I am in a major photographic funk. We’re talking an industrial-strength photo drought, a big-league slump, a unlucky spell of biblical proportions. For a guy who loves bird photography, I can’t for the life of me get a photo of anything with feathers lately. It’s been a season-long slump, lasting all winter long. The most recent failure was this weekend, where I managed to fail twice to bring home a single bird photo. Saturday, I drove all the way to the central part of the state to look for lingering winter raptors. I did what I normally do when I go to the central part of the state…I got up 3 hours before dawn so I could arrive right when the sun was coming up. The sun did indeed come up. I guess that’s good. But it revealed a landscape utterly devoid of the raptors that are usually found there by the dozen. It’s late in the season, and I didn’t expect December/January numbers of raptors. But I didn’t expect nearly ALL the raptors to have left already.
I cut Saturday’s trip short, and decided to just drive back after a couple of hours of fruitless raptor searching. On the way back, on an incredibly windy day, I saw thousands upon thousands of waterfowl migrating overhead. Nothing I could photograph mind you…they were all high in the sky, but there were certainly huge numbers of birds. Encouraged by the sight, I thought the next day I’d head out just around Sioux Falls, to look for waterfowl. What did I find? Mostly frozen water, very few birds, and not a single photo opportunity.
THIS has been my winter! I have never had so much time pass, with so few bird photos!! Even my winter passion, searching for owls, turned out to be a bust. MANY hours busting through brush looking for Northern Saw-whet Owls, and while I did catch a glimpse of one, I had nothing close to a photo opportunity. No Long-eared Owls, a species I often run across while looking for Saw-whets. No Short-eared Owls during my trips to the grassy areas of the state, a species I often find in winter. No Snowy Owls…just not a great winter for them, not many reported around most of South Dakota. Even freakin’ DARK-EYED JUNCOS, possibly THE MOST COMMON CREATURE ON THE PLANET (well, sometimes seems like that here in winter) were almost completely absent from my feeders all winter!!
After a freakishly warm few days earlier this week, most of the lakes have finally opened up, and given all the waterfowl I saw migrating through over the weekend, I thought surely the local lakes and ponds would have good numbers of waterfowl now. After work today, I rushed home to grab my camera, and headed to the western part of Minnehaha County to canvas all the wetlands and lakes in the area.
The good news? The water was indeed open in most spots! There were THOUSANDS upon THOUSANDS of Snow Geese and Greater White-fronted Geese migrating overhead, their squawking filling the air. But at ground level, in the open water? Nada. Zip. Zilch. At least in most places. I did find a couple of spots with some waterfowl, nearly all dabbling ducks. Nearly all were Mallards and Northern Pintails, with a few Green-winged Teal, Gadwall, and American Wigeon. But even in the couple of spots where I found SOME ducks, they were having NOTHING to do with my camera. I guess I did get a “bird photo”, if you can count a blurry, long-distance, out-of-focus shot of a boring Mallard. But good LORD it has been a LONG time since I’ve gotten a good bird photo, something worthy of posting online.
In lieu of any good bird photos, I did grab my iPhone and shot a bit of video of the Snow Geese passing overhead (video above). This really doesn’t do justice to the number of birds moving overhead, because at one point, there was seemingly a continuous band of birds from the southern horizon to the northern horizon, moving overhead in a steady stream. A wonderful, incredible sight to see, and something I look forward to every spring around here.
Now if only ONE of those high-flying migrants could be kind enough to actually drop down to earth for a photo session? Sigh…for now…the slump continues.