The red star
on the map at right shows
the approximate location of Presho within the
state. Presho is right along Interstate-90, with the exit found at exit
As the area is right along the interstate, it's quite easy to find.
From Sioux Falls, you simply head west on I-90 until you
get to exit 223 (about 180 miles). From Rapid City, you east east on I-90
(About 160 miles).
As noted below, this page refers to birding in the
general around Presho. Specific "hotspots" around the Presho area will be
The image below represents color aerial photography of the
Presho Area, as seen on Google Earth. The relative positions of
Highway 14, the towns of De Smet and Lake Preston, and of 218th street
("Oldham grade") are overlain on this image.
54' 11" N, 100° 3' 28" W
coordinate at the center of Presho).
Presho itself is a small town along I-90 with a
population of about 500, and a few services of interest for a traveler, such
as gas stations, convenience stores, and a restaurant or two. The
surrounding area also doesn't look particularly impressive from a birding
standpoint, as it's primarily the cropland and grazing land that you see
elsewhere in the area. However, there are a couple of very special
characteristics which I believe make the area such a great area to bird in
the winter. Note I say winter, because birding is largely unremarkable
here in the summer months.
First, the Fort Pierre
National Grasslands are a mere 15-20 miles north of Presho.
The Grasslands themselves attract a large number of raptors in the
winter. Secondly, the Presho area has a number of pheasant-hunting
operations in the general vicinity. One of the things you can't
help but notice as you drive the area in the winter are the huge numbers
Pheasants that are often milling around. Coupled with the
that are also in the area, and there are a LOT of prey birds available
to medium to large-sized raptors! It is no wonder that many of the
raptors that make their way to the Grasslands in the central part of the
state end up hanging around the Presho area. It's a winter-long
feast of relatively easy to catch pheasants! Given that many of
the pheasants are captive-raised and released for hunters in the area,
the pheasants aren't particularly bright!!
Habitat consists of agricultural crops (wheat and sorghum) intermixed
with patches of grassland. Some areas are also specifically
managed for gamebirds, with shelter belts for shelter and specifically
planted patches of plants for gamebirds to feed on. I'm sure the
area is a pheasant-hunter's nirvana, but it also is a birder's nirvana
in the winter!!
Points of Note (Click on numbers on the map to see
photos of the locations):
you can just drive to Presho, and then start driving around randomly, and you're
likely to have pretty good luck finding raptors. I've run across raptors,
including the rare ones, pretty much anywhere in the area. With that said,
there are a few areas that have been particularly productive for me.
I have my own little route that I typically take when I visit the
area in winter. I usually get up a couple of hours before dawn and
drive out to the area so I can arrive at Presho right around dawn.
If you take the Presho exit, #223, and head south (Highway 183), after
only half a mile, you'll see a gravel road heading to the west (your
right). Take it, and you'll see a cattle operation on your right
after about half a mile. Go through the first intersection (1
mile) and go west for one more (a 2nd) mile. As you approach the
next intersection, you'll see a small abandoned schoolhouse on the
corner (Point #1 on the graphic to the right).
It's the grassland area on this road leading up to the schoolhouse where
I typically first encounter some raptors, and I specifically
mention the schoolhouse because raptors of ALL kinds seem to like to use
the chimney as a perch! I've seen pretty much the whole gamut of
raptor possibilities using this perch in the winter.
Once you reach the schoolhouse, turn south (left). You'll be
driving through an area that primarily has grassland on either side of
the road, and this road too often has raptors. Check out the few
scattered trees along the road for raptors, as well as the trees in a
shelterbelt along this road, some planted cedar trees about 1 mile south
of the schoolhouse, and an old windmill on the west side of the raod
about a mile down. You're now heading towards my favorite winter
raptor location in the entire state, Point #2.
"Point" #2 is actually an entire 1-mile X 1-mile
section of land. The northeast corner of this section is 2 miles
south of the schoolhouse at Point #1. You'll see
an abandoned farmstead in the northeast corner of this section, and this
seems to be a staging area for hunting operations in the area. You
literally can sometimes see HUNDREDS of pheasants milling around this
northeast corner of the section. To look for raptors, I often
simply drive to this section, and slowly drive the gravel roads around
it several times. The roads can be a bit dicey if there's
been significant snowfall, or if there's a metling situation and there's
a lot of mud. The northernmost, east-west road is particularly
dicey sometimes, so be careful. Check out the fenceposts for
sitting raptors, the trees and buildings of the farmstead, and the
grasslands themselves in this area. This spot has NEVER
disappointed me in the winter, as you are sure to find some raptors, and
often, some of the rarer ones.
My last location I always make sure to check is the highway that runs
parallel to the interstate, heading west out of Presho (Point
#3). You're typically running parallel to the interstate
as you head west on this road. As you're driving this highway,
check out the telephone poles and fence posts for raptors. I have
seen ALL of the potential raptors along this road, including
Snowy Owls and
Other than that, just simply cruise the gravel roads of the area, and
you're likely to see raptors! My best luck has always been to the
west of Presho, as raptor numbers seem to drop off the further east of
Presho that I go. Other than the highway paralleling the
interstate on the north, I've also had much better luck south of I-90
than north of it. If you visit the area, also make sure to head just to
the north to check out the
Fort Pierre National Grasslands.
Birds of Note:
Raptors! MANY raptors!! Many KINDS of raptors!! RARE raptors!!
What more could you possibly want? In the wintry hell that South Dakota
can be, where nary a living bird seems to be around at times, visiting Presho in
the winter is certainly a welcome experience.
You could possibly see almost any hawk or falcon in the state here in
the winter. By far, the most numerous raptor here and throughout
much of the central part of the state in the winter are the
Sometimes when I visit the area I tally the numbers and species that I
see, and it's not unusual in a day's birding in the general area to run
across 40 or or more Rough-legged Hawks.
also seem to be quite common in the area, and it's one area where I
always find them even in the dead of winter.
Red-tailed Hawks can
also be quite common, especially early or late in the winter. This
is also a really good location to look for the large and majestic
They're only around here in the winter, and one of the nice things about
them is that they seem to be much less shy than some of the other
raptors. I've had great luck getting close to Ferruginous Hawks in
One of the sights in central South Dakota that comes as a bit of a
shock for some folks are all the eagles that can be found in winter.
For a location that is FAR from any large water body, it is a amazing
how many Bald Eagles you
can see in this area.
Check out this
photo from the Presho area in the winter of 2010/2011, where 14
individual eagles were in one small stand of trees, and several others
were either flying around the area or were perched nearby.
Golden Eagles are also
commonly seen here, although I tend to see more Bald Eagles than Golden
If you drive around the area in winter, you WILL very likely see the
five species I've just mentioned. What makes the area particualry
fun is the possibility of some rarer raptors. For falcons,
Prairie Falcons aren't necessarily rare in South Dakota, but they're
much less common than the species listed above. This isn't an area
I've had tremendous luck seeing Prairie Falcons, but I do see them
probably every other trip to the area. There are NO areas in South
Dakota where I reliably see Merlins,
but note that the vast majority of Merlin photos that I have are from
this area, with just about all of them coming on fence posts along the
section in Point #2 above. One of the big draws of the area is the
potential to see Gyrfalcons,
a highlight for just about any birder. They are less common than
either the Prairie Falcons or Merlins in the area, but note I have seen
Gyrfalcons on a number of occasions in this area, including in all three
of the locations on the map above.
I have only once seen a Snowy
Owl in the area. That was a bird that I found on a telephone
pole along the highway in Point #3 above. More commonly seen are
Short-eared Owls. I've had pretty good luck seeing them in
this area in winter, primarily in the southern half of the section in
Point #2 above (the part of the section with more grassland).
When I've seen them, it's always been within about an hour of sunset.
For birds other than raptors, this is obviously a good location to
look for Ring-necked
Pheasants. You will also find good numbers of
in the area, and occasionally, I've also seen
The Merlins in the winter seem to like the spot because of the mxied
flocks of Lapland
Longspurs and Horned Larks
that are often around. You sometimes see
Snow Buntings mixed in
with those flocks in other parts of the state in winter, but there's
only one time I recall seeing a Snow Bunting here. I don't know
what the draw is exactly, but while most
tend to leave the state in winter, this is one area where I always seem
to find them, no matter how cold it gets.
But it's the winter raptors that are the draw here!! As I
stated previously, summer birding is unremarkable in the area, and I
won't discuss it here, except to say that you have the chance to see
most of the typical grassland species found in this part of the state.
Other Birding Locations (sorted by distance):