22 October 2016

An Autumn Ride in the Country

A knock on the front door was the start for a Sunday ride along the Niobrara River. The outing was not much of a jaunt beyond Valentine. It was however, another visit to the distinctive Vanderploeg ranch with its great wetland where the water always flows, next to the well-known Schlagel Creek and elsewhere among places of history.

After an appreciated brief visit with Marvin Vanderploeg at his residence - which is a tribute to the enjoyment of birds - Gordon Warrick drove onward along the country trail in the valley of the L’Eau Qui Court, to use a historic name. There was no travel along any sort of hard-surface so there was a complete lack of stop signs, traffic lights or any other vehicles. The pace was slow and right pace, with regular intermittent pauses – key turned off and most times the transmission moved to the park position later - to get a better look at some birds of a sort.

A first pause to get a good look - using binoculars and a spotting scope - at a grayish bird atop a pine, initially noticed because of a glance towards the sky-scape. It was a Townsend’s Solitaire, which had not been seen for years by either of us; was also a new addition to the great variety of wild birds that appreciate the wild land habitats of this ranch.

The plant-free marsh water along the lowland of the valley next to the river was a haven for several sorts of waterfowl. Prominent were the three juvenile Trumpeter Swan raised during the past summer season, Vanderploeg said. Migrants included Green-winged Teal, with many Mallards typical for the season also present. Out vantage point was a distinctively unusual and slight promontory on the south side of the valley flat.

A bit later, four adult swans were vivid in white on a place they found suitable along the Niobrara riverway.

With two bird-men with biological interests in the cab of a pickup, the discussion along the way included words about the local land and the ongoing tree management, the attention taken to create this place of unique heritage, plants of various types and other pertinent natural history miscellany. A particular personal conjecture was being able to throw a fly-line into Schlagel creek, and perhaps fish out a trout to enjoy for a short time, before it would be placed back into the cold, flowing, piscatorial waters. That would be a magnanimous story of its own accord.

Trees were a prominent feature. Oaks had leaves of many colors. Among the mix of flora were other sorts of plant species of lesser extent. It was a cloudy day, but at some time when light and sky combined to create a picturesque view, that created the right time for a photograph by a Canon camera.

During the slowly drive, there were other typical wild birds of the fall. They included a wonderful variety of Western Meadowlark on the uplands. The few wonderfully colored Eastern Bluebird could not be ignored, so weren't.

Among the arboreal setting on the river terrace there were glimpses of the distinctive White-breasted Nuthatch and the always cheery sound of the Black-capped Chickadee. The quiet meant prominent avian sounds were heard, which helped to be certain about the identity of some species of another. We heard the always vociferous flicker among the woods!

An especially exciting sighting were three Red Crossbill perched atop the snags of a deciduous tree, by the Schlagel. During this highlight time, the trio kept their place for a relatively long time of multiple minutes, which when it comes to determining an identity derived by bird action. There was enough of an interlude to get a good look and derive a proper name, especially since their crossed bills - used to extract pine cone seeds - were obvious. Neither of us would be willing to make any effort on which subspecies was present, as there are at least a dozen to consider. This occurrence provided a view, which among this place’s chronicles, is another addition to the known bird history.

The day’s tally was 29 species of birds. This is the largest number of species denoted during a single day survey of wild birds at the Vanderploeg, Niobrara property, based upon a comparison for a multitude of details for other dates, going back to the early weeks of 2000.

During the drive across this land it was obvious how this is a special place. We were able on our Sunday sojourn to appreciate - due to a landowner’s hospitality – so many nice, dinky scenes due to the continual efforts of active conservation. A multitude of land-scape features amidst the valley, are always there though only relatively slightly known. There will hopefully be another time when the mixture of land and sun will express, once again, more vivid views, with, perhaps some time spent on contributing some work time to help a bit with the efforts done to make this such an important example of private land conservation measures.

This is a compilation of the day’s complete avian tally, as noted in variable numbers during the midday record keeping: Canada Goose, 7 standing on a river sandbar; Trumpeter Swan; Wood Duck; Mallard; Green-winged Teal; Common Pheasant; Pied-billed Grebe at the marsh; a single Great Blue Heron; Bald Eagle, soaring above the land; Cooper's Hawk; Red-tailed Hawk; Ring-billed Gull, more than 20 with some sort of a larger gull in a seasonal drab plumage which, as it flew away westward, meant no identification was not possible; Belted Kingfisher as so easily known by its distinctive call; Downy Woodpecker; Northern Flicker with its primary feather feature having a reddish tinge; Blue Jay which is blatantly expressive; American Crow; Horned Lark about the upland grassland; Black-capped Chickadee; White-breasted Nuthatch; Eastern Bluebird along the upland fence boundary; the appreciated Townsend's Solitaire; American Robin; Orange-crowned Warbler so subtle in the river-side foliage; Audubon's Warbler (a.k.a. yellow-rumped warbler); Song Sparrow; Western Meadowlark represented by about 15 birds on the upland on the ranch, with another dozen eastward along the Schlagel Creek Road; Red Crossbill; and, American Goldfinch.

There were some little brown birds that preferred to flit rather than sit, so any opportunity for identification was futile.