Thursday, September 7, 2023

A Flamboyance of Flamingoes


IT has been a long and busy summer filled with selling houses, buying houses, buying land, and digging holes.  

The start of building my shed on property I don't own quite yet

Typically, doing anything except birding.  Along the way, I came across a body in my field which turned out to be alive, I have had two book events in Hudson WI, and Taylors Falls MN, and I even went back in time into the untouched office of a country music legend Dave Dudley in his former home.

Dave Dudley's office b1925-d2003, Burnett County WI

I had to award the Stan Peer Trophy I won in 2022, to both Drs Jeff Rapp and Jerry McCullough after they had caught the largest walleyes up in Canada

So then came Hurricane Idalia, and at first it looked as though we might have damage to a third house by a hurricane, which coincidentally happened 6 years ago today when Irma stormed through St Martin and our future dreams took a beating, but life moves on and dreams change, and you can make them happen.

Luckily, Idalia turned late and made a mess of Perry, destroying a favorite truck stop but leaving our place in Lutz alone.  Idalia, however moved something else.

The American Flamingo was largely extirpated in Florida a hundred years ago and then 70 years ago a bunch escaped Hialeah Park and bred and flew around Florida and occasionally a few from the Bahamas, Cuba, or even the Yucatan showed up.  I chased some of these birds and until my big year in 2016, I always missed them. This species became my nemesis.  This changed in 2016 when I nabbed one in Fort Myers.  I then observed a whole flock of them in Curacao in 2019, and saw their cousins, Chilean Flamingoes in Uruguay, Lesser Flamingoes in South Africa, Greater Flamingoes in Corsica finishing a quadfecta of Flamingoes, just missing two of the various species.

I have not, however, seen one since.  

After Idalia, deciding we wanted to see our new house in Florida before the next hurricane got it, off we went to Florida

Somewhere between Yucatan and Cuba, Idalia pushed or picked some groups of Flamingoes and deposited them all over the Gulf coast of Florida, the Carolinas, Alabama, and even points north.  With all of these birds around, it seemed terrible and a missed opportunity if I had not come and seen a couple of them so noticing some were being seen at a favorite beach on the bike trail along the Courtney Cambell Expressway on Tampa Bay.  We arrived this morning and were not disappointed.  There were three there in the mangroves at high tide.  They were out at a bit of distance seen with my scope.

I decided to not to wade any closer even though a couple of birders had.  Always fun birds, flamingoes, it was a nice addition to our Florida trip, 

Now I need to focus on buying furniture.....btw, what is all of this fascination with gray painted furniture?  In terms of furniture, I appear to be a dinosaur.  That is yet another story for another time.  

A group of flamingoes?  A flamboyance!  And yes they were FLAMBOYANT!



Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Hail-ing Nebraska

I mentioned to someone the other day that we were still south of the "freeze line." which is not really a meteorological term.  In waterfowl it involves where the lakes are frozen or not, and it can be good to watch ducks. In the Great Plains during the spring, the line where the cold air meets the warm air is another freeze line and that is how I like to use the term.  Being east or south of that line requires some other watching, watching for tornadoes and hail.

Almost every year since about 2007, I have taken a trip to Oklahoma, sometimes in the fall, but the other half of the time in the spring.  I have seen the effects of some powerful storms over the years.  On the other hand, a few of the train like sounding storms turned out to indeed be just trains

We turned north in Texas and spent five nights in Oklahoma.  We ended up at a campground which was having a "Prom party."  The statement "off like a prom dress," was the theme.  We had fun dancing.  You kind of had to be there.  We also ran into some other campers we knew from Minneapolis and as such we had some campground cookouts and shared trucking stories since two were retired truckers. The butterflies were out, the weather warm, and we hiked around and had a great few days

Today, the storm I was watching finally moved over the Rockies and since we had a tail wind to get home, we made a break for it.  I saw the next big snowstorm looking like it would be in North Dakota and the effects of the mountains looked like they would prevent big Tstorms until Iowa.  We could sneak into SE Nebraska and then in the morning get north before the storms reformed, everything would work out.  It was a bit ominous when  the Univ of Kansas storm chasing van flew past us north of Topeka driving hard to the north.  I still had hope to miss it, but unfortunately, we were literally three miles off.  

The storms popped up out of nowhere at 5PM an hour after we had set up the RV in Nebraska City.  The first three of the "training" thunderstorms missed up mainly with only glancing blows a little hail but just enough to take a big sigh of relief.  It would not last.

Quarter sized hail
It was the 4th storm that hit hard or should I say the roof and the glass.

Here comes the hail

Going through my change, half-dollar sized hail

The fifth storm lasted for twenty minutes and the stones were even bigger
Silver dollar sized?

The tornado warning was issued at 7:51, with the tornado 3.1 miles south of us, heading our way.  We are tucked a little in a hole and it is a good 200 yard run to the storm shelter.  It passed over us, with just a green hue to the sky, silent but scary.  We survived that just as cell number six formed  southwest of us.  It looks like it will be a long night.

It turned out that real tornadoes and damage came close to where we were camped last night in Oklahoma so it was good we left but we just chose our route home poorly as it would end up.

Sheez, I'll look outside when the sun comes up, and survey damage.  Who does RV body work?  I got a feeling more storms will follow.  The sounds of hail on the roof of an RV is just awful.


Wednesday, April 12, 2023

The Colima Warbler Revisted

 I could almost write a book about some of the clueless, snarky, and sometimes downright strange comments I have received while doing my periodic hikes up the Chisos Mountains in the middle of Big Bend National Park for the locally endemic Colima Warbler.  If you want to ever see this bird in the USA you have to come here.  There is no way around it, none.

This is my 5th ascent to this monument to birding.  The holy birding mecca of west Texas. The trips roll of my tongue.  1994, 2013, 2016, 2018, and now 2023.  Despite just 5 trips up and back, I am 5 for five for the goal bird but I have become somewhat outspoken on giving advice about how best to do it, (maybe too outspoken?) but the few who have followed my route have thanked me and the others well, sometimes it has not gone so well.  Yes, you need to hit the trail 2 hours before sunrise, yes, you have to carry a flashlight, and yes, bears and cougars can be encountered.  We were followed by a cat in 2018, and you could smell the scent of cat urine at one spot we were taking a break.  It was unmistakable to all that we were being watched.  But going early also means Mexican whippoorwills calling and sightings.  So it is a trade off.  Owls are rarely if ever heard.

Nobody we pass ever seems to have the right shoes (today someone was hiking in shower sandals and was past the saddle and getting towards the rim, I hate to be his feet tonight).  Nobody takes enough water despite the signs of taking 2 liters (no yelling at the NPS about this). I have had people maybe a half mile in and not even to the initial crest of the hill look exasperated when I told them they had barely begun the ascent.  Others come by at 10 maybe 2-3 miles in with the plan of doing the whole brutal 12-mile loop.  My large camera or binoculars have always created a stir.  One college girl in 2016 even asked me if my camera was overcompensating for something.  "My wife would think it was the other way around." I replied.  Then giggling, she offered me $50 bucks if I could impress her.  Her girlfriend gave her a push, "That is my money in your pocket, I'd rather have lunch when we get back down, I don't want to lose it seeing his junk."

Another guy quipped today, so what are you looking at with those binoculars, naked people? A birder who had caught up to us (Donna) and who I was helping find the bird, retorted, "you first." to the gentleman.  I looked at my wife who was biting her lip.  Sometimes too much information on the trail is not a good thing, but yes, Olaf has an infamous story about that, too.  I guess buy the book, "A chapter in my Boobies, peckers, and tits" happened here, on this trail and over this very spot.

Yet another woman seeing my bins "or camera" asked me what looked to her like the question she had been thinking about all the way up the hill.  "Does Texas have its own blue bird?"  I looked at her, she was holding proudly her binoculars.

"Well, no, the same one as the entire region, why?"

"We just saw one down the trail."

"oh, Mexican jays." I replied understanding.

"Yes the Mexican blue bird."  But she did not see to look satisfied with that revelation.

Today we also met some Indian tourists.  They looked all professional, with high end hiking sticks, new packs and they were displaying some serious use of those sticks, like that was the goal not a by product.  I got out of her way. She said something to me that I had no idea what it was (it almost sounded like "help me please!") Maybe  was her look but it was like they had watched a Youtube of how to use hiking sticks.  The wife, however, decked in pink, because...I guess everyone hikes in pink was using so much force with the sticks she was wearing herself out and was carrying a full pack, and yet they were only a half mile up the trail.  She also had on bad shoes (okay too much shoe watching), but had on an orange UT Longhorns hat on (pink clothing, orange hat??  Quite the clash) farther up the trail they stopped and one could hear arguing in Hindi.

Then there is everyone with enough water carrying gallon jugs by the handle.  Ouch that looks painful!  Today we saw some water stashed by someone for the trip down.  I have to confess I have done that at Glacier back in the day.  Some of it may still be there.  All yuccas, pine trees, rocks look the same on the way down.  I almost lost a stashed mountain bike once, but I digress.

I have also had some odd events, some I have been a casual witness for and a couple caused solely by "strange old Olaf" (naked birding for one),  I'll just leave you with two and not that one.

Let me see....  

1) I had to go up alone once because the person who started with me, had as it would turn out either a mild heart attack or some serious dyspnea just past the water tank. Doing a big year and on a tight schedule I had to go get the bird and get back, so I told him to go down the hill, I would fly up get the bird at dawn and come back. He lived but when I was returning, I was able to put my spotting scope on our vehicle in the parking lot from way up and it was at some distance but his head was clearly falling out the window and it sure looked like his tongue was hanging out.  We called that the "Q sign" in my surgery residency.  A rare "Dotted Q sign" meant a person was out with tongue hanging out with a fly on it.  That was a terrible prognosis, but a Q sign was not much better.  I ran down the hill.  My friend (a non-birder by the way) was just asleep.  His chest discomfort had abated.  I diagnosed him with an MI and called 911 in Florida in 2019.  I was not taking anymore chances them and he got stented in the ER.

2) My friend Jim Brown and I invented a religion up this trail with the sacred Ocotillo and involving Lucifer hummingbirds, ritual bathing, and sacramental wine, pretty much all one needs for a good religion.  Now Ordained for the Church of St, Ocotillo, I look forward to performing more weddings, saying prayers, or just observing the sacred.  I do funerals but those are less fun. We travel with an Ocotillo, who born in Texas in 2018 and has returned home this week.  He (named Occy)  has 40,000 miles on him.

I might ask Carolyn who owns the Christmas Mountain Oasis to join, but she may ban me from her Lucifer hummingbird spot and that would be tragic.

Lucifer Hummingbird yesterday, with the Ocotillo in bloom they are feeding on them and not feeder birds although this male had taken up a territory and was not giving it up.

I have run into many birders up on the trail, nobody it seems or few do their homework.  The Lucifer spot? Never heard of it, where to see Colimas?  None, or little knowledge.  
They leave too late up the trail or waste their time looking way too low, even in the parking lot.  One person swore she saw it at the parking lot.  Even showed me a picture.  It was a Say's phoebe.  Mexican  Everyone just looks at me but again, you need to be on the trail at dark.

Even last night owling, I was not sure the other three looking for Elf Owls got the plan.  I would have showed it to them, but they were out standing at where the road loops at Dug Out Wells.  We just left.  So we bring chairs, park them by a tree, 30 minutes to full darkness, the bird obviously calls from the tree and I have my light out.  I don't know.  Maybe they came to hear the Western Screech owls?  It was not rocket science but no one came to see what we had.  Sometimes you got to do a little skua birding. There are only a few cottonwoods left in there thanks to the NPS, cutting them out.  Poor owls, what will they do?  

So today, after owling last night, we took off at 0530 on the Pinnacles trail for the top.  Big Bend is my favorite National Park and I have vowed that if I can't get up to the rim at least, I am checking into a nursing home and throwing away my bins.  When I feel old and fat, depressed and mortal, off I want to go to see the Chisos and "buy myself" a couple more years from the inevitable.  I needed Big Bend this year, I really did.

The Park service has redone the trail taking out the route near the water tanks and added some distance to it.  It may be less steep, but I am not sure that helps.  I also felt lost until we made it to the first campsite where it levels a bit.  I also met the first person ever on the trail at night and he was coming down the hill.  We heard some close whippoorwills but I did not try to find them.  I had one almost land on my daughter once.  There were no bears, no cougars, and not a mammal of any sorts.  

We took a break at the Saddle and I took out my camera as the light was coming up.  I walked up to the usual spot on heard one and then saw one in terrible light but then after ten minutes, all was quiet.  We worked our way to the rim where a group of Louisiana kids were making a racket.  It was great to see them out there even if they were too loud.  They were all waiting for the turn at the pit toilet there...priorities in the backcountry.  I assumed they would leave and go down but they were there when we came back around.  It was too noisy up there and ever since the forest fire, it is not a good birding space and it was cold on the top of the basin so we went down to get better photos.

I have had some bad camera experiences with this bird...

1994--"so what does this bird look like?"  I am sitting pooped with my pack on.
"brown cap, yellowish orange behind, eye ring on a drab warbler"  I reply
"If I show it too you, can we go back to the car?"  I nodded.  "There right in front of you."
It was a perfect shot on film.  That photo was lost.  It was my lifer bird then and I have never again seen that photo

2013-- I had to make choices, bird in tree, camera in backpack 30 feet down the slope and two woman (by voice) descending from the Rim and were a switchback above me.  I was not wearing clothing.  A pareo was 10 feet the wrong way where my birding buddy Jim was standing.  I had the bird....choices

2016--actually the exact same place, again even tougher choices.  Bird in tree, and then flitted off, heard and seen, tick for the big year.  Friend possibly dying in the parking lot.  Look for another to photograph or get my a$$ down the mountain and see if he is okay.

2018--taking Mexican whippoorwill photos during the darkness when I notice battery is almost empty, I was certain I had packed a spare.  Sun comes up, see the bird, ready to snap photo and nothing....power goes off, dig for a spare battery..."what" spare battery excuses, and I did not want to die trying.  It is tough enough getting up the mountain

Not National Geographic but good enough, this bird never comes out well for me and horribly harsh lighting.  The only reason I got these three was because a "Donna" from Massachusetts stopped us and looked like she needed some help getting a lifer bird.  I took a bit but another showed (or the same one I had seen a few minutes before she came).  She saw it and her trip up the mountain was made.

Heard 9, saw 4 photographed 3.  A good morning on this bird.  Colima photograph--TICK!!

It was Silja's third trip to the Rim, my fifth.  The first was a backpack trip, 1994 BYOW, bring your own water

It was a hot trip down the mountain as it was later than we wanted but it was good to help another birder.  We got to the bottom, saw some butterflies I need to identify and then ate lunch and bugged out to the RV.

They say they are redoing the Chisos Lodge next year.  Aramark gets a new hotel to make money from for free.  They own the Big Bend Adventures Resort and RV park in Terlingua (our rig is too big for the park).  It has the worst toilet I have ever seen, one has brown ooze like a bucket's worth running down the side.  The rust, $2 showers, toilet paper everywhere was bad enough.  It will be a mess up at the Basin so we were glad to come this year, BUI DO NOT STAY IN TERLINQUA AT THE Aramark lodge here!  So in 2024 I do not know what to recommend, maybe call your congressman to get rid of Aramark.....if they cannot do toilets at an RV park, how can they clean your scrubs?  What a TFSDD%%# company.  all imho.

anyhow, the Colima warbler, revisited again, and they were spectacular.



Friday, April 7, 2023

A Good Friday Bulbul

 The end of the road south of High Island Texas made one realize what day was today, but I did not go birding today looking for anything in particular in High Island.  We stopped in East Texas to see a bird, a bird I have seen at least 132 of previously and even 14 in Hawaii, but never any in the Classical ABA.  Birding for me is a game of lists and at times, the list must be kept up.  

The Red-vented bulbul is a very common bird in the Indian subcontinent of Asia, and Bhutan for that matter but it was not considered countable in North America until the population in an around Houston Texas had been considered self-sustaining long enough to qualify for the rules and someone to make a motion to add it.  How they came to Houston is unknown but suspicious they arrived by ship or the pet trade although one would not suspect this bird would be popular. The first bird recorded was in 1958,  The birds started breeding in the Heights area north of Houston and in 2010, they were included on the ebird list for the area starting around 2010, and in 2016 when Hawaii was added to the ABA which included red-vented bulbuls, since the population in Houston was both sustaining, established, and been around for quite some time it eventually became countable by being added to the "list."

My life list for the "classic" or continental ABA is sitting at 823 after not really chasing anything for a while.  Oddly, I have three birds that I could count around, a Whooper swan in Newfoundland (which I can't fit in my schedule), a brown jay in South Texas which is on private land and even though I will drive close by to it, I do not think I know any way to get, both really good birds, tough rarities to see, and then there is these silly bulbuls in Houston, so what ends up on my quest?  Houston....

I have been though Houston in an airplane 8 times since the bird was countable and I have yet to stop, but 2023 was different.

We left Paradise in Florida on Wednesday in "Big Bird" packed up for a lazy trip north awaiting the snowmelt.  We are going north by going west.  So, we headed west towards Texas.  First night camping was at a RV campground east of Pensacola and the second night we arrived last night in Beaumont, Texas after seeing Tony the Truckstop Tiger in Louisiana.  We have camped twice now in Beaumont, both times it has rained hard and stormed all night that it makes one wonder if that is all that it does in East Texas.

The rain paused enough this morning to drive the car over to Houston on our day off to look for the bulbul.  We went to Woodland Park, it was cool and dreary but no bulbuls showed.  We walked down to the White Oak Park green belt and walked around some more as it started to rain and then as we were heading back to the car something with a white butt flew out of a tree.  It was like we were back in Bhutan, and instantly recognized.  "There we go."  I said and Silja looked and then went to the car to get out of the rain while I pulled out my camera from the backpack for a couple of bad photos.

Red Vented Bulbul

It was the bird and it was countable.  Yeah!! I guess?  I was just happy to be able to get out of the rain.  To celebrate, we then had lunch at a nearby café, the Belgium Café and I had my lifer beer which here was a St Barnardus beer.  

It was a Belgian beer some consider the best in the world (or so they claim on their website).  It was good, maybe too good and a beer I should have saved for a brown jay or a whooper swan, I guess next time I'll try something else.  The food was also great, so if you come to Houston and whether you see the bulbul or not, stop by and have a glass on tap, try it with the curried chicken salad, the lobster bisque or the mussels, it is all good and you'll be reminded of Brussels.

We then drove to High Island. A birding "Holy Grail" spot I have never been to before. We walked around.  There were some warblers flitting about including some worm eating warblers, and a hooded warbler like this one.

With the big storm finally going through, there could be some good fallout tomorrow or possibly Sunday, but we have to get going towards Big Bend National Park.  Beaumont is just a wayside on the trip.  But I have bird number #824 in USA/ Canada ex Hawaii and I guess that is something.  Tomorrow, westward ho!

Happy Easter

I hope your Passover was special



Friday, March 3, 2023

Ooh Mexico


Jimmy Buffett sang a cover on his 1995 album from a James Taylor song, "Feeling Blue running your stateside game, loose your load leave your mind behind.....Ooooooh Mexico" and that about summed it up...too much thinking....

I have not written a blog for a while, I lost a computer due to '''cat fur in the fan."  Famous words from the Tech at Best Buy opening up my laptop..."What is the name of your white cat?"  Luckily the $1000 repair was under a Geek Squad took over a month to get it back, and it has taken a while for me to get it going again.  

Now, it was time for another trip, a trip scheduled to Mazatlan, Mexico.  The plan was to visit my wife's Brother and sister-in-law with her sister they have been at sea in their sailboat.  So would you actually go on a trip with the following warnings?  

"The State Department issued a Level 4: Do Not Travel advisory for the state of Sinaloa due to crime and kidnapping. This means that the U.S. government may not be able to help you if you are in a sticky situation while in Mazatlán. The travel advisory is so high in this state because of high crime rates."  

This is the same alert level for places like North Korea, South Sudan, and Libya.  The only places worse...the Donbas of Ukraine and Iran

You know just being next to the border in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California I have felt unsafe.  Sometimes even from the Border Patrol meant to keep us safe.  I have been shot at in Texas.  (I think I was on USFW land being used to grow weed).

I did not want to go on this trip, but found it impossible to not go, since if my wife was going anyhow, I would never live with myself if I stayed and she went and ...Mexico got her.  I lost sleep for weeks.  I spent days organizing our personal effects. Saving passwords, I even cried as I wrote final letters each to our three children encouraging them and shared my most intimate thoughts, reflecting on the highlights, final thoughts, and apologizing for my failings as a father.  

My wife's sister's reservations got cancelled and I hoped it was an omen but they rebooked them at a different hotel.  I was finally forced to book the air flights. I slept the last night 24 hours before we were scheduled to go and got up and knew I would rather die with my wife then live alone.  So frustrated and nervous we went.  I was an emotional wreck by the time we got in the Tampa airport.

You can guess that by writing this, we did not get killed by Narco traffickers or by drinking the water.  We got home.  What if you ignore travel warnings and still nothing happens?  Was the US State Department paranoid, or were we (as in I) just crazy?

I gave a packet to my neighbors to "give to my daughter, when we go missing."  Not if but when...It was odd for them to hear.  They asked questions.  I just said we are going to Sinaloa, look it up.  They soon understood.

On a good note, we got upgraded from Houston to Mazatlan, when I get upgraded on United, something is really wrong.  It was bad good news.

Initially, I despised the drug addicts for giving rise to the cartels, then the cartels for being cartels, then the Mexicans for putting up with the bullsh%t.  We got there, the most scary things in the Mazatlan airport were the people trying to sell us time shares. Slick pushy con meal, fee boat trip, free...yea nothing is ever free.  Okay, imho, buying a timeshare in Mexico, means maybe you deserve to get fleeced.  Then I was mad at the timeshare people, and now, I am most mad at the tourists who buy that crap, and I still am.  Since a US person cannot legally own property in Mexico, buying a timeshare means what...?  I began to look at the rubes being duped in the lobby of our hotel.

There was a comment online that people should avoid Mexico because they are enabling all of this....I think things like this need to be heeded.  There were tourists asking the people at the front desk if it was safe to even leave the lobby or to even get in a a few were also worried.  Most looked clueless that Mexico was not Texas.....but it is Mexico!

Mexico....I have not stayed at the west coast of Mexico since 1997 when we went to a medical conference in Ixtapa for a week and stayed in a nearby city.  Some two years later, we went to Cozumel, and I have stopped there twice on Cruise ships.  I have written before I hate Cozumel.  In the 26 years since Ixtapa and now to Mazatlan, Mexico is still the same.  Maybe the roads have a fewer potholes but the vehicles are beat, the buildings done on the cheap, some unfinished, the hotels are over the top in size next to uneven sidewalks, garbage in vacant lots, and with slums a few blocks or even a few feet away.  The inside of these hotels look cheap and like the Nineties are calling and want their walls back.  

Mexicans with money seem to be a problem, some obviously were kept watch by guards on the drug payroll.  They act like everything is fine and normal, and yet it all looks like if the big fault moves just offshore (and there is a big fault offshore), it all will come tumbling down and Mazatlan would look like Turkey. (There is a BIG fault just offshore BTW). The place is a mix of trophy wives, girlfriends, spoiled Mexican children intermixed all the while overweight Canadian and American tourists (including me), typically retirees also acting like this is all normal with their ill fitting shirts, strange hats, and looking and acting like they are marks for all sorts of scams.  

If the US government warned us all to be careful...being drunk, dressing and acting like Americans and flashing money in the lobby and taking loudly at meals about their assets....maybe they deserve to be sold timeshares or worse?  We got called for the special "welcome packet."  We snuck through the lobby to avoid the timeshare sales squad each time separating and using the old oh I need to ask my spuse if we were intercepted, and found ourselves at overpriced one somehow I think by paying cash, the waiter even got all of the money.  I tried to keep out a watchful eye, but 

1) the weather was cold and windy and the beaches at Mazatlan had water that looked scarier for disease than the men watching the drug captain's trophy women and children.  Mazatlan has a sewage problem

2) My wife's family wanted to go do some things....walk the area, they bought concert tickets, wanted to check the restaurant scene...although I had hoped we could just sit and enjoy the resort and never leave....alas you just could not.

3) the resort we had was sort of under construction, painting next door, building a seawall, and piles of material just outside our building.  Noise and more noise.  There were no flowers, few birds, and well, I was not thinking of showing off my big camera for a seawatch...

4) So even I was getting bored....  after a while, at least getting kidnapped was something interesting, and there was little interesting that I had seen there.  I guess I'd die birding...

You know, Mazatlan look as though it was a fine idea in 1990, but it looked tired in 2023, even without the dangers...people who "loved" it had not been any other place, because of they had....they would have went there.  You could wade into the beach in Cozumel, here...?  Too rough, too cold, too toxic.

We went to see the in-laws boat and ate dinner in here,  Brave people sailing in such a small craft with just two people, Portland Oregon to Mazatlan....

   They risk death everyday at sea, Mazatlan must seem like crossing the street to them.  The 36 foot Gypsy.

The view from the hotel.  It was not inclusive.  The drinks so heavily watered down you could not even taste the alcohol.  We ate a couple of passable breakfasts.  They were short of pool lounges.  They had little beach.  You could take a trip to the island but I was unsure what the attraction was....Pelican nests ...thirst?

Functional spartan room with twin full-sized beds, hard mattress, rodents in the airducts, lost of traffic noise and you could here bingo calls from the hotel next to you, but it had a nice breeze.  FOX and CNN only English TV.  $200/ night

So I got to #4 and throwing caution to the wind, I made contact with a friend of a friend who had a friend who knew someone that would take us birding.  They "guaranteed" our safety, for $150 each.  A day before it turns out, the guide named Jose, was up at the tufted jay place, where even my "friend" was certain it would never be safe to go.....luckily, we went some place else.  It was still out there in the middle of nowhere

Mazatlan melts into desert scrub almost immediately.  When you are out of town, you are out of town and nowhere.  

We went to a preserve mostly noted for jaguars and hiked 5 miles, locking ourselves in.  The key under a hidden rock  Most likely the dangers there were big cats and heat. I was uneasy as we trudge looking for some birds.  I found a few lifers, and saw many Arizona birds.  We missed a couple that I did not see, the guide did, and we ate some food cook over the woodstove when two new stoves stood a few feet away.  Possibly they did not have electricity nor propane. 

Purplish backed jay

Golden cheeked woodpecker

Elegant quail

black throated magpie jay

rufous bellied chachalaca

I added nine lifer birds, which considering the paucity of my Mexican bird list the haul here was rather light, but how many birds is a bullet worth?  We did not bird at a second location.

We drove to see a set of odd petroglyphs on boulders by the sea.  We like these things and my wife was more impressed with them than the birds.
Possibly a frightened Olaf

A pelican

We passed a man hiding a rifle under his shirt on a motorcycle coming out.  Luckily it was not pointed at us.  Generally, there were no police outside of the city and few in it.  Not sure if all of the shooting in Mazatlan in January has given way to a truce or everyone was tired after Carnival.  

We went back to the rather small dumpy looking airport, not the airport you would expect of a high end tourist place, the plane came, a woman in 1st Class got interviewed and was kicked off the plane and left without incident.  The random inspections at the gate were mothers of small children.  We were a little poorer, we had successfully avoided the time sales team and the kidnappers with equal success.  We left Silja's sister behind with our water and coffee and well wishes and flew home.

No shootings, no signs of the army, and no burnt out cars, well.....On the way back to our RV from the Tampa Airport we came across this..

A burning car on the Veterans Expressway, it was just an accident but still it made me think.  Life in the USA is dangerous too.  I have been to dangerous places, South Africa for one, but I have been to Latin Countries that I have felt totally safe, Costa Rica, Uruguay, and Argentina to name some and Mexico...well Mexico is Mexico and it should be better, but alas it will never change IMHO.  I guess it is all of our faults.

We survived and I got a few birds, and I will renew my vow to stay away from life South of the Border...

Be safe wherever you go


Sunday, December 25, 2022

Merry Christmas 2022


Although I still have a second Bhutan installment to add, we had to drive into the frozen tundra of northern Wisconsin, here is our Christmas "letter" to everyone

Christmas letters are like children.  They take a while to nurture, grow, and evolve into something…something that hopefully benefit society or at least amuse the reader.  Whether one went everywhere and did everything OR went no where and did nothing, a good letter is on the presentation and not the substance.  Letters are also all about the annual rite, the tradition and expectation of getting the latter in the mail and the process of doing them.  I, for one, have been neglectful in recent years as life has tended to make me busy.  For this I do apologize.

 I always start the gathering of material for my Christmas letters slowly.  First, we plan a trip shortly after Christmas the previous year which if it ends in a fiasco, can be conveniently excluded for the next Christmas letter.  Take last year for example, we planned a trip to Tucson, a computer glitch occurred, and our flights were cancelled.  We split up the next day in a second attempt to make it to warmer confines.  Some of us made it and well, some of us did NOT.  Then it rained in Tucson and some of us got COVID, but one thing good did come out of that trip.  Being stranded in Chicago brought a welcome bonus. Silja found her missing binoculars lost from the post-Christmas trip the year before in Tyko’s car. Unfortunately, I had bought her a replacement pair for a Christmas gift.

Another tip to a good Christmas letter is to keep it light.  Avoid illness and other maladies that may have plagued you during the year.  We went to two funerals, but no one wants to hear that.  Luckily, in 2022, was generally healthy for the five of us.  I also think it is prudent if one has spent the bulk of the winter in the south to not brag about it.  Most of our friends and family live up north where it is cold and snowy, especially when they will see this letter.  Reminding them that we spent the winter in Florida is just bad form and possibly causing them discomfort.

The adolescence of 2022 began for us in April, we drove north, and went to Scotland and returned in May with just enough time to get to Lauren’s College graduation from Hamline University in St Paul.  There were smiles and shouts all around when she crossed the stage to get her diploma.  Sadly, after three and a half years at Hamline, her cat, Annie did not get her diploma.  Apparently, she was a whisker away, having failed her class on mousing.  Lauren started Dental School at the University of Minnesota this fall.  At one point we had to transport pulled South Dakota teeth to her for practice.  The things one has to do for children.

It was a glorious summer—long, and filled with family and visiting friends, even Camilla from Sweden.  We went to Canada three times.  Silja caught the largest fish, 40 ¾ inch northern pike.  Allwin painted the most on our house.  Tyko drove the farthest to visit from Chicago.  Lauren made the largest sculpture, a ten-foot green dinosaur/ Pokémon now in the front yard of the cabin.   There was a lot of creativity during the year.  I wrote books and magazine articles, Silja weaved, and Lauren sculpted.  Allwin made novel enzymes at his PhD program and Tyko, in his 3/4th year medical school in Chicago made diagnoses for many of the patients he was seeing with illness he’d never seen before.

It was a big year for Allwin, too, he graduated from University of Wisconsin with his PhD in Chemistry.   Just because he could, Allwin took a post-doctoral fellowship at the Max Planck Institute in Jena Germany.  He started this fall and will be overseas for two years.  Possibly his inspiration was to avoid painting any more of the house.

It is not like Tyko has not been doing crazy things in the style that seems to be us.  Medical School is a busy time not conducive to whims and fancies (autocorrect wanted for me to write “shims and pansies” but don’t let me get started on autocorrect nor pansies).  His life is like ours was back in the day, lack of sleep, overwhelming material, and a feeling of being so low on the totem pole, you were superfluous, except he is in Chicago.    

It is a vicious rumor that we plan adventures just to have things to be included in our Christmas letters.  These “mock ordeals” of spending a year of “living biblically” by the Jewish rules, dressing up as a dog for the entire year, or eating just McDonald’s food are for others.  Why would someone do a “big year” birding, or go to someplace like Bhutan to see as many phallic paintings and sculptures as they could?  Well, we went to Bhutan last month and never saw anyone doing that.

The year matured into old age for us in Thailand and Bhutan in November.  It was an epic four-week trip.  It was the best of times, and the worst of times, but what was best or worst depended on how you looked at it and when.  It was a trip of learning Buddhist culture, Thai and Bhutanese culture, spicy food, seeing cool birds, and having a nice idyl at a resort in Thailand.  This compared to a near plane crash (well it seemed near at the time), salmonella, a suicide hike to a mountain temple, and 21,000 miles in the air. The memories of salmonella will always be there.  Luckily, the suspicious package we were sitting next to in Tokyo did not do anything but remain suspicious.  I saw a sign at the Calcutta airport along the way that said, “travel like you mean it.”  Why would you travel like you did NOT mean it?  I did not mean to get salmonella, but well, I ate the eggs, and stuff happens.

We came back to Florida, fought jetlag and then, possibly somewhat full of impulsivity, or maybe an illness, we had an offer accepted on a house last week.  The house is a mile from our campsite in Florida, both are north of Tampa in a rather interesting community not unlike the RV park we are in.  NO, we are not selling the RV, nor the lot.  Everyone asks.  We are still going to Big Bend this spring and parking it north of Minneapolis for the summer.  We will also need to build a shed at Enemy Swim Lake this summer, and maybe eventually work on selling our Milbank house.  Tyko graduates from medical school this spring in Chicago as well. There are many things to do next year hopefully providing much to write about next year.    

We are driving north this week.  I’m chasing a bird in Iowa if it is still around (it wasn't).  I have books to pick up in Indiana, and we are going to South Dakota before the great family Christmas shuffle.  Enjoying the holidays is always a process in logistics, weather forecasting, and sleeping in strange beds and cold rooms.  We left the cats behind with Lauren this fall, and we need to get them back to the RV.  It may make a story for a country song…a Volvo full of beef, cats, Christmas presents, and stuff we forgot to take with the RV—title: “Lost in Louisville” or maybe “Crazy in Chattanooga.”  “Vomiting in Vidalia” is the most likely song title as the trip will be full of vomit and gnashing of teeth, hopefully mostly Tiger the cat’s.

I might add, Allwin dedicated his PhD thesis to his great grandmother Lucille Danielson, and this will be the fourth Christmas we are having without her.  We have her meatballs but not her, and it just does not feel right.....a toast to her from me as well with a tear in my eye.  

So, there it is, another Christmas letter.  Merry Christmas from the Clan of Daniel, Olaf, Silja (Sarah), Allwin, Tyko (Seth), and Lauren.

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

The Ultimate Bhutan Adventure Synopsis: Part I

I have just spent 18 days in Bhutan.  We flew out of Paro Airport this morning.  I took 15,500 photos, some of which I still have yet to process.  Along the way, I lost 300 do to a camera mishap.  I lost a $500 teleconverter I've had for a decade.  My legs hurt from Friday's 2000 foot accent to the Tiger's Nest, which also included an extra 760 step decent plus 200 step ascent which had to be repeated coming out.  Along the way my wife ran out of gas and we had to help he amble down the hill on worn out knees.  

I bought a few souvenirs, a local guide to birds and butterflies literally delivered to us through an open window driving past a wide spot on the road to the capital, Thimphu, a rock taken from the mountain yesterday, a book on the Bhutan obsession of the phallus, and a refrigerator magnet with a phallus on it, because, I had to buy something.

The ubiquitous penises of Bhutan 

A penis with teeth and hairy scrotum on the side of a house, have they gone...too far?

There are thousands of photos of them, but I will spare you more

The Divine Madman has an interesting history. The legendary saint, Drupka Kunley, came to Bhutan 500 years ago to expel a demon from Dochula, the same mountain pass we just crossed on the road from Thimphu. The demon took the form of a dog which Kunley trapped in the stupa atop a mound in the form of a woman’s breast, which is now his sacred site of the fertility temple. He struck the demon with his Thunderbolt of Flaming Wisdom, his penis, and it fell down dead. As he did so he spoke the words Chi Mi, or no dog, and there we have the origin of the name of the temple. The site was blessed by Kunley and in 1499 C.E. the monastery was built in his honor by his cousin Ngawang Choegyel, the 14th Drukpa.

Too be honest, saying anything about Bhutan in between 1000 and 1500 words is impossible.  The place is both glorious and a little sad because of expected "paradise lost" which ALWAYS occurs at such places.  We saw it happen at Grenada 30 years ago and once something it is found, it gets destroyed  Mind you they claim it to be the center of happiness.  The people do seem content, yet with everyone with cellphones, the outside world is just a google search away and with it, the temptation of desire....which is talked about in their Buddhist beliefs as leading to Greed and then Ignorance....but the lure is still there.

I took a picture for a Turkish woman yesterday who had been everywhere and criticized Bhutan for not being "authentic."  Much of the souvenirs offered claim to be authentically Bhutanese, but our bus driver admitted it is all made in Nepal or India, and none of it was authentic but I am not sure that is what the Turkish woman was saying.....maybe it was the new slavish devotion to the tourism trade both helping the country and one leading to its downfall, but alas, she did not explain, nor did I ask her to.

First, let us discuss the bathrooms.  As I mentioned earlier, this was not a trip for sissies.

We had two types of bathrooms.  Impromptu outhouses, a hole dug, a kind of portable sitting device inside a rather small tent (zipper malfunctioned right away) and what I called the "hole and hope room."  The room had a hole, you squatted, hoped you hit the hole and a bucket was nearby for cleaning misses.  Some people did not clean up, and there was never enough water.

Some of the many scenic outhouse locations...........

One location was in the garden in the back yard of Camp Cement discussed earlier.

Bhutan is overrun by dogs, they sleep all day, usually in the road, or come to beg for food, and then bark all night.  Some even have interesting houses.

 At the heart, this was a birding trip, we saw some of the sights

Punakha Dzong, a five hundred year old fort and the Temple of a Thousand Buddhas

We weren't allowed to photograph in the temple

More pictures from the Tiger's Nest.  The group that made it halfway up to the Tea House.  Five of us made it to the overlook on the left, four of us (me included) made it to the Holy sight.


We saw lots of fabulous birds....unfortunately not the best one, the white bellied heron, a bird that will undoubtedly go extinct before I get a second chance.  Why?  Well probably the development of the rivers of source for power which ironically, is sadly sent to India.  If not the damming of the rivers, it is the powerlines.  They have exposed 10 miles of river bed here totally diverting a major river at one place.  Be it the loss of water or the electrical lines connecting to it, the heron is in peril.

We did see Ward's Trogan, my bad picture

our guide Dorgi, got better pictures

My picture bad but at least we saw one.
Yellow billed blue magpie

We had a slew of warblers, quick and hard to identify.

ash throated warbler

Gray hooded warbler

Black rumped magpie arecent split from the Eurasian magpie

blood pheasant

Chestnut tailed minla

This is just a taste of the many birds, we will post another blog shortly with more birds, more sights of our Epic trip to Bhutan


A Flamboyance of Flamingoes

  IT has been a long and busy summer filled with selling houses, buying houses, buying land, and digging holes.   The start of building my s...