Thursday, February 19, 2015

Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl
Lyman County, South Dakota
February 19, 2015
I have been looking all winter for a Snowy Owl, and I finally found one late this afternoon. The bird was about a hundred yards off the highway in a weedy field. This is actually the first Snowy Owl I have seen in two years. Other birders in the upper Great Plains have been finding a lot more of these Arctic hunters than I have this year. So, if you are driving out in the countryside, keep your eyes open for Snowy Owls. You will probably have to look at and ignore a lot of white plastic grocery bags before you see an owl, but who knows? You might find one!

Monday, February 16, 2015

Pretty Lady

Mallard hen showing off her bright blue speculum

speculum, n. a bright patch of plumage on the wings of certain birds, especially a strip of colorful iridescence on the secondary flight feathers of many ducks. 
Mallards and many other ducks have brightly colored patches on their wings. This area of the bird's wing is called the speculum. Most of the time only a tiny portion of the speculum is visible unless the bird is in flight. Today I found a Mallard hen whose speculum was extremely bright and noticeable. Isn't she beautiful with that marvelous patch of bright blue on her side?

Mallard hen showing off for the camera

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Glaucous Trio

Glaucous Gull, Larus hyperboreus
Second winter plumage
Pierre, South Dakota
glaucous, n. [Gr. glaukos, gray]. 1. dull, grayish-blue in color. 2. covered with a whitish powder or waxy coating.

There are three North American Gulls with names derived from the Greek word glaukos. Glaucous is a word we don't use very often, but it is handy to know if one is studying gulls. First, we have the Glaucous Gull. An immature Glaucous Gull is pictured above. Glaucous Gulls breed in the far northern Arctic of Alaska and Canada, and spend the winter on the northern Pacific and Atlantic Coasts of North America. Wandering Glaucous Gulls, especially immature birds like this one, frequently make their way to other parts of North America in the winter

Glaucous-winged Gull, Larus glaucescens
First summer plumage
Marin County, California
Glaucous-winged Gull is a bird of the Pacific Coast of North America. They breed along the shores of Alaska and British Columbia, and winter from Washington south to Baja California. The bird pictured above was hanging out along the Pacific Ocean just north of San Francisco last June. It is a first summer bird that never felt the urge to fly back north for the breeding season.

Iceland Gull, Larus glaucoides
First winter plumage
Pierre, South Dakota
Iceland Gull contains a form of the word glaucous in its Latin name Larus glaucoides. The bird shown above is an immature bird. Like the immature Glaucous Gull and Glaucous-winged Gull, the Iceland Gull is very pale during the first several years of life. Iceland Gulls breed in Greenland and the northeastern Arctic regions of Canada. They are found in the winter in the maritime provinces of Canada and portions of the Great Lakes. Very rarely do they venture to the interior of North America.
As adults, all three of these gulls have mantles that are light gray, or glaucous in color. The photo below is an adult Iceland Gull that has been hanging out in the Pierre area all winter. He looks rather glaucous, wouldn't you say? Now, aren't you glad to know a little something about the word glaucous?

Iceland Gull, Larus glaucoides
Adult non-breeding plumage
Pierre, South Dakota

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Whenever the Rainbow Appears

Rainbow over the Rosebud Indian Reservation
February 10, 2015
"Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds,
I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth." Genesis 9:16

Rainbow over Rosebud

Saturday, February 7, 2015

State Capitol with Geese

The South Dakota State Capitol Building; Capitol Lake and Canada Geese
One of the enjoyable things about living in Pierre, South Dakota is that when you are driving about town you can stop at Capitol Lake and do a little birding on the grounds of the State Capitol Building. One bird that is always abundant on the capitol grounds is Canada Goose. Thousands of Canada Geese spend the winter in the Pierre area, and most of them find their way to Capitol Lake at one time or another.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Golden Hay... Golden Eagle

Golden field; golden bales of hay; Golden Eagle
I was traveling across central South Dakota late this afternoon and drove past an extensive hay field filled with dozens of stacks of large, round bales of hay. From more than a mile away I could see a black speck on top of one of the stacks. As I got closer, I began to surmise it was either a Golden Eagle or a dark morph Ferruginous Hawk. When I drew even with the stack of hay I pulled off to the shoulder of the roadway. Looking at the bird through my binoculars I could tell it was a Golden Eagle. Golden Eagles are large birds--their average length is thirty inches--but this one appears small as it stands on hay bales that are each at least five feet in diameter.
Golden Eagles get their name from the golden-colored feathers on the back of the head and neck. This eagle looks quite elegant posing in this golden, mid-winter South Dakota landscape. What a treat it was to come upon this glorious scene in the sunshine of a late afternoon on a winter day!

A Golden Eagle on golden hay

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Leucistic Mallard

Mallard hen with leucism
leucism (loo-sism), n. a partial loss of pigmentation in a human or animal, resulting in white, pale, or patchy coloration of the skin, hair, fur, or feathers.
The Mallard hen pictured here is leucistic--meaning she has the condition, leucism, that is defined above. I found this Mallard today swimming with her mate in Capitol Creek in Pierre. Leucism is unusual, but is seen from time to time by those of us who go looking for birds on a regular basis. Over the years I have seen a leucistic Canada Goose, Common Grackle, House Sparrow, and American Robin. This Mallard appeared to be living a normal life, and the drake swimming with her never left her side.  

Mallard drake with leucistic hen

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Male and Female

"Every kind of bird, male and female,
to keep their various kinds alive throughout the earth."
Genesis 7:3

Male Red-bellied Woodpecker
I enjoy visiting the Isaac Walton League's feeder complex in Pierre--largely because I have a good chance of seeing lots of woodpeckers. Four species of woodpeckers regularly visit the feeders there. Yesterday morning I watched as this pair of Red-bellied Woodpeckers took turns on the suet feeder. Later, the female chased all the finches away from one of the platform feeders and gorged herself on sunflower seeds. Red-bellied Woodpeckers are not difficult to differentiate by sex. Like most bird species, the male Red-bellied Woodpecker is more colorful than the female. As you can see in these photos, the male has red feathers from the back of the neck all the way to the base of the bill. The female's red coloration ends a the very top of her head, but then continues with a small spot of red at the base of the bill. God created both male and female birds, as we are reminded in the Bible verse quoted above, "to keep their various kinds alive throughout the earth." Aren't you glad he did?

Female Red-bellied Woodpecker

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Duck, Duck, Goose

Common Merganser drake
Capitol Lake in Pierre this morning was like a game of duck, duck, goose. I found six species of ducks and two species of geese swimming in the shadow of South Dakota's State Capitol Building. Pictured here are a couple of handsome mergansers, a Common Merganser drake and a Hooded Merganser drake.
Hooded Merganser drake
To complete the game of duck, duck, goose, I got a nice photo of a Canada Goose that honked a loud warning as I approached too close to the edge of the water. A quick stroll around Capitol Lake is a great way to spend a brisk winter morning in Pierre.

Canada Goose honks a warning

Number 53

Two Redhead drakes
Today I found my 53rd South Dakota bird of the year. A group of seven Redheads was swimming in Capitol Lake this morning in the fog and a light snowfall. The picture didn't turn out too well because of the weather conditions, but you can certainly see they are Redheads!