Prolific, local photographer, Cindy Anson Eilers of rural Wessington Springs has photographed countless images of South Dakota flora and fauna -- from closeups of buffalo and the elusive whooping crane to elegantly-framed pasque flowers dusted across the prairie. 

A self-described birder, Anson Eilers has an affinity for winged creatures and after years of capturing birds in flight and at rest with her camera, the pinnacle of her birding career didn’t arrive until May 23, 2019.    

“My best birding day ever was on May 23, 2019 in the plum thickets that were in bloom,” Anson Eilers explained. “Even with all the birding I’ve done I had never seen anything like this -- eight species together in one day that I’d never seen.  I hit the jackpot!”

As seen by the birds’ “puffed-up” body language in the photos Anson Eilers took above, May 23, 2019 was quite chilly. 

“I think all the harsh weather might have influenced their migration, with the cold spring. They were stalling out, keeping them here and looking for food” Anson Eilers explained about the insect eaters. “I feel fortunate to have seen these beauties.” 

After her productive day she had many questions and turned to an expert, Eileen Dowd Stukel.

With a 30-year career working at South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks as a wildlife biologist studying South Dakota birds, Dowd Stukel is also the author of Backyard Birds of South Dakota.  

A conversation with Dowd Stukel on the phone served as an exciting springboard for a new, hands-on experience for Anson Eilers in Pierre.  

“I had an amazing day on June 3, 2019, getting the opportunity to assist in tagging birds which is done spring and fall during migration at Farm Island in Pierre, SD,” explained Anson Eilers, who collected data on species, weight, age and measurements. 

While she thoroughly enjoyed her experience in Pierre, she encountered another birder while at the state’s capital who had traveled to a place Anson Eilers had enjoyed many exciting birding experiences  – Wessington Springs.   

“I met a bird watcher along the trail that had been to Wessington Springs to bird watch. The habitat here makes this area home to many species of birds.”