21 May 2018

Special Recognition Given to Unique Nebraska Conservationist

Two events occurred during mid-May to recognize the many efforts by Ione Werthman a farm girl raised near Coleridge, Nebr. Her educational focus and concerns for the natural features would after years of interest and concern become a unique and special legacy associated with getting things done to protect natural resources in Nebraska.

A first recognition event occurred Thursday, May 17th at Heron Haven Wetland in west Omaha at the nature center which Ione was instrumental in working with the local NRD to establish a place where natural values continue on a daily basis at a prominent natural area within a developed urban environment filled with streets and buildings.

A proclamation issued by the Omaha City Council indicated it was “Ione Werthman Day.” A key aspect was that the city street on the north side of the haven was officially redesignated as “Ione Werthman Drive.”

More than 20 people were at the haven nature center event, according to a member of the Werthman family in attendance. People present included Sam Bennett, the current president of the Friends of Heron Haven group and who was instrumental in the recognition effort, Mark Brohman the director of the Nebraska Environmental Trust who has always been supportive of funding requests to promote conservation efforts for a bit of an urban wetland filled with natural life, and other people with an interest and luminaries, including Hal Daub.

Ione Werthman won awards from the Nebraska Wildlife Federation and National Audubon Society for her efforts, according to the proclamation signed by each member of the Omaha city council. This indicated item conveys a basic tenant given for the distinctive honoree: “Whereas, Ione Werthman has been referred to as a fierce protector of wildlife and one of Nebraska’s iconic conservationists” ...

It is very obvious that even years after her active efforts that some key people recognized a legacy and undertook successful efforts to recognize a personal legacy.

Valentine Recognition

During a drizzly, cool afternoon when incessant rain fell upon Valentine environs on Saturday the 19th, a fine group of people gathered to convey how so many did so many essential actions that resulted in the establishment of the Niobrara National Scenic River. The appreciation meeting was sponsored by the National Park Service.

There were many “Great Americans” recognized. Obviously Ione Werthamn and her husband Al were actively involved once efforts to conserve the free-flowing Niobrara River became an issue of a broad public concern.

Ione and Al’s son Jerry spoke first, and was “thankful for what my mom and dad did” while he shared some particular highlights of their legacy. Ione followed her husband as a leader of the Audubon Society of Omaha, then Nebraska Audubon Council and then to a national level as a member of the board of directors for National Audubon Society. She traveled to Washington D.C. three times to promote the designation of a significant portion of the Niobrara as a scenic river.

Also present was the couple’s daughter Jeanne.

In subsequent years, she was the key force behind the founding of Heron Haven, protecting a relic wetland from development and then directing its establishment as a distinct nature area with a nature center in a former bar.

An especially prominent event at the celebration was the unveiling of a framed document recognizing Ione’s involvement in getting the scenic river established. The wall hanging was loaned to the National Park Service for display at the Niobrara Scenic River visitor center.

Werthman Family at the recognition event at Valentine.

Many names were mentioned when Bruce Kennedy, member of Friends of the Niobrara River, spoke. He mentioned that the 1970s were “a dark period of those who loved rivers” in Nebraska. There were plans to place dams on the Platte, Calamus and Niobrara rivers. “Leadership emerged,” he said. “It was one of the most fantastic things I’ve ever seen.”

Ione Werthman was a member of the friends group since its beginning, and continues to be listed as a member, despite her death in 2016.

The extent of people that cared increased when Mel Thorton dramatically indicated his recollections. People individually recognized included Ron Klataska associated with the National Audubon Society (Kennedy recalled his horseback ride along the river valley to promote the scenic river; he initially bought the property that would eventually become the Fred Thomas WMA at the east end of the scenic river; and as a leader of the Audubon of Kansas was instrumental in establishing the Hutton Niobrara Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary along the Niobrara River), Fred Thomas an environmental reporter for the Omaha World-Herald that was an essential asset as he wrote of news and activities and continually contributed through reporting and personal interest until his death in 1999 with the Fred Thomas WMA officially dedicated in October 1999, Laura and Merle Curry, Franklin and Lillie Egelhoff, Loren Wilson who was one of the first outfitters along the river, Ernest Rousek and Tim Knott (he accompanied Ione to Washingto D.C. to speak to legislators about the need for a scenic river) of Audubon, as well as Wes Sandall an area rancher.

“These are our great Americans,” said Bruce Kennedy.

Mel Thorton talked about the effort to split an acre of land near Rocky Ford into 4840 square yard parcels that were sold for $25 each so that any effort to build a dam would have to individually deal with each owner. He explained that in 2008 the Niobrara River was listed as one of the ten most threatened river in the nation due to water being taken for irrigation purposes. Soon, the river was declared to be fully appropriated, impeding any further extractions.

Having an opportunity to personally comment, it was simply wonderful to remember an activist of past times. Ione Werthman was a compatriot. We were a team. We were goal oriented. If someone told us No, that was simply the wrong answer because there are times when that single word was a call to further action and “digging in the heels” to ensure conservation of something essential and valuable. Were we always successful? Of course not but we were still very effective. Ione and I learned as we collaborated together on activities mostly done in association with the Audubon society.

We would not let some bureaucrat impose their view that a development that would destroy uniquely valuable natural values because of the perceived need for something like a dam to provide water to irrigate corn fields. Or in later years to allow a natural spring book to get put into a culvert because engineers did not put in the time to achieve what had already been agreed to. The bureaucrats may have changed their mind, but an adamant no meant a redesign that meant there would be no culvert for the brook at Spring Lake Park, a City of Omaha project that would eventually win an environmental award for its design and implementation.

When attending a recognition dinner for having received environmentalist of the year award from Woodmen (for getting conservation management at a small public land parcel at Levi Carter Park), I made sure to invite Ione and insisted that she speak and share some of her recollections. She was the one that deserved the award. It was grand that she could share the spotlight and be publicly acknowledged.

I still remember visiting Ione in her room at the assisted living facility just a short distance from where she knew my family as we were active participants in the local church community.

Ione was my friend and I am pleased to have her been her ally and to have been helped her to get an oprational windmill from a Cherry county ranch at get it erected at Heron Haven. This effort failed, probably because she could be less involved as age was having its affect.
Perhaps, as an option, a Sandhills windmill should be placed at Rocky Ford if/when it becomes another unique river asset that the public can appreciate and treasure now and for future generations.

Ione Werthman was certainly a Great American. Her legacy continues to be known by activists including those involved in the conservation movement for so many past years, while new generations very much appreciate the Niobrara National Scenic River and Heron Haven.

There are some very prominent conservation concerns along the Niobrara River and the Sand Hills. It is heartening that several ranch women have stepped to the plate and are essential in efforts to protect the sandhills from industrial wind turbine facilities and industrial powerlines. Ione would certainly be pleased about this...

12 May 2018

Wildbirds Observed During April at Valentine, NE

It was another distinctive month for wildbirds present Valentine, Cherry County. A big difference for sightings during April this year was providing bird seed. It was so much easier to make observations when birds would be readily visible outside the window or front door rather than going in search of them. Feed is refreshed daily, and on occasion, more than once per day since the birds can be very hungry.


This gobbler was looking in the north window in early morning on April 28th, perhaps to see if the resident birder was awake and going to spread more seed for his companion turkeys to eat?

The Valentine Mill Pond was a prime place for waterfowl, and the results are indicative. Two species added to the overall regional tally from this locale were the Redhead and Bufflehead. There were also larger numbers of the Northern Shoveler (with the best occurrence in a flock number along Minnechaduza Creek, west of Highway 83), Gadwall and Green-winged Teal. Several sorts of waterfowl appreciate the cattail wetlands at the west end of the Valentine Mill Pond, just east of Highway 83. The Snow Goose was a flyover species, as was the Sandhill Crane, with the majority observed on a single day when numerous flocks were moving northward, with kettling in a spectacular manner over the pine-covered hills at the north edge of the city. Wild Turkey liked the free food and once the flock arrived as winter waned, they were daily visitors. There was no need for a morning alarm from a clock because the gobbling sufficed to indicate it was early morning.

Missed during the month was the Franklin's Gull. This was a result of timing, as probably my time of being observant outdoors was not when flocks of this species would have been transient over the locality, as they have been seen in the past. Swallows seemed to have a later arrival this year as none were observed locally during the month.

There were lots of usual observations for the many species that regularly occur or are residential. Chimney Swift were once again present along Main Street at the end of the month. Downy Woodpecker and Hairy Woodpecker are certainly local residents but they are not seen on a regular basis. Once the Icterids arrived, they became very common at the bird seed, with many Red-winged Blackbird, Brown-headed Cowbird and Common Grackle present daily. Their antics can be quite amusing, especially when a couple of the black birds have a dispute over a bit of seed when a few feet away there are seeds where there are no birds foraging. A male Northern Cardinal may not occur at the bird seed buffet on a daily basis, but it also needs to be noted that it may not be heard singing every day at the tree line just to the west. At least the small sparrows had a chance to feed, and often more seed was not put out to facilitate their feeding.

Harris's Sparrow were more prominent this spring. Larger numbers of the Dark-eyed Junco and American Tree Sparrow were counted because they were daily visitors to the bird seed buffet. The Lazuli Bunting was also seen when it foraged for a time one day at this food source.

The blizzard of April 13-14 had an impact on birds. One nest box occupied by Eastern Bluebird ended up filled to the entrance and then a crust of snow. The nest had contained five eggs, according to a local observer. The birds had not returned by the end of the month. South of the Heart City, carcasses of Sandhill Crane were found. There were other reports of crane mortality locally but the wildlife officer in the area of the Fish and Wildlife Service did not respond to an inquiry for further details.

White-tailed Deer were also appreciative of having a supplemental food source, often feeding four feet outside the front door. The corn-oats-barley mix disappeared in entirety each time they arrived, as seven deer are great consumers.

What is becoming more useful is that after years of ongoing observations, particulars associated with dates of occurrence can be compared, which is why all calendar dates are converted to julian date, since calendar dates cannot be grouped in a common fashion by a database query. A standard Julian date indication is the same for a particular date in any year.

Wildbirds Observed During April at Valentine
Proper Name     Julian Date > 93 94 100 101 102 103 105 107 109 110 112 120
Canada Goose -- 12 7 80 9 -- 22 -- -- 12 14 8
Wood Duck -- -- 3 -- -- 2 4 -- -- -- 10 --
Blue-winged Teal -- -- -- -- -- -- 8 -- -- 4 16 --
Northern Shoveler -- -- -- 15 -- -- 2 -- -- -- 32 --
Gadwall -- -- -- -- 8 -- 4 -- -- 7 4 --
American Wigeon -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- 2 3 --
Mallard -- 2 2 -- 6 -- -- -- -- 2 2 --
Green-winged Teal -- -- 18 -- -- -- 6 -- -- 1 -- --
Redhead -- -- -- -- -- -- 1 -- -- 1 -- --
Lesser Scaup -- -- -- 10 -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
Bufflehead -- 3 -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
Wild Turkey 1 8 7 18 9 1 2 11 12 -- 6 13
Great Blue Heron -- 1 1 -- -- -- -- 1 -- 1 -- 2
Double-crested Cormorant -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- 2 -- --
Turkey Vulture 1 17 28 75 -- -- -- 13 -- 12 8 4
Sharp-shinned Hawk -- -- 1 -- -- 1 1 1 -- -- -- --
Bald Eagle -- -- -- 1 1 -- -- -- -- -- -- --
Red-tailed Hawk -- -- 1 -- -- -- 1 -- -- -- -- --
American Coot -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- 1 --
Sandhill Crane -- -- -- -- -- -- -- 1400 65 -- -- --
Killdeer 1 1 1 -- -- -- 1 1 -- -- 1 2
Greater Yellowlegs -- -- 1 -- -- -- 1 -- -- -- -- --
American Herring Gull -- -- 4 -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
Rock Dove -- -- -- -- 16 -- -- -- -- -- -- 1
Eurasian Collared Dove 4 -- 7 -- 3 8 5 -- -- 4 7 9
Mourning Dove 2 2 4 3 3 3 5 -- -- 4 3 3
Great Horned Owl -- -- -- -- -- -- -- 1 -- -- -- --
Chimney Swift -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- 3
Belted Kingfisher 1 1 1 -- 1 -- 1 1 -- -- 1 --
Red-bellied Woodpecker -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- 1 --
Downy Woodpecker 1 -- 1 -- -- 1 3 -- -- -- 1 1
Hairy Woodpecker -- -- -- -- -- -- 1 -- -- -- -- --
Northern Flicker -- 1 1 -- -- 1 1 -- -- 1 2 --
Eastern Phoebe -- -- 1 -- -- -- -- -- 1 -- 4 --
Blue Jay -- -- -- -- 1 -- 1 -- -- -- -- 3
American Crow -- 2 2 -- 2 -- 2 -- -- 1 2 --
Black-capped Chickadee 3 -- 3 -- -- -- 3 -- -- -- 6 3
Red-breasted Nuthatch 1 -- 1 -- 1 -- 1 -- -- -- 1 --
White-breasted Nuthatch 2 -- 4 -- -- -- 2 -- -- -- 3 2
Brown Thrasher -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- 1
Common Starling -- -- 3 -- 6 -- -- -- -- -- -- 3
Eastern Bluebird -- 2 4 -- -- 2 3 -- -- -- 3 --
American Robin -- 5 23 -- 10 125 4 -- -- 6 44 21
House Sparrow -- -- 18 -- -- -- 27 -- -- -- 15 10
House Finch 2 -- 6 -- 4 -- 6 -- -- -- 13 8
American Goldfinch -- -- 3 -- -- -- 20 -- -- -- 5 11
Pine Siskin -- -- -- -- -- 1 -- -- -- -- -- --
Yellow-headed Blackbird -- -- -- -- -- 2 2 -- -- -- -- --
Western Meadowlark -- -- -- -- 2 -- -- -- -- -- 1 --
Red-winged Blackbird 45 -- 55 -- 35 85 100 -- -- 105 36 --
Brown-headed Cowbird -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- 8 8
Common Grackle 2 -- 30 -- -- 4 29 -- -- -- 36 12
Song Sparrow -- -- 1 -- -- -- 1 -- -- 2 2 --
Lincoln's Sparrow -- -- -- -- -- -- 2 -- -- -- 2 --
Harris's Sparrow 1 -- -- -- 1 1 2 -- -- -- 1 --
Dark-eyed Junco 12 14 22 10 6 50 40 27 -- 8 8 --
Savannah Sparrow 1 -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- 4 -- --
American Tree Sparrow 24 11 16 6 4 7 3 4 4 2 2 --
Chipping Sparrow -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- 3 10
Field Sparrow -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- 1 -- --
Clay-colored Sparrow -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- 1
Northern Cardinal -- -- 2 -- -- 2 2 -- -- -- 3 1
Lazuli Bunting -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- 1

The 63 species seen in 2018 compares to 63 in 2017 and 53 during the month in 2016. The overall tally for the three years combined is 80 species. Eventual plans are to prepare individual accounts for the more than 120 species observed in the immediate vicinity of Valentine and that would include detailed comparisons of numbers and dates of occurrence.

10 May 2018

Wildbirds Die Due to Collisions With Spinning Blades of Wind Turbines


Wildbirds Die Due to Collisions With Spinning Blades of Industrial Wind Turbines

Wind Turbine Facilities Destroy Distinct Habitat Essential for Wildbirds

Industrial wind turbines should not be built in Cherry County, a land internationally recognized as a haven for hundreds of species of appreciated and vital wildbirds and many other sorts of fauna and flora, as based upon decades of scientific records and efforts of so many appreciative people

Elect a county commissioner candidate that will say no to industrial wind turbines in Cherry County and prevent the destruction of habitats where wildbirds thrive

My vote will be for two leaders, Michael C. Young and James B. Ward who have publicly stated they would just say NO to industrial wind turbines

Paid for by James E. Ducey, Valentine; a birder that has traveled throughout the Great American Sand Hills since 1982 to learn about wildbirds, and which has resulted in an appreciation of the many important natural resources in the regions. These assets need to be recognized now so they can be present for future generations.

May 9, 2018. [Wildbirds die due to collisions with spinning blades of wind turbines.] Valentine Midland News 46(45): 11. A paid advertisement. The cost was $108.


09 May 2018

Application for Replacement of a US Cellular Communications Tower

Comments submitted to Cherry County Planning and Zoning Board by James E. Ducey; May 1, 2018. A copy of these comments was provided to each member of the board.

A public hearing cannot be held on this Conditional Use Permit 002/18 request to replace a communications tower north of Valentine because the application is not complete. There was not a suitable public notice as a single sentence within an ongoing paragraph on the public notice of the local newspaper is not sufficient, especially in comparison to the more prominent public notice issued for a public hearing at the county commissioner meeting.

The application associated with CUP 002/18 should not even be considered, and especially not approved, because it is deplorably inadequate. It does not include many items as required by Cherry County Zoning regulations, dating to 2008. The following refer to a specific item(s) as required for any CUP proposed and as applied for by the CUP application for this site.


This is "exhibit two" which was submitted to show the locations of residential dwellings. This aerial photo depicts a locality and does not indicate a single dwelling.

Application item Number 4, item g: “The locations of residential dwellings and other non-agricultural land uses within four miles of the property to be affected by the proposed Conditional Use.”

The application refers to Diagram 2. This large-scale aerial photograph diagram does not have any of the detail necessary to determine any of the many residences within four miles of the site that will be affected by the proposed conditional use. Also, obviously, any other land uses are not indicated, including wildlife, park areas and natural spaces owned by the citizens of Valentine.

Also missing from the CUP applicant and application material provided to the zoning administrator are these items as specifically referred to in the Cherry County zoning regulations.

Section 612.01 Intent

“Telecommunication facilities, towers and antennas in the County, to protect residential areas and land uses from potential adverse impact due to the installation of towers and antennas through special design, siting, and camouflaging, to promote and encourage shared use/collocation of towers and other antenna support structures rather than the construction of additional single use towers, to avoid potential damage to property caused by towers, telecommunications facilities and antennas. ... Also to ensure such structures are soundly and carefully designed, constructed, modified, maintained, repaired and removed when no longer used or are determined to be structurally unsound and to ensure that towers and antennas are compatible with surrounding land uses.”

There is no mention in the CUP application on how camouflaging will be used to screen the tower property tract, notably landscaping such as planting trees to mask the fence, building and base of the tower.

How has the applicant indicated that a cellular tower is compatible with “surrounding land uses” which includes, residential acreages and agricultural-related uses? There is also Government Canyon, which is a state of Nebraska wildlife management area established and maintained for many years for a wide variety of outdoor recreation pursuits. The proposed tower is an industrial use and does not conform to any of these land uses and their associated values.

Section 612.03

“2. No proposed tower shall be located within five miles of any existing tower, without approval of the Cherry county Board of Commissioners.”

How can this criteria be suitably evaluated if the necessary information is not provided by the applicant’s request.

“4. ... Upon completion of construction of a tower and prior to the commencement of use, an engineer’s certification that the tower is structurally sound and in conformance with all of the aforementioned applicable regulatory standards shall be filed with the Zoning Administrator.”

There was no item found in the application on how the applicant will comply with this regulation, nor the timeframe when it will be completed?

Section 612.04

“1. ...Applicants shall include the owner of the tract of land and all persons having an ownership interest in the proposed tower. The application shall be executed by all applicants.”

These details were not found in the applicant’s request packet. And note that the zoning regulations states “all persons” having an ownership interest, not just the company business name. “All persons” indicates everyone that has any ownership stake in the US Cellular. This would perhaps include users of the companies’ cellular service? This application was not “executed” by all applicants, but instead by an “agent” company for the owner of the proposed tower.

“2. The legal description and address of the tract of land on which the tower is to be located.”

There is no apparent proper road address included with the application that is a requirement for emergency response crews. Also, there is only a partial, and insufficient legal description; indicating the north one-half of a section is not detailed enough for a facility as small as the communications tower tract which is just relatively a short bunch of feet in extent. The quarter section should be specifically indicated, and even more details as appropriate.

“3. An affidavit attesting to the fact that the applicant has made diligent but unsuccessful effort to obtain permission to install or collocate the applicant’s telecommunication facilities on a tower or useable antenna support or written technical evidence from an engineer that the applicant’s telecommunications facilities cannot be installed or collocated on another tower or useable antenna support structure.”

This affidavit was not provided in the material provided to the zoning office, as it was not found among the application material available for review at the zoning administrator office on the morning of 26 April. Any cost to conduct this evaluation and prepare this affidavit should be paid for by the CUP applicant, and should be done by an independent engineer, not a company employee, nor a hired agent submitting the application, and not an employee of a subsidiary company of the applicant. This affidavit needs to represent an independent and non-biased perspective.

“5. Designation of an appropriate space for Cherry County’s operational and emergency services communication equipment to be provided at no cost to the County by the applicant.”

How has the applicant indicated that this requirement will be met?

Section 612.06

“4. Towers must meet the following minimum separation requirements from other towers:

“A. Monopole tower structures shall be separated from all other towers, whether monopole, self-supporting lattice, or guyed by a minimum of 750 feet.

“B. Self-supporting lattice or guyed towers shall be separated from all other self-supporting lattice or guyed towers by a minimum of 1,500 feet.”

Building a new monopole tower within less than 100 feet of another tower does not conform to these zoning regulations. Any excuse that one tower will replace another means this regulation will temporarily not be in compliance (when will the old tower be removed?). The regulations are obvious ... remove the first tower and then build the new tower to comply with this zoning requirement.

Also, by-the-way, the filing fee for communication tower applications should be increased to $250 to pay expenses for publishing suitable public notices – and which should not be a sentence in an ongoing meeting notice - and to offset costs for the time required by the zoning administrator to review applications and to make sure they are filed in accordance with all applicable zoning regulations. County residents should not be required to pay any sort of costs for a tower being placed by a for-profit company such as US Cellular, as indicative by this application.


Though most of these items were not considered by the members of the Planning and Zoning Board, the request for the CUP was approved by an unanimous vote.

It is a common point-of-view that the members basically ignored the zoning regulations. What is the purpose of regulations if they are ignored by a board responsible for making sure that any CUP application meets the requirements?



23 April 2018

Spring Surprise for Local Birds at Valentine

April 18, 2018. Valentine Midland News 46(92): 8. With a photograph of wild turkeys by Laura Vroman.

The blizzard on April 13-14, 2018 had a dramatic effect on the behavior of local wild birds. There were significant activities by local avifauna as the storm descended and during its duration as multiple inches of snow were atop nearly every place where birds usually foraged. As a result, other resources of food were found and appreciated.

At my residence on Lake Shore Drive, grain and seed have been freely provided for the local fauna for weeks. Dark-eyed Junco and the American Tree Sparrow have been especially prevalent, along with a pair of locally breeding Northern Cardinal.

As the storm was initially transitioning to heavy snow on Friday, dozens of American Robin flew into the pines on the hill. Birds were busily eating seed. A Sharp-shinned Hawk bounced off the north picture window and then just sat for a while to recover. Ten minutes later it was feeding just a few feet away upon a small songbird, perhaps a junco. During a bit of earlier time a Pine Siskin had flown in and immediately started eating seeds that moments before had been spread on a front step, with the front door still swinging open and a tall man less than three feet distant. This feathered mite was indifferent and upon my carefully returning indoors, it fed to its own content.

As the storm was underway and immediately afterward, there was a lot of birdly activity. On Sunday morning – while the deep snow lingered – there were 14 different species present at one time or another. Return visitors were local Eurasian Collared Dove, Mourning Dove and House Finch. Red-winged Blackbirds and Common Grackle descended in bunches – again and again as they are very skittish but would soon return from nearby treetops – lingering enough to get something to eat. Their regular haunts are snow-covered or frozen marsh habitat. Unusual among the group were two male vibrantly colored Yellow-headed Blackbird.

There were lots of juncos, some apparently new to the place as they did not know how to deal with the glass of a picture window. Tree sparrows continued to linger, though it is late in the season for them to still be present. Among the bunch of birds was a Song Sparrow, as well as new arrivals being Harris’s Sparrow and Lincoln’s Sparrow.

A Red-tailed Hawk with its dramatic plumage coloration indicating an older age was seen perched atop a powerline pole, eating one of the many blackbirds. Some other blackbirds were sitting atop a nearby tree, watching as the hawk picked at the carcass of something which a buteo hawk does not typically eat; their usual prey is small mammals, but once again inches of snow would make hunting for a mouse a vole or a rabbit difficult. This bird is one of a pair that resides in the north hills and that are certainly striving to get enough to eat during their breeding season.

Initially only a couple of Wild Turkey gobblers visited, seen hurrying through inches of hillside snow to get to the cleared front walk so seeds and grain could be easily eaten without any need for scratch and search foraging. Later, the larger flock with more hens arrived to feed.

Though much of the Mill Pond water surface was ice on Sunday due to the exceptionally chilly temperatures (with a record overnight low of 9o), there was still a fine variety of waterfowl here and along Minnechaduza Creek. Canada Goose were most prominent, with lesser numbers of Blue-winged Teal (8), Northern Shoveler (2), Gadwall (4) and Green-winged Teal (6) taking advantage of the small areas that were not frozen water. In the same vicinity were a Killdeer and Greater Yellowlegs that found a bit of open-water creek suitable for foraging. Along the creek below the dam was a transient Redhead – the first time this species has been seen at this locality – and then four Wood Duck. A Belted Kingfisher was also heard as it especially appreciated the open water of the flowing creek through the park.

During the morning walk, the spot where a local sharpie had eaten a bluebird on the north side of the Mill Pond was discovered, as the remnants included obvious blue feathers. The bird perp was perched nearby and readily seen.

A species which has had a difficult time due to the weather would be the local Turkey Vultures. They could not forage during rain and snow, should would have had to sit still at their perch(s) and simply deal with the conditions. Then, once conditions improved to an extent to where they could at least soar about in search of carrion to eat, the snow cover would make this effort also very difficult since something edible would be buried to extent to where it might not be found.

Nearly any of the several bird feeders in the city area would have been appreciated and assisted in survival of many of our feathered friends. Certainly the people enjoy seeing the birds for which they provide feed.

My personal supply of seed and grain diminished significantly during the blizzard, as both food sources outside had to be regularly refreshed as the fast-rate snow kept covering what had been spread earlier.

It should be noted that a rabbit or two, a couple of squirrels and a fine bunch of White-tailed Deer have also enjoyed what has been provided at the shack buffet.

02 April 2018

March Wildbirds at Valentine During 2018

It has been an exciting month to watch wildbirds at Valentine, Nebraska, and its immediate vicinity, which is basically within city boundaries. There were several days when it seemed there would be no need to keep records of sightings, but then some unexpected species was seen that had to be denoted, so some ancillary observations were added to my Sand Hill database, which by the way, now has nearly 158,500 records with the earliest record from May 1886 for a Wilson’s Snipe seen near Chambers, at time when the report referred to “screeching” jack snipe in area meadows.

Records were kept for 16 particular dates and 281 observational records. This is beyond the norm, but regular, significant sightings of different species required additional record keeping. The overall number of species denoted is reflected in the details, with 56 species observed during the month at nine different, specific localities in the immediate territory of the city. It should be noted that a database records was kept for every species on every day, and this applies to regular and common birds such as the American Robin.

This tally has a different taxonomy as during the month, species names, taxonomic sequence and other particulars were updated to conform with the most recently available checklist developed by the International Ornithological Congress, which is representative of world-wide scientific understanding, rather than being country-centric.

These are some of the highlights for the month:

  • There were a greater number of wintering Canada Goose because of particular attention to their presence. Many of them roost on the Niobrara River southeast of town, but they were readily seen moving northward on many mornings, along with a few Cackling Goose (as previously reported). Transitory duck species added to the monthly tally, mostly at the Valentine Mill Pond this year were American Wigeon, Ring-necked Duck at Mistake Lake, Lesser Scaup, Bufflehead and Common Goldeneye. Wood Duck and Mallard are residents and will have an ongoing presence.
  • Wild Turkey: two toms seen later in the month and then the next day two toms along with their group of 11 hens were outside the window. No turkeys had been seen for many weeks in the immediate vicinity.
  • Turkey Vulture arrived at Valentine on the same day as they had in 2017, initially roosting within a tree in the city. They then moved to the relic tree snags at Government Pond. The weather was not conducive to their presence as cold, wind and snow flurries would not be suitable for soaring flight and foraging in their search for something eatible. A first vulture was seen going westerly along their typical summer season travel route on the afternoon of the 31st.
  • Red-tailed Hawk: a pair which has taken up residence in the North Lake Shore Hills do not appreciate any other hawks in their territory. This includes any Rough-legged Buzzard and a visiting Harlan’s Hawk (dark and streaky on the 31st) — arriving and perching upon the branch of a hills’ pine for a short time — and that might diminish the prey base upon which the local pair are dependent.
  • Franklin’s Gull: it was quite surprising to see one of these gulls foraging along the curb of Main Street on the west side of Mathis Equipment. Its plumage features were very obvious as readily seen in the morning, notably the black head and rosy, spring coloration. And then another bird of this species was seen the next morning as well, flying in the same vicinity. These two sightings are the earliest known for Cherry county, based upon records going back decades.
  • Doves: the common Rock Dove are most regularly seen at the livestock market, and westerly from their along the highway; among the few visiting Eurasian Collared Dove, there has been a nearly white melanistic bird; a pair of Mourning Dove found the seed buffet and became regular visitors at the end of the month.
  • Eastern Phoebe: by the end of the month, a territorial male was heard as it was an early breeding season arrival at the abandoned hydro-power structure at the east end of the Valentine Mill Pond.
  • Cedar Waxwing: most typically seen in town, and they were notable eating berries of the trees that are part of the landscaping at the Wells Fargo bank at First and Main streets.
  • Pine Siskin: probably the easiest sighting of the month as the two were suddenly present outside the window feeding on some remnant seeds of some weeds.
  • Dark-eyed Junco: appreciated daily visitors to the seed buffet.
  • American Tree Sparrow: present every day, with occasional counts made of the number that were visiting and feeding on the seed being provided; this meant observations could be based upon the birds coming to a particular locale rather having to search them out. In previous years the last date when they were observed was March 29, yet this year, they were observed until the 31st. Numbers decreased dramatically as the months’ observation period ended. It was so much easier to count them as they came to the seed buffet, rather than going in search of them.
  • Note the increase in Red-winged Blackbird, which at this time of year were still congregating, and thus providing a means to count overall numbers.

There were many other special sightings that were considered and given attention. Many niceties occurred and then became specific database records. It was really nice to see a Ruby-crowned Kinglet at the northeast corner of the Valentine Mill Pond, and at the same locality where an Eastern Phoebe was heard on the same morning.

These are the results for another month of birding at the Heart City, which is a territory with multiple spaces to observe nature, and which is actually quite a fine place for birding, especially if other wildbird habitats within the territory are considered. The numbers at the top of the columns are the julian date, upon which the temporal occurrence of species for different years is totally dependent.

March Bird Tally for Valentine, Nebraska in 2018
Proper Name 61 65 69 72 73 76 78 79 81 82 83 86 87 88 89 90
Canada Goose 749 1111 825 - - 852 - - - - 60 55 55 - - 80 - - - - 10 17
Cackling Goose 2 7 4 - - 3 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Snow Goose - - 86 - - 250 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Wood Duck - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 2 - - - - - - 2 - - 2 - - - -
Gadwall - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 3 - - - - - - - -
American Wigeon - - - - 3 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Mallard - - - - 2 - - 7 - - - - - - - - 3 - - 3 - - - - - - - -
Northern Pintail - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 2 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Green-winged Teal - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 3 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 3
Ring-necked Duck - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 2 - - - - - - - -
Lesser Scaup - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 6 - - - - - -
Bufflehead - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 2 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Common Goldeneye 2 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Common Merganser - - - - 6 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Wild Turkey - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 2 - - 13 2 - - 12 - -
Great Blue Heron - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 1 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Turkey Vulture - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 16 - - - - - - 12
Bald Eagle - - 2 1 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 1 1 - - - - - - - -
Red-tailed Hawk 1 3 2 - - 1 - - - - - - 2 - - 2 2 - - - - - - 2
Rough-legged Buzzard 1 1 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Killdeer - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 1 - - - - 1 - - - - - - - -
Franklin's Gull - - - - - - - - - - - - 1 1 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
American Herring Gull - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 16 - - 1 3 - - 1 1 - -
Rock Dove - - - - - - - - 3 - - - - - - 12 - - - - 12 - - - - - - - -
Eurasian Collared Dove 2 1 4 - - 13 2 - - - - 6 - - 3 10 - - 3 - - 3
Mourning Dove - - - - - - - - - - 1 - - - - - - - - - - - - 2 - - 2 2
Great Horned Owl - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 1 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Belted Kingfisher - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 1 - - - - - -
Red-bellied Woodpecker - - - - - - - - 1 - - - - - - - - - - 1 - - - - - - - - - -
Downy Woodpecker - - 1 1 - - 5 - - - - - - 2 - - - - 1 - - 1 1 - -
Hairy Woodpecker - - - - - - - - 1 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 1 - - - - - -
Northern Flicker 1 - - 1 - - 1 - - - - - - 2 - - - - 1 - - - - 1 - -
Eastern Phoebe - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 1 - -
Blue Jay - - - - 2 - - 1 - - - - - - 2 - - - - 1 - - - - - - - -
American Crow 1 2 5 - - 2 - - - - - - 2 - - - - 2 - - - - 3 - -
Cedar Waxwing - - 22 - - 6 - - - - - - - - 6 - - - - - - 40 5 - - - -
Black-capped Chickadee 3 3 6 - - 5 - - - - - - 2 - - - - 1 - - - - - - - -
Ruby-crowned Kinglet - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 1 - -
Red-breasted Nuthatch 1 - - - - 1 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 1 - - - - - - - -
White-breasted Nuthatch 3 2 1 - - 7 - - - - - - 1 - - - - 3 - - - - - - - -
Common Starling - - - - 65 - - 20 1 - - - - 4 - - - - 1 - - 4 - - - -
Eastern Bluebird - - 3 - - - - - - - - - - - - 4 - - 2 4 - - 1 - - - -
American Robin 12 5 12 - - 66 - - - - - - 60 30 - - 42 - - - - - - - -
House Sparrow 20 - - 22 - - 30 2 - - - - 26 - - - - 22 - - - - - - - -
House Finch 5 - - 4 - - 9 4 - - - - 12 3 - - 13 - - - - - - - -
Red Crossbill - - - - 12 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
American Goldfinch 3 - - - - - - 7 - - - - - - 4 - - - - 4 - - - - - - - -
Pine Siskin - - - - - - - - - - 2 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Western Meadowlark - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 2 - - - - - - - -
Red-winged Blackbird 5 115 50 - - 38 105 - - - - 15 50 60 40 - - 135 - - 125
Common Grackle - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 5 1 1 2 - - 5 - -
Song Sparrow - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 3 - - - - 1 - - - - - - - -
Dark-eyed Junco 8 16 15 - - 7 10 - - - - 13 30 40 20 15 16 18 16
Savannah Sparrow - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 1
American Tree Sparrow - - 18 20 - - 12 35 85 - - 26 15 35 25 6 16 7 4
Northern Cardinal 2 - - - - - - 2 1 - - - - 2 - - 1 4 - - 1 1 1

In comparison, there was a tally of 36 species in 2016 (149 records) and 48 species in 2017 (245 records). Obviously the number of kept records makes a difference in the number of wildbirds known to occur. Nonetheless, the territory associated with Valentine has a great variety of places and spaces where there can be an exciting sighting nearly any day, especially during seasonal changes. Overall for the three years combined, there have been 66 species observed during the month of March at this locality.

27 March 2018

Winter Season Wildbirds at Valentine – 2015 to 2018

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
Canada Goose 2935 1140 60 718 857 6194 350 1575 495
Cackling Goose 20 6 - - - - 5 14 - - 4 11
Trumpeter Swan - - 2 - - - - - - - - - - - - 7
Mallard 13 26 3 14 6 9 18 23 8
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 - - - -
Bald Eagle 2 2 3 1 3 2 4 3 1
Red-tailed Hawk 3 2 - - 5 3 5 6 1 3
Rough-legged Buzzard - - - - - - - - - - 1 1 - - 1
Rock Dove 71 84 46 20 37 49 17 95 83
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 - -
Downy Woodpecker 2 8 4 1 4 6 1 8 5
Hairy Woodpecker 6 8 3 1 2 2 7 9 1
Northern Flicker 4 12 1 1 4 6 4 6 4
Merlin - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 1
Great Grey Shrike - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 1 - -
Blue Jay 5 4 1 1 4 3 6 7 4
American Crow 4 17 3 4 10 11 4 16 4
Cedar Waxwing - - 20 6 12 27 - - 1 - - - -
Black-capped Chickadee 16 17 20 9 16 17 25 25 30
Horned Lark - - - - - - - - - - 8 - - 109 - -
Ruby-crowned Kinglet - - 1 - - - - - - - - - - 5 - -
Red-breasted Nuthatch 1 3 5 - - 5 4 1 9 2
White-breasted Nuthatch 17 18 4 12 19 12 16 33 11
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 - -
American Robin 37 14 52 75 305 37 198 457 520
House Sparrow 95 154 125 26 134 137 102 317 150
House Finch 3 54 14 4 41 15 6 17 6
American Goldfinch 15 18 6 21 26 24 74 84 4
Red-winged Blackbird - - - - - - 2 7 245 - - - - - -
Song Sparrow - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 3 - -
Harris's Sparrow 1 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Dark-eyed Junco 104 75 56 49 31 71 52 41 66
American Tree Sparrow 3 8 6 - - 4 4 3 - - 3
Eastern Towhee - - - - - - 1 - - - - - - - - - -
Northern Cardinal 3 2 2 2 4 4 2 4 2

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.