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Silver Lake Wildlife
Mar 26, 2014
In mid-March I saw a post on a local birding website that 50-plus bald eagles were observed at Silver Lake, along Highway 81 north of Freeman, so I took the camera and long lens out to see for myself.
I set off after work on Saint Patrick’s Day. The evening sky was heavy with low and fast rain clouds that spit a few drops now and then. As I approached the lake from the north, I discerned many large and dark shapes in the trees that surround the little lake. The eagles were still there.
When I pulled into the roadside park I was surprised and thrilled to see an eagle perched right above the outhouse. A few snaps later he decided he didn’t like the looks of me staring at him from my car window and flew off. Later in the evening as I rounded the east side of the lake on a county road, a red fox suddenly appeared on the ice. My vehicle’s engine must have startled him on his evening hunt. We raced alongside each other for half a mile before I was able to get ahead of him enough to stop and capture a shot of his flight across the ice. Later that evening, I drove to a lone barn a couple miles northwest. The low clouds had parted enough on the horizon to let the setting sun through. A bald eagle photo and a sunset shot all within an hour. It was a good day.
I returned the following Saturday to see if the eagles were still around. Sure enough, I saw about 25 in the trees ringing the lake again. I also encountered a hawk hiding in plain sight in a tree adjacent to the roadside park. The edges of the water had receded and a number of waterfowl were enjoying the open water. I couldn’t get close enough in the broad daylight to get any interesting shots so I decided to get up before the sun on Sunday morning and plant myself behind some tall grass near the water’s edge to get a better view. Bald eagles typically are most active in the early morning, so I was hoping to capture them in action as well.
Sunday morning’s temperature was in the mid-teens. When I arrived at Silver Lake, the shades of color were just starting to change in the east. Cold and bleary eyed, I made my way down to the spot I had picked the day before only to discover the water had refrozen. I relocated as best I could to the new edge of open water and waited. The eagles were already out on the ice and active. I watched a juvenile eagle catch a fish, fly up about 60 feet and then drop it. As he did this, another six or seven eagles flew from their perch to join the fun. Unfortunately for them (and for me) the fish broke through the thin ice and they could not retrieve it again.
Since most of the action took place when it was too dark to shoot, I didn’t get the photos I was looking for, but I did get to practice silhouette shots against an ever-changing colored sky. I also got to hear multiple duck species fly over and in front of me. The sound they made reminded me of bottle rockets whizzing past (don’t ask how I know what that sounds like). It was a glorious morning, and South Dakota at its finest.
Christian Begeman grew up in Isabel and now lives in Sioux Falls. When he's not working at Midcontinent Communications he is often on the road photographing South Dakota’s prettiest spots. Follow Begeman on his blog.