01 July 1998
by Carolyn Hall
What a simply gorgeous day to be showing my friends the sights in Keya Paha and Rock counties.
Jeff joined me at 7 AM to bird in the deciduous and cedar trees by my rental house on the north side of the Niobrara river. The Black-headed Grosbeak woke me at 5:30 so I was ready to go out to see him. Jeff is a better birder than I am so off we go.
A pair of Eastern Phoebes (Sayornis phoebe) were sitting on the corral fence east of the house. The persistent Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica) dived at us as we stepped off the porch. The House Wren (Troglodytes aedon) was singing to it mate west of the house. The ash, elm and cottonwood trees were so heavy with leaf that we could not see the Black-headed Grosbeak (Pheucticus melanocephalus) that was singing in the cottonwood. We walked west on the gravel road where we saw the female Black-headed Grosbeak in a dead elm tree along with a Dickcissel (Spiza americana) and a pair of American Goldfinches ( Spinus tristis). In the next corpse of deciduous trees, we saw a group of American Crows, adults and juveniles (Corvus brachyrhynchos), a Brown Thrasher (Toxostoma rufum), Common Grackle ( Quiscalus quiscula), American Robins (Turdus migratorius), Brown- headed Cowbird ( Molothrus ater) and heard a Yellow-billed Cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus). On the fence along the pasture were Red-winged Blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus), Western Meadowlarks (Sturnella neglecta) and had a Bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus) was perched on a stem of grass in the pasture.
Further along, we saw 7 baby bluebirds (Sialia sialia) perched on the highline. We could hear Killdeer (Charaddrius vociferus) and Bobwhites (Colinus virginianus) calling from the meadow. On the return we saw a female Dickcissel, a Red-eyed Vireo (viero olivaceus) and a male Indigo Bunting (Passerina cyabea). We checked the stock watering pond north of the corral and found the male Black-headed Grosbeak but no ducks or the Great Blue Heron. In the curly-cupped gumweed we found a Grasshopper Sparrow (Ammodramus savannarum). The Lark Sparrows (Chondestes grammacus)were along the fence as we returned.
As we returned across the bridge, the Cliff Swallows (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota) that nest under it left in a swarm. Across the river we hiked to the top of the hill on the land that the National Audubon Society owns. There were lots of Field Sparrows (Spizella pusilla) and Chipping Sparrows (Spizella passerina) in this area. We checked the bluebird box on top of the hill with its family of Tree Swallow (Iridoprocne bicolor) babies. There was a Black-billed Magpie (Pica pica) sitting on a post along the highway.
A drive up the hill a mile north of the river brought us to a pine/red cedar/deciduous forest. Here we heard White-breasted (Sitta carolinensis) and Red-breasted Nuthatches (Sitta canadensis) and a woodpecker which we thought was a flicker(?). We saw Black-capped Chickadees (Parus atricapillus) and a flock of 8 Cedar Waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum) and a Rufous-sided Towhee (pipilo erythhhrophthalus) as we returned to the car.
We drove the 12 miles south into Basset, rescuing a painted tortoise from the middle of the road as we went. Beth and the boys were waiting for us in the Park where they had their camper. On Tuesday night we had seen a Common Nighthawk (Chordeiles minor), Chimney Swifts (Chaetura pelagica), Tree and Barn Swallows as we watched the boys set off smoke bombs and small firecrackers.
We checked bluebird boxes as we drove the 13 miles northeast to the Hall Ranch. They had never seen white bluebird eggs and there were two boxes with them. We lunched under the large cottonwood trees north of the ranch buildings. We carefully checked the area for rattlesnakes before we sat on cottonwood logs to eat our lunch.
Out on the flat land north of the river we saw wonderful wild flowers and I showed them a keya paha (turtle hill in Dakota Indian). These small dome shaped mounds were left after the last glacier melted. We have about a dozen of them on that pasture. An interesting phenomena. It has been wet so the ancient buffalo wallows were full of water and at most of them we saw birds of the prairie - Lark Sparrows, Grasshopper Sparrows and Horned Larks (Eremophila alpestris). There were lots of Upland Sandpipers (Bartramia longicauda) on posts as we drove back to Bassett. Derrick spotted a lone Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) soaring on a thermal. We think Derrick has great potential as a future birder.
I hope you enjoyed the trip as much as the Meyer family. They are now off to canoe the Niobrara river and then attend a family reunion at Fort Robinson in northwest Nebraska. Jeff and Derrick should see more western birds in that area.