Weather was cloudy with strong winds expected at the start of the afternoon outing to Anderson Bridge WMA on October 30th. Weather was actually quite nice upon arrival at the place south of Kilgore, with partially clear skies and temperatures in the 60s.
The visit included a hike through the Niobrara Valley portion of the site. One dramatic difference here compared to the last visit years ago is the presence of a mown trail from the parking area, westward along the south side of the marsh and to within about a quarter-mile of the west boundary of the property. There is another section along the north side of the marsh, through the flats and then eastward for a distance until it reconnects to the entry road. Many cedar trees, including some with an impressive girth, have been cleared to provide the corridor. This work may have been done in cooperation with a wild turkey advocacy group, according to a sign posted at the area entrance.
There is more extensive flooding of the lowlands, as the beavers have established the earthworks needed to flood a significant area further east of the prominent marsh. The brook from the springs is no longer present, as it has been inundated. The area is now duckweed green!
In order to drive into the parking lot, two portable metal fence panels had to be opened. Fellow birder and driver, Gordon Warrick commented on why there needs to be eight signs of various sorts at the entrance. They are a bit much.
Our hike was along most of the trail route, which was like a walk in a park, and much easier than having to find a way through thick, inhibitory vegetation as was the situation in the past. Attention could be focused on listening or looking for wildbirds rather than trying to make a way.
This is the tally of species, and are listed in taxonomic sequence:
- Wood Duck, 2
- Mallard, 4 representing two pair
- Wild Turkey, 40 foraging at the east side
- Red-tailed Hawk, 1
- Virginia Rail, 3 heard in response to imitations of its call
- Downy Woodpecker, 1
- Northern Flicker, 5
- Great Grey Shrike (a.k.a. Northern Shrike), 1 on a power line just across the Niobrara river; this is a new addition to the local avifauna
- American Crow, 2
- Black-capped Chickadee, 4
- Red-breasted Nuthatch, 1
- White-breasted Nuthatch, 2
- Winter Wren, 2; one near the flowing spring and another near the west end of the marsh
- Marsh Wren, 1 at the west end of the marsh; a few chirrups heard first and then seen for a few moments amidst the cattails; this is a new addition to the species known to occur at this wildlife managment area
- Eastern Bluebird, 2; notably heard
- Townsend's Solitaire, 4 individually seen
- American Robin, 15
- American Tree Sparrow, 3
- Song Sparrow, 2
- White-throated Sparrow, 3
- Harris's Sparrow, 2
- Dark-eyed Junco, 25
- Northern Cardinal, 3 including a pair
- Red-winged Blackbird, 50 among the marsh cattails
- American Goldfinch, 2
Northern species such as the sparrows and juncos were likely more prevalent than days earlier. Brisk northerly winds on the 29th brought many Dark-eyed Junco and American Tree Sparrow to the Valentine vicinity, and this may have also been the reason for the sparrows and many juncos observed.
Other visitors to the area were two hunters from Illinois, with two hunting dogs; they were staying in Valentine during their visit to the area. They thought there might be some huntable waterfowl present, but the birds had already gone away due to the occurrence of the birders. There were too many hunters at Valentine NWR so they were looking elsewhere for huntable game.
After the outing here, a drive was made to the west. Along the river road, an adult Bald Eagle was seen soaring over the north bluffs. At one site, there were about 30 Eastern Bluebird gathered on a powerline.
At the Chat Canyon WMA parking lot, there was also closed with a metal fence gate that had to be opened. Notable here were 75 American Crow that had been roosting at the north side of the area, but then flew westward, a few at a time. Also observed were two Townsend's Solitaire.
Some other notable sightings were a male Northern Harrier in the Minnechaduza Creek valley a few miles east of Crkkoston. Southwest of Kilgore was a flock of 25 Sandhill Crane flying at a low level at the eastern edge of the site where a wind turbine facility has been proposed. It seemed they were at an aerial height that would have not been much different than the height of any turbine blade. There were horned larks along the road here.
It was another pleasant day to be afield. At a few places along the way, errant beer cans and one beer bottle were picked up to reduce the extent of roadside trash.
This visit was the 39th that has been made to this place, with the first having occurred in the spring of 1982. As a result, there are 120 species known to occur at the tract and its immediate vicinity.