28 November 2010

Iconic City Structure Deadly to Birds at Philadelphia

When the City Hall Tower was built in downtown Philadelphia, it was topped by a "colossal" bronze figure of William Penn.

The structure - more than 500 feet in height and encircled with a ring of arc lights which burn the night long" - was dedicated on July 4, 1897, which was also when the lights were first turned on.

Within a few weeks it was known to be a hazard for migratory birds. The first report of a dead bird was given in the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, and had been found at the balcony just below the lights of the tower.

William L. Baily investigated and found that it was a young Sora rail. He also noted: "This was the first bird that had flown against the tower since the lamps had been lighted."

The potential to note other instances piqued his interest, so he continued to monitor the site for bird-strikes for the next three years. His initial report of findings was read before the "Seventeenth Congress" of the American Ornithologists' Union meeting on November 15, 1899 at Philadelphia. A subsequent article was issued in 1900 by the Delaware Valley Ornithological Club of Philadelphia.

Mr. Baily's article titled "Migration Data on City Hall Tower" noted that: "Unintentionally this beautiful circle, crowning the highest point for miles around, has been the destroyer of many birds during their nocturnal migrations between their winter and summer homes. As much as we deplore this unfortunate destruction, we have been able at the same time to obtain some interesting data upon the subject of migration."

He noted species of the dead birds found (with others expected to have been taken away by passer-bys, eaten by cats or dogs, or otherwise removed and therefore not considered), the season of occurrence, kept weather-related notes, and observed bird behavior around the monument.

"In 1987, during the fall observations, nearly the whole month of September was clear and few birds were led astray into the light, and only thirty struck between August 23rd and November 8th. In the spring of 1898 Penn's collection only amounted to six birds. In the fall, the first two weeks of September were so warm that there was practically no migration until the 15th, when it was sudden and soon over, netting thirty-one victims.

"The present year (1899) the great clock, with an illuminated face over twenty-five feet in diameter, made its appearance, but luckily for the birds, the lights around the tower were turned off from May 2 to 16, and all the birds escaped but ten.

"The fall, however, the great parade and the Industrial Exhibition were special occasions for illumination, when four festoons of lamps were swung from the rim of Penn's hat to the balcony, and the gleanings from August 23 to October 31 amounted to four hundred and fifty-two birds. If, like the light-houses, there was a cylinder of glass around the outside of the light this slaughter would have been enormous. As it is, many of the birds approach the tower without striking, and I have watched them fly between the lights, circle the tower and then disappear into the darkness without in the least endangering their lives."

In his report, Mr. Baily made some comparisons of when old versus young birds were found, and briefly considered weather conditions and how they would be a variable.

The following species were collected during the spring and autumn seasons from August 27, 1897 to October 31, 1899. Species are listed alphabetically instead of in the order presented by the article.

Philadelphia City Hall ca. 1899. Image available at Wikipedia.

American Kestrel (sparrow hawk): 1
American Redstart: 16
Bay-breasted Warbler: 1
Black-and-white Warbler: 12
Black-billed Cuckoo: 2
Black-throated Blue Warbler: 12
Black-throated Green Warbler: 24
Blackburnian Warbler: 10
Blackpoll Warbler: 23
Bobolink: 1
Brown Creeper: 1
Brown Thrasher: 3
Cape May Warbler: 1
Cedar Waxwing: 4
Chestnut-sided Warbler: 2
Chipping Sparrow: 14
Common Yellowthroat (Maryland yellow-throat): 158
Connecticut Warbler: 12
Dark-eyed Junco (slate-colored junco): 6
Eastern Phoebe: 1
Eastern Towhee: 2
Eastern Wood-Pewee: 1
Field Sparrow: 6
Golden-crowned Kinglet: 1
Grasshopper Sparrow: 2
Gray Catbird: 3
Horned Grebe: 1
House Wren: 1
Indigo Bunting: 6
Magnolia Warbler: 5
Marsh Wren: 3
Mourning Dove: 2
Myrtle Warbler: 34
Nashville Warbler: 1
Northern Flicker (flicker): 6
Northern Parula (parula warbler): 67
Ovenbird: 7
Palm Warbler: 1
Pine Warbler: 5
Prairie Warbler: 1
Red-breasted Nuthatch: 6
Red-eyed Vireo: 16
Ruby-crowned Kinglet: 2
Ruddy Duck: 1
Savannah Sparrow: 2
Scarlet Tanager: 2
Solitary Vireo (blue-headed vireo): 1
Song Sparrow: 1
Sora: 1
White-eyed Vireo: 1
White-throated Sparrow: 1
Wood Thrush: 1
Yellow-bellied Cuckoo: 4
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker: 1
Yellow-breasted Chat: 3
Yellow? Warbler (yellow palm warbler): 26

Overall, 529 specimens representing 56 species were gathered, including 21 species of warblers and six kinds of sparrows, with most of the others typical songbirds of the eastern Pennsylvania region.

This report is an important account which adds significantly to the early history of bird-strikes in American cities.

The City Hall Tower is still present in Philadelphia, though whether it is still a hazard for migratory birds is not known.

Midtown Parkland Gets Little Respect in Omaha

Some particular items regarding parkland in midtown Omaha, are recent indications of how some people have little respect for these public green spaces and places for wild birds.

Tree Trimming

During a bicycle passage, when it was approaching 11 a.m. on the Friday morning of November 19, a city of Omaha Parks Recreation and Public Property crew was trimming trees along the north Happy Hollow portion of the recreational trail. The removed woody material was being chipped and loaded into a truck, as they moved southward from near Underwood Avenue.

An obvious concern for a cyclists along the route was whether the wood chip debris upon the paved trail would be removed? So, going backwards a bit to where the city men were congregating, this was the request. The men indicated it would get done later.

During the discussion, it became apparent that tree pieces cut by the crew were being pushed onto the bank of Happy Hollow Creek, and being left there.

In asking about them, one guy said the logs would be left where they were. The pieces were too big for the chipper, Also heard was a comment that it was normal to leave them at the place where cut.

"What does it matter anyway?," was one comment from the city of Omaha worker.

In an attempt to get them to remove the logs, an explanation was given that the pieces would get into the creek during periods of high water flows, then float down the creek and block the culvert. Also, any pieces of wood along the trail would likely get thrown into the creek by miscreants. Also, the same agency for which they worked, was working on a plan to deal with the situation along this creek, and would be paying to eventually clear debris from the channel.

Tree limb blockage in Happy Hollow Creek, on the east side of Memorial Park.

It did not seem that paying someone else to remove debris - associated with the cost of the pending project - should not occur because of city workers that disposed material along the creek and its bank.

The comments did not really matter. A bits of ways northward, a couple of large pieces were noted and thrown along the side of the trail. After leaving and going a bit further north and looking back, it was obvious that a city worker picked up these two particular pieces.

On Saturday morning, the four log portions remained, and there were two seemingly familiar pieces of wood in the creekbed.

It certainly did not take long for my prediction to happen.

Things languished until Monday, when the city of Omaha crew returned to continue their task, and were once again met along the trail. They could not be missed as their trucks were on the trail and mostly blocking the way for any walker or cyclist. The driver side door of one pickup was open and basically blocking the way. A short ways onward, two city worker men were gathered about one pickup, one talking to the other which was reading the newspaper while sitting on the front seat of his pickup.

A harangue followed, based upon two opposing views. Either the cut wood should be removed, or not. It was a worthless discussion, because the crew were not going to deal with the unwanted pieces.

To further address the situation, an Omaha Parks Department maintenance supervisor was called. The reply: "He would take care of it." Additional comments were made to administrative staff at the office of the city agency in the Omaha/Douglas Civic Center.

In order to suitably document things, during an early afternoon foray, pictures were taken of the pieces of wood, while enroute to a destination further along the way.

The city crew was still along Happy Hollow Creek, at its southern end, on the east side of Memorial Park.

During a short stop to determine the current situation, the obvious point: they had apparently heard of my communications, and were told not to speak to me. There were words spoken, but...

The situation by this time seemed a bit ludicrous. It took too much talking, just to deal with six pieces of errant wood.

By mid-afternoon, the four logs along the bank of the creek were gone. The two pieces in the creek channel remained, and are still there. They will soon join the wood jam further to the south, near where the channel and culvert are blocked near Dodge Street.

Blowing Leaves Away

A couple of days later during the normal bicycle passage, on Wednesday morning or the day before the Thanksgiving holiday, a yard company worker was using one of those abominable blowers to move a bunch of leaves from the yard of a residence on the east side of Happy Hollow Boulevard westward to public property.

The leaves were being forced down the slope of the residence at 309 North Happy Hollow Boulevard, across the sidewalk and curb-side, onto and across Happy Hollow Boulevard when there was a break in the traffic, over the recreational trail, and eventually into the woods.

Pile of leaves across from residence where they originated.

When asked about why they doing this, the worker said it saves the home owner money, the city doesn't clean up the leaves in the woods anyway, the trail would be cleaner once he was finished, and then to sum it up, expressed that it would "save everyone money."

"I get your point," he said, and upon my leaving, it was only to go up to the corner of the block, and, while watching from a distance, he continued to blow the leaves across the boulevard.

It was a blatant case of unneeded littering ... disposing of something unwanted onto property owned by someone else. In this instance, the City of Omaha.

The actions were reported to a city of Omaha office - code enforcement sine no other option was apparent - which including a specific notation of the license for the truck he was driving, since there was no indication of a company name on the vehicle.

A follow-up to this report was requested.

A call was also placed to the Mayor's Hotline, and the immediate reply was - even after expressing an opinion that the mayor should be interested in parks lands - that a call should be placed to the non-emergency line of the Omaha police.

"The mayor is not a part of this discussion," the woman responder said.

To the contrary - in my opinion - the city is responsible for maintenance of its property, and to indicate that the mayor is not involved in this issue, seemed to be a flip response.

A call was also made to the director's office of the Parks and Recreation Office, about 3:30 in the afternoon, and the only answer was to "leave a message."

It was apparently an early holiday downtown for some people.

Blowing leaves into the edge of the woods in a symptom of how some people have no respect for the wood lands of the midcity park.

Bringing an end to this latest illegal activity is no different from previous efforts, which have included getting a Happy Hollow Boulevard resident to quit trimming trees without permission, stopping the illegal dumping of lawn clippings and the unauthorized planting of flowers on public property.

When the meditation garden was established this month just south of the end of Happy Hollow Creek, the proponent worked with the city, got the local community involved, and made sure that the new place in Memorial Park was properly established.

Signs are Trash

Sometime during midday - also on Wednesday, November 24 - an advocacy group went along the Happy Hollow Trail and pushed some signs into place, thinking it would be a good site to troll for participants in their pending event.

Three signs were noticed between Underwood Avenue and the entrance to Elmwood Park, and each one was removed and thrown into the trash by 3 p.m.

Placing private signs on public property is a form of littering.

The point of contention is that people put up signs at places they deem suitable, yet they do not return to remove them, even once the event day is long past.

Errant Dogs

Memorial Park continues to have errant dogs running freely about, and not on a leash. A city ordinance requires that all dogs be on a leash, but an abhorrent few just don't care. There is almost always a "loose" dog in the park on any day when it is nice to get out and about, and especially in the morning hours.

On one recent walk through Memorial, a woman with two big dogs, including a German Shepherd with attitude, which had already - months earlier - nipped at my knee, was blithely going along. Neither mutt was on a leash, though to be specific they were on the football field of Brownell-Talbot School. Her and her dangerous dogs were at the south end of the football field, with my point of perspective at least 100 yards away, by the north end. She obviously noticed me coming along, as both dogs were put onto a leash, and they all literally ran away and disappeared into Memorial Park.

The Humane Society in Omaha, which is responsible for enforcement of dog leash and "poop pick-up regulations" in the city and its parks, continues to be ineffective in making sure that dogs in the park are on a leash. A dog not on a leash can be seen nearly every day on the grounds of Elmwood and Memorial Parks.

Many people do things right, but there are a number which ignore the city ordinance, and which cause problems in the park environs.

Thankful for Green Space

To express a Thanksgiving sentiment, the creek-space along Happy Hollow Boulevard should be appreciated and citizens should be thankful they have this green space and natural resource.

There certainly are many people whom do enjoy the setting, but there are always a few miscreant few who blatantly ignore the legal mandates of the city.

A theme common to each of these instances is readily summed up in a few words by the people responsible: "What does it matter, anyway."

Considering a Decade of Nebraska's Effort to Acquire Habitat

Several land acquisitions in the central and northern region of Nebraska are prominent accomplishments of the recently ended ten-year habitat plan of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

The goal of the "Habitat Acquisition and Conservation Plan" was "To provide for the long-term protection, management and restoration of a diverse, balanced and high quality assemblage of fish, wildlife and plant resources within the state of Nebraska for the benefit of the people and the natural resources."

During the period since 2000, there have been several property acquisitions from willing sellers, and through property trades.

The first property acquisition within the region in the new millennium was the Myrtle E. Hall WMA. The land - a farm run by Myrtle Hall, along with her brothers Merritt and Ward - was bequeathed to the Nebraska Game and Parks Foundation in February 2000 and transferred to Nebraska Game and Parks Commission in July 2000. The 1960 acre area overlooks the Loup River valley, and is upland hills and flats south of Almeria, Loup County, though some of the site extends into Custer county. The area is the divide between the North Loup and the Middle Loup watersheds.

Other land buys or trades occurred during subsequent years, include:

Red Wing WMA, 320 acres along the Elkhorn River northwest of Neligh, Antelope County
Hackberry Creek WMA, 243.79 acres along the Elkhorn River, a mile east of Clearwater, Antelope County
O. John Emerson WMA, 160 acres in northeast Holt County, which includes a section of creek, and a bit of upland wet meadow, originally visited in 2005 and 2006, and which is known to have at least 22 bird species.
Holt Creek WMA, 160 acres in Keya Paha County; acquired from the Fish and Wildlife Service as a trade for the Willow Lake WMA associated with Valentine NWR. The area is north and east of Springview, and includes a mile of Holt Creek, with deciduous woods adjacent, and is northward of the sandhills region.
Twin Lakes, Rock-County WMA, in Rock County; an additional 540 acres was added to the original 160 acres, as a trade for what had been the Almeria Meadows WMA. The addition included portions of the southern Twin Lake, plus upland grasslands and a grove of cottonwood trees.
Pressey WMA, Custer County; about 11 acres of native prairie were acquired from the Nebraska Department of Roads. Additional property has also been added to this site.

Further west, two wetland areas within the sand hills were purchased.

DeFair Lake WMA is along the highway south of Hyannis, Grant County, was acquired in April 2000, with the purchase of 125.2 acres for $49,406.42. This tract is included

Avocet WMA is along Highway 2 just east of Hyannis, was acquired in November 2003, with the purchase of 125.8 acres for $63,277.40 and 62.4 acres for $22,900.80. The wetland is well known for the Trumpeter Swans which occur during the summer breeding season.

The habitat acquisition plan had suggested that within the Sandhills region, two miles of riparian habitat (ca. 2500 acres) and wetlands comprised of lakes (2500 acres) and marsh (1920 acres) should be purchased to provide public land management areas.

The Hackberry Creek and Red WMA's comprise riparian habitat which include about two miles Elkhorn River frontage, or the extent indicated by the acquisition plan. The two areas comprise about 564 acres, or only about 22% of the desired goal of 2500 acres.

Besides the purchase of the Avocet and DeFair Lake tracts, the only other apparent addition of lake and marsh habitat would be associated with the Twin Lakes tract in Rock County, which was offset by the loss of meadow habitat at the former Almeria Meadows WMA. The two purchased tracts comprise about 313 acres. It should be noted that some minor amounts of marsh and meadow habitat would be associated with the two wildlife areas along the Elkhorn River in Antelope county.

The overall addition of lake and marsh habitat during the ten-year period was probably less than 400 acres. There was an apparent shortfall in the acquisition of this sort of habitat in the sandhills of nearly 3000 acres, or only about 12% of the desired amount of the 3420 acres.

The plan also mentioned the potential to purchase and identify tracts as Natural Areas, though there has not yet been such an area designated by the state agency.

Bird Values of Wildlife Lands

Within the general sandhills region, the state currently owns about 40 properties of various sizes, which includes the following wildlife management areas and other tracts as designated: AGA Marsh, Arnold Lake SRA, Atkinson SRA, Ballards Marsh, Big Alkali, Bobcat, Bohemia Prairie, Borman Bridge, Cottonwood Lake SRA, Cottonwood-Steverson, Dry Creek, Emerson, Fred Thomas, Hackberry Creek, Hull Lake, Keller SRA and WMA, Kent Diversion, Long Lake SRA, Long Pine SRA and WMA, Mirdan Canal, Myrtle Hall, Parshall Bridge, Pine Glen, Plum Creek Valley (acquired January 1999), Pressey SRA, Rat and Beaver Lake, Redbird, Red Wing, Schlagel Creek, Shell Lake, Smith Falls State Park, Smith Lake, South Pine (acquired September 1998), South Twin Lake, Thomas Creek which is an area which has been owned for many years by the state agency), Victoria Springs SRA, and Willow Lake Brown County (acquired December 1992 from the Wildlife Development Federation of North America).

More than 240 different species of birds have been observed at these places, in various numbers and extent among the distinctive habitats of the region, ranging from sandhills marsh and lakes, to the rugged terrain of canyons along the Niobrara River, and amidst other plant communities typical to the region.

Further considering details, the public lands where there has been a greater number of bird observations, based primarily upon observations made during visits by bird enthusiasts and not by any attempt by agency staff to record bird use, are the following sites: Smith Lake WMA (862 available records), Willow Lake Brown County WMA (561 with additional records available for the place before it became public property), South Twin Lake WMA (503), AGA Marsh WMA (397), South Pine WMA (376 with additional observations available for years prior to when the state bought the property), Long Lake SRA (336), Shell Lake WMA (207), Fred Thomas WMA (202), Thomas Creek WMA (167 from visits which required thrashing through the invasive cedars), Cottonwood Lake SRA (151), Myrtle Hall WMA (129), Plum Creek Valley WMA (116), and Pressey SRA (105 available records).

There are a lesser number of records for more than twenty other publicly owned land tracts, with bird information sometimes derived from only a couple of visits, since no other specifics are available.

Site management has been an essential part of the efforts undertaken by personnel of the state agency. This includes some removal of invasive red cedar trees, grassland management by periodic burns and other steps taken to provide quality habitat for the native flora and fauna.

Future Planning

The state agency has not yet developed a new plan to acquire and conserve native habitats throughout the state.

An email sent to four officials of the state agency, asking for comments on the results of the previous habitat plan, or any other comments pertinent to this article, did not respond.

22 November 2010

Wind Power Developer Donation to Mitigate Habitat Impacts

Midwest Wind Energy has agreed to donate $70,000 to mitigate for the impacts to nesting grassland birds where it is developing the Laredo Ridge Wind Farm.

The project will have will have more than 50 wind turbines on about 7600 acres three miles northeast of Petersburg, Nebraska.

"The $70,000 will be given to the Nebraska Land Trust, and used to obtain conservation easements to protect grassland habitats," said Robert Harms, a biologist with the Fish and Wildlife Service office in Grand Island, Nebraska.

The energy company has worked with the federal agency, as well as the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, to offset any negative impacts.

"As an agency, we advocate for smart wind development," Harms said, noting there were frequent conversations to discuss how to address concerns. "Midwest Power officials were very respectful, and understood the siting impacts."

Items Harms mentioned in particular were any potential "taking of birds" which is regulated by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, ensuring that power lines between the turbines would be buried, how to offset the direct impacts (i.e., habitat fragmentation due to the turbine pads and roads) and indirect impacts.

Another primary concern was how to offset the habitat changes at the project site which would affect grassland nesting birds.

The money provided to the land trust will be used to purchase easements on valuable native habitats, including prairie tracts, in the vicinity of the project site.

"The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will continue to work with wind farm developers to find effective means of offsetting impacts to wildlife resources as wind farms are developed to harness this alternative energy source," Harms said.

"I am hopeful that funds could be used for land acquisition or conservation easements. Its not likely that these kinds of funds would be used for urban buildings as it might be difficult to connect loss and degradation of habitat to collisions with windows in cities."

Terns and Plovers Get Consideration by Airboaters

When the "Thunder on the Loup" airboat races were held on the Middle Loup River, there was special consideration given to endangered Least Terns and threatened Piping Plovers breeding in the area.

"With all the flooding on the Elkhorn, Loup and Platte river systems, the birds had moved upriver on the Loup and found nesting habitat," said Robert Harms, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "There were quite a few nests," in the area of the airboat races.

Surveys for the birds had occurred earlier in the summer, as well as 2009, so this section of the river was a known nesting area.

Harms, and Joel Jorgensen and Michelle Koch, biologists with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, met with the airboaters to determine if the race noise and activity might cause any harm to the threatened and endangered birds.

There were nests within a half mile of the race route, but none along the race route, Harms said. "We didn’t have to change a thing, but we thought that the more they knew, the better."

Informing them of the birds nesting further up the river, helped them realize the importance of not running the airboats in that particular stretch of the channel.

The races occurred on the weekend of July 31 and August 1, west of Fullerton.

Following the event, Harms made a visit to the site to evaluate the situation.

"The nests and birds were still there," he said. There was no sign of human activity in the nesting area.

"Having the pre-race meeting generated some good will, and resulted in a positive situation," Harms said. "The birds were able to continue their nesting activity and the airboaters had a successful event."

Conservationists Laud Establishment of Prairie Conservation Area

The recently announced establishment of a Flint Hills Legacy Conservation Area "is a magnificent opportunity to preserve tall-grass prairie in a context beyond what has been done in the past," said Ron Klataske, executive director for Audubon of Kansas.

"If landowners sell easements and this project is successful, it will ensure that the grasslands are not fragmented by developments such as wind farms or mining operations.

"This is a major step reflecting the vision to conserve this unique prairie system, said Klataske, whom has been a long-time champion of efforts to conserve the Flint Hills prairie ecosystem. He noted that "the Tallgrass Legacy Alliance (a coalition of conservation oriented ranchers and other conservations) was vitally important in the effort. The leadership and commitment of Jim Minnerath, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, has devoted several years to the vision, and Bill Browning, a rancher and Audubon of Kansas leader who demonstrates the benefits of proper management for grassland birds on the family ranch, served as a host for visitors many times to project the benefits."

"Only in the past few years has there been adequate recognition of the importance of the tall-grass prairie in the Flint Hills," Klataske said, noting it will be especially beneficial for the Greater Prairie-Chicken, Upland Sandpiper and Grasshopper Sparrow, which are among the 100 species of grassland birds known to occur.

Klataske attended the announcement of the plan in Wichita, noting the diversity of people present, including conservationists, elected officials, representatives from federal and state agencies, ranchers and other private landowners, as well as other proponents.

"There was a great sense of excitement by representatives of diverse organizations at the announcement held at the Great Plains Nature Center in Wichita on November 12," Klataske said. "Even agricutural organizations that have not been traditional champions of conservation were present and on board with this project.

The Flint Hills Legacy Conservation Area will "help maintain the integrity of tallgrass prairie wildlife habitat, stream water quality, and the rich agricultural heritage of the Flint Hills by acquiring and protecting up to 1.1 million acres of habitat through voluntary, perpetual conservation easements," according to a press release issued by the Fish and Wildlife Service. "These conservation easements will protect habitat for more than 100 species of grassland birds and 500 plant species, and ensure the region’s sustainable ranching culture - which directly supports conservation of the tallgrass prairie – will continue."

Purposes of the conservation area, according to the Land Protection Plan are to:

  • "preserve landscape-scale ecological integrity of the Flint Hills tallgrass prairie by maintaining and enhancing the historical native plant, migratory bird, and other wildlife species with the support of the associated ranching culture;
  • "support the recovery and protection of threatened and endangered species and reduce the likelihood of future listings under the Endangered Species Act;
  • "protect the integrity of tallgrass prairie, riparian woodland, and prairie watersheds by preventing further habitat fragmentation;
  • "provide a buffer against climate change, by providing resiliency for the tallgrass prairie ecosystem through landscape-scale conservation;
  • "protect an intact north-south migration corridor for grassland-dependent wildlife;
  • "use the built-in resiliency to climate variability of native tallgrass prairie to ensure the continuation of wildlife habitat in the face of the uncertain effects of climate change."

In addition to conservation easements, Klataske noted that cost-share programs and incentive efforts would be used to conserve the prairie habitats, and be helpful in controlling the invasion of woody plants such as red cedar, lessening the extent of annual burning of grasslands which can have a detrimental effect on nesting habitat for prairie chickens.

“I am honored to stand with the diverse and visionary partners who are leading the effort to conserve the working landscapes and natural resources of the Flint Hills for future generations,” said Ken Salazar, Secretary of the Department of Interior. “I am especially proud that the first new refuge created under this Administration is the result of a partnership between governments, private landowners, and private organizations, all of whom recognize the vital role agriculture plays in stewarding our nation’s fish and wildlife resources. The Flint Hills Legacy Conservation Area will serve as a living example of how wildlife conservation and ranching can successfully go hand in hand.

"The Flint Hills Legacy Conservation Area is the product of efforts by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, private landowners, and other agencies and partners to protect a unique and highly diverse area in eastern Kansas known as the Flint Hills Tallgrass Region. There were six public meetings help to discuss the proposal, and comments were also taken on drafts of the plan.

The project area, primarily in eastern Kansas- extends from just north of Manhattan and southward into northern Oklahoma [include map]. Several conservation areas comprising about 90,000 acres are already present and managed by The Nature Conservancy, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Ranchland Trust of Kansas, and Kansas Land Trust, for example.

Further information on the Flint Hills Legacy Conservation Area, including the land protection plan and associated National Environmental Policy Act documents are available online.

20 November 2010

High Plains Swan Population Continues to Thrive

The number of Trumpeter Swans in the high plains flock continues to thrive.

Results of the 2010 autumn survey indicated a population of 524 swans, which is a "record-high count," but only one more bird than in 2009.

"There was an increase in the number of breeding pairs and birds in groups," according to the survey report. "The number of non-breeding pairs decreased by 16, but the number of broods and average brood size remained relatively unchanged."

The total population has shown a steady increase in the past few years, according to survey results:

1995: 214
2000: 321
2005: 358
2006: 427
2007: 398
2008: 429
2009: 523
2010: 524

Notably, the population has more than doubled in 15 years.

There were 174 cygnets noted during the 2010 survey, which compares to 171 in 2009. The total number of broods was 65 in 2010, and 63 in 2009.

The survey report indicates there were 65 pairs with cygnets in 2010 (60 in 2009) and 56 pairs without cygnets this past season (72 in 2009).

"The increase in total birds could be credited not only to the number of reproductively active pairs, but also wetland habitat quality," the survey report says.

The aerial survey was done from August 30 to September 1, and on September 8. The area surveyed has been similar in the past few years, and does not extend beyond the eastern boundary of Cherry county.

Survey results are available in a report by Shilo Comeau, of the Fish and Wildlife Service, out of Martin, SD, and Mark Vrtiska, of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

Considering the Survey Report

The 2010 report of the autumn survey of Trumpeter Swans, is a slight variation on the 2009 report.

The introduction is the same text. The only items changed in the methods section were the dates for the survey, and temperatures.

The results section conformed to the changes as a result of the survey.

Figure 1 - a map of the region - is the same. Figure 2 was slightly modified by including an additional year of results.

The boiler-plate presentation of the results continues with Table 1 and Figure 3. There were no substantive changes in the Habitat Conditions section.

Once again on Page 5, was an aerial photograph of a sandhill's wetland, showing the mosaic of habitat, with three swans and a Great Blue Heron within the view.

The caption for the 2009 report said: "Picture taken from the airplane during the survey, ..." The same picture with the exact same caption were used in the 2010 report.

Obviously this is misleading since the exact same picture could not have been taken two years in a row. A slight change in the caption text could have indicated that the picture was from a previous year's survey, but this was not done.

Another item mentioned in the survey reports for 2010 and 2009, is "Habitat availability in the Sandhills is currently being modeled using data collected from previous surveys, and this should give managers an idea if there is enough habitat available for this flock to persist at the current objectives."

Since the exact same text has been issued for two years, will this same statement be given next year? There is no information available to indicate what is involved with this habitat modeling effort.

The value of this report is its presentation of the number of swans, but the report could be so much more than another rendition of what has already been presented. Conditions for Trumpeter Swans of the High Plains Flock change every year, and this years report did not indicate anything new in this regard.

Habitat Management

Nothing was said in the survey report for 2009 and 2010 regarding the potential for habitat management to provide additional habitat for breeding swans and their young.

One point of consideration is the potential for restoring a Grant County lakebed to its former condition.

The Sandhills Task Force has an application on file to the Nebraska Environmental Trust to recreate historic hydrological conditions at Egan Lake. The landowners are supportive.

If the site, which is not currently a lake, is no longer pumped to remove water, but which could have a greater extent and variety of wetland habitats, might provide an additional nesting site for a pair of swans, as well as other wetland birds.

There may be other similar opportunities for lake restoration within the sandhills, which is the core habitat of the High Plains Flock. There is no known evaluation which has focused on the potential to increase habitat among the hills' dunes.

Habitat restoration could be a key element to ensure a healthy population of the Trumpeter Swan, as well as other birdlife of the region's lakes and marshes.

12 November 2010

Draft EIS Available for Corps' Sandbar Program

A draft environmental impact statement has been released by the Army Corps of Engineers for the Mechanical Creation and Maintenance of Emergent Sandbar Habitat on the Riverine Segments of the Upper Missouri River.

"The Corps is implementing the emergent sandbar habitat program for for the benefit and recovery of the interior population of the least tern and the northern Great Plains population of the piping plover," said Kelly Crane, biologist and program manager for the Corps. "We welcome and encourage input by Tribal governments, Federal, state and local agencies, and the general public. All input will be considered when writing the final Emergent Sandbar Habitat Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement."

The programatic EIS is an analysis of the "potential environmental consequences of implementing the ESH program on the Missouri River," according to an agency press release. "The study allows the public, cooperating agencies (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Park Service), and Corps decision makers to compare impacts among a range of alternatives. The goal is to inform the selection of a preferred alternative that allows for the creation and replacement of sufficient habitat to support tern and plover populations on the Missouri River in a safe, efficient and cost-effective manner that minimizes negative environmental consequences. The EIS is required to "provide National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) coverage for the mechanical construction" of emergent sandbar habitat.

Information about the Emergent Sandbar Habitat Programmatic EIS is available online at the Missouri River Recovery Program website. The document comprises nearly 1200 pages.

The comment period will be open from November 1, 2010 to January 21, 2011.

Public meetings will take place in December 2010 and January 2011, at the following locations:

- Tuesday, November 30: Bismarck, North Dakota, Best Western Doublewood Inn & Conference Center, 1400 E. Interchange Avenue, Bismarck, N.D.
- Thursday, December 2: Fort Peck, Montana, Fort Peck Interpretive Center & Museum, Lower Yellowstone Rd., Fort Peck, Mont.
- Tuesday, December 7: Pierre, S.D. Best Western Ramkota Hotel & Conference Center, 920 W. Sioux Avenue, Pierre, S.D.
- Wednesday, December 8: Yankton, S.D., Riverfront Event Center, 121 W. 3rd Street, Yankton, S.D.
- Thursday, December 9: Sioux City, Iowa, Stoney Creek Inn & Conference Center, 300 3rd Street, Sioux City, Iowa
- Wednesday, January 5, 2011: Omaha, Nebraska, Creighton University Mike & Josie Harper Center, 602 N. 20th Street, Omaha, Neb.
- Thursday, January 6, 2011: Kansas City, Missouri, Kansas City Marriott Country Club Plaza, 4445 Main Street, Kansas City, Mo.

The tentative schedule for the public involvement meetings is:

5:00 - 6:15 pm open house
6:15 - 7:00 pm presentation
7:00 - 8:00 pm questions/comments/more open house

10 November 2010

Smithsonian Scientist Investigates Original Nomenclature of a Warbler

In an investigation worthy of a detective novel, Storrs L. Olson has thoroughly considered the origin of the historic name attributed to the warbler now known as the Common Yellowthroat.

He wrote two articles which describe in detail some historical confusion regarding the type locality, and subsequent identification and naming of this species, and thoroughly discusses the misidentification leading to the application of the name "yellowthroat" to the species now carrying that name.

Storrs - a Curator Emeritus of the Divison of Birds at the Smithsonian Institution - had "been digging into the the original descriptions of various North American birds, and started off by tracking down a few sparrows and warblers."

His first article - published in 2009 - defines where the first known specimen originated, and which provided the basis for any subsequent recognition regarding type locality and origin of specimens, which is an important aspect for each species which occurs in North America.

Storrs indicates that the type specimen for the "Mary-Land Yellow-throat" came from Carolina, and further refines the locality as likely being Charleston.

In a second article published this year, Storrs explains in detail how the now well-recognized Common Yellowthroat was first named.

It was designated the "Mary-Land Yellow-Throat" in 1702 by James Petiver, a British enthusiast and collector of natural history specimens from throughout the known world, in his publication Gazohpylacii Naturae & Artis, issued at London. The species was illustrated based upon a specimen sent from Maryland by a Rev. Hugh Jones. Storrs also notes that Petiver depicted two other species from North America, the Northern Cardinal and Ruby-throated Hummingbird, the latter also from Maryland and collected by Jones.

Storrs' analysis of characteristics of the plumage shown in Petiver’s illustration, indicate that it was actually a Yellow-throated Warbler, although the specimen has long ago disappeared. The article includes the historic depiction and makes a side-by-side comparison with a similarly prepared skin of this species, noting which features match.

Yellow-throated Warbler illustration in Petiver's work.

When George Edwards published his "Gleanings of Natural History" in 1758, the species illustrated - based on a specimen from Carolina - was clearly what is now known as the Common Yellowthroat, and he used the name Maryland Yellowthroat, thinking, as Storrs points out, mistakenly, that his yellowthroat was the same species as Petiver's yellowthroat. The French ornithologist Brisson also referred to this species as "Figuier de Mariland" in 1760.

In 1766, Carl Linneaus, whose works constitute the beginnings of scientific nomenclature, applied the name Turdus trichas to the birds described by Petiver, Edwards, and Brisson. At that point, his species name was a composite, being based, as we know now from Olson’s papers, on two species, the Common Yellowthroat and the Yellow-throated Warbler. Therefore, Olson designated Edward’s description as what is known as the "lectotype" of the species, in order to preserved the scientific name trichas for the Common Yellowthroat.

Petiver's designation - Maryland Yellowthroat - was the English name list used for Geothlypis trichas in the first checklist of North American birds, issued by the American Ornithologists' Union, in 1886. And even though the original use of the term "Yellowthroat" actually applied to the Yellow-throated Warbler, it is now used for an entirely different group of species.

The findings of this research "will result in some minor adjustments in future checklists but otherwise is only an interesting historical aside," Storr said. He also noted that the Smithsonian Institution Library is "one of the best in the world for resolving issues concerning the nomenclature of birds."

"Cape-Cardinal" as illustrated in 1702 in Petiver's work.

09 November 2010

Final Planning Underway for Arbor Lake Improvement Project

Final plans are being prepared for a project to continue the conservation and enhancement of saline wetlands at Arbor Lake WMA, north of Lincoln.

Preliminary design for the Arbor Lake project.

In an ongoing process, plans for this place have been revised to ensure that the place is a haven for the endangered Salt Creek Tiger Beetle, birds, and other denizens of saline wetlands along north 27th Street.

There were about 30 people at an open house meeting on October 19, said Tom Malmstrom, coordinator for the Saline Wetlands Conservation Partnership. Poster boards of the proposed design were available for review, and plan consultants were present to listen to comments and answer questions. Soil, vegetation and hydrology of the site was also presented.

"This restoration project will enhance the saline wetland habitat," at Arbor Lake WMA, said Malmstrom. "It is a Landscape Objective of the Implementation Plan for the Conservation of Nebraska's Eastern Saline Wetlands (issued in 2003) to restore and protect saline wetlands. The Partnership strives to implement the goals and objectives of the plan and acts responsibly when opportunities are available to accomplish this."

The Partnership has acquired various land tracts in recent years, and after buying the nearby Frank Shoemaker Marsh in 2003, a plan was developed and changes were made to the area to "enhance" the habitat for tiger beetles and birds.

Measures indicated by the nearly final design plan, include:

  • berm removal or replacement, and modifications in water outlet structures
  • removal of sediment and excavation to lower soil levels to improve wetland conditions
  • placement of structures to limit the erosional downcutting of water channels
  • reshaping of the banks of the intermittent stream channels which conduct water into Little Salt Creek
  • providing access for small vehicles as needed for site management, as well as for people walking around the site
  • demolition and removal of the current walkway and site overlook, which will be replaced by benches where visitors can sit and observe the wetland area

Once a final design is completed in December or January, the $700,000 project will get underway. Funding is being provided by a Federal Section 319 grant, and a Nebraska Environmental Trust grant.

The 63 acre Arbor Lake site was purchased for $60,300 in November 1987, to mitigate for saline wetlands destroyed by the construction of Capitol Parkway West project by the City of Lincoln. Additional acres have been added on the southern portion of the area in recent years, so the area now encompasses 132 acres.

Arbor Lake has long been a known haven for birds, with some of the first notes from 1917, as given in the notes by Ralph Dawson, which continued through 1923. There have been many additional notes from the North 27th Street area in the modern era. After 1985, and in subsequent years during the early 1990s, observations indicate that at least 81 species have been seen at Arbor Lake WMA. There is an overall greater diversity when adjacent places such as the Frank Shoemaker Marsh are also considered.

05 November 2010

Historic Photos of Extinct Birds

Two sets of historic photographs of two extinct bird species have recently been presented.

The first example are pictures of a young Ivory-billed Woodpecker with James T. Tanner in the spring of 1939 at the celebrated Singer Tract in northeast Louisiana. The bird left its nesting hole, but could not adequately fly, and was captured. It then served as a model for a series of photographs taken by guide J.J. Kuhn.

Only two of these images had been previously published, but eight new negatives were found by Nancy Tanner, and featured in the September issue of Smithsonian Magazine.

A series of 24 photographs of captive Passenger Pigeons was recently placed online by the Wisconsin Historical Society, and came from their archives.

Each black-and-white image includes a description and other curatorial details.

The photographs were taken by J.G. Hubbard in 1896 of pigeons which belonged to the collection of Frank Chapman, as housed in the Chicago aviary of C.O. Whitman, a professor of Zoology at the University of Chicago.

This is an exquisite set of photographs, showing different views of the birds sitting on a perch and squabs.

The 100th year anniversary of the demise of this species will occur in 2013.

04 November 2010

Adding Bird Safety to FWS Refuge Buildings

Parker River Refuge building. Both pictures courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Two buildings constructed for the Fish and Wildlife Service were recent recipients of a 2010 Federal Energy and Water Management Award award in recognition for their "innovative, sustainable designs."

The Parker River Refuge Visitor Center and Administrative Headquarters facility in Massachusetts, constructed in 2003, was recognized as a "model of sustainable design, complete with passive solar techniques, super-insulation of the building envelope, high-efficiency lighting, and a geothermal open loop ground source heat pump that reduces energy use by 41 percent as compared to a traditional office building," according to a Fish and Wildlife Service press release.

Additional changes made at the building have also made it more bird-friendly.

There was a lot of glass on one side of the building, and since the glass was installed before any exhibits, there were bird strikes occurring, said Kyla Hastie, with the FWS northeast region external affairs office.

As silhouettes of plant species were placed on the windows, as part of the building's exhibits, bird strikes were reduced to almost nothing, Hastie said. Refuge staff also subsequently added a "film to the windows - the primary purpose was to save energy and cut down on solar build up - but it also seems to have reduced bird strikes."

Inland Northwest NWR complex building.

At the Inland Northwest National Wildlife Refuge Complex at Cheney, Washington, a new headquarters and visitors center "incorporates numerous energy-saving strategies, including super-insulation, a cool roof, energy-efficient LED lighting with occupancy sensors, triple-paned low-emissivity windows, optimal building orientation, and local stone and concrete to enhance thermal mass and help maintain comfortable temperatures. The main building uses a 14.35-ton geothermal heat pump with an overhead electric forced-air system for heating and cooling, a 4.9- kilowatt grid-tied solar photovoltaic array for electricity and a flat-plate roof-mounted solar collector system for hot water."

"The work of national wildlife refuges is essential not only in protecting wildlife habitat, but also in leading by example in energy efficiency," said Acting Service Director Rowan Gould. "Parker River National Wildlife Refuge and Inland Northwest National Wildlife Refuge Complex are prime examples of how we intend to reach our goal by 2020."

This award is given by the Department of Energy to recognize individuals, groups and agencies for their outstanding contributions in the areas of energy efficiency, water conservation and the use of advanced and renewable energy technologies at federal facilities."

03 November 2010

Conversations About Sustainability at Creighton University

Education and dialogue is essential to increasing the extent of sustainable activities in Nebraska was the prominent outcome from a day-long "conversation" on November 2nd at Creighton University. The session was sponsored by the Nebraska Sustainability Leadership Workshop.

At least 200 registrants and facilitators including business people, university staff and interested individuals discussed issues and concerns related to five primary topics areas: energy, food, land, materials and water.

Each "conversation" or period of discussion lasted about 45 minutes, with each participant then going to one of the other topic areas.

There were numerous formal and informal conversations, each adding to the overall furtherance of sustainable practices. Pertinent points were made with each group, and the following are some examples.


The need for bird-friendly building designs was a primary topic of interest. Many local buildings may have received a "green certification" but still have design features which pose a danger to migrating birds. Also mentioned, was that any bird strike is a violation of the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Most of the attendees were not aware of the bird-strike issue.

During the discussion, an interesting point was who the "squeaky wheels" for sustainability in Omaha, and how to achieve a critical mass, so that an item becomes part of the public discourse and action can be taken to effectively address a problem or situation.


"Big ideas" for this topic included the Keystone XL pipeline, soil erosion planning, land usage for living, native habitat area, appropriate land and water use, public policy, urban land use and how to reduce sprawl, use of common space, and impact of actions on nature and wildlife.

There seemed to be common agreement that the city parks were being "neglected" by city officials, including little recognition of the natural values of these public spaces.

The item mentioned regarding the impact of actions on nature and wildlife, was the possibility that city officials consider a portion of the Spring Lake Park woodlands with groundwater seeps, to be a viable retention pond for stormwater runoff.


Quantity and quality were the prominent topics. Nebraska is a water-rich state, and there was a consensus that this resource needs to be effectively conserved and managed.

One item of contention was a lack of information on basic natural features, especially no effort to document the bird diversity of lakes and wetlands in the sandhills region. The state and university personnel do not have any information about the region's avifauna, and how it is being impacted by land use, invasive species, and how a changing climate might also impact the habitats used by a diverse array of birds.


A need for further education was the prominent theme for each group, according to closing comments by the facilitators.

"It was a very stimulating discussion," said Jim Goeke, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln hydrogeologist and facilitator with the water group, noting the day's comments which presented a diversity of opinions about water and the need to understand it better.

"We are at a unique point in Nebraska on how we will manage water," he said. "Education and dialogue are essential."

"A lot of people care about Nebraska's water," commented Dan Snow, also from UNL, and the second facilitator with the water group. "It is encouraging that so many people want to learn about water."

During the day, there were several conversations about the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, and plans to route it through the eastern sandhills with its numerous lakes, wetlands and flowing wells associated with the Ogallala Aquifer.

Dr. Mary Ann Vinton, a biology professor at Creighton, and a facilitator in the land group, specifically mentioned the "diverse and insightful comments." Urban/suburban land use issues was one particular focus. She also mentioned the need to talk with public officials on issues.

Regarding educational options, one facilitator commented that there was a need to "bring attention to sustainability" as a topic. "People need to have conversations on the importance of resources," he said. "Messaging has gotten better," and with individuals taking action, the "bucket is filling up," in reference to people acting to promote sustainability.

A member of the audience, echoed these comments, noting that "small actions can have a big effect," and that people need to "educate in our own small circles," by talking about issues, their importance, and how individual efforts can promote change.

In his summary, Dr. Jay Leighter, the overall facilitator, provided a list of "actionable items" based on comments made among each of the groups:

  • Apply sustainability when making a decision
  • Experts in a topic should get involved with non-experts, to share their knowledge
  • Identify best practices
  • Tap into available resources
  • Publicly and privately commit to sustainable practices
  • Community visioning
  • Develop baseline measurement of all applicable costs
  • Tackle regionalisms
  • Recognize conflict and embrace it, which helps in defending ideas and positions
  • Share resources
  • Research policy; a common level of knowledge is helpful for facilitating discussions
  • Locate experts
  • Bring adversaries to the table
  • Create markets for sustainable practices

Details from each topic group were recorded, and will be available at the conference website. The session was video-taped for future presentation.

Among the attendees, were three people from Senator Ben Nelson's office. The sustainability coordinator of the City of Omaha was not present, nor was there any representative from the mayor's office, the Omaha city council, nor the Omaha Parks and Recreation Department.

The first of the four scheduled sustainability conversations in Nebraska was held at the Harper Center, at Creighton University. Similar sessions will occur at Lincoln, Grand Island and Scottsbluff.

Ironic Bird-strike

A bit of irony prevailed upon my arrival at the Harper Center. After locking my bicycle at a rack, I took the outdoor route towards the main entry to the building at the southwest corner.

Within twenty feet, there was a carcass of an American Robin. It had hit the glass on the north side-west end of the structure, and been killed at the same area where numerous other bird strikes have occurred.

The death readily indicated the dichotomy of green endeavors. Early in the sustainability session, particular mention was made that the Harper Center could be certified green. Yet the place is a known and ongoing hazard to migratory birds, and is not bird-friendly.

This bit of information was mentioned while participating in a materials group session.

Creighton University has made efforts to reduce bird strikes, but more needs to happen to address additional problematic sites. Also mentioned during one of the sessions, is the ongoing University expansion and continuing demolition of many buildings. This has meant the destruction of numerous chimneys, used by Chimney Swifts, which can provide natural bug control. This habitat loss has not been considered by university officials, and the current practices are dramatically reducing the extent of swifts in North Downtown.

01 November 2010

RSBP to Conduct Rat Removal Project at Henderson Island

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has committed to a project to eradicate Polynesian rats from the globally unique Henderson Island.

"We have raised £1.286m (1.788m USD) towards the £1.7m (2.36m USD) cost of the project, and have made a provisional decision to proceed with the operation in August 2011," said Jonathan Hall, Henderson Island project coordinator, said from his office in the United Kingdom.

The society needs to raise an additional £400,000 (556,074 USD) by next July to ensure before they can proceed with the project, Hall said.

"We are very excited to be on the cusp of carrying out this world-leading operation. At 37 km2, Henderson Island will be the largest tropical or sub-tropical island ever cleared of introduced rodents. The benefits from this single intervention will be enormous and long-lasting:
* the Henderson petrel saved from its slide towards extinction,
* the populations of four unique land-birds boosted,
* at least ten further unique species safeguarded for future generations, and
* a globally significant seabird sanctuary created.

Research suggests that seabird populations will increase up to a hundred-fold once rats are removed."

Online donations are being accepted, and any amount would be very much appreciated, Hall added.

During a mid-October visit to the Pitcairn Island group by Zegrahm Expeditions, a report prepared by Elizabeth Gould, expressed vividly the difference of not having rats present on Ducie Island, also an island in the Pitcairn group. Rats were eradicated here in 1997.

"The skies were filled with birds and one could not take a step upon the land without saying "excuse me" to a tiny chick or parent sitting on a nest—predominantly Murphy’s petrels, as well as dozens of sooty terns and a variety of other rare tubenoses, such as Christmas shearwaters, Herald petrels, Kermadec petrels, and Phoenix petrels. Zegrahm founder, Peter Harrison, was able to find and photograph the first pair of nesting Phoenix petrels found on this island since the 1920s. The phoenix petrel makes a nice metaphor for the recovery of the island after rat eradication."

Details of the pending project on the uninhabited Henderson Island, are available at the Society website. Henderson Island - a UNESCO World Heritage Site - is a Part of the Pitcairn Island group, a UK Overseas, Territory in the South Pacific.