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Breeding Birds of the Platte River Valley


Hypothetical Breeding Species


During our extensive surveys of breeding bird populations and distribution in the study area, we encountered several bird species that were outside their normal breeding range. Examination of the literature revealed that additional records existed for some of the species we encountered, plus other species have been found here that we did not observe. In all likelihood, many of the bird species mentioned have nested at one time or another in our area. However, the lack of convincing documentation renders their occurrence as a nesting species hypothetical. Other species have occurred occasionally in the study area during the nesting season (e.g. snowy plover, common poorwill), and may subsequently become established as nesting species in the future.


Contents

Western Grebe (Aechmophorus occidentalis)
Clark's Grebe (Aechmophorus clarkii)
Least Bittern (Ixobrychus exilis)
Cinnamon Teal (Anas cyanoptera)
Canvasback (Aythya valisineria)
Lesser Scaup (Aythya afinis)
Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus)
Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis)
Gray Partridge (Perdix perdix)
Chukar (Alectoris chukar)
King Rail (Rallus elegans)
Snowy Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus)
Mountain Plover (Charadrius montanus)
Willet (Catoptrophorus semipalmatus)
Franklin's Gull (Larus pipixcan)
Forster's Tern (Sterna forsteri)
Long-eared Owl (Asio otus)
Common Poorwill (Phalaenoptilus nuttallii)
Whip-poorwill (Caprimulgus vociferus)
Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Achilochus colubris)
Golden-crowned Kinglet (Regulus satrapa)
Sage Thrasher (Oreoscoptes montanus)
Yellow-throated Vireo (Vireo flavifrons)
Clay-colored Sparrow (Spizella pallida)

Western Grebe --(Aechmophorus occidentalis)


A regular nesting species at Crescent Lake National Wildlife Refuge in central Garden County (Sharpe and Payne 1966). Rosche (1979) reported western grebe summering in the lower North Platte River Valley, but obtained no evidence of nesting there. Swenk (1933) reported numerous nests from wetland areas slightly north of our study area in northern Garden County. Our records consist primarily of adults found at several locations on Lake McConaughy during June, but observed no evidence of nesting; we have no doubt this species nests at least occasionally in our area.

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Clark's Grebe --(Aechmophorus clarkii)


T.M. Bergin found a dead male (testes 13 x 5 and 10 x 4 mm) at the Cedar Point Biological Station, Keith County, on 11 June 1986. This represented the first confirmed record of the species in Nebraska. Little known at the eastern limit of the species range, Clark's grebe may nest at least occasionally in the Platte River valley.

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Least Bittern --(Ixobrychus exilis)


Johnsgard (1980) speculated that least bittern nests in Nebraska as far west as Garden County where it has been observed in summer at Crescent Lake National Wildlife Refuge. Lingle found a single least bittern near Doniphan, Hall County on 14 August 1985, and at Mormon Island Crane Meadows on 24 May 1986.

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Cinnamon Teal --(Anas cyanoptera)


Rosche (1979) reported male cinnamon teal in the lower North Platte River valley as late as 4 June. Johnsgard (1980) mentioned probable nesting at Crescent Lake National Wildlife Refuge. Lingle observed two males at the Taylor Ranch, Hall County, on 12 May 1985. Faanes found a male at Mormon Island Crane Meadows on 20 May 1986. Rising (1974) considered cinnamon teal "probably a low density summer resident" in western Kansas.

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Canvasback --(Aythya valisineria)


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service files contain records of canvasback on Rainwater Basin wetlands during the late 1960's. Johnsgards (1980) described canvasback as a local breeding species in the Sandhills physiographic region. Sharpe and Payne (1966) found a canvasback nest on an island in a wetland at the Crescent Lake National Wildlife Refuge, Garden County, during early June 1965.

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Lesser Scaup --(Aythya afinis)


Johnsgard (1980) reported occasional nesting by lesser scaup at Crescent Lake National Wildlife Refuge, Garden County. We believe that lesser scaup nest at least occasionally in our area.

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Hooded Merganser --(Lophodytes cucullatus)


Bruner et al. (1904) reported several records of hooded merganser nests from Cuming, Gage and Lancaster Counties, Nebraska during the 1800's. The nearest location of regular nesting to the Platte River valley is North Dakota (Johnsgard 1979). Sharpe and Payne (1966) flushed a female from Blue Creek about 14.5 km southeast of the Crescent Lake National Wildlife Refuge headquarters during June 1965.

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Ruddy Duck --(Oxyura jamaicensis)


Johnsgard (1980) reported ruddy duck as a local summer resident on permanent wetlands in the Sandhills and the Rainwater Basin area. Sharpe and Payne (1966) reported that ruddy ducks were present in relatively large numbers on most water bodies at the Crescent Lake National Wildlife Refuge, Garden County, during 7-11 June 1965. Our records include one pair at the North Platte sewage lagoon, Lincoln County, on 29 May 1979. We have no doubt that this duck nests at least occasionally in our study area.

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Gray Partridge --(Perdix perdix)


Johnsgard (1980) reported that Adams County is one of the areas in Nebraska where gray partridge has been observed most regularly in the State. Viehmeyer (1942) described early stocking activities in Nebraska including 54 birds released in Buffalo, and 25 birds in Merrick Counties during 1929-1931. The stocking efforts were considered only fairly successful, and apparently later failed. We have never observed this species in the study area, although the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission has maintained a hunting season on gray partridge here since 1983.

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Chukar --(Alectoris chukar)


Johnsgard (1980) mentioned the release of 700 chukar in Scottsbluff County in 1969. Subsequent observations, as late as 1976, were made as far east as Lincoln County. There is a possibility that a limited population may still exist in the study area, especially in the canyon region between the North and South Platte rivers in Garden, Keith, and Lincoln counties.

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Rallus elegans --(Rallus elegans)


There are several records from the Clear Creek marshes at the upper end of Lake McConaughy, in Keith and Garden counties. Rosche (1979) found one there on 23 April 1977. Faanes saw an adult at Clear Creek on 5 June 1979. Johnsgard (1980) reported that king rail occurs in Nebraska during 2 April and 11 September, and stated that nesting is possible at Clear Creek.

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Snowy Plover --(Charadrius alexandrinus)


Johnsgard (1980) reported this species as an extremely rare migrant in Nebraska, stating that there was no evidence of nesting in the State. Bliese (1975) found single snowy plovers on 20 June and 29 June 1974 along the shore of a wetland 5.5 km northeast of Funk, Phelps County; two snowy plovers were present there 25 June 1974. Lingle has seen this species twice on unvegetated river channel islands in the Platte River, Buffalo County on 24 May 1978 and 25 July 1984. On 24 May 1978, he watched a pair preparing a nest scrape on an island. A subsequent rise in the water level washed out the nesting attempt. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln ornithology class observed a pair of snowy plover on the South Platte River near Ogallala, Keith County in June 1976 that was engaged in a distraction display.

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Mountain Plover --(Charadrius montanus)


Johnsgard (1980) reported the observation of young mountain plover in Kimball County in 1974 as the only evidence of nesting in Nebraska. Cooke (1910) mentioned a clutch of eggs collected "at North Platte" on 8 July 1859. Because of the vague nest location described by Cooke, we are not certain that the nest was actually in our study area. Undoubtedly extensive areas of habitat suitable for supporting nesting mountain plovers existed throughout the western edge of the study area in 1859. However, the settlement of North Platte did not exist in 1859. Cooke may have been using the river as a reference location, thus making any point along the entire course of the river in Nebraska or Wyoming the potential nest site.

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Willet --(Catoptrophorus semipalmatus)


Johnsgard (1980) described the willet as a locally common summer resident in the Sandhills physiographic region. Sharpe and Payne (1966) reported that willets were present and apparently on established breeding territories at Crescent Lake National Wildlife Refuge, Garden County, during 7-11 June 1965. We have no doubt that the willet nests, at least occasionally, within the boundaries of our study area.

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Franklin's Gull --(Larus pipixcan)


Johnsgard (1980) described Franklin's gull as a very rare or accidental nesting species in Nebraska, with breeding season records only from northern Garden County. Sharpe and Payne (1966) found 2 nests, each with 2 eggs on Smith Lake, Crescent Lake National Wildlife Refuge during 7-11 June 1965. Rosche (1979) recorded this species as a summer visitor in the lower North Platte River valley. We found Franklin's gull fairly regularly on Lake McConaughy during late May to July 1978-1980. The birds present many have been non-breeding sub-adults, or breeding birds from colonies in the Sandhills that were foraging there.

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Forster's Tern --(Sterna forsteri)


Johnsgard (1980) reported that Forster's tern was a highly localized summer resident in the Sandhills, especially in Garden County. Sharpe and Payne (1966) found one nest at Crescent Lake National Wildlife Refuge during 7-11 June 1965; several hundred adults were present on Smith Lake with many exhibiting territorial behavior. Hudson (1938b) found Forster's tern commonly at Hastings, Adams County, during 6-9 June 1937.

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Long-eared Owl --(Asio otus)


Johnsgard (1979) considered long-eared owl a rare to uncommon nesting species in Nebraska. Johnsgard's figure depicting the nesting distribution of this species across the Great Plains shows long-eared owl widely distributed throughout our study area. We have never observed long-eared owl in the Platte River Valley, or are we aware of any specific records of nests from the literature.

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Common Poorwill --(Phalaenoptilus nuttallii)


Johnsgard (1979) described the nesting distribution of common poorwill in the Great Plains to include the portion of our study area westward from the Dawson - Lincoln County border. Tout (1947) described the observation of a common poorwill west of North Platte, Lincoln County on 6 June 1913. Rosche (1979) recorded common poorwill at Ash Hollow, Garden County, 23 April 1977. Faanes found a singing male at Ash Hollow on 8 June 1979. We believe that common poorwill nests, at least occasionally, in the extensive, highly eroded canyon lands along the North Platte River, upstream from Lake McConaughy in Garden County.

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Whip-poorwill --(Caprimulgus vociferus)


Johnsgard (1980) described this species as a summer resident in Nebraska along the Missouri River. The only suggestion we have of whip-poor-will occurrence in our area is the anecdotal account by Swanson (1954) of this species being present throughout the summer in southeastern Merrick County.

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Ruby-throated Hummingbird --(Achilochus colubris)


There is considerable evidence suggesting that ruby-throated hummingbird nests in our area. Johnsgard (1980) stated that nesting occurs "an uncertain distance" west along the Platte River in Nebraska. Tout (1947) recorded this hummingbird at North Platte during 3 June to 9 October, and observed that the species was seen virtually everyday during the summer, although a nest was never located. Ludden (1956) included (without details) ruby-throated hummingbird among the species he found nesting on the campus of Kearney State College, Buffalo County. Johnsgard (1985) reported, without details, that ruby-throated hummingbird nests in Nebraska as far west as North Platte. Our records of this species in the study area are restricted to spring and fall migration.

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Golden-crowned Kinglet --(Regulus satrapa)


Weakley (1938) reported that a pair of golden-crowned kinglets spent June and early July 1938 at the Agricultural Experiment Station grounds in North Platte. The birds frequented a group of spruce trees and there was evidence of nesting including several observations of the birds carrying what appeared to be nest material. However, Weakley found neither a nest or young. The nearest known nesting area of this species is the Black Hills region of South Dakota (Johnsgard 1979), where it is an uncommon permanent resident at higher elevations (Pettingill and Whitney 1965).

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Sage Thrasher --(Oreoscoptes montanus)


Tout (1942) observed a sage thrasher along a road southwest of North Platte, Lincoln County, on 4 July 1942. After a brief observation, the bird flew into thick vegetation and was not seen again. The nearest area of regular nesting is the Buffalo Gap National Grassland in South Dakota (Johnsgard 1979). Sage thrasher is probably a rare summer resident in Sioux County, Nebraska (Johnsgard 1980).

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Yellow-throated Vireo --(Vireo flavifrons)


Johnsgard (1980) reported yellow-throated vireo as an uncommon summer resident along the Platte River west to Hall County. We have never observed this species in the study area except as a spring and fall migrant.

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Clay-colored Sparrow --(Spizella pallida)


Bennett (1974) provided a record of a young clay-colored sparrow in Hall County which is considered the only confirmed nest record for Nebraska (Johnsgard 1980). We question the validity of this record based on the lack of suitable nesting habitat for this species in the area, and the distance from the normal breeding range.

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