30 October 2014

Bird Tragedies of Late-October Days at Omaha

With an expectation of changing weather in some subsequent days, some particular attention was given to survey the situation associated with bird-window strikes at numerous buildings in downtown Omaha, just west of the Missouri River.

The weekend of October 25-26 started the norm of a routine, well known. There were no records of bird-window strikes, along the usual route on three days earlier in the week, the days being Monday (October 20th), Wednesday (22nd) and on Friday (the 24th which was a morning of an irksome OMetro bus whose driver would not yield, once and again another time, ending with a point made near the cemetery further westward along Leavenworth Street) when there were low-lying, foggy-type of clouds, and steady southerly winds. The usual route was followed so there was nothing different associated with the survey effort as done a few hundred times previously. These were just a few of many days when there were no findings during the past years when surveys have been done, yet there has never been any data-record kept for the bicycle effort on mornings when there were no bird carcasses found.

On Saturday morning, there were several instances of dead birds at downtown Omaha buildings. These are the particulars, as found during an early morning bicycle survey on October 25th, when there was not much wind.

  • CenturyLink Center Omaha: Savannah Sparrow, carcass ten feet north of convention center entrance
  • CenturyLink Center Omaha: Savannah Sparrow, carcass 15 feet north of convention center entrance
  • CenturyLink Center Omaha: Savannah Sparrow, disabled bird 20 feet north of convention center entrance
  • CenturyLink Center Omaha: White-throated Sparrow, carcass one foot north of second from north entrance
  • CenturyLink Center Omaha: Cooper's Hawk, dead juvenile next to pigeon at the south end of the west facade, just south of the convention center entrance
  • CenturyLink Center Omaha: Rock Pigeon; dead, next to Cooper's Hawk carcass, at the south end of the west facade, just south of the convention center entrance
  • American National Bank: White-throated Sparrow; carcass on the south side, about 20 feet from the east corner

The occurrence of birds struck dead by flying into glass walls of buildings in downtown Omaha continued on Sunday. There were more fatalities found on the second day of the weekend, October 26th, as indicated by the following details.

  • TD Ameritrade Park: Dark-eyed Junco, one of two disabled birds on the south side, just north of the 12th and Fahey Street intersection
  • TD Ameritrade Park: Dark-eyed Junco, one of two disabled birds on the south side, just north of the 12th and Fahey Street intersection
  • CenturyLink Center Omaha: Savannah Sparrow, one of two dead birds, one on bench about 30 feet north of the second from north entrance
  • CenturyLink Center Omaha: Savannah Sparrow, one of two dead birds by bench about 30 feet north of the second from north entrance
  • CenturyLink Center Omaha: Clay-colored Sparrow, dead about ten feet south of the second from north entrance
  • 1200 Landmark Center: Lincoln's Sparrow, carcass on the sidewalk at the west side entrance
  • Central Park Plaza: Dark-eyed Junco, carcass at the plaza by the north entrance of the south tower
  • Gavilon Building: Savannah Sparrow, carcass on the west side, about ten feet from the north corner
  • Omaha-Douglas Civic Center: Grasshopper Sparrow, carcass on the north side of the atrium, about ten feet from the east corner

On Monday morning, with light winds prevailing and which were hardly noticeable at the time of my outing, a vividly colored sparrow was found dead at the doorway of a place associated with the Slowdown complex in north Downtown.

  • Urban Outfitters at the north downtown Slowdown complex: Fox Sparrow, carcass on the west side of the store, by the main entrance

Another instance for this period of time is for Tuesday, October 28th. A disabled Savannah Sparrow was noted at the CenturyLink Center Omaha, a short time after sunrise.

As the weather changed to more of a typical autumn regime on October 27-28, the subsequent few days may be times for more bird deaths among the buildings of downtown Omaha as more wildbirds migrate southward.

26 October 2014

Tragedy of Two Birds at CenturyLink Center Omaha

An urban mix of a frantic pigeon, a hungry hawk and the glass facade of a building was vividly indicated by the outcome of their encounter.

There are dozens of Rock Pigeons that occur about the CenturyLink Center Omaha in north downtown. They can be seen flying about on a regular basis, or sitting about someplace they prefer there, every day by someone that cares to take a look.

The many fat pigeons attracted a hungry Cooper's Hawk on Friday, October 24th.

Those pigeons of downtown Omaha have attracted a Cooper's Hawk on more than one occasion prior to this event.

Once the juvenile hawk selected its prey, a chase ensued, with the frantic pigeon in a quick flight along the west wall of the building, as it seeked an escape. When the pigeon darted into what appeared to be a route to safe haven, the hawk followed. The choice by the first bird led to its death when it whacked into the lower extent of glass on the west side of the CenturyLink Center, just south of the convention center entrance. Its pursuer met a similar fate.

The two birds were found next to each other on the southern extent of the west wall of the facility, the results of their encounter obvious when found on Saturday morning. There were two feathery carcasses, not supple, indicating that they had been lying dead upon the concrete for hours before the sunrise visit.

What a tragedy for the young hawk to die in this manner, especially when its death did not have to occur, and would not have happened if the clear glass had been suitably marked and made obvious enough for the keen sight of all avifauna. Both birds would have realized there was an obstruction ahead, and gone a different way.

They did not have this opportunity since the Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority -- which manages the Qwest/CenturyLink Center -- has, for years, been indifferent to placing a sufficient number of suitable markings on the glass of the west facade of this building. A few small stickers on the upper portions of the glass are not enough since there have been a multitude of bird deaths documented in detail along this "wall of death" in the past few years.

Before finding the hawk and the pigeon, there were three Savannah Sparrows either disabled or dead a short distance northward on the west side of the center, and they were the first bird-window strikes of another Saturday morning bicycle outing.

The carcasses of the hawk, as well as the sparrows, were disposed of in a suitable manner. And they were not thrown into any trash can as to do so would be a disgrace to the spirit of the winged ones.

There was a Cooper's Hawk flying about TD Ameritrade Park the morning of October 26th, checking out the juncos and sparrows along Mike Fahey Street.

Autumn Season of Chimney Swifts of Eastern Omaha - 2014

The autumn 2014 season of Chimney Swifts congregating at suitable spaces of eastern Omaha was notably different in comparison to previous years.

Swifts were gone from the city skies days earlier than previously noted. Though these bird had migrated to the south, there were warm days and bugs notably present. Temperatures were above average through nearly the end of October. European Starlings were seen "hawking" for bugs in the sky, similar to what swifts did in previous weeks of the year.

A new record for the number of swifts using one chimney occurred this autumn, and it was at the Izard Industrial Zone on September 16th. It surpassed the earlier record counts for a church in the Blackstone neighborhood.

These are the peak counts associated with the results of Omaha swift surveys, conducted since 2003 in the eastern extent of the river city:

  • Izard Industrial Zone on 09/16/2014 - 1530; a magnificent evening count at the CenturyLink maintenance facility chimney along Izard Street, near 43rd Street
  • Blackstone District on 09/13/2011 - 1400; done by 7:55 p.m.; same number as two nights ago at First Central Congregational Church
  • Blackstone District on 09/11/2011 - 1400; multi-sided chimney at First Central Congregational Church at 36th and Harney; massing about and then entered in about five minutes; multiple layers, directions and swirls; counted by groups of ten as they entered
  • Blackstone District on 09/17/2014 - 1385; into First Central Congregational Chimney
  • Izard Industrial Zone on 10/09/2012 - 1350; swarming as they have on the previous two nights; ready vocalization; done by ca. 7:15 p.m. at CenturyLink building
  • Izard Industrial Zone on 10/08/2012 - 1325; vocal as typical on a warmer evening, with some sort of hurry for them to get into CenturyLink chimney; done about 7:25 p.m., with dusk heavy on the scene; counted in groups as they entered chimney at CenturyLink building
  • Izard Industrial Zone on 10/07/2012 - 1325; a surprisingly large, vocal group early into the CenturyLink chimney; done by 7:15 p.m. with bunches counted as they swiftly entered the chimney

The last observation of the 2014 season was eleven swifts seen at Benson on October 15th. Ten of the birds flew southeast of the central building district to an unknown roost, and only one was seen using a particular chimney. Swifts utilize several chimneys in this urban setting, as seen and enjoyed by residents and visitors, as experienced on the streets of this district during October.

This occurrence was earlier than expected, as once there was a cool night or two, the weather moderated, with temperatures in the 70s and frost-free night for seven to ten subsequent days. There were European Starlings flying like swifts hawking for bugs seen after the bug-eaters were gone.

After many years of observation and keeping detailed records, there are enough details to determine some approximate sort of pattern associated with the autumnal gatherings of the swifts at Omaha. There may be many dozens of birds present and using a particular chimney on one evening, yet none the next day at the same time. This was obvious this year, especially at the Dundee at Dodge Street locale. There were an approximate 155 seen on October 13, yet none the next evening.

During the 2014 season, the largest congregations of swifts at roosts occurred nearly three weeks prior to dates when a similar number occurred in 2013. Also, the last known presence of these birds occurred a week earlier than last year, based upon surveys done at the same geographic locale.

There are more than twenty records of occurrence for swifts in Omaha, subsequent to the latest date for the 2014 autumn season. This includes five times when more than one hundred swifts were counted at a particular chimney in the evening.

This is a summary of the autumnal days associated with Chimney Swift occurrence among the urban setting of eastern Omaha, for the past few years. The records are based upon multiple surveys, primarily during the evening hours. Julian date 255 is usually October 12th, with October 21st the latest date indicated.

Julian Date 2003 2005 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
255 425 850 - - - - 374 - - 90 23 - - - -
256 265 160 - - - - 60 - - 1400 - - 18 - -
257 - - 265 - - 65 - - 25 254 325 220 - -
258 66 - - - - - - 66 - - - - 2 185 44
259 157 - - - - - - 58 - - - - 130 81 1530
260 405 - - - - 25 27 - - - - 504 1 1402
261 80 - - - - - - 304 - - - - 75 9 62
262 462 - - - - - - 243 - - 60 56 12 711
263 325 - - - - - - - - 10 70 480 534 - -
264 460 - - - - - - 495 190 - - 145 135 - -
265 - - - - - - 25 269 - - 45 225 93 700
266 - - - - - - - - 136 16 140 335 - - - -
267 - - - - - - - - 98 65 - - 17 19 200
268 - - - - - - 15 266 220 - - - - - - 342
269 - - - - - - - - 137 1 - - - - 97 372
270 - - - - - - - - 170 - - - - 365 7 200
271 - - - - - - 260 155 - - - - 65 505 - -
272 - - - - - - - - 408 2 - - 260 349 285
273 - - - - - - 155 13 2 - - 225 140 - -
274 - - - - - - 225 724 - - - - 121 33 20
275 - - - - 25 330 - - - - - - 68 306 630
276 - - - - - - - - 178 3 - - 10 53 - -
277 - - - - - - 385 511 - - - - 96 62 330
278 - - - - - - 12 42 - - 430 660 160 110
279 - - - - - - 32 228 15 - - 630 135 150
280 - - - - - - 120 65 - - - - 59 155 55
281 - - - - - - 360 107 130 8 1325 201 121
282 - - - - - - 85 227 140 190 1325 154 66
283 - - - - - - 183 90 - - 90 1350 200 180
284 - - - - - - 289 2 140 - - 626 168 243
285 - - - - - - 397 8 265 65 585 157 23
286 - - - - - - 120 - - - - 17 625 31 165
287 - - - - - - 130 - - - - - - 710 9 2
288 - - - - - - 65 1 - - 4 6 2 11
289 - - - - - - 137 16 - - - - 10 4 - -
290 - - - - - - 191 - - - - - - - - 7 - -
291 - - - - - - 136 1 - - - - - - 147 - -
292 - - - - - - 25 54 - - - - - - 132 - -
293 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 1 - -
294 - - - - - - - - 9 - - - - - - - - - -

There is no effort underway in Omaha to designate and conserve chimney structures utilized by thousands of migratory and breeding Chimney Swifts. The trend continues to be a loss of chimney roosting habitat, with particular spaces lost each year, to the detriment of the birds.

24 October 2014

Cellular Tower Threats to Birds and Sandhill Features

Cellular communication towers being sited near Hyannis and Whitman pose a potential threat to migratory birds, and will also change the local character of the sand hills.

Three towers more than 300 feet in height, with associated guy wires are either approved or being considered by the Federal Aviation Administration. Each one is located in association with wetland habitats near the two communities.

Two towers locations are east of Hyannis and south of Avocet WMA:

* one for Alltel southwest of the intersection of highways 2 and 61, with a height of 308 feet above ground level, and placed upon a hilltop.
* another for Verizon sited at the Pelican Beach Club golf course, and with a height above the ground of 358 feet; a public notice on this tower was recently issued in the Grant County News.

Communication tower guylines are a known hazard to flying birds, according to many studies.

Avocet WMA is a known haven for birds, with nearly seventy different species of birds known to occur. Especially prominent are the Trumpeter Swans, which typically nest each summer season, and when more than half-a-dozen can occur. These birds, the largest of the North American waterfowl, typically fly just above the hills in a steady ponderous flight, and could readily hit any guylines located just south of the wetland. Young, inexperienced juveniles would be especially in danger. Other species present could also strike the lines.

Having two towers placed south of the wildlife area are particularly hazardous due to their proximity and the limitations in flight airspace that will occur.

Near Whitman, a tower is proposed to the north and slightly west of Doc Lake. It would apparently also be a Verizon tower, and also have a height above the ground of a hilltop of 358 feet.

More than seventy species of birds have been recorded to occur at this wetland and lake, including more than a dozen on occasion.

In addition to potential threats to migratory birds, the towers will mar the landscape view. They are all along the Sandhills Journey Scenic Byway and readily visible from Highway 2. The two towers east of Hyannis are also within the northern extent of the Sandhills National Natural Landmark, thus adding further industrial development to this unique tract.

The blinking white lights of these towers will be incessant in the night skies.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is evaluating the towers to determine if there are any concerns that the agency needs to address. Migratory birds are also protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

23 October 2014

Whooping Cranes Along Birdwood Creek

Information has been received that Whooping Cranes occur along Birdwood creek in the immediate vicinity of the R-Project. Three of these birds were observed April 19, 2004 along the creek, about 0.5 mile south of the preferred r-project line crossing, according to Fish and Wildlife Service records.

Whooping Cranes are an endangered species, and the Nebraska Public Power District is required by state and federal laws to conduct an environmental assessment to evaluate how the r-project may affect this bird as well as other listed species.

22 October 2014

FWS Comments on Birdwood Creek and R-Project

The following is an email sent by Robert M. Harms, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ecological services office in Nebraska, in regards to Birdwood Creek and the proposed R-Project. This is the entirety of the email sent to the Nebraska Public Power District, and presented verbatim with his permission.

"Please make reference to a recent site visit held on June 16, 2014, that was hosted by a local landowner (Mr. Mike Kelly) and attended by several organizations and individuals including but not limited to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD), The Nature Conservancy, Ducks Unlimited (DU), and local landowners. The site visit was informational and focused on potential migratory bird issues in the area of the proposed R-Project—especially the alternative preferred by NPPD. There was important discussion at the site visit about an additional alternative that involves routing the R-Project power line from Gerald Gentlemen Station (GGS) to a northeastern direction, east of North Platte where it would then extend northward along Highway 83 — a.k.a the “East of North Platte Alternative” (see attachment for general location). Discussions at the meeting indicated that this alternative may have less impact on migratory birds because it avoids large concentrations of birds that are prevalent in the area of the preferred alternative. There was also discussions about potential impacts to conservation easements held along the preferred alternative, implications of the line to a new Sutherland Bridge over the North Platte River, and a portion of the Mormon Trail, located just north of the North Platte River.

"As you know, a site visit was also held on June 12, 2014, and it was attended by Jim Jenniges, Michelle Koch, and me. We spent a considerable amount of time traveling the Preferred R-Project Route alternative and an additional NPPD-proposed alternative located just east of the Preferred alternative, west of Hershey.

"The purpose of this E-mail is to summarize the main points at the two site visits held on June 12 and 16 and to make recommendations for how to move forward being mindful of requirements of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Careful consideration is needed for the development of a preferred alternative to ensure that NPPD maintains compliance with MBTA. Additionally, as you know the Service is moving forward with preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) under NEPA to support issuance of a section 10 permit which may authorize take of the federally endangered American burying beetle. The EIS will address not just issuance of the take permit, but the entire R-Project including affects to other Federal and State Trust fish and wildlife resources including migratory birds—preparation of the EIS essentially federalizes the entire R-project given that the project cannot proceed without authorization to take the ABB under a section 10 permit. It will be difficult to prepare a defensible EIS if there is nearly a certainty of noncompliance with MBTA under the currently-proposed Preferred Alternative in these high bird concentration areas.

"Preferred alternative:

"The Preferred Alternative departs GGS and extends northward where it crosses the South Platte River. Of concern to the Service is that this crossing also extends over a perpetual conservation easement that is held by DU on a parcel of private property owned by Neil Hanson. The conservation easement is for a 1-mile-long segment of river frontage and extends along the north bank. The purpose of the conservation easement is for conservation of migratory waterfowl and other birds. During the course of the site visit on June 12 we learned that there are no federal funds associated with this easement. Since that time, however, we have learned that apparently there remains a federal interest in this conservation easement via parcel swapping involving North American Wetland Conservation Act (NAWCA) funds. We suggest that you contact Steve Donovan of DU for clarification and verification. Please notify me if it is determined that a federal interest remains for this conservation easement via federal funds or parcel swaps. I have cc’ed Steve on this E-mail as a heads-up to him.

"The preferred alternative extends northward across several pivots before it intersects with a sand hill, east of Sutherland and heads northward across several meadows and wetlands. As you know, the crop fields in the area provide a considerable amount of habitat for sandhill cranes and other waterfowl in the spring and fall. We are concerned about avian collisions with the R-Project power line in this area given the high concentration of migratory birds in the spring and fall. The R-Project power line makes a turn to the west and then extends northward where it crosses the North Platte River near the Sutherland Bridge. As you know, our preference is always for burial of power lines at river crossings if possible to eliminate all risk of avian collision. If that is not possible, power line crossings at bridges is our next preferred approach as birds tend to avoid areas with increased activities such as bridge traffic.

"From here the power line extends northward through typical sandhill habitat for a few miles, then turns east and crosses Birdwood Creek at a pinch point along the creek. We have learned since our June 12 meeting, however, that the proposed crossing at the pinch point is immediately downstream from a large sandhill crane roost. The area of the crossing contains an abundance of high quality wetland and wet meadow habitats that are used by a diversity and abundance of migratory birds. We are concerned about the proposed crossing in this area because it presents an obvious large risk to migratory birds that use Birdwood creek. We are all too familiar with the risk that such power lines pose to migratory birds when constructed in these kinds of areas and would recommend power line burial to avoid all risk of avian collision here. After crossing Birdwood Creek, the line extends eastward for several miles before it intersects with highway 83 and goes north.

"During our June 12, site visit we also toured an alternative proposed by NPPD, but subsequently eliminated from further consideration. This alternative appears to convey even greater risk to migratory birds via two river crossings over the North and South Platte Rivers, and crossings over a large amount of cropland that provides foraging habitat for migratory birds including large concentrations of sandhill cranes and a large meadow complex on the north side of the North Platte River. This alternative also extends near an area with several playa wetlands, located north of the North Platte River which, as you know, provides habitat for an abundance and diversity of migratory birds including a federally endangered whooping crane confirmed there this last spring.


"We have determined that the Preferred Alternative and the other NPPD Alternative (now eliminated from further consideration), both convey great risk to migratory birds, primarily through risk from avian collision with the R-Project power lines. We base this on knowledge of the concentration of migratory birds in the area, two site visits, and firsthand knowledge of the risk that power lines pose to large concentrations of migratory birds. As you know, the MBTA prohibits the intentional and unintentional direct take of migratory birds. Given the concentration of migratory birds in the area it will be difficult for NPPD to maintain compliance with provisions of the MBTA for either alternative.

"We recommend that NPPD do the following using a criteria of NPPD being able to be in compliance with MBTA given the high level of risk associated with power line collisions by large concentrations of migratory birds that are known to frequent the area. Additionally, it is important to keep in mind the relationship between MBTA compliance and defensibility of the EIS as mentioned above. Other alternatives/approaches may be worthwhile to consider evaluating as well—this should not be considered an all-inclusive list of recommendations.

"a) Re-evaluate the preferred alternative and consider alterations to it to avoid and minimize risk to migratory birds. Of great concern is the risk to large concentrations of migratory birds at the currently proposed crossing locations at the South Platte River and Birdwood Creek. We are also concerned about the power line being located in or near conservation easements, cropfields, wetlands, and meadows that provide migratory bird habitat. We appreciate NPPD’s willingness to install bird flight diverters on a large portion of the Preferred alternative line route. However, as you know, BFDs are considerably less that 100 percent effective. A large number of birds can still be killed when they are in large concentrations even when BFDs are installed.
"b) Consider proposing a new alternative that crosses existing bridges and extends along highways in the Hershey-Sutherland area including the need for potential avoidance and minimization measures.
"c) Evaluate the feasibility of the “east of North Platte alternative” that was presented at the June 16 meeting including potential avoidance and minimization measures.

"We recognize the challenges faced by NPPD in the planning and construction of this R-project and appreciate the open lines of communication that have developed over the years as we have worked on other large power line projects together. As always, we would be willing to provide NPPD with technical assistance on this issue including additional site visits and meetings."

- - - - -

This is the response from Thomas J. Kent, the vice-president and chief operating officer of NPPD, as provided to the FWS. This email is being presented here as it is public information as received the FWS, and includes only the pertinent portion of the email.

"When the District first began studying the area around Gerald Gentleman Station (GGS) to determine how best to get the lines out of GGS and along the Sutherland Reservoir and across the Platte River, the District determined that going west out of GGS and then north and back east, would create interferences with multiple existing single circuit and double circuit transmission lines that would result in greater risk to the reliability of the District’s electric system. We also found that the area encompassing the route being proposed by Mr. Kelly includes portions of Birdwood Creek and other tributaries, and contains conservation easements, land in a Wetland Reserve Program area, numerous homes, and three private airstrips that would all need to be considered in the routing process. The area also poses significant challenges due to the lack of roads, ruggedness of the terrain, and the softness of the sandy hills. As a result of these factors, the area encompassing this proposed route was analyzed and eliminated from further consideration for the Project."

20 October 2014

Bird Strike Deaths Continue Unabated in Downtown Omaha

As the autumn migration season continues, bird strikes continue unabated among downtown Omaha buildings. During this time of the year, most of the fatalities are sparrows and juncos, as evidenced by October 18-19th.

This is a tally of known instances of bird window strikes:

A dead Lincoln's Sparrow and White-crowned Sparrow on the south side of the building on the northwest corner of 15th and Mike Fahey Street, which does not have a posted street address.

A disabled Lincoln's Sparrow (18th) and dead Dark-eyed Junco (19th) on the west side of the CenturyLink Center Omaha.

A dead and partly squished Orange-crowned Warbler on the sidewalk by the glass-walled portion of the east side of the Holland Performing Arts Center.

A dead bird was found each of two days at the northern portion of the east wall of the Gavilon building. There was a Harris's Sparrow on the 18th, and a Lincoln's Sparrow on the 19th.

A disabled Clay-colored Sparrow on the west side of the Zorinsky Federal Building, about 30 feet from the south corner (19th).

A dead White-throated Sparrow on the east side and a dead Dark-eyed Junco on the north side of the Law Building, 500 South 18th Street, both on the 18th.

An unusual occurrence of a bird death was the finding of a dead Western Meadowlark on the 18th, beneath the power lines just west of 42nd and Nicholas Street in the Izard Industrial Zone. The carcass was fresh, and had not yet been smashed by vehicle parking. The species identification was determined by an analysis of plumage and feather features. It is quite unusual to have this species occur in the midst of urban Omaha, but meadowlarks have been seen on two occasions at a mown-grass lot to the west, by 49th and Hamilton streets.

Swift Roost Habitat Lost at Church Chimneys

Two eastern Omaha church chimneys capped during 2014 mean a further decline in roosting habitat available as gathering places for Chimney Swifts. The caps were apparently placed atop the chimneys when a new vent was installed in association with a renovation of the HVAC system.

Both churches are Lutheran congregations.

A major loss of roosting habitat occurred at the Pella Lutheran Church at 303 South 41st Street, in the Blackstone District along Farnam Street. Use by swifts was first determined for this locality in the autumn of 2008, when 155 swifts were counted on the evening of October 3rd as they entered the chimney for the night. On August 18, 2012, additional use was recorded. There have certainly been other dates of occurrence.

The Zion Baptist Church at 23rd and Grant, has a lesser known history of use by swifts. About a dozen swifts were present on September 7, 2005. There may have been more extensive use of this structure, but surveys are not often done in this portion of north-eastern Omaha.

There have been numerous examples in the past few years of churches capping their chimneys, including at the Dundee Presbyterian Church along Underwood Avenue near Happy Hollow Boulevard and the Lifegate Church (formerly Central United Presbyterian Church) at 55th and Leavenworth Street, east of Elmwood Park.

17 October 2014

Birdlife of a Hidden Park in Dundee

There is a bit of public greenspace at the western edge of Dundee. It could be considered a "secret" Omaha park, as their is no identifying Parks Department signage. The place is ensconced among the big houses of the neighborhood in the vicinity of Elmwood Park. Its little extent can be measured in square yards, which is probably less than a football field in size. There are only a few trees, with blase mown grass predominant. A bit more vegetational variety is provided by the adjacent yards of the neighbors, with their tended landscaping. A sole picnic table is available for a respite, if wanted. Parking is available only along the nearby street, which would then necessitate a steep jaunt up the narrow alley.

It is best to ride a bicycle to itty-bitty Little Elmwood Park. Then there are no problems with parking. The frame of a bike provides a portable seat anywhere beneath the tree-scape. Zero emissions are also a result.

More than a decade ago, this place was discovered by hearing some mention of the place, asking others where there was a park with this name, reviewing maps and other sleuth-work with the most important of a final result: a personal visit. The first bird records kept were from some time there on February 1, 2003.

There have been more hours spent here since then on different dates and seasons, to loiter and just enjoy the birds. This has occurred, typically, only once or twice a year, but overall, there have been sixteen visits to this little bit of urban space.

The vivid song of the Carolina Wren brought the most recent visit on October 15, 2014. The wren had been heard from a nearby boulevard, and so an adjacent street was cruised for a minute, but then ignored to get to the park. After a few minutes it called, and then one was seen foraging along. There is the possibility that two wrens were skulking about. Fast-moving robins were enjoying a bit of languishing water along the "driveway" for the residences, either to get a drink or appreciate a quick splash of refreshment.

Notable new species added to the site tally were the wren, six Cedar Waxwings and a Ruby-crowned Kinglet. This visit provided the greatest number of species (19) ever observed here, with most of them regular Dundee residents. The usually present Chimney Swifts were gone for the season. There may have also been a Mourning Dove locally about. It is time for the Brown Creeper to occur, its fine lisping call denoting at times its route along the bark of one of the trunks of the big trees.

Overall, there have been 29 species observed at Little Elmwood Park. Ten or more species have been observed on only six visits. It would be nice to add the screech owl to the list, as they are probably resident in the area.

Values given in this table are a summary of the number of birds counted on visits during the year indicated.
Common Name 2003 2008 2009 2010 2011 2013 2014
Red-tailed Hawk - - - - - - - - - - - - 1
Rock Pigeon 2 - - - - - - - - - - - -
Mourning Dove 5 - - - - 1 1 - - 4
Chimney Swift 7 - - - - 3 4 - - 2
Red-bellied Woodpecker - - - - - - - - - - 1 2
Downy Woodpecker 3 1 - - 2 1 - - 1
Blue Jay 3 - - 1 - - - - - - 1
Black-capped Chickadee 1 - - 2 1 3 2 3
White-breasted Nuthatch - - - - 1 - - - - 1 1
Brown Creeper - - - - 1 - - - - 1 - -
Carolina Wren - - - - - - - - - - - - 1
House Wren 1 - - - - - - - - - - - -
Ruby-crowned Kinglet - - - - - - - - - - - - 1
Swainson's Thrush - - - - - - - - - - - - 1
American Robin 8 4 6 4 6 2 9
Gray Catbird 2 - - - - - - - - - - - -
Brown Thrasher - - - - - - - - - - - - 1
European Starling 14 4 3 2 2 1 3
Cedar Waxwing - - - - - - - - - - - - 6
Orange-crowned Warbler - - - - - - - - - - - - 1
Yellow-rumped Warbler - - - - - - - - - - - - 4
Chipping Sparrow - - - - - - 2 - - - - - -
White-throated Sparrow - - - - 4 - - - - - - - -
Dark-eyed Junco - - - - 2 - - - - - - 5
Northern Cardinal 5 - - 1 2 - - 1 2
Common Grackle 6 - - 2 4 1 - - 6
House Finch 3 - - - - 1 2 1 4
American Goldfinch - - - - 2 2 3 - - - -
House Sparrow 10 6 5 6 3 4 5

Any of the fine autumn days is a good time to good to this park and loiter among its special greenspace.

Some Periodical Records of the California Condor - 1847-1897

The following are transcriptions of newspaper items which mention the California Condor. Items were found by searching, primarily, the digital repository of historic California newspapers, using pertinent search terms, with those of pertinence listed in order by date of occurrence.

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Natural History in the Redwoods

... "The ornithologist finds this vicinity a rich field, and the place that has been immortalized by the fact that the Audubon of California, A.J. Grayson, made some of his earliest bird studies in this county. Among his notes, until but recently unpublished, he describes the habits of the largest of the North American rapacious birds, the California vulture, Pseudogryphus Californianus, now rather rare. Colonel Grayson says:

"I remember the time when this vulture was much disliked by the hunter for its ravages upon any large game he may have killed and left exposed for only a short length of time. So powerful is the sight that it will discover a dead deer from an incredible distance while soaring in the air. A case of this kind happened with myself while living in the mountains of Marin County, California, in the year 1847. At that time my main dependence for meat wherewith to feed my little family was my rifle. The hills and mountains thereabouts abounded in deer and other game, and it was not difficult to kill a deer any day, but to kill a fat one could only be done by accident or the acuteness of a skillful hunter in making such a selection. A four-point buck in the month of July could always be depended upon as savory venison, with ribs and haunch covered with tallow. One morning I had shot a large and exceedingly fat buck of four points on the hills above my little cabin. Taking a survey of the sky in every direction, I could not discover a single vulture, and, as my cabin was but a short distance from the spot, I concluded not to cover my game, as I could return with my horse to pack it home before the vultures would be likely to trouble it. I was gone about two hours, when, on returning, I found my game surrounded and covered by a flock of at least a dozen vultures, and others still coming, some so far up in the heavens as to appear like a small speck upon the clear, blue sky. So busy were they tearing and devouring the deer and fighting among themselves that I approached quite near before they saw me, when all arose, some flying a short distance and perching upon the rocks and sides of the hill, while others, less gorged, were sailing around taking a bird's-eye view of the half-consumed deer and my chagrin."
July 19, 1891. San Francisco Call 70(49): 3.

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During a stay at Clear lake, a large elk was shot by Mr. K., "but as their rutting season had begun the meat was adjudged not to be good. On our retun a number of large vultures had collected around him, and made a plentiful feast. We killed one, measuring eight feet six inches across the wings."

November 15, 1849. Weekly Alta California 1(46): 1.

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Condor killed near Monterey

December 12, 1852. San Francisco Herald.

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"California Vulture. — A vulture of enormous proportions was shot on the American river, near the store of Woods & Kenyon, in El Dorado county, a few days since, which measured nine feet from tip to tip of its wings. A friend presented us yesterday with a quill, which is a quill from one of its wings, with the remark that it was handed us as a weapon with which to defend the rights of the people. We shall endeavor to apply it to that purpose.
March 11, 1854. Sacramento Daily Union 6(925): 2.

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"A California Vulture. — The Editor of the Marysville Herald may well 'plume himself' on the receipt of a vulture's quill measuring twenty-five inches in length. The bird measured nine feet four inches from tip to tip of the wings. It was shot near Chico."
June 21, 1854. Sacramento Daily Union 7(1012): 2.

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"The California Condor. — The high mountains of California are frequented by a species of condor, which, although somewhat inferior to the size of the condor of the Andes, is probably the largest bird to be found within the confines of the Golden State. A full grown California condor measures upwards of thirteen feet from tip to tip of its wings, and when in its favorite element, the air, is as graceful and majestic as any bird in the world. They make their homes upon the ledges of lofty rocks, or in the old deserted nests of hawks and eagles, upon the upper branches of lofty trees. Their eggs are each about twelve ounces in weight, and are said to be excellent eating. The barrels of the wing feathers of the condor are about four inches long, and three eighths of an inch in diameter, and are used by the inhabitants of Northern Mexico to keep gold dust in."
March 17, 1855. Quincy Whig 17(52): 2.

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Letter from Southern California.

... "A fine specimen of the California condor was killed a short time ago, which measured eight feet across the wings and breast, and weighed over twenty pounds. 'On dissecting the animal it was found to have an immense development of the internal viscera. The stomach contained fish, meat, and mussels with the shell on, the shells in a half digested state. It held by measurement half a gallon of water. It has two gizzards, the upper one small as a chickens, but the lower and bigger one four times the size of the first. the large gizzard has a very singular appendage of a bunch of long, stiff bristles on the inside, mingled with excrescences of a hard, warty nature. The inside of this gizzard is lined very roughly after the fashion of course sand paper. The gut is six feet long, heart, liver, lungs and gall bladder, same size as those of a young pig. The large gizzard was filled with the hair of animals which the bird had eaten, and was about the capacity of four fluid ounces. The whole of these viscera had an abominable smell of musk. The meat of the animal, though, is of a bright arterial red, and of very fine grain."
August 6, 1855. Sacramento Daily Union 9(1361): 1.

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"Decidedly Voracious. — Mr. Sutton, of the Western Hotel, corner of K and 10th streets, was presented a few days since with a young vulture, which he has placed in the yard of his establishment. In order that our readers may estimate the size and powers of the bird, we give his dimensions, as follows: Length of wings from tip to tip, about 10 feet 6 inches; length of head and beak, 7 inches; length of claws, from 7 to 9 inches. He is fed regularly and literally on raw heads and bloody bones, and can clean a skull or bone in the most approved style. Efforts have been made to induce several dogs to take hold of him, but his competitors have always respectfully declined. Sutton's dog, (which has never been whipped) declined having anything to do with him, except to gaze and admire his stalwart proportions. The dog in question is the same that nursed a brood of chickens, and would permit no one to molest them. The vulture was caught on Mrs. Harrold's ranch, near this city."
September 24, 1857. Sacramento Daily Union 14(2027): 2.

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Vulture Shot. — Last week, while Mr. J.B. Wright, of Pope Valley, near St. Helena, Napa Valley, was out hunting, he shot a large vulture, that was flying off with a hare it had killed, weighing nine pounds. The bird measured fourteen feet from tip to tip of wings. We have one of the tail feathers in our office, that measures twenty-six inches in length."
February 4, 1858. Daily Alta California 10(34): 1.

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Two California condors included in menagerie of "Old Adams, the great California hunter," on display in New York City.

May 5, 1860. Los Angeles Star 9(52): 1. From the New York Tribune.

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"A Large Bird. — The Grass Valley National has the following account of a California vulture:
"We write this article with a pen plucked from the pinions of a vulture killed on the coast range, which weighed thirty pounds, and measured from tip to tip of its wings, fourteen feet. The largest quill measured thirty-four inches in length. L.L. Davis who presented us with the quill informs us that the vulture is quite common on the Russian river portion of the Coast Range. They are very large, and particularly fond of pork. They will descend with a sweep upon a forty-pounder, kill him at the first blow, seize him in their talons and bear him away with scarcely any perceptible hindrance to their flight. Davis assures us that they would carry off children if any were to be found."
June 18, 1861. Sacramento Daily Union 21(3190): 1.

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"The Salano Herald says a bird of the Condor species, measuring nine feet 'from tip to tip,' was captured near Vallejo last week by Mr. Shillingsburg. He had gorged himself with fresh sturgeon to such an extent as to be unable to fly, and his captor secured him as his lawful prey, by transferring his coat from his own shoulders to those of the bird."
August 16, 1865. Marysville Daily Appeal 12(35): 2.

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"Grizzlies, Lions and Condors. — A gentleman who recently paid a visit of a week or two to the Coast Range of mountains, in speaking of the products of the region, says: 'The greatest productions of these mountains are grizzly bears and California lions. The foot tracks of the former are to be seen on almost every trail and sand bed of the arroyos, and sometimes several of them are feeding on the sides of the mountains. California condor are also frequently to be seen on the summit.'"
September 19, 1865. Sacramento Daily Union 30(4522): 2.

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"A Huge Bird. — We saw recently, says the Nevada Transcript, at the shop of Z. Davis, the wing of a bird recently shot by S. Stevens in Plumas county. The feathered giant is said to be of the Condor family, and measured eleven feet from tip to tip of the wings.
November 25, 1865. Sacramento Daily Union 30(4580): 2.

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"Dr. C.A. Canfield, of Monterey, lately sent a live California Vulture to the Zoological Society of London, and the Society has elected the Doctor as honorable correspondent and given him a note of thanks."
September 28, 1866. Marysville Daily Appeal 14(73): 2.

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"A Huge Bird. — Wm. Shew, photographer, has on exhibition in his mammoth gallery, on Montgomery street, a magnificent specimen of the California vulture, the largest bird of prey — the condor alone excepted — found in America, and the largest found in North America. The wings of this immense bird, when full stretched, measured over nine feet from tip to tip, and its body was even disproportionately large for its wings. The left foot had been struck by a ball, or otherwise mutilated, when the bird was quite young, and was curiously misshaped. His vultureship was shot by Mr. Shew on the hills back of Pescadero, in Santa Cruz County, and the skin was prepared and put up by Gruber, the California street taxidermist. The California vulture is found only in the Coast Range, never in the Sierra Nevada, and is nowhere numerous. It is stated that the Smithsonian Institute at Washington has no specimen of this immense bird, and the publication of the Association only speak of one which is in the possession of some party 'at the mouth of the Columbia River,' probably at Astoria."
October 13, 1867. Daily Alta California 19(6420): 1.

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"Birds of the Mountain. — A condor was shot on Monday, August 17, near the Marin County Paper Mills, which measured nine feet from tip to tip of wings."
August 21, 1868. Sacramento Daily Union 35(5430): 2.

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"Pacific Coast Items.

"A large California condor was killed on the Brea ranch, Los Angeles county, last week."
July 18, 1871. Sacramento Daily Union 41(7231): 2.

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General Items.

A vulture eagle, measuring upward of nine feet from tip to tip, has been killed in Mendocino county, Cal.
March 7, 1872. Mower County Transcript 4(48): 1.

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"An enormous California vulture, measuring fifteen feet from tip to tip of wings, is exhibited in San Francisco. The bird was killed at Salmon Creek, Marin county, by Julius Folsom, though not until it had killed a dozen or more sheep."
February 19, 1873. Sacramento Union 44(6827): 2. From the Petaluma Argus of February 17th. Also: Nebraska State Journal 1(11): 4 issued March 7, 1873.

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"Pacific Coast Items.

"A large California vulture was killed last week near Salinas City, by A.L. Abbott, which measured twenty nine inches around its breast, and had a spread of 120 inches. Its weight was about thirty-five pounds."
October 20, 1875. Sacramento Daily Record 1(213): 1.

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"A condor measuring 14 feet from tip to tip was captured near Anaheim last Saturday."
March 21, 1878. Sacramento Daily Union 7(25): 2.

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News Tailings.

"On South Eel river, Humboldt county, Cal., Mr. Adams recently poisoned a bird of the vulture species, which measured nine feet across the wings, four feet from beak to tail, and eighteen inches from crown to tip of beak."
April 13, 1880. Sacramento Daily Union 11(45): 2.

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Local Brevities.

"Mr. Stevens, who lives this side of the Verdugo, exhibited on our streets yesterday an immense condor, shot by his brother, John Stevens, on the Verdugo rancho. The bird was brought down by a shot in the wing, but it ran so fast that Mr. Stevens was obliged to shot it through the legs to effect its capture. The bird is of prodigious size and measures 9 feet 1 inch from tip to tip of wings."
January 4, 1882. Los Angeles Herald 16(115): 3.

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"Pacific Coast Items.

"A condor, seven feet from tip to tip of wings, was killed in the Arroyo Seco mountains last week."
December 2, 1882. Sacramento Daily Union 16(89): 8.

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"Coast Notes.

"Arthur Spring of Montecito, Santa Barbara county, killed a vulture the other day on Santa Paula Peak. The bird measured from tip to tip of its wings, nine feet and nine inches; its talons between eight and ten inches, and the carcass weighed thirty pounds. It was capable of carrying off to its hiding place a full-grown sheep, and is said to be the largest specimen of its kind ever killed in Santa Barbara county. It sold for $10."
October 4, 1884. Daily Alta California 37(12592): 5. Also in Sacramento Daily Union 52(41): 8 issued October 11, 1884; Sunny South 10(474): 7, issued October 25, 1884 at Atlanta Georgia.

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"The Santa Barbara Independent says: James Lewis, this morning, killed on his place, known as the Sunny Bank Ranch, five miles north of the city, a vulture that measured eight feet six inches from tip to tip of its wings, and will weigh about twenty pounds. It was feeding upon the carcass of a dead hog at the time he shot it. They are of a harmless disposition and it seems like a pity to kill them, from the fact that they feed upon dead animals chiefly."
June 17, 1886. Los Angeles Herald 25(90): 1.

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"A Condor was lassoed recently at Puente, in Los Angeles county. It had attacked a sheep on the side of the mountain and attempted to carry it off. The bird measured nine feet and four inches from tip to tip of wings."
September 15, 1888. Pacific Rural Press 36(11): 229.

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"The Eastern Shore. News from Alameda ...

"Harry Taylor, an ornithologist of Alameda, has received the body of a large California vulture, or condor, which was killed in San Mateo county. It sands four feet in height, and its bare head is of orange color."
August 11, 1889. Daily Alta California 81(42): 8.

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"A Big Bird. A Vulture Measuring Ten Feet Blown to the Ground.

"A California vulture found the wind of Sunday a week ago too much to navigate against, and lost control of his big wings and was blown into a stretch of sage brush near Glendora. It tried to veer and tack without avail, and some men who saw its predicament stunned it with a stone and bound it. Unfortunately, however, it soon died from the rough usage it had been subjected to. It was an enormous bird, measuring fully ten feet from tip to tip of its wings. It is being stuffed by Mr. Shuman, and should form a splendid specimen.
February 16, 1891. Los Angeles Herald 35(125): 2.

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California condor captured near Pomona on Saturday.

March 6, 1891. San Francisco Call 69(96): 7.

This is a second report for this occurrence.

"A Glendora young man took to Los Angeles a California condor that measured 9 feet 11 inches from tip to tip. It was caught Saturday evening during the storm. It was found in a path with thick brush on each side, and being unable to fly was caught. It will be mounted."
March 13, 1891. Sausalito News 7(5): 1.

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Items from Santa Cruz.

An enormous condor was shot in Scott's valley, and brought to town to-day by W.E. Felker. It measured 9 1/2 feet from tip to tip and weighed 24 pounds.
March 11, 1891. Daily Alta California 84(70): 5.

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"Killed Near Santa Monica.

"Two American Condors Bagged by a Sportsman in the Mountains.

"Santa Monica, Cal., Oct. 4. — On April 1 J.C. Henry of Santa Monica killed a male American condor measuring ten feet from tip to tip of wings in the mountains north of here. He has since had person endeavoring to locate the mammoth's bird's mate, and has made a dozen journeys to the spot to endeavor to get a shot at it. Yesterday his opportunity came. A thousand yards away he spied her sitting on her nest in a crevice in a mountain and shot at her with a Winchester rifle, the ball piercing her heart. It took an hour to travel to the place where the bird fell after being killed.
"Mr. Henry is said to be the only man on the coast who has a pair of American condors, his measuring ten feet. From the fact of the bird sitting on the nest he concluded there might be an egg or two, and from their extra value, $1500 each, he has had a search instituted to ascertain the fact. From the well nigh inaccessible position of the nest, the parties making the search as running considerable risk for the trophy."
October 5, 1895. San Francisco Call 78(127): 3.

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"He Ate Too Much of the Dead Cow.

"A Monster Vulture That was Too Full to Fly. Captured in the Hills South of Chino. A Bird Bigger than a Man.

"A bird of prey as tall as a man! Such is the prize captured by the superintendent of Richard Gird's ranch in the hills south of Chino, San Bernardino County. The prisoner is a magnificent specimen of the California vulture, without doubt the largest ever taken captive. From the crown of its ferocious-looking, red-wattled head to its strong, scaly talons, it measures six feet. Its plucky captor is an inch or two shorter in his cowhide boots. the man has the advantage in weight, for the bird weighs 100 pounds. Still that is a fair fighting weight to carry through the rarefied air. In order to accomplish this feat the bird vulture is provided with wings that have a spread of twelve feet. the local ornithologists who have seen the bird say that it is merely a youngster, says the San Luis Obispo Breeze.

"Allured by the palatable flavor of dead cow recently the bird discovered nearly every particle of flesh from its bones, which so oppressed him that, however vigorously he flapped his wings, he was unable to soar away to his eyrie among the distant mountain fastnesses. In this humiliating predicament he was lassoed and dragged, fluttering ponderously but helplessly, to Mr. Gird's stable.

June 21, 1896. San Francisco Call 80(21): 18.