27 July 2012

Kingbirds Lurking in Carthage

During the routine of a hot summer day, an evocative expression conveyed details obvious enough to denote a new addition to the bird list for the Carthage neighborhood.

There was a similar but more subtle message on July 24th, but it was relatively tentative and perplexing, due to a lack of observational documentation. It is not typically appropriate to look and scan and linger in any neighborhood when residents are oblivious to the joys of bird watching.

Midday on Wednesday, July 25th, the birds were obvious as heard again, so time was taken to get a closer look. The result was simply obvious.

Four Eastern Kingbirds sitting upon nearby branches of a local tree. They were evocative and obvious upon taking an interlude on the public sidewalk to get a proper view as the birds sat there, up above, in a splendid perspective for a ground-based watcher. It was a family group, based upon regular indications including group behavior, time of the year, and general verve as observed. They may not have nested in the immediate vicinity, but it must have been nearby.

It was a special and unexpected addition to the avifauna of this completely urban setting!

During the past couple of the days, they have been moving around within the local vicinity, as parents with fledglings are prone to do. They've been vocal and their message has been heard.

It was quite surprising to observe the kingbirds, as they had never been seen nor heard in the neighborhood, where particular attention is given to birds present. This is the 67th species to be recorded in the Carthage neighborhood, eastern Omaha. There have been other surprises bird observations in recent weeks, but that is the wonder of birds, and always appreciated, but rarely known.

There was no readily evident indication of their presence on Thursday. These birds of some significance are moving along to suit their survival.

Thankfully, their time in the neighborhood was appreciated!

Prairie-Chickens Struck Dead by Telegraph Wires

A few words on the page of a newspaper published many decades ago, convey an event significant to learning more about the early years of continental bird history.

A paragraph in an Iowa paper — recently discovered during a more comprehensive search associated with newspaper ornithology — indicates the first known occurrence of the danger of telegraph to prairie-chickens. The note of particular interest was included in the "State Items" column — relating newsly items for Illinois — as published in the Weekly Quincy Whig and Republican, issued January 6, 1866. It said:

"The 'section boss' on the T.H. & St. Louis Road, near Stockton, picked up thirteen prairie chickens, a few days since, all killed in a few moments whilst a flock were crossing the road, they having struck the four wires of the telegraph line."

Based upon the date of publication, and a lapse of time from when the event occurred until it was reported or reissued, the event likely happened in December, 1865. Stockton is in Jo Daviess county, Illinois.

Telegraph wires were an emerging feature on the prairie landscape at the time. The indication of the demise of these Greater Prairie-chickens indicates how the new construct created hazards deadly to birds. There may have been other instances, not reported, because it was something less than dramatic and not significant enough that an editor would, letter-by-letter, place the type to express the words upon a page of the newspaper.

The notation also conveys the occurrence of this iconic species in 1866, within Illinois.

A few short years later, in 1868, the next known instance of prairie-chickens being struck dead by telegraph wires, was indicated in a December 1868 note issued in an Iowa newspaper.

The indications are, thankfully, included in the newspaper chronicles. There are more than likely other instances of similar occurrences which went unreported and will never be known.

On the Prairie - Birdly Poetry

On the Prairie.

The world grows beautiful. Each morn I look
Out of my window on some beauty born
In the still night. Where late the swift fires ran.
Making a glory of the dead, dry grass,
To-day there smiles a fresh growth of green
That I could fall upon my knees and bless,
It is so sweet and restful to the sight —
It is so sweet and restful to the soul.
I see the sun rise in the earth's far edge,
And, unobscured at night, go down beyond
Its utmost rim; no city's lights to mar
The perfect picture, and no city's din
To break the silence that unto the soul
That listens, hath a thousand messages
That sound knows not.
The sky bends low
And clasps the dear earth in a warm embrace,
And the glad earth smiles back its promises
Of beauty yet to be. A little while,
And on the brook's edge there will come again
Familiar sights; on its glad breast will rock
The water-lilies — those white thoughts of God —
And by-and-by strange little tufts of grass,
Between which and the meadow lark there is
A small, sweet secret, will grow glad with song.
And later still — Nature if prodigal —
The "tides of grass will break in foam of flowers."
Year after year our eyes have seen the same
Entrancing marvel; leaf and bud and flower,
The music of the happy streams and birds,
And yet each year it is as strange and new,
As though it were the first. And so I pray
That when my heart shall cease to thrill with joy
At all the solemn, tender, happy sights,
At all the myriad little whispered sounds,
Of the young year, that it may cease to beat.
Carlotta Perry.
Milwaukee, July 8.
July 11, 1885. Hyde Park (Illinois) Herald 4(28): 2.

Glad Tidings of Spring

Glad Tidings.

Hark! I hear the bluebird gayly singing over
And over his few tuneful notes in yonder cedar-tree,
And straight I dream of violets and fragrant fields of clover,
And meadow brooks from winter's bonds rejoicing to be free.
For spring is here, the darling! and soon, with sweet beguiling,
She'll charm us first with shower tears, and then with sunny smiling.
And when she weeps, the brown earth will send green leaves to meet her,
And pretty buds; and when she smiles, the buds will hasten to blow,
And the winds will lose their coldness, and with gentle kisses greet her,
And grass spring in her footsteps light where late was naught but snow,
For spring is here, the darling! and her fairy friends are coming,
To wake the butterflies again, and start the bees a-humming.
The orchard trees are trembling as they feel her magic fingers
Touching them with soft enchantment that fills them with delight;
And they bid their hidden treasure, that still in shyness lingers,
Burst forth in countless happy blooms of faintest pink and white.
For spring is here, the darling! I hear a bluebird singing,
And I catch the echo of her voice in rippling laughter ringing.
— Margaret Eytinge.
May 12, 1881. Monticello (Iowa) Express 16(43): 4. John Blanchard, editor and proprietor.

25 July 2012

Birds Appreciate Fresh Water at Carthage

Oppressive heat descended upon the Missouri River valley, and settled in for an unsurpassed extent, with more than two weeks of temperatures exceeding 95o. Daily temperatures have exceeded 100o, especially during the past few days, with reportorial people indicating the actual extreme of the situation with the past few days having peak daily temperatures a few digits above 100o, with an even greater heat index.

Hot and dry conditions are prevalent in the River City. On Monday, July 23rd, the peak temperature was 105o, tying the previous record. On the 24th, it was 87o at 6 a.m. in the morning, and at 102o twelve hours later, with humidity increasing that value two degrees. No rain has fallen for a month, and that would be in latter June. Ozone warnings have been issued for the city-scape of Omaha.

The outdoor situation in my neighborhood has meant an obvious and dedicated attention to a bit of a blue bowl for the birds in the Carthage neighborhood of east Omaha. As the temperatures soared into the triple digit range, so did attention to the little basin with fresh water. It has been an obvious attraction where many birds have been regularly congregating each and every day for weeks.

Visits have been continual. Antics by the birds are expressive as they drink and bathe. Their splashes are wonderfully evocative and indicative of a refreshing interlude. Some of them hop on the rock in the basin and just stand there for a time, cooling their feet.

There is a piece of discarded cement in the basin because otherwise the water would be too deep. The cement piece provides a place for birds to stand while getting into the water, and then splash about — especially using their wings — to refresh and cleanse their feathers, while also improving their condition on a hot day.

Results have been obvious, every day while seen from the — thankfully — relative coolness of the back-room at the house.

Fresh water with its coolant and bathing value has been continually provided in the back-yard bird bath and regularly renewed — often three times a day when the temps have exceeded the 100o mark. It's an obvious attraction. There have been so many indicative moments as a bird, or birds, splash in the water, walk on the rim of the bird bath, or are otherwise active at the water's scene.

There is an obvious hierarchy at the bird bath. Some birds fly in to land without hesitation. Others wait nearby because some other bird is at the basin.

Especially appreciative have been the groups of common grackles, which nest nearby. There is a routine at the blue bowl. Adult grackles supersede any younger members of this species as the darker-colored adults get priority, while the muted black juveniles wait nearby. An adult may not chase away a juveniles, especially when a group is present, probably a family at the water attraction.

House Sparrows are typically in a group as they gather at the bird bath. It is a special time to see how the lighter colored youngsters — recently fledged — consider the water and limit their exposure to a bit of a sip. These birds rarely get in to splash about.

Robins have been seen, repeatedly waiting nearby on the grass, for their moment in the water.

A few Mourning Doves also visit. They might walk around the dried-out lawn before waiting for a time when no other birds are at the water. They drink more than bathe.

There has been the occasional visit by an errant cardinal getting a drink. There has been a vagabond Blue Jay now and then. Among the species represented is a reddish-head house finch on the edge of the bird bath, quickly getting a drink of fresh water. Starlings occasionally come and go.

They have all been welcome. There have been only a few daylight minutes in recent days when there has not been a bird at the blue basin by the windmill, which has been a roost used by grackles and others of the birdly sort.

By providing fresh water, again and again during ongoing days, there has been a setting to appreciate because so many wild birds have appreciated a refreshing time at some small blue basin with fresh water. It's available for birds of any sort at Carthage, by Dundee, in Omaha.

Pigeon With a Message Killed in Michigan

A Birds Message.

Two Young Men in Michigan Killed a Pigon [Sic.] Which Hailed from Kentucky.

Battle Creek, Mich., Oct. 3. — A few days ago a young man of this city, named George Butcher, with a couple of his companions, started out for a day's sport hunting and fishing, and selected St. Mary's lake, four miles north of this city, and its surrounding forest as the scene of their sport.

After spending a good share of the day fishing, and having had poor success in securing many representative of the finny tribe, they decided to try powder and shot, as game seems to be more plentiful than fish, and in this were correct, for the squirrels, rabbits, and partridges fell at the report of their guns, and long before night they had the pleasure of seeing their game-bag filled to its utmost capacity. Being satisfied with their day's sport they turned their steps homeward, when a large flock of pigeons flew over their heads. They were the first they had seen, and discharging their shotguns at them, they had the pleasure of seeing several birds fall at their feet. On picking them up George discovered to his surprise that one of them had a small oiled silk bag securely fastened to one of its legs. On opening it he found a note written in a small feminine hand, and which he has since shown to the writer of this. The following is a copy of the singular epistle.

Lexington, Ky., May 21, 1881. This pigeon is one of a number caught by my brother in a net. I conceived the idea of fastening this note to it, and request the finder to write to Miss Eva Carroll, Lexington, Ky.

On arriving in this city a letter was immediately written to the young lady and a reply received. A correspondence has grown out of this romantic introduction, and it has been ascertained that the young lady is the daughter of a wealthy stock-raiser near Lexington, and is young and beautiful, and a wedding may yet grow out of the affair. George thanks his lucky starts that he captured the bird, and perhaps by it the heart and hand of the maid who originated this romantic scheme for correspondence. We await anxiously for the sequel of the pigeon episode.

October 11, 1881. Fort Wayne Daily Gazette 18(74): 7.

A Wonderful Bird - A Nat for the Naturalists

A few days ago Mr. James Mason, of Vernon township, took his gun, and, in company with his dog, started out for the purpose of hunting pigeons. While making his way through a deep, thickly wooded ravine, he heard a swift rushing sound in the air above him, while a dark shadow, similar to that produced by a small cloud, was thrown upon the ground. Of course this movement did not fail to attract the attention of the huntsman, and he glanced upward, when he saw, not as he supposed, a flock of pigeons, but a huge bird circling around above his head, and apparently deliberating about pouncing upon him for its prey. The sight at first somewhat startled Mr. Mason, but upon reflecting that he had both barrels of his gun well loaded, he determined to stand his ground and give "the vermint" as he expressed it, a lively turn. While waiting till the feathered monster had approached somewhat nearer, and was apparently hovering almost over him, Mr. Mason took deliberate aim, and discharging both barrels at once, had the satisfaction of seeing his huge game come fluttering and tumbling to the ground. Highly elated, Mr. Mason sprang forward to secure his prize when an exciting scene commenced. The bird, though badly wounded, was not killed, and put forth a stubborn resistance, beating the air with his wings in so furious a manner that neither Mr. Mason or his dog ventured to approach within a dozen yards, and it was not until he had fired three shots into the head and body of the monster in succession, that he ventured to approach and finish its existence by knocking it on the head with a club. From all accounts this wonderful bird belongs to species now totally extinct, but which lived and flourished, according to Cuvier and Audubon, in the days of the mastodon. It is much larger than any known species of the feathered creation, weighing exactly 92 pounds. Its body is covered with short thick feathers, those on the underside being pure white, while the back is slightly mottled with gray. The wings are nearly black, measuring 12 feet from tip to tip, while the bill is hooked and of a bluish cast. The legs are long and slender, of a pea green color, and the feet webbed like a duck's. From our exchanges we see that a bird of similar character was killed near Mound City, Ill. Mr. Mason has preserved the skin of the monster, and will soon bring it to the city, where it will be placed on exhibition for the inspection of the curious.

October 5, 1868. Fort Wayne Daily Gazette 6(129): 2. From the Dubuque Iowa Times.

23 July 2012

Omaha Officials Lack of Response to Habitat Request

A fruitful meeting to discuss the bird habitat area was held the morning of July 31st, at the Parks department. Brook Bench will have staff place log barriers to prevent vehicle access to the site, and also look into land parcel status. A special thanks to them for addressing this matter.

Omaha officials have repeatedly and consistently expressed worthless responses in regards to a request to establish an area of bird habitat adjacent to Levi Carter Park.

The most consistent person in this regard is Steve Oltmans, chief of staff in the office of mayor Jim Suttle. Interim director of the Omaha Parks and Recreation, Brook Bench, has done the same.

The worthless words by city officials were in response to a personal and email request that a bit of public property at the northwest corner of Levi Carter Park be established as a bird habitat.

Ownership of the property was derived by checking parcel information available at the website of the Douglas County assessor.

On March 29, 2012, the mayor and parks department -- as well as local news outlets -- received an email with a picture documenting one of several tracks through the parcel, resulting from the use motorized vehicles. There were apparently from 4x4s.

This is an illegal use of motorized vehicles, according to statutes of the City of Omaha.

Original Request to Establish Bird Habitat

The first request to establish a bit of recognized bird habitat in association with Levi Carter Park was expressed in person on the morning of April 30th. The same pencil-drawn graphic was used during the minutes of conversation in Oltmans' office as well as with Bench -- a short time later -- upstairs in the Omaha/Douglas Civic Center.

Both men asked for details in a written format, so the following email was sent during the noon hour, and included a graphic denoting the locales of interest. This is the text of the email:

"The attached image indicates the three areas discussed this morning, in the following regard.

"1) Designate the area as a bird habitat. This would require that it officially become part of the park, and that two signs be placed that motor vehicles are not allowed.

"This is a fine little area for song birds because of the shrubby growth. If so designated, trash removal will be taken care of by volunteers, and perhaps a sign could be placed -- payed [sic] for by a community group -- that would say: Wildbird Habitat Do Not Disturb

"By the way, the area to the east -- along the abandoned railway -- is also public property, and should become part of the park environs, and once cleaned up, would require little if any maintenance and also contribute to the park's diversity.

"2) Browne street woods

"Move ahead on getting this abandoned ROW donated to the Omaha Parks Foundation by the Union Pacific railroad. I have contacted the OPF twice on this but have heard nothing further.

"3) Southwest meadow

"Establish that this wet meadow -- the most unique and rare habitat in the park -- is a meadow area and will remain as a habitat area and not become a dog run as indicated by the park's master plan diagram.

"This is already a meadow with grassy vegetation and wet soil conditions, which would also make it a wetland. If the landuse remains the same, perhaps a little project could be done to help maintain the water conditions with financing from for a control structure from an entity that does such things, or maybe built by volunteers using donated material, as it would not take much to get something in place.

"4) The island is being called Bird Island and it would seem that if could also be 'officially' recognized as a wildbird habitat area, with no effort required other than recognition.

"This is a straight-forward, simple request, and I look forward to a reply. The city could get some good KUDO's just by making an affirmative decision and installing two signs."

Support for this recognition was also requested from the Audubon Society of Omaha. And an email was subsequently sent to Oltmans and Bench on May 17th.

No City Response

During the past three months, there has been no response received from any city official on this request. No email or phone call has been received that indicated a decisive response regarding the request.

This is a timeline of subsequent events, as personally documented:

On June 17th, Oltmans was called at his home residence. During a brief discussion he asked if anything had been received in writing. He made sure to express that the call "intruded upon his precious time." A followup email with the same details as originally sent via email, were resent the next day.

On Monday morning, June 4th, Brook Bench was seen at Levi Carter Park while checking on the status of work needed for an upcoming fund-raiser. Though he was quickly trying to exit the scene, he was "caught" before departing and asked if he would like to the see the habitat area, since he was at the park. He was not able to because he had to get to a meeting downtown, was the response. Upon being asked when a decision would be provided, he said two weeks.

On Friday morning, June 8th, a visit was made to the mayor's office to discuss the request with Steve Oltmans. It was about 8 a.m., and when he was asked for, the office worker checked, returned, and said he was in a meeting. The response was that he was in a meeting and that a meeting would be setup to discuss the request. It was obvious he was not in a meeting at the time of the visit.

On July 13th, Oltmans made a call-back and was told that the phone calls earlier in the day were in regards to the bird habitat request. He once again said that a meeting would need to be setup, and that it would take time to reach a decision.

As of July 22, 2012 there has been no response regarding this request. There have been many instances of lies when a response would be provided, or something would be done to discuss the simple request.

Ongoing Indifference

This example of a response of ignorance is nothing new by Omaha city officials.

In April, a specific request on how much the Park Department was to spend on vegetative clearing at Carter Lake, was submitted to Oltmans and Bench. A followup phone call on this matter was made to Oltmans on April 18, with an indication that details would be provided as soon as possible.

An approximate amount was finally determined, based a personal visit to get this detail on April 30th in Oltmans office, downtown Omaha.

It can also be noted that it took three efforts to remove trash from the abandoned railway route. After the first report, personal efforts were taken to gather together missed trash and debris, taken care of during a subsequent visit, after another phone call.

There is still trash, tires, and other debris which city officials have ignored in this area, and further south adjacent to the railroad route, including a broken and basically-junk jacuzzi and furniture, which was noted in a photo to city officials many weeks ago.

The first email communications (there were 3-4 sent to connect the right people) regarding the donation of the abandoned railway route occurred in November 2011. There was a note from a Union Pacific official in January 2012 that "it was still being worked on."

21 July 2012

Passenger Pigeon Business - Minnesota

The Rush of Trappers - Heavy Shipments of the Birds Eastward.

Within the past few days large numbers of pigeon trappers have been coming into the State from Illinois, Wisconsin, and other States east of us, following up the flocks of pigeons and trapping them for Eastern markets. It is made a regular matter of business, and a most profitable one, too, if the statements of the trappers may be relied upon. How can it be otherwise, when it is estimated that a hundred trappers have gone out on the Winona and St. Peter Railroad within the past week, and still they come! Kasson appears to be the chief center just now, although the hunters scatter along at neighboring stations from there as far east as Rochester, over by Pine Island, Oronoco, and vicinity. Wherever the pigeons are there are the trappers gathered together with their wiles, their decoys and nets, catching the birds by the hundreds and shipping them by the barrel, to tickle the palates of Eastern epicures.

From Mr. Knight, the express agent at this place, we learn that the first shipment of pigeons for the season came East by express, from Kasson, last Thursday, the 8th inst., and consisted of ten barrels. Since then the shipments have increased daily, justifying the inference that the trappers are doing a land office business. On Monday, twenty-five barrels came down; Tuesday, thirty-eight; Wednesday, thirty-two; and so it will probably keep up for several days, until the pigeons fly to fields and (mis)fortunes new, only to be followed by the "onward march of civilization."

How the naughty trappers catch the poor little innocent pigeons whose only fault is pulling up a few grains of wheat, now and then (to be to their faults a little blind), may interest the reader, if he will take a description of the modus operandi, second hand. The trapper has a long net, varying according to his pleasure and ability to manage it, from thirty to fifty or sixty feet in length. Width, probably, ten, twelve, or fourteen feet. This net is spread upon the ground, while at one side is scattered a tempting banquet for the coming victims. Pigeons are treated exactly on the same plan adopted for "the lords of creation." Whenever any nice little scheme of diplomacy is on foot a judicious feeler is advanced in the way of an inviting repast, and under the pacifying influence of a well stored interior the negotiations proceed harmoniously.

But aside from the grain the trappers have another decoy. They capture a pigeon, and perform the operation of refined cruelty by blinding it by stitching its eyelids together, in order that it will not struggle to free itself when the pigeons come around. The trapper himself is ambushed in a rustic bower at a convenient distance, where he can manipulate the net and cause the decoy pigeon to rise from the spring stool when a flock comes flying over. Seeing this fellow pigeon "living in clover," and flying up a little way and then dropping again, as is the coaxing way of the birds, the flock accept the invitation and descend upon the grain, which they have no sooner fairly commenced upon than the trap is sprung and they find themselves pinned under the net.

Then the slaughter commences. The trapper passes quickly among them, picking them up one by one and pinching their heads between his thumb and forefinger, making quick and almost painless death for the captives. The operation is sudden but effective, the tender bones of the head being crushed in by the process. As fast as this is done the birds are thrown into a pile to await the dressing operation, which consists in removing the inwards and roughly plucking the feathers, after which the birds are washed, packed in barrels with ice, and started upon their journey by express.

One old trapper said he has been in the business thirty years, but even this statement was outdone in importance by the succeeding one that he paid to the express company, last season, five thousand dollars for charges on his shipment of pigeons. His bill of telegraphing amounted to two thousand dollars. We understand that the pigeons net the trappers forty-eight dollars per barrel, in New York, there being from thirty to thirty-five dozen in a barrel. In Winona, pigeons are selling at $1.25 per dozen.

A few years ago there were large pigeon roosts at Chatfield and near Wabashaw, and now, after slighting their old haunts for a while, the birds are coming back again.

May 15, 1873. City and Vicinity. The Pigeon Business. Winona Daily Republican 14(4123): 3.

19 July 2012

Where the Blue Crane Lives

[This is probably the first extensive article about a heron rookery thus far found for North America prior to ca. 1885. The details are exquisite in giving a particular place, a probable number, site features, some historic perspective and other miscellany which all provide a profound bit of bird history. It is also an expressively-written account.]

Mr. John L. Dunlap has returned from a hunting expedition in Spencer county, Kentucky. The only trophy he brought back with him was a gigantic blue crane, which measured five feet from tip to tip, and was exactly six feet in height. Mr. Dunlap tells a very curious story of a report of these cranes. About two miles from Taylorsville is an island in Sayre's creek whose area is perhaps ten acres.

The island is a favorite haunt of these peculiar birds, who annually resort there for the purpose of rearing their young. Notwithstanding the fact that the crane is a wading bird it builds its nest in the tallest trees it can find. The island is not cleared up, but is covered with gigantic sycamore towering eighty or ninety feet in height, and the loftiest of these are selected by them for their nests. One of the trees has twenty-eight nests upon its top-most branches, and another has twelve. The nests are rude, ugly structures, built in a slovenly manner of sticks, leaves and twigs, and are guarded jealously by the birds throughout the breeding season.

The cranes have been in the habit of resorting to this island for a term of years beyond the memory of the oldest inhabitant. Here they have been left undisturbed, until it has become a royal domain on which nothing else of the feathered tribe dare intrude. The silence of the centuries broods over the primeval forest, unbroken save by the flapping of their wings, or it may be the chance shot of the wandering sportsman. The stretch for miles around is frequented by flocks of the birds who here seem to lose, at least for a time, their solitary instincts, and become sociable and gregarious. They leave annually about the first of September, returning the first of April, and have been doing so for years and years. Their number upon the island is almost incredible, and old citizens of that country say it must be fully 1,000 perhaps much more.

May 16, 1883. Fort Wayne Daily Gazette 19(193): 4. Issued at Fort Wayne, Indiana.

First Blue-bird of Spring

Whatever weight the hours have borne
Along the path of frost and snow,
The world is never too forlorn
For birds to sing again; we know
That earliest buds will soon expand,
That spring is somewhere in the land,
For hark! the blue-bird sings.
Somewhere the grass is green again,
The meadow mild with shower and sun;
Out bud the trees, up starts the grain,
Through balmy woods the brook doth run,
If anywhere such things may be,
Then why not soon for thee and me?
For hark! the blue-bird sings.
The first blue-bird. April 20, 1876. Colorado Banner 1(30): 7. Published at Boulder, Colorado.

17 July 2012

Nebraska: Soil - Coal - Indians - Game

Correspondence of The Tribune.
Table Creek, Nebraska Territory, April 21.

I have traveled the distance of four hundred miles in Nebraska, sleeping under bluffs and encamping upon "spring branches," as the little rivulets are called which meander through the prairies, and now have the satisfaction to declare to you that the Nebraska Territory offers greater advantages to the settler than I had previously anticipated.

The quantity of timber is small, and it would require a careful use to render it sufficient, but the soil is unequaled for fertility, health and vigor of life certain, the climate agreeable and scenery beautiful.

At this place, previous to the commencement of the Mexican War, there existed a military post, called "Old Fort Kearney." About 10 miles below this place, which is a bluff on the Missouri river, and distant about 25 miles from the mouth of the Nebraska, or Platte, a vein of coal, resembling the coal taken out at Cannelton, (Ind.) — similar to Pittsburgh, though not so good for some purposes, and yet better for others, comes out and shows itself in the bluffs on the Missouri. Distant about 90 miles southwest, another vein of similar coal makes its appearance. Several other veins of coal are said to have been discovered in the Territory, and my observation, as well as information assures me that coal of a good quality, and in sufficient quantities may be found in the Territory. Forty-five miles from this place, in a westerly direction, is a salt spring, from which a sufficient quantity of salt may be manufactured to salt half of the sinners of this continent. On the north side of the Nebraska or Platte, distant 15 or 20 miles from the Missouri, I discovered iron ore of a good quality, which there exists in great quantities. It shows itself in boulders along the bluffs for the distance of several miles. Limestone prevails almost everywhere, and a fine quality of clay, such as it found on the Ohio River, and there used for pottery, accompanies the exhibition of coal on the shores of the Missouri River. Accepting these facts, you will readily acknowledge that the Nebraska Territory is a country worthy of the attention of those desiring good and pleasant homes. I hope to live until Nebraska is accounted the sixth state of this Union. This Territory is now occupied only by a few miserable Indians and before a civilized people can be commenced here, must be some special legislative Congress for the purpose, and the Indians removed. This without doubt will be effected within a year. At this time no agency which you and your friends could send out would procure any advantage.

I have visited every section of western Iowa. The lands there are equal to those of this Territory, which are the best in America; but in Iowa there is no stone, of which there is an abundance in Nebraska. Nor coal, nor salt, nor clay, only such is fit for brick, which also presents here. Again in Iowa, the land is all "claimed up," and in the travel of 300 miles I could not find a single quarter section of land, available for a farm, which could be entered upon without the payment of a considerable sum of money more than the Government price.

As for "goods, wares and merchandise," there are here, on the opposite side of the Missouri, in any quantity desirable, and sold as reasonable as to price, as in Cannelton. Farming utensils are here in abundance, and sold as cheap as at your place. Household furniture about the same. On this subject I will hereafter write you more fully.

I can say nothing further at this time, than simply to declare that I am delighted with the country, am determined to have a home unit, and that I shall expect to have you and your friends for my neighbors.

T. J. S.

P.S. — I have written this letter with the quill from the wing of a Bald Eagle, taken by Mr. W., with a rifle bullet, a few days ago in this neighborhood. The river seems full of wild geese, brant and ducks. I have seen some twenty deer, and some dozen of wild turkeys. Of pigeons there are some, squirrels are in the timber in great numbers. On the prairies the fowls are numerous. I use both rifle and shot gun.

June 3, 1851. New York Daily Tribune 11(3160): 6. Also June 26, 1851 in the Glasgow Weekly Times 12(17): 1.

This is probably the first newspaper article that mentions wild birds to have come from Nebraska. The state had not even been established at this time. Table Creek is undoubtedly near Nebraska City, Otoe County, and near the Missouri River. The military post was called Fort Kearny.

Bird of Freedom - Handsome Eagle

A Bird of Freedom.

The Handsome Eagle Sent to the Bee by Gothenburg Friends.

The Bee received yesterday a trophy which shall ever be prized and preserved as long as the cylinders of its presses rotate and its hired men rustle with facts. It came in a box by express and is nothing less than a large golden eagle. To one of its feet was tied the following card which in a measure explained all, but left it to be regretted that the details of the killing of the bird were not sent:

Thanksgiving Eagle.

To the Omaha Bee.

Compliments of the boys and proprietor of Hotel Gothenburg. Shot by Steve Kingrey, over the hotel.

Gothenburg, Nebraska.

The eagle is a magnificent specimen, being evidently at full growth and measuring seven feet from tip to tip of wing. It has been given into the hands of a taxidermist and when prepared will be mounted in some prominent place in the office.

November 28, 1885. Omaha Daily Bee 15(136): 8.

Poetic Expression from Early-day Nebraska

Written for the Journal.

You'll not Forget, Jennie?

By Marion Gray.
The days go by swiftly, Jennie,
The fresh air sweeter grows;
I hear the joyous song of birds
And smell the budding rose.
We've loved each other well, Jennie,
Each heart beat warm, and true;
And now that I'm dying, Jennie,
This boon I'd ask of you.
That you will not forget me, Jennie,
When I am lying still
In yonder "city of the dead,"
Whose spires gleam o'er the hill.
You'll come and sit beside me Jennie.
And think our sweet life o'er
And pray that you and I, Jennie,
May meet on yonder shore.
You'll not forget to plant, Jennie
Around my place of rest,
Some trees whose shade shall woo the birds
To sing, and build their nest.
You'll bring some flowers there, too, Jennie.
To fringe my pillow, green;
Forgive that I should ask, your love
Would prompt this care, I ween.
Columbus, June 14th.
July 2, 1879. Columbus Journal 10(9): 1.

10 July 2012

Another Mysterious Pacific Coast Bird

A nondescript bird was shot in Tacoma on Saturday, June 20th, by two ladies — Mrs. Harper, recently from Seattle, and Mrs. Emma Kauffman of Tacoma. The creature was only disabled by the shot, and the ladies, thinking it was an owl, bravely essayed to capture it; but it seems they woke up the Tartar. It sprang, kangaroo-like, upon the women and fastened its teeth in the arm of Mrs. Kauffman, and retained its hold until it was choked to death by their united efforts. The wound inflicted was quite severe and painful. This monstrosity measured from tip to tip of the wings, 5 feet 7½ inches; diameter of eye, 1⅜ inches; length of ears, 4½ inches; its feet and toes were each 1 foot 3 inches long, armed with six powerful talons. Its beak resembled that of a goose, except that it was pointed and filled with teeth, incisors and grinders. Mrs. Harper has taken this strange bird to San Francisco.

July 3, 1874. Sacramento Daily Union 47(7253): 4. From the Tacoma Tribune.

08 July 2012

Increasing Martin Numbers at Midtown Omaha

There is a regularly increasing number of Purple Martins are their midtown Omaha roost. The evening of July 7th, there were an estimated 5000. The birds were gathering earlier on the utility lines up near 40th Street to gather, chatter and preen.

No one else was present to appreciate the spectacle of the incoming martins. It was a grand scene, as usual.

No visual barriers have been placed on the walkway windows by facilities personnel of the Nebraska Medical Center. The itty-bitty few decals leftover from last year are not sufficient.

07 July 2012

Notable Summer Additions To Window-strike Tally

A second new species has been added to the tally of known window-strikes in downtown Omaha. Both were at the same building in downtown Omaha.

Saturday morning, July 7th, a big, dead dove was found on the south side of the First National Bank, on the sidewalk along Dodge Street. A couple of pictures were taken and the carcass was taken for further consideration, since bank security will harass anyone taking pictures in the vicinity of the corporation buildings. The carcass was completely on a public sidewalk, so any confrontation based upon the typical threats by security personnel would have been of no significance.

An inspection of the birds' details later confirmed that it was an Eurasian Collared-Dove, with the neck-marking prevalent, and the difference in size to a Mourning Dove indicative. It appeared to be an adult, as there was nothing in its plumage features to convey it was a juvenile hatched this season.

This was the first time this species has been noted in the downtown Omaha area, despite a multitude of excursions throughout the area during other window-strike surveys.

The little doves are regularly seen, and it was quite a surprise to find its larger cousin dead.

The closest known occurrences of live birds have been one seen a couple of times near 30th and Cuming Streets, this year and earlier. A large flock was present during last winter - and noted several times - near the grain elevators south of 12th and Locust Street. One or two have also been heard and seen during early summer at Levi Carter Park.

Based upon an interpretation of the scenario, it's possible that the first visit into the city-scape of downtown Omaha by this dove species ended when it smashed into the glass exterior of the bank building.

This carcass was disposed of at a suitable green space, to return the bird to its earthly origins, rather than having it thrown indifferently into the trash.

On another Saturday morning, June 2nd, a Cliff Swallow was found at the west entry of the same First National Bank. It was also dead on the public sidewalk.

This species had also never been previously noted as a window-strike victim in downtown.

For both instances to be at the same building and also on the morning of the same day of the week seems somewhat ironic. Though of course that does not matter to the dead birds.

Each fatality was a violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which is not being enforced in regards to window strikes at Omaha, by the supposed regulatory agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The First National Bank Corporation is well aware of window strikes at their facilities, especially the First National Tower, but have purposely ignored requests by the F.W.S. to avert the strikes. They have not accepted any responsibility for multiple and ongoing fatalities, despite their presenting features which are known to present hazards to migratory wild birds.

These two records of dead birds are just the most recent examples.

An American Dipper - Cinclus americanus

During a short sojourn at the junction of the north and middle branches of the North Fork of Feather river, in Plumas county, I was told of a remarkable bird which frequented the streams in that neighborhood, and which, from the account given me, I suspected to be the American Dipper (Cinclus Americanus) of Audobon[sic.]. My curiosity was greatly excited, and I determined to see the bird, if possible. For this purpose I set out in company with my informant, on a walk up the north branch. We had passed but a few rods up the stream when, to my gratification, we discovered one of the birds in question. It was a moment of intense interest to me, and the opportunity afforded me of observing the habits of this remarkable specimen of ornithology, of which I had read, but never expected to see, was gratifying in the extreme. I watched it for near half an hour, as it walked, swam or flew along the banks of the stream or the rocks that lay embedded in its rapid current. It seemed to gather its food — probably insects — from the rocks in the stream, generally dipping its head or bill only in the water, though frequently plunging its whole body under and darting through it for a distance of two or three feet. I did not see it making any long plunges, which it is said to do, but which the shallowness of the stream may, in this instance, have prevented. But it seemed to select the shallow places, where, perhaps, is found, the greatest abundance of food. It seldom swam more than a few seconds at a time, either under the water or on its surface; but its movements in either case were made with astonishing celerity, and reminded me of certain bugs which we often see darting about on pools of still water.

But the most remarkable circumstance concerning this bird is the apparent contradiction between its conformation and its habits. Its feet are not webbed, but the toes are divided like those of ordinary land birds; nor it there anything in its appearance or form that would give the slightest indication of its aquatic habits. It has a certain vibratory motion of its body, resembling more the hasty spasmodic curtsey of an awkward girl than anything else I can compare it to, and is accompanied at the same time by a slight bobbing of the head and tail. Its notes is a sharp, clicking chirrup, which it uses when commencing its sharp but rapid flights. There is little or no melody in it. In color its head and neck are a chocolate-brown; its upper parts a very deep bluish gray; lower parts lighter, and tinged entirely with brown. It is six or seven inches long, and about ten inches in the extent of its wings from tip to tip.

These little birds are by no means infrequent on the rapid streams of the wild cañons of the Sierra Nevada mountains, where they make their home during summer and winter. We saw seven or eight of them during this single excursion. They were very gentle and fearless of man, and I sometimes approached within twenty or thirty feet of them.

J. L.
September 4, 1858. Daily Alta California 10(243): 4. From the Daily Bee.

This is the first, and thus-far the only known, newspaper article which refers to the dipper. It is wonderfully descriptive and expressive! Too bad Mr. J.L. did not use his proper name, or he could be truly known for his distinctive place in the chronicles of historic ornithology.

There are — of course — numerous other known records of this species in the region during the 1850s, but issued in other sorts of publications.

A New Kind of Watchdog

W. Kerrick, who lives in one of the Jackson cottages on L street, has a patriotic but peculiar guardian for his garden, the same being a genuine living American eagle of the bald head variety, measuring several feet, more or less, from tip to tip, and looking for all the world as if he had just hopped off the back side of a ten-dollar piece. This biped was purchased a few weeks since from a man who slightly shot and captivated him near Stockton. His wings were clipped, and Kerrick turned him loose at once in the garden, on patrol. The bird of liberty forthwith took possession, and has become monarch of all he surveys. Little children are frightened to a respectful distance by the demoniacal expression of his august countenance, and woe betides the cat, rat, pigeon or other small creature that strays within reach of his powerful talons. He has become remarkably tame, considering the short time he has been in custody. Of a warm day he goes every few hours to a large tub near the kitchen door, takes a deliberate drink, and then gets in and wallows about, in a rather undignified manner, for a royal bird. Then he perches himself on a sort of bench beneath a fig tree, to dry his bedraggled feathers, winking solemnly meantime, and if anybody comes near him he warns him away by making the remark, "Krake! krake! krake!" in the most preemptory tones. When he is not ducking or drying himself he perambulates the garden, seeking whom he may devour, and no urchin is going to steal fruit from that garden as long as that eagle "still lives."

April 21, 1864. Sacramento Daily Union 27(4082): 3.

05 July 2012

Spring Window-strikes Kill Multitude of Birds

Another year's tally of birds hitting windows with deadly results at downtown Omaha had an early start in the spring of 2012.

A White-throated Sparrow carcass found April 5, 2012 was the first instance noted for the year, and the earliest window-strike instance observed during the past five years. This bird was dead and moribund at the west side of the CenturyLink Center Omaha, and was indicative of the trend during the next two months.

Two instances of dead sparrows on April 18th started the regular and ongoing occurrence of window-strikes for the spring season, when daily outings — via self-propelled bicycling in the first hour or two of a morning — were done to find dead or disabled birds at buildings in downtown Omaha. There were fatalities or injured birds nearly every day through the end of May.

Pictures were taken — as usual — to document each window-strike occurrence.

The west side of the CenturyLink Center Omaha with its vast expanse of glass and adjacent landscape plantings is the worst bird-hazard in the city, and where the largest number of window-strike instances were located this spring, as well as during the past five years. The deaths continue to occur despite little square decals that have been placed on the upper extent of the glass surface, which were replaced during the spring season this year, at an unknown cost to MECA.

This spring's tally shows the loss of many migratory bird species along the Missouri River valley, as usual. These are the details associated with particular buildings in downtown Omaha:

  • CenturyLink Center Omaha: 48 window-strike occurrences documented along the entire extent of the west side of this structure
  • Holland Performing Arts Center: 9, with the majority noted in the interior courtyard
  • 1200 Landmark Center: 7, mostly on the north side
  • Gottschalk Freedom Center: 7, and all on the west side where glass prevails
  • Central Park Plaza: 6, on the east side of the twin towers
  • First National Tower: 6, on the north side, near their insipid atrium
  • Omaha Public Power District Energy Plaza: 4 deaths despite the window covering placed a couple of years ago
  • Omaha-Douglas Civic Center: 4, predominantly at the north side plaza
  • Law Building: 3
  • Brandeis Building: 2
  • Union Pacific Center: 2
  • Zorinsky Federal Building: 2
  • 16th Street - North Skywalk: 1
  • All Makes Office Equipment Company: 1
  • Barnhart Press: 1
  • Curtis Park Service Building: 1, with the carcass of an unknown species also present on the north side on the same day
  • Exchange Building: 1
  • Farnam Plaza: 1
  • First National Bank Building: 1
  • Flatiron Building: 1
  • Kutak-Rock Omaha Building: 1
  • Metropolitan Utilities District building: 1
  • Redfield and Company Building: 1
  • Woodmen Tower Skywalk: 1

There were 29 species represented in the tally, with a significant number of warblers as victims. The vivid colors of each bird is appreciated for a short time, but it is abbreviated because of the cause of the demise. This spring, records were:

  • Common Yellowthroat: 24, with May 24 a day when so many of this diminutive warbler were impacted, with many removed from the courtyard of the Holland Center as they were observed as not being able to readily escape; it was an averted disaster
  • Tennessee Warbler: 18
  • Common Grackle: 10; grackles are thriving in downtown, but many die due to structural conditions
  • Indigo Bunting: 8; there are too many of this little bird found dead, and many, sadly, are females and the future of the species; thoughts of agony on this
  • Gray Catbird: 6; this expressive species has always been more appreciated alive than dead, but in downtown Omaha, the splendor of their plumage is a certainly expressive
  • Lincoln's Sparrow: 6
  • White-throated Sparrow: 6
  • Rose-breasted Grosbeak: 5; the beauty of these grosbeaks is always a wonder to appreciate close-up, but their death is obviously a sad event to observe
  • Clay-colored Sparrow: 4
  • Swainson's Thrush: 3
  • Baltimore Oriole: 2 of these beautiful, colorful birds sadly met their demise while trying to go past urban Omaha
  • Brown Thrasher: 2
  • Ovenbird: 2, always found dead by some glass expanse
  • Blackpoll Warbler: 1
  • Cedar Waxwing: 1 at the Flatiron Building
  • Eastern Wood-Pewee: 1
  • Field Sparrow: 1
  • Grasshopper Sparrow: 1
  • Harris's Sparrow: 1
  • Mourning Dove: 1
  • Northern Parula: 1 bird to appreciate
  • Orange-crowned Warbler: 1
  • Prothonotary Warbler: 1 disabled bird that was certainly appreciated
  • Ruby-throated Hummingbird: 1
  • Savannah Sparrow: 1
  • Vesper Sparrow: 1
  • Willow Flycatcher: 1
  • Yellow-billed Cuckoo: 1 removed from the bank premises
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler: 1

During the two-month period, species that had not been previously noted since 2008 were the Northern Parula, Blackpoll Warbler, Prothonotary Warbler, Field Sparrow and Vesper Sparrow. The reason for their unique occurrence would be an intriguing detail to understand.

The survey period did end without any significant personal event, except for a couple of minutes at the First National Bank Tower, while taking a hurried picture a window-strike victim. This bird was taken away upon departure.

During this period, particular attention was given to the final fate of a carcass or disabled bird. Every carcass found was taken away and placed in a natural situation, rather than their ending up in a trash can. Placing the former bit of wild life in some woods or bit of green space allows their spirit to transcend in a manner more representative of a natural demise. Getting thrown in the trash does not respect in any manner the wild spirit of any birds, though obviously any building-owner could care less as they just want to get rid of the carcass!

Transporting live birds to a more amenable situation may have improved their chances for survival. Being moribund upon a sidewalk is wrought with threats, perhaps including being stomped by an pedestrian ignorant of the situation.

No dead or alive birds were kept in possession, during this or any other season.

Ongoing Mortality

There have been additional instances of window-strikes during June, though tepid conditions of weather have meant a lesser degree of surveys among the heat.

At least 92 different species have been victims of window-strikes about Omaha, based upon a tally developed during the past five years of documenting individual instances.

Each window strike is an instance of a "taking" as regulated by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Regulations of this Act are supposed to be enforced by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

In Omaha, any efforts by this federal agency have basically been insignificant. This is most obvious at the CenturyLink Center Omaha, where despite window decals — which obviously have not been effective — it continues to be the deadliest place for migrant birds at this urban setting along the Missouri River.

Poetic Tribute to the Meadowlark

Written for the Advertiser.

To the Lark.

By Lombardy Maple.
Oh! I raise thy note thou herald of spring.
And sing unto my waiting heart;
And know that every note shall bring
Fond memories, sweet Meadow Lark.
Thy silvery notes now softly float,
Out o'oer the meadow brown and stark;
But every note from thy glad throat
Is dear to me,—sweet Meadow Lark!
Peru, Neb., April 1st, 1875. Brownville Nebraska Advertiser 19(45): 1.

This may be the first poem written in Nebraska where the subject is birds!