Tuesday, July 2, 2024

Butterfly Week 2024


BUTTERFLY WEEK came late to the prairies of NE South Dakota this summer, it has been raining since, well, since spring.  It has rained and rained and rained.  It has been cool and the prairie grass has grown and grown and grown.  To be honest, I have never seen it so high.

The sharptailed grouse chicks above are just sucked in and you could hardly even notice they were there, but from my perch on my ATV, I saw them..

Monday on the prairie featured 30 mph wind, and then afternoon downpours, but the biggest week of butterflies started today at 11:14 when the first adult appeared of the annual flight of Dakota skipper and as for at least two hours the sun came out and the wind blew only slightly.

Regal frits have an odd life cycle.  They feed on violets in prairies.  They lays their eggs late in the season and the caterpillars hatch and then go hide in the ground over the winter.  Then in spring, they form a chrysalis and then fly about now. 

I counted 20 regal fritillaries, but the real prize were a dozen Dakota skippers, both males (orange) females are spotted.  

A few Mellissa Blues were out, these are typically a western species and NE South Dakota are on the eastern edge of their range, a subspecies Karner Blues are an endangered group in Wisconsin.  I like blues, their larvae are raised by ants in a weird symbiosis. 

A male Melissa Blue

Grasshopper sparrows serenaded me, 

A view of my new shed from my favorite Dakota skipper prairie

Then, the clouds strangled the little sun that was out and the butterflies disappeared.  

So, the butterflies will be out there for about a week or so, then others species will emerge, in the meantime get out there and see some of this cool stuff.



Friday, April 26, 2024

Golden dreams and memories

Today brings me to the north suburbs of Chicago.  Although not for a bird even though a lifer bird had been flying tantalizingly close to where we parked the RV at Illinois Beach State Park in Zion.  We are here for a Medical School Graduation, our oldest twin, Tyko Seth graduates Rush Medical today and then off he goes for his internship/residency to Milwaukee.

When we graduated medical school, we went to Glacier National Park. I had a marmot steal a hiking boot on a pass in Montana when my wife and I, well, we got caught up in the moment, and it was thanks to a Mountain goat licking an exposed part of me that clued me in that my boot was going underground. We turned around and went to Chincoteague NWR to see birds.  We found long lost relatives in Maryland, we saw Ted Koppel from Television skipping dip in the Potomac River.  We watched a boy scout tent, blow away.  We saw birds.  We camped next to a madman in Pennsylvania who chopped wood all night at a campground, and we feared we were next.  On a second trip out east, I almost lost a 1962 Ford Galaxie on a car trailer on I-80 when the hitch broke and it almost careened down 200 feet into a gully.  On one of our many visits with cops on that trip with my grandmother, the police ordered me to get headlights and so I rigged a wire from the battery to the taillights, using a lot of duct tape. It got us home. Then we moved to Danville, Pennsylvania.  The rest, history, I guess.

We hope our son has a good break as well.  I have to move some of his junk from our garage.

We spent two nights ago in a fairgrounds in Indiana.  The RV almost got stuck.  It should have gotten stuck, but we camped on a road instead.  I needed to get to Indiana to go pick up books in N. Manchester, and luckily that worked out, and we got through the Loop in Chi-town without incident.

This book project was a big project, and now I just have to sell them.  People seem to want the artwork more than the book.

At the Newton County Fairgrounds, I did see a red-headed woodpecker and then another, and another, they hung around long enough for me to get a camera

This was my grandmother's favorite "summer" bird, they used to live on the electric poles in NW Wisconsin, but I have not seen one in Burnett County in 40 years.  I guess my birding is also "Burnett County Revisted."  She even had a cool plastic model of one in the basement I always admired as a kid.  I wonder where that got off to?

So, what bird do I need in Chicago?

The European goldfinch story of how they came to America, were released is vague and inconsistent.  In a paper from Craves and Anich recently published document the first known breeding of these birds around Chicago was in 2003.  There is no smoking gun on the release they just say they originate from cage bird releases from a Chicago dealer prior to 2003.  They moved north of town and then settled.

Another European bird, the Great tit, is also suspected to have come from the same situation, but they moved north first Milwaukee and then near Sheboygan.  In my coming and going from Ripon College, my sons including Tyko went there from 2013-2017, I have lectured there as well and attended 1984-1988, I had heard about the birds.  I saw my first one of those in Kohler, Wisconsin in 2014

Olaf's lifer North American great tit, March 2014, Kohler WI, it was a "Bucket list" item for me, but not a listing bird, although it should be, as it qualifies to be on the list as an established exotic.  I doubt Wisconsin will ever add it to their list however.  I love seeing this bird in Europe and Asia, they are always fun to see.

Due a lot to the paper on the European goldfinch, and the Illinois bird committee's attitude, the ABA added it to the list, it has now become a countable exotic, and...one I have not seen in the USA. I have not bothered to go get it.  

This being the last reason for us to be in Chicago for a while, I need to get it this weekend or it may take a while. 

The European goldfinch is a bird I have tallied only nine times before worldwide, in France, Sweden, and Scotland, most of which qualifying for my "sans clothing" list and I have only taken two decent photos of the bird, sometimes because where I see them, I can't have a camera, sometimes that they flit high in pine trees, and sometimes because. they are pretty common.

But as you see, I do not need to get a better photo, this one from 2022 in Scotland, is pretty good, so the fact that I have few photos is a misnomer.

Anyhow, this morning I went out to see them, truth be told, I saw one yesterday, but not very well, and I got no photo, so I did not count it.  They are not the easiest to find this time of year, especially in the middle of a large state park.  Today on my way to the shower, I did better, I saw them and photographed them.  It was in the shower that I had my issues, I could not get the shower turned off, sort of a Seinfeld moment.  So there it is, another addition to my Continental ABA list.  

 They are not Natural Geographic quality, but they are the bird. 
To be honest, I remember being happier getting that Scottish bird's photo, maybe because the sun had not been out for six days and since I have so rarely got a photo of that bird.  Now, on with graduation, my parents land in two hours, I need to get dressed, the car cleaned out of books, and through the traffic jam to O'Hare....the weekend fun is just beginning!


Sunday, April 14, 2024

Birding in LBJ's footsteps

Lyndon B. Johnson once describes his favorite and luckiest number, "four." "That's what I want you to remember. If you don't get your idea across in the first four minutes, you won't do it. Four sentences to a paragraph. Four letters to a word. The most important words in the English language all have four letters. Home. Love. Food. Land. Peace. . .I know peace has five letters, but any damn fool knows it should have four."

Olaf, also likes the number four, it is better than three and twice as good as two, but his favorite words would be bird, wife, cats, unlike three letter words like dip....

We headed in the direction of Johnson City Texas.  Johnson City is the boyhood home of our 36th President Lyndon B. Johnson and his home, the LBJ Ranch is just 15 miles west of town.

In many ways, LBJ's ranch is the coolest presidential home ever.  Besides having a 6,000 foot runway and being the home of prized Hereford cattle then and now, you can walk in the footsteps of a leader that many reviled at the end of his reign, however, like quite a few presidents, LBJ should be remembered better. 

LBJ was our first Western bred and born President.  Unlike recent Presidents who attended IVY League schools, LBJ went to SW Texas State Teachers College, dropped out went to California, and returned as graduated and then briefly taught as a teacher.  LBJ did attend Georgetown Law School for a time after he was elected to Congress, however the only thing he got from that was a date with Lady Bird, who he asked to marry him, she put him off for a few more dates, but finally agreed. In Congress, he was probably the most savvy Majority leader in the US Senate until McConnell recently.

He has great quotes, possibly the best of the 20th Century, many almost beat Yogi quotes:

I may not know much, but I know chicken shit from chicken salad.

On the media:  If one morning I walked on top of the water across the Potomac River, the headline that afternoon would read "President Can't Swim"

On Liberal Democrats (his own party):  Don't spit in the soup, we all have to eat.

On being President: Being president is like being a jackass in a hailstorm. There's nothing to do but to stand there and take it.

On the CIA: The CIA is made up of boys whose families sent them to Princeton but wouldn't let them into the family brokerage business.

Visiting Seaworld: Why does Sea World have a seafood restaurant I'm halfway through my fish burger and I realize Oh man....I could be eating a slow learner.

 Unlike other President's graves, LBJ's looks just like a normal one.

Compare this to the worst President of the 20th Century, Warren G. Harding.  The ego of the bad man still lives on.

LBJ was somewhat larger than life, but anything from perfect.  He was a lady's man and when he went to Congress, he was dirt poor.  How the couple made their fortune was all (well if you ask LBJ, he said so) Lady Bird's doing.  In 1943, she spent $17,500 of her inheritance to purchase KTBC, an Austin radio station. In 1952, she added a television station, always getting favorable FCC rulings.  She invested $42,000 total, which by 1990 became $150 million.  

Famously in 1968, he pulled out of reelection after a poor showing in New Hampshire.  Hubert Humphry got a late start and then was passed by Robert Kennedy, before he was assassinated and after a convention riot, HUMPHREY WON.  The Democrats went on to lose to Nixon, and the rest is history.  In 1972, LBJ donated the Ranch to the US Park Service and then a few months later, at only 64 years of age died three days after Nixon's second inauguration in January 1973.   

The LBJ Ranch house, however cool it is....has been CLOSED since 2018 due to structural issues. Maybe, maybe they say it will reopen in 2025, but in typical government fashion, everyone it appears to be working from home, including the construction workers. The new normal, everyone in the government works from home, and nothing gets done and the world is always the same.  The man giving info at the park?  A person from Ireland on a student visa to learn "tourism."  The cool old Air Force 1/2, Gulfstream, also closed.  You can see it but they have surrounded in with fences and orange tape, what harm can you cause by walking around a decommissioned old airplane?  You drive 30 feet from it?

There were a lot of lark sparrows around.  Birding, near LBJ's grave was a little slow.

Scissortail flycatchers were around as well.

The countryside was in bloom, too.

We went to Perdernales State Park to see a bird.  It turns out we were turned away.  It was also closed, due to it being full, "Come back tomorrow."  The ranger told us.  You can tell that Texas has too many people and not enough parks....when they are full to day visitors.

I wanted to see Golden Cheeked warblers, but at this park, they would have to wait a day.  We went to lunch.

I tracked down the Blanco County Courthouse in Johnson City.
It turns out they also had one a few years older (below), since after building a courthouse in Blanco, they voted to move the county seat to Johnson City.

We ate lunch and Silja wanted to take a motorcycle for a test ride, but again that would not be possible

After looking around for another place for the warbler, I dipped and went back to the RV.

The campground we were at is unique.  It not only has one helipad, it has two.  Who brings their helicopter with their RV, or who goes to a RV resort with their helicopter.  I guess this one does rent cabins.  Our RV is just behind the pad

We were back to the park this morning and on my fourth trip to get a photo of the Golden Cheeked warbler in my life, I hit paydirt. Having seen that birders I know were here recently, it would be bad if somehow, I had dipped on both LBJs ranch AND the warbler so at least I got the bird.  I am not missing photos of many breeding birds in the US, last year I FINALLY photographed the Colima warbler, and now this......

It was a pretty good haul of them, some pretty good pictures, despite being dark and overcast.

There was this "starcircle" at the park with purpose unknown.  

Driving around the Hill Country, many of the ranches and ranchers seem to have a lot of hat but no cattle, to steal words from LBJ.  Big prices for 20-50 acres of dry land--all because residents from Austin want to have some place to go.  We prefer west Texas.  I am glad we came, and if LBJs White House opens up, I would advise you all to come here and see it, but do not hold your breath.  Getting anyone to work seems unlikely. The Golden cheeked warblers are neat little birds with an isolated range.  Other than that, the Hill County seems to be a lot of hype, a lot of people, and well, probably not our scene.
I looks a lot like Lawton Oklahoma without the crowds.

working our way north


Monday, April 8, 2024

Solar Eclipse Report from Texas


Our eclipse glasses ready and tested, we got up at 6 am and headed towards Eagle Pass Texas, weather be damned, we were going to see the eclipse if it killed us.  It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  My grandma Lucille saw one in 1954 cooking breakfast but for us, alas seen some partial events but never totality.

The drive to the place where it would be total was close but not that close. It was a long trip and about 70 miles away from Eagle Pass and in the middle of nowhere, we had a flat tire.  Undeterred, we pulled into a truck stop north of Laredo, but the compressor was broken.  Limping the car nine miles up the road, we found one that worked or at least it was supposed to work.  It finally did and we were back on the road.  I had planned a random stop at a wayside on the US Highway west of Eagle Pass but driving through Carrizo Springs, a Texas Highway Department sign said "NO STOPPING FOR ECLIPSE ON THE HIGHWAY."  Cops were everywhere or so it seemed.  Texas was going to punish anyone apparently, spitting on the sidewalk, illegals, people seeking birth control, and eclipse watchers.  I suspected the penalties would be severe but, we kept going.  How many people could be at a picnic area two hours before an eclipse?

The answer was a lot.  Some had tented overnight, even.  

We drove up a few miles past the picnic area and pulled into ranch road while Silja hopped a fence, found a bush, and I read a sign, and got honked at for apparently breaking another Texas law...heck the flowers need water in these parts.  We went back and got ready for the show.  The parking lot was full, so we pulled on the shoulder, probably illegally.

The busy traffic kept driving past and almost all of the trucks and some of the cars on the highway honked and we could NOT tell if they were jeering or cheering....But who cared?  I just wondered if the sky would clear enough, it looked doubtful and then, like I am always the lucky birder, I was ALSO the lucky eclipse watcher, the sun began to appear... and then it started.

A squadron of old planes flew over

I got bored and looked for butterflies seeing a gray hairstreak, a common butterfly in the USA, but got a nice shot.

It started to get dark, headlights came on automatically, so I got ready and back to my post and then the traffic stopped honking, in fact, the traffic pretty much stopped, and everyone was on the side of the road, ignoring the Governor's orders.

Almost totality!

Then a total eclipse and you could see flares of the sun!!  The crowd of onlookers on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere in SW Texas cheered.  It was grand, it was great, it was un-describable and it was dark.

Well it was dark until some people who had not left their car in an hour opened their car door and their headlights came on.  They got jeered by many for ruining the moment, but their lights went off.

And then it was past, nearly 4 minutes later

That was that, for ten minutes, traffic stopped and the America came together and even the border guard at the check station up the road was asking what we saw and Silja showed the officer a picture of totality.  The other officers had on their glasses.  

We drove back and heard four more hours of our book on tape about someone who bought and old mining town in California.  It was a bucket list type event, but it was not on either of ours but probably should have (the eclipse, not buying a ghost town).

The wonders of this world are beyond description



Sunday, April 7, 2024

Fences, Jays, and things that go Hoot in the Night


So, if you build a fence around your house, yet one without a gate, they would call it a decorative fence.  If you built a pasture and put a fence around it on three sides, you would be chasing cattle all over the countryside and the other ranchers would laugh at you.  Here near Roma, Texas, they are building a wall (Texas is paying for it), billions of dollars' worth of wall, yet the wall has a door, (many doors) a door for Olaf to go through as well as anybody trying to get in or in my case...out.  Is it decorative, is anyone laughing?

My wife and I went out to the Santa Margarita Ranch north of Roma, Texas it was a guided trip with Cameron Cox, who does many of the day treks.  We sat and watched the Rio Grande for a while, hoping for something interesting to fly by.  The tiger heron that had been here and seen by many had disappeared two weeks back so I would not tally that lifer bird.  We saw local specialties post up and some fun ducks on the river.

A Mexican duck on the US side of the river

Silja had tripped over our cat Snoball and was injured, having hurt her calf muscle but was game with a game leg and came with and was able to keep up slowly.  After nothing exciting was going on, we went walking to the brown jay area.  Many butterflies were in flight, so I took the time to identify two lifer butterflies, both very small ones.  I snapped some photos.

Elada Checkerspot

Texas crescent

We did not see the jay and Silja kept on the bench and the rest of us went exploring.  One man wanted to see a seedeater, and I just wanted the brown jay.  I returned to the bench and Silja proudly showed me pictures of the jays she had seen in my absence on her cell phone.  That begat an uneasy 45 minutes as I hoped they would return and my wife would not have a lifer bird up on me.  All that came were noisy golden fronted woodpeckers.

But as the guide and the other birder returned so did the brown jays and I had tallied my lifer bird for the day, second for the trip.

That was about all to say about this day.  We ate at Stripes, we avoided the Starr county and state troopers, We paid the $140 per person fee, I guess a bargain for lifer bird 829 and drove back to camp.  Camp was having an "Olympics" Silja won woman's cornhole, and then there was an event called Charmin-Plunge (what can be done with two people, male and female, a plunger and a roll of toilet paper).  We participated in it, and set the best time so far on our first run, then on our second run, Olaf went for broke, blew away the competition but on crossing the finish line in 7.4 seconds, wiped out backwards and injured his wrist and other body parts.  That was it for our "Olympics" but a gold medal and bragging rights for people we did not know was (almost) worth it.

Now both of us were injured so, we took it easy for a few days until our second outing at the Santa Marguerita Ranch.

Mottled owls have 2 documented ABA appearances.  On Feb 23, 1983 a road killed specimen was found near where we are camping in Hidalgo County.  It was a suspected find, with many thinking it had fallen off of a truck.  The bird does live about 60 miles from the US-Mexico border, however.  In 2006, for five days over July, another one was seen here.  As such, it was a bird on few people's bird lists and few thought they would ever see,

Then, they found one on the ranch north of Roma in Starr County while calling for tawny-collared nightjar, a bird never seen in the ABA area but lives even closer.  This mottled owl has stayed put in the few trees on the US side of the border.  The night outings are once or twice a week and last night twenty-one of us went out and we were not disappointed.  It was like they knew exactly where it hangs out.

  The mottled owl is a species I never ever thought I would hear let alone see (unless I was in Mexico or in Central America, but I have now seen it.  It sang once, we looked at it for a minute and then it flew away silently into the night, and we looked for other night creatures.

Western screech owl

  We found a screech owl and saw no illegals, one border guard, heard a coyote, and lots of frogs and common pauraque's.  There was a poorwill way out in the distance and a lesser night hawk and a couple of great horned owls near or on the border wall. 

We saw a blind snake (one of two species) which was better than the six foot diamondback seen brown jay hunting by the other two birders.

All of this fun for just $100 more.....it seems the tow guides doing this have a little business venture , but for an owl of this magnitude, again, a bargain.

Tomorrow through the haze and clouds we will look for the eclipse near Eagle Pass, what will we see, if anything, I shall report to you....

Home at 2 am from owling and up tomorrow before dawn to drive to a celestial event wears on an older guy...today I am hitting the hot tub...the wrist is sore but hopefully on the mend....campground games....we need to pass on them in the future.  Cats...well we love the cats...Snoball is doing fine.

A three lifer trip!....so far


Butterfly Week 2024

  BUTTERFLY WEEK came late to the prairies of NE South Dakota this summer, it has been raining since, well, since spring.  It has rained and...