11 May 2010


Avocets in flight over Seavey Lake

Thursday night was full of wind and a weird almost-snow. Sometime between the end of Thursday night and the start of Friday night, the winds stopped and the flocks of migratory birds poured into the area. Saturday morning, birds were suddenly everywhere--in town as well as on the prairies. There were perfect clouds of tiny sparrows, feeding and resting, in the yard and on the roadsides. Every bit of standing water was full of waterfowl, shorebirds and other avifauna. There's no going back now--spring is officially here.

The shorebirds have flown tremendous distances to breed; the Wilson's phalaropes winter in South America, in the Andes, and will breed on the prairies from here north to Canada before returning to the Andes at the end of summer. The eared grebes winter in southern California and Mexico, on the Gulf of California. Upland sandpipers spend up to eight months of the year in the pampas of South America. Their arrival is an astonishing feat, accomplished with no fanfare every year. Their migrations are tightly timed to the change of seasons in the north, when food is once again available here. For them, it is an endless summer, achieved at the expense of mind-boggling hard work.

Early early EARLY on Sunday morning, we saw one of our colleagues off for two weeks of paleontology field work, and then, instead of going back to sleep like normal people, headed out to a particularly species-rich prairie pond to catch the show. Here are a few shots of the results.

Blue-winged teal stretching its blue wings

Eared grebe

Wilson's phalarope (left) and eared grebe

Duck landing in a mixed group, with willets on the grass

Sharp-tailed grouse, lone male displaying for lone female (hidden) too close to the road

Sharp-tailed grouse figuring out that the road is too close

Upland sandpiper about to fly....

...and displaying on a fencepost after it lands....

...then joining the object of its attentions back on the ground. Ah, spring.

Wilson's phalarope. These birds swim in fast, spinning circles, constantly feeding. It was a long flight in to South Dakota.

Wilson's phalaropes

Wilson's phalaropes. There were over 300 of these on the lake on Saturday morning, about half that this morning. This is a very brief stopover point for many of these species.

Wilson's phalarope. This is the female, who is more brightly colored than the male, in a reversal of the usual pattern.

Wilson's phalarope

The West River Migration Count starts here this weekend; I wonder if anything will top Sunday morning's show. Happy Tuesday.

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