Saturday, November 19, 2022

CAMP CEMENT


This is not a bird trip organized for sissies.  Seeing the King aside, this almost seems like work.  The typical day is up at 0530, load up out birding by 6am, and we bird until nightfall.  The days are long and tiring, but we've seen a lot of birds.  After a few days moving around from hotel to hotel, all rather simple affairs, we went camping, as where we went, there were barely roads and even fewer hotels.

After two nights in a tent out in a dry rice field, we moved to the Indian border and stayed in more secure tent on a platform.



As we birded at the second site, the support crew went ahead of us to scout for a place to camp, unfortunately in Nganglam, there were little flat areas, and the place they had used before was used for construction, as we ate lunch that day, we still did not know where we would be staying.  We ate lunch in the parking lot of a Buddhist Crematorium of all places.  There was fresh wood, but it was not currently being used.


Not sure what was in the box in the prayer room nor what the nearly or naked women meant, and frankly we were afraid to ask too much.

 Our lunches are impromptu affairs done in the middle of the road sometimes, the food excellent, the locations...unique.

The Bathrooms, well, ? primative?


We drove through Nganglam without truly sure what we would expect to spend the night.  This is a small city on the border filled with trucks from the cement plan.  I bought a coke.


North of town we saw our cook standing on the side of the road and we turned into someone's house. So using ingenuity, the support crew had spied a location flat enough to camp in, but it turned out to be the backyard of the CEO of the local plastic bag manufacturer, for the huge cement plant across the street.  He was the interim CEO of that 600 person plant.

Somehow he said yes, and we set up tents and camped out in his backyard.  The support crew even dug portable outhouses in his garden

But the location had issues, besides the backyard being small

We had to eat on their porch


The View from the backyard was the cement factory going 24/7, particulate ash fell on our tents and the large Indian trucks carrying the cement away grinded up the incline below us.


Then the owners showed up and it did not appear as though the wife and the two children had got the message that the birding group had taken over their backyard, but they made us drinks and ate with us and told us their stories.  Wife center, husband center right next to the two children.

Out group, local birding expert Dodji (far left), and the host family (front center right)

And....the stray dogs living on the street below barked, all night.  The only thing louder than the cement factory, were the dogs.  Oh, and the owners now had only one dog... as a leopard had taken their second dog a few weeks back...from their back yard.  The owner decided it was best to leave the yard light on, and put in a new bulb before bedtime.

There were birds in this backyard....

Best look at Red Headed trogan

white throated kingfisher

We survived the night.  There were no leopard attacks but no one got a good sleep, and by morning my mouth tasted like it had burnt metal in it.  The hosts were nice but Nganglam needed some environmental help.  We named the place Camp Cement.

We soon forgot about Camp Cement as we drove on a new road carved into the cliff of the mountains and in many places had had rock slides from the monsoon blocking it and now the debris flattened to drive over the top of.  I was afraid to look over.  Even the bridge between sections of thecrazy road was scary.  We we met trucks I had to close my eyes and hope. We survived and I guess it was all in great fun....



So we did see some birds
Common hawk cuckoo

Crested kingfisher

Himalayan prinia

ibisbill

siberian stonechat

Ultra hard to see Slender billed scimitar-babbler

Yellow billed blue magpie

This is just some of the birds, more to come and even more adventure to come, Bhutan.....interesting place, Kings, CEOs and luckily no leopards.

Olaf



Friday, November 18, 2022

The King and I

A lot of odd things happen to me on adventures big and small.  Uncommon things happen, and even things named like the common green magpie (above) are hardly common and even seeing them is uncommon as they hide in the forest.  Take this 19 day trip to Bhutan, a small country on the northeastern edge of India on the southern flank of the Himalayas. It is a birding trip and what could possibly go weird on a birding trip?  Who would have thought I’d possibly insult the king…let a lone meet him

There are just a few things to remember when meeting His Highness, the King of Bhutan.  First, don’t take a picture.  Secondly, remove ones hat, and well, I guess there are others, but I was not told of any more.  I was never going to meet the king, so why would it matter?

So here we are birding one fine morning in Manas Royal Bhutanese Park, along the Indian border when who should come heading down the forlorn road we were birding on, but the King of Bhutan and his entourage.  What does Olaf instinctively do, snap a picture.

note the kings license plate is just "Bhutan"

We kind of figured we'd see then parade of cars on the way back since they had taken over the reserve lodge and kept us from crossing the river and the King had a function at the Buddhist temple in the little town near us.

So we kept birding and it was getting hot so we moved in the bus for a moment, to cool down and then the pilot car came around the corner, and the bus stopped and out bounded Olaf to bird and get a better view of the King's Jeep, the only American made car I have seen on this trip so far.

So, around the bend comes the king’s car and it stops!  The driver rolls down the window (they drive on the left here and the king is in the other side passenger side of the Jeep).  He leans over and asks me.  “Seen any good birds?”  The King talking to ...me!

At that moment, I had nothing to say, yes, Olaf was totally speechless.  I pulled out of it quickly. I literally forced out, “We’ve seen Scarlet minivets…..” Scarlet minivets I think to myself, where did that come from? I also force out, “and lots of hornbills.”  I then add, “but luckily, no tigers.”

“There was one on the other side of the park.”  The king responds to my addition.

“They can keep it over there.”  I snark. 

“What do you think of Bhutan?”  He asks.

“Wonderful country.”  I say.  What could I say?

“Thanks for visiting us.”  He concludes and the window goes up, and I see the foot go back in the car from the backseat of who I suppose now was a security guard ready to pounce should I do anything odd.

He drives off and I turn around to the pack of the other birders, including lead birder, Aaron Lang.  "You didn't take your hat off Olaf!"  I did not even turn back around to see the queen go by and the two princes.  I smacked myself on the head for being ...an idiot.

And minivets......smart looking birds but...that was the best bird?
Female scarlet minivet

male scarlet minivet

The hornbills are more regal birds, we have seen three species...


The great hornbill (above) is a heck of a bird, and we had seen two that day but well, 
the story was a bit lost from all of the excitement

We have seen some sights and to be honest part of Bhutan, few see.  We are the second birding group in by three days to have been in the country in three years due to COVID.  The locals are waving, and one guy stopped the bus and gave us a basket of oranges.

The collared owlet was even being showy.

As of this moment, an update, I have seen 256 lifers on this trip and more to go.
I am still getting razzed about my King story and I am unsure how I got to be the spokesman of the group, but Olaf being Olaf, Johnny on the spot that I sometimes am, who else would it be?

I think I will do 5x7s of the two birds I mentioned and send a note of apology to the King, we'll see how that goes.  Tomorrow I hope to report from "Camp Cement" a tale that well, involves a corporate CEO, his back yard, making an outhouse in his garden, and a cement plant, but food is soon ready and the bird list must be discussed and I have a frogmouth to find tonight...

Rest assure Olaf and Silja are alive and well in Asia, and the King has hopefully forgotten about my breach of etiquette 

Olaf




Friday, November 4, 2022

One Night in Bangkok....


Two hours to Houston, 14 to Tokyo, just under 8 hours more to Bangkok, plus associated transit times, ground delays, the International Dateline, a cab ride and we were there.  We left at 4AM Sunday from our RV north of Tampa.  We arrived in our hotel room at 0115 on Tuesday.  But where was there?  A hotel called the Novatell.  In it all I made two mistakes.  First, after a string of surprisingly good movies, I got my sleep well, and was entertained so that was not it.  The first mistake, it turned out was I (well we), went west, we should have gone east. I was doing the math in My head.  Tampa to London, London to Bangkok.....I went 13 time zones west, that leaves 11 east.....crap

The other mistake, was worse, I ate the United Air egg thing for breakfast......the last United Air egg thing I ate on our way to St. Thomas in 2002, led to Salmonella, and 2 decades of funny stories, and me spending a night on a beach hoping for a tidal wave, or a lucky meteor strike...anything....this one.....

Well, Salmonella takes a while....I had that one night in Bangkok, then we were off to Pattaya area 60 miles south to get over the jet lag in a place that was sort of maybe is where 1985 Orient Beach St Martin FWI meets, well an Icelandic spa, not the tourist ones near Keflavik, no the ones tourists rarely find, with the lady shower monitor in the showers making sure everything that is supposed to be washed is, and where they skimped on dressing and locker rooms. (as why would you have two?) because then you plunge into great designed baths. Here at Dragonfly, it is a great place just carved out of a swamp......

But as you are trying to find the correct and even better description you realize that nothing is making sense as you now have a fever of 103, are sitting out in 95 degree weather, and suddenly The Revenge of United Airlines hits you like a rock......

Yea, there is Montezuma's Revenge, but there is something worse, much worse, I call it United's Revenge....sigh.  

It was bad, I moaned, I threw everything we had with at it, the badger that was gnawing  its way out of me in three directions was not a full size one, but big enough to leave lasting scars.  I had dreams of being attacked by a hawk on some island well past New Zealand, who was somehow mad at me for saving a dog.  It was a Yorkshire terrier and I do not even like them.  Then there was some car ride, left and right right and left, and OMG, I woke up but I was still moving...I even dreamed I was having abdominal pain, but when I woke up, the real pain was worse!  I might have even converted to a different religion, but well, does that count during desperate times?  I also gave up beer.  Through it all, I survived.  

They could not make Thai food bland enough for my destroyed taste buds.  I ate a smoothie the first day and the banana flavor tasted like a pine tree.  Day two involved a quest for something that tasted correct, I ate a sausage that tasted like a moth ball, and grain, can I get some grain?  They offered my some pork infused porridge.....today, I gave up and drank beer (more on that later).  I am happy to report, beer, tastes like beer.....it is not good beer, but it is beer, good ole beer.

I birded from the deck of a pool with naked people sauntering past me while I randomly  called out works like flowerpecker, Milky stork, ashy drongos, Germain swiftlets, and bee-eaters to people, who did not understand me and it was not always a language barrier.  I have called out worse bird names when I was more lucid, but they do not know that.  So calling a guy a flowerpecker...I'll skip that.

Today, We walked off the reservation and got a few photos

The road into this nice little village, built 2 years ago, and open to adventurous souls willing to enjoy something not that common in Asia, unfortunately cameras are verboten, but I will probably write a travel article on it for a magazine so the marketing guy will share some stuff later

The Scarlet backed flowerpecker, not a slur!

Great myna

Asian green bee-eater

We have kind of been a menace birding here. Stirring up dogs. Stopping traffic, today, one guy either said, "Welcome to Thailand" or "Get the F#^k off my land" honestly, I was just 10 feet off the road and Don H and me argued about exactly which he said.  I think he was not so welcoming.  Don says he was being king and friendly...

We did end up on another guy's property, who invited us for cocktails, as long as we told hockey stories.  His name was Brad.  He assured me, that any pledge made while febrile about alcohol is non-binding, so he handed me a beer.  All is apparently right with the world on that front, but like I said, we may have new holidays to celebrate.

There is some snake with poison and venom.  Dengue fever, all kinds of crap and well, all that lying near death by the pool thing now means the Scarlet backed flowerpecker and me got something in common and let just say it is the color of red.

 I say we are in Pattaya, we are only close to Pattaya, Pattaya is a weird place, I cannot handle Pattaya.  The innuendo in the movie "Hangover" is closer more to Pattaya than Bangkok.  Today we had to go into the city to replenish our reserves of anti-e coli, and Salmonella medications, God, Allah, or Buddha knows what is in store for us in Bhutan, and the other couple we are traveling with needed a tweezers.   We pack light and have simple needs.  What can I say?     

An article in the British tabloid the Daily Mirror once described Pattaya as "the world's sex capital", a "modern-day Sodom and Gomorrah". This provoked anger from government officials as high up as Prime Minister, and the Pattaya police superintendent, who both denied that Pattaya is a sex trade paradise. Upset about the British media's stories, he insisted they were fabricated. "There is no such thing as prostitution in Pattaya," said Col Apichai. "Where did they get the figure of 27,000 sex workers in Pattaya? Anyone can make up this information....Thai ladies having sex with foreigners is their personal issue. If they like each other, I don't see anything wrong with what they do behind closed doors." In response, Pattaya social worker Surang Janyam, the director of Service Workers IN Group Foundation, said that estimated number of Pattaya prostitutes published in the Daily Mirror is inaccurate: "27,000 sex workers in Pattaya is way too low. We have a lot more sex workers than that." In June 2019, over twenty high ranking Police, Army and Local government officers toured Pattaya and reported the central streets safe and free from illegal activities.

Pattaya is a Minneapolis sized city on a big flat beach, (which has been closed due to raw sewage being leaked on it a few times, oh and then there was the Monkey riot of 2020...


We walked past money exchanging madness, brothel shops filled with 30 or 40 prostitutes, prostitutes on scooters, prostitutes hanging with school kids and it was not even 5 PM yet, apparently the crazies really gets going at 7PM.  We got picked up at 530, you could loose a body part down there, or them monkeys.  We got two boxes of antibiotics and a tweezers, and were safely out of town.  We lead a sheltered life, (well okay).  At 7PM I was safely in the confines of our little "village" having my single gin and tonic for the night, Silja was out cold by 8, and I am typing this listening for nightjars.

I did leave Pattaya with a question.  Mucalinda, a 9 headed serpent thing (Naga) came to protect Buddha after his enlightenment.  I am not sure why he would need protection after enlightenment but that is another question for another day.  But you offer Mucalinda, Red Fanta flavored soda?
Not Coke, not Grape Nehi, even the Fanta Orange.....just this really crappy red stuff, and not just here, the only soda I saw offered to the being at any temple was Red Fanta....

We are staying put with the blissful tranquil spot interrupted with the squeal of a newly slaughtered pig (a hog butchering facility is next door).  Or the organic delivery scooter.
Look at that, locally grown, organic, and individually wrapped in plastic.....got to love it
  
So, a bit disjointed and weird, but I have been ill.

31 lifers for both of my lists (you know what lists), should get some more, then off to Bhutan next week

Olaf







Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Go with Godwit

Chasing birds in addictive.  I have a funeral at the end of the week, half a continent away, and we are going to Asia birding on Sunday for a month, and I don't know why, but I went birding today.  Why? I guess because I have never seen a bar-tailed godwit in the lower 48 states.  Why else why?  because it is plover madness down at Ft DeSoto this time of year, and why else why?  My wife went with me, since what else do I (we) have to do?  I guess I do have things to do, I am literally writing 3 books right now, and well....I guess I went because I could.

What is a bar-tailed Godwit, a bird I see in and around Nome, doing in western Florida?  On their way to migration points....no.

Those Nome birds winter in New Zealand.
Today's bar-tailed godwit seemed to have fleas, was doing some serious preening and scratching

The Godwits we see in Florida this time of year are Marbled Godwits, which are bigger and are the ones from my back yard in South Dakota.  They head south to the coast, really any coast, Baja, Texas, South Carolina, Here.
Marbled godwit Ft DeSoto

But for a Bar-tailed godwit down here is a good bird, not a super rare thing, they see one or two it seems every year but I just have not chased one.  Today, chase I did.  


It was easy to find, very near where I always bird and where we typically park the car, and unload the bikes.  Today, I drove my bike up to the lagoon, shot photos and....GOT YELLED AT FOR DRIVING MY BIKE ON THE BEACH.  Okay, rules at DeSoto.  No...dogs, no covered license plates, BBQs, vendors, picnic tables, nudity, and apparently bikes on the beach, only two of which had signs to that matter...I'd say I should read the signs but I did not see any signs.

Well, I went plover watching, plover madness was evident.....five plover species and none were even killdeers.  All were easily seen.  It is always a good tutorial down there and almost always I see too many Piping Plovers for eBird.  I get emails, snide remarks, and questions, too many questions.  All of which I ignore, Ft DeSoto does not always bring out the best in me.  Rules....yea....

Winter plovers are not always easy....So let the review begin....Olaf's bad tutorial for plover madness month.

Black bellied plovers, big, like willet big, thick bill, no black belly this time of year, more of a beach  shore bird, but this one was at the lagoon 

Piping plover, small, very light plover, almost color of sand, black bill, orange-yellowish legs, band on front of neck does NOT meet.

Semipalmated plover, band meets on neck, a little orange usually on base of bill, but the piping bill and semipalms bill look almost identical from shape and size, yellowish legs, typically darker than pipings, but not always 

Snowy plover.  This bird seems to always be more upright in posture.  Bill longer and thinner than a piping and semipalm, legs are gray to dark, no band in front, like piping.  White forehead, which looks different to me from piping but basically the same, 
Where other plovers will chase the waves, it seems I see snowy's up higher on the beach and not infrequently in a little bowl they have made or found, like this one today.  Almost missed this one.

Wilson's plover has a T. Rex look about them, they just look angry and mean, while pipings and semipalms look nervous..  They have a huge bill, dark legs, usually a complete band in front, darker like semipalms

I saw 150 plovers today.  They guess there are 12-13000 piping plovers in the world, 30-35K snowy plovers, and maybe just 10,000 Wilson's plovers.  I've seen over 100 of both Wilson's and Piping plovers on this stretch of beach or in two small tidal ponds.  It is the place to go, and whether eBird likes my counts or not, I do not care.....I'm just a bad birder down here.

There are over a million bar-tailed godwits on this planet and 1/10 of that number of marbled godwits for comparison, and although these 3 plovers are much more scarce as they say....location location location....but if you bird and come to Florida, stop by here and see the little guys, and may, just maybe, a bar-tailed godwit or something else strange may be around.  Ft DeSoto is a nice beach to just soak up the sun and some cool birds.

Olaf





CAMP CEMENT

This is not a bird trip organized for sissies.  Seeing the King aside, this almost seems like work.  The typical day is up at 0530, load up ...