25 March 2011

Foraging Birds During Spring Snow

Considering Avian Specimens for Cherry County, Nebraska

Cherry County is a land in itself. Spreading nearly 100 miles from west to east, and more than 60 miles from north to south, the Nebraska region is an expanse of habitats which have always been suitable for a myriad of wild birds.

The first bird notes for this particular region of the central sandhills were gathered in 1857 by F.V. Hayden, naturalist for the Warren Expedition. This military party traversed the extreme southwest section when going along the Middle Loup River, then north and west to the Niobrara River.

Though there are several indications of specimens having been collected and sent to the Smithsonian, there are now very few extant skins. The report by Baird et al. issued in 1860, listed several, but in a comparison of the details given to modern records, only two specimens seem to still exist.

¶ Sandhill Crane: August 9, 1857; collected by Hayden: catalog no. 8914; USNM A8914, with no date information, for Nebraska; site designated to match locality on this date for the expedition
¶ Marsh Wren: long-billed marsh wren; August 12 date, with no year designated; Warren expedition; year designated to 1857; UMMZ 20492; female collected by Hayden: catalog no. 8838

The particulars for these and related observation records were determined by reviewing copies of the original journals of the Hayden, J. Hudson Snowden and then using the dim, yet legible maps available in microfile copies, as drawn by the corps of topographic engineers along on the expedition which indicate their daily route.

It was about 25 years later, when the next specimens were collected within the county, which was officially designated in 1883. Mr. Carpenter was at Fort Niobrara, along the river of the same name, which had been established in spring of 1880. It was northeast of Valentine, a nearby frontier town, with its origins in the same early years in northwest Nebraska.

During this era, D.H. Talbot collected a Peregrine Falcon (SUI 17519) and Barn Swallow (SUI 17695), in the area in September, 1884, and these two skins are stored in the collection of the University of Iowa Museum of Natural History.

With these tidbits of details, an effort was made to determine what other specimen records are available for this largest county in Nebraska.

Specimen Record Review

The primary resource used to locate applicable records was the Ornithological Information System [insert link]. Data queries provided combined details from different collections for the region of interest. For this endeavor, there were three queries done. Two were done for the available collections to limit the record retrieval to something which the "system" could handle and not result in a timeout. Though the United States National Museum was included in one of the queries, no records were returned, so an individual data request was submitted where the criteria was changed to specifically get records for Cherry county, rather than the other two requests for a match like Cherry County. A custom query was defined to provide results in a useful dataset.

The results were saved as delimited text files which were then combined into a single database table. Information was then further manipulated to ensure consistent species name, a designated locality for comparative purposes, conversion of the month - day - year details to a date format field, indication of year collected where a particular date was given but the year needed to be clarified, and other edits needed to designates some standard details to details from disparate sources of information.

There were a few more than 1400 records. Collections represented include the American Museum of Natural History, Cornell University Museum of Vertebrates, Field Museum of Natural History, University of Kansas Biodiversity Institute, University of Nebraska State Museum, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, Royal Ontario Museum and Charles R. Conner Museum, Washington State University. These essential collections have a larger number of specimens, with additional places having fewer bird skins.

Pertinent details derived from these collections, include:

¶ Nine records with no date information
¶ Oldest record from 1888 with most recent from 2004, with 1374 records having a particular date of occurrence
¶ Men who collected the specimens include Fred Dille, George Hudson, W.E. Beed, N.L. Ford, H. Harris, J.S. Hunter, Isador S. Trostler, J.R. Alcorn, C.D. Bunker, W.M. Good, Harold J. Leraas, D. Liesveld, H. Nelson, Robert W. Dickerman, D. Teachnor, J.E. Wallace, A. Whitaker and L.L. Short, Jr. to mention some of those whom collected a larger number of specimens.
¶ More than 160 distinct species represented, including several notations for hybrids between buntings, grosbeaks, orioles and prairie grouse.
¶ Specimens represented from more than forty localities, with the Valentine lake district and sites along the Niobrara River prominent.
¶ In several cases, multiple birds of a single species were collected on the same date at one locality
¶ Archaic nomenclature which requires converting the given scientific name to a modern equivalent
¶ The greater number of records for a particular year are:
1965 - 155
1964 - 152
1923 - 146
1925 - 114
1922 - 83
1933 - 77
1926 - 71

There are also 48 records from 1902, when a group from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln went afield to the Valentine Lake District, taking the railroad to Valentine, and then a wagon-ride southward. The Fort Niobrara - Niobrara Game Preserve - Fort Niobrara NWR - has a fine set of species records indicated by specifics of the collection details.

It should be noted that there may be additional records among the records for the collections considered. Perhaps they may have not yet been entered into an electronic database, or if county or state was not designated, or for a variety of other applicable reasons, may not have been included in the query results.

Deficient Data

A review of the records shows some of the obvious conditions for the specimen records, and are given in specific detail to show how problematic it is to get particular records. The prominent difficulties are variances in how data is entered, lack of consistency across multiple datasets, no comparative evaluation, typographic errors, variability in how data details are entered, converting date details as an early 1900 date is converted to a post-2000 date, matching archaic names to modern equivalents, etc.

Readily obvious details needing consideration, include:

¶ FMNH 400973 - species identification given as "x"; if there is a specimen in a collection, perhaps a more precise identity could be determined

¶ ROM 57485, 57485, 57491: Zonotrichia melodia juddi which is an archaic scientific name for the Song Sparrow
¶ ROM 57566, 57568 for the Zonotrichia lincolnii lincolnii for April 1929 as collected by F.M. Dille; conforms to Lincoln's Sparrow
¶ KU 34083 - Tringa semipalmata inornatus [= Semipalmated Sandpiper] collected July 1857 by H.B. Tordoff<
¶ UMMZ 64009-11 - Steganopus tricolor [=Phalaropus tricolor] - collected in May 1926
¶ KU 14361, 14362; Spinus tristis = Carduelis tristis
¶ Multiple KU specimens: W.M. Good collected multiple specimens of Red-winged Blackbird in Jun 1949 in the vicinity of Merriman. The records list localities about "Merrimaw" which is an obvious error.
¶ UNSM 15300: Dorey Lake, there is no known locality with this name based on a review of more than 3000 place names dating back to the mid-1800s for the sand hills region
¶ CUMV 25669, CUMV 25670: "Hockberry Lake, 22 miles South-Southwest Valentine" is Hackberry Lake, Valentine NWR
¶ UNSM 11158: precise locality is given as "Mullen," which is in Hooker County
¶ KU 74178: precise locality given as "Niobrena Reservation" which is a proper locality
¶ KU 74433: precise locality given as "Niobrana Reservation" which is an obvious error in data entry
¶ KU 74596: precise locality given as " Niab. Res." which is an obvious error for this 1922 record
¶ USNM 481785: precise locality given as " Niobraba Game Refuge" which is misspelled
¶ WFVZ 110498: precise locality given as "Vallentine, Niapara Reservation" which is a dramatically mangled version of a site name. This record is from May, 1903 for a specimen of American Kestrel collected by Fred Dille, a.k.a."Dille, F M" or "Dille, F.M." or "Dille, S M" as given for ROM 57186, as well as "F. M. Dille". This is the same person - collected at the Niobrara Game Preserve, which became Fort Niobrara NWR - presented in several ways, once again indicating an inconsistent matter of data entry.
¶ For "AMNH Skin-835265" the collector was not "N. E. Beed" as designated but rather W.E. Beed.
¶ KU 34130: precise locality designated as "11 mi. S Gordon" which would be in Sheridan County, not Cherry County
¶ USNM 528034: precise locality given as "Rushville, 10.5 mi S, Niobrara River" which would also be in Sheridan County
¶ There is regularly a lack of consistency in how the precise locality has been entered into the database record.
¶ "Hackberry Lake", as well as "Hackberry Lake, Cherry Co, Nebraska" is the same place as "Hackberry Lake, Valentine N.W.R." which is the same place as "Hackberry Lake, Velentine N.W.R." and the same place as "Hackbury Lake, Valentine NWR" as add in " Valentine N.W.R., Hackberry Lake." These sites are represented in CRCM, KU and USNM collection specimens.
¶ Hackberry Lake is at the Valentine National Wildlife Refuge, and designated for consistency purposes as Hackberry Lake, Valentine NWR.
¶ There is also "Valentine, 20 mi WSW, Anderson Bridge, Niobrara River", and "Niobrara River, 20 mi WNW Valentine, Anderson Bridge" along with "Anderson Bridge, 20 mi WSW, Niobrara River" which refer to the same locality, now in the vicinity of Anderson Bridge WMA, along the Niobrara River south of Kilgore.
¶ Searching for records from "Merriman, 14.5 mi SW, Niobrara River" may not match records designated as " Merriman, Niobrara River, 14 1/2 mi SW".
¶ Evaluating the county designation, this is given in several ways, including "Cherry", "Cherry Co", "Cherry Co." and "Cherry County" which readily illustrates the need to do a "loose match" when requesting records for a particular county location.
¶ The locality of " NEBRASKA: Cherry County; Merriman, 9 mi N, 15 mi W" or "NEBRASKA: Cherry County; Merrit Reservoir" and " NEBRASKA: Cherry County; Valentine" have too much detail and could be presented better if the state and county details were kept to a separate data field for this UWBM data.

A trivial matter is that for people designated as the collector, most entries are in lower-case text, while others are in all caps; periods are often missing for name initials. For USNM specimens, there is " Short, L. L. JR." and why is the junior attribution in caps whereas the rest of the proper name is properly in lower-case.

This set of bird specimen records for a particular region is just one of the multitude which can be derived from the array specimen records which are available from a variety of museums. There is a vast value to this information which might be better appreciated if the prominent problems with the data details are considered and the condition of the data is improved.

Having consistent details for the multiple datasets available is essential to provide an accurate comparison of specimen records. Once this can be achieved, it will improve information quality and allow a better understanding of various details of where and when birds occurred decades ago in the historic record of the continental avifauna. The time when there is consistency in data and lack of entry errors is uncertain, but hopefully may occur at some future time to the benefit of others interested in the historic ornithology of wild birds.

Cherry County and its many places during a span of more than a century were attractive to bird collectors and present a microcosm of the condition of historic records. For this tract in Nebraska - and certainly for other places in North America - its significance could only be best understood by using data from available sources and going through an extensive edit process to provide the most accurate and useful details for the specimen records.

Add pertinent details for many of the recorded specimens would provide a wholly different representation and make the information have much more value.

Wind Site Studies

March 17, 2011. Grant County News 126(32): 1.

Planning is underway for a project that will assess implications of wind farm development on grassland birds and the prairie landscape within the Nebraska Sand Hills.

With a preliminary study design already defined, a doctoral-level student is currently being selected to conduct the research, said Joseph Fontaine, project leader with the Nebraska Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit.

The primary objective is to "assess behavioral, population, and/or wildlife community impacts of wind farm siting decisions with the aim of facilitating siting decisions that simultaneously maximize energy potential and ecological resilience."

Primary priorities for the research include surveying birds and vegetation at potential wind farm locations. Study sites will be selected by working with landowners, public power companies and wind developers.

Aesthetics and view-scape impacts, as well as socio-economic considerations will also be evaluated. The ideal situation would allow a comparison at an expected wind farm site a year or two before the turbines are constructed, Fontaine said. As the development occurs and starts to operate, further evaluations would be conducted to provide a before and after comparison.

"We want to develop indices to measures the long-term dynamics" related to wind turbine siting, Fontaine said, "and make decisions that are beneficial to everyone. We need to think about long-term implications before decisions are made."

There are no known sites within the sand hills region currently being considered for wind farm development, he said.

The only current wind-turbine site within the region is south of Ainsworth.

The sandhills are a "large, contiguous and intact environment," Fontaine said. Research will help in understanding the "true costs" of putting up wind turbines, and bring these items to the forefront for discussion and evaluation.

This project "is a great opportunity for Nebraska and research interests," to evaluate the implications of wind turbines development in a prairie landscape.

Funding for this project to be conducted by the Nebraska Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is being provided by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

Research will get underway in August 2011.

22 March 2011

Artistic Expression Utilizes Woodpecker Carcass

A current photographic exhibition in Omaha includes a image which prominently includes the carcass of the Red-headed Woodpecker.

The image - "Red Headed Woodpecker and Cheese" - is among an exhibition of still life perspectives by Vera Mercer at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, which feature various animals including a fish, deer head and a chicken carcass.

In the image, the woodpecker carcass lying on a dinner plate, was obviously in possession of the photographer.

Where did the dead bird carcass came from?

In looking closely at the image shown on the web, and also in a story in an alternative newspaper at Omaha, the specimen seems to be rumpled enough to not be a museum specimen, especially with the material obvious on the beak and the ruffled condition of the feathers atop the head.

It is more plausible that the specimen was found dead - perhaps from a building strike in the Old Market district of downtown Omaha (which is a speculation, though entirely possible as carcasses of this species have been found in the area) - was picked up, kept, and then used as the primary subject of the image.

The photograph may be legal, but the possession of the carcass of a classified wild bird is not legal, so anyone "keeping" the carcass of a wild woodpecker (though dead) violated the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The Red-headed Woodpecker is one of the many bird species protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

According to an official of the Fish and Wildlife Service, the photographer could only "legally" use a specimen from a museum.

Nothing was presented by the photographer to indicate that this woodpecker was a protected species. Their use of the image was something done to promote their artistic efforts with their only interest in the bird being its rich colors and how it could be used as a prop in a picture.

14 March 2011

Considering Specimen Collection of Ohio State University

The OSU Collection (a.k.a. Museum of Biodiversity) has - based on a review of pre-1886 records - has a great number of significant specimens noted in their database. Editing considerations can obviously be considered, though the most important aspect is the unique records.

In a review of some records, these comments are provided. With some nearly trivial edits, the quality of the data can be readily improved.

¶ 425316 - delete period in CollectionLocality
¶ 237347 - Fort Bayan may actually refer to Fort Bayard
¶ 206301 - Menodine may be Mendocino
¶ 133490 - Sacromento should be spelled Sacramento
¶ VerbatimCollectionDate: in some instances the month is given first, in others the date is first. I'd suggest a standard presentation.
¶ In the collection locality field, you sometimes have notes or comments. I'd suggest that this field might have the best determination of the specific locality, and an additional field be used to denote comments. (i.e., 7 mi. W of Columbus should be Columbus, Ohio with an additional notation that it was from seven miles west.)
¶ 7154 - Columbus, Licking Res. = might be Licking Reservoir to match with other specimens from this locale; i.e., 12374 - which lists Licking Reservoir as locality; and which - by the way - the latter specimens conforms with other Wheaton specimens based on locale and time; the notes field would readily allow inclusion of relative comments
¶ same for E. I Shores, where adding a period would make names match other entries; and where E. I. Shores (which have an extra space after the I.)
¶ 74481 - more likely E.I. Shores than E.I. Shares; several specimens have E. J. Shores which is also likely E.I. Shores
¶ 375766 - Elliiot Coues is Elliott
¶ 7690 - Sacromento more likely Sacramento
¶ 245129 - A.P. Morse = A. P. Morse (add space for consistency purposes; when doing online searches, little differences like this can make a difference)
¶ 260925 - might by Chas. A. Marsh to match name given for collector for other specimens
¶ 375723 - F.V. Haydon is F.V. Hayden
¶ 198721 - G. H. Raysdale should be Ragsdale
¶ 425448 - J M Wheaton to J.M. Wheaton

In working with the database records, I often do various sorts to evaluate records information, and make minor edits to improve data consistency.

¶ L M McCormick - adding a period after the initials would make these records match the name given for other specimens
¶ 405771 and 245320 - L. M. McCormimck should perhaps be L.M. McCormick
¶ 9299 - L.M.McCormick - adding a space after the initials would make this name match other entries
¶ 67151 and 74761 - Theodore Jasper could be the same at Theo Jasper
¶ 245327 - W, F. Henninger could use a period after the W. rather than the comma
¶ 40727 - W. Brester seems as if it should be Brewster
¶ 40740 - Wheaton Brewster - seems to have combined Wheaton and Brewster, and might need to be checked
¶ 133154 - C. Drexer should be corrected to Drexler; the published records do not indicate this species as having been collected at Fort Bridger
¶ 63091 - collected by Dr. A. Scho should be Dr. A. Schott
¶ The 1809 American tree sparrow record is unique in that among the 130,000 records evaluated, there are no others for this year
¶ 237207 - C. .E. Aiken has an unnecessary period
¶ 216084 - E. J. Shores seems to rather be E.I. Shores
¶ Barred owl = Barred Owl; with the other records well done in using the "accepted" common name currently being used; though the common snipe is now Wilson's Snipe
¶ Using the "accepted" common names is very difficult as they are consistently changing and takes a lot to follow what others deem to be proper
¶ 63359 and 63361 have the same date of record, but in the verbatimcollection field, the information is given in two manners
¶ 117991 - likely collected by S.F. Baird, as there are numerous other specimens from this location during this period of time
¶ 63091 and 313735and 313737 = please match the locality designations (i.e., Merida, Yucatan)
¶ 67232 - locality typo (not Delvil's Lake = Devil's Lake); state should probably be North Dakota, as there is no state of Dakota
¶ 294597 - in 1870 other Greene Smith specimens are from Cook County, Illinois
¶ 16762 - please spell out Long Island to match other entries
¶ 182530 - in the verbatimdatecollected field there is a period after Dec.; some other entries do not include this punctuation
¶ 199017 et al. - Greene Smith had collected several other specimens at Gainesville in 1878 as well as 1879 at the same locality
¶ 40624 - British Amer. Labrador has a province of Newfoundland; is it Labrador or Newfoundland?
¶ 110273 - E. J. Shores might be E.I. Shores given with other records
¶ 218468 - Columbus, O = possibly denote Columbus, and let the state designation attribute it to Ohio since other records do not include the O
¶ 324427 - E.I. Shores or E. I. Shore; please be consistent for all records; include the space for all or none
¶ Is there somewhere within your database where the county is given for the designated localities?
¶ 110233 and 406022 and 293707 and 245082 - in VerbatimCollectedField; = 02 May or 2 May; consistency is key
¶ 294220 and 294219 = Red River Bluff; CollectionLocality, one with a period and the other with no period
¶ 14908 and 9123 - Licking Co. Reservoir; 7357, Licking Reservoir Buckeye Lake; whereas others noted for Licking Reservoir; a problematic discrepancy
¶ 405771 - plus other specimens from District of Columbia designate CollectionLocality as Washington; this should be changed to not refer to Washington state, but rather to the District of Columbia
¶ 260967 - Collection locality W. Bridgewater whereas other denoted with West Bridgewater
¶ 198635 - CollectionLocality = Silver City, Lane Mt. in Arizona; 268284 and 260925 - CollectionLocality = Silver City, Lone Mt. in New Mexico; there could be improvements in the way the collectors name has been entered. Is it Lone or Lane Mountain? And Arizona was once part of New Mexico before their separation so it the site is the same, the state should match.

These are mostly minor changes, but once done, would improve the quality of the database information, and improve the results of searching based upon particular criteria.

09 March 2011

Omaha Selects Potentially Hazardous Design for Nature Center

When the Omaha City Council voted 7-0 to approve funding for construction of a park nature center, they did nothing to address the potential for bird-strikes.

The nature center is to be build amidst the forest at Hummel Park.

Council members already knew how they would vote prior to the council meeting where public testimony was given in opposition to the submitted Agenda item No. 25 on March 1st.

Comments were presented asking that the council approve a plan to include the use of fritted glass or Ornilux to help make the building bird friendly. This was a followup to written comments provided a few days prior.

Immediately after hearing this testimony, an architect from the Leo Daly company was called to rebut these comments.

The council made certain to have someone present rebuttal testimony. One council member noted that this agenda item had been discussed in the pre-council meeting prior to the public meeting in the afternoon, saying it was a "challenge what to do" though the events experienced at the council meeting readily indicated that they had no problem with making a decision to not construct a bird-friendly building.

The speaker - Dale, who said he was also representing the Omaha Parks and Recreation Department - obviously had no first-hand experience with bird strikes and the conditions which cause them. This rebuttal was based on a review of information available on the internet.

He said that he did not think it would be a big issue. He said he was not hostile to the environment, and that they had done what was "prudent," adding that if bird strikes did occur, something could be done later.

There was no opportunity given to respond to his comments, despite this opportunity having been given for other people providing comments during earlier portions of the council meeting.

It should be noted that the City Council voted on December 14 to approve the Environment Omaha document which includes: "Guidelines for building design and management/operation should be developed and promoted to reduce mortality and injury to birds from bird-building collisions."

Areas of glass on the north side of the pending nature center. Base design from architectural plans.

One thing learned at the meeting, was that shutters will be used on the interior of the glass on the north side of the building. The architect noted that in his opinion, he was "most worried" about glass on the upper portion of the building on the south side.

City officials where irresponsible in their decision, are now liable for any bird deaths due to strikes at the Hummel Park Nature Center, based on the taking aspect of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

It would have cost $24-28,000 to install Ornilux glass. This would have added less than 4% to the overall cost of the building. The council did not even approve use of the glass, despite an offer to raise funds through community contributions to pay for the added expense.

Of the $781,000 total cost for the building, $350,000 was provided from a grant from the Nebraska Environmental Trust.

Setting with enhanced features for the pending "nature center." Base design from architectural plans.