24 April 2017

April Bird Surveys of Sandhill Spaces

Survey sponsored by members of Preserve the Sandhills

In order to evaluate wild bird occurrence at particular places primarily associated with the corridor for the proposed R-Project transmission line, bird surveys were done at numerous sandhill spaces during mid-April. Surveys were also done at some selected ranches of interest. Additional details were kept at some villages along the travel route in order to evaluate the occurrence of the Eurasian Collared Dove because of a personal interest and the need to know.

After an initial overnight stay at the Calf Creek Valley Ranch in southeast Cherry county - which included an evening stroll that resulted in a quite fine record for more than 20 species. In the morning of the 12th while driving to Thedford, travels started with a fine morning view of a bunch of Trumpeter Swan along a creek place which these most magnificent of Northern American waterfowl found to be a space to linger.

Within Thedford, particular details were taken care of, discussed at a kitchen table were there was a fine morning meal provided by Tom and Twyla Witt, whom know what it means to be hospitable. And this is conveyed each day as so many American Goldfinch gather to feast on the seeds in feeders outside. There was even a Red-breasted Nuthatch outside the patio windows, which was a surprising occurrence. Birds are so special and many people appreciate their color and their activity that can occur at home by simply using known practices to put up a feeder with suitable feed. The results are more than worth the investment.

With a workable key in hand for a fine Chevrolet pickup, support of two great couples and that had a simple but so essentially profound perspective: they were enthusiastic. With some actual trepidation the travel route to discover, learn and provide results, this multi-day bird expedition started on a Wednesday morning of great significance. There were a bunch of vibrant American Goldfinch on the north side of the house, and there appreciation of seeds to eat was a vivid marker of the importance of wild birds, and that my effort needed to be done in a "smooth" manner. Any vocal Eurasian Collared Dove present nearby were ignored because of a greater directive and there are already previous details confirming their presence.

While traveling eastward along Highway 2, a diversionary first drive around survey was done at Dunning, along the ever-flowing North Loup River, since it would be hours before reaching the intended places of greater importance. Time is an aspect and sometimes, delays due to postponements are a good thing and might lead to a rememborable discovery.

Another survey was done at Taylor, along Highway 91. This is an interesting village because it has so many fake people. They can be seen everywhere. This condition applies to an ice man, a sheriff, a couple at the old-time hotel, a gal with a bicycle, a mom and her son getting the mail, a courting couple and a couple of kids at the town square. These objects of art convey a distinctive and unique aspect to the place. Their seems to be some vitality here.

At Ericson, both the streets of the village and at Lake Ericson were cruised. A special sighting was a Great Northern Loon at the lake. New additions to the seasonal occurrences were the Eastern Phoebe and Brown-headed Cowbird. The lake housing is flourishing as several newly built residences were obvious.

There were no records gathered at Burwell, because the place is too big. There is a nice park along the North Loup River, but only the grocery store and a gas station were visited to partake of essentials. There may be a great radio here but birds records are lacking by someone that should be involved in the Nebraska bird community.

Upon reaching Highway 281, the route went northward. Beyond Bartlett, there was suddenly a smoke-filled landscape with the haze predominant. A drive along the county road through the Herd Co. facility, showed so many, many hundreds of cattle in meadows, and in pens and generally immensely prevalent. There were numerous cattle confinement places where concrete feeding-bunks had been recently constructed, and four cement trucks were still parked among the buildings and large feeding buildings. They are typically large numbers of blackbirds present here, and this was the same situation.

Since this mega-cattle-feeding locality was too far south of the R-Project corridor, only minimal records were kept. It was however, interesting to realize that the company had bought more than 10,000 acres of land in Loup county, with the transaction occurring relatively recently. There are community-wide maps that express details of property ownership.

Flowing well and pond in southern Holt county.
Driving with the essential press of a foot on the gas-pedal meant a continuation of moving along Highway 281 and then westward on county road 846. Survey efforts were done along a six mile portion of this road.

Records were kept for two localities: the road section and a pond westward of 489 Avenue and 846th Road. A prominent feature of this area was a very nice flowing well to the east of 489 Avenue that was appreciated by a pair of Blue-winged Teal. A Loggerhead Shrike was present in the area. This country is very level, and the powerline corridor is dominated by natural meadows and road ditch wetlands. The various water features present seem to indicate a shallow depth to the groundwater. One meadow with standing water was being appreciated by a migrant Greater Yellowlegs.

Eastward of Highway 281, the indicated powerline corridor would make a jog to the south for a distance, and then return to an alignment along county road 846. Another six-mile portion of the county road was then surveyed. A regional powerline is present along the north side of the road.
The terrain is also flat, with extensive natural prairie (i.e., hay meadows) and similar wood lots, predominantly cottonwood trees. There are more pivots present than west of the highway. There is a very nice marsh southwest of 502 Avenue, which would place it in Wheeler county. Present here were Gadwall and Mallard, as well as a small flock of Double-crested Cormorant. One of the best sightings of this survey effort was a fine flock of about 35 Pectoral Sandpiper foraging amidst the low growth vegetation in a hay meadow. This was an unexpected sighting, and provides a newly discovered feature of the area meadows, and conveys a new value of the meadow habitats.

The evening of the 12th was spent at Goose Lake WMA, so observations were kept for a few hours from late afternoon until dark. These are the species present and numbers observed:
Canada Goose, 20
Gadwall; 11
American Wigeon; 2
Mallard; 5
Blue-winged Teal; 4
Northern Shoveler; 16
Bufflehead; 3
Ruddy Duck; 25
Common Pheasant; 1
Pied-billed Grebe; 1
Great Blue Heron; 1
American White Pelican; 120
Double-crested Cormorant; 325, most of these birds were present for the duration, but as dusk settled there were small numbers that flew in from elsewhere
Cooper's Hawk; 1
Northern Harrier; 1 foraging over the eastern part of the lake
Bald Eagle; 2, an adult and a juvenile; the presence of an adult at this time of the year is indicative of the likelihood of breeding, and the occurrence of a juvenile may represent young previously raised
American Coot; 75
Franklin's Gull; 375 of these “diva” birds that have such a beautiful coloration and are so vocal that their presence is immediately conveyed. There were multiple flocks that flew in, landed on the lake and fluttered about as an obvious means of “refreshment” and then after splashing for a few minutes, they continued their northward migration. This is one of the most vocal of water birds and what they are communicating to one another is a great mystery of nature, but it is obvious that “talk” is a prominent part of their behavior.
Ring-billed Gull; 3
Mourning Dove; 3
Northern Flicker; 1
Tree Swallow; 25
American Robin; 3
Yellow-headed Blackbird; 3
Western Meadowlark; 3
Red-winged Blackbird; 750

Thursday morning was so foggy that is was impossible to see anything on the lake. The travel route was along the north road from the wma. It was quite wet. A significant effort of post-dawn hour or two was upon seeing a calf outside the nearby pasture, a few minutes were taken to express this situation at the closest ranch place resident so that the newborn animal would have a better chance of survival.

My route then continued to Chambers where a town bird survey was done; this was also done at Amelia, the village of water which has always been a fine place to visit. I’ve somewhat a bias about this place, as a story done years ago resulted in receiving a Nebraska Press Association award.

Going southward down Highway 11, it took two stops of learning to eventually reach the Ballagh ranch, where there was a fine discussion with Amy Ballagh, a Great American that has worked so diligently on issues associated with the R-Project. After a discussion of items of concern, some bird watching was done as the fog was gone.

After considering things associated with birds, there was another great discussion with Lynn Ballagh. He indicated that Greater Prairie-Chicken living on the ranch have been trapped and transported elsewhere to establish new populations of this species. Obviously the Ballagh Ranch is a haven for this species that has endured this activity while continuing to thrive. Yet, the r-project transmission line would split right through the place. NPPD officials are blatantly indifferent to the value of this country for prairie grouse.

My route went northward. A survey was done at Clear Lake, on property of Rowan Ballagh and then at the historic landmark of Swan Lake. This Clear Lake had never been visited and among the 16 species seen was a Horned Grebe. At Swan Lake, the tally was 24 species including numerous Northern Shoveler and American Coot, as well as a Black-necked Grebe denoted after discerning identicative marks.

The evening was spent at Carson Lake, in northwest Garfield county. Numerous visits have been made to this locality so it was nice to return to a place associated with past times. Canada Goose were prevalent and it was especially nice to hear Wilson’s Snipe vocalizing in the marsh. Coursing above the place were a Northern Harrier and a Ring-billed Gull going along again and again.

Newly known roads were the route on my next day. Maps were an essential aid. Upon eventually getting to a road designated as Gracie Creek Avenue, the despicable route of the r-project line became obvious. There were plastic markers placed at intervals. They had lettering indicating a structure number and a date. Many miles were driven in a Silverado pickup through country where grassland was the sole and primary feature. Upon getting to a water place just northeast of 450th Avenue, there was a despicable plastic marker just to its south. The bird species tally was more than a dozen. The landscape in the area is very hilly and there are several areas of bare sand. Just one wetland in the area and NPPD plans to place a powerline structure and wire adjacent to the place!

There might be something to be said associated with a visit to the Shovel Dot Ranch, but comments will be limited to conveying that it was nice to see a few Redhead and Common Merganser at the ranch pond.

The plastic markers indicating the placement of towers are prominent along Highway 183, as sited on privately-owned property of the Shovel Dot Ranch.

Brewster was the next destination where the fine hospitality at Uncle Buck’s Lodge was greatly enjoyed and appreciated. This is a fine place to stay and enjoy the local community.

Turbine blade transportation.
The proposed transmission line corridor is problematic here, as it would traverse property where it is not welcome. In the vicinity, including German Valley, generations have worked for more than 100 years to establish a legacy, yet this heritage would be destroyed by a public utility company that has ignorantly decided to impose a powerline upon places where people do not want it. A visit to the well-kept German Cemetery conveyed the long-time legacy of this area. The residents have a pride in the heritage and it is expressed daily. A powerline intrusion is a pathetic placement which is not wanted by current families which are descendants of earlier generations. They have a legacy now which they want to continue. There are more members of the family that will live on their land in this valley and they don’t want a huge and ugly powerline across their driveway and through their home meadow.

There were an indicative event while driving to Shipporeit marsh. Instance one was the caravan of escort vehicles along the highway along with three semi-trucks transporting wind turbine blades. If wind turbine energy is presented as being “green,” how much fuel and time is associated with the transport of one complete turbine?  It took three semis and five escort vehicles just for the blades!
While seeing the white markers, a question became obvious. What legal authority does NPPD have for placing plastic markers on private property? They may have a legal basis for property access, but there seems to be no legal basis for placing markers, especially on places where there is opposition. Any markers placed without any legal authority are nothing more than trash on the land. They should be removed and mailed to NPPD headquarters! And, there has been no approval by the Fish and Wildlife Service of the final route for the powerline so NPPD officials are being presumptive.
Signage in German valley.

At the drive into the Nygren Ranch along Highway 7 – there in German Valley – there were three features at the same spot which indicate the fundamentals in regards to the r-project: a ranch sign representing cattle country legacy, a Preserve the Sandhills sign and next to it, a plastic marker indicating the place where a powerline tower would be placed. This spot is also a corner so there would not only be a tower, but land impacts would be greater since a “pull-station” would be required.

To the west, the same sentiment is prevalent. A ranchland owner does not want the powerline on the property, yet NPPD continues its “gorilla” tactics. At another ranch, the managers question why the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission so-called “legacy project” has not done anything to promote conservation of sandhills landscapes. The powerline here would once again traverse sandhill grass pastures.

At the Hawley Flats those plastic markers piercing the ground were also obvious. While driving on county roads with particular attention to the r-project corridor, it was very obvious that NPPD is basically indifferent in regards to impacts on the landscape.

At a first wetland found during my drive, there was a plastic marked basically next to the only standing water area along a portion of the West North Loup Road. The only seen bit of wetland would be the place where a huge metal tower would be placed, and since it is a corner where the line would go from north-south to going westward, there would need to be a “pull-station” so the corner wetland would be dramatically impacted. As this line goes across the hills to the west, it would be on the southern fringe of the flats and be prominent on the horizon for residents to the north, for a significant distance along the county road. It could possibly be seen from every residence as far along as Purdum.
Wetland on the Hawley Flats. Note powerline structure marker.

After another fine overnight stay at the ranch in Calf Creek valley, and after appreciating a hearty country breakfast prepared by Merrial and Marion Rhoades, a drive up the road brought me back to a North Loup River Ranch to discover what species were present. The eggs situated for a family event celebrating Easter were bits of color at the ranch place. Bits of feather colors were then obvious on the waterfowl languishing at a pond in the hills.

Continuing along back on Highway 83, there was a bit of a stop to denote the species at Miles Lake. Sam Miles and Craig Miles are great opponents of wind turbines, and they have made the effort to place a Preserve the Sandhills sign to convey their position.

A diversionary drive was then made to Brownlee – where the county road department has its “stuff” spread about wherever – where it nice to see another one of the always expressive Belted Kingfisher, along the “wolf” river and a few Redhead at the bayou southwest of the bridge.

There was also a nice variety of wild birds on the flats north of Brownlee Road westward from Highway 83 on April, 16th. These are the species present at the ponds and places where there was water for the fowl: Canada Goose, Wood Duck, American Wigeon (numerous in their fine extent), Mallard, Blue-winged Teal (at least 45 birds), Cinnamon Teal (a beautifully colored male and a species which has not been personally observed for years), Green-winged Teal in their diminutive glory, Bald Eagle (an adult, and this species nests in the vicinity), an expressive Northern Flicker, a subtle Loggerhead Shrike in a roadside tree and it needs to said again that this is a species of concern, American Robin, Western Meadowlark, Eastern Meadowlark, and many Red-winged Blackbird.


Overall, the r-project has been designed in a manner to make the greatest possible negative impact to natural sandhill’s grassland places. The pathetic route chosen was one selected to avoid anthropomorphic places which means that natural landscapes would instead be destroyed forever.

“Nasty People Promoting Destruction” is a more than proper attribution for NPPD. This company does operate in Nebraska but they do not have any respect for may Nebraskans. They represent the worse sort of corporation minions that have no personal consideration of those values of land and country that make the Sand Hills such a great and unique landscape space. There are so many ranchers that care for the land, yet the bureaucrats of NPPD and other elsewhere power people have decided to impose a destructive ruination. How sordid. A 345 kv tower should be placed in each of the yards of the power district people making decisions. The tower would include a megaphone issuing forth the typical noise of an operational wind turbine, and it would occur every hour of every day. How easy it is for bureaucrats in an office to impose something on someone else while not taking any responsibility for the land and heritage impacts that others would have to deal with on a daily basis.

It is obvious that NPPD is operating in a manner to bully people and that they have to accept their demands. How sordid and actually pathetic they are!

Why is it that absentee landowners accept the r-project? It is all about the money, apparently?

Further Commentary

My favorite observation of this foray were the Franklin’s Gulls at Goose Lake WMA. This state property is an important bird haven, and it matters nothing what-so-ever that there is a problem with an unwanted milfoil plant species.

My travels were made comfortable by Merrial and Marion Rhoades, and via a vehicle provided by Tom and Twyla Witt, with hospitality from Amy and Lynn Ballagh where it was an appreciated opportunity to once again experience the words of supreme wisdom by a sandhill’s couple.

Especially appreciated was an opportunity to appreciate the recognized legacy of Marilyn Rhoades at Brewster whom is a community treasure at the lodge. It was very nice to experience the community celebration of her birthday on the 15th at the Legion Hall, where there was something like five times the village population of Brewster present to talk, share and enjoy some fine victuals. My departure to go elsewhere was too early and meant missing some fine fiddling that could have been an opportunity to hear a musician that knows music and sent forth tunes that were probably nothing but were a majestic time to tap a foot or two in tune. This event conveyed the roots of the sand hills.

The lodge near the wolf river may be small but it is in a big country where there are great opportunities to be appreciated by an individual or a family. There is so much heritage present nearby that every mile can provide a learning experience.

Sandhillians want hills of green, meadows with water, vivid lake expanses not marred with blinking lights or imposing towers where powerlines traverse the land. This is a place with fine herds of cattle that are essentially appreciated and so important. At these same spaces – every season – are also so many wild birds singing sing their individual tribute to land that is an essential part of their enduring and ongoing cycle continuing the life of birds during so many ages of every-year prairie-land heritage.

Governor Ricketts Speaks About Wind Turbines at Community Meeting

When Governor Pete Ricketts held a community meeting at Valentine, there were three questions asked that dealt with wind turbines: 1). What was his position on the placement of turbines within the sandhills and if he was to make any decisions on turbines, how could Cherry county residents know that these would be made without bias; 2) what was his view on legislative bill 504 as introduced by senator Tom Brewer; and, 3) what taxes will be paid on wind turbine facilities.

The governor indicated that “zoning needs to be done locally” and that local residents should work on the issue and decide the rules. In regards to the R-Project, he said that this transmission line has nothing to do with wind turbines, but is instead a “duplicate path for power transmission.”

Specifically mentioned was the necessity for the Omaha Public Power District to provide a renewable energy source for the new Facebook facility to be built in eastern Nebraska. This was a “demand” made by the corporation to build their facility in the state.

Ricketts said he has not considered LB 504 in any detail. He did suggest that there may be alternatives to address the study portion of the legislative bill, perhaps through a university study. The governor indicated that property and sales taxes would be paid, however, the person that asked the question did not accept the answer as he was heard later stating that he would visit with county officials to get the particulars.

After the formal meeting, Twyla Witt discussed wind turbine aspects with the governor. One comment conveyed is that the r-project will be used to promote construction of turbine facilities, as the line will provide a means for energy transportation. Also mentioned was that a lot of people are not happy about the possibility to have turbines in the sandhills. Two other items Witt mentioned were the impact that turbines could have on a unique landscape and how that may influence tourism, and the situation with the conflict-of-interests associated with the Cherry county commissioners.

One attendee was a member of the board of the Bureau of Educational Lands and Funds. Subsequent to a decision by this agency to place turbines on property they manage, he indicated that details learned since this initial decision convey that the approval may not have been the proper choice.

About 25 people attended the Valentine meeting during the late afternoon on April 18th; present were Cherry county commissioners Tanya Storer (who introduced the governor) and Martin DeNaeyer, Mayor Kyle Argenbright and local print and radio media. Several wind turbine proponents and opponents were also present. The governor’s next stop was North Platte.

Study on Prairie-Chicken Leks and Wind Turbines is Deficient

[Revised May 1, 2017.]

Results of the recently published study on the behavior of Greater Prairie-Chicken behavior are interesting but nearly useless in any consideration of how wind turbine activity has any influence on these prairie grouse. A goal of the study was to investigate activities of male Greater Prairie-Chicken in association with the wind turbine facility south of Ainsworth, operated by the Nebraska Public Power District and where there are 36 turbines.

Upon careful, detailed and repeated reading of the study results, and a consideration of tabular results, there is an aspect which is completely missing. The methods do not convey any effort to associate operational turbine activity and the resultant noise in any sort of association with the behavior of male prairie chickens.

The researchers indicate in their abstract that the potential for “low-frequency noise” caused by operational wind turbines may disrupt acoustic communication and thus behavior meant a prediction that males close to wind turbine facilities would spend more time in “agnostic behavior.” The researchers use details from the findings of other studies to make these two inferences.

Note that observations were made early in the morning, a time of the day when wind levels are most typically at the daily minimum; i.e., when turbine blades would most likely not be operating and thus there would be no turbine noise present. The researchers even indicate that “average daily wind speed” was not considered further in the “modeling process” despite having been measured during lek surveys.

There are no results associated with prairie-chicken behavior in association with turbine noise indicated in the research results. Nowhere within the published article is there any comparison of male lek behavior correlated with the noise levels made by operational turbines. The study suggests that “noise disturbance may affect the leking behavior of male greater prairie-chickens through two mechanisms.” Those are indicated to be low-frequency noise produced by operating wind turbines and how noise associated with operational wind turbines might influence behavior by male chickens at a lek.

It is quite obvious that the research results are proper but wholly inadequate.

Opinions indicated in the latter portion of this supposedly accurate article are nothing more than an opinion. Consider this item from the article: “Our results suggest that potential noise disturbance at the wind energy facility (i.e., turbine noise) did not disrupt acoustic communication to the level that the disturbance affected behavioral interactions." The next sentence in the peer-reviewed article uses the words "may suggest" which is basically an opinion. The next paragraph even infers that “results suggest that potential noise disturbance at the wind energy facility did not disrupt female lek attendance.”

It needs to be strongly emphasized that the researchers provide not a single source of information to correlate prairie-chicken behavior and noise levels from operational wind turbines.

Another statement is indicative of how fact is mixed with fictional opinions by the authors of this supposedly authoritative research article: "...our results suggest that birds close at leks close to the wind energy facility may obtain fitness benefits." This is another example of hyperbole, as “suggest” is not based upon fact but is nothing more than an opinion being conveyed, as there are no measured details presented on the physical condition of the prairie chickens at the leks studied.

There were no results indicated that when male chickens partake in display behaviors, and that their incessant action as a result of wind turbine activities may result in a lesser degree of physical fitness? It is well known that incessant behaviors are not healthy, and in the case of prairie-chickens, there may be a reduced physical fitness because of the being so constantly involved in breeding sorts of activities, as indicated in the research article.

The results are indicative of prairie-chicken occurrence in association with inert wind turbines, not actively operating wind turbines. For researchers to use a flawed research protocol to convey findings is simply not acceptable. At least the paper indicates that further studies are needed. A particular focus is the need to correlate behavior with measures of turbine noise levels.

This is a fine study of Greater Prairie-Chicken behavior, but there is no basis in fact on how operational wind turbines influence the behavior of these prairie grouse. The title of the article is accurate but misleading as findings are based upon distance from a wind turbine, not the distance from an operational wind turbine.

At least the paper indicates that further studies are needed. A particular focus is the need to correlate behavior with measures of turbine noise levels. This paper is interesting but its findings contain too many opinions – i.e., flaws in research design - for it to be used in any manner associated with an operational wind turbine facility in the Nebraska Sand Hills.

Citation: Indirect effects of an existing wind energy facility on lekking behavior of Greater Prairie-Chickens. Ethnology 122(2016): 419-429.

This article notably did not include the following significant article, which is another strike against the researchers. Other “Literature Cited” referred to birds other than prairie grouse.

Findings of Effects on Grassland Birds

A long-term and very essential study that needs to be considered is “Effects of wind-energy facilities on breeding grassland bird distributions” as published by Jill A. Shaffer and Deborah A. Buhl in 2015 in Conservation Biology, Volume 30, No. 1, 59–71. Work was done by scientists associated with the U.S. Geological Service. This is a portion of the abstract: “During 2003–2012, we monitored changes in bird density in 3 study areas in North Dakota and South Dakota (U.S.A.). We examined whether displacement or attraction occurred 1 year after construction (immediate effect) and the average displacement or attraction 2–5 years after construction (delayed effect). We tested for these effects overall and within distance bands of 100, 200, 300, and >300 m from turbines. We observed displacement for 7 of 9 species.”

Species studied included the Grasshopper Sparrow, Western Meadowlark, Upland Sandpiper and Killdeer which occur in upland grassland habitat of the Sandhills of Nebraska. Bobolink were also mentioned though they occur in lowland meadows which are not typical places where wind turbines could be placed.

08 April 2017

Birds in the Valentine Vicinity, March 2017

March was exciting month for birding among the places in and near Valentine, Nebraska and along the Minnechaduza Creek. Most prominent was the diversity of wildbird species seen, several which occurred as migrants and had not been previously seen.

New additions to the area bird species tally for the past 18 months or so, were, significantly:

  • Snow Goose at the Valentine Mill Pond
  • Gadwall seen in lesser numbers, also at the Mill Pond
  • Green-winged Teal, also at the Mill Pond

On a particularly fine day while hiking trails through the Valentine City Park, a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker was silent among the woodland of the park's eastern extent. When a few minutes later, a Brown Creeper was seen at the same locality, it became an especially fine day to be looking. The creeper on an oak was a sighting that had been hoped for for months. Nearby were a couple of vocal Eastern Phoebe singing from a sunny place atop a tree along the creek.

The Wild Turkey, which are certainly area residents, arrived back to the North Lake Shore Hills earlier this year than a year ago. Where these birds spend the winter is not known.

Summer season Turkey Vultures were notably less prevalent in 2017, in compared to 2016. It was a day's moment to see Sandhill Crane moving northward of the heart city, on two occasions. Nice numbers of Killdeer were seen at the Mill Pond, which was a birding hotspot on occasion. This is were the local Great Horned Owl pair was heard during the dark hours, near their secretive nest.

Among the winter-condition cattails at the west end of the pond, a very vocal Marsh Wren was vididly heard and subtly heard while watching the flock of Gadwall.

Several Northern Flicker were seen grubbing for what they found edible on the horse pen drive north of the west end of the Mill Pond. It was quite nice to see six flickers foraging at the same time. American Robin have been especially pervasive. On a couple of days during the last days of the month, more than 100 Dark-eyed Junco were obvious pecking for seeds at the same place where the flickers were activly digging. Among the mix were a few robins.

Always appreciated during the month the expressive Eurasian Collared Dove, the flighty Cedar Waxwing and always appreciated American Goldfinch that enjoy bird feeders at yards in Valentine. Northern Cardinal were singing at multiple places that they have selected as their pending breeding season home. The voice of a Chipping Sparrow was indicative, being heard first in March rather than April. Once heard, the species was not obvious again during the month. The same situation occurred with the Common Grackle foraging among the many local blackbirds.

The monthly tally is indicative on the species present, date of their occurrence (as extrapolated for database record purposes) and number present. Once again, the common name and taxonomic sequence follows that of the International Ornithological Council, not the American Ornithologists' Union nor the particulars expressed by the Nebraska Ornithologists' Union. The species list by the latter two organizations are simply outdated and not comprehensive in their consideration of birds of the world.

Records were kept during the month, in order to denote particularly significant sightings. For some of the dates, no records were kept for common, resident species.

Common Name           Julian Date: 61 64 65 67 68 71 72 76 77 80 82 86 88 90
Snow Goose - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 1 - - - - - - - -
Canada Goose 100 - - - - - - - - - - 115 14 - - 18 16 26 - - - -
Wood Duck - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 3 4 3 12 1 2 - -
Gadwall - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 2 6 12 - - - -
Mallard - - - - - - - - - - - - 6 2 - - 2 - - 2 - - - -
Northern Shoveler - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 2 - - - - - - - -
Green-winged Teal - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 8 - - - - - - - -
Common Merganser - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 1 - - - - - - - - - -
Wild Turkey - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 2 4
Great Blue Heron - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 1 - - 1 1 - - - -
Turkey Vulture - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 1 - - - -
Bald Eagle - - - - - - 3 - - - - - - - - 2 - - - - - - - - - -
Red-tailed Hawk - - - - - - 1 - - - - 1 1 - - - - 1 1 - - 1
Sandhill Crane - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 150 350 - -
Killdeer - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 1 - - 9 - - 2 1 - -
American Herring Gull - - - - 5 - - - - - - - - 18 - - 1 - - - - - - 5
Rock Dove 14 - - - - - - 14 - - - - - - 15 - - - - 10 - - 8
Eurasian Collared Dove 8 - - 6 - - - - - - 4 4 7 9 - - 25 - - 10
Great Horned Owl - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 1 - - - - 2 - - 1
Belted Kingfisher - - - - - - - - - - - - 1 - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Red-bellied Woodpecker 1 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 1 - - - -
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 1 - - - -
Downy Woodpecker 1 - - - - - - - - - - 2 3 - - - - - - 3 - - - -
Hairy Woodpecker 1 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 1 - - 1 - - - -
Northern Flicker 1 - - - - - - - - - - 1 1 - - 1 2 3 6 3
American Kestrel - - 1 - - - - 1 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Eastern Phoebe - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 1 2 1 - -
Blue Jay 1 - - - - - - - - - - 1 1 1 1 - - 1 - - 2
American Crow 9 - - - - - - - - - - 2 3 - - 2 - - 1 - - - -
Cedar Waxwing 11 - - - - - - 4 11 - - - - - - - - - - 10 - - 8
Black-capped Chickadee 6 - - - - - - - - - - 3 2 - - - - - - 7 - - - -
Horned Lark 1 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Marsh Wren - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 1 - - - -
Red-breasted Nuthatch 1 - - - - - - - - - - 1 - - - - 1 1 3 - - - -
White-breasted Nuthatch 4 - - - - - - - - - - 4 4 - - - - - - 8 - - - -
Brown Creeper - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 1 - - - -
Common Starling - - - - 17 - - - - 12 - - - - - - 21 - - 14 - - 125
Eastern Bluebird - - - - - - - - 1 - - - - 3 3 2 4 2 1 - -
American Robin 96 - - 18 - - - - 75 - - 60 50 - - 42 97 - - 120
House Sparrow 45 - - 2 - - - - - - - - 10 - - - - - - 30 - - - -
House Finch 8 - - - - - - - - 2 15 8 - - - - - - 19 - - - -
American Goldfinch 35 - - - - - - - - - - 30 2 - - 10 - - 6 - - 7
Red-winged Blackbird 4 - - 20 - - - - 55 - - 27 - - 50 - - 30 50 - -
Common Grackle - - - - - - - - - - 1 - - - - - - 7 - - 20 4 29
Dark-eyed Junco 4 - - 4 - - 4 16 - - 11 - - 10 - - 72 100 106
American Tree Sparrow - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 2 - -
Chipping Sparrow - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 1 - - 2 - - - -
Northern Cardinal 2 - - 1 - - 1 - - 1 - - 2 - - 1 3 1 2

The 48 species seen during March 2017 was a significant increase over the 36 seen during the same month in 2016. There was no significant difference in days when records were kept, at the number of days for records was similar. There were, however, more species noted. Perhaps there were some times when the "luck of an observation" occurred, and these notations are indicated in the overall tally of wild bird species.

This information is based upon more than 2500 individual records.

Rancher Writes Unique Book About Flora and Recollections

A unique perspective of flora of the northern fringe of the sandhills is an ode written by Clarence Nollett during his time ranching in South Dakota, 15 miles northwest of Crookston. He describes the local flora in his self-published work – written from a self-expressed rancher’s perspective – as prepared from 1993 to 2000, while living on the ranch where he was born. Plant types include prairie grasses, legumes, colorful forbs and woody trees and shrubs.

The history for the ranch starts in 1918-19 when Felix Nollett paid $29 per acre for 320 acres, Clarence Nollett said. Martin and Irma Nollett carried on at the ranch. This was the range country where Clarence grew to appreciate different flora and the places where they abundantly grew and thrived.

While was growing up in the 1930s, he "thought we were in the forgotten part of the world." The land and its livestock, as well as the outdoors were especially enjoyed.

When a youngster, Clarence remembers walking the 3/4 mile to the mailbox south of the house. "We would pick wildflowers during the walk," down the country lane. Nollett said. "Mom would trim them and put them in a vase" for appreciation in the kitchen.

One reminiscence he mentioned was arriving late for classes at the country school because of the time spent gathering flowers. The wild rose is one plant he especially enjoyed then.

Nollett returned to the ranch land in October 1953, after his service in the Army. The youthful interest in blooming plants started again with in the 1960s upon winning a $100 savings bond for first place in a state conservation district competition.

Days among the prairie lands were some of the best times of my life, Nollett said. "One day with a range conservationist was one of the best days of my life," he said. He learned about grassland features, plants and other new things and realized that "prairie is an amazing feature of our area."

This awareness lit a spark of interest. Clarence focused on plants he could appreciate nearly every day on the ranch, and thus began his work to write about plants of the prairie.

His flora book was compiled from about 1993 to 2000, he said. It started with a personal inventory with text about the grasses and wanting to put a name on them. Pictures were then added for many other species, including legumes and forbs with their flowers.

"I hope I have left some footprints that someone can follow."

His words begin with a preface and then an account for Big Bluestem, a prominent species of the "true prairie." Nollett then writes about Little Bluestem and Indian Grass and some of their features of particular interest. Switchgrass has its own account. For each of the many other plants denoted, his rancher’s perspective is indicative, while also included are floristics, plant uses, scientific name and perhaps other specifics from readily available references. Poems are included, including one from Robert Frost, a great American poet.

Personal essays are reading to enjoy, especially those about the family farm (with numerous pictures from the place during the years), then about range and grass management, financial considerations, marketing and conservation. Quotes from scripture and authors of renown are included to convey important perspectives cattle man Nollett realized and came to personally know.

Cattle at the ranch were sold in 2002, though he stayed at the place for several more years before moving to Valentine.

He remembered the flora of the hills, and a favorite plant was the shell-leaf penstemon, as indicated during a personal interview during the latter months of 2016. A picture hanging in his residence shows this species with a windmill in the background so is a prominent appreciation in his living room.

An original version of "Range Grasses and Plants of the Native Prairie" was initially given to the Valentine Public Library, years ago. It is an over 400 page compilation with some pictures, loosely bound in a large notebook and catalogued as a research book with limited distribution to patrons. Its dedication is to his parents Martin and Irma Nollett, who "helped nourish my interest in plants and birds," he said.

His work was done to inspire future generations, as conveyed by the tome’s preface: "I want to create an awareness, stimulate the curiosity, and help to develop an understanding and an appreciation for the things found in our surroundings."

Nollett is still a member of the Great Plains native plants society, Hermosa, SD. A signing event and presentation for the reissued “Range Grasses and Plants of the Native Prairie” occurred on March 31 at the Cherry Hills estate at Valentine, where he currently resides. Marvanna Logterman helped to get Nollette’s work published and to make it more readily available for the public to appreciate as a resource to learn from.