Instead of black muddy field like we had been looking at earlier in the day this field was green and had several rolls of hay scattered through out. We looked around and saw nothing but only moments after we arrived we spotted the special bird that we were hoping to see.
The burrowing owl is one of the smallest owls in North America, about 10" tall and weighing around 6 ounces. They are named burrowing owls because they live in underground burrows that have been abandon by small mammals, such as prairie dogs or ground squirrels.
With an estimated population of under 10,000 breeding pair the burrowing owl is listed as a candidate species by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, meaning that they may need to be listed as threatened or endangered but there is no conclusive data at this time. In Canada they are considered endangered.
In South Dakota burrowing owls are not uncommon. They often spend their summers nesting in prairie dog colonies. Unfortunately farmers and rancher view prairie dogs as a pest and often try to eliminate them from their land. These prairie dog control practices have affected the burrowing owls and have contributed to their declining numbers.
Most of the people participating in the shorebird workshop were from Minnesota. Burrowing owl sightings in Minnesota are rare and usually only occur on the western border of the state. Although I have photographed burrowing owls in California in the past I was still excited to have the opportunity to photograph this one. In 2007 I drove 5 hours each way out to south western Minnesota to photograph burrowing owls. This time I still drove about 5 hours to get to South Dakota, but getting to photograph a burrowing owl at a shorebird workshop was froasting on the cake and I took advantage of the opportunity. I visited the field every day of the workshop, when we had free time, and got quite a few nice shots.