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

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