Thursday, May 31, 2007

Pawnee Lake

Like everyone, I'm sure, I have my favorite places to go birding. Branched Oak Lake and Pawnee Lake are closest to home and I frequent both of them regularly. For some time I have operated under the impression that Branched Oak was the better of the two. Complements of the wonders of computers, a few weeks ago I compiled a "master" list of the birds I have seen over the last few years while at each lake. I was somewhat suprised to see the "master" lists of both closely matched each other in numbers of birds seen. This was in spite of my having spent far more time at Branched Oak. After mulling this for awhile, I decided that since I usually hit Pawnee after Branched Oak, I'm usually on the verge of being "birded" out, so I rush along and as a result I'm left with the impression that the birding isn't as good.

I had limited time this morning, so I decided to go only to Pawnee and test my theory that if I wasn't rushed, I would find the birding just as good. One day does not prove or disprove a theory, but if today is an indicator, my theory is correct.

When I first got there I was sitting there by the lake. It was calm. There was a guy a little ways out on the lake in his boat fishing, and a couple fishing from the shore. Then there was me, munching on some healthy donuts and soaking up the joy of being there. Mr. and Mrs. Mallard were paddling around. No other ducks were in sight and it appeared they were enjoying the solitude also. Eventually they got within camera range. I wanted a nice picture of the two of them floating along. Mrs. Mallard had other ideas. She decided it was time to preen. Watching them through the lens I realized how pretty the blue speculum of Mrs. Mallard was. So I present Mr. and Mrs. Mallard with Mrs. Mallard showing off those blue feathers that we rarely see.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

A Few Minutes by Holmes Lake

Between breakfast with friends, and a visit with my mother this morning, I took a short break and sat by Holmes Lake in southeast Lincoln. Three Mallard drakes swam out of the reeds. Nary a female to be seen. I wondered if the ladies were sitting on nests. A few minutes later, one mama Mallard came out of the same reeds. She wasn't sitting on a nest, she didn't have to anymore. She was accompanied by three ducklings. Like all babies, they were sooo cute.

I sat there less than 30 minutes, but I left with a smile on my face. Proof yet again that large amounts of time aren't required to to refresh ones soul and feel like all is right in one's universe.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Happy Memorial Day

I drove by a little country cemetary this morning. The flag pole at the entrance had a U.S. flag flying at half mast. Many of the gravesites were decorated with little flags. There was a middle aged couple kneeling at one gravesite.

On this day I hope everyone has taken at least a few minutes to give thanks for all who have served and defended this country over the years.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Alas, No Bird Photos

Sitting next to a wetland this morning, the Killdeer were really chattering. A good deal of the chatter seemed to be coming from one particular Killdeer. After about 20 minutes, I said, enough already, I can't hear anyone else but you. A few moments later an Eastern Kingbird swooped the offender and then proceeded to chase him for about a minute or so. Think possibly the kingbird was tired of listening to him also? Regardless, I thanked the kingbird graciously.

Driving on to the next spot, a Western Kingbird flew in front of me. She was carrying so much nesting material that it extended behind her. Looked like one of those little planes with the sign flying behind it! Alas, no pictures.

Up the road a bit, I sat and watched 3 Yellow Warblers chasing each other. They never sat still for a second, but it looked like 2 males and 1 female. Poor outnumbered female. There were a couple of Common Yellowthroats in the same area. They were singing their hearts out. Got 2 pictures, but there was just enough breeze he looks like a yellowish blob, and in the 2nd, he had flown away. My patient(?) waiting was not rewarded with another opportunity. Alas, no pictures. Maybe tomorrow.

Frustrated by my inability to catch a bird sitting still, I headed off to photograph an old house, some old barns and windmills that I have never seemed to have the time to photograph before.

When you seen an old house like this, that looks like it may have been quite a lovely home at one time, I always wonder why it hasn't been kept up, or at least sold to someone who would.

Friday, May 25, 2007

It Was a Flowers and Bugs Day

When I left the house a little before 7 this morning, it was 46 degrees. Unusually cool for this time of year. I have lived in Nebraska since 1990 and I don't remember ever still wearing jeans this late in the year. But it was a beautiful morning, sunny with white fluffy clouds. It made one glad to be alive and out and about.

I had last traversed this road out of town a week ago, and it was immediately obvious that the wildflowers were now blooming, big time. It was even more obvious when I turned off on the gravel road to my favorite lake. Just oodles and oodles of them. Wild roses has been blooming in isolated areas, but now they were everywhere.

I was amazed to see a pair of American White Pelicans. The last time I had seen pelicans was on May 1, so this pair is really straggling behind the rest of the migration. Except for these stragglers, I think the spring migration is over in this part of Nebraska. Saw only birds that one would expect to see here in the summer, and have no photographs of birds, other than another beautiful Red-headed Woodpecker.

After exploring my favorite birding areas, I headed down to Branched Oak Lake. The first campground I got to, (about 10am) already had a sign up that all the sites with electricity were taken. I didn't check any of the other campgrounds out, I stayed in areas where there is no camping to optimize the opportunity to see birds. Again, there was nothing out of the ordinary.

Before leaving the park, I did a little wildflower photography. One of the things I love about flowers is there are always bugs on them. I never used to pay much attention to them, but for the last year or so I have been trying to identify them also. Today I got this guy. Turns out he is a Paper Wasp. While figuring out for sure what he was, I figured out that a picture I took last November was of a Paper Wasp Nest. So my reserch ended up in being a twofer!.

Got another picture of an insect, but I have as yet to identify him. Research can be both rewarding and frustrating.

The weather guy is predicting rain and thunder in the morning. I hope he's wrong so I can be out and about again tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

A need for restoration

Today was one of those days when one had to pretend, at least for awhile, to be a responsible adult. First off was a weekly breakfast with friends, none of whom are into birding, and most of whom just look at me like I'm from another planet when I talk about it. Then it was off to run errands, most of which were for my elderly mother. Then it was a stop at her place. Anyone who has ever dealt with an elderly parent whose mental and physical skills have diminished will understand that one never knows what you will encounter when you go to visit. Today was not one of the good days. Sigh.

After leaving mother's I felt the need of a little restoration. Lincoln has a garden that is called Sunken Gardens. It is an oasis, in spite of being located at a very busy intersection. Because is it "sunken" the noise from the busy streets is muffled and barely noticable. It had a humble beginning:

The Sunken Gardens of Lincoln, at the southwest corner of 27th and D Streets, has been the pride and joy of citizens since its completion in 1931. This 1.5 acre lot was constructed over the winter of 1930-31, during the worst financial depression the United States ever experienced. This project was part of a program used by the City of Lincoln as an opportunity for unemployed men to earn money to support their families. The program helped families survive hard times, as very little money was available for employment in any line of work.

A couple of years ago it was totally renovated. The renovation was funded by local and corporate contributions. It is

The only Nebraska garden listed in the "300 Best Gardens to Visit in the United States and Canada" in the National Geographic Guide to Public Gardens!

I knew when I stopped there that the Parks people would probably be planting the annuals that make up a good part of the garden. The place was a hive of activity. They were rototilling, planting, and mulching. In spite of the activity, there was a calming influence on my soul. There are two fish ponds and I was drawn to them because there was very little activity in that area. I sat and watched the fish swim. I suppose someday I will have to figure out what kind of fish they are, but that was not my focus today. There are water lilies in the fish ponds and they were just beginning to bloom and I wished for my camera which was at home.

This photograph of the garden shows it in it's full glory. The photgraph was taken during the latter part of June last year.

My favorite water lily from last year.

The fish ponds are also home to numerous varieties of dragonflies. This is a Widow Skimmer.

As I walked back to my car, I was thankful for all those who were laboring there today, so that I may enjoy sights like those above yet again in the coming weeks.

Monday, May 21, 2007

DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge

I have been wanting to take a trip up to DeSoto for the last month. Everytime I had it in my "plans" something else came up. Plans are, afterall, what you make until you know what you have done. The headquarters for DeSoto is in Iowa, but as you traverse the refuge you go back and forth between Iowa and Nebraska. DeSoto is probably best known for it's fall migration of Snow Geese and Eagles, but it is a good birding spot year round. During spring migration there are lots of shorebirds, and that was what I was hoping to see. Alas, the shorebird migration seems to have passed by.

I saw a Horned Lark which, according to the birds list, is uncommon. I have never understood the bird listings for wildlife refuges. They note a bird as uncommon, but next to uncommmon they say "present but not certain to be seen". Except for the most ubiquitous of birds, such as robins, that could apply to almost any bird.

Photographs of birds were hard to come by. They all seemed very busy flitting about and chasing each other. Did see lots of Red-headed Woodpeckers and did succeed in getting one fairly decent shot.

Long before I saw him, I heard this Dickcissel.

And my prize of the day wasn't a bird, it was a skipper. Just south of the entrance to DeSoto, I saw some wild Irises on the edge of a little lake. But there were several Canada Geese and a bunch of goslings between the road and the irises. So I opted not to incur the honking of the Geese. On my way out of the refuge, they were on the other side of the road, so I proceded to get my pictures of the irises. I noticed a Peck's Skipper, but wasn't sure of the other guy. I'm a total neophyte to Butterfly ID's so I just take pictures of whatever presents itself and figure I will ID it when I get home. Well it turns out that the Skipper on the right is a Zabulon Skipper. He's slightly north of his range, so he is the prize of my day!

Sunday, May 20, 2007

A Visit to a Saline Wetland

Today I took a trip to a saline wetland. Saline wetlands are not common. They are described as follows:

Once estimated to be in excess of 20,000 acres, less than 4,000 acres remain and many of these are degraded. These wetlands form a regionally unique wetlands complex located in floodplain swales and depressions within the Salt Creek, Little Salt Creek, and Rock Creek drainages in Lancaster and southern Saunders counties, Nebraska.

The source of salinity for these wetlands is not fully understood, but it’s postulated it is from groundwater inflow that passes through a rock formation containing salts deposited by an ancient sea that once covered Nebraska (USDA 1996). The seepage of groundwater over thousands of years from deeply buried saline aquifers has accumulated salts in the floodplain soils, allowing this unique wetland type to form.

The abundant mud flats of the saline wetlands are rich in invertebrate life and frequented by a variety of migratory shore birds, other bird species, and wildlife. Salt tolerant plants that are found nowhere else in Nebraska can be found here.

Nebraska’s most rare and most threatened natural community.

The still existing wetlands are slowly being restored.

The history(warning pdf) of the saline wetlands and their destruction is enough to make one weep.

There weren't a lot a birds around today, but there was a flock of about a dozen American Avocets. They were too far away for a photograph, but I took this one a couple of weeks ago.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Filling a Vacuum?

I have searched for a blog about Nebraska birding. To date, I’ve not found one. So I finally said, why not do it myself.

I love to be outside with my binoculars around my neck and the camera in hand. I will attempt to take pictures of anything that will stay still long enough for me to focus the camera. So if you return, you will see pictures of birds, flowers, insects, butterflies, and miscellaneous critters.

Yesterday I was at Branched Oak Lake and a Snow Goose that has been hanging around allowed me to photograph him. According to every birding book I have, he/she shouldn’t still be here, but he is. Here’s my favorite picture from the ones I took.