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The first Birding outing

May 8, 2010

For years I’ve indulged my bias for large game in the forests and on the prairie and, with the exception of pheasants, grouse, and big raptors, dismissed all bird species as simply things that flew.  Now, into my 65th year, I was sufficiently embarrassed by my ignorance that I enrolled in a birding class.  This morning the class turned out in mid-20 degree weather for a “lab” session out on the prairie east of Rapid City.

Our group was out until 1;30 p.m. and we had a good run of bird species, particularly of birds of prey and ducks.  I elected only to record the species that I was able to get onto and study with my binoculars and was surprised to have tallied 30 different species during the 5 hour trip.  Others in the group scored higher.

We saw a number of Swainson’s hawks, a couple of golden eagles, a Red-tailed hawk, Gadwells, Double-crested cormorants, Wigeons, Mourning doves, Phalaropes, Horned larks, meadowlarks, Brown-headed cowbirds, White-crowned sparrows, and so on, till you total 30 species.

My favorites were an Osprey we spotted about 200 yards off the highway, down toward the Rapid Creek cottonwood bottoms.  It was perched on the top of an old 8-foot wooden signpost, busily eating a fish. 

This was pronounced the find of the day, since none of the experienced birders had ever expected to see one outside of the big lake habitats up in the Black Hills.  Gazing at this beauty for so long resulted in a bonus find.  About 300 yards beyond the Osprey’s perch we watched a Blue Heron wing into a large tree top, which we suddenly realized contained 17 large nests with herons on most of them.  I had to score the rookery find to the Osprey.

My other favorite was finally seeing an American kestrel.  No doubt I’ve seen these little hawks a hundred times before and simply charged them off as some kind of swallow or just another bird that flies.

Finally, I’m tossing in a picture of a Loggerhead shrike.  Again, I don’t know how I could have missed this little bird before.  Pretty damn striking when you actually take time to stop and look at one.

Bottom line; I came away humbled.  I have a new appreciation for just how much diversity is out on our grasslands.  All one has to do is truly slow down and look for it.

— Margadant

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Gunnar Berg permalink
    May 8, 2010 10:30 pm

    The falcons – kestrels, merlins, peregrines are perfection on the wing. Last spring I was at a neighbors when a kestrel died hitting a window. A kestrel in the hand is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. And saddest. No photo nor painting can capture it.

    Oh, and welcome to the club.

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