Tag Archives: Wildlife

Just when I think I like South Dakota(ns)…

May is a a wonderful month for birding.  After a long winter, not only do the summer breeding birds make their way back to South Dakota, but many, many species of migrants move through the state on their way north.  Friday after work, I headed out with my camera, looking for migrants. The birds certainly didn’t disappoint, with scads of shorebirds, ducks, and wading birds loafing around the wetlands I visited.

While heading towards some of my favorite spots, I stopped in a small town to get gas. Despite my cynicism and general anti-social behavior (shocking that I call myself anti-social, I know), every once in a while, you get the warm fuzzies when coming across some truly nice people.  While pumping my gas, an old couple pulled up in a pickup.  A gentleman in overalls got out and started to fill the tank while his wife went inside.  As soon as he had the gas running, he walked around the pump, just to chat with me, with a total stranger.  And a very nice chat it was!!  When I went inside to pay (old gas station, no credit card at the pump!), the wife was waiting at the counter, with two freshly made ice cream cones. “Darn that Earl, he found another person to talk to!!”, she “complained” to the clerk. Sure enough, I look out and “Earl” was chatting up another customer.  The wife wasn’t genuinely upset…she was having her own long conversation with the clerk.  As I’m paying, another person walks in, and the clerk and the wife both call out and ask how “Jodie” was doing.  Evidently “Jodie” had broken an ankle.

I walk back out to my pickup, and pass Earl, who’s finally coming in to pay.  He gives me a tip of the hat and a “have a good evenin’!” as we pass each other.  I literally could feel my cynicism melting away, being pushed down by a wonderful dose of good ol’ small-town friendliness.  It made me realize how nice it is to have a place like this, where the clerk knows the customers’ names, where people have no problem striking up a friendly conversation with a total stranger.

My gushy warm feelings lasted approximately 15 minutes and 38 seconds.  That’s about how long it took to get to one of my favorite birding spots, a big marshy spot that often has a lot of birds.  As I turned onto the gravel road to head towards the wetland, I saw a pickup about half a mile ahead, pulled over on the side of the road.  As soon as I got on the road, the pickup took off.  I didn’t think anything of it, UNTIL I got near the spot where he was parked.  Laying in the marsh grass…three VERY freshly dead Great Egrets.  One had a spot with blood, but although otherwise I couldn’t see what killed them, I assumed it was the tiny penis gun nuts in that pickup. A pretty safe assumption, given my past experiences in South Dakota.

Warm fuzzy feelings long gone, I continued on, turned a corner, and came across a pile of about a dozen dead snow geese, a mere half a mile from the dead egrets.  These were obviously long dead, with scavengers having already taken their toll.  However it’s obvious the birds were killed and then dumped in a pile on the side of the road.  It wasn’t for food, as they weren’t cleaned…just shot, and dumped.  The spot I was birding is a bit difficult to get to.  Officially, the road is closed.  With high water levels, water trickles over the gravel in a few places, and the road really isn’t passable except if you have a good 4-wheel drive.  Given the proximity of the dead egrets and the dead snow geese, my guess is that the local rednecks (of which South Dakota has plenty) use this quiet little spot for “target practice”…with my birds being the target.

I went birding later this past weekend, on Sunday, and again while out in a relatively remote spot, I came over a hill, and there were 3 young men with rifles, standing on the side of the road next to their truck.  Rifles…out in the middle of nowhwere…on a nice spring day.  Not exactly any hunting season I know about.  As I approached the three placed their rifles on the far side of their bodies, away from me.  Doesn’t take much imagination to know that people who try to hide something are generally up to no good.

Events such as these certainly are enough to fuel my cynicism for, oh…several months at least.  And given where I live, and how damned often I’ve come across dead birds and other animals that have been used as target practice, there aren’t very many occasions where my cynicism has a chance to melt away.

Alas, it’s not just the “hunting” (HAH!!! more like KILLING) culture of South Dakota. Underlying that good ol’ fashioned small town charm I encountered while filling my pickup, there’s also a lot of good ol’ fashioned bigotry and intolerance in the state.  Hell, it’s so ingrained in the culture of South Dakota that bigotry and intolerance has become a campaign strategy for some state politicians.  Check out the recent comments from Steve Hickey, a Republican (of course) state legislator. Last week he called gay men and gay sex “a one way alley for the garbage truck“.  Uh…OK…not even sure what that means, but I’m sure he meant it as a “clever”insult to gay people.  As if he wanted to make his point even clearer, this week he stated that gay sex is like “eight of your friends that you’re in love with take a dump in your bed and then you can sleep in it all year long.


Small town charm in South Dakota?  Occasionally.  Every once in awhile, you may get a chance to enjoy that small town charm.  All you have to do to experience it is to put up with the gun wackos who think everything that moves is a target, as well as the bigoted people of the state and the politicians that they vote for.

Husker Football, And Woodpeckers

Pileated Woodpecker - By Terry Sohl

Great day, first getting photos of this Pileated Woodpecker, and then watching the other "Big Red" get a win against the Michigan Wolverines.

A wonderful day yesterday, on multiple fronts!   As with any football Saturday where the Huskers are playing at home, thousands make the trek to Lincoln for the game.  But I bet there are very few that made it a combined football/birding day, like I did!

I left yesterday morning and stopped at the DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge on the Nebraska/Iowa border.  It’s a beautiful, heavily wooded area along the Missouri River with a series of sloughs and ponds along the river, as well as with some large open grassy and weedy areas.  From a birding standpoint, it’s known for large numbers of waterfowl that utilize it in migration, often including thousands of Snow Geese.  Given the diversity of habitats there though, it’s a very good birding destination for all sorts of species.

I really didn’t have any particular “target” species in mind yesterday, but was thrilled to death when I came across a big Pileated Woodpecker, foraging low in the forest canopy, right after I got to the NWR.  Pileated Woodpeckers are the largest remaining woodpecker in North America…if you believe the Ivory-billed Woodpecker is extinct (I don’t).  In South Dakota, there are tiny numbers of Pileated Woodpeckers in the northeast part of the state, and there are sightings every once in a great while in my part of the state in the southeast, but I’ve never seen one in South Dakota.  Not only did I get great looks at this bird, but I was able to get a series of very nice, close photographs.  Great way to spend a chilly fall morning!

Then the game!  Nebraska!  The mighty Michigan Wolverines, the team with the most wins in the history of college football!  At night!  It was a wonderful, big-time college atmosphere, and a great game for a Husker fan.  Very nice to see Nebraska play well against a big-time opponent.

Nebraska beating Michigan, AND a “life” photo bird!  Great day overall!

Your Government’s Role in Killing Wildlife

USDA Wildlife Services

"Wildlife Services" sounds pretty innocuous. The truth is pretty ugly however.

I have a friend at work who largely shares my political and social views, with one exception.  He’s much less cynical than I am.  When push comes to shove, I tend to believe that people will choose the path of least resistance or the path that gives them the biggest personal gain, no matter the negative consequences.  My friend is quite a bit rosier regarding the human race.   Every time I start to move in that direction, every time I start to feel my cynicism wearing off a bit, I read a story like this one, forwarded by another friend at work.

The story is about the Wildlife Services program at the U.S. Department of agriculture.  If you’re an animal lover, be prepared to be disgusted.  I’m already disgusted with how people treat wildlife.  After all I live in South Dakota, where the State Bird is an introduced species whose ONLY purpose for people here is as something you can shoot at.  But it’s one thing for red-necked South Dakotans to be out popping off wildlife.  It’s another for the Federal Government to be doing it, especially when so much collateral damage is being done, as shown in this article.

I’m amazed at the political clout a few large land owners in the West have regarding wildlife issues.  In South Dakota, the prairie dog has seemingly been labeled as public enemy #1…largely due to the efforts of a VERY few ranchers who claim prairie dogs cause immense damage to grazing lands.  A VERY few private citizens have somehow twisted the system to their advantage, so much so that prairie dogs are being poisoned on a lot of PUBLIC land in the state, if an adjacent land owner requests “control” of the species.   “Public” land in general is managed in South Dakota for seemingly one purpose…for the COMPLETE exploitation of whatever “resources” may be found on that land.  Parks?  National Grasslands?  Conservation and wildlife are DEFINITELY a secondary consideration in South Dakota.   Grazing trumps wildlife in every case.  In state and other parks, it’s the use of the area for camping, hunting, cross-country skiing, or any other human activity that is far and away more important than the actual habitat or wildlife in that park.

This story about the Wildlife Services part of USDA is simply an example of the same mindset, but at a Federal level.  Endangered species?  Completely harmless species?  People’s PETS, for god’s sake?   It’s a pretty disgusting picture of what Wildlife Services does, all supposedly for the sake of “protecting” people from that nasty harmful wildlife.

$$$$$ trumps wildlife…it’s a message that sadly continues to gain traction in the U.S.    And again…my cynacism and complete lack of faith in humanity is restored.

And despite my status as a Federal employee and as someone who has strongly DEFENDED government in the past…with recent experiences I’ve personally had, and with many of the recent news stories, I’m having a hard time maintaining that support of government.

Birding Rhode Island – Sachuest National Wildlife Refuge

Purple Sandpiper

A Purple Sandpiper, a specialty of rocky coastlines in New England.

I can’t say as I’ve ever birded in Rhode Island before.  I can’t say as I’ve ever spent more than a few hours in Rhode Island before.  The conference I was at last week was in Newport.  Newport was very nice, and I certainly enjoyed the seafood!  But…that type of area really isn’t my favorite.  Too many people, with just about every inch of coastline having some kind of urban development.  What I also didn’t like is just how much of the coastline is privately owned, certainly a far cry from Oregon (last year’s vacation spot) where the beaches all have public access.

The exception to the development on the coast were the few protected areas.  Sachuest National Wildlife Refuge was only about 10 miles from my hotel.  I had the chance to get there a couple of times while on my trip, including one great morning on the last day of my trip.  My flight didn’t leave until the afternoon, so I had the morning to putz around.  I woke up early and got to the Wildlife Refuge close to dawn, and then walked around for about 3 hours.

A pair of Brant, another "new" species for me from Sachuest NWR.

I’ve been birding and taking photos for 11 years now.  Unlike when I started, the thrill of a “new” bird is becoming harder and harder to get.  However, in those 11 years, I really hadn’t spent any time in New England, so I was hoping to pick up a few new species. It didn’t take long for me to get my first.  As I approached the NWR, a small group of Brant (a small, dark sea-going goose) were foraging close to the shoreline.  I spent about 10 minutes with them, getting some decent photographs, before heading into the NWR itself.  Sachuest isn’t huge by any means.  When you pull in, there’s a small visitors center, and several trails leading away from it.  I started walking on the “ocean loop” trail, which basically let you walk along the entire periphery of the peninsula on which the NWR sits. 

The weather was cool and crisp, but with brilliantly sunny skies.  Most of the NWR is composed of grassland and some small shrubs, plus the gorgeous rocky New England coast.  Song Sparrows were singing everywhere, and American Goldfinches, Northern Cardinals, and Northern Mockingbirds were also flitting around in pretty good numbers.  But it was the coastal birds that I was after, and it didn’t take long for me to find another “new” species to photograph.  Purple Sandpipers are found on rocky shorelines in New England in winter, and I was hoping some were still around.  I found a small flock of around 10 playing chicken with the crashing waves along the shoreline, picking among the coastal moss/veg for…well, for whatever it is Purple Sandpipers feed on.

There really wasn’t a huge variety of birds as I walked around the NWR, but there were certainly good numbers.  I ran across a few more small flocks of Purple Sandpipers, picked up another “new” species in the Great Black-backed Gulls that were foraging along the shoreline, and watched a pair of beautiful Harlequin Ducks bobbing in the waves close to shore.  Most of the action was in the shrubby and grassy areas on the interior, as the coast itself was actually relatively quiet.  There were decent numbers of Red-breasted Mergansers, but other than those, a couple of Common Loons, and the handful of remaining Harlequin Ducks, there wasn’t much for waterfowl during my visit.

Great Black-backed Gull

One more "new" species, a Great Black-backed Gull, the largest gull found in the United States.

It was a nice morning.  Newport was a nice enough town, but the (often over the top) “old money”, the massive mansions, and the amount of urban development in the area weren’t exactly my cup of tea.  I was glad to find Sachuest National Wildlife Refuge, and it’s certainly worth a visit if you happen to be in the area.