South Dakota Birding Festival
April 1st, 2014 By Cindy Mason
I have been watching birding casually for a long time - mostly the ones that come to the feeders in my yard. So, I could only name about a dozen birds by sight and less by their song. Last year I attended the South Dakota Birding Festival at Ft. Randall for the first time and learned how much I didn’t know about birds, like the difference between a bird’s song and its call. This year will be the 4th year of the festival and I can’t wait to go again.
One of the highlights of last year’s festival was the Bird Banding Workshops. Not being an early riser by nature, it was tough rolling out of bed in time to get to the Lake Andes Wildlife Refuge by 6:30 am, but it was so worth it. Even earlier in the morning they had set up mist nets (that do not injure the birds) in key locations to catch birds as they fly from bush to bush. The birds that have been caught are carefully removed from the net, then measured, weighed and banded. This helps researchers study the movement, survival and behavior of birds. It is just thrilling to see these amazing little creatures so close up. Some of the birders at the festival were allowed to hold the birds briefly before releasing them.
A Kindergarten teacher from Armour attended the previous year’s festival. She caught birdwatching fever and passed it on to her whole Kindergarten class who can now identify 300 birds by sight and 100 birds by sound. Her class will be sharing their birding knowledge with this year’s festival attenders. I expect this to be one of the highlights of the festival.
Speakers for this year include Lynn Barber, who is the key-note speaker. She is the women’s record holder for spotting the most birds in one year and has written a book about it. There will also be presentations about bird feeding and landscaping.
The weekend provides the only opportunity to explore the Karl Mundt National Wildlife Refuge. It is not normally open to the public. Last year we were able to watch some nesting bald eagles through a spotting scope during the field trip. There will also be other guided field trips through Lake Andes National Wildlife Refuge.
Last year 139 different birds were spotted by attendees. I wasn’t able to spot them all, but I did learn to identify alot of new birds. One of the birds I learned, caught during bird banding, was a Ruby-crowned Kinglet. I wondered how it got it’s name since the red spot on the top of it’s head didn’t look much like a crown, but learned that when the bird is agitated or just showing off it raises those ruby feathers up and they do look like a crown. Evidently the bird banding did not agitate it much since it did not display its crown for us.
I’m hoping for nice weather this year, but if you do go, be sure to dress in layers. It can start out pretty chilly in the morning and warm up nicely during the day. A good pair of binoculars is also a plus, since most birds like to keep their distance.
A wide range of ages and experience levels were represented at the festival. It’s a great place to learn about birds, make new friends with like interests and enjoy the outdoors. Pre-registration ends Monday, April 14th, so now is the time to get registered, but walk-ins are also welcome.