Wildbirds are a great and ongoing attraction, and during the eclipse and other times during 2017 in Grant county, several people took the time to look upon a scene and kept notes that indicated the occurrence of 70 species.
The initial known bird outing of the year was at the Hyannis cemetery on March 15, when a travelling group spent 40 minutes to see what was present. Their report is especially interesting as four variations of Dark-eyed Junco were seen (ebird.org checklist by Rick Wright) that had origins in different regions of North America. A Townsend’s Solitaire seen was the first one reported since March, 2009.
There was a nice report submitted by Nebraskan William Flack for a site on the south Whitman Road at the Cherry Valley Road on March 30th. His tally was 20 species including a fine variety of waterfowl including numerous Northern Shoveler and Gadwall, some Canvasback as well as two magnificent Trumpeter Swan present as reported with pictorial documentation.
Avocet WMA was a prominent locale for ornithological history of the year as it is adjacent along Highway 2. Some tally’s reported were based upon a few minutes spent to take a look. There were 44 species noted in April, May and August. Waterfowl had a prominent occurrence. There was also large numbers of pelicans, ibis. The site is also notable for the unusual occurrence of Great-tailed Grackle.
During the August eclipse, observer Bernard Morris parked at the gas station – when not watching the sky during a three hour period – kept a list of species present across the highway at the wildlife area that included three species of raptors and two sorts of terns.
Birder Flack did a walk-about in the eastern extent of Whitman on August 23rd, with an online submission reporting the occurrence of 14 species. Another visitor reported a few species for their driveby.
Many of the years’ records are transitory observations kept while someone was driving along either Highway 2 or Highway 61. Some of these sightings could be designated to a particular locality, but those submitting the record are not aware of local place-names, so instead indicate a name referring to a broad, generic locality.
There was a survey done at the Apache Ranch by an employee of the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies, but since it occurred on private property, details are not publicly available. This was apparently the only visit to a site significantly away from a prominent roadway.
Among the shorebirds seen were the Killdeer, Spotted Sandpiper, Greater Yellowlegs and Lesser Yellowlegs and Willet. There was for some reason only one report of a Long-billed Curlew.
In considering the years’ observations, it is obvious there is a relative dearth of sightings in Grant county, as a larger number of species would be expected to occur. Nothing was reported about the Blue Jay, which appears to have a sporadic occurrence at Hyannis. It is very surprising that there was no recorded occurrence of the Downy Woodpecker. In regards to the Horned Lark and Marsh Wren, one report of each is not indicative as they both have a broader wide-spread range. The same applies to the Common Yellowthroat, which would be expected amidst the habitats at Avocet WMA and other spaces, in addition to the singular 2017 observation at Frye Lake WMA. There was no mention of Chimney Swift at Hyannis, though it has been seen in the urban setting in many past years. Why is it that the only report of a House Wren for the county dates to 2007? Is an indication of range or due to a lack of reported sightings? The lack of any report of Dark-eyed Junco is also indicative of a lesser extent of observational occurrences, as this species is prevalent in winter times within the region.
If an observer had driven south of Ashby to Alkali Lake, there would have certainly been a greater diversity of species occurrence to report because its features are quite unique and any wildbirds present can be seen from a roadside vantage. Though there were sightings from Whitman, there was no mention of Doc Lake. Nothing was referred to Wolfenberger Lakes though it is also adjacent to and visible from Highway 2. There were no reports from the Gudmundsen Sandhills Laboratory that is publicly owned and seemingly conducive to visits. Surprisingly, no birder apparently visited DeFair Lake WMA, which, based upon personal experience, is a fine place and even nice enough to spend an overnight in the parking lot.
There are 192 species of birds that are known to occur within the county, based upon an overall consideration that includes historic occurrences. Considering the more than 300 species of birds that occur in the sandhill region, the overall tally is also less than what would be expected.
On an aside, it seems obvious that the overall availability of birding places within Grant county is not known to an extent that could result in more and/or extended visits. When obvious public lands are not visited, it is likely the result of a lack of knowledge of their being available for bird watching?
This is a list of the species observed, and which was not submitted with the article for the newspaper. Species are listed in taxonomic sequence.