.
Records kept were the nests and their contents with egg sampling. At the Turpin Colony there were seven tern nests and three active plover nests. There was also an abandoned nest for each of the two species.
At the Laughing Water Colony there were also nests of both species, each of the several having eggs. There were four plover nests and two active tern nests. An abandoned tern nest had a hatchling.
The number of terns present was determined by birds in flight. The number of plover was based upon the birds that were running about on the sandbar, or based upon the number of nests. At each locality, there was one plover with a green band on its upper left leg.
While walking amidst each colony, adult birds were constantly observed in order to determine a count. The number of nests was indicative, with birds present contributing further details.
Each of these colonies can be considered to be "fringe" habitats. On the morning of the visits, the sand was moist following recent rain events. The height above the river water level is minimal, so any intensive rainfall could readily result in an increase in water flows sufficient enough to inundate the sandbar and any nests. The nests are mere few inches above the water flow level.
At each of the two nesting places, there was a green leg band seen on the upper left leg of a Piping Plover.
A nice variety of other species were heard of seen during the time at the colonial bird sites and associated localities while driving along the way. Details are indicated for those places where a known place name was known.
Access to each colony was via private property for which permission had been obtained for the visit.
|Common Name||Highway 137 Bridge||Turpin Lake Tract||Hutton Niobrara Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary||Laughing Water Creek||Laughing Water Ranch|
|Canada Goose||2||- -||- -||- -||- -|
|Wild Turkey||- -||1||- -||- -||- -|
|Turkey Vulture||- -||- -||- -||3||1|
|Cooper's Hawk||- -||1||- -||- -||- -|
|Bald Eagle||- -||- -||- -||- -||1|
|Red-tailed Hawk||1||2||- -||1||- -|
|Killdeer||- -||3||- -||- -||2|
|Piping Plover||- -||8||- -||- -||8|
|Least Tern||1||8||- -||- -||8|
|Common Tern||- -||2||- -||- -||- -|
|Black-billed Cuckoo||1||- -||- -||- -||- -|
|Common Nighthawk||- -||1||- -||- -||- -|
|Red-headed Woodpecker||- -||- -||1||- -||- -|
|Northern Flicker||- -||1||- -||- -||1|
|American Kestrel||- -||- -||- -||- -||1|
|Eastern Wood-Pewee||- -||1||- -||- -||- -|
|Eastern Kingbird||- -||2||1||2||1|
|Bell's Vireo||1||- -||- -||- -||- -|
|Red-eyed Vireo||- -||1||- -||2||- -|
|American Crow||3||- -||- -||2||4|
|Black-capped Chickadee||- -||1||- -||- -||- -|
|Horned Lark||- -||- -||3||- -||3|
|Northern Rough-winged Swallow||2||- -||2||- -||- -|
|Barn Swallow||- -||- -||- -||- -||3|
|American Cliff Swallow||125||- -||- -||- -||- -|
|House Wren||- -||2||- -||2||1|
|White-breasted Nuthatch||- -||1||- -||- -||- -|
|Eastern Bluebird||- -||1||- -||- -||1|
|American Robin||- -||- -||- -||- -||2|
|American Goldfinch||- -||2||1||- -||- -|
|Common Yellowthroat||2||1||- -||1||1|
|Bobolink||- -||- -||- -||- -||6|
|Western Meadowlark||- -||1||1||- -||- -|
|Orchard Oriole||- -||- -||- -||- -||2|
|Red-winged Blackbird||- -||2||- -||- -||3|
|Brown-headed Cowbird||1||1||- -||- -||- -|
|Grasshopper Sparrow||- -||- -||2||- -||- -|
|Chipping Sparrow||- -||1||- -||- -||2|
|Field Sparrow||1||- -||- -||- -||1|
|Lark Sparrow||- -||4||2||- -||- -|
|Spotted Towhee||- -||2||- -||- -||1|
|Towhee||2||- -||- -||- -||- -|
|Dickcissel||- -||1||- -||- -||2|
|Indigo Bunting||- -||1||- -||- -||- -|
There were 47 species observed during the morning outing.
The most recent known records of occurrence for Least Tern and Piping Plover along the scenic river was in 2009 during a survey also done by park service personnel. Those records are for a section of the river, and were not attributed to a specific locality.