Saturday, June 30, 2007


On Wednesday I put up a picture of a lotus partially opened. I stopped by the Sunken Gardens this morning. Here is what it looks like 3 days later.

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Saturday Musings

Time for this weeks edition of Saturday Musings.

  • Garbage trucks on gravel roads stir up a lot of dust.
  • Was driving down a gravel road when I spotted a bird. I slowed down and then backed up to get a better look. I was enveloped in the cloud of dust that I had created. I wondered if the critters along side roads mumble about those horrible humans who create all that dust.

  • Todays favorite photo is from last weeks trip to the Sandhills. The photo was taken at Merritt Reservoir.

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    Wonder what the two in the middle are gossiping about.

    Friday, June 29, 2007

    It's More Fun To Be Irresponsible

    I had the best of intentions when I got up this morning. I would finish the reorganization of the office. One look out the window melted my resolve. After all, I have been a responsible adult all week! Filled my thermal cup with coffee, and headed out the door. Branched Oak Lake was my destination of choice.

    Sat and watched this Chipping Sparrow for a spell. He was hopping around eating, and I didn't really think he would ever set long enough to get a photo. He stopped just long enough for me to get one shot off, then he flew off.

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    As I pulled into my last favorite spot, I thought, gee, I haven't seen any Canada Geese. Well, I found a nice mellow little flock.

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    I can finish the reorganization tomorrow, or Sunday, or....

    Thursday, June 28, 2007

    Wildflower Identification

    Before I left for the Sandhills last week I decided one of my projects when I returned home was reorganizing the "office". When I moved back in this house 7+ years ago, I intended to fix it up (it had been a rental for 6 years), and after I had lived here long enough to not give it to the government in the form of capital gains taxes, I would move into a house I liked better. As a result, in this room, I kind of just threw stuff in here, and in the intervening years I have just built on that poor beginning. I had cords and wires going every which way, and it was impossible to vacuum around the perimeter of the room, which has created a mess of its own.

    Well, this reorganization has turned into a major project. The worst part is because of other commitments, I haven't been able to devote more than a couple of hours a day to the project, so it's turning into a weeklong job. I'm nearly done, and I'm really pleased that with the way I now have things set up, there is only one cord that will go more than a few feet, and there won't be layers and layers of them snaking all over the room.

    During one of my breaks today I started trying to id some of the wildflowers that I had photographed last week. This is a Rocky Mountain Bee Plant. Isn't it beautiful?

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    One of my favorite wildflower identification sites had this to say about it:

    Rocky Mountain bee plant was an important food source for Native Americans in the Southwest. The leaves were boiled and used for greens (like spinach) and cooked in meat stews with wild onions and celery. The seeds were cooked, dried and used in mush and were also used to make bread.

    Native Americans also used the plant medicinally. They would take a tea made from the plant for fevers and stomach disorders and use a poultice of crushed leaves soaked in water to treat sore eyes. They also steeped the leaves and used the liquid as a body and shoe deodorant.

    A black paint made from the plant was used to decorate pottery.

    I have often wondered how the Native Americans discovered the best usage for plants.

    I only saw this wildflower at Ft. Niobrara NWR.

    Wednesday, June 27, 2007

    Water Lilies

    Was out doing errands today and stopped by the Sunken Gardens. Among other features the gardens have two pools. The pools have fish, water lilies and one lonely lotus. Tried taking some pictures of the fish, but the water is just murky enough that they didn't turn out very well. I was rather pleased with the lotus and water lily photos.

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    More water lily photos here.

    Sunday, June 24, 2007

    Nebraska Sandhills, Day Six

    Friday was pack up the car and head for home day. As I neared Valentine NWR, I looked at the time and decided that I could spare an hour. My time was rewarded by this photograph of a Common Nighthawk. I had gotten another picture of one, but this photo is far better.

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    Of course that hour became and hour and forty minutes.

    When I got to the Nebraska National Forest I looked at the time and decided to take the west entrance and go the back road into the forest. The road is marked for 4WD and there were a few dicey spots. There is now an entrance fee to the camping area. A number of years ago when I was first getting interested in birding I spent a few days here in an RV with friends. I was so new to birding that I asked a park person what a Killdeer was. Oy! It's a lovely campground on the Middle Loup River.

    It was a wonderful week. The first couple of days of the coming week I will have to pretend to be a responsible adult and take care of stuff. Ugh.

    The non wildlife refuge photos of the Sandhills can be found here.

    Nebraska Sandhills, Day Five

    Thursdays destination was Fort Niobrara NWR This is the closest refuge to the motel, so I didn't have to be moving quite so early. It was overcast and muggy when I left the motel. I was photographing flowers when I heard the rumble of thunder. Looked up just in time to see a little lightening.

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    There wasn't much lightening, but it sprinkled just enough to put little drops of rain on the flowers, which makes for a more interesting effect.

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    There are lots of Prairie Dogs.

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    Which of course means there are Burrowing Owls.

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    There is a herd of 400 Buffalo. I saw none of them. There is also a herd of 100 Elk. There are 4 calves this year so they are all behind a fence. The fence makes for very unactractive photos.

    This is another refuge that I have visited numerous times. And I always enjoy it.

    The rest of the days photographs can be seen here.

    Nebraska Sandhills, Day Four

    For some reason, the motel wifi wasn't working part of the evening Wednesday night. By the time I got my photos uploaded to the photography site, I just went to bed. Then Thursday night we had a beautiful thunderstorm. Spent at least an hour outside with my motel-mates chatting and watching the storm. Friday I came home and had to deal with problems with my elderly mother before I could even get the car unpacked. Sigh.

    Wednesday was a cool morning and I wished for a pair of jeans and a lightweight jacket. By noon, I was glad to be in shorts. The days destination was Valentine NWR

    Valentine National Wildlife Refuge lies in the heart of a vast area of undulating sand dunes which stretch across north-central Nebraska. The region, called the Sandhills, is the largest remaining tract of mid and tall grass prairie in North America.

    Eons ago, receding waters exposed the bed of a huge inland sea located west of Nebraska. West winds attacked the sea bed and transported the sand to north-central Nebraska. Here the sand was deposited in the dunes which comprise the Sandhills....

    Numerous lakes, productive marshes, and tall grasses on hills and meadows provide habitat for many kinds of wildlife. Blue-winged teal, mallards, pintails, gadwalls, redheads, ruddy ducks, and shovelers nest on the Refuge in large numbers. During fall and spring migrations, many other species of ducks stop to rest and feed. Sometimes as many as 150,000 ducks can be found on the Refuge, with peak numbers occurring in May and October.

    More than 260 species of birds have been sighted on the Refuge. Herons, terns, shorebirds, pelicans, and many songbirds nest on and migrate through the Refuge. Long-billed curlews and upland sandpipers call from hill and fence post. In early spring, prairie chickens and sharp-tailed grouse gather on dancing grounds for their elaborate courtship display. Sandhill cranes pass over in spring and fall in great numbers filling the sky with trailing V's and musical rattling calls. Winter storms and cold weather bring the bald and golden eagles to hunt the snow covered prairie.

    There are two roads that run east-west across the refuge. The northern road is called Little Hay Road Wildlife Drive. It is graveled and fairly well maintained. The southern road is the Pelican Lake road. Most of it is hard packed sand. The brocure you pick up at the information kiosk says four wheel drive in parenthises. There are some soft spots on the road, and since my 4WD kicks in automatically, I don't really know if it is necessary. But I thought I would mention it, anyway.

    Barn Swallows had a nest at the information kiosk.

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    I saw lots of dragonflies and damselflies. This one is a Twelve-spotted Skimmer.

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    I have visited this refuge many times, and it never fails to disappoint.

    The rest of the days photographs can be seen here.

    Tuesday, June 19, 2007

    Nebraska Sandhills, Day Three

    It was a cool morning. When I went out to load up the car for the days adventures, it was sprinkling. The weather channel said scattered showers. So off I went.

    Today's destination was Lacreek NWR.

    Lacreek National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1935 as a refuge and breeding ground for migratory birds and other wildlife. The refuge is located in Bennett County in southwestern South Dakota. The refuge lies in the shallow Lake Creek valley on the northern edge of the Nebraska Sandhills and includes 16,410 acres of native sandhills, sub-irrigated meadows, impounded fresh water marshes, and tall and mixed grass prairie uplands. The refuge serves as an important staging area for migrating Canada geese, other waterfowl, sandhill cranes, shorebirds, and neotropical migrants. Providing critical wintering habitat for the high plains trumpeter swan population is a primary goal. The refuge provides a variety of habitats for resident and migrant wildlife.

    Sounds good, huh? Well, it was.

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    To get this picture of the American Bittern I had to open the sunroof, manuever myself to standing on the console of the car. Something I had never tried before, but it worked.

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    I really enjoyed this refuge.

    The rest of todays photographs can be seen here.

    Monday, June 18, 2007

    Nebraska Sandhills, Day Two

    As I headed west out of Valentine this morning, there were lots of Black-eyed Susans lining the road.

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    My first planned destination was Anderson Bridge WMA. It is on the south side of the Niobrara River and was supposed to offer "a sampling of woodland species". However, the gate was closed. No access. After offering my opinion on that (not repeatable in this forum) I looked at my trusty map to plot out plan b.

    One thing that must be known about this part of the state, is that the best map is not always reliable. One needs to rely on one's sense of direction and understand that sooner or later all the sandhill roads will lead you to a highway. Sometimes sooner, sometimes later. If you're going to get uptight about that, stick to the highway and miss out on much of the beautiful scenery.

    So I crossed back across the Niobrara River.

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    My next destination was McKelvie National Forest. It took me awhile to get there, but I didn't mind a bit. It was a beautiful sunny day, with nice fluffy clouds and there was plenty to enjoy along the way.

    I'm certainly glad to have not missed seeing these Ross's Geese.

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    And there were lots of dragonflies. This Common Whitetail decided to pose for me.

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    This is what the road looked like after I turned north from the river.

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    There were oodles of Horned Larks.

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    I finally got to McKelvie about noon. I was kind of disappointed with McKelvie. I doubt I will go back there again. But the road getting there was definitely a keeper!

    I took many more photographs today. You can see them here.

    Sunday, June 17, 2007

    Nebraska Sandhills

    I'm in Valentine tonite, and for the week. Valentine is in north central Nebraska. A look at the map will give you an idea of why I am here.

    This part of Nebraska is known as "the sandhills area".

    The Nebraska Sandhills, which encompasses approximately 19,300 square miles of sand dunes stretching 265 miles across Nebraska, contains about 95% or 12.75 million acres of rangeland.

    With dunes that are as high as 400 feet, as long as 20 miles, and slopes as steep as 25 percent, the Sandhills are the largest sand dune formations in the Western Hemisphere plus one of the largest grass-stabilized dune regions in the world. The large sand masses, that were formed by blowing sand are now held in place and stabilized by vegetation that consists mainly of grasses.

    Precipitation in the Sandhills ranges from a yearly total of 23 inches in the east to slightly less than 17 inches in the west. The Sandhills are generally viewed as a semiarid region where sandy soils, low precipitation, and high evaporation rates support primarily dry grassland. However, the Sandhills also have numerous lakes and wetlands. Many of the valleys contain lakes and/or wet meadows that are supplied water by a groundwater reservoir (aquifer) that holds an estimated 700-800 million acre-feet of water. About 2.4 million acre-feet of spring-fed streamflow is discharged annually.

    A couple of my favorite photos from today:

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    When I come to this part of the world, I always look forward to seeing my first Upland Sandpiper. The range map of every bird book I have shows them to be elsewhere, but I have never seen them anywhere else. They are frequently seen sitting on a fence post. But this guy was just sitting out there on the gravel road I followed for awhile.

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    It was so windy today that when I got out of the car to take photos the blowing sand literally stung my legs.

    Friday, June 15, 2007

    Northern Bobwhite

    I have a window mount for my spotting scope, so I can use the scope from the car. Recently I have been using the window mount for the camera also. It was a real hassle to be swapping the gear back and forth, so I decided to get another mount. I hate to have a new toy, and not be able to play with it. So Tuesday afternoon I went out to Twin Lakes SWMA. Don't go there very often, but it was close and I thought it would be a good place to play with the new toy. Got some photos of a female Brown-headed Cowbird taking a bath at the edge of the lake, and saw a pair of Northern Bobwhites.

    This morning I decided to go back and see if I could get a photo of a "prettier" bird taking a bath, and maybe see the Bobwhites again. Apparently no one was feeling the need of a bath this morning, but I did see a male Northern Bobwhite. Isn't he pretty?

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    Thought it was interesting that he has been banded. Wonder where.

    Bobwhites nest on the ground. The female lays an egg a day, up to 10-15 total. The eggs are incubated for about 23 days. The younguns can fly after two weeks, they are nearly full grown at 15 weeks, and look like an adult.

    Wednesday, June 13, 2007

    Water, Rain & Drought Conditions

    It rained today, and there were scattered thunderstorms, both this morning and this afternoon. According to the evening news, we received 1.5 inches of rain. A weather site I just checked says we received 1.28 inches of rain. Regardless of the actual amount, it rained. Today adds to an already rainy spring.

    It is the middle of June. I have not yet turned on the sprinklers for the yard yet this year. Most years the sprinklers are on in late April or very early May. Monday when I pulled into the driveway it looked like the yard was going to need to be watered, but the evening weather prognosticator said it would rain on Wednesday. So I held off. Wisely, obviously.

    For the last several years, we have been, according to the maps published in the local newspaper, in drought or semi-drought conditions. The lakes in the area reflected that because the shorelines were 20 to 30 feet out from where they should be.

    Last Friday I took this picture at Branched Oak Lake:

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    The tree line you see in the picture is now about 20 to 30 feet out. Last year the area between the rocks in the foreground and the trees was a mass of weeds and plant life. It was ugly. I wish I had a photograph from last summer, just for comparison sake.

    Water is an invaluable resource no matter where one lives. I'm thankful for the rain we have received this year, and thankful the lakes are at the level they are supposed to be.

    Bird Songs

    One of the things I have been trying to concentrate on this spring has been learning more bird songs. The other night I was digging through a stack of old Bird Watcher's Digests (BWD) and I found an article about Learning Bird Sounds. I checked the BWD site to see if the article was on line, but it wasn't. Though there were numerous other articles about the subject. So I will just give a few highlights of the article which was written by Jeffrey A. Gordon and was in the April/March 2004 issue.

    Round up the usual suspects: Every area has birds that are common to the area. Learn those songs first.

    Close your eyes: When you close your eyes you eliminate the visual stimuli and you are able to concentrate on the sounds you are hearing.

    Look goofy: Cup your hands behind your ears. This enhances what you are hearing.

    Take turns: This part would have been better titled "Enlist the help of more experienced birders". When you are birding with others, have those that know bird songs identify them for you.

    Repeat, repeat, repeat: One only becomes totally comfortable with their knowledge when they have heard the song many times.

    There's more in the article, but those were the things I found most helpful.

    What I've been doing this year is sitting and listening to a bird when one will cooperate and just sit and sing for me. I have also found reinforcing my knowledge to be very useful. For instance, I know the Song Sparrow song, but last week when one was sitting there dominating the sounds of that area I sat and just listened to him for awhile.

    There are many resources out there on the toobz. The Cornell site and the WhatBird site are both excellent resources for bird songs.

    There's a plethora of products such as already preloaded Ipods or software to load on your Ipod. I don't have one of these as I just haven't been able to convince myself that I need one more gizmo to haul along when I'm out and about. There's also CD's from multiple sources. Here's a site that lists some of those resources.

    Monday, June 11, 2007

    Batting .500

    It was a warm and muggy morning. I guess summer has arrived.

    I took several pictures of a bird that I thought might be an Eastern Wood-Pewee. But now I don't think that is a Pewee, but after scouring all of my bird books, I am at a total loss as to what it is.

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    Then there is this butterfly. I had given up on id'ing him, and then just picked the book up one last time and lo and behold, there he was. Helps if you are looking in the right section! I believe that he is a Gray Copper.

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    So there you have it. Batting .500.

    Sunday, June 10, 2007

    PBS Programs

    I have been in birders heaven for the last few hours, and I never left the comfort of my recliner!

    PBS showed Migration today, followed by Crane Song. Had to endure the requests for pledges during both of them.

    Migration shows the migration of birds and the photography is phenomenal. There is a minimal amount of narration, so it is easy to concentrate on the beauty of the birds.

    Crane Song is about the migration of Sandhill Cranes through Nebraska in the spring. The program is well done, and if your PBS station shows it, I strongly recommend watching it.

    The Sandhill Crane migration through Nebraska is the thing Nebraska is known for in the birding world. During February and March about 500,000 Sandhill Cranes stop over, on and around the Platte River. During the day they feast in the corn fields and near sunset they all descend on the Platte River. Watching them come into the river is one of the most awesome things you will ever see. In the morning, about sunrise they all take off from the river en masse. A gigantic whoosh.

    If you've never seen the Cranes in Nebraska, I suggest you take a peek at your calendar for next March and save out a couple of days for Nebraska. You will never forget it. Oh, and bring warm clothes, it can be wickedly cold in February and March.

    There are some links in the sidebar for Sandhill Cranes. I'm sure over time I'll be adding more.

    Saturday, June 9, 2007

    Saturday Musings

    Time for this weeks edition of Saturday Musings.

    Sometimes it seems that in our hustle bustle style of life, that family time together suffers mightily. Three observations from this week that made me glad that some are still making time for family:

  • A mother and son fishing together.
  • A father in a rowboat with his two daughters.
  • A mother, father, and their two sons fishing.

    Favorite picture of the week is of a Great Spangled Fritillary

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  • Friday, June 8, 2007

    Baby Killdeer

    It was a beautiful morning. It started out cool and then was just lovely, hardly any breeze, and no humidity. A welcome change after two hot and very windy days.

    I was driving slowly on a gravel road at Branched Oak Lake when I spotted a Killdeer. Nothing particularly startling about that as they are fairly common, especially in that little area. I noticed the Killdeer acting rather strangely, doing the diversionary stuff they do. So I stopped the car to see why. Lo and behold there were four babies, plus two adults. The little ones were really blending into the background, and I doubt I would have noticed them but for the mother or father bringing my attention to them. One of the adults:

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    One of the babies:

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    And then there was this Song Sparrow singing his heart out.

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    Sat and watched him singing for quite awhile. When they sing they throw their whole body into it, all the way to a wiggling tail!

    Wednesday, June 6, 2007

    The Goslings are Growing up

    Phew, summer colds can really knock you for a loop.

    Monday morning I went to my favorite lake. While I was there a small flock of American White Pelicans circled the lake and descended. For such large birds, they certainly are graceful. Pelicans do not spend the summer in this part of Nebraska. There are some that summer in the north central part of the state, but not here. So I was suprised to see them. They do summer in and nest in South Dakota.

    Yesterday, I gave into the cold and just hunkered down. This morning, I went back to the lake, and the pelicans were still there.

    The goslings are really growing. I watched two engage in a little friendly sibling jostling. The parents looked on without interceding. Some of the older goslings are begining to look like teenagers.

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    Sunday, June 3, 2007

    Sunday Drive in the Country

    It was a beautiful sunny morning, and I just couldn't stay inside. So I wandered about north of town. Lookee what was walking along side the road.

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    A Snapping Turtle. Looks prehistoric, doesn't he?

    Saturday, June 2, 2007

    Saturday Musings

    I rarely go out birding on a weekend. I am free to go during the week when there are less people around, so I see no need to compete. So on Saturdays I will post a few random thoughts and perhaps a picture or two from the week. Warning the pictures won't always be of birds!

  • It always suprises me how small a Green Heron is. I guess I think all herons are supposed to be big like the Great Blue Heron.
  • Why is one clump of bushes full of birds, and the next has none?
  • Why do birds always land on the back of the tree trunk, defying identification? Are they perverse or just shy?
  • Do we consider some birds obnoxious because of their song, or does their song just add to their obnoxiousness? i.e. Grackles

  • Favorite photo of the week. A pink Peony.

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    Friday, June 1, 2007

    Success, Sweet Success

    All spring I have been trying to get a picture of a Baltimore Oriole. This morning I finally succeeded!

    He would sit on this fence, disappear into the tall grass, and reappear with a caterpillar.