Sunday, January 25, 2015

Eagle on the Beach

First winter Bald Eagle on a Missouri River Beach
I was looking at a group of gulls and geese down by the Missouri River this morning when suddenly all the birds took flight. I tried to determine the reason for this abrupt dispersal when a young Bald Eagle circled overhead and landed on the vacated beach. Eagles, especially in the wintertime, commonly prey on sick or injured waterfowl. The first winter Bald Eagle I saw today was not able to find anything to eat as I watched, but it will keep trying and will find success sooner or later.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Watching Gulls

First winter Glaucous Gull (back)
Adult Herring Gull (front)
My wife and I had to run our usual Saturday errands today. But as is our custom, we took a little time to drive out onto the LaFramboise Island Causeway to look for birds. In the winter that generally means looking for gulls. Today there were three Glaucous Gulls standing on an ice floe along with a group of the more commonly seen Herring Gulls. Here is a photograph of one of the Herring Gulls standing in front of a Glaucous Gull. Gulls are wonderful birds, and they are not really difficult to identify if you work at it a little bit. Get yourself a good field guide and go find a bunch of gulls. You never know what you might find.

Friday, January 23, 2015

State Bird Close-Up

Male Ring-necked Pheasant
South Dakota's State Bird
I am rather a purist when it comes to choosing to honor a bird as a state's official state bird. I don't believe an import such as the Ring-necked Pheasant should be qualified to serve as the state bird of South Dakota. I think if they allowed me to make the selection, I would choose a different grassland bird--and one people don't eat--like the Chestnut-collared Longspur or the Upland Sandpiper. However, that is not to say I don't enjoy looking at pheasants. They are truly beautiful birds. This afternoon I found this handsome rooster pheasant with just his head sticking up out of the prairie grasses--resplendent in the later afternoon sunshine. Isn't that an elegant bird?

Monday, January 19, 2015

Number 48

Northern Pintail drake
I keep track of all the different birds I see in South Dakota every year. I keep a running list over on the right side of this blog so you can check on my progress throughout 2015. This afternoon I saw this handsome Northern Pintail drake swimming in Capitol Lake in Pierre. It was my 48th South Dakota bird of the year.

Missouri River Bath

American Robin and European Starlings bathing in the Missouri River
January 19, 2015
For those of you who still wonder if robins can be found in the northern U.S. in the winter: YES THEY CAN! I can see American Robins here in central South Dakota just about any day of the year if I look in the right places. Today--an unseasonably warm day for January--the right place to be was a stretch of open water in a backwater of the Missouri River below Oahe Dam. A large group of American Robins and European Starlings was enjoying a bath and a drink of water in the balmy 42 degree temperatures.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Live Eagle; Dead Goose

Bald Eagle on carcass of Canada Goose
This morning I found an adult Bald Eagle dining on a goose carcass on a frozen backwater of the Missouri River near downtown Pierre. The eagle squawked out some warnings to both me and the assorted gulls that were in the area.

The eagle warily eyes the cameraman
As I snapped its picture, the powerful bird alternately gave me the evil eye and screeched audible warnings. The eagle finally convinced me to get back into my car, and I left it to finish its goose dinner.
The eagle gives a final warning

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Golden Eagles on a Grain Bin

Two Golden Eagles atop a grain bin in central South Dakota
I saw these two Golden Eagles standing on top of this grain bin this afternoon. Golden Eagles are found in central South Dakota throughout the year, but I see them more often in the winter. They feed upon medium sized mammals such as prairie dogs and jackrabbits. They certainly have a commanding view of the surrounding prairie from up on their grain bin.

Golden Eagles

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Gaining Spots; Losing Spots

Juvenile Spotted Sandpiper has no spots
This evening I was sorting through some Spotted Sandpiper photos and was reminded that juvenile Spotted Sandpipers do not have spots. They gain their spots when they mature. Though the juveniles are nice looking birds, they become much more handsome when they gain their adult spots.
Adult Spotted Sandpiper has spots
There are other bird species, however, whose spots go the other way. The juveniles are spotted or speckled, but the adults are not.

Juvenile American Robin has spots
Juvenile American Robins are covered with spots. When they mature, they lose their spots. So, why do you suppose that is? Why does one species gain spots when it matures, and another species loses its spots when it grows up?

Adult American Robin has no spots

Monday, January 12, 2015

Visiting the South

Northern Cardinal in Columbia, South Carolina
I spent last week at a business conference in Columbia, South Carolina. Unfortunately, I didn't have much time to go birding. In my few ventures outside I did manage to see some great birds, including the Northern Cardinal and Northern Mockingbird pictured here. I ended with ten different species for the trip: Northern Mockingbird, Northern Cardinal, Eastern Towhee, Mourning Dove, White-throated Sparrow, Brown Thrasher, American Robin, Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Wren, and Red-tailed Hawk. The best thing, however, was that I didn't see a single House Sparrow, European Starling, or Rock Pigeon. That was amazing. 
Northern Mockingbird in Columbia, South Carolina

Sunday, January 4, 2015

At My Sister's Feeders

Male Northern Cardinal
I visited my sister's house in Iowa at Christmas time, and got to observe some of the great birds she has visiting her backyard. She had at least five cardinals, and this bright male was happy to pose for some photos. He was hungry, however, and I could never seem to catch him without a sunflower seed hanging from his beak!

Male American Goldfinch in winter plumage
There were also good numbers of American Goldfinches and Pine Siskins. At this time of year the goldfinches are in their drab winter plumage. But even so attired, the males were bright spots of yellow in the winter landscape.

Male Pine Siskin
Pine Siskins are sometimes overlooked when large numbers of birds are swarming the bird feeders. They can be confused with sparrows or female finches. Just look for these key features: small pointed bill, brown streaks over the entire body, and yellow wing feathers on the males.

Black-capped Chickadee
And what bird feeder would be complete without chickadees? But how do you determine what kind of chickadees you are seeing? I had no difficulty determining what chickadee was at my sister's house. I just looked at a map! She lives in Iowa, so the birds at her feeders were Black-capped Chickadees. If she lived in the southeastern United States, her backyard visitors would be Carolina Chickadees. In other places your birds might be other species of chickadee. Just take a look at your trusty field guide, and you should be able to figure it out.