Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Fence Posts and Gravel Roads, Part 12

Dickcissel singing along County Line Road

Dickcissels like to really throw their heads back when they sing. This one found a nice leaning fence post that allows him a little extra stability while he does his impression of Enrico Caruso.

Fluffy white clouds along County Line Road

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Fence Posts and Gravel Roads, Part 11

Brown-headed Cowbird in cattle yard along County Line Road

There are so many Brown-headed Cowbirds in central South Dakota that I often wonder which are more numerous, the cowbirds or the cows. Every stretch of fenceline seems to have a dozen or more cowbirds on the wires and on the posts.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Fence Posts and Gravel Roads, Part 10

The corner of Highway 1806 and County Line Road

County Line Road forms the boundary between Lyman County and Stanley County and runs for 19 miles from State Highway 1806 to U.S. Highway 83. In the winter I have seen Snowy Owls and Gyrfalcons along this road. In the summer it is a good place to spot Burrowing Owls.

A Burrowing Owl stares down the camera along County Line Road

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Bird Devotional 73

Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculates

“Come out from them and be separate.” 2 Corinthians 6:17

The Spotted Towhee and its close relative, the Eastern Towhee, were once considered one species, Rufous-sided Towhee. Then, in 1995, the American Ornithologists’ Union determined that Rufous-sided Towhee was actually composed of two geographically separate forms, and split them into two new species known as Eastern Towhee and Spotted Towhee. Spotted Towhees are found throughout much of western North America. Towhees feed on the ground where they glean food by scratching in the leaf litter under trees. In the springtime, males can be seen in the treetops where they sing a song that sounds like, “Drink, drink, drink, drink teeeeeeee.”

In today’s Bible verse, the Apostle Paul implored his readers to do what the ornithologists told the Spotted Towhee years ago, “Come out from them and be separate.” From what or whom are we to separate ourselves? First, it is not unbelievers or sinners from whom we should be separate. Jesus Himself ate with tax collectors, talked with Samaritans, and visited with adulteresses, people whom others of the time would have avoided. Since we live in the world, we cannot, and should not, live our lives in isolation from other people. Rather, it is the sin in the world from which we should be separated. Is it possible to live in the world and at the same time to be separate from the world and its sin? Praying to the Father for His followers, Jesus said, “They are not of the world even as I am not of it” (John 17:16). How is it that Jesus’ followers “are not of the world?” It is because Jesus came to take away the sins of the world. The Apostle John wrote concerning Jesus, “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). So, come out away from the world and be separate from its sin. As Jesus prayed for us in the Garden of Gethsemane, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:15,17).

Thank you, Lord, for sending your Son Jesus, that through Him I can be separated from the sins of the world. Amen.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Fence Posts and Gravel Roads, Part 9

Gnarled fence post along the Harrold Gravel

Certain fence posts are so interesting they don't even need a bird to make you stop and stare.

Fence Posts and Gravel Roads, Part 8

Red-tailed Hawk along the Harrold Gravel

Sometimes fence posts just aren't high enough. Red-tailed Hawks will use fence posts from time to time, but usually they perch on the tops of utility poles.

Fence Posts and Gravel Roads, Part 7

Chestnut-collared Longspur along the Harrold Gravel

Chestnut-collared Longspurs are common in the grasslands of central South Dakota. However, they are hard to find unless you can locate a male singing from an open perch such as a fence post. In this photo, the chestnut "collar" is visible, but the feature that always catches my eye is that totally black underside. They're very interesting little birds.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Fence Posts and Gravel Roads, Part 6

Brown-headed Cowbird and friend along the Harrold Gravel

Brown-headed Cowbirds are very common out on the plains, but they congregate in even larger numbers around cattle. This Brown-headed Cowbird seemed to be making friends with its namesake.

Fence Posts and Gravel Roads, Part 5

Horned Lark on the Harrold Gravel

Horned Larks do not usually perch on fence posts, but I caught this one singing from atop a fence post earlier this week.

Fence Posts and Gravel Roads, Part 4

Lark Bunting along the Harrold Gravel

Fence posts are great places to perch. Don't you wonder what birds did before there were any fence posts out on the grasslands?

Fence Posts and Gravel Roads, Part 3

Red-winged Blackbird along the Harrold Gravel

Red-winged Blackbirds may be the most common bird on the South Dakota prairie, but they are uncommonly beautiful.

Fence Posts and Gravel Roads, Part 2

Upland Sandpiper along the Harrold Gravel

Upland Sandpipers are plentiful along the Harrold Gravel, and they are crazy about fence posts!

Upland Sandpiper on Harrold Gravel Sign

Fence Posts and Gravel Roads, Part 1

Sign at the south end of the Harrold Gravel

I love to look for birds along gravel roads. You can slow down, take your time, and even stop once in a while. One of the best things about gravel roads is that the fence posts are much closer to the road. This gives you the chance for a close-up look at some interesting birds. In the next few days I am going to share some of my favorite gravel roads and the birds I have found there on fence posts. First is the Harrold Gravel, an 18 mile road that stretches from state highway 34 to the town of Harrold on U.S. Highway 14.

Western Meadowlark along the Harrold Gravel

500th Post!!


"Bill probably won't tell you this, but today is our 500th blog post. We birds want to thank you for paying attention to us and for coming back here to visit with us day after day. Since the name of this blog is 'Ask the Birds and They Will Tell You,' how about it? Any questions for me?"

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Playing in the Mud

Cliff Swallows gathering mud for their nests

The recent heavy rains in the Pierre area have created mud holes in some of the gravel parking lots up near Oahe Dam. A large group of Cliff Swallows was using this mud for some maintenance work on their nests.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Bird Devotional 72

Long-tailed Jaeger, Stercorarius longicaudus

“The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” John 10:10 (KJV)

Several groups of birds survive by stealing food from other birds, a practice known as kleptoparasitism. This larcenous way of life is most prevalent in birds called jaegers. At certain times of the year, jaegers live almost entirely on fish stolen from gulls and terns out in the open ocean. In the early summer of 2010, an immature Long-tailed Jaeger appeared for several days below South Dakota’s Oahe Dam. That bird was one of a small number of jaegers that stray into the interior of North America each year. Except for those vagrants, the only way to see jaegers is to venture out onto the high seas.

Today’s Bible verse mentions a thief that kills, steals, and destroys. The word used in the original Greek text is kleptes. Jesus makes a contrast between Himself and that thief by saying, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). In the Gospel of John, Jesus repeatedly uses the phrase, “I am,” in referring to Himself. “Before Abraham was born, I am.” “I am the bread of life,” “I am the way, the truth and the life,” “I am the good shepherd,” “I am the light of the world.” All those “I ams” illustrate and clarify what Jesus means when He says He gives us abundant life. He is our sustainer, our provider, our guide, and our protector. By saying, “I am,” He shows that He does not merely come and go…He is. There are many things in the world that steal, kill and destroy, but they all have one author, the devil. Speaking of the devil, Jesus said, “He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him…for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). There is our choice for a father: One who is a liar, thief and murderer; or the One who is the way, the truth and the life, the one who is our guide and our protector. Choose your father wisely.

Father, I want to receive your abundant life and to receive your guidance, your protection and your light. Amen.

Friday, June 18, 2010


Western Kingbird

"Fees? Just for camping out here? Well...OK. How many insects do you want?"

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Long-tailed Jaeger

Long-tailed Jaeger

Well, a few experts have weighed in and declared that the jaeger at Oahe Dam is a Long-tailed Jaeger. An ornithologist with the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology stated the bird is "certainly a Long-tailed Jaeger." I'm certainly not going to argue with that. According to Birds of South Dakota, published in 2002, the only other Long-tailed Jaegers in South Dakota were reported in 1975 and 1997. Long-tailed Jaegers are sea birds that very rarely venture to the interior of North America. Those that do reach places like South Dakota are almost always immature birds. Jaegers do not attain full adult plumage until after their third year. This jaeger is probably a year away from becoming an adult.

The Long-tailed Jaeger sometimes hovers like a tern.

Long-tailed Jaeger at the face of Oahe Dam

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Brown Pelican 2010

Brown Pelican at Big Bend Dam, June 15, 2010

There has been a Brown Pelican hanging out below Big Bend Dam in central South Dakota for the past week. This is the species of pelican we have seen covered in oil in pictures coming out of the Gulf Coast after the BP oil disaster. Brown Pelicans are not usually found in South Dakota. In fact, this bird is only the sixth Brown Pelican ever reported in South Dakota. What is rather amazing is that I saw number five a little more than a year ago in that same place, BIG BEND DAM. Last year I posted four times about the 2009 Brown Pelican. You can read them here, here, here and here.

Brown Pelican at Big Bend Dam, May 27, 2009

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Red-eyed Towhee

Spotted Towhee

The Spotted Towhee and its close relative, the Eastern Towhee, were once classified as one species, the Rufous-sided Towhee. These lovely little birds have also been known in parts of the country by other names. Some people referred to them as Chewink because of their calls. Others called them Swamp Robin or Ground Robin because of their coloration and habit of foraging on the ground. Perhaps my favorite old name for these birds is Red-eyed Towhee. One look at the bird in this picture and you can see how they got that name.

Sunday, June 13, 2010



A predatory sea bird, called a jaeger, has been hanging around the area below Oahe Dam for the past few days. There are three species of jaeger: Pomarine Jaeger, Parasitic Jaeger, and Long-tailed Jaeger. We have not been able to positively identify this bird to species, so for now we are just calling it a jaeger. These birds are sometimes referred to as kleptoparasitic. That means that they prey on other birds by stealing food from them. Jaegers are very rarely seen away from the ocean. There are only five official records of jaegers in South Dakota. This one would be the sixth if we can just figure out what species it is.

The jaeger showing its long central tail feathers

Bird Devotional 71

Western Kingbird
Eastern Kingbird, Tyrannus tyrannus
Western Kingbird, Tyrannus verticalis

“I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 8:11

I was walking out of a building on the outskirts of a small South Dakota town when I heard some unidentifiable bird sounds coming from my left. I looked in that direction and saw two birds perched less than a foot apart on the top strand of a barbed wire fence. I recognized that one was a Western Kingbird and the other was an Eastern Kingbird. I had seen many kingbirds of both species perched on wires throughout the state of South Dakota, but I had never before seen one of each sitting side-by-side. Getting my bearings in the unfamiliar location, I soon realized the birds knew their geography. The Western Kingbird was positioned to the west, while the Eastern Kingbird was on the east. The birds are appropriately named, for the Western Kingbird is rarely seen east of the Great Plains, while the Eastern Kingbird is found throughout eastern North America.

Today’s Bible verse speaks of many coming from the east and the west and meeting together for a feast. These words of Jesus tell us that people from far-off places will join the descendants of Abraham in the kingdom of heaven. This joining together of Jew and Gentile was one of the mysteries of the Old Testament. As the Apostle Paul stated: “This mystery is that through the Gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 3:6). According to Paul, this mystery, “was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets” (Ephesians 3:5). Trust in Jesus, receive His promise, and you too can sit together with believers from every nation in the kingdom of heaven.

Heavenly Father, I thank you that we who come from the east, the west, the north and the south can share in the promise of eternal life through Jesus. Amen.

Eastern Kingbird

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Stale Bread

California Gull trying a slice of whole wheat bread

"I see Ring-billed Gulls eating this stuff all the time, so I thought I would try a little myself."

"Yuck! That's terrible! Ring-billed Gulls have even worse taste than I thought."

Friday, June 11, 2010


Eastern Kingbird harassing a Swainson's Hawk

At first glance, the above photo may appear to depict a large hawk chasing a poor, defenseless little bird. Don't you believe it! The Eastern Kingbird is actually swooping down on the hawk from above, and the hawk is screaming, "Leave me alone, you little punk!" Blackbirds, jays, kingbirds and other birds often harass hawks to get them to move out of their territories. The kingbirds, though, seem to do it with a particularly cocky attitude that earned them their name. Eastern and Western Kingbirds are among my favorite birds, and here in central South Dakota we can enjoy the presence of them both all summer long. The two birds pictured below were perched about fifty feet apart on a barbed wire fence earlier this week. And yes, the Eastern Kingbird was on the east and the Western Kingbird was on the west. Somehow they just know.

Eastern Kingbird

Western Kingbird

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Rifle Range!

Western Kingbird

"Rifle Range? Hmmm... I've got cousins that live down that way. Can't they read? I think this is as close as I'm going to get--thank you very much."

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Owl in Flowers

Burrowing Owl

In central South Dakota, Burrowing Owls live in abandoned prairie dog burrows. If you drive through an area with prairie dogs, you will eventually see one or two Burrowing Owls standing out in the field near their burrows. Every once in a while you may be lucky enough to see one perched on a fence post right next to the road. That happened to me last week, and I got this nice shot of a Burrowing Owl surrounded by orange wildflowers. The owl cooperated long enough for me to even move the car back and forth until the flowers were in just the right place. It didn't fly off until I was putting my camera away and getting ready to move on.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Hyphen

Green Violetear, formerly Green Violet-ear
(Photo by Paul O. Roisen)

hyphen, n. a punctuation mark used to link elements in a compound word or phrase.

They've done it. They have started removing hyphens in certain bird names. The first to go is in a group of hummingbirds formerly known as the violet-ears. Now the birds will be known as violetears. When I see it written without the hyphen, I think it is almost unpronounceable. It looks to me like you should say, "viole tear," not "violet ear." Why couldn't they just leave well enough alone? I understand the next thing they want to do is remove hyphens from other "last names" for groups of birds. Those would include night-heron, wood-pewee, screech-owl, ground-dove, prairie-chicken and whistling-duck. What are they going to do, change them to nightheron, woodpewee, screechowl, grounddove, prairiechicken and whistlingduck? Come on! Leave the hyphens alone.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Bird Devotional 70

Lark Bunting, Calamospiza melanocorys

“Let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’” Matthew 5:37

The prairies are very colorful when springtime comes to the plains. The rolling hills are painted in shades of green, yellow and brown, with splashes of other colors here and there. When there are Lark Buntings flying over the grasslands or sitting on open perches, their black and white coloration creates a stark contrast to the vibrant scene. Male Lark Buntings are all black, with large white wing patches, and an almost-white conical bill. The official State Bird of Colorado, this bird is found throughout the western Great Plains of North America.

In our English language, if something is sure and certain, we sometimes say that it is “black and white.” If it is black and white, it is either yes, or it is no. There is no middle ground. In today’s Bible verse, Jesus instructs us to be truthful and precise in our words, and in our actions, “Let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’” The Bible has some very definite things to say about yes and no. Paul told the Corinthians, “For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by me and Silas and Timothy, was not ‘Yes’ and ‘No,’ but in Him it has always been ‘Yes.’ For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ” (2 Corinthians 1:19-20). What wonderful assurance that is! That does not mean that God always says “Yes” to all our earthly requests. It does mean that every promise God has made is fulfilled with a resounding “Yes” in Christ Jesus. If it is God’s role to say “Yes,” then it is our job to say “No.” Speaking of the Grace of God, Paul wrote to his friend, Titus, “[Grace] teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age” (Titus 2:12). God’s responsibility is to say “Yes” to fulfilling His promises, and our responsibility is to receive God’s grace, and say “No” to the temptations and lusts of this world. That’s pretty black and white if you ask me.

Heavenly Father, give me the grace to say, “No” to the temptations of this world. I thank you for being the ‘Yes” to all of God’s promises. Amen.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Fresh Fish

Osprey with freshly caught fish

Yesterday I observed an Osprey carry a fish to an electric transmission tower and then proceed to eat the fish. After looking at the photos, I could see that the bird has a metal band on its left leg.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Dickcissels Have Returned


The Dickcissels are one of the latest summer residents to return each year. I saw my first Dickcissels of the year in central South Dakota this week. I think Dickcissels are extraordinarily handsome. What do you think?

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Late Loon

Common Loon

There is a late Common Loon in the area below Oahe Dam in central South Dakota this week. Last year, three loons spent the summer in that same location. Common Loons are not known to breed in South Dakota, but some young, non-breeders are seen in the state every summer.