If you could ignore the gale-force winds that seem to dominate the weather this spring, we’ve had some really lovely, sunny warm days. TOO warm and sunny to stay indoors and work all the time! I took yesterday off to spend the day birding. We’re still a touch early for a lot of the songbirds here, so I wanted to spend the day focusing on shorebirds and other birds around wetlands and lakes in the area.
It’s been incredibly dry here. West of Sioux Falls are a number of lakes, wetlands, sloughs, etc., places that are normally great places to look for all types of water-loving birds. This spring though? Not so much. Where water exists in the deeper lakes and ponds there are certainly a lot of waterfowl, but some of my favorite wetland areas to look for shorebirds are completely dry. Hence, I made the 1 1/2 hour drive up to the Lake Thompson area, and it ended up being well worth the drive.
With water levels falling since last fall in eastern South Dakota, there are a lot of shallow water areas and mudflats around, perfect for looking for shorebirds. The highlight of the day wasn’t at Lake Thompson but at another shallow water body on the way home, in northwestern Minnehaha County. Foraging alongside an American Avocet was a Black-necked Stilt, a very uncommon species for South Dakota and the first I had ever seen in the state.
Shorebirds weren’t plentiful in number around Lake Thompson, but I did find several first-of-year species. One spot on the north side of Lake Thompson (actually the north end of Lake Henry) had a wonderful variety, including Marbled Godwit, Dunlin, Semipalmated Plover, Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs, Willet, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Baird’s Sandpiper, and a host of swirling and whirling Wilson’s Phalarope. The Phalarope were absent in the area last weekend, but they were certainly out in force yesterday, with a number of small flocks found throughout the area.
Wading birds weren’t nearly as plentiful yet as they’ll be in a week or two, but again there was a nice variety. First-of-year species including Black-crowned Night Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, and Great Blue Heron. A nice treat were 5 White-faced Ibis, something I don’t see all that often in southeastern South Dakota, and a species that always seems a bit out-of-place in the state, as if it should be found in some tropical wetland in Florida.
Throw in some other FOY songbird species, and it was a terrific day of birding. Given the state of the wetlands and lakes up in the Lake Thompson area, it could be rather spectacular for shorebirds once they start moving through in force in the next few weeks.