There's more than snow flying in the South Dakota Missouri River Valley. Winter sunrises shed light on a symbol of America that's hard to find anywhere else.
“You can go to Alaska and pay a lot of money to see eagles or you can come to Yankton or many other dams along the Missouri in South Dakota and see eagles too,” Birder Roger Dietrich said.
Bald Eagles feed over the open waters of the Missouri near Gavins Point dam this time of year.
“I can remember a time 20 to 30 years ago where one eagle came and perched on a cottonwood tree outside of town. And half the town went out to look at it,” Bernie Hunhoff said.
These days they're so common, the counting is left only to Birders who track the eagles’ every move. Numbers keep growing. This year they number at least 75 perched in trees along the Missouri River.
“And there have been more. A few years ago a couple of ladies counted just from the bridges and the dam they counted 100 eagles,” Dietrich said.
Dietrich documents all area bird species. His photo album shows his best work including the Bald Eagle, which is now so comfortable in the area, it is now nesting there.
“If you see a huge stick nest in a tree, that's six, eight, ten foot across and three, four foot deep good chance that's an Eagle's nest,” Dietrich said.
“Sometimes you'll see two eagles fighting over a fish in the air and usually the fish ends up falling in the water,” Hunhoff said.
Efforts to preserve the eagle are increasing numbers everywhere. The population's gone from just a few hundred in the 1960s to thousands today, taking the national bird off the endangered species list.
But a peek at the bald eagle is still a majestic sight especially when it's in your own backyard.
“The Missouri River Valley, there's no better place,” Hunhoff said.
Birders estimate there are more than 200 bird species in the Missouri River Valley. Golden Eagles are also found in the state west of Yankton, but say a few have been spotted in the area too.