Anna Fasoli and I birded mainly western Nebraska from 6-2-09 to 6-9-09 and saw a total of 127 bird species and 12 mammal species.
Anna picked me up at the Lincoln Airport and we had an adult Swainson’s hawk sitting on a fence on airport property. There were also great-tailed grackle, western kingbird, and western meadowlark. At Mormon Island State Park along I-80 highlights included about twenty snow geese (including a few “blue” snow geese), cliff swallows, barn swallows, double crested cormorant, and red-tailed hawk. There was also a raccoon at the Sewage Lagoon in the back of the park.
The next day (6-3-09) we birded around Johnson Lake and Elwood Reservoir and also in the Lexington area. Highlights at Johnson Lake were northern rough-winged swallow, Baltimore oriole, Bullock’s oriole, and orchard oriole, Franklin’s gulls, red-headed woodpecker, American white pelicans, and purple martins. A Eurasian collared-dove was in the parking area at Johnson Lake.
Along Elwood Lake Drive highlights were bobwhite, say’s phoebe, warbling vireo, yellow warbler, and brown thrasher.
About a mile south of I-80 on Groves Road, highlights were belted kingfisher, tree swallow, green heron, wood duck, common nighthawk, spotted sandpiper, least tern, bank swallow, blue jay, wild turkey, and a juvenile bald eagle.
Along the gravel roads north of Lexington, highlights included dickcissel, bobwhite, upland sandpiper, and horned lark.
On 6-4-09 interesting birds at Rowe Sanctuary in Gibbon were ring-necked pheasant, semi-palmated sandpiper, western sandpiper, blue-winged teal, black tern, sandhill crane, common yellowthroat, willow flycatcher, great crested flycatcher, and turkey vulture.
At the park along the Platte river north of Rowe Sanctuary at the intersection of Lowell Road (10C) and Elm Island Road highlights included cliff swallow, various sandpiper species, willow flycatcher, and one of the best birds of the trip a rose-breasted grosbeak X black-headed grosbeak hybrid which I was able to get great photos of. This bird was calling from the top of a willow tree at the western side of the little park, farthest from the bridge that you can get on the trails. I wanted to see if his mate would show up to see if it was a rose-breasted or black-headed but no luck.
Later that night in Elm Creek, there was a cattle egret that flew over the northeastern corner of town. Elm Creek (and basically every town we went to had many Eurasian collared-doves.
We ended this day with a trip list of 75 species.
On 6-5-09 we drove from Elm Creek to Valentine National Wildlife Refuge. Along 183 North, highlights included a gopher snake, lark sparrow, common nighthawk, and American crow.
At the large pond at Mile’s Ranch directly alongside 83 North we had many new birds for the trip including Wilson’s phalarope, American coot, ruddy duck, lesser scaup, gadwall, western grebe, eared grebe, American wigeon, white-faced ibis, northern pintail, yellow-headed blackbird, and Franklin’s gulls.
At Valentine National Wildlife Refuge later that day highlights included American bittern, black-crowned night heron, Wilson’s snipe, Forster’s tern, dickcissel, and long-billed curlew. There were also ornate box turtle, western painted turtle, red-sided garter snake, and Blanding’s turtle here. Common Nighthawks were pretty much everywhere, sitting on posts or dead trees and flying around catching insects. We had a total of 41 species of birds at Valentine NWR.
Farther north on 83 heading to Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge we saw three Pronghorn.
We ended this day with 98 birds for the trip, and 8 lifers for me.
On 6-6-09 we birded Fort Niobrara NWR after breaking down our camp at Smith Falls State Park. At Smith Falls we had a spotted towhee calling from the top of a tree and a yellow-breasted chat outside the visitor center.
In Niobrara highlights were two burrowing owls in the prairie dog colony between the corrals and the Visitor Center. Other good birds were upland sandpiper, a juvenile Swainson’s hawk, bobolink, red-breasted nuthatch, pine siskin (at the bird feeder by the Visitor Center), ovenbird, American redstart, and downy woodpecker. Other animals included bison and elk. We had a total of 50 bird species at Fort Niobrara NWR
At Ballard Marsh between Valentine NWR and Fort Niobrara NWR we had two trumpeter swans with two fledglings. There was also a pronghorn here. We climbed to the top of a sandhill to get a better look into the pond which is where we were able to see the swans from. At the top of this hill, Anna found owl pellets, which we assumed were from a great horned owl, our suspicions were proved correct when I spotted a juvenile great horned owl perched in a cottonwood tree about 200 yards away.
Doc Lake west of the town of Whitman along 2 had a female canvasback, green-winged teal, and ring-necked ducks. A pied-billed grebe was also there. Willey Lake west of Ashby had more canvasback, various other duck species, and a willet.
Finally a very small pond along 2 about two miles east of Lakeside Road/181 had American avocets, Wilson’s phalarope, and blue-winged teal.
We turned onto Lakeside Road/181 to head to Crescent Lake NWR. In the few minutes before dark we had one osprey and a Swainson’s hawk. Also along this road were mule deer, striped skunk, raccoon, Woodhouse’s toad, and lots of Ord’s Kangaroo rats. South of Crescent Lake NWR on our way to Oshkosh to camp we spotted a burrowing owl near the black mailbox with “Davidson” written on it, the owl spent a few minutes frozen in our headlights before vanishing into the darkness.
At the end of this day we had 119 trip birds and 11 lifers for me.
On 6-7-09 we birded Crescent Lake NWR. Highlights were loggerhead shrikes pretty much everywhere along 181 through the park, lark buntings, and we flushed a sharp-tailed grouse hen out of the grass near where the road through the park goes onto private land but then immediately back onto NWR property. There were also three long-billed curlews with bands and radio backpacks. We had a total of 46 bird species at Crescent Lake NWR.
We traveled to Ash Hollow Historical Park next and had blue-gray gnatcatchers and spotted towhee there. There was also a striped skunk walking along the cliffs. Across the hollow from the parking lot I spotted a great horned owl being chased by blue jays. There was also a red-tailed hawk here. Along a gravel road south of Ash Hollow, leading to the river we spotted another great horned owl on a telephone pole. About three miles further down that road we had two more great horned owls on telephone poles. We had 4 great horned owls in one day!
We ended this day with 123 species and 13 lifers for me and camped at a campground on Eagle Canyon Road in Lemoyne.
6-8-09 we traveled to Lake McConaughy and Ogallala. As we were going back out Eagle Canyon Road we had an American kestrel, 5 burrowing owls, a blue grosbeak, and northern mockingbird. As we were watching the blue grosbeak at the top of a redcedar, a great horned owl flushed out of another redcedar. It flew to rest on a cliff face where it joined another great horned owl. This brought our great horned owl count up to 7 for the trip.
Lake McConaughy had literally hundreds of western grebes, a few pied billed grebes, and American white pelicans.
We went to Boot Hill in Ogallala to try for the Mississippi Kites next. When we got there we thought it was some kind of joke, but sure enough within 15 minutes of standing on the hill we spotted a kite soaring around about 2 miles southeast of Boot Hill. The kite’s white secondaries sparkling in the sunlight as it soared around sealed the identification.
At Ogallala Nature Park we had two black-billed magpies.
We ended trip with 127 species of birds, 15 of which were lifers for me. We also had 13 mammal species, and 7 reptile/amphibian species.
Here is the complete list of all the wildlife we saw:
American White Pelican
1 Anhingidae, Fregatidae, Phalacrocoracidae
6 Ardeidae, Ciconiidae, Phoenicopteridae, Threskiornithidae
Great Blue Heron
Black-crowned Night Heron
(Common) Wilson’s Snipe
Rock (Dove) Pigeon
Eurasian Collared Dove
Great Horned Owl
Great Crested Flycatcher
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Common (European) Starling
Rose-breasted X Black-headed Grosbeak hybrid
Black-tailed Prairie Dog
Ord’s Kangaroo Rat
Eastern Fox Squirrel
Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrel
Eastern Striped Skunk