Sunday, May 3, 2015

Purple Martins at the Capitol

Male Purple Martin, Progne subis
The Purple Martins have returned to the grounds of the State Capitol Building in Pierre. The South Dakota State Capitol grounds are quite lovely, and quite bird-friendly. The Department of Game Fish and Parks maintains a number of Purple Martin houses on the property, and the martins seem to love the location.

Purple Martin house and South Dakota State Capitol Building
I had a chance to visit the State Capitol yesterday and was glad to see large numbers of Purple Martins flying around the area. A few pairs of martins had already selected their homes, including the handsome pair pictured below.

Purple Martin pair (female in nest hole, male on right)

Friday, May 1, 2015

Back from South America

Upland Sandpiper
Today is the day I have been waiting for since last summer. The Upland Sandpipers have finally returned to the Great Plains from their winter homes in South America. I found my first Upland Sandpiper of the year along U.S. Highway 83 south of Pierre late this afternoon. And the bird was right where I expected it to be: standing on a fence post! They are so predictable.

"Day after day, my Lord, I stand... every night I stay at my post."
Isaiah 21:8 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Yup, They're Red

Male Red-winged Blackbird showing off his namesake wings
I drove past a marsh yesterday afternoon and decided to stop and look at some Red-winged Blackbirds. The males were in full courtship mode. They were proudly spreading their wing feathers and singing their unmusical song, cong-gah-REE!  Aren't those red wings something else? Male Red-winged Blackbirds in the spring seem to really want you to know how their species got its name!

Red-winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus

Monday, April 27, 2015

Number 101

Brown-headed Cowbirds
Male left and female right
Yesterday I found my 100th South Dakota bird of the year. Today I added another one: Brown-headed Cowbird. I found this lovely pair on the way to work this morning.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

My Friend, WILL

Willet wading in the Missouri River at dusk
This evening I found my first Willets of the year along the Missouri River in Pierre. The four letter code for Willet is WILL, so I like to think of them as my friend, WILL. The Willets I saw tonight were the 100th bird species I have seen in South Dakota this year.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

"When the Swallows..."

Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor
Yesterday morning I drove down to the LaFramboise Island Causeway, about a mile from my house. And there they were. The first Tree Swallows of the year had arrived! This is the 93rd bird I have seen in South Dakota this year. I watched the swallows for a while as they flitted and glided through the air in search of insects. When a couple of them landed on a boat dock support post, I was able to get a few photographs. 

"When the swallows come back to LaFramboise..."

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Let's Identify Those Shrikes

Northern Shrike, March 21, 2015
In central South Dakota we get to see Northern Shrikes in the winter and Loggerhead Shrikes in the summer. They look very similar, but they can be differentiated if you pay attention to the details. First, look at the bills. The Northern Shrike has a slightly longer bill, and the bill has a longer, more vicious-looking hook. The Loggerhead Shrike has a stubbier bill, and the hook is not as long. Second, look at the black bandit mask. The Northern Shrike's mask is narrower, and it does not extend over the top of the bill. On the Loggerhead Shrike, the mask is wider, and it extends over the top of the bill. Finally, take a look at the gray on the back and the top of the head. Northern Shrikes are a lighter gray; Loggerhead Shrikes are slightly darker. What do you say? Do you think you can identify shrikes now?

Loggerhead Shrike, April 17, 2015

Friday, April 17, 2015

Not a Blackbird

European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
Next time you see a flock of European Starlings, please do not call them blackbirds. Does this bird really look black to you? Take a look at the close up below. Isn't that a wonderful combination of colors?

Black? I don't think so!

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

You've Painted Up Your Lips...

Female Northern Cardinal
Sometimes, when I see a female Northern Cardinal, I just can't help singing a line from an old country song: "You've painted up your lips, and rolled and curled your tinted hair. Ruby are you contemplating going out somewhere?" Do you think this female cardinal just touched up her lipstick before posing for this picture?

And that brings to mind a question I saw posed in a magazine article a while back: What color is a cardinal's bill? Is it pink? Is it orange? Is it red? Different people were actually arguing in favor of each color! Come on now! How could you possibly say that beautiful bill is any color other than red?

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