Birding on a COLD May morning

I haven’t been birding all week. I haven’t done much of anything all week. Bit of an issue with an eye, and I was wearing a patch over it all week.  Normally, if it’s mid-May, I’d be out birding a lot, given that it’s pretty much my favorite time of year to bird anyway.  However, the weather has been so cold, gloomy, and wet, that I’m not sure how much I would have gone out today, one eye or not.  Today isn’t any better, but I was getting stir crazy and had to get out for a couple hours. Took the eye patch off and headed down to Newton Hills State Park.

It was 38 degrees and windy when I left the house, but despite the cold and gloom, it was a pretty darn good morning birding. There weren’t many warblers around, but quality sure made up for the lack of quantity.  I first heard a bird I didn’t recognize, and then saw him in shrubs near the path…a Black-throated Blue Warbler, only the 2nd time I’ve seen one in South Dakota.  They’re  usually found much further to the east.  Despite the cold, he was pretty active, moving through the shrubs looking for food.  Given that I’ve never photographed one in South Dakota, I stayed with him for almost half an hour and took what photo opportunities he gave me.  There weren’t many, but I finally did get a decent shot.  Here are some photos from this morning.

Black-throated Blue Warbler - Setophaga caerulescens

The first photo of a Black-throated Blue Warbler that I’ve gotten in South Dakota, and only the 2nd time I’ve ever seen one here. This is why May birding can be so spectacular here…you never know what migrant you might run across.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird - Archilochus colubris

A chilly looking Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Given that we haven’t seen the sun in about a week, it’s not much of a surprise I wasn’t able to get the gorget to show that beautiful red color. Despite the cold and his miserable looking appearance here, he was actually quite active, flitting about and courting an unseen female. I watched him for about 15 minutes as he’d perch, then periodically zoom up into the air and do the U-shaped courtship flight that males perform.

Northern Cardinal - Cardinalis cardinalis

Yeah, I’ve got a ton of Northern Cardinal photos. But when a gorgeous male pops up right in front of you and is practically BEGGING to be photographed, it’s hard to refuse.

Spotted Sandpiper - Actitis macularius

A Spotted Sandpiper, one of my favorite little sandpipers, and one of the few that hang around and breed here.

Good Birding, Bad Photos

It’s rare that you get that perfect day, where the birding is good and photo opportunities are bountiful.  Some days you won’t see many birds, but there are some great photo opportunities that make up for it.  Other days, you see lots of interesting birds, but they’re all camera shy, and good photo opportunities just don’t happen.  Yesterday was one of the latter kinds of days.  Good birding!  Bad Photos!

It is an opportunity to show people what the vast majority of bird photos look like!  If only every bird photo were crisp, in good light, with the bird clearly seen and in a good pose!  It’s not an exaggeration to say that I throw out 95% of the photos that I take.  Yesterday, there really weren’t any great long-term “keepers”, but below are some (bad) photos of some VERY interesting birds for the day.

Blackburnian Warbler - Setophaga fusca

A Blackburnian Warbler, a species you don’t see all that often here. Warblers in general are SO damn frustrating to try to photograph. This guy insisted on staying up towards the top of the canopy of some Burr Oaks. Since I see them so rarely, I still kept trying to get a “record” shot, but this is the best I could manage.

Blue-winged Warbler - Vermivora cyanoptera

We are on the VERY northeastern edge of the breeding range of Blue-winged Warblers, and the only place they seem to reliably be found is at Newton Hills State Park. There were at least 3 in the area yesterday, singing away and squabbling among each other. They’d occasionally chase each other and get close, but the only shot I was able to get was this one.

American Golden Plover - Pluvialis dominica

American Golden Plovers are a nemesis bird for me. Most years, people are saying they’re seeing them all over…and I never see any. When I DO see some, they’re inevitably very far away and I can’t get any photos. Well, the good news is yesterday I 1) saw a large group of about 75, and 2) got some photos. The bad news…this is as good as I could get. They weren’t particularly shy, but were VERY careful to stay just out of camera range.

Baltimore Oriole - Icterus galbula

I birded 6 hours yesterday. In all that time, in all the photo tries, this is by far the best photo I was able to get. It’s about the ONLY photo I was able to get where the bird “fills the frame”, and is quite sharp.  I could do without the thicket of sticks around him.  But on a crappy photo day…I’ll take it.

Mitch McConnell’s Tumor – John Thune

John Thune and Mitch McConnell

Senate Majority leader and eunuch, Mitch McConnell, and the ever-present tumor of his left butt cheek, John Thune, talking today about their refusal to support an independent investigation into TrumpGate.

I’m pissed. Yes, after the news of the last 24 hours, I am genuinely, 100%, down-to-my-core, pissed. Who am I pissed at? Yes, I’m pissed at Trump, who has the gall to fire the very man tasked to lead an investigation into RussiaGate.  I’m even MORE pissed at enablers like Mitch McConnell, a eunuch who CLEARLY lost his balls decades ago.  Republican leadership who continually look away from potentially unethical and/or illegal behavior are even worse than Trump himself, since unlike the completely clueless Orange Hitler, THEY KNOW BETTER. THEY KNOW THE STAKES.  They know the threat to our government institutions and people’s faith in government, yet they continually put politics (and their own hides) above the country. Who am I most pissed at?  Trump supporters, the most hypocritical group of human beings on the planet. They couldn’t have been more vocal in criticizing James Comey for supposedly not pursuing Hillary Clinton more vigorously (a laughable criticism to begin with), but then they turn around and support Comey’s firing when he dares to investigate one of their own.  As I’ve stated before, Donald Trump was right during the campaign when he said he could walk down the street and shoot someone, and still his clueless supporters would cheer him on.  The only thing that enables the destruction of a democracy is a ignorant, apathetic populous whose only interest in life is their own selfish pleasure, and that’s exactly what Trump supporters are, given their aversion to FACT and their intellectual and moral laziness.

There are plenty of Trump enablers to share the blame, but three of them are from right here in good ol’ South Dakota. Our congressional delegation has one overarching commonality…they are simply 3 empty suits, 3 people without an original thought in their collective minds, 3 people whose only purpose on the planet is to serve as 100% guaranteed votes for whatever their Republican leaders tell them to vote for.  One of the three holds a special place in my heart though.  It’s not Senator Mike Rounds, our former governor who is most likely the least visible member in all of the Senate. It’s not Representative Kristi Noem, although her laughable, misguided defense of her TrumpCare vote does give her extra points.  No, it’s Senator John Thune who receives most of my wrath.

John Thune and Mitch McConnell

McConnell’s tumor has been present for quite some time. Here McConnell and his tumor address a ceremony honoring Muhammad Ali in 2016.

There’s a history. Over a decade ago, we met with the Thune multiple times.  Our very young son was diagnosed with Type-1 diabetes at a very young age, and we wanted to talk to Thune about health care bills making their way through Congress.  One of those was a stem cell bill, a bill that offered tremendous hope for Type-1 diabetes research.  We talked for 15 minutes, discussed the merits of the research and how it would help Type-1 children, and expressed our hope he would vote for the bill.  His answer, the VERY FIRST WORDS he spoke, are word that I’ll never forget…”I can’t be expected to vote for that bill, I’m a Republican!“.  It wasn’t even “I (myself) can’t vote for that bill”, it was “I can’t be expected to vote” for the bill, a phrase that perfectly describes Thune’s lack of original thought and inclination to do whatever he was told by party leadership.  HE DOES WHAT PARTY LEADERSHIP EXPECT HIM TO DO.  In the many years since, it’s become painfully obvious that this mentality is what has driven his entire career.

Given Thune’s mechanical performance when we met with him, and given his lack of original thought or ideas in the years since, I’ve had a revelation. At first I thought….could Thune not be “real”? Could be be an android, or some other artificial being, purposely created by the Republican party to do their bidding?  But then it dawned on me. John Thune isn’t human. John Thune isn’t an android or artificial being.  No, John Thune can best be described as a tumor…specifically, a tumor of Mitch McConnell’s rear end.

John Thune and Mitch McConnell

Dear god, the tumor is even starting to DRESS like it’s master…

Think about it…when do you see photos of John Thune?  Do you EVER see a photo of him by himself?  For such a senior Senator, you’d THINK there would occasionally be a press conference, a hearing, or some other government function where he has a lead role, where he appears at a podium by himself.  Do we ever see that? NO!! When is the ONLY time we see a photo or video with John Thune?  When he’s standing directly behind Mitch McConnell, staying completely quiet like a good little (mindless) Republican soldier.

Perhaps Thune WAS once human.  Perhaps Thune DID once have a mind of his own.  Over the years, however, he’s kissed Mitch McConnell’s butt cheeks so many times that I believe he’s now become permanently attached.  John Thune has now been assimilated into Mitch McConnell, and sadly, is no longer anything other than a tumor of Mitch McConnell’s left butt cheek.

Mitch McConnell’s Tumor, much like Mitch McConnell himself, came out today with a statement stating we don’t need an independent investigation of the Trump / Russia link. Not exactly a surprise, since as a tumor, he shares the same DNA as McConnell himself.  Sadly, and ironically, it’s unlikely the tumor will be excised from McConnell’s rear end at any point in the near future, given the Republican focus on destroying the very health care system that could assist medical cases such as his…

John Thune and Mitch McConnell

It’s been a long-standing relationship! The tumor budded from McConnell’s butt cheek almost immediately upon Thune’s arrival in the Senate. Historical footage from 2013, shown here, indicates the close relationship between the tumor and McConnell, even predating the time before McConnell became servant to Beelzebub and lost his ability to even provide a fake smile such as this.

A SPECTACULAR morning of birding.

God I love the month of May.  It’s the absolute perfect time of year in South Dakota, both in terms of weather, and especially in terms of birding! All the summer residents are arriving or have arrived, and we have SO many cool migrants moving through the state on their way north.

Today I got up before dawn and wanted to bird the morning hours. I arrived at Newton Hills State Park just before dawn, and right before I even pulled into the park, I saw a big shape in the trees on the side of the road.  A Barred Owl!  Only the 4th time I’ve seen them in the state, Barred Owls are few and far between in a state better known for its grasslands than forests.  WONDERFUL way to start the day, particularly since it was such a photo-cooperative bird!  The rest of the morning was spectacular as well…some photos from the day below.

Barred Owl - Strix varia

Only the 4th time I’ve seen them in South Dakota, a gorgeous Barred Owl right before sunrise. He was in a forest clearing near the entrance to Newton Hills State Park in Lincoln County.

Purple Martin - Progne subis

There’s a home on the edge of Hartford, South Dakota that has 3 Purple Martin houses. They seem to reliable hold Purple Martins every year, and this year was no exception. Beautiful birds, both in appearance and in song. It’s tough to get the good light on them though so you can see the purple! This is probably the best Purple Martin photo I’ve ever been able to get.

Ovenbird - Seiurus aurocapilla

THIS is the sound of spring to me…a tiny Ovenbird, singing it’s heart out from the middle of the forest. There were many Ovenbirds singing at Newton Hills State Park this morning.

Wilson's Phalarope - Phalaropus tricolor

A Wilson’s Phalarope stretching its wings. Beautiful birds, particularly when you see them in large groups doing their “spinning” behavior at the top of the water as they feed.

Virginia Rail - Rallus limicola

A Virginia Rail, perhaps better named “Swamp Ghost”. I hear them all the time! Seeing them is another matter, but usually if you hang out in an area where they’re calling, you’ll eventually get a glimpse of one moving through the marsh.

Yellow-rumped Warbler - Setophaga coronata

A Yellow-rumped Warbler, by far the most common warbler we get moving through. This guy is a preview to the “big show”. Many Yellow-rumped Warblers are around right now, but not many other warbler species. That will change in the coming days…warbler migration in South Dakota can be spectacular!

There be BIRDS at the end of the rainbow!!

End of the Rainbow - Lincoln County, South Dakota

The age old question of what’s at the end of the rainbow has been answered. It’s this family farm in Lincoln County, South Dakota

I went birding last night, on a weird weather day in South Dakota.  It was cloudy, then sunny, then cloudy again as a brief thunderstorm would roll through, then sunny again…wash, rinse, repeat.  It was actually a bit of a crisp day with temps hanging around 55 degrees, but even so, there were a couple of the little thunderstorms that put out quite a bit of pea-size hail.  It was such a strange evening given that it was absolutely pouring rain at times, yet the sun was shining.

Despite the rain, the birding was quite wonderful (as it generally is in South Dakota in May!!) The best birding for the day was when I was hanging out by a large wetland, one that had swollen with the recent rains to cover much of the surrounding farmland in a shallow sheet of water. Shorebirds were certainly loving it, as were a beautiful little group of Black Terns.  Forster’s Terns were much more numerous, hanging out on fence posts during the rain spells, dipping and diving over the water whenever the rain would stop. It was actually quite peaceful, watching the intermittent downpours, then seeing the birds jump back to life again when the sun would break out. It’s tough being a bird though when the hail starts!  They seemed to do OK with the little pea-size hail that fell at one point. but they weren’t very happy about it!  Shorebirds tended to crouch low during the hail, as did the terns on the posts, but otherwise, they just stayed still and endured.

Although the birding was quite good, the best moment of the night occurred after one of the little thunderstorms. With small scattered storms separated by wide bands of open sky, the sun was frequently pushing through, even during some of the rainy moments.  A beautiful and extremely long-lasting rainbow lit up the eastern sky and was visible for over half an hour as the little thunderstorm continued slowly pushing on to the south and east.  It was a full rainbow, with a partial double rainbow above it, but without my wide-angle lens along (hey, I’m a birder, I rarely use it anyway), I wasn’t able to get a photo of the whole thing. Instead, with my 400mm birding lens on, I decided to shoot what was at the end of the rainbow…this family farm! I’ve certainly never tried shooting a rainbow with a telephone lens, but I think the effect was quite beautiful.

The weather is supposed to be beautiful again this weekend, so hopefully within the next day or two I’ll have some more birding photos and stories to share…

Forster's Tern - Sterna forsteri

A Forster’s Tern perched on a little metal fence pole. This was just prior to the arrival of a little rain band that produced pea-sized hail. Fortunately, the birds seem to cope with the small hail quite well.

Actually, NO, Trump supporter…we can NOT be “friends”

Unfriend - FacebookLast week I got a direct email at work from someone I had unfriended on Facebook several months ago.  She (finally) noticed that I had unfriended her, and seemed a bit bewildered why I would do so after so many years. She was someone who was a friend / buddy while in high school and early into my college years, but someone I’ve not otherwise seen or communicated with over the last 30 years (other than Facebook). Over the time we were Facebook “friends”, it was obvious that our political beliefs were vastly different, but any political posts or comments to each other weren’t antagonistic or inappropriate.  However, late in the campaign her behavior  took a nasty turn, and the transformation was complete after the election was over.  It was a shocking and abrupt change in behavior that I also noticed with other “friends”, who now seemed empowered by the Trump election. It wasn’t acceptable, and I unfriended her.

As a result of last year’s political campaigns and the aftermath, my “friends” list on Facebook is decimated. I literally have half the Facebook friends now than I did when 2016 started, with some “unfriend” actions taken by others, but most taken by myself. None of these were people I actually physically interact with (which as my wife brings up…why were they Facebook “friends” in the first place?). They were nearly all old high school classmates or other acquaintances I haven’t seen or talked to for many years / decades, such as the old high school friend who contacted me through email.  The reasons I unfriended so many?  Their disgusting posts during and after the campaign.  The easiest choices?  The racist posts.  When 4 former high school classmates shared and joked about a cartoon showing Michelle Obama as a gorilla? A pretty easy (and fast) choice to immediately unfriend them. Other reasons were across the spectrum, as shown below, but were all because of online conduct and posts that any “friend” of mine simply would never dream of. It doesn’t matter if you’re an old, distant acquaintance, or if you’re one of the people closest to me today, there are certain lines that are unacceptable for any “friend” to cross. The former high school friend crossed that line, but it goes beyond just her. Frankly it’s ANY Trump supporter.  Some may howl and scream at some perceived lack of respect for other viewpoints, but I’m sorry, if you support Trump and his policies, we simply cannot be “friends” in any way. Why, you ask?

Let’s start with item number one…bigotry and racism.

If this past election revealed anything about our nation, it’s that there are still some incredibly deep racial divides. Trump did the unthinkable…he actually CAMPAIGNED on a platform of racism, something no other politician dared to try.  And sadly…it worked.  Analysis after analysis show the same thing… no driving force was a better predictor of a Trump vote than a person’s racist or bigoted attitudes.  I have ZERO tolerance for bigots. Supporting and actually electing an open bigot to the most powerful position in the world?   From the treatment of immigrants, intolerance towards any religion other than Christianity, and an open war on LGBT rights, Trump and his supporters have shown a shocking degree of bigotry that many thought was in our past after the Obama election. If you support this man, you’re supporting hate. I’m sorry, but that’s not something that I could ever overlook.  It was shocking how many Facebook “friends” (again, many former classmates who never left southeastern Nebraska) I cut based on an outpouring of bigoted comments over the last year.

Item number two — Attitudes towards helping those in need.

This is the issue highest on my mind at the moment, and the reason I’m writing this blog post to begin with, given that today Republicans are about to pass “health care” legislation (more accurately referred to as tax-cut legislation for the wealthy) in the House.  20-25 million Americans will simply lose coverage, while the sick, the elderly, and needy will effectively lose health care access after being priced out of the market. No other developed country uses a health-care system based on corporate profit. No other developed country fails to cover the health care needs of its citizens.  No other developed country bases the quality of your health care on your ability to pay. I have a son with Type-1 diabetes, a disease we’re managing rather well, but a disease he’ll be grappling with for the rest of his life. The REASON we are managing it very well is because we’re fortunate enough to have 1) good insurance, and 2) a level of income that allows us to utilize the most advanced treatment regimes that have been developed. Given that good blood sugar control is LIFE for a Type-1, with drastically lower chances of complications (eye and kidney disease, cardiovascular disease, nerve damage) as blood sugar control improves, having access to the best treatments available literally means a much longer, healthier life.  While we’re fortunate, other families facing Type-1 diabetes are not.  Some simply can’t afford an insulin pump.  Some can’t afford a continuous glucose monitor that constantly reports blood sugar levels.  Some can’t afford frequent doctor visits.  To put it simply, Type-1 children whose families can’t afford quality care will have much harder lives, with more health complications, and a much shorter life span.  Children are DYING sooner than they need to, because of the basic greed and selfishness of Americans who value their own short-term prosperity above all else.  If you’re a Trump supporter, if you’re someone who believes health care should be more of a personal burden and responsibility rather than a shared societal responsibility, I’m sorry, there is NO way I can call you a “friend”. It’s a direct slap in the face to a father with a Type-1 child.  It’s you telling me that all you care about is yourself, that helping the sick and the needy isn’t something you want to be bothered with. It’s an issue that goes FAR beyond health care, as the Trump / conservative ideology simply refuses to recognize that there’s a societal, moral IMPERATIVE to help those in need.  It’s a shocking indictment of the basic greed and selfishness of Americans.  “Friend”? I think not.

Item number three — Attitudes towards science, towards logic and reason

I’m a scientist.  I monitor, assess, and predict changes to our earth’s landscape. The very real, observable, and predictable impacts of climate change are a big part of my life’s work. More than that, my very persona and belief system is based on logic, and reason.  The Trump movement is a threat not only to climate change, not only to science, but to logic and reason itself. When Trump says climate change isn’t real, it’s a lie, and he knows it. When Trump states the GOP health care bill will lower costs, cover more people, and cover pre-existing conditions, it’s a lie.  When Trump states that he lost the popular vote to voter fraud, it’s a lie.  Trump supporters have no use for fact.  They have no use for evidence, for data. They have no use for reason, for logic. In a shocking (and disgusting) recent poll, 80% of Trump voters say they believe Trump’s lies are less important than “fake news” distributed by mainstream media. Only 3% (!!!) believe Trump’s own lies are the bigger issue.  The poll question itself irritates the hell out of me, as it presents Trump’s lies and supposedly false media coverage as equal choices in the eyes of poll participants. They’re not. There’s simply no question that climate change is occurring, and we are the primary cause.  They’re simply no refuting the fact that the new GOP health care bill will cover fewer people and hurt the sick, elderly, and poor.  There’s simply no refuting the fact that Hillary convincingly won the popular vote and there was no widespread voter fraud.  We have evidence, we have data, we have analysis that disprove the Trump assertions, yet his mindless followers continue to believe everything that’s spoon-fed to them by the Trump administration. I’m sorry, if you support Trump, if you are a climate change denier, if you think of scientists as “elitists” rather than dedicated professionals who devote their lives to serving humanity?  You’re not my “friend”.  You’re effectively calling my career, and indeed my entire LIFE, as the “lie”, rather than confronting the evidence right in front of your eyes and reconsidering the Trump positions.

Item number four — A life built on hate

Basically a culmination of the prior items, I refuse to be “friend” to anyone who bases their life on a platform of hate.  Hate of people of “other” races. Hate of people of “other” religions. Hate of people of “other” sexual orientations.  Hate and disdain towards the poor, the sick, the needy.  Hate towards “elitists” and “experts”, those with knowledge, skills, and positions in life that you yourself don’t have. The Trump doctrine is based solely on the TEARING DOWN of others…not building a happy, healthy, prosperous society.  HURTING immigrants through cruel policies. HURTING LGBT people through discriminatory practices.  HURTING the “experts” through government-sponsored misinformation with an underlying political agenda.  What’s been proposed by the Trump administration to truly HELP people (other than those who are already wealthy?)?  It’s an agenda, a doctrine, seemingly built solely on revenge, hatred, and greed.

Facebook “friends”? These are the reasons I’ve unfriended you. In short…I have no problem with my well-reasoned conservative friends.  I have no problem with my well-reasoned Republican friend.  Trump supporters, you are anything but well-reasoned. I don’t need the hate, the bigotry, the callousness towards the needy, the abandonment of reason.

South Dakota group kills > 100 eagles, >200 raptors (warning – Disturbing image)

Bald Eagle - Haliaeetus leucocephalus

What do you see when looking at this photos A gorgeous, powerful wonder of nature? A majestic symbol of our nation? Or…a body part to be sold for about $250? For 15 South Dakotans, it’s the latter, as they are charged with killing and selling the carcasses and body parts of over 100 eagles and 200 raptors in total.

Want to buy the head of a Golden Eagle?  It will run you about $250 on the black market.  How about the wings of our national symbol, the Bald Eagle? It’s a bit pricier, as a pair of wings sell for about $900.  What’s that you say?  Black Market? Dead eagles?  Sounds a bit illegal?  Well, that didn’t stop a South Dakota “chop shop” for trafficking in eagle carcasses and parts, as well as other raptors.

The Department of Justice this week charged 15 South Dakotans in conspiring to acquire (aka, kill), process, and distribute the bodies or body parts of eagles and other raptors. The group was known to have killed at least 100 eagles and over 200 raptors in total.  Members of the group face charges for violating the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act of 1940, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, and the Lacey Act of 1900.  I guess you can forgive the group because these are “new” regulations that have only been around for a minimum of 77 years.  Who knew you couldn’t go out and shoot eagles and sell their parts on the black market?

What I want to know is…why the hell IS there a black market for eagle parts?  What does one DO with the head of a Golden Eagle? The wings of a Bald Eagle? The people who killed and sold all these raptors are disgusting, but so are the people who buy these “treasures”.

I’ve seen some sick things in South Dakota while out birding.  I’ve seen a landowner near Presho, a landowner who himself was later charged with killing eagles and other raptors, duct-tape dead coyotes in a spread-eagle position on telephone poles around his property. Warning…a photo of one of the coyotes is at the bottom of the post, and is rather disturbing.  I’ve seen hunting dog carcasses neatly lined up with bullet holes in their heads, hunting dogs that were temporarily used by out-of-state hunters during the big fall pheasant hunt, and then were “disposed of” when the hunting trip ended. On SEVERAL occasions I’ve come across hunters shooting things they shouldn’t be shooting, such as a pair of South Dakota rednecks driving around in their pickup and stopping at any wetland they passed to blast away at American Coots and other water birds.  I’ve seen a pair of high school girls pull into a wildlife area, drop off their two little brothers, and casually laugh and chatter while the little bastards were out roaming the land and shooting every songbird they could see.  I’ve seen “hunters” shoot and wound a Canada Goose, and then run around chasing the grounded bird and kicking and punching it to death.  I’ve SEEN dead raptors, including a big, gorgeous Golden Eagle, that had clearly been shot. But hey, at least those people were just doing it for “fun”, not for personal profit!!

There’s a reason I’ve gotten more cynical over the 25 years we’ve lived in South Dakota.  I’ve SEEN what some people are like. I’ve SEEN the terrible things people are capable of. When I see stories like this about the killing of hundreds of raptors for profit, I’m sad, I’m sickened, but I certainly can’t say I’m shocked any more.

Coyote - Shot near Presho, South Dakota

I’m sorry for the disturbing image, but, this is one of the most disgusting things I’ve seen while out birding in South Dakota…a land owner near Presho who had shot several coyotes and duct-taped them to telephone poles around his property. This same land owner was charged with shooting raptors, including eagles. Why, you ask? He ran a pheasant and grouse hunting operation, and didn’t want these animals preying on “his” birds. I wish stories like these were isolated cases in South Dakota. They’re not. I’ve been frankly shocked at the attitudes of many people in the state towards our beautiful wildlife.

 

Bird Photography 101 — Getting close enough

Birders or photographers new to birding sometimes ask me how I get some of my bird photos. Sunday was a great example of one tool I use! It’s not the camera. A LONG, expensive lens is definitely a huge asset in bird photography, but no matter what lens you’re using, the challenge is to get close enough to a wild bird for a frame-filling photograph.  With “only” a 400-mm lens (the lens that 99+% of my bird photos have been taken with), if means I typically have to be about 15-20 feet away from a songbird for it to fill a large portion of the image.  How does one get close to a wild bird that’s often skittish and shy around human  beings?

Hide yourself.  Often for me, that’s meant using my car as a blind, but on Sunday when I was shooting shorebirds, that wasn’t an option.  The shorebirds were all foraging in the shallows in a portion of a wetland that was far from the road.  In the back of my pickup I always have the perfect piece of equipment to help in a situation like that…a chair blind.  It has a low profile and doesn’t spook the birds once you’re set up, and it’s actually quite comfortable inside. In this case, as I approached the shoreline, all the birds scattered. No worries…set up the chair blind, make yourself comfortable inside, and after a little while, the birds will forget you’re there and will come back.

The photo below is one a birding friend took of me and my chair blind on Sunday.  Note shorebirds are calmly foraging in the shallows RIGHT in front of the blind.  They were actually too close for my camera to focus on many occasions (my 400mm lens has a 12-foot minimum focusing distance). A great tool, and one of many ways to get close enough to birds to get great photos. For more help on how to get great bird photos, click below to check out a “Bird photography tips” page from my main website:

Bird Photography Tips – South Dakota Birds and Birding

Chair Blind - Photographing Birds

My “chair blind”, one invaluable tool that allows you to get close enough to birds for photography.

Shorebirds Galore – Southeast South Dakota – April 23rd

What an utterly fantastic spring day of birding! It was one of those patented, windy South Dakota days, but the wind certainly didn’t keep the birds from showing off for the camera. I headed out this morning and spent a bit of time at Newton Hills State Park in Lincoln County, before deciding to spend most of my time looking for shorebirds. It was the right choice, as I ended up finding hundreds of shorebirds at Weisensee Slough in western Minnehaha County. It was the perfect set-up for my chair blind, a hunter’s blind I use as a photography blind.  It’s got a little folding chair with short 8-inch legs, and then a camouflaged shell that pulls over the top. There are multiple zippered openings for views, and with the low profile, birds don’t seem spooked by it, once they forget about the guy who set it up and crawled inside.  I ended up spending almost 3 hours in my chair blind as shorebirds of many species paraded in front of me.  Some species would venture so close to the blind that my camera wouldn’t focus (my long lens has a 12-foot minimum focusing distance)!  Others didn’t get quite as close, but I certainly couldn’t complain about a lack of photo opportunities. Fantastic birding day, and fantastic photo day!  Some photos from the day…click on any for even larger views.

Hudsonian Godwit -  Limosa haemastica

A male Hudsonian Godwit coming in for a landing. One of my favorite shorebirds, and one I don’t see all that often. However, today I saw at least 20 at Weisensee Slough, the most I’ve ever seen at one time.

Eastern Towhee - Pipilo erythrophthalmus

I didn’t spend much time at Newton Hills State Park, but while there I saw (and heard) many Eastern Towhees. Here a (chunky!) male hangs out in a cedar tree in the warm dawn light.

Sora - Porzana carolina

While driving past a cattail-filled wetland in Lincoln County, I heard the distinctive call of at least 2 Sora. One eventually gave me a peek…ANY peek of a Sora is a welcome sight, given how secretive they are!

Pectoral Sandpiper - Calidris melanotos

A Pectoral Sandpiper strutting its stuff mere feet in front of my chair blind. This bird certainly had no idea I was sitting inside, as at times he was too close to the blind for my camera to focus!

Baird's Sandpiper - Calidris bairdii

A Baird’s Sandpiper foraging in the shallow right in front of my blind.

Long-billed Dowitchers and Hudsonian Godwit

There were DOZENS of Long-billed Dowitchers and at least 20 Hudsonian Godwits foraging at Weisensee Slough. Every once in a while something would spook them and they’d take flight…usually RIGHT when they were starting to get within photo range of my blind! Sigh. But I did get some flight shot as they whirled around after a spooking event.

Wood Duck - Aix sponsa

A male Wood Duck, trying to blend in and hide from the camera. This was along “Ditch Road” just north of Sioux Falls. That was once one of my favorite birding locations. However, in the last year or two, they’ve cut all the trees along the ditch, and the birding is just a shadow of its former self.

Semipalmated Sandpiper - Calidris pusilla

A Semipalmated Sandpiper. There were a few Least Sandpipers mixed in as well, but overall these guys were by far the most common “peep” on Weisensee Slough today.

Hudsonian Godwit -  Limosa haemastica

Another Hudsonian Godwit at Weisensee Slough. These guys were a bit shyer than the other shorebirds and didn’t approach my blind as closely, but I still got some very nice looks at them.

 

A day of sanity (no, not the science march)

 

3 very nice northern pike, just a perk on a great day with my son.

Today was the Science March, and we actually had a March in Sioux Falls. I didn’t participate. Ever since the election, I’ve been in a funk. Particularly living here in very “red” South Dakota, it’s hard to avoid the conservative mindset, a mindset where greed is good, helping others is bad, and,yes, science isn’t to be trusted. When your career is focused on trying to help people through science, and that involves assessing the impacts of climate change, it’s hard not to let America’s anti-intellectualism get you down. I’ve tried to do what little I can to fight back. I’ve stood up for science. I’ve let my voice be heard. But I just can’t keep letting it dominate my existence. Hence my decision not to march today.

Part of the reason also is based on my continuing battle with Sjogren’s Syndrome. It seems like every time I “solve” one issue, or at least learn to live with some fun symptom, another thing pops up. The dry eyes and resultant vision impact has been addressed with my scleral contact lenses, something that’s saved my career, my sanity, my spirits. But in the last few months the arthritis part of Sjogrens has unfortunately started to make itself known. It’s only minor right now, but I was hoping that part would never show up, because chances are it will just keep progressing. My hands/fingers are already feeling stiff at times, and my knees getting awfully cranky at times too.

As all of this had been going on, I’ve had to do some hard thinking about how I want to cope. The whole feeling-sorry-for-myself thing isn’t a great long term strategy! Neither is the negativity I’ve felt since the election. Put it all together, and today I decided to focus on what’s really important, and that’s not the Science March. It’s my son and family. So today was a wonderful day with my son!

We headed up to Lake Thompson to do some fishing. It’s a place we usually have some luck, but it’s 1 1/2 hours away. Today that drive was actually a blessing. I LOVE that my soon to be 14-year old son still loves hanging out with dad and being goofy. The drive up to the lake was filled with music!  And goofy singing and air guitaring along!  Another thing I love is how he’s taken to some of the music I love, and hence some of the tunes playing included AC/DC, The Beach Boys, Elton John, ELO, and Chicago.

The fishing was great as well!  We were actually trying to catch walleye, until the first big pike attacked my bait. All we had were light poles and 4-lb test line, and we had no steel leaders to protect the thin line from the pike’s sharp teeth. But after that first hit (and break off) we started using a long, thin Rapala crankbait, one where the pike would hit it and get hooked up, but where the line was away from the pike’s mouth. It certainly worked, and with plenty of open water and nothing for line to get caught on, we were able to just let the pike run for a while before bringing them in on the light line.

Scrambling on the rip-rap (rock) along the shore wasn’t fun at times for my increasingly arthritic knees, but the music on the way up, the silly conversations with my son, the excitement and sheer joy of seeing him land some really nice pike…for a while today, I was largely able to forget about the Sjogrens. I was able to forget about the political bullshit going on. I was able to forget that I live in conservative hell with bigoted, greedy people.

In short, I had a wonderful day, focusing on the most important things in life. A day well spent, despite missing the March for Science.

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