Monday, January 28, 2019

Woodstars, beers,and beaches


Today is my third day at sea.  It has been a bit of a secret that I’ve been up to something.  I’ve got my annual trip to Texas’s Lower Rio Grande Valley, later next month I fly to Uruguay and then expect to begin the voyage to secure such interesting birds as the South Georgia pipit and the inaccessible island rail.  In March I’ll be in Africa, and then we’ve book a trip down the Colorado for June.  This may or may not end up as an adventure book, I’m not sure yet.  Two weeks ago I was in Curacao, tomorrow, I’ll be in Jamaica, yesterday I stopped off at a small private island owned by Carnival Cruise lines. This is no regularly scheduled cruise, in fact, it is a private charter, sort of a theme cruise for lack of a better description, which I won’t elaborate, you’ll have to buy the book, if there is one.  This isn’t a birding cruise, although for me, it is, that is all I’ll admit to, nor is it a quilting charter.
Little San Salvador is small and generally dry.  There was little in bloom now and since my main goal was to find a Bahama woodstar, the Bahamas endemic hummingbird, and as such, I was in trouble.  It was going to be a difficult find.  For other species, it was clear that the island was not very birdy.  I walked the nature trail and saw my first bird, a red junglefowl, the local wild chicken.  It snuck off into the scrub without me getting a picture.  If there is any thoughts of whether these chickens are wild, think again.  It was easier seeing the doves out in the open than any of these birds.  They make the Key West chickens, which look the same, seem tame.  Tick! (I guess, I have the Kauai junglefowl so it isn’t a lifer bird anyhow.
            It was seeing the second bird of the day that became difficult.  I walked, backtracked, got passed by joggers, honked at by tour buses, and saw nothing.  Then near the horse farm and stables, I saw two junglefowl making a break for it across the pasture.  They slowed down a bit in the middle and then scurried to cover on the other side of the fence.  I’d never seen chickens move so fast.  I guess the slow ones are called …stew.

Red junglefowl, a long ranged photo but the best I got, and I saw thirty or forty of the birds.
           
The chicken is a countable bird, I suppose, they have been here for at least 150 years.
They had seed feeders up on the nature trail but this appeared to be mostly for the doves.  It was good I stopped to see the chickens as I heard a quiet melodious song, I looked around and then I saw the long tail below me.  A Bahama mockingbird was looking at me.  This is a  larger mockingbird than the one we see in the USA and it lacks wing-bars.  This species occasionally ends up in Florida where I have seen one.
Bahama mockingbird
           
It was near the Pegasus Ranch where they keep the horses, when I started to dig out a few birds.  I tallied a Cape May warbler, a Midwest summer bird, and the Bahamas subspecies of the Bananaquit, which look nothing like the ones in Curacao.  The birds in Curacao even have wing-bars and to my eye, fly and act differently.  They are larger, too.  I read a study on the genetics of the species and the Bahama birds diverged some time ago.  They match the birds in Qnintana Roo, Mexico of all places.  The species does not exist in Cuba.

Bananaquit from the Bahamas

Bananaquit from Curacao

There has been talk about splitting them into up to three species, as they have with Spindalis and a number of other species but they haven’t yet.  Maybe soon?  I doubt it but they really don’t look that much alike.
Cape May Warbler, Half Moon Cay, Bahamas

            So there I was.  Looking at these warblers, when a Cuban pewee popped up and then looked and me and then dove into the bushes, never to return.  I was about to give up on seeing a hummingbird when I saw the exact same tree with rather pungent odor surrounded by bees that I got my hummingbirds on in Curacao.  I do not know what these bushes are called and the flowers have no color but the hummers sure love them. 
As I stood there, I heard a single chirp.  A nice male Bahama woodstar lit not ten feet from me with the sun on it.  It was stunning.  Unfortunately, I was not ready with the camera.  It took me a while to get my camera out as being around a bunch of naked people, lawyers, politicians, doctors, and businessmen, they get quite uneasy with Olaf and his big lens.  Eventually without a good photo it disappeared.  I was quite frustrated.
I looked around and tried to phish a parula out of the bushes and then I thought of where my phone was.  Where was my phone?  The question became a panic.  I was making an ebird list, so I had it out, but when and where?.  I looked in my backpack, then emptied my backpack. It was nowhere to be found.  I swore.  Then I began a laborious backtrack to where I saw the mockingbird a couple hundred yards away.  Luckily there it was, just a few feet off the road, and nobody saw it and helped themselves.  I was really lucky.  Did I mention my team of guardian angels…
Even odder was when I looked at my pictures of the mockingbird. I had one picture with my cell phone in it.  If I hadn’t found it, that would have bothered me for a long time, a very long time.


Bahama mockingbird upper center, cell phone lower right

            I stood on the road and then behind me, world lifer #1054 lit on a branch, Bahama woodstar.  It was like the hummingbird gave me a break.

Bahama woodstar

I was hot, tired, thirsty, and well, did I say thirsty.  I’d had enough birding.  I decided to celebrate with a beer.  I went to find Stuart, who was watching our beach chairs and stopped to see our ship out in the bay.

Drinking my beer, I though, birds, beer, and a sunny beach….someone texted me that it was -26 at home….ah, home, this idyllic moment made one temporary forget about home, but life moves on and so does Olaf.  Tomorrow my Facebook friend Wendy is taking me birding in Jamaica.  An island where everything will be a lifer bird.  How many Red Stripes can a guy drink?

Monday, January 14, 2019

Olaf's Goat


I watched a white-tailed hawk, the fourth one I’d seen on Curacao, fly over my head and I watched it disappear into the distance going straight toward the airport as if telling me something.  It was time to go.  I walked down bid farewells to our friends and Silja and I headed to the airport and our flight home.  Our trip was over and it seemed simple enough to go home.
Nine hours later an urgent call for any medical personal on board the American Air flight 149 to Minneapolis caused me to stir from a nap.  Before I could respond, six people went forward and five minutes later the 737 went into decent, and then a 180 degree bank and the captain put it down fast into St. Louis landing hard and then a minute later we were at the gate as EMTs came aboard and escorted the passenger out.  One never knows how travels will end and I guess the hawk was warning me about my trip.  
We took off two hours later and we cuddled up in a motel room at 2am in Minneapolis, 3 hours late and exhausted.  It was a reminder of what will be.  2019 will be a year of thousands of miles of trips, trips by boat, bike, plane, RV, raft, including five continents, and hopefully no mishaps but travel is what travel does, one never knows...you just hope to get home, that is the adventure
The first trip was over, Curacao....at the northern edge of the continental shelf of South America....

Twenty four hours earlier.....
 It was a dark and moonless night as I stood in the middle of a road four miles from our hotel looking and then taking pictures of a white-tailed nightjar resting on the side of the road illuminated by my headlights of the small rental car three feet to my right and I could count the bird.
              That evening, the last of our trip, I had this feeling that I was forgetting something, but I brushed it off.  I did do something I’d never done before.  I won a game of hearts.  I not only won, I crushed it.  We’d taught Jan and Stuart, friends from Florida traveling with us to play the game and for a few nights we played.  At home, our son Allwin usually wins.  He has a great strategy and my grandmother Lucille won before she died, me….?  I lose and loose spectacularly.  Not this time.  

            I walked to our room and then it hit me.  “Damn!”  I said.  “I just remembered what I’ve been thinking I’d forgot.  Do you want to go birding?”
“Now?  Are you drunk?”  My wife went to the point.  It was 10 PM.
            I was talking sober as I was sober, I was too keen on winning to keep up with the wine everyone else was drinking, and maybe that is why I won.  So my wife and I went out driving around at night looking for nightjars and we found nothing, so we drove back and went to bed.  I vowed to go out in the early morning since it was our last morning on the island and my last chance.  Driving around on roads in the middle of the night birding....sheez.  I actually saw the ultra rare barn owl before I stumbled upon my goal....

white-tailed nightjar

This was the last of nine Clements lifer world birds, or 11 for the IOC that I nabbed on Curacao, one of the ABC islands.  The island has no endemic birds but it has some good ones from northern South America, like this nightjar that I needed, as I'd never birded South America before.
          
I was born on the first day of Aries.  therefore I am a goat and in Norse, Thorsbakken is my sacred animal, and as such, our eating got a little more adventuresome as the week wore on.  My sacred animal became the fare of choice....For the first few days, adventure was ordering goat at the local bistro, we called the place the Fiesty Goat which was combination a store/ shack that also even featured live music on one day.  The owner had invented the kabritu burger, or at least that is what the sign and the owner says.  She is franchising the idea, and I’m not sure to whom or to where..

         This burger is otherwise known as a goat burger smothered in goat cheese. 

Another day, I ordered goat stew.  This restaurant had it all, well all the concerns of a restaurant.  Anthony Bourdain would have liked it.  Most days, you never knew what you were eating, and you never were sure about what you’d have to pay for it.  When in doubt, we assumed it was probably goat.  Like all good tropical restaurants, you weren’t even quite sure if part of the building was just going to fall over, and you just hoped that part was not where you were sitting.

               It seemed we just sat around eating goat every day on this adventure, but that was not true.  I knew that a world lifer bird I needed was hanging out at the island’s golf course.   The security guard let us in to the course under the auspices that we were going golfing and took my drivers license for collateral, made a copy and gave it back.  All the gates here took licenses and car tag information down.  St. Martin could learn a thing or two, from these people.  You better have a good story or they won't let you in.
Once in, I drove around and near a sand trap easily found our quarry, a southern lapwing, a really cool looking bird.  There is some issue with me figuring out which number lifer it is as I haven’t finished my checklists yet.  My goal before Uruguay is to get this organized.  I think I may just negate some of my birds.
Southern lapwing, world lifer #1047, under Clement or so I think.

It is place not designed for birders as parking is difficult and everything is private.  Golf balls go shooting around everywhere, and I wasn’t even sure what hole I saw a pair of these birds on but I avoided errant shots and got out before the marshal and the security guards threw me out.  I didn’t want to ruin it for the next birder.
Our time on the island became an idyll.  Stuart listened to podcasts and baked in the sun.  Silja and Jan read novels and travel essays by people doing similar things to us, even one by Paul Theroux, Deep South which hit home as we had just been where he was at.
               We found small beaches with simple restaurants, fed feral cats, and watched people snorkel off of the South American Continental shelf.  We also visited beaches lined by poisonous trees, which in one case had been painted like an octopus.  Do the fruit and bark kill you or just make it so that you wish you were dead?  We didn’t find out, luckily.  


 We found abandoned resorts, and looked at the scrub and hills which reminded me of the Edwards plateau of central Texas, complete with cacti and caracaras


And not to forget the birds....stunningly beautiful birds

Lifers.......

 Blue tailed emerald (male and female below)

 Brown-throated parakeet

 crested bobwhite

northern scrub flycatcher

ruby-topaz hummingbird

rufous-collared sparrow

Venezuelan Troupial 

9 lifers and 2 IOC lifers, these two, a Cayenne tern, no picture, and mangrove warblers which were everywhere


The island has other birds I've seen like Yellow orioles


American flamingos were easily found at two locations


and other critters like the Miller's long-tongued bat which was the only thing that found my hummingbird feeder, the ass-faced toad, and Florida whites, Gulf  fritillary butterflies, and hanno blue butterflies, a lifer butterfly


So a perfect trip...sun, sand, surf, birds, beer, butterflies, toads, bats, cats......and I guess goats...

and we also got home despite ....a scare

Curacao, a surprising hidden gem, don't be afraid to go...we'll go back, it is even safe to eat the goat

Olaf




The great journey begins…

TRAVELING, IT is said, can be the best of times, and it can be the worst of times.  As we boarded the first leg of our flight to Monte...