26 May 2017

Sesquicentennial Count for Sandhill Places in Nebraska

There is an event underway to report personal sightings of 150 bird species associated with the 150th anniversary of when Nebraska was established, that being in 1867.

So here is my report as derived from sightings in the Valentine vicinity and several quite fine places in the eastern Sandhills, and as prepared on 20 May 2017. It conveys a personal report of wild bird occurrence from kept records as has been done for decades, because the essentials convey a real-time reality and also have historic value. It is exciting to have met the minimal requirement of 150 species early in the year and during the spring month of May, because there will certainly be additional species during the still to occur weeks and months of this year.

The variety of places visited could be indicated, but that would be an ancillary effort that might sublimate the primary focus of this missive.

Species are listed in alphabetical order and the value given is the number of times the species has been observed. Particular details are kept in my personal database that has nearly 155,000 records associated with bird observations made by many people during the years since 1886.

  1. American Avocet: 1 sighting for two birds at an ephemeral wetland along 846 road, and never was there any realization that such a bureaucratically indicated name which has absolutely no originality would be a place of ornithological interest but of course the two avocets were completely indifferent to any sort of name because they were only interested in finding something to eat at a haven without unwanted disturbance
  2. American Bittern: 3; this species always deserves attention
  3. American Cliff Swallow: 9
  4. American Coot: 12 counts of these birds busy in swimming about and being a subtle can be a very obvious part of avifauna at many water places in the Great American Sandhills
  5. American Crow: 46, usually flying hither and yon
  6. American Goldfinch: 60
  7. American Herring Gull: 4
  8. American Kestrel: 17
  9. American Redstart: 2 counts which does not represent the number of these birds actively singing and flitting among the trees at Valentine City Park
  10. American Robin: 107 distinct counts for individual sites
  11. American Tree Sparrow: 4
  12. American White Pelican: 5
  13. American Wigeon: 9
  14. American Yellow Warbler: 12 counts which indicate the numbers of these subtle arrivals of spring and breeding season residents
  15. Audubon's Warbler: 4
  16. Bald Eagle: 15; it was nice to find a pair nesting in the immediate vicinity of Goose Lake WMA, and to watch this pair of our national symbol spent a significant time perched on different trees and simply sat there in the evening, as they both obviously knew that their parental duties were taken care of for the day; they were relatively close together and knew their mate was nearby and necessities had been dealt with, so they could relax; certainly they would have snagged a ready meal if very obvious, but no more such activity was observed, so these adults knew that requirements of the day had been fulfilled
  17. Baltimore Oriole: 2, and then more as they are an active species at the heart city
  18. Barn Swallow: 16
  19. Bell's Vireo: 1 strongly singing on public land north of Valentine on a late-May day and such a subtlety, but obviously the vivid song a territorial male is completely indifferent to anything other than attracting a male to its territory
  20. Belted Kingfisher: 10; they like the Minnechaduza Creek environs and if not there, around the Mill Pond
  21. Black Tern: 4
  22. Black-capped Chickadee: 36
  23. Black-necked Grebe: 2
  24. Blue Jay: 31; it was quite eloquent when a rancher said that their call was "thief"; a resident of Valentine shared their experience that one of these birds pulled a relatively newborn House Wren from a nest box
  25. Blue-grey Gnatcatcher: 1
  26. Blue-winged Teal: 39; these fowl appreciate and rely upon wetland spaces of the plains
  27. Bobolink: 9; their song is truly wonderful music of the lowland meadows of the Sandhills!
  28. Brown Creeper: 1; to have finally seen this species was an exciting day at the Valentine City Park as an expectation finally met reality
  29. Brown Thrasher: 14
  30. Brown-headed Cowbird: 33
  31. Bufflehead: 3
  32. Burrowing Owl: 1; a fine bunch at a prairie-dog town south of Thedford, with the exciting expectation when the adults will have young that move around a burrow
  33. Cackling Goose: 4
  34. Canada Goose: 60
  35. Canvasback: 1
  36. Cedar Waxwing: 12
  37. Chimney Swift: 7; cool temperatures have not been conducive to the dispersal to brreding season temperatures, as noted at Valentine
  38. Chipping Sparrow: 31
  39. Cinnamon Teal: 1; a simply beautiful male at Brownlee place, where is was hanging out with more numerous Blue-winged Teal
  40. Clay-colored Sparrow: 4
  41. Common Grackle: 58
  42. Common Merganser: 5
  43. Common Nighthawk: 1; more prevalent than indicated
  44. Common Pheasant: 6
  45. Common Starling: 51; these are not Europeans
  46. Common Yellowthroat: 9
  47. Cooper's Hawk: 1
  48. Dark-eyed Junco: 33; numbers of these active snowbirds during cold months make winter more tolerable
  49. Double-crested Cormorant: 11
  50. Downy Woodpecker: 34
  51. Eastern Bluebird: 37
  52. Eastern Kingbird: 13
  53. Eastern Meadowlark: 26
  54. Eastern Phoebe: 11
  55. Eastern Wood-Pewee: 2
  56. Eurasian Collared Dove: 65
  57. Field Sparrow: 8
  58. Franklin's Gull: 5; experiencing the occurrence of these birds might make anyone realize the wonderful exuberance that birds can express
  59. Gadwall: 20
  60. Grasshopper Sparrow: 5
  61. Great Blue Heron: 20
  62. Great Crested Flycatcher: 3
  63. Great Egret: 1; a number of one does not convey the reality of the great occurrence of a flock at Goose Lake WMA
  64. Great Grey Shrike: 2
  65. Great Horned Owl: 13
  66. Great Northern Loon: 1
  67. Greater Prairie-Chicken: 12; how many people in Nebraska took the time to visit a lek this year? That could certainly be a goal to achieve.
  68. Greater Yellowlegs: 2
  69. Green-winged Teal: 7
  70. Grey Catbird: 4; keeping records of this species would be much simpler if they would quit sounding like the Brown Thrasher
  71. Hairy Woodpecker: 15
  72. Harris's Sparrow: 1
  73. Hooded Merganser: 2
  74. Horned Grebe: 2
  75. Horned Lark: 24; this is a true bird of prairie lands of the sandhills and can be easily seen during any drive through the domain
  76. House Finch: 49
  77. House Sparrow: 47
  78. House Wren: 22
  79. Killdeer: 36
  80. Lark Bunting: 1; three were seen along a county road in the Gracie Flats area
  81. Lark Sparrow: 15; these are busy little prairie birds with plumage very indicative as each one of them traverse the land where they survive
  82. Least Flycatcher: 1
  83. Least Sandpiper: 1
  84. Lesser Scaup: 6
  85. Lesser Yellowlegs: 3
  86. Lincoln's Sparrow: 6
  87. Loggerhead Shrike: 3; more observations of this species would be appreciated
  88. Long-billed Curlew: 1
  89. Long-billed Dowitcher: 1; anyone that owns land where this species occurs, has a place to treasure
  90. Mallard: 60
  91. Marsh Wren: 5
  92. Merlin: 1; a bird vividly vivacious
  93. Mourning Dove: 59
  94. Northern Bobwhite: 1
  95. Northern Cardinal: 36
  96. Northern Flicker: 65
  97. Northern Harrier: 4
  98. Northern Pintail: 1
  99. Northern Rough-winged Swallow: 7
  100. Northern Shoveler: 19
  101. Orchard Oriole: 5
  102. Pectoral Sandpiper: 1
  103. Pied-billed Grebe: 3
  104. Purple Martin: 3; some people in Valentine make an effort to provide nesting structures and the places might require a "battle" with unwanter English Sparrow pair which like to take advantage of any suitable cavity where they can raise a brood
  105. Red Crossbill: 2; don't even ask me which subspecies these birds were...
  106. Red-bellied Woodpecker: 11
  107. Red-breasted Nuthatch: 20
  108. Red-eyed Vireo: 1
  109. Redhead: 2
  110. Red-headed Woodpecker: 7
  111. Red-tailed Hawk: 23
  112. Red-winged Blackbird: 77
  113. Ring-billed Gull: 2
  114. Ring-necked Duck: 5
  115. Rock Dove: 18
  116. Rose-breasted Grosbeak: 2 males singing from a tree-top on the west edge of the Valentine City Park
  117. Rough-legged Buzzard: 1
  118. Ruby-crowned Kinglet: 5
  119. Ruddy Duck: 8
  120. Sand Martin: 1; their further occurrence is pending
  121. Sandhill Crane: 2; I was looking forward to a visit to the Niobrara valley to discover them nesting, but this will not occur because of the manager of the Hutton Niobrara Valley Wildlife Sanctuary where they have nested since 2012 and are even present this season, striving to raise a colt or two
  122. Say's Phoebe: 1
  123. Sharp-shinned Hawk: 3
  124. Sharp-tailed Grouse: 1
  125. Snow Goose: 2
  126. Song Sparrow: 16
  127. Spotted Sandpiper: 4; this is my species of the month because it lives on the fringe of ever-changing water habitats while being readily seen
  128. Spotted Towhee: 13 which are a regular and appreciated subtlety of the area wildlands
  129. Swainson's Hawk: 1
  130. Townsend's Solitaire: 4; they became obvious as they prefer tree-top places to convey their presence
  131. Tree Swallow: 13
  132. Trumpeter Swan: 2; there is a personal curiosity why two of these magnificent birds were about Valentine Mill Pond in mid-May
  133. Turkey Vulture: 27; if there is one question that I'd like to get an answer to is what do these birds eat during their summer occurrence in the vicinity of Valentine ... there is no one that can provide any sort of factual details so, alas, it is a situation where nature provides!
  134. Upland Sandpiper: 17
  135. Vesper Sparrow: 1
  136. Warbling Vireo: 3
  137. Western Kingbird: 10
  138. Western Meadowlark: 50 in country settings, but a singing male was also appreciated late in the month as it sang on a late-May date along the Cowboy Trail at the Valentine Livestock Auction Company place
  139. Western Osprey: 3
  140. White-breasted Nuthatch: 49
  141. White-crowned Sparrow: 13
  142. White-faced Ibis: 2; there are few opportunities to see a signinficant number of these birds so the flock that gathered at Goose Lake WMA was a special occurrence
  143. Wild Turkey: 22
  144. Willet: 2
  145. Willow Flycatcher: 1
  146. Wilson's Phalarope: 6
  147. Wilson's Snipe: 7
  148. Wood Duck: 29
  149. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker: 1; it was a highlight day to see a bird active on a tree at the Valentine City Park
  150. Yellow-headed Blackbird: 15

As this missive was being revised near the end of the month, Lark Sparrow were active outside the shack window, as well as some House Finch and an active pair of Eastern Kingbird. A male Red-winged Blackbird was striving to attract a female for the season, but alas, it was more than obvious that his efforts would have no success. His vivid wing-spreading display was none-the-less appreciated while he was perched on the top of a fence post.

Because of potential opportunities to visit more land places this year than in 2016 the tally increased. In 2016 the number of species seen during the year was 152. Being able to visit Goose Lake WMA and its associated environs in the spring of 2017 has been a boon to seeing a greater variety of species.

There needs to be more surveys done to record species occurrence and how important that the Great American Sandhills is for wildbirds of North America. There is a special need to do surveys in the western extent of the area, notably at prominent lakes and wetlands.

Perhaps a particular day was special because of some specific observation. This is not the case. Every bird observation deserves a similar consideration. All wildbirds are important. It is a grand to be able to be able to indicate how birds are an essential facet of Nebraska lands.