|Short-billed Dowitchers (I think!)|
Monday, April 30, 2012
The two species of dowitchers present a dilemma. Short-billed Dowitchers and Long-billed dowitchers are so similar in appearance that they are very difficult to separate from each other. The most reliable way to tell them apart is by their calls. I heard this group of dowitchers calling, and I am fairly sure they made sounds typical of Short-billed Dowitchers. Another way to figure out which dowitcher is which is to look at the calendar. Here in the northern Great Plains, Short-billed Dowitchers migrate later in the spring and earlier in the fall than Long-billed Dowitchers. In the spring they do not show up here until late April. However, today (April 30th), both Long-billed and Short-billed Dowitchers could be migrating through the area. So, as a final way to determine which species I saw today, let's look at the backs of the birds pictured here. Long-billed Dowitchers have very dark feathers edged in dark rufous. Short-billed Dowitchers generally appear lighter in color, with dark feathers trimmed in cream or tan. I think the coloration of the birds in this picture is more typical of Short-billed Dowitchers. I have to admit, though, that I am still a bit confused. How about you?
Sunday, April 29, 2012
Saturday, April 28, 2012
|Western Meadowlark hunting for insects in the dandelions|
This morning I saw this Western Meadowlark hunting for insects in a field near Oahe Dam. It seems like most of the photos I take of meadowlarks show the bird on a fence post. There is nothing wrong with birds on posts, but it is nice to see photos that look a little more natural. So, I was glad to get a few shots of this bird hopping around in the grass and dandelions. The yellow breast of the meadowlark pretty well matches the yellow of the dandelion flowers, don't you think?
Friday, April 27, 2012
For the past few weeks, people have reported seeing terns on Discovery Island, a little sandbar island in the Missouri River in Pierre. However, every time I have stopped for a look, there were no terns there. I was in a hurry yesterday afternoon, but because it was raining, I decided to stop for a look. THERE THEY WERE! I found a Caspian Tern and two Forster's Terns, my first terns of the year. Sometimes I think rain is the key to a good birding day. It may be just before rain, just after rain, or right in the middle of rain... but rain usually brings me success.
Tuesday, April 24, 2012
|Red-winged Blackbird and a none-too-pleased Golden Eagle|
While driving through the country yesterday, I saw a Golden Eagle perched on a fence post. I stopped my car, and tried to angle into just the right position to get a picture. Then a Red-winged Blackbird flew in and chased the eagle off its perch and across the road, where the eagle landed on another fence post. The blackbird pursued the eagle and alighted on a nearby post where the bold little bird continued to harass the much larger Golden Eagle. After enduring the blackbird's scolding for a few minutes, the eagle took off and flew away. It must be tough being a hawk or an eagle... none of the other birds seem to want you around their neighborhood!
Monday, April 23, 2012
|Rough-legged Hawk, April 23, 2012|
At this time of year I am seeing a FOY (first-of-year) bird almost every day. Saturday it was Purple Martin and Franklin's Gull. Sunday it was Orange-crowned Warbler, and today it was Barn Swallow. As the summer birds replace the winter visitors, I probably also see some last-of-year birds as well. But the trouble with trying to keep track of last-of-year birds is that you never know for sure which one is going to be last. On April 10th I posted on this blog about a Rough-legged Hawk that I thought might be my last of the season. Well, today I saw another one, so I guess I was wrong about the April 10th bird. Who knows? Maybe I'll see even more Rough-legged Hawks before the spring is over.
UPDATE, April 30, 2012: I saw another Rough-legged Hawk today... will this be the last?
UPDATE, April 30, 2012: I saw another Rough-legged Hawk today... will this be the last?
Saturday, April 21, 2012
|Purple Martins (female between two males) in front of South Dakota State Capitol|
Pierre, South Dakota is situated on the very western edge of the normal range of the Purple Martin. However, we do have a thriving colony of these large swallows living on the grounds of our State Capitol. This morning I noticed that the Purple Martins had returned, and I just couldn't resist taking a few photos.
|Male Purple Martin|
marbled (mar' buld), adj. colored with mottled streaks so as to look like marble.
Take a look at this Marbled Godwit, and then read the definition of the word, marbled. What do you think? The name fits pretty well, doesn't it? These very cool birds have returned to the Great Plains within the past week. I saw this Marbled Godwit and its mate in a marsh south of Pierre, yesterday. Both birds scolded me with their gahd-WIT, gahd-WIT calls from which they get the other part of their name.
Thursday, April 19, 2012
The Swainson's Hawk you see here, along with thousands more of its species, has just returned to the Great Plains after spending the winter in South America. They will stay here all summer, feeding on large insects and small mammals, and then next fall they will make the return trip to the southern hemisphere. As I watched this hawk this afternoon, I marveled at the energy and determination it would take to make such a journey twice each year. Welcome back... and have a great summer here on the prairie, Mr. Hawk.
Tuesday, April 17, 2012
|Wilson's Snipe hiding in the reeds|
Because of the old prank of taking someone on a snipe hunt, many people do not believe a snipe is a real bird. Well, this afternoon I found a Wilson's Snipe that was indeed, very real. As you can see in the photo above, you do sometimes have to hunt in order to find a snipe because they are very good at hiding in vegetation. Wilson's Snipes are common shorebirds throughout most of North America. Next time you are out in a marsh, go on a snipe hunt and see if you can find some of these interesting creatures.
|Wilson's Snipe out in the open|
Monday, April 16, 2012
|Sharp-tailed Grouse on fence post|
This morning I saw this Sharp-tailed Grouse standing on a fence post along Highway 83 in central South Dakota. I think prairie birds might get a little bored just staying down in the grass all the time. It must be nice to hop up onto a fence post and get a good view of your surroundings every once in a while.
Saturday, April 14, 2012
|Ring-necked Pheasant hen on fence post|
For some reason, I love to see birds on fence posts. Maybe it's because when a bird lands on a fence post it creates a connection with the people who chose to place a fence post in that spot. A bird on a fence post, though wild, has come into the world of humans, and has made itself a little more accessible to us. I have taken a lot of photos of birds on fence posts, but this is my first photo of a pheasant on a fence post. Isn't she beautiful standing there? What do you suppose she is saying to the photographer?
Friday, April 13, 2012
Elegant is the one word that comes to mind when I see an American Avocet. These graceful shorebirds are fairly common out here on the Great Plains wherever there are shallow lakes or flooded fields. The incredibly long, thin bill is useful for feeding in the shallow water or probing in the soft mud. American Avocet... a study in elegance and beauty. What a bird!
|American Avocet feeding|
Wednesday, April 11, 2012
|Short-eared Owl, April 11, 2012|
All winter long I saw Short-eared Owls in the Fort Pierre National Grasslands nearly every evening. About a month ago I stopped seeing them. Then this week I began to see a few Short-eared Owls every morning as I drove through the grasslands. My theory is that the owls I am seeing now are not the same birds that I had seen all winter. I think the birds I am seeing this week are migrating through this area on the way to their breeding grounds north and west of here. The owl pictured here had probably just finished a night of hunting when I snapped his picture just before sunrise this morning.
Tuesday, April 10, 2012
|Rough-legged Hawk, April 10, 2012|
This afternoon I spotted a Rough-legged Hawk along Highway 83 in central South Dakota. It is getting rather late for Rough-legged Hawks. They spend the winter here on the Great Plains, and then head north to Canada for the breeding season. The bird I saw today is a light morph first year bird. In the photo above you can see the very light-colored head, neck and chest that contrast with the dark belly. As an adult, this bird will have a darker head, and a more uniform underside. You can also plainly see the heavily feathered legs that give this hawk the rough-legged part of its name.
Monday, April 9, 2012
|Northern Mockingbird on Jackson's hat|
Andrew Jackson Statue, Washington, DC
My sister just returned from a sightseeing trip to Washington, DC. She has shared with me a number of wonderful photos and stories of her adventures. What really caught my attention, however, were her photos and story of the mockingbird on Andrew Jackson's hat. When she approached this magnificent statue, she could see the bird flitting around on top of the statue's hat. She started snapping pictures, and circled around to the other side, but though the mockingbird moved about, it never left the hat. My sister couldn't figure out why the mockingbird was so fascinated with that hat. Do you suppose the mockingbird, as the State Bird of Tennessee, was honoring President Jackson, a native of Tennessee? OK... do you have a better idea?
|The mockingbird must love that hat!|
Sunday, April 8, 2012
Today is Easter, so I want to share links to three posts I published on previous Easters. The first is my poem, The Tree. And here are two bird devotionals that convey the message of Easter. The first one is about the Tufted Titmouse, the second is about the dometic chicken.
And since today is also April the 8th, I also will provide my annual link to my blogpost, April 8, 1959.
Saturday, April 7, 2012
Last fall I wrote a series of posts about my favorite birds. The Cedar Waxing defeated all others and came out on top. I saw a few Cedar Waxwings this morning on the grounds of the South Dakota State Capitol Building. Watching those birds foraging in some junipers reminded me why I named them number one: they are just so beautiful! Look at the incredible combination of colors: yellow, brown, blue, red, black and white. Yep, they're still my favorite!
Friday, April 6, 2012
Today I saw two first-of-year birds. One was a bird I expected to see; the other was a bird I did not expect to see. The yellow and black bird pictured above, Yellow-headed Blackbird, is a common bird in my area, and usually arrives here in early April. The black and white bird pictured below, Laughing Gull, is a vagrant from the Atlantic Coast. Laughing Gulls are very rarely seen out here on the Great Plains. Whether common or uncommon, both birds showed up here this week, and thus I have added them to my South Dakota year list which now stands at 95.
Wednesday, April 4, 2012
Tuesday, April 3, 2012
Immature Golden Eagle
This evening I saw an immature Golden Eagle sitting on a fence post along the road. The late afternoon sun was directly behind the bird, making a photograph impossible. I watched the bird for a few seconds, and then it took flight. It flew across the road and soared for a few minutes, giving me an opportunity to take some pictures of the eagle in flight. This photo shows the two best field marks for identifying an immature Golden Eagle. You can see the two white windows on the underside of the otherwise-dark wings. Also visible is the two-toned tail... dark on the tip and white at the base. If you see a large, soaring bird with these two field marks, it has to be an immature Golden Eagle.