Motto

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

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Happy Holidays to Everyone



Every year for the last 20 or so, I have published my annual Christmas letter.  As a person who likes to celebrate a Scandinavian themed Christmas, I typically wait for the annual burning of the Gävle Julbakken to submit my letter to the masses, i.e. YOU!  If it doesn't burn, you are spared...what is this Gravelly Julie Bakken or whatever you may ask?  It is the Gävle Julbakken....

Each year, the Swedish city of Gävle, north of Stockholm builds this multistory straw Christmas goat, or Julbakken.  We have one on our tree, my mother has a larger one by the fireplace, it is quite festive, well, in a pagan sort of way.  

For the last 50 years or so, certain ruffians, Grinch-types, mischief makers, have plotted against this goat in an annual effort to set it on fire.  Why you may ask...just because apparently it is there. It has become an obsession on both sides.  Swedish engineers have been working on the best flame retardant materials for the goat, people have built fences, threatened fines, and in response, the evil doers have dug tunnels under the street, shot flaming missiles, and have had ruses to get access and have made all sorts of efforts to torch the goat.  Except for like two years in the last 15, the fire bugs have won.  Last night, with a crocodile tear being shed by me, the goat went up in smoke...


It was one of the quickest efforts ever.....so now, I can safely put out my holiday message, and you can rest assured, the Gävle Julbakken, is no more...Sweden and the world is safe for at least another year.

Now, I give you the letter....



Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to All,

Unless you have been living under a rock, and I know some of you have, you know that I (Olaf) have been doing a big year.  A big year is to see how many species of birds you can see in a calendar year in North America.  This is like trying to win the Olympic Marathon, it is intense, grueling, exhausting, and expensive.  I have traveled over 270,000 miles this year and I write this piece to you from Gambell, St. Lawrence Island, Alaska, a place on a good day, (today is not one of them) you can see Russia.  I have just seen a Pine Bunting, a bird not seen in North America since 2012 and only twice before that, which depending on how you count, it could be a good bird or a great bird.

So back to this letter…I am going to write about all that I missed this year.  That list is very VERY large, much larger than the few birds I have missed this year, and also much longer than what I didn’t miss this year, so here goes and mind you, this is in no particular order.

I missed seeing my son Allwin complete his first marathon in Milwaukee in October and everyone including Brighid, the spaniel, was there….except me.  I was proud of his accomplishment none-the-less.

I missed seeing our beach friends in St. Martin, although I did swing by for cameo appearances to Jan and Stuart in Florida, John and Michelle in Maine, and Deb and John in Connecticut when on birding trips. Silja went to the beach alone and enjoyed seeing many friends in February. You will be seeing a lot more of me at the beach next year, literally.

I was also lucky enough to visit an old college chum Craig, in Colorado Springs.  In the course of the year, I did touch base with an old golfing buddy Paul in Key West, and Sarah and I visited Silja’s cousin’s family Tim and Mary in North Carolina, and I also visited her brother and sister-in law Bill and Nina in Portland, Oregon.  I dragged many birding friends all over this continent to see birds.

I missed Silja’s parent’s 60th wedding anniversary, and her father’s 90th birthday in September in Minnesota.  All the immediate family showed up and many cousins and friends attended. I was in Gambell, like now, about as far away one can get and still be in North America. 

Silja continued to work part time emergency medicine in Minnesota.  Also, she enjoyed various house maintenance projects, thank you Tony for helping out with the shed door. Without a husband, she is swimming and going to a personal trainer to keep in shape.  She ended up with a sprained ankle last January while birding in California but now is back on track.

I probably missed some birds this year despite all the ones I saw by not going to Attu.  I missed going to Attu because I chose to wait for “L” or Lauren to finish up her school year.  I would not have EVER done that differently.  For 18 days, my 16 year old daughter and I had been together in Arizona, then up to Adak, Nome, and Gambell, St Lawrence Island, Alaska were the best time we have spent together as a father and a daughter.  I showed her cool scenery, whales, once in a lifetime places, and we have memories we can share forever.  Who gives a crap about a couple of lost birds, no one is going to remember those.


I missed Lauren learning to snowboard.  She was tired of skiing and wanted a new challenge.  She proudly bought a Burton board that matches her jacket.  She is eagerly awaiting the snow.  Silja tried snowboarding, but quickly decided that chronic pain syndrome should not be in her future.

I missed going to a Broadway musical with Tyko while he was exploring the east coast.  He had an internship at Boston University this summer.  I did visit him there and we chased a Manx shearwater together on a beach north of Boston, but I didn’t see much of him otherwise all summer.



 I missed going on the trip to visit Allwin in Germany.  Tyko and Silja went to see him in June while Lauren and I were in Alaska (did I mention she saw 514 species of birds!). Anyhow, they visited old castles and cathedrals on the Rhine and Mosel rivers. Allwin studied German and chemistry in Bonn for a year, while we saw birds. He appreciated learning a new language and culture but missed home.  
I did have a nice birding trip with Allwin in February in California while he was home on mid-year break.  We saw condors and took a boat out to Santa Cruz Island.  We almost got lost and stranded in the desert and enjoyed the amenities of Merced, California, well we ate breakfast there.  I had fun.  Allwin read a book on the meanings of obscure words and then gave them to me in sentences as we drove around the golden state. 


I missed speaking at Ripon College this year where the boys, Allwin and Tyko are now seniors.  I’m not sure they were upset I missed this.  Allwin wants to go to grad school in protein research (biochemistry).  Tyko is keeping his options open, grad or med school, maybe even getting a job in computer science?

I missed us adopting a new dog and then, unadopting him as well.  The first time he saw me, he peed, then the second time…the third…the fourth...I left and so did the poor terrier.  Brighid liked having a buddy so we adopted a kitten instead.  I missed poor Nightmare who succumbed to cancer in the summer.  I was there for the cat funeral before I had to go back out to Texas to see a variegated flycatcher.  This new kitty is named Annie and she is part ragdoll, part crazy cat.  Many of my friends suggested to my wife that she should have named the kitten, Olaf, so at least one Olaf would be around the house.


I missed Silja and her sister taking a birch-bark basket weaving class at the American Swedish Institute.  I’m proud to say my wife has some talent in this. I missed a Paul McCartney concert in which my daughter had to stand in for me but I did my fatherly role and took Lauren and friend to a Kanye West concert in St Paul, MN.  I kind of wished I missed those crazy kids swamping the streets while we tried to find her afterwards.    


I missed deer hunting with my Grandmother Lucille, who loves to give me heck for wasting a year seeing birds.  I also missed the birth of my niece, Lucy, grandmother’s name sake, in September.  I was in Gambell…or was it St Paul, Alaska….I forget.  I might have been Nome. 

I wished I had missed the election night after listening on car radios to all of the election hype and banter, but I didn’t. 

What else did I miss?  I missed hanging out at our cabin with the family and friends; fishing, summer hikes, and backyard birding. Silja noted a lack of fish this summer, she needs me back to help her run the boat.

Mostly though, I miss my wife, my children, my pets, my house, my bed, my office, my scooter, good weather, and maybe, most of all, my sanity. 2017 is soon here and this will be over, something I will eventually miss but not now, all I can say is that it has been a long, no, a very long year.   


Happy Holidays……..Olaf, Silja, Allwin, Tyko, and “L” Lauren Elizabeth.  
The Danielsons


Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Winter is Coming



There have been very few bird chasing trips this year that were so up in there air than this one.  I had planned nothing, and all to chase a bird not seen for a day and go from Boston all the way to Gambell, Alaska.  The mileage from Boston to Anchorage 3950, add in Nome, then Gambell you get a trip of well over 4800 miles.  All this in late November ....and for what?

A pine bunting.  What you say?  A pine bunting.  A 5 1/2 inch bird from Asia that has only been seen now 4 times in North America and only twice in 20 years.   Sitting in Boston, checking fares, as I had no ticket to going anywhere, I came on a one-way on SunCountry.  The family was seeing a Musical in the morning in Minneapolis and had not bought a ticket for me. I said what the heck, and booked a flight to Anchorage.  The first problem was a mechanical issue which delayed the flight west.  I missed my connection in Seattle as a result so was forced to fly on the Alaska Air Cargo plane leaving well after midnight.  I crawled into Anchorage at 4am, crashed under an escalator for 3 hours and then checked my gear and eventually found myself on a flight to Nome, exhausted.  It was winter in Nome and the sun was just up wen we landed at a little after 11, yes, the days are short up north now.

I had a bunch of hours to kill before Ravn Air left for the barren outpost on St. Lawrence Island.  I made it to the store buy a little food but truth be told, I have two days supply of food with me in my gear for winter birding trips.  I watched a little football at Airport Pizza and ate a pizza that is still causing me some abdominal discomfort.  That was a mistake.  I walked around town to see if any McKay's buntings were about and found...none.  I guess good thing I got that bird in February.  No feed had been put out, either.

The Ravn flight to Gambell had a soda stop in Savoonga.  120 twelve packs of Pepsi, the mail and me made up this flight into the Bering Sea, the soda went as far as the other city on St. Lawrence Island, I went the whole way.

Overflow Pepsi in the passenger compartment of the plane


  The story of how this village came into being seems much more complicated than what I have ever heard.  A group of people in Gambell didn't want to live with the rest of the people in Gambellso they left and decided to found a new village.  The polite version?  I expected more when I landed in Savoonga and maybe I got it.  A pickup truck came to pick up the soda.  Here, unguarded soda is soon missing soda or so I heard, these people are the Pepsi generation, apparently.  A 4x4 ford van came to shuttle 3 passengers which boarded to fly to Gambell to visit.  one to visit the nurse for an injury.   So they had at least 2 vehicles of size in Savoonga, two more than Gambell.  So there is more.  In Gambell they have only ATVs and two larger enclosed ATVs from what I saw.

The rest of Savoonga.....A school, a store on stilts, and maybe a similar look to it, the mountains seemed very far away.  There was no lake.  The new people though were eager to talk as the plane zoomed up into the turbulence.  The twin Beech shook a bit as it cruised to the other side of the island.  The talk....eagles.....eagles with dark heads and white tails around Savoonga, even now, a few days ago.  I didn't see any white-tailed eagles out the window and I have heard this before.....I wonder what to make of it?

It was a tough go landing in Gambell with a 30 mph crosswind but we got down, I guess without the soda, maybe the plane more stable.  I hitched a ride to the Lodge and hoped.  This wasn't birding hope this was lodging hope.  I had been trying to contact anyone about rooming at the lodge for 2 days, anyone and with the holidays no one answered returned calls or anything.  I got there and as feared door locked.  I didn't have a back up plan.  I didn't bring my Gambell phone with either.  I asked two guys to find someone to let me in.  One never knows if they were or had been distracted.  It was cold but I was tough.  I huddled into the corner.  My old buddy dogs, came by to check on me,


Even Gimpy is still hobbling around


 I would have grabbed one if I had been frozen but I wasn't...yet....had I been forsaken?  Eventually a rather irritated Hanson showed up, mumbling and checked me in.  "No I didn't have a reservation.  Sorry Hanson, thank you very much Hanson." I tried to be thankful and apologetic.  It wasn't his fault, and not the Lodge's, walk-ins don't arrive here in winter or on a whim.  The lights...off, everything off, but I was in, he gave me a key.  I called my ATV contact and he came right over as it was now half dark, and dressed for full Arctic, I went off in the general direction of the accursed bird...

then There it was!




Pine Bunting...code 5.....lifer bird....a bird I'll never see again in my lifetime....it wasn't dead and according to Clarence, the local man who found it, it had been AWOL all day and just showed up...whew!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I went back in where it was warm.   After watching the 530 pm weather report....it was like I hadn't left, this time I got the comfy chair.  I read the walls as the village was working on how to sell the town as an Eco-tourism destination and had left up their meeting barnstorming....work the birders like they do on St Paul, I would tell anyone....don't try to sell local dance, customs, and food...  Then I went to bed in a real bed....it had been a very long day.

I still had a day to bird, the Pine Bunting never showed again, but I had some great views of Gambell in the winter...





The wind blew.  Sometimes it snowed, sometimes the snow became a blizzard and it was cold, maybe 15 degrees and as the say.....WINTER IS COMING!   I looked around to try to find members of the Night's Guard or Jon Snow running around but alas the next season of Game of Thrones has neither started or come through here.....Mr Martin had not been to Gambell in winter or maybe he has?

I went birding, but much to the chagrin, I assume, of Paul Lehman, Olaf with his short attention span, got distracted by a huge flock of Spectacled eiders....thousand of them, here are a couple of males..



Wow, you can't believe how happy seeing these ducks made me.  I have been trying to see a adult male spec eider not only this whole year but this was a the last remaining bird I wanted to see from when I first started birding....I have never seen one, actually never thought I'd ever see one.  10 trips to Alaska...notta.  This year, I could not find one, young males, hens, but not this magnificent male bird....the BIRD OF THE YEAR!!!!  and they were everywhere.

I had very limited disk space....I could not get a wall photo, they were either too far out or I was shivering too much, I don't know. I was incompetent bordering on stupid.  I filled up my disk, went back to the lodge to warm up and download to see if any were not blurry, purged them and went out to try it again, sadly the above is about as good as I got...sigh....you can't have it all, I guess.

Unfortunately for science, Paul Lehman wanted me to do a bird survey and better than I ended up doing, definitely better than I photographed...the best bird a dovkie, I couldn't photo....I ignored all the gulls except one with black wing tips I used as a test subject to see if my ISO was not too high

Thayer's Gull 

This turned out to be the best photograph I took all day, which was sort of scary, it was also the first photo of the day.

I took a short of a Black Guillimot.....


I actually waited for black kittiwakes to clear out so I could focus down on more Spec eider shots, one of which while scouring the background showed a pair of adult male King Eiders flying past...


Oddly, the spec eider was not even close to being in focus and the supposed kings....almost in focus even at extreme magnification here.  I'm also sure I saw quite a few Steller's eiders but those were in scope and their white pattern wasn't the kings above, the hens were dark and males had white on heads and smaller than the common eiders flying around but I ended up changing my log to eider sp. as I wasn't 100%, I don't know, in the end I became less than 100% of everything....was that even a pine bunting?  I even dropped the black wing tipped gulls on ebird to Herring/Thayers...you know, I didn't pay that much attention....I was looking for spec eider shots and I was cold, damn cold.  I could only expose my trigger finger for about a minute....once I had to put the old paw in hot water to warm up back in the Lodge.

I did get help in whales though....many locals pointed out humpbacks and one close in whale was unbelievably, a gray....in fact all 11 whales I saw were unbelievable.  I kept saying.  "they should be in Baja or Hawaii...."  The locals agreed with me.  

Then one went on his mission to harvest seaworms for supper on the beach before the gulls got them and the other to find more than the walrus bladder he offered me to sell.  These people are poor here...poverty is wealth of Gambell.  I was pleased to learn from Quinn the man who rents me his ATV, that he didn't like Spec Eider much, but Common eiders were fat and after the initial smell which he said you got used to, they went down quite well if boiled or some way of cooking I didn't understand.  He pointed around the map to a spot and told me that there are just a few of them here, they are really in great numbers at that spot right now.  He told me all this talk of eiders was making him hungry so he dialed a number and ordered Subway from Nome for like 5 people.  He smiled saying he was using the money I gave him for the ATV for supper.  It was an unexpected treat. I guess I helped the economy for a meal....

Well 4 pm came and so did Ravn bearing Quinn's Subway order...and my way out of there.


Then something walked in the runway, a little dog.  The dog froze in place, the plane kept coming. Me and two young woman from Savoonga winched and looked away as the propeller came directly over its head.....we heard nothing and looked up and the dog was still there, looking in shock, tail between its legs, how it didn't get chewed up in the propeller, I'll never know.


Silly dog.  The pilot greeted me.  "You get the bird?"

I nodded as here they started unloading Seven-up.....2000 pounds of seven up and 400 pounds of cookies......Maybe Pepsi versus Seven Up caused the split of the two outposts of Yupik culture here in St Lawrence?

I got on, the two young women bound for Savoonga, held hands like I held the hoof of a deer going to Kodiak, mostly in fear and needing mutual support....but this was no Larsen Bay to Kodiak flight, two engines are much MUCH better.....It was Nome and Lifer Beer in two hours....

I don't think anyone believed me that my dovkie wasn't a marbled murrelet and it was dinky and all black on top so after buying a new chip so had room to take a lot of photos, I went down to Seward the day after arriving back in Anchorage.  I needed to clear my head of all this doubt.  I found one.  It was surprisingly easy.


Marbled murrelet....and it was a heck of a lot bigger than my Gambell bird and had a lot of white on top. My confidence returned.  That was not a marbled murrelet I had seen

It was a worthwhile day off from birding to go and bird....I got a nice Spruce Grouse shot


I brought up my Alaska lifer list to 220 (neither of these two birds) mundane birds such as a chestnut backed chickadee, pine grosbeak, and a Steller's jay (I had seen one in Anchorage in 2013 as forgot to accept that shared list, which also got me a Hudsonian godwit when I accepted it), so cool.

and I think my photo list for the year broke 700 with the murrelet and the grouse.

well another year bird...772 plus 2 now, fwiw.

Paul Lehman is surely disappointed with me, I deserve it, I doubt I can show my head in Gambell any year soon, but heck, I was so happy seeing those eiders and gosh it was so cold doing it, but I'd do it again.  I don't like gulls much, bad memories from my days in Duluth...I did what I could and yea, I spent 2.5 hours of my 4 hours birding looking at eiders, I spent an hour unsuccessfully trying to refind the pine bunting....it was now nowhere to be found.... 

I'll be happy when I get my good lens back from Nikon, even this one I'm using now I broke the sun shade on it back two weeks and got a call today that the part is in Sioux Falls and they are shipping it to my house, only $45, a real bargain compared to the 6 bills on my lens...yikes!!

Winter may be coming but all I can say is in Gambell, it is already here.

stay warm

Olaf


Friday, November 25, 2016

A Moment of Thanksgiving





At this special time, I'd like to specifically be thankful for many things...

1.  I'm thankful for my family, the most tolerant 4 people ever.  I saw my son Tyko for the first time since June...Boston, Allwin, since August...and my wife Silja and L, I have put them through a lot, more on that in my Christmas letter, later on.  We got a family picture together (above).  It was nice to be back together...if only for a little while...family beach vacation is 5 weeks away.

2.  I'm thankful for people who keep exotic ducks around the USA, and also to these ducks for essentially mating with anything that flies by, because...they can.  Some would think that this would be a bad thing, some would call this a frustration, but not me.... Because, now, no duck, it seems can have its provenance proven, so on many species, therefore aren't even worth the chase.  On ones I did chase like the one today in Boston, a Spot-billed duck (well possibly) that just has that wee little bit of something in it, or so it seems, but I don't know, I saw the bird today and was able to use it as an excuse to avoid Black Friday, so not all is lost and I am putting it as a "Massachussets Anas duck" provisional, It still has many correct field marks of spot-billed and acts wild, but what is it doing here?  Anyhow, thank you duck breeders for sparing me many lifer ducks now and in the future.

 
this is not Adak.....I didn't photo the bird as was a pushing it scope view and long walk back to car to get my camera.....

3.  I'm thankful for overly protective Liberal states like Minnesota.  I think we all need to be reminded that slipping down a hill into the raspberries is not a good idea.


4.  I'm thankful for John Puschock.  I'm sure John doesn't bother to read this plug, but the Alaska--everywhere birding guide, has made it an artform to have photos so bad and in some cases for no apparent reason, that you just can't quite ID birds or just barely.
Take this tufted duck I saw today north of Boston, you could just barely see the tuft...a lower 48 lifer for me....so thanks John!  Your inspiration has moved me to finer things!


  I know, I know, I still have work to do....much too clear

5.  I'm thankful for bad weather.  Not just rain and wind, but really and truly horrid awful finger of God bad-weather.  Where would I have been this year if I would have had normal, and nice weather?   I have shouted six times to mother nature...ala Forest Gump.  Is that the best you can do?  Twice God later showed up, to deliver his/her answer in person, but I survived...so far.....They say a little adversity makes you stronger. well unless a bear is involved, bears just kill you....

 
6.  Thank you Delta Airlines, Alaska Airlines, Island Air, Ravn Airlines, Bering Air, United, Air Canada, Suncountry, WestJet, Southwest Airlines, and even you American Airlines, you loathsome imp of an air service company..are you not bankrupt yet?...thank you all for making my life generally....late, uncomfortable, hot, and irritating....and very gassy.....hum.   Biscotti  Cookies....I can't beleive I traded a piano for Biscotti cookies....I never want to see one of these again...

7.  Thank you all of you who helped me this year, some even without me paying you....you were appreciated....why would anyone help a goof like me is beyond my comprehension?  I guess I have new found insight to the kindness of strangers.  Thank you for reading this too.

8.  Thank you December for almost being here so this crazy idiocy can be put to bed.  This is a maraton and I still got 2 miles to go.....35 days from now, though, no matter what, some of you will be seeing an awful lot of me....life under a yellow umbrella....but there is less of me to see!

9.  Thank you for the Atlantic Ocean for only causing $600 damage to my camera this time, last time, it was a new 3,000 camera I needed.  Generally though, I have survived pretty much unscathed, my car got toasted by a deer but I wasn't driving it.  Why can't you be like the Pacific?

10.  Thank you Grandmother Lucille for giving me the gift of birding....I still like birding, just maybe not for a while in 2017.

finally, thank you birds for being generally cooperative this year....your beauty astounds me...this big year, did save me from watching another disappointing NFL fall for my two teams the Vikings and the Packers....it was good to have something to watch on Sundays.

Thankfully yours

Olaf

PS another provisional, well sort of.......I'm not too optimistic...

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Yet Another Kodiak Moment


There have been many crazy days this year, but maybe on November 18th, I tipped over the edge of sanity.  The day began simply enough, up early after staying at a friend’s house, north of West Palm Beach, Florida.  I had come down to Florida chasing a bit of a whim, a report of a white-cheeked pintail—a bird infamous for being a zoo and collection escapee.  This one seemed good, hanging out with wild ducks on a lake, so I took off.

The mood changed to gloom as when I landed a friend informed me that the duck had a zip-tie leg band on it, one like they used with poultry farming, not one by a wildlife service, it was an escapee, non-countable.  Then I decided to see it anyhow, I found out it was in a closed subdivision and the security was tough.  I would have an easier time meeting with President-elect Trump.  I found only alligators and crashed at my friend’s.

That morning I flew to Providence, RI, a state that was the next to last for me in getting them all.  The flight hubbed through Atlanta, and I was scheduled to go out on a seabird scouting trip from Hyannis, Massachusetts, but as I was landing in Rhode Island, my phone kicked on, “pelagic cancelled” was the message.  The backup date for Sunday was also cancelled.  This trip was going from bad…to worse.  I also got a second text, a rare goose, I had seen in March, the pink-footed goose was near the airport.  I had seen the bird in Quebec and photographed it badly, so with nothing else to do, I went and found it.  I found it loafing in a flock of Canada geese.

It was then I decided to do something rash.  A few days earlier, a local person (I think he was the mayor) had spotted a white colored egret in a remote section of Kodiak Island, Alaska.  It could have been a great egret, a bird common around Northeast South Dakota but rare in Alaska, or, more interesting for me, it could be an astonishingly rare intermediate egret—a vagrant from Asia only seen in North America twice before I think and then only once alive.  The ID separation of the two is tough.  An Alaska birder from Kodiak City flew over for photos, but generally no one committed.  Was it or wasn’t it?  I thought it was an intermediate, in fact, it didn’t understand the hesitation.   I texted a big Alaskan birding guide I knew.  He agreed with me.  I texted another guide, he was on the fence, but leaning.   It seemed to me to be like the networks calling Wisconsin to Trump, it looked good, I was off.   I stopped at a post office to document my trip to Rhode Island.  “I’m going!”  I said and jumped in the car and headed back to make a plane.

I completed the day flying from Providence to Detroit and then on to Seattle, I crashed for a few hours and then before dawn on the 19th, I caught a flight to Anchorage, sitting by a rather important figure in Alaskan politics and fisheries, Clem Tillion had 91 years of stories and advice to share with me in only 3 ½ hours.  Clem had the 9th driver’s license ever issued by Alaska, number 000009, apparently only he and 000008 are still alive of the first 10.  We talked about marriage, love, World War II, sex, politics, Japan, fisheries, the permanent fund, and birds.  Of course the Libertarian and me also talked about Trump.


Leaving the nano-genarain  to get back to his island homestead by mail boat, I switched to a Ravn Air flight in Anchorage bound for Kodiak Island, leg four of this epic journey, but I wasn’t done yet.  I still had one to go.   The bird had been seen on Friday, so I felt a bit hopeful and the weather....could this really be a bad weather big year?

Moon over the mountain at sunrise in Kodiak....


Island Air took me the final way into Larsen Bay, the flight was without a doubt the most stunning of the year.  A small twin engine over the passes.  I thought the float plane I took to Victoria from Vancouver was magical, but this...



Was incredible.  These are views out the plane window.  Larsen Bay is an interesting outpost of civilization.  All in all it is a pretty surprising spot.

I walked out of the plane and had no sense of where anything was, then I looked out over the bay and saw it, big white bird going up across the water from what turned out to be its favorite marsh, and then west around the point, long neck, yellow bill, black feet it was the egret.  It looked too small for a North American egret. I got my camera, it was on my side, but not ready to shoot, I had on my other lens so I had to switch lens...it was gone.  I went down expecting to see the bird later around the beach, on a roof, somewhere, but it had gone to roost somewhere for the evening.  It would be back in the morning, but alas..the bird was never seen again.

That night, the Bad Weather Big Year came back in spades, the weather turned, 40 mph winds, the planes in and out of here were grounded and I wasn't going anywhere and all I was racking up was a serious bill, so much, I was afraid to ask...If you got to ask how much it costs, you can't afford to pay for it, they say.....oh well...as some guys told me, we can't take it with you.  

I took some of the bird views around Larsen Bay

American Dippers



Belted Kingfisher


(Actually near airport in Kodiak) I saw one in Larsen Bay too....Both Alaskan life birds, as was a rock pigeon I saw but I was NOT taking a photo of a rock pigeon...later I learned that bird is NOT on the AK list. I subtracted one from the list.

Barrow's Goldeneye


Leucistic Northwestern Crow



The Alaskan lifers for me moving my total to 212, not counting the egret waiting ID, and like I say, not that I am really counting, I guess having reached the 200 club, I might as well work on the 300 club...

While I was here everyone talked birds, well except the hunters, they talked hunting, rifles, and there was a TV film crew here with a manufacturer and they mostly talked about themselves...There was a guy who'd been there for two weeks that paid 32,000 to hunt a Grizzly Bear....32K?   I almost gasped.  I demurred an 8k chickadee chase, and worried about the cost of this crazy chase.  The locals though talked and I learned who was here and who saw the bird and who didn't, and who was nice, and who was not.  Who was arrogant and who was nice....I learned who had called...in some cases, who had even called today.  I was given messages to return because well, us birders know everybody, correct?  I sent a message to Lynn Barber, bird not seen today....

One interesting picture I was shown was this great blue heron photo seen in October


Not rare but uncommon, there are good birds here, the locals talk of McKay's Buntings, and some other things but again, no one is really a birder here, more than backyard birders and since the bears around here don't hibernate, they don't like to put out feeders...dang bears.

Some views from Larsen Bay...


The Larsen Bay Lodge, home of some serious SERIOUS hunters, deer and bear, Like I said many thousands of dollars for a bear hunt.  The food was good, the accommodations were adequate....it sort of reminded me of a Boston Legal episode where Denny and Alan got married by Justice Scalia.  I digress...


The cannery, not sure when they operate or if it is permanently closed...


A contradiction of black turnstones, a kahuna of surfbirds, a fling sandpipers and two mew gull....the "Kahuna" is my favorite name for a group of birds and I have been waiting to write this all year!!

It is opening weekend of deer season in Wisconsin. something I never used to miss and with all the hunters here, I too had the hunting bug, or was it I was bugged at the hunters?  A pair of Kodiak whitetail fawns, the deer here are an introduced species came to see me.


Sunday it blew, there was no getting out, no plane would fly in 40 kts wind, Monday  it rained and rained and then a little snow especially about 200 feet in elevation.  The bear hunter couldn't see anything up top and another dip, and at 32K, he was getting a bit "bearish"  it was becoming tough to ask him if he saw anything...it was starting to bug him and if he dipped, it took three years to get another tag

I looked up the wind map...


I like to say that the birding gods have been good or bad to me but the world on this wind map looked like it was either frowning on me or giving me a ghoulish smile.  It was unnerveing and a bad omen.  I figured I was stuck for a while as the world's right eye was coming for us after the left had finsihed us off, the highest winds in the world Sunday were west of Attu, 40-50 foot seas, ugly with a capital U.

There would be no planes again today or so it seemed, the owner of the lodge said so  BUT they came anyways.  Some of the trapped hunters got out and Lynn Barber, perennial big year birder got in.  I met up with her near the cannery, we searched a little bit and I gave her my opinion of the futility of it all. It was wet, she was wet, I was wet.  I had a place to go to dry out, eat lunch, and she had a few trees and packed snacks.

Looking at the weather, snow expected Tuesday and if I didn't get out, the cook was prepared for me for Thanksgiving (not a good sign) and at $300 a night, I hoped they took a check.  Thinking about it, having seen the bird, Rich MacIntosh having great ID photos, there was no reason for me to stay, so I decided that if the plane came I was going to leave.  Lynn had no place to stay (since I had got the only spare room in Larsen Bay not taken up by hunters), she had to leave God forbid she'd have to sleep in the mud, if that came to be, I had 2 beds in my room, we'd have to just do it.  Three O'clock came, the weather was maybe worse, and surprisingly, a plane came.  It had Thanksgiving food in it....


I don't know why Lynn was smiling getting into it, I was scared, maybe she knew she didn't have to bunk with me...it was starting to snow, it was foggy, the ceiling was maybe 500 feet, and we only had one engine...it WAS dry inside.


My seat was behind Lynn, I sat next to a deer carcass, being flown out at 78 cents a pound, you see they have no grocery store here, you fly in everything, why they were flying out meat...?



We took off and immediately it was clear that there would be no mountain passes for us as we had to go around the island.  Into the wind we went, forward speed dipped to 90 mph.  Many times the pilot flew blind (note view out window or lack there of), calmly he flew AND TEXTED!  Well for a while...then he needed both hands....


I was thinking as we lowered at times to about 100 feet above the deck that I had been in boats more off the water than this plane.  I was scared as we shuttered and blew around, I hit my head on the ceiling. I held the hoof of the deer next to me, it gave us maybe both some solace as maybe we'd both end up dead together.  The plane soldiered on in the diminishing light.  At times I could see the cliffs, well sort of..


At least if we crashed on land and survived I knew which passenger was going to be eaten first. I was holding his hoof.   We didn't crash and soon we were down wind doing 135, then around a corner but near Kodiak, near dark, it began to pour and then I saw the runway and we were down.....It was shocking that we lived, IMHO.  I got out, paid for the flight and stumbled to the bar...I needed a beer, then another....I never said goodbye to Lynn.  Sorry Lynn...

Morning came and I read that an expert weighed in on the egret, he thought it WAS an intermediate egret so I raised the bird to a provisional...yes!  It still needs to pass muster with a state committee and I felt happier that it was not written off as it didn't look like any great egret I had ever seen.  Although to be fair, I have not seen the Asian subspecies of the GREG, the Eastern GREG

There were no seats on any planes out of Anchorage but I scarfed one in the morning to Seattle on Alaska Air...About an hour out I was talking to the woman next to me, I was in a middle seat, her daughter on my right, she left and she went out mid conversation and had a seizure, I wasn't totally sure she didn't have arrhythmia at the time, and for a 57 year old to not have a seizure before, what she had was bad news.  Worst headache of her life, she said and for two days....so she had either a stroke (bleed) or a brain tumor in my honest opinion.  Alaska Air asked for Licensed doctors to help but having no license in Alaska, a demurred even though she was slumped on me, the guy across from me took care of her.  I smiled and looked on.  It was ugly, vomit everywhere, oxygen, panicky family.....we were going to veer to Juneau but by the time things were figured out, we were just as close to Seattle....She didn't die....but well, I am fearful that this may be her last Christmas, poor lady. Luckily that stuff doesn't bother me.  She won't be the first person to go out on me in mid conversation.  Life for me is an adventure, that is for sure....next year, I want to take it a little easier.

It was a good trip, maybe a trip wasted, but maybe not ....the ID of this bird is looking more positive.  The view sucked but at least I saw it and I got out....So it was a good trip...I had my best night sleep in weeks, and well, I saw a part of the world I will never see again and I saw an egret possibly it will be an intermediate egret, right now I have a provisional "B".  

A toast to Larsen Bay!  

...so as they say, when I'm in Larsen Bay, Alaska, and when I drink wine, I like to drink it naked, .......Outdoor Vino by Naked Winery



Skål!

Nothing like a shameless plug

Olaf

Big Year Total:  771 (plus 2)

Coded Birds:  98
United snack waffles- 8
Alaska Lifer list 212 + 1
provisionals: 2

Miles driven.  42, 154
Flight Miles 217,100
miles on ATV 475
speeding tickets: 1
flight segments: 213   Different Airports: 65
Near bear/ death experiences 2
Hours at sea: 284
Miles walked 526
showshoes 4 (isn't going to be any more)
Miles biked 12

states/ prov. birded: 37
Lifer states 49
Lifers seen this year:  72 (+1)
nights slept in car:  12
slept in airplane:  12