Having gathered details for the wildbirds that occur in the immediate vicinity of Valentine, NE on a regular basis for three years, it is possible to present a summary of how they appreciate local habitats. Numbers of occurrence are indicative while some sightings of individuals can be significant and an exciting time to personally appreciate and observe basic avian activity and interactions of their nature. Especially valuable is the expression of typical species during particular times, and which conveys a “picture” of avifauna for a place and time.
Most prominent during weeks of these months were Canada Goose. Hundreds were prevalent in one manner or another. Once ice covered the surface of the Valentine Mill Pond, the flocks gathered elsewhere, notably on the nearby Niobrara River. They could regularly be seen flying northward as seen every day, though only representative counts were kept. Among the big geese there were typically a few of their smaller compatriots, the Cackling Goose.
The open waters of Minnechaduza Creek eastward of the Valentine Mill Pond and for a distance into the Valentine City Park provide a local open-water setting notably appreciated by Mallard and a single Belted Kingfisher. The time of day when viewed can make an obvious difference in seeing whether the 2-3 Mallard are floating on the water, or the kingfisher is perched at an appropriate place, waiting for a little fish to be prominent in its view. Sadly, the kingfisher was not seen in the first two months of 2018.
Notably missing were Northern Bobwhite. They were seen once during the winter months at the North Lake Shore Hills and then not noted again ... no observations nor any of their vocalizations. There are only four known records for this species in the immediate vicinity (November, 16 seen and December 2015 when 12 were seen), so this fine bird has never been common and occurs while dealing the vagaries of weather and an occurrence at the fringe of their range. Their occurrence within the sandhill region deserves further consideration.
Wild Turkey are area residents, but once they gather for the season, they have their own routine and may not be seen at sites where observations were kept on a most regular basis. An expanded sphere of observation would contribute to further notable details but cold, snow, hefty wind and lack of motorized transport had a stifling influence.
A certain occurrence has been the regularly seen pair of Red-tailed Hawk. They have selected a place to nest and raise another generation. Most prominently in 2018 they fly together above the pines where there will be a spring nest. Any intruders have been driven away. Their soaring flight as a couple became more obvious as winter somewhat receded.
A nocturnal comparison is the pair of Great Horned Owl. They have also been very expressive where they claim a place for them to have an early season nest, and where the owlets have survived the cold and snows during the first weeks of 2018.
A particular change beneficial for watching and enjoying avian activity, especially during January and February in 2018, was providing bird seeds at my residence. It is an obvious attractant, notably for the American Tree Sparrow and Dark-eyed Junco (not to mention White-tailed Deer and the resident cotton-tailed rabbit or two). Being able to stealthily look out the front door and watch the wildbirds getting regular food that helped their survival, was always a joy for each day.
Brown Creeper are undoubtedly more prevalent than indicated, but their so subtle occurrence is not very readily seen. And this adage also applies to any kinglets. A couple of species are indicated as being transients, and it was often a matter of luck to observe the Great Grey Shrike and Townsend’s Solitaire as they do not “announce” their presence. The same for Merlin.
The records used to compile this winter-season list are from regular observations kept while going about typical daily routines on 73 particular dates from December 2015 and then during the months of December, January and February through 2018.
Considering the list of 46 observed species, the following tabular summary notably indicates the species that are regular residents during the winter. Other species are present but not as obvious, though they may have a more regular occurrence, especially further to the east where there is a greater extent of deciduous woodland. Having detailed records of daily occurrence of many species can be useful to evaluate trends. Species nomenclature is that presented by the International Ornithological Council, 2018 (version 8.1). Values given are a summary for the number seen during the particular month.
|Proper Name||Dec 2015||Jan 2016||Feb 2016||Dec 2016||Jan 2017||Feb 2017||Dec 2017||Jan 2018||Feb 2018|
|Cackling Goose||20||6||- -||- -||5||14||- -||4||11|
|Trumpeter Swan||- -||2||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||7|
|Ring-necked Duck||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||2||- -|
|Common Merganser||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||6||- -||- -||- -|
|Northern Bobwhite||12||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -|
|Wild Turkey||1||- -||7||- -||- -||- -||2||- -||- -|
|Sharp-shinned Hawk||1||1||1||- -||1||- -||1||1||1|
|Cooper's Hawk||- -||2||- -||- -||- -||- -||1||- -||- -|
|Red-tailed Hawk||3||2||- -||5||3||5||6||1||3|
|Rough-legged Buzzard||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||1||1||- -||1|
|Eurasian Collared Dove||50||90||48||29||31||21||95||75||73|
|Great Horned Owl||2||2||3||- -||4||2||1||2||3|
|Belted Kingfisher||- -||2||1||- -||- -||- -||4||1||- -|
|Red-bellied Woodpecker||7||6||- -||3||1||2||5||3||- -|
|Merlin||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||1|
|Great Grey Shrike||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||1||- -|
|Cedar Waxwing||- -||20||6||12||27||- -||1||- -||- -|
|Horned Lark||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||8||- -||109||- -|
|Ruby-crowned Kinglet||- -||1||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||5||- -|
|Red-breasted Nuthatch||1||3||5||- -||5||4||1||9||2|
|Brown Creeper||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||1|
|Common Starling||- -||27||- -||- -||27||39||19||28||11|
|Eastern Bluebird||- -||19||9||8||5||11||- -||13||1|
|Townsend's Solitaire||- -||- -||1||- -||1||- -||- -||2||- -|
|Red-winged Blackbird||- -||- -||- -||2||7||245||- -||- -||- -|
|Song Sparrow||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||3||- -|
|Harris's Sparrow||1||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -|
|American Tree Sparrow||3||8||6||- -||4||4||3||- -||3|
|Eastern Towhee||- -||- -||- -||1||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -|
There have been previous observations at Valentine. Records are available for December 2004 and January 2006. The overall tally for these two historic months was 21 species.