NEBRASKAland Magazine is dedicated to outstanding photography and informative writing with an engaging mix of articles and photos highlighting Nebraska’s outdoor activities, parklands, wildlife, history and people.
Issue link: http://mag.outdoornebraska.gov/i/768942
74 NEBRASKAland • JANUARY-FEBRUARY 2017 Lifers in the Dead of Winter For some bird species, Nebraska is the southern part of their migration from the great north. By Mark E. Davis A rare bird alert last winter sent birders from across the state to search Omaha's Forest Lawn Cemetery hoping for a glimpse of a rare bird in Nebraska, the pine grosbeak. For Clem Klaphake, it was a once-in- a-lifetime opportunity. Klaphake, a dedicated birder from Bellevue, doesn't often respond to these alerts. He knows they can end in frustration. But he had to give this one a try, despite the size of the cemetery. This time, luck was on his side. He and dozens of other birders enjoyed opportunities to see the grosbeak, which stayed into late January. For Klaphake, it was a lifer – the first time the 75-year-old had seen the species. "I'll probably never see one again," Klaphake said. As the jet stream sweeps cold air from Canada to Nebraska, many birders retreat to the indoors to enjoy watching hardy backyard birds that flock to feeders outside kitchen windows and patio doors. Year-round residents, including the northern cardinal, downy woodpecker, black-capped chickadee and tufted titmouse, flock to feeders filled with black oil sunflower seeds and suet. Migrants from the north, like the dark- eyed junco, white-throated and white- crowned sparrow and purple finch join in. Many birders use the time reading, researching birds online or organizing photos and notes from the previous year. For them, the passion for birding doesn't fade; it just moves closer to home. But Klaphake knows the freeze of winter brings many opportunities to see wonderful birds otherwise unavailable in the state. And his first stop during winter's freeze are spots with open water. Along with Canada geese and other waterfowl, recent sightings of trumpeter swans and an occasional tundra swan have been exciting birders visiting Carter Lake, near Eppley Airport in Omaha. They'll stay as long as they have open water, he said. Bald and golden eagles also congregate near open water. While some are now nesting in the state, many others migrate south, following waterfowl and wintering at spots such as Branched Oak Lake, near Lincoln, Sutherland Reservoir State Recreation Area, just 30 minutes west of North Platte, Gavins Point Dam on the Nebraska and South Dakota border near Yankton and Lake McConaughy/ Lake Ogallala near the dam. There were 118 documented eagle nests in the state in 2016, according to Klaphake. Those numbers don't include nests that may go undocumented on private land, he said. Despite a warm fall leading up to this winter, there are no guarantees for numerous sites with open water, said Joel Jorgensen, Nebraska's nongame bird program manager. "Things can change quickly," Jorgensen observed. When the water freezes over, you can wait and dream of spring. Or you can search pine rows for owls, including snowy owls; or winter finches, including white-winged crossbills that feed exclusively on white spruce cones. Rough-legged hawks come down from A white-crowned sparrow perched on a branch. The winter months are the best time to see white-crowned sparrows, which live in Canada during the summer months. A male downy woodpecker perching on a limb on a sunny winter morning. Downy woodpeckers are year-round residents of Nebraska. PHOTO BY MARK E. DAVIS PHOTO BY MARK E. DAVIS PHOTO BY MARK E. DAVIS PHOTO COURTESY OF THE OMAHA WORLD-HERALD