South Dakota ’18


A male Red Crossbill feeds at Tom’s feeders. The view at the top is from the high mountain meadow where I was birding.

We arrived late Monday evening to our cabin in Keystone, South Dakota.  This is located in the Black Hills just a few miles north of Mt. Rushmore.  What a beautiful area! Mark and June did some sightseeing our first day while I hiked up the mountain directly across the road from our cabin.  The views are spectacular and the birds are too.  Starting at our cabin, the yard and creek behind it were full of birds.  The most interesting for me was a beautiful male BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAK collecting worms to feed his family.  Heading up the mountain, I found one new species after another.  Dusky and Cordilleran Flycatchers, White-winged Juncos, Western Tanagers, Plumbeous Vireos, Townsend’s Solitaire and Canyon Wren were all seen and heard.  I spent a few hours up there and then headed back to the cabin for some rest.  In the evening, we headed a bit north to June’s brothers home.  Tom and Sandy have welcomed us all to their home many times in the past and put on a nice barbecue for us.  Their yard is always full of birds and wildlife and yesterday was no exception.  Violet-green Swallows circled over the yard, perching on some dead snags from time to time.  Red Crossbills fed at the feeders while a Western Tanager sang in the tree overhead. A pair of Chickadees were feeding a nestbox full of chicks right in their backyard. As we ate, deer and turkeys meandered through the yard.  Thanks Tom and Sandy for a great evening! Below is an adult male Black-headed Grosbeak at our cabin.


Wednesday 6/13

Today, Mark, June and I birded Custer State Park. This is a fabulous birding destination with some of the best wildlife viewing you can find anywhere.  We drove by Mt. Rushmore on our way and stopped at an overlook so I could pick up my trip WHITE-THROATED SWIFTS! No problem seeing them, but photos were not happening. When I finally gave up trying for the high flying birds, one flew right through the parking lot and around us twice.  I spun in a circle, never catching up! Once at Custer, the birds and wildlife were everywhere. Highlights of the day included RED-NAPED SAPSUCKER, SPOTTED TOWHEE, DICKCISSEL, BLACK-BILLED MAGPIE, SAY’S PHOEBE, RED CROSSBILL and much more!  Wildlife was equally entertaining with familiar White-tailed Deer seen often as well as five MULE DEER,  thirteen PRONGHORN ANTELOPE! We had a great day!


Spotted Towhee above and Pronghorn Antelope below.


Thursday and Friday

I’ve been really busy.  On Thursday we visited Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse monuments. I had many of the same species at these locations that I’ve been seeing. The best bird was a BLACK-BACKED WOODPECKER just below Mt. Rushmore.  We spent the evening with family and friends in Hill City for a Wine Tasting and dinner. On Friday, we went to Badlands National Park.  This is nothing short of a fabulous birding destination!  From the moment we started, I had really nice birds.  LONG-BILLED CURLEW, LARK BUNTING, WESTERN KINGBIRD, ROCK WREN, LARK SPARROW, GRASSHOPPER SPARROW, BLACK-BILLED MAGPIE, YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT, ORCHARD ORIOLE and so many more for 41 species in total. On top of the great birding, the scenery and wildlife are fantastic too!  We saw hundreds of Bison, many Pronghorn Antelope and Bighorn Sheep!  It was a great day!


Black-billed Magpie


Bighorn Sheep

Saturday 6/16

Today, we traveled a bit north to Spearfish Canyon.  This is another beautiful area of steep cliffs and fast running creeks with waterfalls. There is a different assortment of birds in this area.   We first hiked the Roughlock Falls Trail.  This is a beautiful hike!  Highlights of the birds here included WHITE-THROATED SWIFT, AMERICAN REDSTART, BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAK, VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOW and one of my main target birds MCGILLIVRAY’S WARBLER! This bird toyed with me for half an hour before I had great looks. That of course didn’t add up to great photos.  It is clearly related to Mourning Warbler since I have the same shots of both species, half headed!  Once we finished finding the birds and admiring the waterfalls, we headed farther north to Iron Creek Trail.  This is also in Spearfish Canyon.   We hiked in, finding more of the same species we had at Roughlock.  Then, as we rounded a bend along the creek, I spotted my target bird, AMERICAN DIPPER!  This was the most cooperative dipper I’ve ever seen.  I got my best photos ever of this species! Once we were done with this, we made the loop back to Deadwood, South Dakota.  This was truly a wild west town!  We saw the place Wild Bill Hickock was shot and visited the cemetery where he and Calamity Jane are buried.  We walked the streets of the town enjoying the open air concert that was taking place. We then ate at a historic site and tried our hand at the slot machines! No I didn’t win. At any rate, it was a great day with many great birds!


American Dipper above, Hiding McGillivray’s Warbler below.



Sunday and Monday 6/17 and 18

It rained our last two days in South Dakota.  While it made things damp, it didn’t ruin the days.  On Sunday, Tom and Sandy joined us in a trip to the Mammoth Dig Site in Hot Springs.  Sixty one mammoths, Fifty eight Columbian and three Wooly Mammoths have been discovered as well as hundreds of other prehistoric fauna. It was an extremely interesting visit.  On Monday, the rain was a bit lighter and we managed to bird and wildlife watch most of the day.  I had my first Osprey of the trip, but missed a couple of other target birds.  We also saw many Bison, deer and Pronghorn.  Black-billed Magpies were seen in several spots as were Red Crossbill, Western Tanager, Dickcissel and Red-headed Woodpeckers.  We ended our trip with exactly 100 species!  I increased my South Dakota list from 89 to 122 species!  I’ve created a new page “Additional South Dakota Photos” that you can access in the above index if interested.  It was a great trip!!