Area birding festival takes flightSecond annual event draws 40 to Lake Andes region.
By: Chris Mueller, The Daily Republic
LAKE ANDES — It’s another big year for Lynn Barber.
Barber, of Rapid City, has dedicated 2012 to seeing as many bird species in South Dakota as she can. It’s an undertaking known in the birding community as a “big year.”
For Barber, a birder since age 7, it’s not her first such endeavor. She set a Texas state record in 2005 when she saw 522 species in one year. In 2008, Barber saw 723 species in another big year across the American Birding Association area, which includes all of the U.S. states except Hawaii, plus Canada and the French islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon near Canada.
A book Barber wrote about her continental big year was published in 2011. “It’s fun,” she said of her experiences. “It’s a big excuse to get out and do this.” The state record for most bird species seen in South Dakota in one year is 332. In pursuit of the record, Barber said she has been nearly everywhere in South Dakota this year.
“You have to watch every little bird that goes by because it might be one you haven’t seen yet,” she said.
Barber was one of about 40 birders gathered Saturday at the Lake Andes National Wildlife Refuge to take part in the second annual South Dakota Birding Festival.
The festival ran from Friday to Sunday and featured programs on various birding topics, as well as several guided birding trips at the Lake Andes National Wildlife Refuge and the Karl Mundt National Wildlife Refuge.
Matt Cerny, Wagner Chamber of Commerce president and Wagner Area Growth economic development coordinator, was instrumental in starting the festival.
“We’ve got a great habitat for birding,” he said. “We’re just trying to showcase that and make people aware of it.”
Attendance at the event more than doubled this year over last, to the delight of Jeff Stewart, a member of the festival’s planning committee.
“We’ve got a good area for this,” he said. “It’s going to get bigger and better every year, no doubt about it.”
The festival is the only one of its kind in South Dakota, and many who attended in 2011 returned again this year. Kelly Preheim, of Armour, became hooked on birding after her first time during last year’s festival.
“I didn’t realize there were so many interesting birds around here,” she said.
Preheim, a kindergarten teacher at Armour Elementary School, referred to herself as a “casual birder.”
“I teach my little kids about birds, too, and they’re really good at it,” she said.
Maggie Pettersen, of Vermillion, also returned this year after her first birding experience during last year’s festival.
“I knew right away I was going to come back,” she said of her attitude last year.
Ron Mabie, a Pickstown resident with 20 years of birding experience, had some advice for newcomers.
“Well, first you need binoculars,” he said with a laugh.
Mabie’s birding experience began simply, he said, when he began to watch and identify species at the bird feeder in his yard. The hobby later grew to a passion after he saw a long-tailed duck near Fort Randall Dam while on a birding trip with friends. In the winter of 2008, Mabie was a part of the first recorded sighting of a yellow-billed loon in South Dakota, which he called a “pretty neat thrill.”
Because of his birding background, Mabie volunteered to serve on the festival’s planning committee. He hopes to see the event continue to grow.
“Where the birds are, we’ll end up there,” he said.
Roger Dietrich, of Yankton, shared Mabie’s excitement. Dietrich, an experienced nature photographer, gave a lesson on bird photography to festival attendees.
“It just seems to get more fun all the time,” he said. “There is always something new every time you go out. You just don’t know what you’re going to see.”
As the crowd of birders gathered Saturday afternoon at the shores of Red Lake near Wagner, despite a gray cloud-covered sky and chilly gusts, all seemed to share the same enthusiasm for their pastime.
“It’s a passion,” said Linda Johnson, of Sioux Falls, after spotting a Clark’s grebe out on the water. “We don’t even care what anybody else thinks.”