People looking to see a fine variety of wildbirds came to Cherry county during 2017 and spent time afield amidst a great diversity of natural habitats. Some visitors walked a ways carrying binoculars to look about bird activity. Others drove a route suitable to get a view fine enough to see some particular sort of bird varying in size from itty-bitty wrens to the magnificent Trumpeter Swan. There was a spotting scope used at some time or another to get a better view.
During personal time outdoors, written notes meant details were kept, with some detailed records submitted to an online bird record archive; in a few instances documentary photographs were included. Some of these contributors were submitted as the bird watchers enjoyed heart city amenities, including online access available at the Valentine Public Library. Many of the records are because of contributions by transient bird enthusiasts, though some guys working for the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies did surveys on days when they were not doing work-related tasks. At least two city residents kept watch.
Overall, there were 194 species observed by bird watchers on many days during 2017 in Cherry county.
At Valentine NWR, with its variety of habitats including various lakes and wetlands, along with grassland expanses where prairie grouse thrive, was a great space of special interest and significance. About ten reports indicate results of visits during March to November, some which were based upon a survey by a single individual, with a few others involving a small group travelling along and keeping track of observations. More than 75 species were seen during some multiple hours looking during an outing on a single day. There were even anecdotes from a county official flying over the area, and observing the situation of habitat and changes in its condition. Wetland management efforts, such as carp removal, can have a significant influence on the quality of lake waters, its vegetation, and the value of extant habitat suitable for the survival of wildbirds.
At least 144 species were noted on the refuge, based upon visits during the summer months. They provide a detailed indication of breeding and migratory birds. An especially notable spring occurrence was a Piping Plover on April 21st at the Clear Lake boat ramp, as reported by Clay Crofton. This species rarely occurs in the lake district, with a unique history during decades past. Numbers of waterfowl were especially prevalent in November, including a very distinct sighting by Joel Jorgensen, nongame biologist of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, of four Surf Scoter at Pelican Lake on November 1st and which likely represents the first sighting of this species at the refuge, while it has been seen on a few dates at other sandhill places further south; Red-breasted Merganser was another significant sighting.
Second on the list for number of species seen during the year was the immediate vicinity of Valentine, with a tally of 125 species. This is due to year-round observations kept by a resident at local sites such as the Mill Pond, city park and within the urban setting. Two visitors reported what they saw during summer-time sojourns at the park – walking the trails while looking and listening – and among the city. The observations were sublime, as within the woodland of the park, songs of the warblers and other species require a focus on songs to ensure a correct species identification.
Especially significant for the Heart City is an obvious interest in providing food for birds. Many residents have feeders – which is an obvious ongoing expense – to get proper seed situated suitably to provide something edible to help wildbirds get nourishment that helps with their survival when frigid temperatures prevail.
At Fort Niobrara NWR, 84 species were noted by six different observers that submitted reports to ebird.org. Most of the visits were during the months of May-September; there were three separate surveys in July. Refuge staff do an annual breeding bird survey in early June, but that information is not yet available for evaluation, more than six months after the survey was done.
There were four reports for places along the Niobrara National Scenic River, especially in June, with three from camp grounds or a particular place, with only one report being the result of a float trip. The species tally totaled 57. Though fewer records are available, two especially significant sightings occurred: 1) a Mississippi Kite well seen by Dave Sandahl as it sat on a fence post and chased insects at Sharp’s Campground on June 5th; and, 2) a Northern Saw-whet Owl well heard with extensive notes submitted by Matt Beisel for a nocturnal June 10th occurrence at Smith Falls State Park. These are two newly known species to have occurred in the Niobrara valley, as they have not been previously observed, based upon an evaluation of a multitude of records for many decades past. The river valley is also a haven for the Eastern Whip-poor-will as they are pervasive in the breeding season. There is nothing better than floating along the languid waters of the Niobrara while these birds are so vocal with their distinct call that indicates their territorial presence.
Additional details of birds along this river corridor will eventually become available when a terse summary report is issued, based upon contract work done annually by the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies for the National Park Service.
Other locales where birds were denoted included Elsmere where William Flack did a walk-about on April 28th (15 species at this place along Goose Creek), as well as the ranch country in the Brownlee vicinity where a roadside wetland to its east provided sightings of importance, including a Cinnamon Teal on April 17th, and then some Brewer’s Blackbird amidst a horde of Red-winged Blackbird on November 4th. Westerly along Brush Creek was a fine-looking Merlin perched on a tree.
A personal highlight for the year was observing more than 150 species in Cherry county, based upon records dutifully kept in a database. There had been an ornithological challenge issued associated with the Nebraska sesquicentennial for an individual to observe a number of species that would match the number of years since the state was organized. My tally was 157, based mostly upon the wildbirds present near Valentine, but also because of a few occasional, and appreciated forays to the south Valentine country and an appreciated visit to distinctive Anderson Bridge WMA.
A whole-bunch of bird-watching occurs each year within Cherry county. Though there are many available records – especially historic – the reality of bird occurrence within the entirety of the county is certainly lacking in regards to suitable current details. There were no survey reports for the southwest and other significant sections of the county during 2017. This is indicative of a lack of knowledge on the occurrence and distribution of important species, including those of conservation concern.
Pervasive and appreciated birds of many sorts were enjoyed in this region last year. With the new year underway, there can be many times of special occurrence for those with an interest and that keep an eye on activities of our feathered friends!
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 used by the International Ornithological Congress rather than an American association.
Specifics for each of the sightings are available and there could be an individual evaluation for each species, including a presentation of numbers and the chronology of occurrence and to some extent, where they were seen.