Birds of SGG


Birds of SGG  

Pat Pepper


While there are many wonderful birds to watch at SGG and in your own backyard, there comes a time in your birding life when you want to see some birds that require you to do a little traveling. The birds you might want to see live in a different terrain or climate. Especially if you are keeping a life list of all the different species you have seen, it will be imperative for you to travel in order to grow your list.

In June, I and twelve other birders traveled to South Dakota to get birds we cannot find in our native state of Georgia. We went to the Black Hills and the prairie grasslands. Because I had birded North Dakota in the past, I wasn’t sure how many new birds I would be able to see. I was delighted to find twelve new species, which I would like to share with you.

In Custer State Park near Rapid City, I life-listed a Prairie Falcon, Dusky Flycatcher, and a Plumbeous Vireo.

prairie falcon                  dusky flycatcher             plumbeous vireo

Prairie Falcon                            Dusky Flycatcher                        Plumbeous Vireo

Photos by Cornell Labs

Falcons are always fascinating to watch. They are the fastest birds on earth. Peregrines can dive at over 200mph. If you look at the Prairie Falcon’s face, you will see a dark brown moustache, much like the Peregrine’s black one. My group had their binoculars focused on a nearby cliff when the Prairie Falcon came flying in front of us, left to right. This was a life bird for many of us.

The Dusky Flycatcher is just one of many types of flycatchers. Flycatchers are notoriously difficult to identify as many of them look very similar. Luckily, the leader of our group was Malcolm Hodges, who works for the Nature Conservancy and is an expert birder. Without his help, I probably would have missed this bird.

The Plumbeous Vireo gets his name from the Latin word “plumbum” meaning lead, which is a gray color. I wonder how many plumbers know their occupational name is so classical.

In Buffalo Gap Grasslands, north of Rapid City, we all were walking through the tall grasses when we startled a mother Sharp-tailed Grouse and her chicks. They all flew up in the air in front of us, but the only thing we raised were our binoculars. It was a thrilling sight.


sharp tailed grouse

Sharp-tailed Grouse         photo by Cornell Labs


Also in the grasslands, we saw several Lark Buntings. Most of them were on telephone wires or fence posts, so it was easy viewing. Notice the beak—very much like our Indigo Bunting.


lake bunting

Lark Bunting      photo by Cornell Labs


In Wind Cave National Park, next to Custer State Park, I got a Black-backed Woodpecker and a White-winged Junco.


black backed woodpecker

Black-backed Woodpecker         photo by Cornell Labs


The Black-backed Woodpecker was our rarest find. It was a first sighting for all of us except Malcolm, and even he said it was only the second time he had seen one. It was quite a beautiful bird.


white winged junco                                       dark eyed junco

White-winged Junco                                                              Dark-eyed Junco   photos by Cornell labs


The White-winged Junco is a subspecies of the Dark-eyed Junco and breeds in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Notice the white markings on his wings whereas the Dark-eyed has no wing markings. The Dark-eyed Junco is common here in Georgia in winter. They are sparrows and seen often on the ground.


The last five of my twelve new lifers all came from Spearfish Canyon. Spearfish is a town west of Rapid City and was the location of the film Dances with Wolves. These five birds are White-throated Swift, Western Wood Pewee, Cordilleran Flycatcher, Black-headed Grosbeak, and the Red Crossbill.

white throated swifty                  western wood pewee

White-throated Swift                                                Western Wood Pewee

cordilleran flycatcher                     black headed grosbeak

Cordilleran Flycatcher                                                      Black-headed Grosbeak      Cornell labs



red crossbill

Red Crossbill      Cornell Labs


The Black-headed Grosbeak was a spectacular bird, and we got to see it many times, even finding a nest with three hatchlings.

On the last night of our trip, we all went to a nice restaurant for a final meal together where Malcom asked us all what our favorite bird of the trip was. I did not have too much trouble deciding because my favorite bird was one that had been eluding me for five years, the Red Crossbill. Red Crossbills are seen in conifers in North Georgia during the winter months. They are usually found in flocks high atop conifers and use that unique crossed bill to pry seeds out of cones. Every time I had gotten reports of where Red Crossbills were seen in Georgia, I’d hop in my car and try to get to that location as soon as possible, but every time I got to the right spot, the Crossbills had moved on, so finally finding this bird was pure joy.

It was a fantastic trip, and now I await my next birding adventure—The Rocky Mountain National Park! I will be on that plane in just a few days—hope to have even more exciting birds to tell you about when I return.

Happy Birding!

Pat Pepper

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