It was 10 years ago when I had one of my better birding moments. There are always those great trips to “new” places that get the birding juices flowing, but one of the best aspects of birding is that you never know what you might see when you go out.
It was 10 years ago that I was coming back from a business trip. I flew into the Sioux Falls airport and was driving back to my little home town of Brandon (about 6 miles west of Sioux Falls). I was driving by an open alfalfa field, when I noticed a bird on a post. It was a…no…couldn’t be…yes! a Burrowing Owl! Here in far eastern South Dakota, just a few miles from Minnesota. Historically Burrowing Owls used to be around here, but there hadn’t been a breeding record of Burrowing Owls anywhere close to here in decades. Our grassland is gone, and we just don’t have the prairie dogs or other creatures that Burrowing Owls are often found with. Yet here was an adult Burrowing Owl, hanging out on a fence post, in early August.
I quickly drove the last 4 miles home, got my camera and returned. Upon looking around I saw another Burrowing Owl…and another…and another. There were two adults, and at least four young!! It didn’t take long to find their home. They were using an old badger hole, in the middle of the alfalfa field by the road. The young were already as big as the parents, although with a different plumage. I had a blast for the next month, watching the little Burrowing Owl family feed on grasshoppers, crickets, and other little critters, primarily using a big CRP (?) grassland that was right next to the alfalfa field. By early September they started disappearing, one by one.
That alfalfa field is now on a corn and soybeans rotation. The CRP field they were using to forage? Also plowed under, used for corn and soybeans. In the 10 years since, I’ve never again seen a Burrowing Owl anywhere close to my part of the state. But I’ll always remember the little Burrowing Owl family that successfully fledged several young, just 4 miles from my house. Here’s one photo I took at night, of one of the adults foraging for insects alongside the road.