There was an unusual bird convergence during the Memorial Day weekend, because Anne Quigley is attentive at the Valentine Public Library. She was an essential link that brought together visiting birders with local bird-watchers. Mrs. Quigley made the introduction at the Valentine Public Library. Conversation ensued on a Friday afternoon with many topics of discussion, but most importantly was an agreement to have the visitors go along on a previously scheduled visit to the Vanderploeg Ranch on Sunday morning on the 28th, where Marvin Venderploeg was once again a gracious host.
Along with Mike Nicosia (from New York state) and Dan Horton (from Colorado) – both seasonal employees for the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies (BCR) – was Gordon Warrick, of Valentine.
Morning hours were spent traversing the ranch looking for different wild birds. Records were kept of specific sightings, with 62 different species observed, nearly all of them breeding season residents.
Resident Bald Eagle were lingering around their nest, and one of them was defensive as we drove past, protecting young that were likely present on a heap of sticks atop a stunted pine. We did not linger here to ensure minimal disturbance. Nearby, at the Niobrara valley marsh, only a single Trumpeter Swan was seen. Vanderploeg mentioned later that the swans did have a cygnet, but that it was a difficult season for these waterfowl because the beaver had left and the water levels kept changing, rather than being maintained at a nominal level due to the waterworks of the mammals. Despite an effort by Warrick to determine the location of a nest, it was not noticeable.
These are some notable sightings. Along the northern extent of Schlagel Creek there was a singing Black-headed Grosbeak, which has a regular range further to the west. A short distance away, was a Blue Grosbeak. Great Crested Flycatcher were pervasive among the lowland bur oak trees. Red-headed Woodpecker were boisterous, and they were certainly appreciative that there were no insidious starlings that might steal their nest cavity. There was the Orchard Oriole and the Baltimore Oriole. Both outstate visitors really enjoyed a nice bunch of Stilt Sandpiper foraging on the riverine marsh. Warblers seen included the diminutive Common Yellowthroat, American Redstart, Yellow Warbler, a vociferous Yellow-breasted Chat in a brushy swale along Schlagel Creek, and a single Ovenbird at The Island, one of the many special ranch spaces as named by our host.
Another highlight was the unusual co-occurrence of both the Eastern Wood-Pewee and Western Wood-Pewee, within the area of the Niobrara River valley well recognized for occurrences of bird hybridization as the range of a western species overlaps with one typical of the east.
A bunch of Brown-headed Cowbird were enjoying the corn spread near the house. Wild Turkeys thrive on the same source of food. He is also every attentive to the life of birds. He explained that a House wren was nesting in a tree limb cavity outside his home window, and then, there it was bringing food to its young. Nearby was a nest box occupied by a pair of Wood Duck and another by two American Kestrel.
Notable for Horton was seeing Scarlet Tanager, a pair present being a new addition to his life list of birds seen, as discovered by three birders walking among the trees, binoculars pointed in the arboreal realm to determine the bird that was singing at his place among the trees.
Because of the many wild birds present on this particular day of late spring, the known tally of species for the ranch increased to 111 from 97. A notable addition were many Swainson’s Thrush, common among the oaks of the riverine terrace. Other sorts were newly realized because there had not ever been a thorough breeding season survey completed. Shallow water conditions were conducive for the foraging sandpipers. The increase was also because the bird men present each had different skills, and as a team, there was a dramatically better result.
The last but not least species of the outing was a Loggerhead Shrike, busy hunting for lunch near the ranch entrance.
Marvin Vanderploeg is a birdman of daily occurrence from his south window, and very less often, international occurrence. This honorific is deserving he cares about birds every day, and the attention given to land management at the ranch south of Valentine. Each of us birders there on Sunday morning were in agreement. A special treat for the outstate visitors was being able to appreciate his personal collection of special birds, as carefully kept.
The BCR duo were in Valentine to enjoy some days off prior to doing contract surveys at McKelvie Forest and along the Niobrara River. They came to the Heart City, and spent dollars, because the area is a “good place to bird,” said Nicosia. They had “great birding” at Fort Niobrara NWR and then Valentine NWR where 79 species were seen on Saturday.
The work crew will eventually include eight people, as they continue eastward to surveys along the Missouri River. Their scientific protocol includes denoting bird occurrence at specific, measured grids and denoting vegetative characteristics.
Nicosia and Horton were very impressed with the unique birdlife and habitat conditions of the Vanderploeg Ranch. It was a great bird-watching field trip and each of us appreciated the uniqueness of this place where Marvin and Martin Vanderploeg are dedicated to care of the land and its natural life, big or small.
By the way, each of the two heart city visitors were given a bull-sale cap as a souvenir, having heard some words about livestock, the local sale barn and cattle grazing particulars.
The field trip was a great way to end Migratory Bird Month in Nebraska.
This is a list of the species seen.
An accipiter hawk seen was seen flitting above the valley ridge, but was too far away to determine an accurate identification.