Saturday, March 28, 2015

Big Fish; Little Grebe

Horned Grebe, Podiceps auritus
Today I saw my first Horned Grebes of the year in a Missouri river backwater near Pierre. This grebe had caught a relatively large fish. I have seen kingfishers, ducks, grebes, and loons swallow some pretty good-sized fish. This is one of the largest I have seen relative to the size of the bird.  

The Horned Grebe tries to swallow a big fish
I watched the little Horned Grebe work with that fish for a long time before it was able to swallow its meal.

The Grebe is finally making progress

American Robins: Male & Female

Female American Robin
Last weekend I took the above photo of what appears to be a very pale, washed out American Robin. Well, that is what female American Robins look like (although I have to admit that this one is a little paler than most). It is really not that difficult to distinguish between male and female robins. Just compare these two photographs and you will see two main differences. First: whereas the female is a uniform gray on her head, back, and wings, the male has a head that is almost black. Second: Whereas the male has the typical bright reddish-brown breast that comes to mind when we think of robins, the female's breast is much paler, and actually becomes whitish down on the belly. 

There you go! It's that easy. Do you think you can tell boy robins from girl robins out in your yard now?

Male American Robin

Friday, March 20, 2015

Spring Sprang

Ring-billed Gull
"Since spring arrived at 5:45 this afternoon, I decided to sing a song to celebrate:
Kuleeeeuk, kleeeea, k-heeer."

"See! The winter is past... the season of singing has come."
Song of Solomon 2:11-12

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Short, Musical Trill

Dark-eyed Junco singing a short, musical trill
Dark-eyed Juncos spend the winter here in central South Dakota, and then they return to Canada for the breeding season. At this time of year they are getting ready for their trip north, and I am starting to hear them singing. The Dark-eyed Junco's song is described as a "short, musical trill," but that hardly does it justice. To me it sounds somewhat like tiny bells tinkling all at once on a very high note. This morning I heard some juncos singing and managed to get a picture of this one with its mouth open and making a short, musical trill. Doesn't he look happy?

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Sunrise, Anyone?

Sunrise in Jones County, South Dakota
March 17, 2015
There's at least one good thing about daylight savings time: it gets me up in time to see the sun come up every morning this time of year. Today's sunrise was especially spectacular, and I could not resist the urge to stop and take a few photographs. And I know you can't see it in these pictures, but while I had my car window down I could hear a Western Meadowlark singing in the darkness. How about joining me tomorrow morning? The sun does this every day, you know. And you might even get to hear a meadowlark!

The Burning Sky

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Carpodacus Purpureus

Female Purple Finch, Carpodacus purpureus
March 14, 2015
This morning I found this female Purple Finch foraging with a large flock of Cedar Waxwings. There is not a smidgeon of purple on a female Purple Finch, so you can stop looking for it right now. Male Purple Finches, like males of most bird species, are more colorful than the females. The males are a nice rosy-red, but I cannot imagine considering them purple. The only conclusion I can reach on the matter is that perhaps our use of the word purple has changed over the years. Regardless of the name, however, they are beautiful little birds, and are a nice surprise to find on a walk in the woods.

Male Purple Finch, Carpodacus purpureus
March 29, 2008

Friday, March 13, 2015

Hawk at Sunrise

Red-tailed Hawk above entrance to Rosebud Veterans Cemetery
I love to take pictures of birds, and I love to take pictures of sunrises. This morning I tried to get both at the same time. There was a Red-tailed Hawk standing atop the teepee poles at the entrance of the Rosebud Veterans Cemetery on the Rosebud Indian Reservation. However, as soon as I pulled to the side of the highway and stopped my car, the hawk flew off. I did get two photos of the bird flying away with the magnificent colors of sunrise in the background. I guess these will have to do for now!

Red-tailed Hawk flying at Sunrise

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Winter Visitor

Northern Shrike
Here in central South Dakota we have two species of shrikes. Loggerhead Shrikes breed in this area in the summer and head to the southern U.S. to spend the winter. Northern Shrikes breed in northern Canada and come to this part of the country for the winter months. So, when I found the shrike pictured here this afternoon on the way home from work, I was pretty certain it was a Northern Shrike. In another month or so, this shrike will head back to Canada and the Loggerhead Shrikes will return for the summer. 

Monday, March 9, 2015

Short-eared Owl

Short-eared Owl
May 15, 2011
I was driving across central South Dakota this morning just as the sun was coming up. Suddenly there was a flash of tan and brown to my right, and I had a brief glimpse of a Short-eared Owl flying low over the shoulder of the roadway. As bird sightings go, it was not very satisfying. However it was the first Short-eared Owl I have seen in two years, so I will gladly take it. Since I was unable to get any pictures of the owl this morning, I thought I would include a photo of a flying Short-eared Owl from four years ago. Aren't they amazing creatures?

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Capitol Creek Kingfisher

Belted Kingfisher
On the grounds of the State Capitol in Pierre is a small lake that is fed by a warm water artesian spring. Because the water entering Capitol Lake is warm, the water leaving the lake via its outlet, Capitol Creek, is also warm. Because of the warmth of the water, neither Capitol Lake nor Capitol Creek fully freeze over in the winter. Birds, of course, are no dummies and they take full advantage of the open water. Ducks, geese and other waterfowl stay on Capitol Lake all year round. And usually there is a Belted Kingfisher that spends the winter along the course of Capitol Creek. This morning I found this male Belted Kingfisher perched on a branch overlooking the creek, searching for small fish swimming in the water.