"Wherever I go and wherever I am, I find I should be somewhere else."

Monday, February 27, 2017

Monkeying Around

FEB 18-25, 2017

I spent last week on the "friendly island" working on my project, The Birds of St. Martin, French West Indies, a photographic guide.  With rare exception it was a great weekwise for weather, I got a nice tan, I drank too much, had a nice visit with many couples we knew from around Minneapolis, and I saw a whole lot of birds, some of which I needed for my field guide.

The cover is a work in progress:

I also saw monkeys, green vervet monkeys, stealing mangoes.  I lifer mammal for the island.

These are troublesome troopers, these damn monkeys, biting beachgoers at Dawn Beach, throwing poo at innocent hikers, charging people enjoying a breakfast baguette, and or generally making a nuisance of themselves, only monkeys can do.  These guys are not native, here, first being "officially" reported by wildlife types in 2001, but they may have been here sooner and may have escaped from somewhere during the Hurricane Luis disaster, but no one is fessing us, most of all these crazy thieves. Luckily, my wife and friends didn't get harassed zip lining....them and I had more problems with ants.

I explored the entire French domain and I got some good shots of birds.  

Caribbean Elaenia

One of those Scrabble or spelling bee words, but this small flycatcher is not easily seen.

I saw a record number of white cheeked pintail, and proved they nest on St. Martin as I saw ducklings in a pond.  You know that with this duck it first appears that only males ever show in Florida but then being southern ducks, the sexes are the same. so those maybe aren't males...but the most handsome of all ducks, is this resident from the Bahamas through Argentina.

White-cheeked pintail

I spent a lot of effort looking for Caribbean (American) coots which are now not a species.  There are 300 at most on both sides of the island and they are wary birds.  I found two, which came back to this pond for three days and then disappeared and could not be refound.  I spent some effort trying to get closer but well.... 

American Coot
I needed a semipalmated plover picture here and found a flock of them.

Stilt sandpiper 

I found an enclave of Mangrove cuckoo, calling, and trying to get them out of the extremely dense cover, and well this one appeared momentarily, four feet dead above me, too close to get a quality pic, although I already had one, so no loss
Mangrove Cuckoo

I got three lifer island birds and a ??  which was a great accomplishment for me.  My St. Martin list is not something quite like Paul L's Gambell list nor Scott S's  St Paul list which are something beyond compare, sort of Pete Rose's record or Cal Ripkin....Mine? It is sophomoric by comparison and I probably shouldn't even bother but I've got some good St Martin birds over the years, maybe someone has seen more than me, I don't know, I may have to add some old birds onto ebird and see....and sometimes these are even on trips that I'm not even really birding.

 Northern Parula

Any over-Gulf migrating warbler can end up here but I've never gotten a parula before, and unlike normal, it even posed for me.

I added a green-winged teal
I know big deal right?  Which along with the northern shoveler isn't even on the usual French published checklist of birds on the island but I had seen one of them before in 2014.  There was a huge flock of blue-winged teal on the island this year that had moved into this pond apparently for the winter, and I suspect, brought some friends with from up north.

 I thought I had all the ducks that could occur here, so another one....great!
I guess looking for West-Indian whistling duck will go on forever, so I'll keep looking as seeing one of them here, or even hearing one would be awesome!

In one of those odd birding moments, I  was saying goodbye to a neighbor when a purple throated carib came into his feeder at sea level, "was that purple?"  I shouted as it zipped off..."Yes," the professor answered.....

The purple throated carib is on the checklist as endemic but in 300 days plus here, I've never seen one, of the four eBird posts I've looked at, and curiously none of them are from up elevation where you'd expect this bird, as that is where it is on other island I've seen.  No photos have ever been added to these checklists, and I, for one, have been suspicious of these reports.  I had been thinking, even a few hours before this sighting, that they do not exist here.  This sighting by me and a professor of comparative biology in Canada who now both now have a sighting, has changed my mind....sadly my camera was not handy, and I may have gotten away with using it here at a location not approved for photography and by then we also needed to go.

That wasn't the strangest bird I saw, though, for just a hour earlier, I saw this bird, over the tennis court, and two hours before that, I flushed it off a powerline above the mangroves a few hundred yards from the gate of where we live.  I had flushed a second bird, over near the Butterfly farm five minutes before that.  It's like 'that had a white bar on the wings....?'  WTF?

The second time was a good sitting look if only for a moment.  I may be mistaken, but that is a bare-eyed pigeon, so I say "WTF?"  Native of the A-B-C islands, Venezuela etc. but reported nowhere north of there, what is that doing here and....there are two of them.  Provenance?  There have been other reports this week, but what to do with this bird?  It could be here on its own, BUT..people keep pigeons, people release pigeons.  This bird was a true wild acting bird, all times I looked at it, and twice from almost 50 yards, very skittish.  This bird by its reaction has been hunted, flighty as ever, as bad as the wild scaly naped pigeons which I spent days trying to photograph in the hills, and walking looking, I barely did, one photo in 6 sightings.

scaly -naped pigeon

There is no local approval committee, so count, or not?  Until a couple years ago, 90% of the ebird lists on this island were mine,  so it not being reported here, maybe the French report it elsewhere...maybe worse for other islands south of here and this bird wanders....but I'm not sure....It acted wild, had no bands on it, and a pigeon from a few hundred miles is theoretical plausible, they got a white-crowned hanging around, and they get those flyiong through every once in a while.
 so a ??? bird.  This would be a real lifer bird............

I did try to get a look at a scaly-breasted thrasher, and failed, only pearly-eyeds around the island that I could find.  The pearly-eyes have started singing, which also react to cuckoo calls, so I assume the two are here for the same purpose and cuckoos are utilizing parasitism of this species' nests.

I hiked Pic Paradis, without getting robbed or mugged, unlike the last time I braved it up here in 2006.

I did it twice, and the fear has gone, so I'll keep doing it.  The view is good and if I avoid monkeys and brigands, it is a good birdy place.

Some more birds from my great backyard bird count day, one man's yard bird is another's **MEGA**  (why do birders love the word mega?):

Green throated carib

Black-faced grassquit

Zenaida dove

For a few cool local birds, ....we had a nice dinner party with friends at our place.  We worked on a plumbing problem at our rental villa, I didn't get hurt, I have no sunburn in any hidden locations, I wrote well on my field guide, and well...I avoided monkey bites. 

Well, home now, heading owling here tomorrow, after an interview with Homeland Security tomorrow.  Life and ...biridng...goes on.


Friday, February 10, 2017

Peckers, Tits, and Hooters

On Thursday I drove to Sheboygan, WI  to see a woman about her pair of great tits, and let me say it here, they really were great tits!

I knocked on her door and told her I was there to see her tits and she look out the window and then showed them to!  It was another item off of my bucket list.  I took a picture, so you'd believe me and then decided to go outside and check out a very large pecker.....

Wait a minute.  I'm not sure that came out correctly.  I really did see tits.

parus major, the great tit.  This is a European bird and one may ask....what is this doing near Lake Michigan in Wisconsin?

Somewhere in the end of the last century a person began releasing songbirds from Chicago.  These tits started finding each other and they began to breed.  The earliest I can find in the record documenting nesting was from Milwaukee county in 2004 although someone had seen them farther north and west earlier than that.  I guess the Wisc Checklist committee will have something to do. They continue to establish themselves, hanging out with black-capped chickadees, showing up at feeders and Christmas bird counts, and allowing people like me to use them in puns.

It is only a matter of time before this cute little bird will end up on the Wisconsin state list.
Then I can count it!

This isn't the oddest great tit report.  In 2016, there was a photo documented report from Cape Cod.  Okay, that was not one of these birds.  Then I scratch my head, why did that bird get a yawn from the birding community?  Could it have been a ship assisted bird?  I don't think it could have dispersed to here from northern Europe but a ship....where was NARBA or the rare bird reports?   This deserved more than a yawn, imho.  Oh well, the past, as they say is past.  I got this tit.

I also found a really cool effigy mound site with deer and other effigies in nearby Indian Mound park and I need to map these effigies better as I didn't know they were this far NE in Wisconsin, so I need to do more research.    

My pecker was a pileated woodpecker, year bird nothing more.  I drove to Ripon last night after my tit fest and met my sons and decided that even though this wasn't technically a life bird I drank a lifer beer none the less.  Leinenkugels dunkel!

Odd how it looks like I'm seeing the light...!...?

Today I gave a lecture in Ripon Ornithology Class about the perils of the Hawaiian birds and went over the ABA checklist and then to a large crowd this afternoon I presented my big year report.  The Green Lake Birding club and others were there in mass.  I had more questions than I've had at a talk in a while and it was generally fun.  Dr Khan was the gracious host and  interestingly Dr Skip Wittler introduced me by discussing briefly a paper I was lead author of on the Leaf-ling behavior of Buteo hawks, from 1995.  I forgot about that paper, that came off of my senior research when I was in school, and a student a few years later had taken up my project and continued it.  I stopped by Dr Bill Brooks, now retired, when I was out this way interviewing for Position in Appleton.  What a blur.  So learning that was kind of cool.   I met a couple of Blog friends and had a really nice time, thanks Ripon!!!  Thanks to all of the Ripon biology department for being so nice.  I was here last 29 years ago and many of the faculty are still here from I was here.

Between lectures, I went out to scour the countryside and bingo about 8 miles away....Snowy owl!

A nice very white owl.  It is good to know I still have it for digging up cool birds!
I also flushed a great horned over the highway so I had a two owl lunch, how great is that!

I went out with some of the local birding club members later and we chatted and had a cocktail and then  it was time to stop memory lane and drive home.  My goal in visiting was to see my boys before they graduate in May, they are off soon to start their lives, maybe thousands of miles away and well, it was fun to see them.  It is so cool having them go to where I spent 4 years of my life.

Well, it was certainly a hooters, peckers and tits kind of trip....did I really just write that?

Go Red Hawks!  I'm just out owling around in Wisconsin looking for tits....


Friday, February 3, 2017

Musings from up north

It has been a busy week, all in all, last Friday, I got to be on live on the Weather Channel, although I wanted to plug Hawaii, I didn't get the chance.  I had a Weather Channel interview cancelled due to bad weather months ago when they wanted me live from Barrow, but at least they came back around.  I didn't make a fool of myself.  I used to be a DJ on the Radio so I'm quick enough thinking to not pause when live, but it was only 2 minutes and I'm surprised so many people actually saw it.

Last Sunday, I was the guest speaker at the Friends of Sax-Zim Bog gala in Minneapolis.  It was well received and I shall continue in my mission to inform everyone about Hawaii.  I think I had 300 people there.  It was fun. I'm glad they raised some good money to buy more bog land.

After a week of accounting, and getting my life back in order, I got bored, I always get bored, so I went birding.......
I did the western spur of the "Willie the Walleye Route" today.  My self-guided tour that can give me all of the lower 48 non-mountain winter birds.  I had a reason to have lunch with some clients in Roseau, MN so I said, 'what the heck' and took off today at 0330.  The weather was decent, however, it was -18F when I drove into the bog I know.  This is not the Sax-Zim Bog, btw, just a bog I know well which is more manageable and typically better, especially for hawk-owls.

It all starts here:

A semi-secret location that is known only to a select few

The trip was fun, there is a dearth of winter finches up this way so except for a few purple finches, there was nothing else of note but I was not disappointed in the owl department.  Below is my first Minnesota bird of the year...Northern shrike.

I saw the Cadillac of owls, the great gray owl, and had him, or her, on a very small branch, before it spooked and flew away.

I go up here almost every year around Groundhog's Day.  It has been since 2013, I think, since I got a great gray here although I may have gotten one in 2014, I forget, it is becoming a blur.  I don't disclose my exact spot for owls up here (unless we've traded info in the past) since some of the other local owl birders refuse to disclose their sorry.

If the GGOW is the Cadillac of owls, the Northern Hawk-Owl is the Fiat 500 of owls, small sporty, sassy and cute although, how practical?....I'm not sure.

I got to count this next bird twice today.  That doesn't happen too often:

Seen here about 100 feet from Manitoba, it is clearly a Yank bird, but it later flew north and became my Canada lifer Northern Hawk-owl, FWIW.  It wasn't long afterwards when out of nowhere a white SUV with a green stripe skidded to a stop next to me....."Oh.  You are a birder...."  He drove off.

So there was a good bunch of hawk-owls about, all in their usual location, I've still never been shut out up here.  I scarfed a great horned but no snowy owl to complete a grand slam.

I was planning and heading to my second favorite country until...I realized my passport was not with.  So I decided to switch to grousing.   I jumped gray partridge in four locations, and sharp-tails twice.  I had previously flushed a pheasant so was on a roll, but alas, struck out on the spruce and ruffed grouse, and despite about an hour checking fields, all I found was a coyote and no prairie chickens so was only 3/6 on the grouse grand slam.

It would have been fun to trace the whole route but I only had a day and then rest of the tour takes two more, but it was a good day, long, 800 miles but good. It is always fun to see owls.

Well next week is another week, with stuff to do.  I do go to lecture at Ripon College in the Biology department which I've done before.  Maybe I'll even chase an oriole in Pennsylvania although I'm scratching my head on that one.  I giving a lesson on bird-listing and explaining the checklist to students and then for a 2nd lecture doing my Big Year and embarrassing my sons.

Then, I should be done, unless I get shocked and someone wants to hear from me, otherwise my 2016 exploits should be relegated to dust bowl of history right where it belongs.  Hunting for owls with my camera is fun though.

So that is the update from the life of Olaf.

Keep on Birding


Monday, January 23, 2017

Quit going Bananas

Well, I went on my second vacation to get away from by big year with my wife, we went to an undisclosed location north of Tampa, Florida for a little sun, visit some friends, and well I did go birding on two days, although one was mostly to chase manatees, lifer mammal for Silja!

The only bird of note I found was a crew of Nanday parakeets which I ended up seeing in Pasco County and Pinellas County

On Thursday I did go on the chase for a lifer bird to Ft Lauderdale, and ran into some birders from my big year, Donna Schulmann from new York and the garganey chase, and Ed Hopkins from Indiana and my Cuban vireo chase.  I got a lifer exotic....a blue-crowned parakeet, fwiw

has some nice views of a pair of painted buntings...

It was tricky but I finally found the bananaquit

lifer bird somewhere between 790 and 846, depending on what the ABA will do with their checklist and Hawaii.  I got a laugh because my daughter was on a cruise last week with a friend and family and she texts me, knowing my life list.  "I saw a bananaquit today, dad!!"  She was in Roatan.  I respond.  "So did I!"  "Really?"  She replies.  I could feel the dejection.  I was able for once to not let her get one up on me and give me the business.

On of my favorite birds.
This Florida bird is from the bahamenis subspecies from the Bahamas somewhere and there are in total 41 subspecies of this bird which has uncertain taxonomy as not sure exactly what it is related to.  I am much more familiar with the birds of the Lesser Antilles, considered the bartholemica  group.  Which they are now working on splitting at least into two species much like spindalis species.

here is a St Martin bird.  It is bigger, black chinned, more striking yellow, darker backed.  Their call is a lot different, I would also say more aggressive, and when I first saw the two, I was shocked they were the same species....They don't really migrate but they disperse somewhat, and that I assume is how they get to Florida.  You'd think that over the years (centuries) they should have colonized south Florida but they have not


Anyhow, I finally got one in ABAdom, it was a long day driving but worth it and my wife was okay with my day away from her.  Anyhow, unlike some of the splits proposed this year....eastern and western willet, splitting the yellow-rumped warblers again, and spinning off the southern hills crossbill, this bananaquit spit I have long agreed we will see, the Antillean bananaquit (pick this name) has never been seen in the ABA so it isn't that big of a deal I guess for the ABA listers

So what else is Olaf up to?

I'm giving a talk in Fridley, MN for the Sax-Zim Bog society on January 29th, 2-4 pm

Come and donate money, for a good cause--the bog.  Where would you be without this bog?  If you can't come, donate money anyhow.  

Despite my comments....I have got a couple of speaking sermons, however....

On February 10th I will be speaking in Ripon College, Ripon WI trying my best to embarrass my sons, who graduate in May, because, I'm just that kind of guy.  I've spoken there before so this year I will add a second talk on birds.  I've spoken before on business.  I'm giving two talks this year.

They want me to talk on "How Competitive birding promotes Bird Conservation?"

I will answer does it?

I've asked a couple of opinionated wise sage-types like Greg Miller to weigh in so if you have any input, I'm still working on my talk.  Dorian Anderson is composing his essay in response....

I expect to go owling on the MN-Manitoba border next week.....

So Olaf is still out there birding

Sunday, January 1, 2017

2016, The Year End Final Thoughts

I spent the last few moments of 2016 not in Adak, not in some forest hoping for an owl but at Papagayo, in Club Orient Resort on the French side of St Martin, FWI well out of the ABA area (old or new).   I was dancing in a throng of people initially wearing less in total than I had carried onto the island in my carry-on suitcase, and mind you it was mostly filled with books.  I was dressed up, well sort of, I was wearing my signature red bow-tie, and well, I had on Crocks.  By 1155 PM, the dance crowd, due to the heat and the inhibitory relaxing effects of alcohol, were wearing even less, if that could be possible.  My wife and I danced to "Say you say, me"  Lionel Richie's signature hit, one I could sing karaoke to from my days in college if I had to.  We danced and people watched.  You always subconsciously people watch here, otherwise you might miss something.

The manager came on and started the count down 10, 9, 8, 7, 6....finally in was officially 2017 at least in Atlantic Standard time, my year was over.  My wife hugged me and kissed me.  As we left the dance floor to walk out to the beach to see the fireworks, my wife grabbed my hand and said, "I'm glad to have you back."

I felt warm inside.  "I'm glad to be back." I said as the first explosion of fireworks echoed near me.  "I can guarantee you one thing....I'm never doing that again."  I said and then thinking our kids were missing out I left her to find the rest of our family to enjoy the end of 2016 and the beginning of 2017 together.   When it was over, I said, "I'm tired, it is the end of a very, a very long day."


It seems a little odd and surreal having a picture of me with my number on a sign celebrating a USA record wearing nothing but a Calgary Flames Hat and standing on French soil, but that is where I am today.  My day is full of conflicts.

I spent the first day of 2017 like I have all but one year in the last decade, on the south end of Orient Beach watching tanned and red toned and saggy bodies walk past me while I lounged under my yellow umbrella.  I watched some people with obvious tan lines, others proudly showing off their lack there of, and a few gawkers dreaming of having enough fortitude to do what the rest of us are doing...enjoying the beach and the ocean.  I sat there drinking a Carib, toasting my life.  I was really and truly living the dream.

Thinking about it with a detached reflection on what was...I had basically wasted a year of my life chasing and counting birds.  I really had.  It can't describe it any other way.  Others had also done this, and spent much more money than I had.  If I had expected some added sort of epiphany or revelation about the year or life, it wasn't forthcoming. I knew it would never come.  I ended my 2013 nude big year saying in my book Boobies, Peckers, and Tits...

"On numerous occasions, my nude Big Year forced me out of comfort zone, and I believe we all need to push ourselves into something new at least once in our lives.  If I have any advice after this adventure, it is to live a little.  Try that new job, write a book, or start your own adventure.  Life is too serious (I will add in 2016 birders are too serious), and we are often too concerned about what the neighbors might think or what something might cost.  If that is the case, I'd advise you to get new neighbors, realize that life is worth living, and know that some things are priceless."

Here again 3 years later, after an even more involved effort, one that most of the local people here truly couldn't understand, I still agree with this.

As I said, very few people can or will appreciate what I did.  My family would be included in this.  There is no award, no call of congratulations, and I received and will receive nothing for this except....bills, Diamond Medallion status on Delta Airlines, a new cat, a significant ankle injury, and the worst, a cabin with significantly damaged plumbing.  It will also take me some time to purge the bird chasing out of me and go on with life and onto my next fun thing, whatever that is.  One just can't stop traveling cold turkey and besides, I have the highest elite status on Delta this year, I will never have that again.

Many of you may not believe what I saw, what I did, or what I write.  Who really is this Olaf %%$$# anyhow?  My answer to you is, I don't care.  I got better things to do than to make up birds or to pad my life list for no apparent purpose.  I am not writing a book on my year except maybe a how to manual on doing a big year as the one in publication is old and needs help.  I raced through the non -coded birds fast and easily.  My plan was sound for that.  I am writing a birder mass murder mystery, which may or not be any good--too early to tell.  "Counting Owls"  I am 60% finished and I am using some experiences from my year for places to knock off birders. Back to my year though, in summary, this year was not about or for you, sorry there.  This was not about the ABA.  This was not about a record, this was not even about making sure anyone who beat me had to waste a lot of money (much more than I did) that could be used for better purposes than to get a number that coincidentally, the ABA inadvertently made somewhat meaningless and hollow by adding Hawaii to the area in 2017.   Next year, with Hawaii, one could crush any ABA mark above 780 getting 725 old ABA birds and go to Hawaii and could do it by August 1 without breaking much of a sweat.  I f I learned  anything about this year, I learned this is my list and my hobby.  200 birds, 600 birds, 800 the scheme of life, really and truly...big deal.

This was not even about setting some sort of bar for those new 2017 checklist guys, and it wasn't even really about me waiting out a non-compete/quiet agreement I may or may not have signed in 2015.  I can't say.  To be honest I don't really yet even know what this year was about.  I did it, I persisted and now, it is over.  I'm a mostly retired 50 year old fat guy, with too much time on my hands.  Now, this done, I can go on with my writing, my art history work, I can get my tan back, and well, I can catch more and bigger fish.  Gosh I want a big pike on a line right now.

Further, I doubt very much that my phone will ring or I will get emails inviting me to speak (although it is said I have never met a podium I didn't like) but I am speaking in Minnesota in four weeks and later at my Alma Mater, so I better figure out what this year is truly about.  I fully expect to talk mostly about Hawaii, and the plight of the birds there to raise awareness...that is the least I can do.  Maybe it is about that?  I will also talk about my grandmother Lucille D, still with us now nearing 92 years of age and she was able to participate last year and see the record Blanding's turtle with us.  The best bird of the year will not even be a will be a turtle, a huge ancient turtle, so old, nobody can even guess how old it truly is.  That will be the story to remember 2016 by.  I hope to spend some quality time visiting her and her feeders in 2017.  I may not have many winters left with her.

As I sit here reflecting about I saw where I went what I did....the numbers are a blur, I will post the total one more time.............I'm sort of embarrassed to do it.

AMERICAN (USA) Big year:  827 (plus one, pine flycatcher)
                 Bishop Museum established list HI

ABA Big Year Total:  776 (plus 2)
                 PLUS 2 =  Pine flycatcher, and Common shelduck, 
                  (I do not think white cheeked pintail, spot billed duck, and graylag goose are real/non-domesticated, and Kodiak egret ...?, I'm not even putting anywhere)

NEW ABA (with Hawaii)  804 ( plus 28, awaiting final exotic checklist)  
               should end up in high 820s
                 *non-official but well something out there to aim for

Coded Birds:  103
provisionals awaiting checklist expansion ABA: 2

I also saw 722 in the lower 48 states (plus 1) but that was never a primary or even much of a secondary concern

Miles driven.  46,735
Flight Miles 253,800

300,000 I just made it.  Whew!

Frequent Flier miles used  all airlines  862,500
$ spent  on year 95,200

miles on ATV/ scooter 475
speeding tickets: 1
flight segments: 246   Different Airports: 71
Near bear/ death experiences 2
near plane incidents: 2
One car crash that I wasn't 1000 miles near

Hours at sea: 284
Miles walked 545
showshoes 4 (isn't going to be any more)
Miles biked 12

states birded: 39
Provinces birded 5

Lifer states 49
new ones this year 3

Lifers seen this year:  74 (+2)
nights slept in car:  12
slept in airplane:  18
Airport :3

Hours my house without power 101
Cabin without power 148 (still continuing)

Temperature at Orient Beach: 84

I sit here watching my personal goddess emerge from the sea looking more like Venus than even the goddess herself could and I smile.    Life is good.  I pulled up my bins to scour the sea for brown or the occasional red-footed booby (I have seen two here, and not just naked women wearing red shoes either) but then put them down.  I reflect some more.  I am sitting right where I belong, not at a wild life refuge in Texas, not a nearly forgotten Yupik settlement on a barren island, and not even camped out at a feeder in someone's back yard in Oregon.  I belong here. Right here!

My goal for 2016 was to find myself and all along, it is here on this lovely beach with the sun kissing my pale sun-starved skin that I have.  I have a wonderful life, and I am living a dream.  My wife loves me and I have three great children.  I still even have my grandmother around.  One of my children comes up and give me a hug.  "We miss you dad, we are glad you are down here with us."

"I'm glad I am too,"  I said.  "I skipped Adak because I didn't want to miss New Years here if the weather got bad.  That would have been the worst thing all year."  It is true.

"We are all glad you didn't go, too, dad.  It would be terrible if you weren't here."  This happy young adult ran off to meet up with a sibling.     They are ordering hamburgers for lunch.  I shout an order.  "No cheese!"  I shout.

Then I see a brown booby fly across the bay, hugging the small, foot high waves, before heading off around the point and out to is bird number 8 for the new year.........but I guess, who really is counting?

Happy New (Nude) Year


PS.  Thanks everyone for all of your help and support in 2016!!

Here again, is the bird of the year.......and it isn't even a bird.

Friday, December 30, 2016

My trip to Hell and back...The Bad Weather gets revenge

There comes a time when one has to give homage to who is the most powerful, and in this "Bad Weather Big Year" it is the weather that rules Olaf.  I have talked about blizzards, rain, wind, tornadoes, floods, waves, etc etc etc, but until Christmas day those were just jabs, repeated jabs to the head but the weather had a massive one-two left, a right cross followed by a devastating left hook.....and as they say, "down goes Frazier..oh I mean, Olaf."

December 25-30th???? 

Northeastern South Dakota was visited by Santa this Christmas and instead of toys and goodies, Ole' St. Nick brought coal, coal in the form of snow, wind and freezing slushy rain that well went okay until some time after 4pm on Sunday when the power went off.  This was no ordinary power outage or even ice storm as the ice brought down the main transmission lines into the region.  We have underground power at my house and underground lines, good thinking if you ask me.  I wrote last summer about birding in North Dakota when the power company was putting in underground to my cabin and accidentally cut my underground power line.  I had to rush home.  Well I got a new RV hook up for that but I thought that was a good thing.

But what I didn't expect then or now was such a massive damage to the big lines transmission lines, a substation without power is not a good thing.  We were in Minneapolis for Christmas and well it would not even be possible to get home for 48 hours and then, no heat, no power, nothing....4 nights at the house like this but well, at 1038 last night....I had Christmas lights!!

I was looking for my flashlight when all of a sudden I could lights make a lot of light when there is only blackness.  The house was down to 44 degrees, we had just drained the hot tub, I was pitching the fridge and freezer and I was thinking about draining the water system....but now crisis averted!  Whew!!

The cabin, though, about 40 miles west of here was where the ice meets the road, it is ugly.  "Prepare for power outage for the foreseeable future," the Power Co-op said over there.  They basically had to start from scratch.  It took them 72 hours to even get to the Grenville Substation to even see if it was salvageable.  They had to fly over the mainlines to assess the damage.  It was not good.  I was hearing horror stories so today (12/30) I headed over to see what was up and to make an attempt to try to even get to my cabin.  I prepared for the worst, at least I'd finish winterizing if I could get close enough, it was 20 degrees and blowing 15 mph , so not all that bad weather wise around here, next week-20- minus 30, wind, so the time is now to try to salvage anything.  We heat it all winter and well, being gone so much, the winterizing wasn't complete.

Getting there now 5 days out.....The roads nearby were some of the most treacherous roads I've ever driven on, thick ice, the gravel is covered and it is just rough and pulls the car.  You can't stop, you can't turn, you can't do much of anything.

At one point on County 1, which is actually closed, but the sheriff let me through as I had property....this normal corner, banked, all properly engineered, is totally impassable.

The road is banked but at 5 mph, which is the best speed you can go, you will just slide sideways and off into the ditch.  Even just standing on it, gravity pulls you into the ditch.  It was almost impossible to walk past the orange cones.  I tried until the deputy yelled at me to move along.  They diverted you into a field, then a dirt road, generally the power trucks drove past this point in the fields.  Imagine a truck pulling trailer with powerpoles trying to make that corner, the trailer would just slide down sideways as momentum meets gravity without friction.

I got to the road for my cabin 2 miles away, more like the corner of disaster and mayhem

It took me 30 minutes to go a mile and a quarter, although to be honest, I was distracted, I flushed 6 gray partridge and some grouse (20?), mostly sharp tails but there could have been prairie chickens intermixed, as they are in my local flock but I didn't pick out any specifically, I was just trying to stop, which took over a hundred yards.

I've written before that the way to identify Gray partridge at a distance flying is that grouse just fly to the next field, gray partridge fly to the next section, or the section after that....they go and go, ...and go...

the grays went over the hill and were gone, the grouse stopped a quarter mile across the road.  Definitely sharpies in the tree but the birds in the shelter belt were too far to ID completely at least the ones obscured....I was too geared up for cabin salvage than to get out and scope them.

Okay, I got about a quarter mile from my cabin, which ended up being a mistake as the only way to get out was to drive backwards through crusted snow drifts with my hatch open.  That was tough, actually.  I'd have taken my F250 but it is encased in ice in my pole shed and was too much work to extricate.

My favorite shade tree and I only have 2 shade trees on this property took a beating, poor white ash...not sure what I'm going to do next summer.  Trees here are a lifetime project.

As I feared, large hard drifts blocked my back yard, making it hard to even get to my door.  That fence is exactly 6 feet high, btw.

Eventually I got in, poured antifreeze in the toilets, looked things over and began a laborious process of getting access to my crawl space, removing a 3 foot drift and then chiseling and pounding 3 inches of ice from my crawl space access through my deck.  It took an exhausting hour.  Finally using a crow bar, it gave.  I looked below... 

There in the six feet between me and the foundation, solid hard, snow, so hard, I could not even poke the broom handle through it.  The snow had blown through the cracks in the deck and all the rain made it settle into a cake of hard pack.  It looked like an 8 hour project to get through.  I swore and put the door back.  Maybe my crawl space is sealed so tight it would stay warm enough down there for weeks of no power....IDK.  Sigh.......

I made sure the water remained off, I have no pressure as pump and well on power, so what else could I do?  I walked to my car and went and watched a line crew repairing a line 1.5 miles as the crow flies from my cabin....

Drill baby drill I say as I watched them put in a new pole.  They will just chainsaw that old stub down.  I almost got hit by a sliding line truck so I decided that I better go.....for the area around Enemy Swim Lake and Summit SD, it is going to be a the meantime, everyone is hanging out at the local truck in South Dakota the weather has defeated many of us, but well, Dakotans are tough, no power in problem....-20 next week, it will be a badge of honor or the saying will be well, it could have been -30 like that blizzard in 1998.....

So where was I when all of this went down?

I was heading to Newfoundland...seemingly away from the storm to get a kelp gull seen on 12-25 morning, unfortunately while I was flying the plane I was heading to meet in Toronto was coming from Winnipeg, Blizzard came late.  We boarded late, and then after circling St John's for 2 hours, unable to land as a different storm hit them literally a few minutes before we got there....we diverted to Halifax.....sigh.  It was 5 hours in the air.....Yet another night, this one unscheduled, in an airport terminal.  What does one do stranded at an airport in winter?  Not much....use up battery power checking things, being on hold for 2 hours (2:04 to be precise) to get your new flight...trying to sleep worried they might just leave without you.

I did make it out the next day getting to the Rock at 6pm....I picked up a car that had the meter running from the day before and checked into a hotel I had also paid the previous night for....glad I had a hotel room on Christmas night (LOL, ha ha...sigh)....some guy did try to sing Christmas carols in Halifax to liven the mood but he was sneered at and so he promptly stopped.

I birded St John's for 2 days. 12/ 27-28th, according to locals, gull numbers were down since the storm and well, finding a kelp gull in a sea of Great black backs is not easy....slightly smaller, legs greenish different bill structure but we had bad flat light they weren't always close on out of the water so what really does even color look like in this light?

You can see it in the throng...correct?   Clear as mud...

Well none of us could....the kelp gull did NOT show....I assume the storm disrupted it....maybe it moved on?  I got a headache looking so hard, all the while tufted ducks swam by....

Not even really worth counting...a code 3 not even worth counting....the kelp gull dip weighed on me...I wanted that bird.

Then a bit of a 2nd storm came in on the 27th and the wind picked up and with the ice storm home, on the 28th, I had to bug out in the afternoon on a three hopper home or I wouldn't get there.  So did I just go home?  After making my flight to Detroit in Montreal, as customs was a zoo, and the security line in St John's was worse and I had misread Newfy time, I said what the heck...
 I added the 4th leg of the journey.  I flew to Spokane, say I was crazy, but well, I figured, what damage to my house was done already, I'd get there tomorrow.

I ended up in Lewistown, Idaho at 2:30 am and then at dawn went to look for the red-flanked bluetail, always a fun bird.  Some eastern Idaho birders joined me and then I spotted it for the day, working a Russian olive and then hiding down near the water.  "There it is"  I shouted and soon I had company

bird #776 plus 2, and the rarest bird ever or so the locals say, to visit Idaho.
Cool, I talked to so many Idahoans (and local Washingtonites, as they are just across the Snake River, here at Hell's Gate, who knew me.  They patted me on the back, one thought what I did in Hawaii was great, he actually trained Jack Jeffrey.  Another wished me well.  Still another asked me if I wanted to get this bird nude and why wasn't I nude?  I said I was too tired and had not thought of that yet...I was was the support I needed.  I had to leave those fine folks and I did it proud, it was the moment of the year but I had to get back to Spokane to make a plane and avoid the wrath of Silja.

My wife texted me and asked how the house was, did I feed the cats?...."Do you want the truth or do you want a lie?"  I replied.  I fessed up I was in Spokane...."Spokane?"  she responded, at least it wasn't in caps.....I needed to get home to check on cats...drain water...etc....the cabin...yea...

Now I wanted the Kelp gull as that is a life bird....this is mostly, in my opinion, about lifers, year numbers...oh well....I've seen bluetails before, but I seemed easy enough....I could have went and seen the graylag goose in Rhode Island but I don't like that bird's story....the story is strong...very strong for a domestic bird.  They say it was with a flock of Canadas, but well then it was by itself, near a golf course, not far from a repeat sighting in CT which disappeared just as this one showed up AND also another bird across in Long Island, in fact domestic graylags are seen all over the eastern US Seaboard, look it up on ebird, it will shock you.....give me that bird in Newfy or Nova Scotia...maybe but heck, they don't even see that bird all that often in Greenland, the two Newfy records....Oil derrick and a ship, not even seen ever on land......I don't think it is real, just like I won't count a white cheeked pintail in VA--- Delmarva....and that bird is closer to the Bahamas than that goose is to Iceland.  Maybe Rhode Island will accept it, but I honestly don't know how they can.  I hope I'm proved wrong but well if it is accepted, I guess, anything really and truly goes in the hobby.

If so, I'll add this bird to my lifer list ....

Looks an awful lot like the Rhode Island bird and well this Minnesota bird could be wild, it was with Canada geese following behind it.  It flew off with them and oddly it too, was at a golf course.   I don't see a band,....I only chased that reported spot-billed as it seemed so odd and few are kept in captivity but well, I also needed something to do.....I guess if others want to add this bird, it IS their list, and well, I'n surely not the birding police.  The end of the day, all I got for this year is a severely injured ankle, a wife needing TLC, and a cabin that may be in need of new plumbing...oh and don't forget the credit card bill.

Many people  have lost their property and even their lives in this storm, as such dwelling on air miles and bird numbers, etc. doesn't seem to matter.  I'm just lucky and feel lucky really that I only lost a freezer full of food and maybe a couple grand worth of plumbing.  When you go to bed tonight, think of the linemen of your power company and what they do to keep your lights on.  Electricity is a wonderful thing, very wonderful, without it, life sucks, Hell even.  I have gas and hot water heat, but it needs power to run, the water needs a pump and well, I am using my new power to write this blog.

Thank you Ottertail Power Linemen for putting your life at risk to lay out that new feeder transmission line I documented, and all of the coops and other crews from all over the place, Lake Region Electric Coop and Whetstone Valley, my power companies....thanks, I wasn't swearing at you, just the situation