14 November 2017

Newly Opened Saline Wetland Tract Attracts Wildbirds

A recently opened tract of saline wetlands north of Lincoln has been an exciting place to visit for area birders.

Marsh Wren Community Wetlands "just opened in July and most birders weren't aware of it until September when I told Esa Jarvi about it and that's when he started promoting it on NEBirds," said Shari Schwartz, of Lincoln who has visited the area a few times.

"A mixture of available habitat is a factor that explains the extended list of species," Schwartz said. "A walk along the path leads past saline habitats with narrow-leaf cattails that host good marsh sparrows, wooded edges that attract accipiters and sparrows that utilize brush, seedy prairie patches for grassland sparrows, and a pond for ducks that has shallow edges bordered with cattails that houses rails and bitterns. There's even a bald eagle nest that hopefully will be active this spring."

"It's fun to explore a place that is somewhat yet undiscovered," said Schwartz. "The unit was so new and untrammeled, there wasn't a single scrap of litter in the new gravel parking lot. That was a memorable moment in my life!"

"It's really awesome it was protected because you can see housing has already gone in on the east border of the property," said Schwartz. "One concern I noticed was the source of the emergent springs is at the base of a hill where there's a private corn field that you can guarantee is depositing all kinds of pesticide and fertilizer into the ground water there. The Lower Platte South NRD (LPSNRD) co-manages it so you'd think they'd care about that but there's likely nothing they can do about that adjacent private property."

Management goals for the area include, said Tom Malmstrom, saline wetlands coordinator for the NRD:

  • Restore a source of saline ground water to the historical basins.
  • Manipulate the surface water hydrology providing multiple benefits for migratory avian species, halophytes, fresh water and saline water dependent non migratory species.
  • Utilize the restored wetlands for the benefits of threatened and endangered species.

Site work included fence construction, sediment removal, drainage channel stabilization structures and sediment traps, designation of vegetation management zones, embankment repair, placement of water control structures, and installation of a wetland enhancement berm.

Site restoration work was recently completed, with funding for the site work and engineering provided by the LPSNRD and a 2012 Nebraska Environmental Trust grant to the City of Lincoln, and funds from the eastern saline wetlands project, said Malmstrom. Other support was provided through the Saline Wetlands Conservation Partnership, which consist of the City of Lincoln, LPSNRD, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, and Pheasants Forever.

The eastern portion of the tract comprising 80 acres was purchased in 2009, said Mamlstrom. An addition of 50 acres on the western extent of the property was purchased in 2012. The Lower Platte South NRD is the area owner. The eastern extent of the area was used for years as a hunting club.

Particularly notable features of the site includes: saline wetland habitat, freshwater pond, two spring seeps, the confluence of Little Salt Creek and Salt Creek which forms the southern boundary, a small woodland area where bald eagle nests occur. In addition to a foot path and overlook, there is a roadway that can be hiked. The area parking lot is on Alvo Road, eastward from Northwest 40th Street.

This is a tally of the species that have been observed at the area from near the end of September through the first week of November, 2017. More than 35 checklists have been submitted to ebirds, enough to make the site a birding hotspot. The number of species seen during a particular visit have ranged from eight to 53, as well as 46 and 47. The ebird "species list was initially compiled during a time frame for the peak intersection of breeding marsh birds and migrating sparrows making for a hefty total right out of the gate," said Schwartz.

Figure showing management work done at the wetland area.

  1. Greater White-fronted Goose
  2. Canada Goose
  3. Wood Duck
  4. American Wigeon
  5. Mallard
  6. Blue-winged Teal
  7. Northern Shoveler
  8. Northern Pintail
  9. Green-winged Teal
  10. Ring-necked Pheasant
  11. Wild Turkey
  12. Northern Bobwhite
  13. Pied-billed Grebe
  14. Double-crested Cormorant
  15. American Bittern
  16. Great Blue Heron
  17. Great Egret
  18. Green Heron
  19. Turkey Vulture
  20. Bald Eagle
  21. Northern Harrier
  22. Sharp-shinned Hawk
  23. Cooper's Hawk
  24. Red-tailed Hawk
  25. Rough-legged Hawk
  26. American Kestrel
  27. Merlin
  28. Virginia Rail
  29. Sora
  30. American Coot
  31. Killdeer
  32. Spotted Sandpiper
  33. Lesser Yellowlegs
  34. Wilson's Snipe
  35. Franklin's Gull
  36. Ring-billed Gull
  37. Herring Gull
  38. Eurasian Collared-Dove
  39. Mourning Dove
  40. Great Horned Owl
  41. Belted Kingfisher
  42. Red-headed Woodpecker
  43. Red-bellied Woodpecker
  44. Downy Woodpecker
  45. Hairy Woodpecker
  46. Northern Flicker
  47. Blue Jay
  48. American Crow
  49. Horned Lark

    Aerial view showing property boundary of the wetland area.

  50. Barn Swallow
  51. Black-capped Chickadee
  52. White-breasted Nuthatch
  53. House Wren
  54. Sedge Wren
  55. Marsh Wren
  56. Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  57. Eastern Bluebird
  58. American Robin
  59. Gray Catbird
  60. European Starling
  61. Orange-crowned Warbler
  62. Nashville Warbler
  63. Yellow-rumped Warbler
  64. Palm Warbler
  65. Common Yellowthroat
  66. Spotted Towhee
  67. American Tree Sparrow
  68. Chipping Sparrow
  69. Clay-colored Sparrow
  70. Field Sparrow
  71. Vesper Sparrow
  72. Lark Sparrow
  73. Savannah Sparrow
  74. Grasshopper Sparrow
  75. Henslow's Sparrow
  76. Le Conte's Sparrow
  77. Nelson's Sparrow
  78. Fox Sparrow
  79. Song Sparrow
  80. Lincoln's Sparrow
  81. Swamp Sparrow
  82. White-throated Sparrow
  83. Harris's Sparrow
  84. White-crowned Sparrow
  85. Dark-eyed Junco
  86. Dickcissel
  87. Red-winged Blackbird
  88. Eastern Meadowlark
  89. Western Meadowlark
  90. Yellow-Headed Blackbird
  91. Common Grackle
  92. Brown-headed Cowbird
  93. House Finch
  94. Pine Siskin
  95. American Goldfinch

There will certainly be more species observed as birders continue their visits. Especially valuable will be details on species present during the breeding season.

This area is an addition to other saline wetlands protected and which occur mostly northward of Lincoln.

"There are approximately 4,309 acres of Nebraska’s eastern saline wetlands remaining," Malmstrom said. "To date, approximately 1,590 acres of these wetlands are protected through conservation partner ownership and are open to the public."