South Dakota; March 4th - 8th, 2010; By Blake Mathys

I went to South Dakota from March 4th until March 8th, 2010, to visit family. I had never been to the state before, so I wanted to do some birding. After reading the South Dakota birding email list and emailing some of the local birders, I decided to concentrate my one day of birding on the Presho and Fort Pierre National Grassland areas. Terry Sohl (see his excellent website here) was especially helpful with suggestions and his website provided a lot of information on South Dakota birding.

I flew into Rapid city on Thursday, March 4th, and rented a car. This was quite a bit more expensive than I would expect for South Dakota in March, but I needed it, as I was traveling ~170 miles each way. I left Rapid City at about 4:25 a.m. the next morning, and drove over to the Presho area, which took me about 2 hrs 45 mins. There was some fog at first, but that disappeared after about 30 miles.

The birding in the area south of Presho was amazing. I immediately began seeing hawks and eagles. I stayed in the area for about 4 hours, and then decided to head north to the Fort Pierre National Grasslands. There had been a Gyrfalcon reported there, and I wanted to try to find one. I found it to have quite a bit fewer birds than the Presho area, although I did see some and also my only Northern Shrike of the trip. After driving many of the roads in the grasslands for a few hours, I decided to head back south to the Presho area, as I still had a few hours of daylight left. The road I took south, 305, was really good for raptors, and took me directly to Presho from County Line Road. My second visit to the Presho area was perhaps more productive than the first, with many, many Golden Eagles seen, as well as a Bald Eagle roost with at least 25 individuals.

Of course, I made a mistake. At about dusk, I was near interstate 90 and had to decide whether to bird for the last few minutes of daylight or head back toward Rapid City. I did the only honorable thing, and ended up stuck on a horribly slippery mucky ("gumbo") road at just about dark, in the middle of nowhere. This resulted in the usual 5 mile hike in the dark, getting rained on, a ride with a sheriff, the attempt by very helpful locals to extract my vehicle, their truck getting stuck, and finally the next day a giant four-wheel drive John Deere tractor pulling my rental vehicle out of the mud. In other words, an adventure.

The next day, my wife, her brother and sister-in-law, and I went to the Badlands and the Black Hills. We found Golden Eagles, a Prairie Falcon, Black-billed Magpies, and a Porcupine in the Badlands, and Pronghorn, Bison, and a Great Horned Owl in the Black Hills.

Overall, I had a really enjoyable time. The number of raptors was staggering, and although I missed Gyrfalcon, it was still a great birding experience, and I very much recommend it.

Species Totals

Northern Harrier40 +Presho and national grasslands
Rough-legged Hawk40 +Presho (most) and national grasslands
Bald Eagle30 +Presho only
Golden Eagle25 +Presho (most); national grasslands (7), and Badlands (3 - 4)
Ferruginous Hawk~8Presho (most) and national grasslands (just 1)
Red-tailed Hawk6 - 10Presho; 1 in Badlands
Prairie Falcon3 - 4Presho: 1 or 2 south of town, 1 in town near grain elevator; 1 in Badlands
Short-eared Owl1Presho, flushed by Golden Eagle in the morning
Great Horned Owl21 roadkill near Presho, 1 alive in Custer State Park (Black Hills)
Northern Shrike1National Grasslands, road to Richland Wildlife Area
Snow Bunting1 small flockNational Grasslands
Western Meadowlark5 - 10Presho
White-tailed Jackrabbit6Presho
Coyote~3Presho, early in the morning
Black-tailed Prairie DogA few townsNational Grasslands and Badlands
Black-billed Magpie~4Badlands
Sylvilagus rabbit1Presho
Pronghorn~20Custer State Park, Black Hills
Bison80 - 100a few in Badlands, most in Custer State Park, Black Hills


The key to seeing many raptors: first, find a million pheasants
White-tailed Jackrabbit
Light (Krider's type?) Red-tailed Hawk
Ferruginous Hawk (Rufous Morph)
Ferruginous Hawk (Light Morph) and Horned Larks
Ferruginous Hawk (Light Morph) (same as previous)
Ferruginous Hawk (Light Morph) (same as previous 2)
Ferruginous Hawk (Light Morph)
Ferruginous Hawk (Light Morph)
Prairie Falcon
Golden Eagles
Golden Eagle
Golden Eagle
Rough-legged Hawk
Northern Shrike
Part of Bald Eagle Roost
Roadkill (hopefully) Great Horned Owl near Presho
The sort of road I was stuck on
The difficulties of birding: a well-blocked road
Pronghorn in the Black Hills

Trip Reports