Share |
A Bald Eagle perched in Yankton's Riverside Park. Click to enlarge photos.
A Bald Eagle perched in Yankton's Riverside Park. Click to enlarge photos.
In flight.
In flight.
A Northern Flicker at Yankton's Riverside Park.
A Northern Flicker at Yankton's Riverside Park.
This Bald Eagle perched just below Gavins Point Dam on the Nebraska side of the river.
This Bald Eagle perched just below Gavins Point Dam on the Nebraska side of the river.
A male Northern Cardinal at the Sioux Falls <a href='http://gfp.sd.gov/outdoor%2Dlearning/outdoor%2Dcampus/east/default.aspx' target='_blank'>Outdoor Campus</a>.
A male Northern Cardinal at the Sioux Falls Outdoor Campus.
The female cardinal is not as flashily attired as her male companion.
The female cardinal is not as flashily attired as her male companion.
Christian caught this cardinal mid-hop atop an Outdoor Campus feeder.
Christian caught this cardinal mid-hop atop an Outdoor Campus feeder.
Can you identify this bird? Christian thinks it is a female downy or hairy woodpecker.
Can you identify this bird? Christian thinks it is a female downy or hairy woodpecker.
A young Bald Eagle catches the first light of morning near Gavins Point Dam.
A young Bald Eagle catches the first light of morning near Gavins Point Dam.
He prepares to swoop in and harass some Common Goldeneyes feeding in the Missouri's open water.
He prepares to swoop in and harass some Common Goldeneyes feeding in the Missouri's open water.
An immature eagle perches just below Fort Randall Dam's powerhouse.
An immature eagle perches just below Fort Randall Dam's powerhouse.
Coming in for a landing! This Mallard Duck doesn't mind the snow at the Outdoor Campus.
Coming in for a landing! This Mallard Duck doesn't mind the snow at the Outdoor Campus.
The Outdoor Campus is home to other birds as well. Here's a male House Sparrow.
The Outdoor Campus is home to other birds as well. Here's a male House Sparrow.
A male Dark-Eyed Junco.
A male Dark-Eyed Junco.
Male cardinals are very territorial. This one's guarding his prime location near the Outdoor Campus.
Male cardinals are very territorial. This one's guarding his prime location near the Outdoor Campus.
Male cardinals are easy to spot amid bare branches.
Male cardinals are easy to spot amid bare branches.
A female Goldfinch, balancing in the breeze and singing away despite winter's chill.
A female Goldfinch, balancing in the breeze and singing away despite winter's chill.
He's not fat from too many trips to the bird feeder — cardinals and other birds fluff up their feathers to keep warm.
He's not fat from too many trips to the bird feeder — cardinals and other birds fluff up their feathers to keep warm.

It's Never Too Cold

Jan 21, 2013

 

I’ve never claimed to be the smartest guy in town. I mean, one would have to be a few cards short of a full deck to pick the middle of winter to do a column on birding in South Dakota, right?!? It’s really cold out —nose hair frostsicle and toe-numbing cold. Even if there were birds out in the great wide open this time of year, what kind of numbskull would go out with hopes of photographing them? Well I guess that would be me. Actually I have a few good reasons. Although having these reasons probably doesn’t make me smarter, I think they are good reasons. They are Bald Eagles and Cardinals.

Each winter, our national symbol gathers below our dams on the mighty Missouri near the running water produced by the dam’s releases. This year, my goal was to actually photograph one of these majestic eagles catching a fish. It didn’t happen, but I had fun trying and got a few interesting images along the way.

The first time I ever saw a Bald Eagle in real life was along the Moreau River in Ziebach County back when I was in my early teens. My brothers and I were hurtling down Highway 65 in our green 1972 Pontiac Catalina when we saw something unusual in the far ditch. None of us knew what it was, so we turned around and drove back, only to discover an adult Bald Eagle cleaning the bones of an unlucky deer. Not necessarily a glorious and patriotic sight, but we were pretty excited nonetheless. Eagles were still rare in those days. Bald Eagles are primarily fish and fowl eaters, but will often supplement their diets with road kill or other types of carrion they discover. That is one of the reasons that DDT hurt them so badly in the 1960s.

These great raptors are more numerous nowadays and have become one of my favorite birds to try and photograph. My best shots are usually lucky shots — like on New Year’s Day when I was strolling through Yankton’s Riverside Park. I was intently looking towards the river for eagles and unsuspectingly walked right up to one perched high above me in a tree. Luckily my camera was up and shooting when we both realized how close we were to each other. It didn’t take long for it to lift off and fly to the Nebraska side of the river, but just after take off, it wheeled in my direction for a pretty cool eagle-in-flight shot.

The striking male Northern Cardinal, on the other hand, was simply a bird on my photography bucket list. According to South Dakota birding books, cardinals winter in the southeastern part of the state, so all I had to do was find one. I discovered on a birding website that cardinals had been sighted at Sioux Falls’ Outdoor Campus this winter so I decided to brave the cold and see what I could see. I purposely waited for a day with snow and/or flurries, as I love the contrast between the red of the bird and whites of winter. I found that if you simply go to the benches by the bird feeders and sit very still for 15 minutes or so, the birds take your presence for granted and return to eat. The most skittish was the male cardinal, so it took a little longer for him to fly in to grab a snack, but a little perseverance (and some numb appendages) was really all it took for him to be OK with me being there. The second day I was there I saw a second male. The two fellas squabbled a bit, as these birds are notoriously territorial. Their preoccupation with each other allowed me to get closer for a portrait or two amongst the tree branches. The lack of leaves on the tree allowed me to not only see them better but also follow their activity more accurately than I could have in the warmer months.

So to bird or not to bird in sub-freezing temperatures, that is the question. I say yes, if you have the patience and warm clothes. Of course, I never claimed to be the smartest guy in town.

 

Christian Begeman grew up in Isabel and now lives in Sioux Falls. When he's not working at Midcontinent Communications he is often on the road photographing our prettiest spots around the state. Follow Begeman on his blog


Comments

08:24 am - Mon, January 21 2013
Laura Andrews said:
So glad a junco made an appearance! We see them every day at home — my husband puts seeds out on the ground for them — but I can never see them very well.

Ruth thinks it's a hairy woodpecker, by the way. She recognized her from the "Backyard Birds in South Dakota" booklet she got from the SD Game Fish & Parks: http://gfp.sd.gov/wildlife/critters/birds/default.aspx
09:38 am - Mon, January 21 2013
John Andrews said:
As a Cubs fan, cardinals sometimes make me nauseous, but not these. Love the bright red birds against winter's grays and whites.
02:55 pm - Mon, January 21 2013
Christian said:
Thanks Laura and John. Being a Cincinnati Reds fan, I also strongly dislike the Cardinals of the baseball variety. Strongly dislike is actually putting it mildly! That said, the real birds are truly something to behold. I read somewhere that these bright red beauties are easily the number one reason folks pick up a birding book for the first time.
03:06 pm - Wed, February 6 2013
Carol said:
I'd say that the woodpecker is a female Downey Woodpecker. The bill is too small for a Hairy.
04:44 pm - Sat, April 27 2013
Kate Adams said:
I agree that it is a female Downy. I have had both at my feeder. The Hairy is much larger with a longer beak. But the coloring is very similar for both so easy to mistake one for the other unless see them together, or close enough to see the length of beak.
Great shots. Glad you took the effort and cold to get these images to share with us. Thanks. Kate

Share your thoughts, post a comment to this story:

Your Name:
Your Email Address:  
Your Website:
Comment:  
2000 characters remaining
Captcha
Web Design by LVSYS