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Nature Photography - Done Naturally

Burrowing Owl

Selasphorus rufus

The wonderful thing about birding is that you never know what you might find when you're out and about, but there are times when you are truly surprised by a bird.  In late August of 2008, I was returning home from a business trip, driving home from the airport in Sioux Falls to our home in Brandon, South Dakota.  As I passed an open field on my left, I noticed a bird sitting on a fence post. Could it be...a Burrowing Owl?  Yes, it was!  I slammed on the brakes, put it in reverse, and to my astonishment saw another Burrowing Owl on the ground below the first. I watched for a while before rushing the last few miles home to grab my camera. When I returned, I spent an hour watching what turned out to be no fewer than 6 (!!!) Burrowing Owls foraging in an alfalfa field and a nearby grassy field.

I had never seen Burrowing Owls east of the Missouri River in South Dakota. This was almost 200 miles from the closet spot to the west where I find them, on the prairie dog towns in the central part of South Dakota.   A pair however had found an old badger hole in an alfalfa field, and were using it to raise a brood of 4 (and possibly 5) young.  It was the first documented breeding of Burrowing Owls in the area in decades, and it was only 5 miles from our house! I spent many evenings over the next month watching the little family.  One by one, they disappeared from the area, and by the end of September they were gone.  This remains the only time I've ever seen Burrowing Owls in our part of the state, but it's an experience I'll never forget.  This photo is of one of the two adults, taken at night as he foraged along the field's edge for grasshoppers. This is also, I believe, my only night photograph of a bird on my entire website.

Burrowing Owl - Athene cunicularia

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