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Birding Nance and Merrick Counties

Over the past two years, I have gotten serious about county listing.  For several years, a renegade named Mark Brogie has compiled birder’s county lists for Nebraska.  A county list is simply the number of bird species an individual has seen and identified in a county.  I participated passively for many years.  I had a few favored counties where I was serious, but not all 93.  About 2 years ago I got hooked.  With nice weather over the weekend, I had a hankering to get out and go birding.  Like other weekends, I headed to some counties where I had some work to do, this time it was Merrick and Nance counties.  Below, I share a few photographic highlights from the foray.

Rough-legged Hawk
Rough-legged Hawks are winter residents throughout the state but are more common in central and western Nebraska.
Purple Finch
Purple Finches are northern breeders similar to the more common House Finches.  Purple Finches have made a good showing in the state this winter, but they are never common.  Finding two along the Platte River was one of the day’s highlights.
Merlins are always a pleasure to encounter.  Almost all Merlins found in winter in Nebraska are the prairie race Falco columbarius richarsonia.
Fox Sparrow
Several sparrow species occur in Nebraska, but Fox Sparrows are arguably one of the most striking.  This species seems like it is becoming a bit more common in winter.
Bald Eagle
There are lots of Bald Eagles in Nebraska these days.  This immature was near the village of Clarks.

Overall, I tallied 53 species for the day and added 21 county birds.  A good day for early February in locations far away from a large water body with open water.  County birding is challenging, because it forces you to search for habitat and species in all 93 counties.  There is a 125-species minimum before a county list can be reported and make an appearance on Brogie’s annual compilation.  Reaching 125 is more difficult in some counties than others, since several counties lack specific habitat features and many counties have very limited public land.  For example, Common Loons are not too difficult to find during migration on large water bodies, but try finding a Common Loon in Banner County!  Figuring out where to find certain species in a particular county makes it interesting and once you’re out there, there are always surprises.  The surprises are always the best part.

Northern Harrier
A male Northern Harrier glides over the open country.

Good birding!

Nongame Bird Blog

About Joel Jorgensen

Joel Jorgensen is a Nebraska native and he has been interested in birds just about as long as he has been breathing. He has been NGPC’s Nongame Bird Program Manager for eight years and he works on a array of monitoring, research, regulatory and conservation issues. Nongame birds are the 400 or so species that are not hunted and include the Whooping Crane, Least Tern, Piping Plover, Bald Eagle, and Peregrine Falcon. When not working, he enjoys birding.

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