Baird's sparrow was first described in 1843 in North Dakota by Audubon. My lifer Baird, above, seen on a family trip in 1984 and shot with a Pentax k1000 on the way to Glacier Park Montana. east of Havre MT. I don't know even where I was anymore. That and my largest brook trout ever caught were my memories of that trip. That picture is one of my better pictures as a young birder with film. However when I look at this bird now 32 years later, having scanned them in without really looking at them like a decade ago, along with the front view, photo, as pointed out by a viewer, I'm not so sure I actually had even seen a pure bred Baird's sparrow back then, possibly I owe someone a lifer beer....
Historically, Baird's wasn't reported again until 1872, a year that marked a lull in the plains Native American wars and just two years before a huge discovery in the Black Hills would change everything in the west where in 1872 in the Deadwood Creek, each shovel full of earth contained a veritable fortune in gold. This influx of treasure seekers onto Sioux land led to friction, which led to Custer moving west, the Battle of the Little Bighorn, more troops, and the as they say...the rest is history. Let me be the first to say, one diminutive sparrow had nothing to do with any of it.
When my birding friend Tony Lau told me he was heading to central Minnesota to look for this sparrow, I invited myself with as I said, "I need that bird." We met in Alexandria Minnesota at 6am on the 21st after a much needed day of rest, resupply, and well, you guys and gals know what happens when two star crossed lovebirds see each other after an absence...this is still spring for one day and the summer solstice, a very important night for Nordic stock, a full moon, and ooh la la!
I digress, This area is steeped in tradition of both Native Culture and the west, well and also the Kensington Runestone...we drive right past my name sake "Big Ole" in Alex a remnant from the 1964 World's Fair near the home of of the stone and met at McDonald's.
Fort Juelson is located not far away which was hurriedly built in 1876 by Hans Juelson to protect the local Norwegian population after settlers began to abandon farms in fear. These were just resettled after the Sioux Uprising of 1862. Hans built the sod fort over one of the largest ancient burial mound complexes in the region, further angering the local Natives for years. These mounds oddly also mimic the Uppsala Complex and other Nordic complexes in Scandinavia, but only I write about that similarity typically. The only battle that this fort ever saw however, was possibly for a larger portion of lutefisk, and now later, over shared historical significance, and conjecture by people trying to authenticate the runestone as real. I have a passion for chasing bronzed aged burial mounds all over the world and this is but one site of many I've been to.
It is also coincidental that my wife had just finished an ER shift nearby in Fergus Falls, a place I actually have never worked. As many of you may not know, I have an MD degree. I don't talk about it as much, even though I have college plus 9 years of training and for a decade, that was all I did. It isn't like I did anything wrong or am ashamed of anything...IDK. I ran my group for almost 2 decades. I have never really been known as Dr. Olaf and don't like the title per say, although I rarely call any other medical colleague by their given name. Everyone is Doctor or Professor to me. I'm Olaf, or most hey, you! I am not sure what to call the great Alaska birder and cardiologist in Anchorage, Dr. Dave? Should I use his last name. I don't know. I think my lack of stories of my doctor experience in print and blog is mostly PTSD. Life in the ER is like that.
If I do tell the stories, I try to pick the pithy ones, like my month in residency in "Stripper" clinic and what seemed to be clothing-optional Tuesdays for the patients not me, my all-nude delivery, patient, baby, father, nurse, and OB doctor, (oddly except for me, they recruited me at 1 am to take pictures of all things), or my aborted research into a cancer cluster, where I stumbled upon something sinister that the government didn't want exposed and I made hot dogs burning the research in the parking lot in a bid of self-preservation advised to me by a doctor at Argonne or was in Oak Ridge...or maybe Hannaford....I won't tell..... I had a residency in Pennsylvania where by noon on my first day as a doctor, my three patients had died and died terrible ghastly deaths. At one pm my next patient was a famous singer who not only didn't die, sort of jaded my look at fame and what it did to people.
I was trained well in my first two years of head and neck trauma where for example, when I used a piece of equipment like suction cautery to stop a nose-bleed, my attending took it away and then told me I'd be fired if I ever used it again. The joke as that eventually I could be able to stop a nose bleed with a pen, my clipboard, and one big fat finger. I never got that far as the place overwhelmed me in negativity. The goal here, though, was to be able to think on my feet and be able to be flexible. That training saved my bacon later many times much to the chagrin of nurses as I would frequently head off in the supply room finding new uses for things that would solve problems certain patients came in with.
In the ER, I've worked all over in Minnesota as we were building up our group. I still have scars in my head. One case from Sandstone Minnesota involving a birth in a hospital that hadn't done OB for years. Here, I "ate" a patient--meaning had to deal with something bad as couldn't transfer. The patient was brought to the hospital by mistake, the previous doctor asked me as I arrived at 8am if I did OB (I replied I delivered some in residency but that was not something I ever wanted to do) and he promptly ran out the door and laid rubber in the parking lot. I should have closed the hospital and transfered the patient with me in the ambulance. I didn't. My famous line when asking what they had the baby warmer set at...the nurse replied. "Well we use the setting of "5" to melt grilled cheese sandwiches so we decided to use "4". I recommended 3.5 then. I was a terrible case, in skilled hands that would be a terrible delivery at a major OB center and here I was in an ER without OB in the middle of nowhere. My nurse had juts transferred to the ER from a local Psych hospital. No one in the hospital that day had even had their own children. I was on my own. It was bad. It seems though, I have this "7th" gear where things sort of slow down. Like an overdrive gear. I have seen it on tape. I actually talk slower. In battle the camera shows this well like in Game of Thrones" It does slow down in battle. It even slows down for me in my perception during a big bird finding event.
In that old case, The blue baby born dead, miraculous through nothing I did, the equipment all broke or malfunctioned, breathed at 2 minutes and pinked up. A rare 0/9 Apgar score for any of you who know what that is, without any life support things as we didn't have anything. Prior to the birth knowing it would be bad, I was thinking if I should drive down to turn in my license after the case, or wait until Monday. That was 1999....
I have had many other cases, holding a hand of a man in Baudette Minnesota with a rupturing AAA, (Aorta) in a blizzard comes to mind. I told him I didn't think we could get a plane in for hours and that he was assuredly going to die. He asked if the TV monitor in the room worked so I sat there watching his beloved Minnesota Vikings loose 41-6 to the NY Giants in the NFC championship game as we gave him the last units of blood the hospital had. He didn't make it to the end of the game, unfortunately, the Vikings never made it TO the game. He died wearing his purple hat and clutching his purple jacket and my hand. I later came down with pneumonia myself on that shift and could barely stand at the end of 60 straight hours of coverage on the Canadian border. My last act was to xray myself and give myself antibx as there was no relief for me. It took me two days the way it was to drive 5 hours home.
I once had a five hour code on the former cook of the St Louis Rams, who eventually succumbed to the motorcycle trauma. The Rams won the Super Bowl the next year, making me wonder if their diet improved, although I don't like to speak ill of the dead. I have the odd, the weird, and the scary, and besides knowing my wife will understand, I figured most of you wouldn't, so I prefer to talk about travels, birds, my family, and my idiocy.
With all of this local history, scar tissue, and after nearly 6 mos of doing a big year, I pulled into McDonald's and then we were off to the fields NW of Alex.
To be honest, in retrospect, it wasn't one of my finest moments in birding especially bird ID. My daughter needed a willow flycatcher for her year and it took about an hour to actually located the bird after we heard it. Then we saw it all the time.
You may ask, right now, why I even came over to this part of the world to see a Baird's sparrow? If you look at a range map, Minnesota? Yes, always one to do things the hard way, I came to chase a sparrow that has not been seen in Minnesota for 14 years. I did this to save 4 hours in a car. This sparrow frequents my cabin in migration but they don't nest there and this sparrow is nomadic and will be found in one year here and not the next. I saw a whole "crew" in Lemmon SD in 2014 but nary a one last summer. It is a murder of crows and a crew of sparrows, by the way. I could have driven towards Bismarck ND but that is 4.5 hours from my house and well, Alex was 2, so here I was, getting a bird I may never see in Minnesota again for a guy that does not keep state lists.
For an hour, we looked but didn't see, I saw sparrows, and photographed them, but no Baird's or so I thought. I thought I maybe heard one a few times but alas I demurred. I questioned Tony on the authenticity of the sightings reporting it here, and he found 3 truly horrid photos of the bird, but there was a reliable 'ear bird' from a MOU big shot. Finally nearing 9am I put my scope away and then walked back to Tony. "Anything?"
"Just this ratty Savannah," I looked at it on a hay bale. Then something clicked in my head....
"Wait a minute." I said holding up my camera shooting photos.....I had looked, but not seen all morning. "That, I think, is it." We took more pictures. Tony sent them out and about since I was so wishy-washy on the ID. We had not only seen it, but we had good pictures. Tony captured it best...
bird number 739. Then I looked at my photos. Almost all of my photos are of the Baird's sparrow. It was like the bird was saying "it's me, it's me" my camera brain was saying take pictures, the rast of my brain was saying, nope not that one. I felt like Custer, sort of looking but not seeing the bigger picture or comprehending anything in the grand scheme. This is tired birding and having to dig almost everything out myself or with friends. Sparrows are hard work on a good day. My daughter had left us to get away from the birding as she had already had the bird in her mind when it first appeared and figured if we couldn't recognize it that was our problem.
Well, that was that, I now had the whole Crew of sparrows, and had seen every last breeding one in North America on the checklist.....something I've never done before. my next to last code 1, now I had just three lower 48 breeders and in a week, they will be ticked as in past tense.
My daughter was up 2 to 494, having found the chestnut collared longspur colony near our cabin and stumbled upon a Wilson's phalarope last weekend. She was making progress too, 494 is great! Although she is sort of tired of blogging and has that summertime student malaise, I had summertime birder malaise, too but I needed to keep going. My dog, Brighid can finally sleep after I'm home and as you can see, my daughter still hasn't unpacked from returning from her trip with me to Alaska.
But alas...poor pooch, sleepless vigils shall return for her as it is off again, I go. It is a long year and I'm not even half way to the end, an end that will be hopefully spent reveling in not much attire if anything on Orient Beach in St Martin FWI.
I had a nice chat with Big Year historian Joe Lil the other day. Joe says many birders live vicariously thorough my blog and this adventure. I honestly don't know what to think about that. I would advise all of you to go and see America...go see Ft Juelson and the mounds. Think about who built them and why. Think about settlers so fearful that you would walk away from fields and houses, and even more, of a life so bad in Norway or Sweden, that you would just jump on a ship and come to a place in the middle of nowhere. If that is not your thing...go grab a tent and head to the mountains of New Mexico, the shore of Maine....see America and think, think of about what others have endured so that we...don't. None of this costs much money either. in the end, maybe you will see a couple of new birds, learn something, and maybe, just maybe you won't have to live vicariously through me.
As my ER exploits have shown me, life is way too short, one moment you are out there walking around and the next, I'm looking at a flat-line with blood all over me. The weather is nice, get out there....anywhere, enjoy the moment. No one ever told me in their last breath that they wished they had worked more...no one....NOT A SINGLE PERSON!
advice from you doctor...