29 May 2009

Gough Island Project to Investigate Eradicating Mice That Kill Birds

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has advertised online for the hiring of two senior research assistants for a project titled "Control of alien mice and plants at the Gough Island World Heritage Site."

The "mice are literally eating to extinction the populations of albatrosses, petrels and other birds," according to information on the RSPB website, and "achieved worldwide notoriety ... when the plight of Tristan albatrosses and Gough buntings was highlighted by the RSPB, ... albatross chicks were being eaten alive by the mice, stuck in their burrows as the mice launched their nocturnal attacks."

The research assistants "will be responsible for biological research to remove key areas of uncertainty for a proposed future attempt to eradicate house mice from Gough Island, monitoring of albatrosses and petrels, and to lead on the control and eradication of a small invasive plant from cliffs on Gough Island," during a period of 13 months, according to the online job description.

Gough Island, at Tristan da Cunha in the South Atlantic Ocean, is a world heritage site and its 10 million birds make it the most important seabird colony in the world, according to information on the RSPB website.

The United Kingdom government is funding a study of mouse eradication methods, with details for a project indicated in an online report.

22 May 2009

Birds of a May Weekend Along the Central Niobrara River Valley

View of the northern Niobrara River valley from Fred Thomas WMA. May 15, 2009.

During a three-day weekend outing to north-central Nebraska, a variety of different bird species were noted at places along and amongst the valleys of the Niobrara River. Localities visited for some time or another during drive times or while on a local hike of some sort or another, included:

  • Fred Thomas WMA; the overlook is a great place for lunch
  • Norden Chute
  • Rock Barn Campground
  • Fritzs Island
  • Fritzs Island Campground
  • Sharps Campground
  • Sunny Brook Camp
  • Wazi Oshki: this was the headquarters for the period; notable for this place is an extensive tree removal project scheduled to occur here in June, when cedars trees will be cut and piled
  • Conservancy Swamp
  • Big Cedar Creek and Falls
  • Conner Rapids
  • County Line Bridge
  • Stairway Falls
  • Brewer Bridge: a fine list of species noted during the interval here, which included watching the moving of cows and calves across the bridge to their summer pasture on the Niobrara Valley Preserve

The amount of time at each site was highly variable, and often so slight that the only notations were prominent species seen while driving by, or during a few minutes' visit. When time allowed, more detailed looking and a local hike occurred. None-the-less, noting whenever possible the bird type seen was essential in determining the list of observed species:

  • American Crow
  • American Goldfinch
  • American Kestrel
  • American Robin
  • Bald Eagle: a juvenile seen once
  • Baltimore Oriole
  • Bank Swallow: regularly seen along the river, with nesting in the earthen banks on the hill slopes
  • Barn Swallow
  • Black-and-white Warbler: on Sunday morning at Wazi Oshki
  • Black-capped Chickadee
  • Blue Jay: only heard on Sunday morning
  • Blue-winged Teal: along the river's way
  • Brown-headed Cowbird
  • Canada Goose: nesting along the river
  • Cedar Waxwing
  • Chipping Sparrow: a bird of the pine woods
  • Cliff Swallow: a large gathering along the river road was a view to appreciate
  • Common Grackle: likes the bridges over the river; nest building activity was underway at Brewer Bridge
  • Common Poorwill: heard on Friday evening towards the western portion of Wazi Oshki; their call is characteristic and was an event to appreciate
  • Common Yellowthroat: something to appreciate in wetland places adjacent to the river
  • Eastern Bluebird: contending with Tree Swallows for a nest box at Wazi Oshki
  • Eastern Kingbird
  • Eastern Phoebe
  • Field Sparrow
  • Golden Eagle: a fine sight while along the road when riding in the car
  • Grasshopper Sparrow: in the upland prairie
  • Great Blue Heron: associated with riverside environs
  • Great Crested Flycatcher
  • Great Horned Owl
  • Hairy Woodpecker
  • Horned Lark
  • House Wren: mostly in the valley
  • Killdeer: much less prevalent than the Spotted Sandpiper
  • Lark Sparrow
  • Loggerhead Shrike
  • Long-billed Curlew: in the valley north of the road in the vicinity of Fritzs Island Campground
  • Mourning Dove
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Northern Flicker
  • Ovenbird
  • Red-breasted Nuthatch: in the upland pines
  • Red-eyed Vireo
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Red-winged Blackbird: obvious in places adjacent to the channel of the river water
  • Rose-breasted Grosbeak
  • Spotted Sandpiper: seen along the river at several places
  • Spotted Towhee: a typical species throughout
  • Swainson's Hawk: in the aerial realm
  • Tree Swallow
  • Turkey Vulture: especially notable at Vulture Heights in the southwest corner of Keya Paha county, but regularly seen in the valley skies
  • Western Kingbird
  • White-breasted Nuthatch
  • Wild Turkey: the big bird of the valley seen in flocks of variable size as they foraged in fields along the roads of the valley
  • Willow Flycatcher
  • Yellow Warbler: along the running water
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Etc. as there would be other species present as this is a migratory period

Most of the species in this annotated list are residents for the summer season.

These sightings have been entered into a database of bird records for each particular site, indicating when and where noted during the weekend of 15-17 May 2009.

Cedar clearing along Turkey Creek. All of the cedar trees present in this vicinity are being removed. May 17, 2009.

It was often a challenge to determine the proper name for a particular locality within a mile's distance or so, as the place names can be rather vague at some places within the valley. Many of the river valley sightings were attributed to the particular region of a specific campground. Some of the landmarks along the river channel were other possible place names.

A notable activity taking place in the river valley that was seen and discussed during the outing, was the removal of invasive eastern red cedar trees. There were obvious places next to the roadway where this treatment had been applied, with some sites just recently done. A particularly notable place was along Turkey Creek. It was quite dramatic to see the thorough removal underway on the slopes of steep hill-slopes and along the creek. What a dramatic difference! Removal of each of the cedar trees creates a total change in the landscape and profoundly revises the condition of the woodland habitat for the local fauna. What remains after the clearing is a big piles of removed cedars, which await burning in future months.

20 May 2009

Bird's Eye View on Flyways Report Available

The following is a press release for a A Bird's Eye View on Flyways (4.5 mb) just published by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Secretariat of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS). The 68-page report is in full color and discusses many important aspects of bird migration and species conservation.

"Bonn, 15th May 2009 - Migratory birds have a considerable economic, ecological and cultural value. Birdwatching activities, such as the World Migratory Bird Day for instance, provide a turn-over of billions of US$ each year. If we want to continue profiting from, and enjoying, migratory birds, their ecological requirements will need to be met throughout their lifecycles, and all along their flyways. The numbers of many migratory bird species have gone down significantly, by 40% on average, due to a variety of threats. In order to halt this downward trend, effective measures have to be implemented.

"Flyways of different species or populations of migratory birds do not occur randomly; they show a distinct pattern, which can be used to the advantage of bird conservation. The recognition of major flyway systems, as described in the brochure, can assist in making conservation of migratory birds more effective and more efficient, requiring cooperation among various countries. CMS found it noteworthy to create an information tool that encompasses all this data and offers an insight of structured preservation action. Thus, the brochure, based on a report by Mr. Joost Brouwer with technical support from Mr. Gerard Boere and other experts, was composed, coinciding with the World Migratory Bird Day 2009 in order to raise awareness at all levels of the seriousness of descending bird trends and to offer a feasible solution.

"Flyway cooperation is being organised through a number of already established international treaties and agreements such as UNEP/CMS, UNEP/AEWA, BirdLife International, the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands and Wetlands International. Some of these treaties and agreements are 'all encompassing' on paper, but for conservation and management to be practicable the consequential on-the-ground projects generally need to be focused on species conservation, habitat and site protection, or threat management. To really catch on with local people, conservation projects should also have a human development component.

"Various advances described in the brochure, such as the Wings Over Wetlands (WOW) site project, the Siberian Crane Wetland Project financed by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) or studies on by-catch (see CMS 2008 Thesis award sponsored by Lufthansa and National Geographic Germany), to name a few, demonstrate the importance of looking at migratory bird conservation as a whole - from a bird's eye view!

"CMS, as a framework convention on migratory animals, offers the base for such a structured, international concept of migratory bird conservation. During the last Conference of the Parties in Rome 2008, the Convention established further regulations on flyway development to be found in CMS Resolution 9.2

"AEWA as a role model for all other global flyways presents a variety of ways to implement flyway conservation, including through its involvement in the WOW project. Also the Ramsar Convention put an emphasis on Flyway conservation at its last COP.

"Since a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, the flyway approach makes the most sense for avian conservation, as it oversees all connected sites, enabling conservationists to predict certain outcomes such as avian influenza and bird population trends. Although it is not an exact science yet, research methods are constantly improving to enhance the efficiency and accuracy of global flyways.

"This brochure helps to understand the necessity of a global network for migratory birds and provides a tool for stakeholders to strengthen capacities in this field of conservation. Key aspects of the flyway strategy are monitoring, conservation action, awareness raising, measuring success and a sound legal framework for environmental issues at an international level."

18 May 2009

Hundred-year Comparison of Bird Species in the Missouri River Valley

It is not very often that an accurate comparison of observed bird species can be made across a span of a hundred or so years, but with the just completed spring bird count on May 9, 2009 for Sarpy County, Nebraska, the essential details are available.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. Image courtesy of Matt Sittel, with further images of birds of the forest area at his website.


The 1908 observations were by members of the Nebraska Ornithologists' Union during a spring meeting during the May 9-10 weekend. Their field trip was made to the woodlands northeast of Bellevue, which at the time was known as Childs Point and was a celebrated haunt of wild birds and their watchers for many years from prior to 1900 and into subsequent years.

The date of comparison is May 9-10, 1908, when another group of ornithologist's walked about the same environs and noted what species they observed.

Memoirs by the celebrated naturalist Frank H. Shoemaker — his records are housed in the University Archives at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln — convey the details for the historic character of the place. He wrote these words about the place about the turn-of-the-century, around 1900:

"The valley of the Missouri River immediately below the city of Omaha lies between steep bluffs, the river skirting the base of those on the Nebraska side, while on the Iowa side there intervenes a broad, flat area, much of it subject to overflow during periods of high water. Several miles below the city on the Nebraska side is a heavily wooded tract, extending over the bluffs and well back from the river, which at this point sweeps away from the base of bluffs and leaves a broad, flat expanse overgrown with cottonwood and willows. Numerous springs in the bluffs mingle their waters in a narrow, reed-grown stream, which soon spreads over a wide area and forms a marsh, filled with rushes, reeds and cattails. Back from the river the surface is rugged and hilly, covered with heavy woodland and undergrowth, traversed by several broad, grass grown valleys and numerous deep, shady ravines. This woodland continues to the summit of a ridge which roughly parallels the valley of the river; beyond this point lie fertile fields. In summer the lesser vegetation is very heavy, the bottomlands particularly being covered with an almost impassable tangle of vines and weeds, while many places on the bluffs are overgrown with dense thickets, though that region is chiefly woodland, of every character from tracts of stunted second growth to extensive areas covered with massive oaks and lindens.
"This section is known locally as the Childs' Point region for want of distinguishing terms for its various portions, though strictly speaking, the "Point" is a small part of the area so designated. Rounded by the river, and embracing areas so distinct in character - sandbars, bottomlands, marshes, occasional small bodies of open water, dense thickets, timberland of diverse character, and open fields - this region is peculiarly fitted to attract a great variety of birds."
Common Name - Childs Point - Fontenelle Forest
** = species noted
Canada Goose -- **
Wood Duck -- **
Mallard -- **
Blue-winged Teal ** **
Ring-necked Pheasant -- **
Wild Turkey -- **
Northern Bobwhite ** --
Pied-billed Grebe -- **
Double-crested Cormorant -- **
Great Blue Heron -- **
Great Egret -- **
Green Heron ** **
Turkey Vulture ** **
Osprey -- **
Broad-winged Hawk ** **
Red-tailed Hawk -- **
American Kestrel ** **
Sora -- **
Semipalmated Plover ** --
Killdeer ** **
Spotted Sandpiper -- **
Solitary Sandpiper ** **
Greater Yellowlegs -- **
Pectoral Sandpiper -- **
Ring-billed Gull ** --
Black Tern -- **
Rock Pigeon -- **
Eurasian Collared-Dove -- **
Mourning Dove ** **
Yellow-billed Cuckoo ** --
Barred Owl -- **
Chimney Swift ** **
Ruby-throated Hummingbird -- **
Belted Kingfisher ** --
Red-headed Woodpecker ** **
Red-bellied Woodpecker -- **
Downy Woodpecker ** **
Hairy Woodpecker ** **
Northern Flicker ** **
Pileated Woodpecker -- **
Eastern Wood-Pewee ** **
Least Flycatcher ** **
Eastern Phoebe ** **
Great Crested Flycatcher ** **
Eastern Kingbird ** **
White-eyed Vireo ** **
Yellow-throated Vireo ** **
Blue-headed Vireo -- **
Warbling Vireo ** **
Red-eyed Vireo ** **
Blue Jay ** **
American Crow ** **
Horned Lark ** --
Purple Martin ** **
Tree Swallow ** **
Northern Rough-winged Swallow ** **
Bank Swallow ** --
Cliff Swallow -- **
Barn Swallow ** **
Black-capped Chickadee ** **
Tufted Titmouse -- **
Red-breasted Nuthatch ** --
White-breasted Nuthatch ** **
Brown Creeper -- **
Carolina Wren -- **
House Wren ** **
Sedge Wren -- **
Marsh Wren ** **
Ruby-crowned Kinglet -- **
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher ** **
Eastern Bluebird ** **
Gray-cheeked Thrush ** **
Swainson's Thrush -- **
Wood Thrush ** **
American Robin ** **
Gray Catbird ** **
Brown Thrasher ** **
European Starling -- **
Cedar Waxwing ** **
Blue-winged Warbler ** --
Tennessee Warbler ** **
Orange-crowned Warbler ** **
Nashville Warbler -- **
Northern Parula -- **
Yellow Warbler ** **
Magnolia Warbler ** --
Yellow-rumped Warbler ** **
Yellow-throated Warbler -- **
Blackpoll Warbler -- **
Cerulean Warbler ** --
Black-and-white Warbler ** **
American Redstart ** **
Prothonotary Warbler ** **
Ovenbird ** **
Northern Waterthrush ** **
Louisiana Waterthrush ** **
Common Yellowthroat ** **
Wilson's Warbler -- **
Canada Warbler ** --
Yellow-breasted Chat ** --
Summer Tanager -- **
Scarlet Tanager ** **
Eastern Towhee ** **
Chipping Sparrow ** **
Clay-colored Sparrow ** **
Field Sparrow ** --
Lark Sparrow ** --
Savannah Sparrow ** --
Grasshopper Sparrow ** --
Song Sparrow ** **
Lincoln's Sparrow ** **
Swamp Sparrow ** **
White-throated Sparrow ** **
Harris's Sparrow ** **
White-crowned Sparrow ** **
Northern Cardinal ** **
Rose-breasted Grosbeak ** **
Blue Grosbeak ** --
Lazuli Bunting -- **
Indigo Bunting ** **
Dickcissel ** --
Red-winged Blackbird ** **
Western Meadowlark ** --
Common Grackle ** **
Brown-headed Cowbird ** **
Orchard Oriole -- **
Baltimore Oriole ** **
House Finch -- **
Pine Siskin -- **
American Goldfinch ** **
House Sparrow -- **

Results from the NOU meeting were published in their transactions, with the notes on the species observations entered into a database of historic records of Nebraska birds.

Modern Times

The Sarpy County Spring Bird Count, coordinated by Clem Klaphake, with participation of his students of the bird class available through Metropolitan Community College, and with the essential assistance of other local birders, were about the region on May 9, 2009.

The bird list was provided by Justin Rink. Other participants included Elliott Bedows, Rick Schmid, Brian Hula, Nelli Falzgraf, and Jim and Sandy Kovonda, according to Matt Sittel, also helping with the survey.

Environs of Fontenelle Forest was an essential part of the survey area, as there had been numerous notations of observed species presented by reports on NEBirds, for previous days and weeks. The place with its diversity of floodplain and bluff habitats, is a magnet for birds and the people whom watch them, and usually report what they saw.

According to issued reports, this spring count was one of the most successful, with a large diversity of observed species. In particular, the species seen at Fontenelle Forest was also impressive, although it was just one place where the bird watchers traversed.

Bird-Watcher Results

The observations recorded by accomplished birders of the NOU in 1908, along with the notes by the modern-day equivalent, provide a list of 131 species for this geographic locality.

There would likely not be any variability due to skills of the observers, as there were accomplished bird-watchers both instances. Any differences would be due to changes in habitat at the locale, and any variance in the migration times of the species.

Childs Point, May 9-10, 1908: 89 species
Fontenelle Forest, May 8-9, 2009: 111 species
Combined species tally: 131 species

There are further details to consider.

These are the species noted in 1908, but not during the recent count, with some considerations as to why they may not have been sighted in 2009:

  • Northern Bobwhite: lack of suitable habitat due to a decreased extent of agricultural habitat on the point
  • Semipalmated Plover: lack of sandbar habitat due to channelization of the Missouri River
  • Ring-billed Gull: lack of riverine habitat
  • Yellow-billed Cuckoo: could be readily expected, but just not observed
  • Belted Kingfisher: could be readily expected, but just not observed
  • Horned Lark: potentially may occur in the agricultural fields of Gifford Farm
  • Bank Swallow: could be readily expected, but just not observed
  • Red-breasted Nuthatch: could be readily expected, but just not observed
  • Blue-winged Warbler: could be readily expected, but just not observed
  • Magnolia Warbler: could be readily expected, but just not observed
  • Cerulean Warbler: not observed on count day, but was noted on May 14th, by Justin Rink
  • Canada Warbler: could be readily expected, but just not observed<
  • Yellow-breasted Chat: change in species range so this species is less likely to occur in the Missouri River valley
  • Field Sparrow: still occurs in the vicinity, but not observed on during the modern count period
  • Lark Sparrow: there is a lesser extent of the habitat utilized by this species, though it has been seen at Fontenelle Forest in recent years
  • Savannah Sparrow: a lesser extent of open-field habitat
  • Grasshopper Sparrow: there is little grassland habitat present, which is required by this species
  • Blue Grosbeak: could be readily expected, but just not observed
  • Dickcissel: present a few years ago, so it may have not been noted as the count area did not extend to Gifford Farm which comprises the oxbow lands east of Fontenelle Forest

The Ring-necked Pheasant and European Starling had not yet been introduced in this region of the river valley in 1908, while they are a prevalent species in the modern era.

Several of the species noted historically, also occur in the modern-era, but their migration time this particular season may have meant that they were not present at the time of the 2009 Sarpy County Spring Bird Count.

Notably, there are some interesting species noted in 2009, but not in 1908. Consider:

These wetland habitat associated species, Canada Goose, Wood Duck, Mallard, Pied-billed Grebe, Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Sora, Spotted Sandpiper, Greater Yellowlegs, Pectoral Sandpiper, Black Tern, and Sedge Wren that would utilize the Great Marsh on the floodplain of the forest area, a tract which has been enhanced by restoration work associated with the Missouri River mitigation efforts. These species would also occur in this area historically, but perhaps the NOU group did not get down to the river bottoms and its wetlands.

Wild Turkey: prevalent due to successful, modern introduction of the species.

Eurasian Collared-Dove: a species only recently extant in Nebraska

Variability in the observation of different warbler species may just be a result of migration times for a particular species.

A comparison of the occurrence of the Orchard Oriole - not noted historically but seen in 2009 - may be due to sighting variance, as the habitat historically and currently would be expected to be suitable.

There was more upland grassland habitat in 1908, which accounts for the Western Meadowlark being noted, whereas this species would not be expected at all now. This would also be a factor influencing the occurrence of the Grasshopper Sparrow.

As for the House Finch, the expansion in range of this species makes it a prevalent species now, whereas this would not have been the case a century ago.

In 1908, the House Sparrow was still a relatively new species on the scene, though Frank Shoemaker noted it as a common resident in 1900 at Childs Point. However, the next information about this species at this locality was in 1939.


The ornithology of Nebraska is just starting to enter an era when the records from historic times can be compared to what was noted in decades past.

Most importantly, it is essential that the records kept for species provide a thorough list of species for a particular locale. Providing the numbers of each bird type observed is also very valuable as a means to compare abundance.

This comparison uses only two sources of information. With a broader extent of details from different period of times during different decades, other evaluations can be made using a record-based analysis.

For Nebraska, there will be additional evaluations possible, as the record-base for the state is more extensive subsequent to the instance considered here.

Prothonotary Warbler. Picture taken by Matt Sittel.

Birdly Requiem - Oriole Deaths at Qwest Center Omaha

Dying Baltimore Oriole. May 18, 2009, Omaha riverfront.

There were two dead Baltimore Orioles at the Qwest Center Omaha this morning. A female was at the north side of the overhead crosswalk on the west side. A bit of ways south, a vividly colored male was outside the box office entry doors.

One was dead. One was disabled, then died as it tried to continue its migration but flew the wrong way and whacked into the glass, then fell to the concrete below, stunned beyond a way to survive.

The death was dramatically witnessed, though an effort was made to save the bird by taking it to a safer place than the building sidewalk where several people gawked at the outside disturbance to their breakfast.

It was agony for the bird ... and it was a sorrowfully slow death!

What would a pair of Baltimore Orioles have contributed to the species if their death had not been caused by indifference. There was no reason they should have died on the way to a home for the season to nurture and raise young.

Fatally disabled Baltimore Oriole. The bird was slowly dying at the moment when this picture was taken.

View of the death of a Baltimore Oriole. Note how the end of the bird's beak was disfigured when it struck the building glass.

The impacts could have been avoided if the Qwest officials had taken some of their $5 million profit, last year as reported in the local newspaper, and implemented effective efforts, a program that would result in no further bird strikes. Yet MECA officials blithely ignore impacts that happen nearly every day during bird migration in the Missouri River valley.

Based on documented strikes for the past two years, this city of Omaha-owned building is the deadliest in the city. There were five carcasses there on the morning of May 18, 2009. And there will be more, again and again.

Dead female Baltimore Oriole at the Qwest Center Omaha. May 18, 2009 in the morning.

There were five other bird carcasses at the west side of the Qwest Center on Monday morning.

Dead Baltimore Oriole at the Qwest Center Omaha. Tuesday morning, May 19, 2009.

Dead Baltimore Oriole at the Qwest Center Omaha. Friday morning, May 22, 2009.

Birdly Requiem - Swift Building Razed for Urban Redevelopment in Lincoln

View on Sunday evening, May 17, 2009. Chimney Swifts were heard in the skies while this photograph was taken along the traffic corridor. Within days, the place which was so important for the aerialists of the sunlight skies will be obliterated, gone from the urban landscape.

A grand gathering place for swifts is being razed - destroyed - obliterated - and basically removed in east downtown Lincoln. The former Ben's Auto Parts building at 2020 O Street is the notable structure.

Swifts will be dramatically forced to adapt - change - move etc., though it was no choice of theirs. Nor were they given any options and no advocate spoke for them at a public hearing! The people of Lincoln - through their official machinations - unbearably forced the negative change upon the birds.

The chimneys of the historic structure have been an important place for swifts ever since it was built, though this was not really apparent for the structure until 2005, due to a personal interest of a citizen.

This tally indicates the ongoing use of the two building chimneys.

  • 29 May 2004 - 4 swifts; this was the first time that chimney use was documented, and the realization meant an ongoing investigation of this locale and other places in central urban Lincoln which were important to swifts
  • 2 July 2005, 8 swifts
  • 22 July 2005, 2 swifts
  • 1 August 2002, 9
  • 5 August 2005, 10
  • 16 August 2005, 37
  • 18 August 2005, 71 counted during dusk when the swifts dive into a place for the night
  • 21 August 2005, 65
  • 22 August 2005, 50
  • 25 August 2005, 65; during a view from the rooftop
  • 23 April 2007, 2 at the beginning of the season for swifts in Salt Valley
  • 11 September 2007, 89
  • 3 October 2007, 25
  • 4 October 2007, 98; a grand spectacle of the swift maneuverings as they gathered in a sublime congregation cooperating to drop into the night's shelter so important to their survival

The value of the place for Chimney Swifts is readily obvious, based on confirmed records of sightings. Though this period of documentation is slight, the use continues until the building is gone, but there was no one that cared enough to record the events as swifts continued to gather during subsequent years.

Ben's Auto Parts building, June 27, 2005. Note the central chimney, with a second usable chimney on the northwest corner.

Bens Auto Parts building, August 15, 2007.

Developers ignore the many-year history when this place obviously meant so much to the swifts. The ignorance goes back ten years, a couple of decades and beyond into dim city history when these birds found that a human construct became a place of value to their seasonal existence in an urban landscape.

This building is in close association with the Joint Antelope Valley Authority project which has redesigned the Antelope Creek drainage-way through the city. Their legacy upon swifts is readily apparent in the annals of a focused perspective.

It was inevitable that the building would disappear, as it was an empty commercial space, with the property more valuable than the structure, in a view based on economic considerations. There was no option of leasing the place.

The swifts will suffer from the bludgeoning results. Where will the birds find a place that has been so notably suitable for their needs?

The slow but insidious and continual destruction of swift places continues in this neighborhood, as there have been many other chimneys used by breeding or roosting swifts destroyed in association with the socalled urban renovation associated with the JAVA project.

Nothing has been done to address the needs of the avian dwellers in this urban space. Place by place has been obliterated by officials of many ilks. One by one the havens are demolished. Raze and replace almost be an obvious mantra.

It is a continual assault on swift places. These birds forage endless hours to remove bugs from urban skies, yet the human beneficiaries respond by doing their best to remove places which the bugeaters appreciate as an important shelter.

There is a loss for each swift.

Officials should apologize to the swifts for the mindless drive of development which is a direct detriment to your existence. City officials and others in Lincoln and other urban centers obviously do not care in any apparent manner about what they wrought upon your seasonal life. My best wish is that there may be an alternate chimney to now use? Will the destruction of the building destroy a nest, protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, though officials of that regulate this law, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are oblivious, again.

There needs to be be a grand structure built where the bug eaters of the city skies can find shelter, but there is no official budget for such a thing that would be tall, made of brick, and sturdy with walls upon which you would like to cling during the night of repose from April to October, with your needs a primary focus!

As for now though, shame on the inane drive for improvement that decimates subtle appreciations of the historic buildings of east downtown Lincoln. Officials be damned for what you ignore in the mindless drive for change, without any consideration of what you destroy, again and again. Then once more, again against the birdly neighbors.

How would development officials and supporters like to return to their safe place some day and find that it has been obliterated ... completely? This is the Chimney Swifts future this week on O Street.

How dismal is the onslaught which continues to destroy the places for Chimney Swifts in urban Lincoln. The city isn't green in this regard, and has not made any effort to mitigate for the destruction.


Construction activity at the Ben's Auto Parts building. October 6, 2007.

14 May 2009

Considering Biogeography of Avifauna in the Central Niobrara Valley

Niobrara Valley at Fred Thomas WMA. May 15, 2009.

The unique distinction of the central Niobrara valley as a corridor with a changing range of occurrence for a number of different species of birds is readily apparent in the occurrence shown by historic records. This particular facet of the valley biology, was indicated in my research paper on the birds of the Niobrara River Valley (Transactions of the Nebraska Academy of Sciences, 1989).

Since that analysis was done two decades ago, there has been a limited amount of additional field work that conveys specific details of the current status of particular species. In addition to personal surveys, and online reports, there are many records collected by Dave Heidt at atlas blocks for the Nebraska Breeding Bird Atlas II. It is his up-to-date, and most recent observations which have made this analysis possible.

This essay considers only those records available since 1989. The area considered is Rock, Keya Paha, Brown and Cherry counties which comprise the central Niobrara River Valley. Records are available for many particular geographic locales closely associated with the river valley environs (i.e., within a township of the river channel). Overall there are more than 5100 records available for this period of time to consider for an analysis of avifaunal occurrence and distribution.

The sites listed for each species are given in an east to west manner. The site names given are based on specific geographic place names, including attributions for unnamed places based on the first to name standard.

Prairie Falcon - eastward limit during breeding season

Most recently noted during the breeding season eastward in the valley at the south Irwin Road in June 2006 where fledged young were observed. Previously noted at the Bear Creek confluence in May 1989, also in Cherry County.

Virginia Rail - northern extreme of range during winter season

Winter occurrence in wetlands along the river channel only noted very recently. Thirteen records for late-October to mid-February from Niobrara Tract, McKelvie Forest, Circle J Reserve south of Nenzel, Mogle Falls and Jim Gray Place along the Niobrara River south of Merriman.

American Woodcock - westward limit during breeding season

One June 22, 2006, one was flushed once, then again, near the Buffalo Bridge, at Fort Niobrara NWR. The only other regional record was in March 2007 at Goose Lake WMA, in southern Holt county, when it was noted by Loren Blake.

Common Poorwill - westward limit during breeding season

Thomas Creek WMA: 06/06/2007
Springview Bridge: 07/02/2006
Devils Gulch: 05/14/2006
Meadville Bridge: 07/09/2006
Norden Bridge: 06/23/2007
Wazi Oshki: 05/15/2009
Fort Niobrara NWR: 07/16/2006

Among the Niobrara River and its tributary valleys, the region has different species of nightjars, especially in the lower, or eastern Niobrara River Valley, where three species can be experienced at places such as Bohemia Prairie WMA in Knox county. The biological significance of this has not been studied to perhaps consider habitat partitioning, range overlap or other biotic considerations worthy of focused studies.

Whip-poor-will - westward limit during breeding season

Bone Creek Confluence: 06/17/2008
Thomas Creek WMA: 06/17/2008 and 07/13/2008
Springview Bridge: 06/17/2008
Meadville Bridge: 07/15/2006
Norden Bridge: 06/23/2007

These records are all courtesy of Dave Heidt.

Red-bellied Woodpecker - western extension in range

Records from Turpin Lake, Niobrara River; Focken Marsh east of Mariaville, named in recognition of the property owners; Carns Bridge*; Bone Creek Confluence* which is within a block delineated for the breeding bird atlas project; Fred Thomas WMA; Keller SRA*; Meadville Bridge*; Kewanee Creek; and, Circle J Reserve.

The places marked with an asterisk are from the breeding season.

Western Wood Pewee - eastern limit during breeding season

Has occurred during the breeding season at Fort Niobrara NWR including the Bur Oak Nature Area, Government Canyon, the Valentine Fish Hatchery, Valentine City Park, Highway 97 at Niobrara River, Anderson Bridge WMA, and Circle J Reserve.

There are no known records from eastward of the Fort Niobrara NWR vicinity.

Eastern Wood Pewee - western limit during breeding season

From Mariaville westward to Anderson Bridge WMA as indicated by 30 records. All of the records, except one, are from Valentine eastward. The western record for May 30, 2007 is from a Nebraska Game and Parks Commission birding day visit to the wildlife area at Anderson Bridge.

There is no current knowledge of the hybrid zone for the wood-pewees along the Niobrara.

Yellow-throated Vireo - western limit during breeding season

One observed May 30, 2005 at the Bur Oak Nature Area of Fort Niobrara NWR, when birder Sylvia Gallagher was visiting, and included this species in the trip journal, published on the web. The only other pertinent record for this species was on June 17, 1964 along the Niobrara River in Brown County, as documented by Lester L. Short, Jr.

Rock Wren - eastern extension during the breeding season

On the rocky bluffs north of Mogle Falls on June 23, 2006. Historically noted on May 3, 1982 at the Niobrara Valley Preserve, indicating that the species' range is probably more expansive than the single modern record indicates. Also on September 16, 1988 at Fort Niobrara NWR.

Marsh Wren - northern extreme of range during winter season; also a breeding season resident

Winter occurrence in wetlands in the river valley documented only recent observations. Observed at Anderson Bridge WMA, the Niobrara Tract of McKelvie Forest, Circle J Reserve, Mogle Falls, and Jim Gray Place during December to February, in 2004-2006.

Although these records are all from Cherry county, this species may occur in similar habitats eastward in the river valley. There is an obvious dearth of winter observations for the modern period, with any records for this season nonexistent in the historic records.

Winter Wren - northern extreme of range during winter season

Winter occurrence at spring-branch canyons along the river only noted since 2004. From the end of October to mid-February at Bobcat WMA, Conservancy Swamp on the Niobrara Valley Preserve, Krzyzanowski Tract south of Smith Falls State Park, Sears Falls on the Fort Niobrara NWR, Borman Bridge WMA, Anderson Bridge WMA, Buckhorn Springs at the northern edge of McKelvie Forest, Circle J Reserve and along the river at Mogle Falls.

During the breeding season on May 23 and June 13, 2000 at Tyler Creek and Falls, at Fort Niobrara NWR.

This species is likely to occur at numerous other suitable spring-branch canyons which have flowing water throughout the winter season, despite any extreme cold weather conditions.

Wood Thrush - western limit during breeding season

A single record for May 23, 2006 in the vicinity of Valentine.

Black-and-white Warbler - western extension of range during breeding season

Prevalent along the central Niobrara valley, with more than 30 records of occurrence from the Mariaville Bridge vicinity to the valley south of Nenzel.

American Redstart - western extension of range during breeding season

There are 53 records of occurrence for this species from south of Irwin, in western Cherry County to Mariaville. The latest seasonal occurrence is mid-July.

Ovenbird - western extension of range during breeding season

About 82 records from western Cherry County - south of Irwin - to the Mariaville area in Rock county. This is a regular and prevalent breeder in the Niobrara Valley. The western limit to its occurrence is not known.

Scarlet Tanager - western extension of range during breeding season

These locales are where this species has been seen, most recently:

Creeper Creek: 06/19/2006
Carns Bridge: 07/01/2007
Thomas Creek WMA: 06/16/2007
Fred Thomas WMA: 06/21/2006
Meadville Bridge: 07/15/2006 and 06/16/2007
Valentine Area: 05/23/2006

Its range is indicated at least as far westward as near Valentine.

Western Tanager - eastern limit of range during breeding season

There are no known modern records of this species for the central Niobrara River Valley. Last noted by an 1955 notation by Youngworth in his paper on birds of the Quicourt valley, particularly in the region of the Niobrara Game Preserve.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak - western extension of range during breeding season

Noted at:

Creeper Creek: 06/19/2006
Keller SRA: 05/14/2008
Meadville Bridge: 06/23/2008
Valentine City Park: 06/06/2003
Anderson Bridge WMA: 05/30/2007
Circle J Reserve: 06/10/2006

The breeding season distribution of this species extends at least into central Cherry County, with its true western limit not known.

Northern Cardinal - western extent of range

In 1932, Youngworth noted how this species was present at the Niobrara Game Preserve, now called Fort Niobrara NWR. Five decades later, it had continued to expand its range westward, and was noted at Anderson Bridge WMA in the latter 1980s. In June 2006, this red-bird was present during the breeding season along the river, south of Irwin, an indication of it moving westward due to an increase in woody habitat along the river valley. A record in western Cherry county is a blatant indication of an obvious change in range, yet its current western extent is not known to any observers.


Any understanding of bird occurrence and range of birds for the central Niobrara River valley is based upon a drastically limited extent of records. Many of the observations were made at a limited number of places readily accessible to tourists or volunteers for an atlas project, limiting a comprehensive view of distribution.

There is also a seasonal skew to information, with most of the details having been gathered during the breeding season.

The knowledge of current bird distribution along the central Niobrara Valley is almost entirely based upon volunteer efforts. Exceptions are a recent study of habitat considerations done by University of Nebraska-Lincoln students at the Niobrara Valley Preserve. National Park Service staff have also been monitoring the occurrence of the Piping Plover and Least Tern during its nesting period.

Information of particular detail is lacking - much of it based on historic articles - despite the apparent importance of the Niobrara River valley in any study of the variable biogeography of birds. Any flux in bird distribution that may be happening due to changing climate and habitat conditions, would occur at the edge of a species range, features historically indicated along the Niobrara valley.

There is an obvious need for more extensive surveys that can indicate changing conditions for birds in the Niobrara Valley. There are no studies being funded for such an effort, though there are several potential sources which could provide money. This includes obvious contributions by the various agencies involved with the management of the scenic river.

Understanding the birds of the Niobrara Valley should not be left to volunteer efforts, but should be given specific and ongoing research attention, with ample funding provided for obvious, essential research endeavors. Funds should also be allocated to create a record base of sightings which can provide an archive of details for comparative purposes.

Funding of biotic investigations is required to understanding the unique and vital aspects of fauna along the Niobrara River valley. With the obvious instances of dramatic variation for the range of many bird species, an understanding of the valley's bird biogeography should be based on active research in the field, not the office.

12 May 2009

Coalition Asks Interior Secretary to Immediately Suspend Work by Federal Wind Turbine Advisory Committee

A coalition of groups has asked for “immediate action to suspend the work of the” Wind Turbine Guidelines Advisory Committee of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).

The letter dated May 11, was sent to Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar and acting director of the USFWS, Rowan Gould.

The letter, in part, asks that the committee’s work be suspended “at least until you have had a chance to make a fresh evaluation of its composition and operation, and to take steps to ensure that the Committee has the genuine scientific expertise and independence necessary to develop recommendations that are truly protective of migratory birds, bats, and other wildlife resources. Otherwise, the inevitable result will be a waste of taxpayer money on an unbalanced (and hence unlawful) advisory process that will do nothing to restore the public’s faith in the ability of the government - and the Interior Department in particular - to make scientifically sound decisions untainted by the corrosive influence of industry lobbyists and representatives.”

“The Committee’s makeup continues to be dominated by wind power proponents, advocates, and industry representatives,” said Eric R. Glitzenstein of Meyer Glitzenstein & Crystal, the public interest law firm representing the groups of the coalition.

“…the industry-controlled federal advisory committee established by the Bush Administration has already made it clear that it will offer up, at most, platitudes and empty rhetoric and, at worst, weak rationalizations for why the global climate crisis somehow justifies looking the other way while the wind power industry creates, or at least contributes to, another ecological crisis. Indeed, the Committee’s current draft does not begin to even acknowledge the parameters of the problem, let alone prescribe meaningful solutions for it.”

The 30-page draft recommendations issued in March, “read more as an unabashed endorsement of wind power than a rigorous effort to address the harmful - and ever growing - effects of poorly sited and constructed wind power projects on wildlife. Indeed, rather than carrying out the Committee’s charter to ‘provide advice and recommendations to the Secretary of the Interior’ regarding ‘effective measures to avoid or minimize impacts to wildlife and their habitats related to land-based wind energy facilities,’ the draft recommendations instead contain the truly remarkable suggestion that wind power projects should be held to a far less rigorous standard than other forms of energy (or other) projects. Thus, the draft asserts:

“The Committee recommends that the Secretary apply the USFWS guidelines for review of wind power development, and make management and mitigation decisions, with appropriate consideration of wind energy’s carbon reduction benefits. In addressing wind project impacts on wildlife, the Committee urges the Secretary to consider the larger effects of climate change that are posting significant and growing threats to birds and other wildlife species. For example, the IPCC recently concluded that climate change caused by human activity is likely to seriously affect terrestrial biological systems.”

A previous letter sent on January 17, 2008, expressed concerns on the composition of the Wind Turbine Guidelines Advisory Committee. It said, in part: “because the Committee as appointed by the Bush Administration was controlled by representatives of the wind power industry, and also had gaping holes in scientific expertise regarding adverse wildlife impacts, the Committee violated the requirements of the Federal Advisory Committee Act, 5 U.S.C. App. II, that all chartered advisory committees must be ‘fairly balanced in terms of the points of view represented and the functions to be performed by the advisory committee,’ and ‘will not be inappropriately influenced by … any special interest.’”

The committee’s charter “was to devise ‘effective measures to avoid or minimize impacts to wildlife and their habitats related to land-based wind energy facilities.’ Yet more than one and one-half years after the Committee’s creation it has become abundantly clear that the actual role of the Committee, at least as currently constituted, will be to offer justifications for not developing rigorous, enforceable criteria designed to ‘avoid or minimize’ the ever escalating wildlife impacts from poorly sited and constructed wind power turbines,” said the most recent letter.

The coalition opposed to the results of the advisory committee includes the Industrial Wind Action Group, the Center for Biological Diversity, The Humane Society of the United States, D. Daniel Boone, Maryland Conservation Council, Save Our Allegheny Ridges, Friends of Blackwater Canyon, Protect the Flint Hills, Chautauqua County Citizens for Responsible Wind Power, Green Berkshires, Inc., Juniata Valley Audubon Society, Ripley Hawk Watch, Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, Wildlife Advocacy Project, Union Neighbors United, and Laurel Mountain Preservation Association.

10 May 2009

Heron Haven a Mecca for Nature and Enthusiasts

[Ione Werthman at Heron Haven, Omaha]

Ione Werthman at Heron Haven, 30 April 2009.

With a tenacity derived from decades of experience, Ione Werthman continues to promote and enhance a nature haven that is the pinnacle of a lifetime of dedication to the environment and its protection.

Her effort and ongoing vision is vividly apparent in a bit of land, Heron Haven Nature Preserve in west Omaha. Although the site is a bit of a tract of just about 25 acres, its value to birds, wildlife and local flora is vast indeed. And the place is a magnet for volunteers which share Werthman's view.

A review of the April 2009 newsletter issued to the group of friends and enthusiasts nurturing the heron haven, indicates the depth of dedication by volunteers and contributors to the cause. Consider these contributions:

  • grant for $1000 from the Omaha Community Foundation for uses around the haven trail cleanup work done by Chris Kasel
  • Wells Fargo Insurance Company donation of bookcases, file cabinets and office supplies
  • Bruce Warr and Larry Shackman doing brush removal, and planning and design for the installation of a new fence for the butterfly garden area. Funding for the fence was provided by the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality since the material used was recycled plastics. Verla Shaner is in charge of the flower plantings for this project.
  • Papio-Missouri Natural Resources District contributing by clearing trees and furnishing some soil additive for the new trail through the garden
  • Eva Bennett donation to purchase more nature games to be used for education activities

Ione Werthman also mentioned how there are two more young men working on their Eagle Scout project at the haven. One project will repair a fence damaged by the June 2008 tornado which swept through Omaha. The other contributed effort will involve planting buffalo grass and roto-tilling to prepare the soil to extend the picnic area and bird garden at the back of the nature center. More than 20 Boy Scouts have done their Eagle Scout projects at Heron Haven, Werthman said with pride.

On the day of our visit, Donald Vanacek, who had been at the nature center for a recent program, brought in a box of gourds adapted to provide bird houses, either for house wrens or purple martins, preferably, but still worthwhile for the English sparrow.

This is a tally for just this spring. The extent of volunteer contributions is a wonder when considering what has been accomplished at Heron Haven, since its simple beginnings in 1992.

Within three months, once neighbors of a proposed apartment development project contacted activist Werthman in 1992, then actively involved with the Audubon Society. Once a neighbor of the wetland provided a check for $200 to support the cause, a direction was indicated for the fate of these acres.

The three great blue herons Ione Werthman noted when she first visited the place, made their distinctive and indelible mark, indicating a haven for herons, egrets, ducks, geese, plovers, raptors, woodpeckers, thrushes, warblers, sparrows and a myriad of other wild bird species.

Funds were raised and the property purchased so it could be permanently protected as a nature area. Werthman's focus and intent raised the necessary funds - $187,000 - for the purchase of 12 acres of what had been a part of the Big Papillion Creek channel. Once the waterway was channelized, there was a relict oxbow and wetland habitats along with the woodlands. The site was not suited for an apartment complex, but an alternative view was much more appropriate.

Overall, she has procured more than $1 million for the urban sanctuary, including the removal of ten dump-truck loads of rubble and trash! Also monies were used to construct a boardwalk at the marsh, put in a blind that is its own haven for fowl photographers, and excavation to deepen the wetland.

Ione Werthman raised these funds that are part of that celebrated source of money to create the heron haven: $175,000 in 1996, to purchase a former bar - once known as Puddle Mary's Catch and Carry Bar (buy a drink to enjoy while doing a little fishing), or later, Gilley's Place with its storied history - which is now a nature center, established in 1998. Money for this came from the many donors which could see that this was a worthy endeavor, as well as the Nebraska Environmental Trust and the Papio-Missouri NRD which were in complete agreement.

With her particular tenacity, the ongoing development of this special bit of urban nature, over came particular bumps in the road. A huge, 100-year flood occurred along the creek on August 7, 1999, just a couple of months after the grand opening of the nature center, there was water in the building at 10 a.m., and gone four hours later. Mud was left behind, so the building has since been remodeled to make it suitable for classes, gatherings of nature enthusiasts, and a hangout for people that enjoy a place to rest after an outing to watch the geese or other wild birds which appreciate these few acres.

[Pair of Canada Geese]

Pair of Canada Geese at Heron Haven, 30 April 2009.

The bird list for Heron Haven currently has a tally of 133 species. A peregrine falcon is the most recent addition, perhaps it was Zeus, making the trek to western Omaha to visit a place where it might find a bit of food to take back downtown to its mate, attending the nest at the Woodmen Tower.

In April 2008, Ione Werthman received the Howard L. Weigers Nebraska Outstanding Wildlife Conservation Award, notably for her work to establish Heron Haven, but which also is based on her 35 years of volunteer work with the National Audubon Society, Friends of the Niobrara River, and otherwise to protect and nuture the nature of Nebraska.

There are now 250 members of the Friends of Heron Haven group, with a fine number actively involved. This group was established in 2004 to support protection and ongoing enhancement of the wetland along Maple Street.

When talking with the matriarch of Heron Haven - or volunteer director in official parlance - it is obvious that there is no moss growing under her feet. She looks forward to further improvements for this little bit of urban nature.

By the end of this year, or the beginning of next year, there will be a dragon-fly pond established near the nature center, according to planning now underway.

The Corps of Engineers will soon be undertaking a project to remove the invasive Asian reed-canary grass at an east area of the haven wetlands.

What else might be in the future for Heron Haven, perhaps?

The Heron Haven Nature Center is expected to be a trailhead for the recreation trail to be established from Hefflinger Park, up Maple Street to the east, to Tranquility Park, across the Big Papillion Creek and 120th Street to the west. This project is being developed by the Papio-Missouri NRD.

There is the city of Omaha-owned property to the east of the haven property. It is a deep ravine, bordered by housing, but a place that obviously could never be developed in any reasonable manner, and a source for spring-water which nourishes the wetland. When a group of students from Creighton Prep school developed a detailed, three-dimensional layout of the haven vicinity, showing the primary features, and potentialities, including a possible hiking trail addition in the east ravine.

Invasive species are a concern. An effort to revert the site flora to just native species would be a great enhancement.

Next to the nature center, there is a measly 3-acres used by Mulhall Nursery, mostly for storage of their products. It could perhaps be better used as a bit of green space, rather than commercial property?

Werthman also considers the longer-term for the haven: "It would be nice to place a berm above where the city sewer pipe-line crosses the wetland. This could be a prime place for the geese to nest."

"The more people involved the better," Werthman said. "it is fun being out here to educate others while also learning."

It is the profound dedication of individuals which have established Heron Haven as a special place for so many people, and a natural area so important for flora and fauna in an otherwise developed urban setting.

Each owes Ione Werthman their own distinct expression of thanks. The Canada geese express their pleasure each day, and the song of the house wren is another bit of joyous song of this bit of haven resulting from a singular focus on environmental conservation and nature education in an urban setting.

Sam's Bird Blog features pictures of the birds and other natural scenes at Heron Haven.

06 May 2009

Mitigation Project by Highway Department Creates Wetlands on Western Niobrara

A wetland mitigation project by the Nebraska Department of Roads is creating a few acres of wetlands on the floodplain terrace of the Niobrara River in western Cherry County, Nebraska.

About 7.5+ acres of wetlands are expected to develop adjacent to an oxbow of the river, according to information from the state agency. Mitigation was required - based on Section 404 regulations administered by the Army Corps of Engineers - for the placement of fill in ca. 2-3 acres of wetlands associated with an eastward shift in the alignment of Highway 61, when the bridge across the river was replaced for safety reasons as part of the Merriman South Bridge Project.

There were 11.02 acres purchased at the project site in 2006 for a total cost of $19,936, according to NDOR information. The overall cost of this project was about $5 million, for work on improving the highway.

Final grading of the mitigation site occurred in the fall of 2008, according to agency officials. The site hydrology was later confirmed, though any growth of the seeded plants is expected to be sparse this spring, according to agency officials. As the water table drops going into the summer and fall, vegetation is expected to be better established, they said in an email.

Mechanical removal of soil to create wetland conditions to different depths was done for the project, so a variety of shallow-water wetlands are projected to develop. Two types of classified wetlands are expected to be established:

PEMC, or palustrine emergent seasonally flooded
PEMA, or palustrine emergent temporarily flooded

A seed-planting plan, approved by the NDOR and ACE, includes a number of species for which seeds have been spread, appropriate for each type of wetland.

An initial evaluation of the mitigation wetlands will occur late this spring or early summer, and be done by staff of the Environmental Permits Unit of the NDOR. The Army Corps of Engineers, which issued a permit to allow the placement of fill in wetlands to the east of the former right-of-way, requiring the mitigation for the filling of wetlands, also added the stipulation for a five-year monitoring period to evaluate how the wetland becomes established.

Although most of the former Highway 61 roadway was left in place, a portion nearest the river was lowered to normal grade at the request of the National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, to comply with National River inventory requirements, in particular the view shed issue, Nebraska officials said.

Upon reaching the valley rim while traveling along the highway, there is a dramatic presentation of the local environs and it is a very scenic perspective of the Niobrara River and its valley environs, especially from the north approach.

The mitigation wetland site will remain under NDOR ownership, agency officials said.

This publicly-owned tract extends from the western side of the new highway right-of-way to the western edge of the mitigation area, and is prominently marked by a fence and boundary markers indicating the boundary, according to NDOR officials.

Adjacent private property is accessible only with specific permission from the landowner.

This is the only public land along the Niobrara River in the western portion of Cherry county. Because of the oxbow wetland, there are already a few interesting records of birds from the locale, when birders stopped on the highway shoulder and made some observations. Additional species' details are available for specific surveys made to the east and west of the highway in wetlands on the adjacent private property, done in different seasons during recent years, with the landowner's permission. With an expected increase in wetlands habitat, the site may attract more different bird species and perhaps be a more interesting place to look for birds in the valley.

For bird records' consistency, there is an obvious need for a suitable geographic name for the locale. It has been formerly identified as the Jim Gray Place when designating the site for bird records, in recognition of the pioneer ranch man, according to a former owner of the ranchland.

Even prior to this, there was a historic settler log cabin sold from the project site. Associated homestead structures are now gone - the cabin was sold and taken away - with the shift in the highway alignment.

With the change in land ownership as the project-site had to be sold to the NDOR with the resulting publicly owner mitigation wetlands, and as the adjacent ranch itself was sold by the owner to a member of the family, and other influential considerations, a new geographic place-name is appropriate. Jim Gray Place has been used most recently for the private land at the river crossing. Merriman South Bridge wetland mitigation site is the name parlance by the state department of roads.

Any particular names are not known in the prior historic record, though there were certainly some that have been lost in the dim history unknown.

There were Frenchmen along the Niobrara Valley in its earliest European history, who called the flowing waters the Quicourt River. It was the Running Water in the language of the local Indians.

It would be appropriate for the place to be known as the Running Water Wetlands, referring to the marsh and oxbows, generally visible from a vantage point adjacent to the highway. The name refers not only to the ceaseless flow of water down the river channel, but also to the subtle spring flows along the lower slope on the south side of the valley.

Adjacent parcels of property could be known as Niobrara River, Churn Ranch, especially to the west at the marsh south of the oxbow, and towards the Twisted Pine Ranch perched above, on the south bluff. And if needed, a further refinement in local geography would be to designate the east oxbows as Niobrara Oxbows, Churn Ranch. These place names suitably include the mitigation wetland area, the adjacent oxbow on private ranch land but also viewable from the highway, as well as the bit of oxbow on the east side of the road which is now part of the Shadbolt's Churn Ranch property.

This mitigation wetland is among the several mitigation sites owned by the Nebraska Department of Roads in the Nebraska Sandhills region, each developed during recent years:

Roads Pond - Lakeside; two miles east of Lakeside
Roads Ponds - Antioch; west of Lakeside
Roads Wetland - Bassett; four miles east of Bassett
Roads Wetland - Linscott; in northwest Custer county
Roads Wetland - O'Neill; eight miles south of O'Neill
Roads Wetland - Thedford; three miles east of Thedford

These tracts of publicly-owned property are open for public access, with obvious caveats that certainly need to be considered. There is no parking allowed on the highway shoulder, according to officials of the Nebraska Department of Roads, and any stopping should occur only off the highway right-of-way, in a safe location away from traffic and in a manner that does not impede travel along the roadway. Access by foot-traffic only is allowed. And do not litter, or even better, if you do make a visit, leave the place cleaner than when you arrived.

04 May 2009

Revised Recovery Plan Issued for Endangered Hawaiian Crow

A revised recovery plan for the critically endangered Hawaiian Crow, or Alalā (Corvus hawaiiensis), was released in mid-April by the U.S. Fish and Wildife Service. The species is recognized as being one of the "world’s rarest forest birds."

An Alalā. Photograph by D. Ledig, U.S. F.W.S.

"With the release of this recovery plan, we reach out to Big Island communities asking for their support in helping restore the alalā to its native forests," said Patrick Leonard, field supervisor for the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife Office. "Wildlife does not recognize property lines or jurisdictional areas. Working together, we hope to bring this charismatic bird back to its rightful place in Hawai‘i."

"Current threats," to the Alalā, according to the updated, 104-page recovery plan released in January, 2009, "include potential predation by non-native mammals and the `Io or Hawaiian Hawk (Buteo solitarius), introduced diseases, and habitat loss and fragmentation. Inbreeding depression may be reducing the reproductive success of the captive population, and loss of wild behaviors in captivity might reduce survivorship of captive-raised birds released into the wild. Because the population is small and confined to captivity, the `Alalā is highly susceptible to stochastic environmental, demographic, and genetic events."

The plan calls for spending $14,380,000 to implement each of the recovery actions, with an ultimate goal of establishing multiple, self-sustaining populations on the island of Hawai’i - its historic range - that would allow the species to be removed from the list of endangered and threatened species.

"Alalā recovery actions," according to a F.W.S. press release, "call for expanding captive propagation to minimize loss of genetic diversity, protecting suitable habitat and managing threats to the species, establishing new populations in managed habitat, establishing a program to increase public support, and continuing research and adaptive management practices for species recovery.

The Maui and Keauhou Bird Conservation Centers managed by the Zoological Society of San Diego – are currently maintaining 60 ‘alalā at their captive propagation facilities. These birds are the sole surviving Alala, and provide the nucleus for increasing the species' population.

Several pairs are currently nesting, according to Jeff Burgett, of the Fish and Wildlife Service, and Alala Recovery Team Leader.

"The population needs to grow to at least 75 birds in order to avoid further loss of genetic diversity and to begin reintroduction into the wild."

In 2002, the last Hawaiian crow existing in the wild was observed, with the last known breeding in the wild in 1996.

The ‘Alalā Recovery Team directing the recovery of the species, is comprised of two private landowners, two avian captive propagation specialists, and representatives from the Hawai‘i Audubon Society, the Hawai‘i Division of Forestry and Wildlife, the U.S. Geological Survey’s biological resources discipline, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Cornell University and Stanford University.

News on efforts to conserve the Alalā is available on the Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife Office of the Fish and Wildlife Service.

01 May 2009

Recovery and Reinvestment Act Provides $200 Million for Refuge Improvements

Funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act 2009 will soon be put to use improving numerous federal wildlife refuges across the United States.

Funding totals by category for ARRA allocation. Image courtesy of the Fish and Wildlife Service.

There was $280 million allocated for “830 projects to build visitors centers, improve infrastructure, and bolster conservation at national wildlife refuges and hatcheries across the country,” Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, announced on April 26. “Projects include $115 million for construction, repair and energy efficiency retrofit projects at U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service facilities, and $165 million for habitat restoration, deferred maintenance and capital improvement projects.”

Of this total, $200,925,000 will be spent on refuge system projects, according to agency officials.

“The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is a tremendous opportunity for us to make significant gains in wildlife conservation, facility improvements, ‘green’ construction, and the next generation of conservation leaders through youth employment,” said Gregory Siekaniec, assistant director for the Refuge System. “We will be completing projects that provide wildlife values, create jobs, are completed within the allotted time, and help us achieve some of our conservation goals and objectives much sooner that we had anticipated.

Benefits to the refuges and the millions of people which use these areas each year will occur by providing “enhanced visitor experiences, restored and enhanced wildlife habitats, reduced carbon footprint, leadership by example in green construction, youth employment in conservation, and work for American citizens,” he added.

There were funds allocated to refuges in each of the United States of America. Examples of the millions of dollars allocated to particular states include:

Alaska: 10,081,000; including Alaska Maritime, Izembek, and Kenai national wildlife refuges
California: 22,357,000; Don Edwards San Francisco Bay, Lower Klamath, and Sacramento NWRs
Colorado: $9,380,000; Alamosa and Rocky Mountain Arsenal NWRs
Hawaii: $8,636,000; Hakalua Forest, Hawaiian Islands, and Kilauea Point NWRs
North Carolina: $10,904,000; Mattamuskeet, Pea Island, and Pocosin Lakes NWRs
North Dakota: $8,399,000; Audubon and J. Clark Salyer NWRs
New York: $10,604,000; Long Island or Shawanguk Grasslands NWRs; at the latter refuge, wetlands will be restored by removal of runways and taxiways
Tennessee: $12,617,000; Chickasaw, Cross Creeks, Reelfoot and Tennessee NWRs
Texas: $16,629,000; Hagerman, Laguna Atascosa, Lower Rio Grande Valley and McFaddin NWRs
Washington: $14,408,000; Nisqually, Turnbull and Willapa NWRs
Note: There are other typically other refuges within each state that will receive funds in addition to those listed.

Funding in three categories will provide distinct benefits, Siekaniec said. He also indicated how projects were selected.


“This is an opportunity to construct some of the much needed visitor facilities that we have been interested in for quite some time. We can build using a standard design, green energy technology, strive for LEED certification, vacate costly leases in some cases that free up operating funds, reduce our maintenance backlog in some cases by building new, and provide lasting value to the American public through visitor service programs and more efficient management of refuge resources. In most cases we should be able to demonstrate a move towards reducing our overall carbon footprint as well.”

“Construction projects were identified from a known list of needed visitor and administrative facilities using the general guidance of providing lasting value to the American people, can be completed with the allotted window, creates jobs via contracting with private firms, and does not incur large operations and maintenance needs in the future.”

“Maintenance projects were selected from the backlog of deferred projects that are supported by our tracking of facility and infrastructure needs. Annually we identify new projects and incorporate a certain dollar value into a 5 year plan that is used as a budgeting tool.


“This is a tremendous opportunity to complete some of the larger habitat projects that we typically cannot afford with annual appropriated funding.”

“Habitat projects are from both the deferred list if they are infrastructure needs such as dike rehabilitation, water control structures, fencing for land protection etc. (capital improvements), and from the refuge operation needs list if they are restoration of tidal marsh, remove predators from nesting islands, restore grassland habitats, install irrigation system to produce forage on the elk refuge in lieu of feed supplements, or ‘new’ projects that do not have a deferred element to them.”


“We had no inkling that an opportunity to get serious about alternative energy would be forthcoming. Many refuges have been investigating the options in wind, solar, and geothermal energy but were moving slowly because you can only do so much with the annual appropriation.”

“Green energy projects were a combination of deferred maintenance needs and a call for innovative and new ideas to reduce our carbon footprint and incorporate alternative energy practices into our facility operations.

Opportunities for National Refuges

“Congress has provided the National Wildlife Refuge System with an opportunity to assist with the economic recovery of our nation with much needed on-the-ground conservation and facility improvement projects. It’s now up to us to meet the expectations of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act. I’m looking forward to projects getting under way and to an enhanced refuge system that continues to provide lasting value for America.”

“Projects will get started within the next couple of weeks as we allocate the funding to the Regional Offices across the country,” Siekaniec said.

Funds provided to the other bureaus of the Department of Interior were:

  • Bureau of Reclamation: $ 950,000,000
  • National Park Service: $750,000,000 on nearly 800 projects
  • Bureau of Indian Affairs: $ 500,000,000
  • Bureau of Land Management: $ 320,000,000
  • United States Geological Service: $140,000,000

Overall, the Department of Interior received $3 billion from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

This article was first posted at www.bloggernews.net