It’s Saturday. I went birding on Monday. But as is typical, I didn’t even download or start to look at the photos until this morning. Heck, this is actually FAST for me! I have folders upon folders of bird photos that await. It’s a lot more fun to take photos than to process them and get them up on a website. What I’ll often do is just process a few of the best ones and leave the rest for a “later” time period that often seems to never come! Some day I’ll start my own personal digital birding adventure, where I’ll revisit all my old photos and rediscover ones I never knew I had.
But in the meantime, here’s a few from Monday. As I like to do a couple of times I winter, I got up early Monday and made the long drive to the central part of the state. It was a LOVELY day for birding, at a slightly crisp -17 degrees when I arrived at dawn. One of my favorite birding locations and times in South Dakota is the area around Presho in the dead of winter. There are many pheasant hunting operations in the region, and a fair amount of land managed for pheasants and grouse. With literally hundreds of pheasants and grouse sometimes milling about, winter raptors are attracted to the area. The density and diversity is usually spectacular. It’s a guarantee you’ll find Golden Eagles, Bald Eagles, Northern Harriers, Red-tailed Hawks and Rough-legged Hawks, you’ll usually find Ferruginous Hawks and Prairie Falcons, and you’ll often find some of the more “fun” species, including Gyrfalcon, Merlin, Snowy Owl, or Short-eared Owl.
By “Presho standards”, Monday wasn’t the greatest, as I “only” came across 75 or so raptors over the course of 7 hours. No rarities, but I did get some very nice looks at nature in action. Merlins are a species I don’t see very often, at least not in my part of eastern South Dakota. But for some reason I often have luck finding them around Presho in the winter. It’s not just all the pheasants and grouse that attract raptors, ti’s also Horned Larks, Lapland Longspurs, and other small birds that often frequent the area. The photo here is a Merlin munching on a freshly caught Horned Lark (they seem to be a favorite prey species).
The second photo is a female Northern Harrier. I came across her feeding on the remains of a pheasant carcass on the side of the road. I’m not sure if Harriers take down full-grown pheasants or not…it seems like they’d be a handful. But I have seen Harriers on carrion, so perhaps this one was feeding on the remains of a bird caught or killed by something else. It was nice to get relatively close looks at her though, as Harriers around here are typically quite skittish. For as many as I’ve seen, I don’t have all that great of photos of them.
It’s a rough world out there! Eat or be eaten!