22 July 2017

Cherry County Planning Board Violates Open Meetings Act

(Copyright 2017 James E. Ducey. All rights reserved)

The Cherry County Planning and Zoning Board violated the Open Meetings Act during their morning meeting on July 21st at the commissioner’s room at Valentine.

The three items which were violations are indicated in Section 84-1412 of the Act.
The first and most egregious violation was of subsection 1, which states: “…the public has the right to attend and the right to speak at meetings of public bodies …”

There was no comment period item on the agenda and there was no opportunity given to allow public comments by attendees.

This is especially problematic because Gary Swanson stated at the previous meeting of the board in early July that public comment would not be allowed at their next meeting. Despite my objections at that time that this would violate the Open Meetings Act and with a strident request to the board that this objection be entered into the public record, this statement was not corrected, nor was any subsequent action taken by board chair Jim Buer. These two board members and everyone on the board was told that to not allow public comments would be a violation of the Open Meetings Act.
Buer stated I should talk to Eric Scott, the county attorney. Following a meeting with the attorney there was a better understanding on how to deal with any potential violations.

A subsection 4 of the Act states: “Any member of a public body who knowingly violates or conspires to violate or who attends or remains at a meeting knowing that the public body is in violation of any provision of the Open Meetings Act shall be guilty of a Class IV misdemeanor for a first offense and a Class III misdemeanor for a second or subsequent offense.”

Therefore, each member of the board present on July 21st knowingly violated the Open Meetings Act, especially since each of them had been present at the meeting earlier in the month and heard the notice that to not allow public comment would be a violation. This means there has been a legal offense by eight members of the board, including messrs. Billings, Buer, Ericksen, Lee, Mathis, Pabst, Swanson and Wheeler.

Another pertinent subsection states that “Public bodies shall make available at the meeting or the instate location for a telephone conference call or videoconference, for examination and copying by members of the public, at least one copy of all reproducible written material to be discussed at the open meeting.”

There was no public copy available in the meeting room of a) the meeting agenda, and b) the minutes, so there were two distinct, additional violations. Photocopies of both items were however given to members of the board by the county zoning administrator.

Just before adjournment of the meeting – with an insistence to speak – a formal, verbal objection was made with a request that it be entered into the public record. This was personally done to comply with an annotation to Sec. 84-1412, which states: “To preserve an objection that a public body failed to make documents available at a public meeting as required by subsection (8) of this section, a person who attends a public meeting must not only object to the violation, but must make that objection to the public body or a member of the public body.”

This clause was read in its entirety to ensure that the board members and public present understood the complaint. The objection was told to the eight members of the board that were present, as well to the more than ten members of the community present. The entire meeting was videotaped by an attendee so there is an obvious record.

Because of these violations, there is an opportunity to file a civil law suit as Section 84-1414, subsection 1 allows recourse: “Any motion, resolution, rule, regulation, ordinance, or formal action of a body made or taken in violation of the Open Meetings Act shall be declared void by the district court if the suit is commenced within one hundred twenty days of the meeting of the public body at which the alleged violation occurred.” This language is reinforced in subsection 3.

Subsection 2 states that the “… county attorney of the county in which the public body ordinarily meets shall enforce the Open Meetings Act.” This would be Mr. Scott in Cherry county.

It also needs to be known that despite multiple and repeated requests by some meeting attendees for a sign-in sheet, both the planning and zoning board and county commissioners continue to disregard this means of getting into the official record the names of people that have taken the time to be involved in the public discourse. The excuse given is that this is a courtesy not a legal requirement. It is a request which elected public officials apparently prefer to ignore. At multiple meetings, an attendee has personally gotten together a sign-in sheet and spread it around so that public involvement would be documented.

18 July 2017

NPPD Forces Feds to Nix Attendance of FWS Official at Community Meeting

A phone call from a federal office in Washington D.C. prevented Robert Harms of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from attending a private meeting in Thedford on the afternoon of July 17, 2017.

Officials of the Nebraska Public Power District had learned of the meeting via an online posting, and called the Denver and Grand Island office of the federal agency, but were told by an agency head in Nebraska that the question and answer meeting was still a go, according to details provided by a meeting sponsor. Because of communication with an office in Washington, D.C., Harms received notice that he could not attend the meeting. It was conveyed that NPPD thought that it looked like Harms was “going behind their back” and made the FWS look biased.

Harms, from the Nebraska Field Office, had planned to answer questions regarding the R-Project. He was already in Thedford, when he received the notification to not attend, within the hour prior to the start of the meeting.

Prior to the start of the meeting, two NPPD representatives were sitting in a back corner of the meeting room of the venue. They were kindly asked to leave, initially balked as they were told to attend by some lawyer and then erroneously said that Mr. Harms would be present. Once told that it was a private meeting and they did not have reservations, they were escorted to the exit and it was made certain that they left, according to the hostess of the meeting. While the meeting was underway, an attendee that arrived a short time after it had started, saw two people in an NPPD truck driving around, taking pictures of parked vehicles and their license plates, she said.

Ranchland Community Gathering

Despite the lack of a guest that would have been greatly appreciated, the meeting continued with discussions on these key items:
* the Section 404 application made to the Army Corps of Engineers where NPPD has asked for a type of permit which does not address fill being placed in wetlands for the required long-term powerline and power-pole maintenance; they have also requested a permit that was prepared in a manner that would not allow public review, as associated with an individual permit. Information on this application was received three Freedom of Information Act requests. Any decision is still pending.
* change in r-project alignment: the alignment map in the ACE document does not match the alignment indicated in other draft documents that have recently been submitted for public review; there are obvious substantive changes.
* lack of legal agreements for many portions of the proposed powerline route as obvious due to the few easements filed in deed records of two counties which the powerline will traverse, notably Blaine county.
* NPPD and regulatory agencies undertaking an environmental review and other considerations for a project where the final route of the powerline is hypothetical due to the lack of legally-indicated easements.
* how is it that NPPD can identify itself as a “quasi-public” corporation; this company has even indicated that it is a public corporation or a political subdivision, according to documentation received via the FOIA request; an action item indicated at the meeting was to have the Nebraska Attorney General issue a finding that will provide a final answer as to the type of company designation for NPPD. It is impossible for NPPD to be a "political subdivision" as the term is applicable to incorporated villages, towns and cities.
* pending opportunity for further public comment on the draft environmental impact statement and other project documents, comprising about 1500 pages; additional weeks will be provided, based upon details which are expected to be issued this month in the Federal Register.
* matters regarding the legal statutes of the state of Nebraska Open Meetings Act, including how these statutes have recently been violated in association with public meetings on the r-project and wind turbine planning efforts in Cherry county.
* plans for ongoing activities to keep industrial powerlines and unwanted wind turbines from being placed in the sandhills, a place that is special for each person in the meeting, and for future generations, as stated multiple times by speakers. Cattleman Steve Moreland from Merriman put it very succinctly: “Just say no” to unwanted turbines and powerlines.

The private meeting was hosted by Dan and Barb Welch of the Brush Creek Ranch which is primarily west of Brownlee, with their south unit a short distance south of Thedford, along with great involvement from "members" of the advocacy group “Preserve the Sandhills.” More than 65 people attended, including Merriman, Valentine, Wood Lake, the Brownlee area, Brewster, Burwell, and Thomas County residents. There was also a representative or two from local planning boards or county commissioners that attended to hear the commentary.

There were many successful ranchers present, sitting on the chairs in the rooms. Their names could be mentioned individually, but that will not happen here because it was a community meeting where a bunch of special ranch country decided to splice out personal time during a busy summer season to be present at a meeting for common causes.

Lots of cowboys hats were upon the heads of cattlemen. There were boots a bit of distance above the floor spread about. The crowd was completely respectful. They listened. They learned because among those present are a few people which have spent multiple hours dealing with government, wind turbines and an industrial powerline. Most importantly, everyone, yes everyone was given a chance to speak. Everyone listened attentively in each instance.

The meeting was one more example of sand hill ranchland residents gathering to work towards conservation of their home place now as well as for their future generations.

Blaine county is now initiating efforts to develop zoning regulations, according to comments made at the meeting and details mentioned at the meeting of the Cherry county commissioners on July 11th. An initial meeting is pending.

30 June 2017

Wren Antics

Two small bits of feathered birds have been very busy continuing their seasonal presence at a north Valentine space which is their particular place. They are an established pair of House Wrens that have been together for weeks since an early spring arrival. He still sings from a horse shed roof while she feeds the young and might gather one twig or more for a nest in a medium-sized pipe with a nice suitably-sized entrance to a sheltered haven where eggs were laid because it was a safe-space to raise young.

For some weeks now the pair has been caring for their family of this breeding season. Mr. Wren is being attentive to making sure their birdly home is safe from any adjacent wrens that have any intent to impose on his seasonal residence. He sings, especially in the morning, as that is when so many birds express their presence, and as the day continues, he gets busy during foraging efforts to find some bit of an insect to provide to incessant and hungry youngsters. Mrs. Wren is especially very active in the neighborhood and has been very busy all day to make certain that eggs were kept warms and then nestlings are well fed from results of local forays.

The dynamic duo tend their nest all day, as obvious from my short distance away vantage place near where they fly with extent here and there. Activities are prominent these tiny mites search for forage, while other nearby wild birds are also taking care of demanding young.

Was it the same pair that nested at this same place last year? No matter, another generation was the result of such attentive care for their progeny this breeding season.

Most recently the nest builder of the duo found a nice bit of a stick to add to the nest. It was thought to be the right size, yet there was a problem that became readily apparent. While carefully grasped in the beak, multiple efforts were made to get the woody thing placed at home. Various angles did not work despite one turn or another of the wren’s head. Finally the too long stick was dropped to the ground.

Mrs. Wren did make sure to dart into the family abode until quickly departing on the day’s tasks. The antics of the morning of 29 June, after a mid-night bit of rain were a wonderful expression of a fresh morning as the wrens were attentive as they continued efforts of this particular wild bird season.


16 June 2017

May Birds in the Vicinity of Valentine

During the month, there were some new arrivals while others had already raised their brood of the year. There was nothing prominently exciting, nor where any rare birds seen. It was a basic month of wild bird occurrence in north-central Nebraska.

The usual bird haunts in the Valentine vicinity were traversed via bicycling or walking as appropriate during the month, especially along the trails at the city park.

Other special places within the sandhills were bird surveys were done have already been reported on. Especially notable was the May 6 visit to Anderson Bridge WMA because this was the first place in Cherry county visited to do some bird watching, 35 years ago! During the month, 876 distinct observations became database records.

This is a tally of the 74 species noted during the month, for seven different dates. These are some comments:

  • Canada Goose: the large number noted at the end of the month were multiple family groups at the Valentine Fish Hatchery and there were more goslings than adults
  • Trumpeter Swan: the two birds were present for just a short time at the Valentine Mill Pond
  • Wood Duck: present at the Mill Pond and on Minnechaduza Creek at the city park; there was no indication of ongoing occurrence during the breeding season
  • Wild Turkey: the birds seen can be very intermittent at the shack, though a hen is most regularly seen foraging in the morning, and calling as if she was asking to be joined by others
  • Great Blue Heron: there were at least two occupied nests in the trees just eastward of the city park; their forage grounds include the mill pond, fish hatchery ponds and other unknown places in the vicinity
  • Turkey Vulture: it is not known where they might be nesting but the sighting of this species is a regular and appreciated occurrence every day as they soar so gracefully above the landscape; there is a regular nagging, personal question: What is available here that they can eat?
  • Eurasian Collared Dove: noted daily
  • Mourning Dove: also noted daily
  • Common Nighthawk: finally seen at the end of the month
  • Chimney Swift: seen as they appreciated buggy skies and the few chimneys - especially in downtown - where they can find a safe haven to raise a family as they have for so many years as they strive to survive
  • Belted Kingfisher: heard less than might be expected though this species certainly continues to be extant
  • Eastern Phoebe: two bridges across Minnechaduza creek at the city park are appreciated as they provide a safe place for a pair to build a nest where their young will thrive
  • House Wren: breeding birds find their preferred nest place and this does not always mean some artificial nest box of which there are many at the western extent of Lake Shore Drive
  • Purple Martin: there are multiple nest structures in the Heart City but not all of them get used; House Sparrows are unwanted squatters; a surprise of the month was finding a few birds nesting at an apartment on the north side of Cherry Hills Estate
  • Grey Catbird and Brown Thrasher: residents, and as a birder, their is a certain appreciation of when the catbird expresses its "mew" song rather than sounding off like a thrasher, which thankfully makes no effort to sound like a catbird
  • Audubon's Warbler: very vocal along my daily route but gone after the first week of the month
  • Spotted Towhee: heard very regularly and none of their compatriot seen
  • Rose-breasted Grosbeak: very well seen along Lake Shore Drive and west end of the city park
  • Northern Cardinal: have only a limited occurrence since they are irregularly heard and less often seen; perhaps more searching is needed?

Based upon regular and ongoing occurrence of wildbirds, it is obvious why Valentine is a birding hotspot as designated on ebird. There are the "big" places like Fort Niobrara NWR and Valentine NWR while also importantly are the many public spaces so close to Valentine where anyone wanting to take the time to enjoy nature's life can venture forth, whenever, and have a personal time of outdoor discovery.

Proper Name        Julian date > 122 127 136 139 146 150 151
Canada Goose 6 8 17 - - - - 12 47
Trumpeter Swan - - - - 2 - - - - - - - -
Wood Duck 3 - - 1 - - - - - - - -
Mallard - - - - 3 - - - - - - - -
Wild Turkey 1 - - - - 3 - - 2 - -
Great Blue Heron 1 - - - - 3 - - - - 2
American White Pelican - - - - - - 2 - - - - - -
Turkey Vulture 5 4 19 - - 1 2 4
Bald Eagle - - - - - - 1 - - - - - -
Red-tailed Hawk - - - - - - 1 - - - - - -
Killdeer - - 1 1 - - - - - - 1
Spotted Sandpiper - - - - 1 1 - - - - 1
Rock Dove - - - - 10 - - - - - - - -
Eurasian Collared Dove 5 - - 12 - - - - 6 - -
Mourning Dove 3 - - 4 - - 2 2 1
Great Horned Owl 2 - - - - - - - - - - 1
Common Nighthawk - - - - - - - - - - - - 1
Chimney Swift - - 9 9 28 1 4 - -
Belted Kingfisher - - - - - - - - 1 - - 1
Red-headed Woodpecker - - - - 1 1 1 - - 1
Red-bellied Woodpecker - - - - 1 - - - - - - - -
Downy Woodpecker - - - - 1 - - 1 1 - -
Hairy Woodpecker 1 - - - - - - - - - - - -
Northern Flicker 2 - - 1 - - 1 2 - -
American Kestrel - - - - - - - - 1 - - - -
Eastern Phoebe - - - - 3 - - 3 - - - -
Eastern Wood-Pewee - - - - 1 1 1 1 - -
Western Kingbird - - 1 6 - - - - - - - -
Eastern Kingbird - - - - 4 - - - - 2 1
Great Crested Flycatcher - - - - 3 - - 4 2 2
Bell's Vireo - - - - - - - - 1 1 - -
Warbling Vireo - - - - 1 - - - - 1 2
Red-eyed Vireo - - - - 1 - - 2 - - - -
Blue Jay 2 - - 3 - - 1 1 - -
American Crow 2 - - 1 - - 1 1 - -
Cedar Waxwing - - - - 13 - - 1 2 - -
Black-capped Chickadee 3 2 2 - - - - - - - -
Purple Martin - - 2 12 - - - - - - 6
Northern Rough-winged Swallow 3 1 3 - - 2 7 1
Barn Swallow - - - - 2 1 - - - - 1
American Cliff Swallow - - - - - - 1 - - - - - -
House Wren 5 7 13 - - 4 3 2
White-breasted Nuthatch 2 - - 3 - - 1 - - 1
Grey Catbird - - - - 5 3 4 1 - -
Brown Thrasher 1 1 1 1 - - 1 - -
Common Starling 2 - - 5 6 7 - - 2
Eastern Bluebird 3 2 - - - - 7 - - 1
American Robin 12 - - 62 - - 8 10 6
House Sparrow - - 2 20 - - - - - - 2
House Finch 6 4 12 - - - - 7 2
American Goldfinch 5 12 15 - - 4 2 2
Ovenbird - - - - - - - - - - - - 1
Common Yellowthroat - - - - 4 - - 2 3 2
American Redstart - - - - 6 - - 7 - - - -
American Yellow Warbler - - 2 4 - - 2 3 2
Audubon's Warbler 2 2 - - - - - - - - - -
Yellow-headed Blackbird 1 - - - - - - - - - - - -
Western Meadowlark - - - - 1 - - - - - - 2
Baltimore Oriole - - - - 4 - - - - - - - -
Orchard Oriole - - - - 4 - - - - 2 3
Red-winged Blackbird 30 - - 15 - - - - - - 5
Brown-headed Cowbird 6 - - 2 21 5 4 4
Common Grackle 26 - - 49 - - 7 4 - -
Song Sparrow 1 - - - - - - - - - - - -
Lincoln's Sparrow 2 - - - - - - - - - - - -
White-crowned Sparrow 7 1 - - - - - - - - - -
Chipping Sparrow 9 14 19 - - - - - - 1
Field Sparrow 1 - - 1 - - 2 1 - -
Clay-colored Sparrow - - - - 4 - - - - - - - -
Lark Sparrow - - - - 8 - - - - 2 2
Spotted Towhee 2 - - 3 3 1 2 1
Rose-breasted Grosbeak - - - - 1 1 - - - - - -
Northern Cardinal 1 - - 1 - - - - - - - -
Indigo Bunting - - - - - - - - - - 1 - -

The tally for May 2016 was 87 species, but this is likely the result of records being available for 17 different dates. Overall, there have been 92 species denoted for this month in the past two years, with particulars available for 22 different julian dates for these periods of time.

Every day was an opportunity to listen and learn while riding my bicycle around.

On the day when this report was written, my left shoe had a blowout and a sock is exposed to the regular cycling breezes. So my usual pair of shoes are now worthless and another option needs to be determined. It is not acceptable to have pathetic, old and broken shoes worn in public and the shoelaces have absolutely no quality. The henceforth direction that needs to be taken in now unknown. There will be something done! I'd like to have a treasured pair of cowboy boots? My former pair disappeared so many years ago, so a new version is needed. There was one night in the Mother Lake country when a pair of spurs were worn. It was such an experience for a man of eastern Nebraska was present because of the wildbirds.

With a pair of exposed boots while wearing fine denim, a nice country sort of hat and scarf, opposing anyone wanting to threaten the values of the sand hills will get a new reality! Besides words, of which is a personal skill, my hope, and which has been a personal endeavor for years, some time there will be a cowboy respect. My garb would be appropriate and distinctive, as looking for a final picture that can be sent to my mom in her final months. I am not a cowboy, but the cowboy way is part of every day of my life.

Ranchers Oppose R-Project Through Sandhills

Article copyright 2017 James E. Ducey. All rights reserved. This article may not be reissued in any print or online publication without written permission.

Opposition to the proposed R-project was very evident at a meeting where public comments were presented on a draft environmental impact statement for this industrial transmission line that is proposed to be built through the sand hills region.

Many attended and a fewer number spoke. Most of the speakers were associated with the ranch community. It was evident that the majority of the ranch country people that attended do not want this powerline built across a unique landscape. For some, the indicated route would traverse their property. And they do not accept the imposition of something unwanted on range land they have carefully managed to conserve grassland resources that include cattle forage, native vegetation, wildbirds and other natural features.

The meeting at the Thedford fair grounds building was hosted by staff of the Nebraska field office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), with Eliza Hines their primary spokesperson. Biologist Robert Harms was also present.

The three documents being considered comprise about 1500 pages. An initial speaker asked why the documents associated with this public review were not made available in Thomas and Blaine counties, and that it also needs to be readily available at Valentine.

There was a limit of three-minutes imposed on speakers, to which one rancher responded: “We didn’t drive 30 miles for three minutes” in which to speak. Others drove much larger distances. Because of the need for the court reporter to properly record the dialogue, speakers were required to speak into a microphone at the front of the crowd.

Barb Welch, a ranchwife at the Brush Creek Ranch near Brownlee, was the first speaker during the public comment period. She said the cumulative impact statement was incomplete and thus invalid, and also shared some words from a letter from the American Bird Conservancy which is opposed to the powerline. Dan Welch was the third speaker. The couple have worked for decades to establish their ranch property, which has a unit south of Thedford, across which Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD) proposes to place the powerline through rangeland that has a “high conservation value” as recognized by a study by Nebraska flora expert Kay Kottas, and which was financed by the ranch couple. Mr. Welch also indicated how NPPD has trespassed on his land.

Plastic markers indicating tower locations were left behind. NPPD has no legal authority to place these markers, according to research, so they are nothing but trash.

It was indicated by one speaker that NPPD has changed the route from the expressed “final” route indicated in documents, based upon a personal observation. Also, the utility company cannot build any powerline on property where they do not have a legally binding agreement on many segments of the proposed corridor. “How can an environmental review be done in regards to a hypothetical corridor,” was asked. Later in the meeting, biologist Harms indicated that following an email he had received, a request had been made about two weeks prior to NPPD asking for details denoting any route changes. There had been no response received as of the night of the meeting.

Voices heard at the meeting were strong and prominent. Names are not given here in complete respect to them. Those sorts of details will eventually be available in the public transcript of this meeting as well as those at Burwell and Sutherland, since a transcriber was present and kept a record.

The “sandhills are a national treasure ... very special and unique attention needs to be given” to continue these values, according to a rancher where the industrial powerline would bisect their range.

“There is no ecosystem similar to the sandhills, anywhere in this nation” said a Brownlee area, multi-generation rancher.

A neighbor with a heritage dating to the first years of ranching in the Cherry county sand hills said that “it would be a shame to put a transmission line through pristine hills.”

Each speaker received a round of applause after they had conveyed their comments. Continuing with comments heard:

“Visual and cultural impacts will be devastating to one of Nebraska’s most pristine areas” was spoken by a landowner that appreciates the several majestic Trumpeter Swan that spend the winter along the Dismal River and where Bald Eagle also appreciate the land that provides a seasonal haven.

Steve Moreland drove from Merriman to orate that the FWS “should just say no.” NPPD should “move along and quit wasting our time,” he said. Ranchman Moreland has part of a great legacy for a sandhills ranch family and his comments were indicative as he asked “Why do people want to ruin the hills for future generations.” His view that no incidental permit should be granted was completely agreed with by others, and the crowd as indicated by the applause of thanks for his spoken words.

A ranchwife from the east Thedford area does not accept that NPPD wants to ruin their ranch place for future generations, including her children.
Someone living nearby, spoke about how the proposed route for the transmission line has been altered at least two times. An additional impact would occur because of access roads that might be detrimental because they might provide means for trespassing.

In this same vicinity, another landowner expressed that on a portion of their ranch, about 1263 acres, NPPD proposes to build eight access roads which would include gates to provide the company access at times they would select.

This is “a total assault on their little place on the ranch east of Thedford,” she said. “NPPD can’t take away from what we have now.”
There was also a comment made about erosion associated with current power poles of the transmission line grid already present in the area and that regular power outages occur. “NPPD can’t take care of what they have now,” she said.

Especially significant was that after the moderator had gone through his numbers associated with people that indicated their intent to comment – and with additional time available – some people added to their three minute comment period. Others walked strongly to the microphone so they could share their individual views at this public forum.

The sandhills are a “different and special world that needs protection,” said a speaker representing more than a century of ranch legacy, not only in Thomas county but also in the great ranch county of Cherry county north of Hyannis. Details were given for nesting Bald Eagle in close proximity of the proposed powerline route.

A question was raised as why there has been no consideration of soil features. Details indicated convey that there is a great variance in soils so towers placed at various spots will result in barren land. At least two speakers indicated that character of the Dismal River sand hills should be a special concern.

Another speaker, that has personally taken the time to look at sites where there are powerline towers, has realized that the ground vegetation has not regrown during their multi-year observations.

A key item expressed was how the construction and placement of powerline towers might affect the local groundwater aquifer? This indicated concern especially pertains to southern Holt county where wet meadows and land wetlands obvious on the landscape indicate the presence of surface- and ground-water features.

During the meeting, questions were asked. Both Harms and Hines cordially provided answers, especially in regards to why the endangered American Burying Beetle and Whooping Crane are of particular concern.

An obvious theme by speakers was that the electronic documents were difficult to read. There had been problems with online access. Also obvious was the expense to print documents comprising about 1500 pages, with one attendee stating that it costs ten cents per page for black-and-white copies, and to get a color copy was 49 cents per page.

Concerns were expressed about how the construction of the R-Project could result in further degradation of the sandhills landscape as wind turbine facilities or solar-power development is expected to follow once a regional distribution powerline becomes available to transport energy to elsewhere.

Landowners in the area have already received letters from companies promoting industrial solar power facilities, or observed scoping activity along Highway 83.

The meeting on June 13th was at the Thedford fair grounds. Agency representative Hines gave a short presentation on key items regarding the project and the public review process before the comment period of the two-hour meeting. Several handouts were provided.

There were 68 people that signed in, including attendees from Thedford, Brownlee area, Brewster, Valentine, Kilgore and Merriman as well as an owner of local land from Red Oak, Iowa. Representatives from NPPD were present but did not give any remarks, and did not indicate their presence until a member of the crowd insisted that they identify themselves.

Comments on the project documents will be accepted by FWS until July 11, 2017. There have been from 30-40 requests to extend this comment period by at least 30 days, Hines said at the meeting. Several people that spoke also asked for an extension, as it is currently a busy time in ranch country.

A final decision on the incidental take permit for the burying beetle is tentatively scheduled for early November, 2017.

10 June 2017

Bird Conservancy of the Rockies Does Surveys in Sandhills

June 8, 2017. Grant County News 132(45): 1. 5.

Birders watchers associated with the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies recently did surveys in the central and western Sandhills.

At the end of May, there was a survey done at the Apache ranch south of Hyannis, with another done the previous day at the French Ranch south of Mullen.

“We appreciate that land-owners provide access,” Michael Nicosia, a seasonal employee of the Colorado-based conservancy.

The localities visited are based upon a random selection that conforms to scientific rigors, with the hope that owners of the land will allow access.

During dawn and the first hours of the morning on the 31st, Nicosia was at work recording wild birds present at a selected grid on the south Hyannis ranch, which included prairie habitat adjacent to a wetland.

Following particular protocols, it took a few hours to denote essential details for about 160 acres with sixteen distinct grid points, as designated by Global Positioning Satellite spots that were randomly selected. These surveys require that birds noted at a specific grid point be denoted by particular details along with a requirement to indicate vegetative characteristics.

There were 53 species observed, Nicosia indicated during our conversation at the Valentine Public library.

Pervasive on the sandhills prairie were Grasshopper Sparrow. Other avifauna present in the vicinity were Long-billed Curlew, a Willet, Forster’s Tern, subtly present American Bittern, and Bobolinks in the meadow. Nicosia was effusive in mentioning that there were “tons” of small Marsh Wren, Red-winged Blackbird and Yellow-headed Blackbird appreciating marshland habitat.

There was a pair of Trumpeter Swan with six cygnets, though their occurrence was not amidst the survey grid, but was an ancillary observation. Other smaller-sized waterfowl also present included Blue-winged Teal and Canvasback.

At the Apache Ranch there is a setting something like a “like a mini-Valentine National Wildlife Refuge,” Nicosia said during a conversation at the Valentine library. In explaining the significance of the species variety, he said that a “high species richness indicates diversity representative of an ecologically healthy habitat.”

There is a great variety of land in the sandhills which are valuable to local flora and fauna.

Based upon more than one conversation, visitors from other states certainly enjoy birding in the sand hills because of their assignments. Other ranches may be visited.

Surveys by the BCR have and will occur elsewhere in Nebraska. Places that employees have already visited include McKelvie National Forest, Bessey National Forest. There are visits pending for the valley of the Niobrara National Scenic River and then multiple surveys along the multi-state Missouri River.

During their travels, the three men met have been reliant on local campgrounds, are known to linger at the Valentine Public Library to get work done, and have spent time looking at birds at local habitats during days when they did not have to work.


Addendum

An additional survey was done June 5th at the Double RR Guest Ranch north of Mullen and 56 species were recorded by another surveyor.

30 May 2017

Survey of Late-Spring Birds at Vanderploeg Ranch

There was an unusual bird convergence during the Memorial Day weekend, because Anne Quigley is attentive at the Valentine Public Library. She was an essential link that brought together visiting birders with local bird-watchers. Mrs. Quigley made the introduction at the Valentine Public Library. Conversation ensued on a Friday afternoon with many topics of discussion, but most importantly was an agreement to have the visitors go along on a previously scheduled visit to the Vanderploeg Ranch on Sunday morning on the 28th, where Marvin Venderploeg was once again a gracious host.

Along with Mike Nicosia (from New York state) and Dan Horton (from Colorado) – both seasonal employees for the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies (BCR) – was Gordon Warrick, of Valentine.

Morning hours were spent traversing the ranch looking for different wild birds. Records were kept of specific sightings, with 62 different species observed, nearly all of them breeding season residents.

Resident Bald Eagle were lingering around their nest, and one of them was defensive as we drove past, protecting young that were likely present on a heap of sticks atop a stunted pine. We did not linger here to ensure minimal disturbance. Nearby, at the Niobrara valley marsh, only a single Trumpeter Swan was seen. Vanderploeg mentioned later that the swans did have a cygnet, but that it was a difficult season for these waterfowl because the beaver had left and the water levels kept changing, rather than being maintained at a nominal level due to the waterworks of the mammals. Despite an effort by Warrick to determine the location of a nest, it was not noticeable.

These are some notable sightings. Along the northern extent of Schlagel Creek there was a singing Black-headed Grosbeak, which has a regular range further to the west. A short distance away, was a Blue Grosbeak. Great Crested Flycatcher were pervasive among the lowland bur oak trees. Red-headed Woodpecker were boisterous, and they were certainly appreciative that there were no insidious starlings that might steal their nest cavity. There was the Orchard Oriole and the Baltimore Oriole. Both outstate visitors really enjoyed a nice bunch of Stilt Sandpiper foraging on the riverine marsh. Warblers seen included the diminutive Common Yellowthroat, American Redstart, Yellow Warbler, a vociferous Yellow-breasted Chat in a brushy swale along Schlagel Creek, and a single Ovenbird at The Island, one of the many special ranch spaces as named by our host.

Another highlight was the unusual co-occurrence of both the Eastern Wood-Pewee and Western Wood-Pewee, within the area of the Niobrara River valley well recognized for occurrences of bird hybridization as the range of a western species overlaps with one typical of the east.

A bunch of Brown-headed Cowbird were enjoying the corn spread near the house. Wild Turkeys thrive on the same source of food. He is also every attentive to the life of birds. He explained that a House wren was nesting in a tree limb cavity outside his home window, and then, there it was bringing food to its young. Nearby was a nest box occupied by a pair of Wood Duck and another by two American Kestrel.

Notable for Horton was seeing Scarlet Tanager, a pair present being a new addition to his life list of birds seen, as discovered by three birders walking among the trees, binoculars pointed in the arboreal realm to determine the bird that was singing at his place among the trees.

Because of the many wild birds present on this particular day of late spring, the known tally of species for the ranch increased to 111 from 97. A notable addition were many Swainson’s Thrush, common among the oaks of the riverine terrace. Other sorts were newly realized because there had not ever been a thorough breeding season survey completed. Shallow water conditions were conducive for the foraging sandpipers. The increase was also because the bird men present each had different skills, and as a team, there was a dramatically better result.

The last but not least species of the outing was a Loggerhead Shrike, busy hunting for lunch near the ranch entrance.

Marvin Vanderploeg is a birdman of daily occurrence from his south window, and very less often, international occurrence. This honorific is deserving he cares about birds every day, and the attention given to land management at the ranch south of Valentine. Each of us birders there on Sunday morning were in agreement. A special treat for the outstate visitors was being able to appreciate his personal collection of special birds, as carefully kept.

The BCR duo were in Valentine to enjoy some days off prior to doing contract surveys at McKelvie Forest and along the Niobrara River. They came to the Heart City, and spent dollars, because the area is a “good place to bird,” said Nicosia. They had “great birding” at Fort Niobrara NWR and then Valentine NWR where 79 species were seen on Saturday.

The work crew will eventually include eight people, as they continue eastward to surveys along the Missouri River. Their scientific protocol includes denoting bird occurrence at specific, measured grids and denoting vegetative characteristics.

Nicosia and Horton were very impressed with the unique birdlife and habitat conditions of the Vanderploeg Ranch. It was a great bird-watching field trip and each of us appreciated the uniqueness of this place where Marvin and Martin Vanderploeg are dedicated to care of the land and its natural life, big or small.

By the way, each of the two heart city visitors were given a bull-sale cap as a souvenir, having heard some words about livestock, the local sale barn and cattle grazing particulars.

The field trip was a great way to end Migratory Bird Month in Nebraska.

This is a list of the species seen.


  • Canada Goose
  • Trumpeter Swan
  • Wood Duck
  • Green-winged Teal
  • Wild Turkey
  • Common Pheasant
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Bald Eagle
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Killdeer
  • Stilt Sandpiper
  • Mourning Dove
  • Great Horned Owl
  • Belted Kingfisher
  • Red-headed Woodpecker
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Northern Flicker
  • American Kestrel
  • Eastern Phoebe
  • Western Wood-Pewee
  • Eastern Wood-Pewee

  • Western Kingbird
  • Eastern Kingbird
  • Great Crested Flycatcher
  • Loggerhead Shrike
  • Warbling Vireo
  • Red-eyed Vireo
  • Blue Jay
  • American Crow
  • Cedar Waxwing
  • Black-capped Chickadee
  • Purple Martin
  • Northern Rough-winged Swallow
  • Barn Swallow
  • Marsh Wren
  • House Wren
  • Blue-grey Gnatcatcher
  • Red-breasted Nuthatch
  • White-breasted Nuthatch
  • Eastern Bluebird
  • Swainson's Thrush
  • American Robin

  • American Goldfinch
  • Ovenbird
  • Common Yellowthroat
  • American Redstart
  • American Yellow Warbler
  • Yellow-breasted Chat
  • Western Meadowlark
  • Baltimore Oriole
  • Orchard Oriole
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Brown-headed Cowbird
  • Grasshopper Sparrow
  • Chipping Sparrow
  • Field Sparrow
  • Lark Sparrow
  • Spotted Towhee
  • Scarlet Tanager
  • Black-headed Grosbeak
  • Blue Grosbeak
  • An accipiter hawk seen was seen flitting above the valley ridge, but was too far away to determine an accurate identification.