Bird Chasers #9 Prairie Birding 6/4/2014

owl 4

#653 June 4-11, 2014.  South Dakota/Wisconsin  Today I was accused of being a hard core birder by a woman on an email and I guess that I cannot refute nor deny.  It is true, I chase birds, and this was supposed to be my week off.  It sort of was but well, not in comparison to normal people.

Last week on June 2nd, my son Tyko came home from Jamaica with stories of….well…birds, Doctor birds and other cool sounding stuff from the mountains of the island where he was helping a school.  So what do dad and son do?  (Remember last year on this day we were together on Attu)  We went birding in our back yard on June 4th.  I wanted to show him my bittern.  We went over the hill, jumped the bittern and then I saw something.  It was bittern colored  but much smaller, flew with legs down went for about 30-40 feet in the marsh, had a white wing patches on the secondaries, a short yellow beak but no absolutely no white on its rump.  OMG, the elusive yellow rail, and I’d seen one AND only 150 yards from my cabin.  Life bird #653.  My last Midwest breeding bird (to be honest I had heard them and probably seen one before but my pre-1990 memory is not absolute so I didn’t count this bird).  Seeing bigfoot is reported more often than seeing a yellow rail, but it had to be, it could be nothing other.  All that and I’d seen it with my son!  My role continued.

The next morning while walking I stumble upon two more Say’s Pheobes quite a bit apart which should not be anywhere near here.  4 in eastern South Dakota?  IDK, it must be just me.

Unfortunately I had no pictures….well, that happens, but on a good note, my new Tamron 150-600 lens came in, yea, so off I went to Wisconsin to use it and maybe…call in Yellow rails!!  Why not, they actually live north of Falun in the Crex Meadows.  We celebrated the boy’s birthday 19th birthday along with his twin, Allwin.

Tyko decided to go night birding with me to call in rails, so I selected two rocks and after an argument with my grandmother about the presence of whippoorwills at her house we left.  We went to the marsh which was too wet and we tapped for rails.  Two things happened, one is that we were swarmed by Bugs as unknown to me the month of Ticks had changed to the month of Mosquitoes on June 6th.  with a breeze, after dark, and with bug spray you could almost keep up slapping….but not quite.

The other unfortunate thing was that all we called in was….bears…big bears, ….big bear chase, …..big bear chase me!….wait, that was either the movie The Great Outdoors, or last year in Yellowstone, and I dare not repeat.  Truth be told, we were safely in the car, but Tyko was impressed and well, they were two large males.  We heard two Eastern Whippoorwills, yes we did!  Yes, they do live in the woods near grandmother’s house, too.

The first big outing with my new lens was a birding trip with Tony, a new birder who just moved to Pierre SD and I asked and he wanted to go on a maniac birding day as only Olaf could give him…the ups, the drama…the success…the failure.  On June 11, we met at 545 at Selby SD, 160 miles west of me.  Tony is now with the Special Crime Task force in Pierre after working with the Highway patrol for years in Milbank (and no we didn’t meet due to my frequently being stopped by the police for traffic issues chasing birds).  Tony actually wanted to bird with me!

Off we went and well 843 miles and lots of caffeine later we had returned 62 birds better for it.  It was one very big day and well Tony was ecstatic.

We stared near Lemmon SD at an old haunt of mine and after:

vesper sparrow

We saw this Vesper Sparrow,

plus Clay-colored sparrows, Savannah Sparrows, Lark Bunting, scads of Meadowlarks, Eastern and Western Kingbirds, Marbled godwit, Upland Plovers…..


This Dickcissal, which the colors got just perfectly on this photo, my favorite prairie bird.

Then I spotted an Orchard Oriole and it let me photograph it

orchard oriole

Tony then started describing something that wasn’t making any sense out his window and finally he pointed it out, A sora, which don’t make much sense.

sora 3

It was making a nest or something, what soras do in my mind is never completely clear and then, I played its call and it turned dropped this grass and charged right at us.  You know, seeing a sora can be an almost impossible task but here Tony had one for his life list, seen and marveled at.  We laughed about that silly bird all day.

We drove on and road birded, all the ducks, coots, lots of Wilson’s Phalaropes and then on a fence post a short-eared owl!

short-eared owl 3

I like owls.  We then spotted Ferruginous Hawks, plus the usual hawks and a Swainsons’s plus Krider’s form of Red-tailed.  We got to Bowman County North Dakota which seemed to be taken over by Loggerhead shrikes, after a good rain and then using my special hand drawn map which Tony doubted, we went on roads nobody should travel including oil service trucks, we went through someone’s back yard, we slid down hills, we slid up hills, we went through creeks, puddles, and man did we drive through mud, mud, mud and more mud, all sorts of different kinds of mud, so much mud that one wouldn’t know who we were, if one saw my trusted XC60 Volvo which is the best birding car, I love my Volvo.

My map led us directly to my spot, my Longspur spot,but it look like rain and so leaving the camera behind we spotted an unlikely 5 birds, Sprague’s pipit, a Baird’s sparrow, chestnut collared longspur, McCown’s Longspur, and a hunting short-eared owl which Tony said, he was sure he could identify since it was hovering…as a harrier.

Tony….that is an owl…………well it looked like a harrier,.. till you looked at it.  All and no camera.

Great spot but beware of a spot that says you need to call the lessee and the lessee has targets out in the prairie 800 yards from his house and you are well 1000 yards?

Through more mud to Reva Gap Campground a place I featured in my first novel, I like that spot!  White-throated swifts, violet-green swallows, spotted towhee added to Tony’s new life birds, the swallow which looked like Tree Swallows at first glance, and well they weren’t.  I couldn’t relocate a blue grosbeak to show him and then too early we needed to head back.  Tony seeing his first song sparrow enroute.

Tony seemed so happy, and it is fun bringing novice birders with me on a crazy olaf day birding.  I would have had fun if someone had dragged me along back then.

I stopped in Groton SD on way home, needed a bathroom break and I had the munchies we also didn’t have any wine at home.  I asked the lady at the counter if she could still sell chicken.  She looked at me in my shorts and snake boots.  “For those boots, you can have the chicken free.  We can share the wine.  I’d go home with a man with those boots on.”

The native American descended guy behind me added quite sincerely.  “Yea, man, those are hot boots.  Where’d you get them and how much?”

“$220 at Cabelas.” I replied.

“I’d go home with you too for those boots.”  He tapped me on the shoulder.

One long birding day, a bottle of wine, one free chicken breast, two boots, and two people who loved my boots, …… I like these boots, gosh I should be in a commercial for them.   They are boots that just keep on giving!  but alas…my wife has already claimed the man in those boots, so sorry to all of you in Groton.


One thought on “Bird Chasers #9 Prairie Birding 6/4/2014

  1. The birding sounds fabulous, but IDK about driving 843 miles in a day. That’s off-the-wall manic and worse than me and The Dude.

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