Monday, February 18, 2019

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 Montevideo, Uruguay, a two hour flight to Atlanta, and settled in a first class row, two, for us, it was the best of times.  For our travel companions, Don and Nancy Harrington, now of Gary, SD, previously of Northfield, Minnesota, it was the worst of times.
            They had booked their flight in two pieces, one on Delta and one on Travelocity, and as the computer showed they were stopping in Rio (even though in reality only to catch a connection), it demanded a visa,  This despite Brazil not requiring a visa for transit stops, but two reservations, meant a computer flag.  Brazil only started requiring visas when we started requiring visas from their travelers around the Rio Olympics.  Delta would not let them get a boarding pass.  I joked to a Delta representative on my side of security.  “Nothing a credit card wouldn’t solve.”  Unfortunately, it looked as though it would take many thousands to solve it. 
            Luckily, with all my big year travels, and open ended tickets, I consider myself a very wily traveler.  Delta and all the Canadian airlines gave me grief in arriving into Canada with open ended return tickets, once I even was forced into the inner sanctums of immigration, but I talked my way out of it.  I’m certain, I could have talked my way out of this, but…I wasn't there and as, for us, I had really nice seats, I texted, we will pick you up in Montivideo airport whenever you get there.  We had slush on the first week of our schedule.   They'd catch up.
            We landed in Atlanta and then got a text from them back in Minneapolis, they had boarded.  It turns out they weren't even on our flight, and we'd met up with them in Atlanta, they were a little poorer and well, we all had a laugh.  I'm sure it wouldn't be the first fiasco of this 21,000 mile trip.  We were circling the Atlantic Ocean and the first stop, would be Punte Este, located in Uruguay, a place to tick a bucket list "Visit Uruguay."  I'd have a lot of bucket list items and I had some serious goal birds, one of which the Wilkin's finch had only been logged on four eBird checklists, some others, Tristan thrush, Gough moorhen, just to name a few would be marvelous birds, but tomorrow I hoped at least to tick a kelp gull, I'd be happy to start with that.  
           It turns out we had to part ways again as they were heading to Sao Paulo and us, Rio before we landed within a few minutes in Montevideo, oh well, they can find me at the Alamo counter.  It was a long trip, Leroy (above) is not a heavy drinker so he could only get a single celebratory campaign, the stewardess asked me what the penguin wanted and I paused, what does a stuffed penguin drink?
           All for now, day one is almost over and we have a really long 9 hour flight below the equator, my first time this far south.  



Monday, February 11, 2019

Leroy, on the Rio Grande

YET ANOTHER BLIZZARD was inbound on the 5th, after a day at home to regroup and repack from my cruise.  I arrived home during the Super Bowl, sat down with my wife and watched New England win yet again, and passed out from exhaustion.  6400 miles by car, plane, and boat will do that to a person.  Now at 2 AM we had to get out and drive down the road to the airport, 224 miles away and catch a flight to Texas.  The LRGV, Lower Rio Grande Valley, the mecca of winter Texas birding and, a place for warm recreation.
            It was a trip with both Silja, and my traveling bird buddy (not to be confused with traveling birder buddy), Leroy.  It would be Leroy’s first trip to Texas.  It takes a brave guy to travel with a stuffed penguin but what the heck.  He is a familiar face, and anything familiar is good when traveling.

Leroy, the birding penguin, Valley International Airport, Harlingen, TX

I skipped a report about Roatan, as I've written about that twice before.  I did see some good birds and had a great albeit brief visit.

Canivet's emerald, Roatan, Honduras

I skipped my adventure a week ago on Cozumel, because I don't really like Cozumel

Vaux's swift, Cozumel

So I'll just discuss the trip I just returned from the Lower Rio Grande Valley
I hadn’t been down here since I chased a crow down here with my son fourteen months earlier.  This would be a different sort of trip, one in which the primary goal was rest and warmth, and birding would be secondary, well, secondary for me seems intense to some people.  We would also avoid the Brownsville dump.
The weather was nice and well, it was nice enjoying the weather for a change.  The next morning, we woke up early and decided to head to the border to find a bird before they built the wall there.  The area near Bentsen State Park was earmarked for a border wall, and the construction would undoubtedly affect two hook-billed kites hanging around.  It is hard to think about what to expect for this project and it is beyond the scope of this blog.  We walked up on a dike and looked for the kite.  The first thing we saw was markers for the wall (seen below).

I'm not a big fan of this wall, at least here, and I've pointed out places, it sure seems a glaring omission in the landscape as I've pointed out before (Jacumba California, Montezuma Pass AZ).  You can blame the Republicans but to be fair, Obama never passed an immigration reform policy even when he had both houses and a super-majority of the Senate.  This is a national problem despite what the left says and the problem is not exactly what the right describes it as either.  It is simply unskilled immigrants taking jobs from unskilled and poor US citizens or legal immigrants.  It is simple math to many businesses, it is much cheaper and simpler to hire every illegal one can, and this is to the detriment of most of our minorities, be it Hispanic, African-American or wherever. You see it at the meat packing plants in the Midwest, farm labor, construction, and nursing homes to name just a few. I always find it odd that those here legally, the unions, and the NAACP don’t speak up, all Democratic supporters.  These people are being jumped in line for services and jobs by non-citizens.  It is all a drive for cheap food, cheap goods, cheap everything. I guess nobody cares, they just want to believe what they are told.
            We walked around a bit, I ran into a birder I knew, Christian from San Antonio, and then as we walked a little east, the kite was spotted in a tree.   

I will say, thinking about it and after seeing the kite, the wall will not do much good for birders, that is all I got to say.  Before you fellow bird chasers start having a cow, understand that many of the same people fighting the wall, want this “Green Manifesto” implemented which also calls for the end air travel in 10 years.  That means no bird chasing, no flights to Alaska, and also, no flights down here.  You can’t get to McAllen on a train.  In a nutshell, we are all HYPOCRITES.  We think green, we want to save this, and yet how much gas and air fuel do we burn.  I know of one man who biked around the country looking for birds during the year and even in his case, he had some gas powered support. 
            Where we saw it, the bird would be obscured by the birder wall, so in this case the wall would not be a very good thing at all.  Finding the bird was good news.  Oddly there were as many reporters around as birders, and at nearby Bentsen State Park, they also had a bike outing for senior citizens.  Only four of us saw the kite. I’m not sure where the state park that sits on the border will figure into all of this.  I just wish there was another way.  The entire country of Honduras except those on Roatan and in the government seems to want to come into America, and those that remain seem to want them to go.  Again, I’m just a birder, so these are above my pay grade.  I vote in South Dakota, the last primary, so we won’t matter much.   All I know is places like Matamoros, and Reynosa, Mexico, places that used to be tourist friendly,  across the border, are now some of the most dangerous places in North America, murders in Reynosa quadrupled from 2015 to 2017.  The US warns people to avoid travel in this region.  The locals say it is still safe to walk over to Nuevo Progreso as long as they stay on the main street, but going there doesn't excite me.

green kingfisher

The bad thing that happened was that my wife’s back tightened up, and so after a little while staking out a feeder in McAllen and dipping on a crimson-collared grosbeak, we had to go back and get some sun.  We’d have one more nice day before things would cool down.  The warmest two days I’d have during this whole tropical swing would be here in South Texas.
The weather forecaster the day before warned that the weather would turn at five in the afternoon on the 7th, and after a lazy day at the pool, hoping my wife’s back would heal, at precisely five, while we were having a cocktail, telling stories, the front came through.  Before that as the wind had shifted, the hawks came out and hovered over the resort, and sat almost motionless.  These were mostly Harris’s hawks, all dark resembling stationary vultures except for the white visible occasionally on the top of their rumps.  A solitary smaller gray hawk flew over higher being pushed southwards.  A lone purple martin was flying around before it got blown out of the area. 
  They know me where we stayed. I’m a bit of a celebrity here.  I signed books and got invited over for beer and cocktails.  As the wind had picked up and there was nothing left to do except socialize so we went out with resident birders, Sandi and David Junkin, the discoverer of the Junkin warbler, an odd hybrid he documented.  It was a nice dinner of “fresh” octopus, although the theory of ‘fresh” octopus in south Texas made me laugh.  Somebody at the dinner joked, that they must swim up the river here.
The weather went shockingly colder the next day, bottoming out at 39 degrees 36 hours later, a 51 degree drop.  It was almost too cold to bird but I did go over to a place called Quinta Mazatl├ín and work on a bit of a troublesome bird for me.  I saw a crimson-collared grosbeak twice during my big year, but neither episodes were good views and neither allowed me a photograph, once due to rain (wasn't going to ruin my camera for a bird), and the other, it was deep in scrub and appeared too close to me and I couldn’t find it.  I’ve also dipped twice in this bird, earlier, the first in 2014.
Two days earlier, I not only dipped on this bird, but the stakeout caused my wife’s back to stiffen up, so I made this visit alone.  At noon, I was getting cold, damp and the bird had not been seen.  A rather pugnacious marauding young Cooper’s hawk made a pass through the feeder and then rested at the feeder.

It didn’t lead well to seeing anything since going to the feeder put a bird’s life in danger.  Suddenly, a man walked in behind me.  “ need the grosbeak?”
            I followed him and looked in a bush, and then it appeared in the open for an instant.  I got a good look and then as I raised my camera and it was gone.  This Mexican bird is one I doubt I’ll ever photograph, oh well. I’ve now seen it three times and that is better than many.  I can’t photograph them all. 
What to do on a cold day in South Texas?  We headed over to Bass Pro to buy gear for Patagonia.  It was a lot warmer than birding.  The car thermometer stated 43, it was too cold for Texas on the Rio Grande, it might have even been too cold for Leroy, except I guess, if Leroy was alive, he’d be a penguin and 43 would be a nice day for him, and it would probably be what we’d see in South America, when we find Leroy’s cousins.
We moved resorts for our last day and we did this via Estero Llano Grande State Park.  We were going to go the Valley Nature Center as they had apparently now had the golden-crowned warbler, but it didn’t open until noon on Sunday, so another bird I didn’t need, we went to Estero.  We walked around the park and saw 37 species in the park before stopping at Stripes for another great egg burrito.  I just love those things.

Vermilion flycatcher, my wife's favorite bird

Curve-billed thrasher

Least grebe

I got a life bird at the LRGV but I didn’t actually see the bird, when I was here, well, not this time, but I saw that Mexican duck was on my checklist as an option when I was putting in a checklist for Estero.  I didn’t see one then, but back in both 2016 in Arizona, and, here actually, back in January 2013, my friend Jim Brown (“Arvid”) looked up as a Mallard flew overhead and said, that is a Mexican subspecies.  I had seen it too and it had the characteristic field marks.  After research, I found out it got split in August 2018.  I hadn’t got the memo, and didn’t notice that, so, in effect, my Mr. 800 was not the gray heron, it was probably a duck I had seen almost 6 years earlier.  I hadn’t realized it then, but I did now, and so, it would forever be life bird #802.  One of my screwiest bird additions to my list.  All the checklist additions in 2018 were screwy. It is what happens when the checklist changes while I’m fishing off the grid in Canada
My wife had some obvious thoughts on listers like me, her husband.  She thinks that birds that don’t breed in the US or actively migrating should not count.  She thinks it’s silly that people line up at the border like here, as well as in Arizona, Florida, etc., and wait for something odd to cross.  Vagrants should not be counted.  I told her the story of the guy who saw the Amazon kingfisher in Laredo, but while it was in Mexico (the border is almost or, in some cases is on the US side of the river there) and not be able to count it, while I saw it 200 yards away perched on a shopping cart and could. 

She thinks this would force people to actually go into NE Mexico and bird.  They’d have to find the crimson-collared grosbeak there.  Maybe such activity would expose the plight of the birds down there and open birder’s eyes to what is happening to their habitat, as well as force the Mexican and the US police to possibly clean up the drug and illegal border traffic.  She thinks all lists should be international, too.  My wife is a visionary.
We were scouting for RV destinations and we visited people we knew from Wisconsin, Helga and Jim, and got some sun, and went to bed after watching a rerun of Columbo.  During this trip we visited with many people I knew.  I woke up early for a last bit of birding.  Where we stayed, has the plain chachalaca at the edge of the property.  I’d seen them on a previous trip.  This is a cool bird that looks like a roadrunner mated with a pheasant, and then watched movies about chickens all day.  It has a really cool name to say…chachalaca!  I can say it all day, just like I can eat burritos from Stripes all day.  It was a terrible morning to bird—damp, cool, foggy, and it had just rained.  I started walking.  The locals were wearing down jackets, even the French Canadians were looking cold.  It took a while but eventually, two of the silly birds perched on the gray metal fence and looked at me.  I said out loud.  “Chachalaca!”  It was like the end of the movie.  I smiled and went in for a shower.
Like something you should say in the middle of a game….“Chachalaca!” 

Plain chachalaca, Quinta Mazatlán, McAllen Texas

Long-billed thrasher, LRGV Texas
               So that ended the birding in south Texas.  We didn’t push it too hard, with my wife’s injury.  All in all, it was a pretty tame adventure with the most adventurous episode being me eating octopus.  We needed to get home, (yet another blizzard) drive through the snow, it was really bad driving home tonight in white-out conditions from heavy snow, and pack our gear for the monumental journey.  The Grand Voyage awaited us, and we depart in exactly one week.  For now, I was done birding the tropics.  What was on deck was the unknown, and all great journeys, in my opinion head into the great unknown.  Three continents awaited us.  Things were moving along, and now we could find out how insane I could really become.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Operation: Jamaica

A GOOD Majority of people who visit Jamaica arrive, get transferred to hotels like Sandals, Beaches, or even Hedonism, and never leave the property.  They have locals cater to their every whim, all the time surrounded by armed guards, never to leave the gates of their all-inclusive hotels and learn what really is going on or even eat any local food.  That is not for me.  I go to the road less traveled, or at least a road only traveled by donkeys hauling out the corn while slash and burned areas are still smoldering, a new half acre of destroyed habitat formed for, in some cases, no real reason, or to grow what looks like really sad looking corn.  The corn sold for 300 Jamaican dollars per large bag OR $2.25.  The cost of a Red-stripe, that donkey will carry two bags back to the village when loaded.

 IT HAS BEEN very hard for me to know what to say and exactly how to handle this blog post.  One of the reasons was clearly the lack of bandwidth I had last week after I spent the day on Jamaica.  The other is the best way to highlight the plight of a woman I met on Jamaica.  Her name is Wendy Lee.  As I will discuss, she is forced to live a low-key existence, both by the very nature of what she is doing, and also due to where she lives.  It is clear that making the average person mad at you in Jamaica could be dangerous.  Part of me thinks I should be quiet but part of me says I should shed a little light on the important role she is doing so that maybe, just maybe, a few of us could throw her a bone.

I Know I'm one for hyperbole.  I'm one to accentuate the obvious, but in all honesty, if works on Earth can get you a better lot in either the afterlife or in the next life, Wendy Lee would be a couple steps ahead of many of us.  In Swedish and Midwestern culture, calling attention to oneself is frowned upon.  I've decided to not put her picture in here.  She is taking the one above with my two friends and a passing local farmer.  Vivian from Ohio, and Stuart from Florida.  They are both non-birders but decided to explore for the day.

I landed in Jamaica for a single day last week, having never been, the list of nearly 30 endemic birds on the island plus some from the larger islands I've also never been to meant that I needed some help birding and had much to find.  Time was short, though and also due to the dangers of an island such as this, I felt it best to hire a guide.  I picked Wendy Lee from west of Ocho Rios by dumb luck.  We met up in the morning at her place, and then took off birding.

Beforehand, we were taken around her property which has become a rehab center for illegal, unwanted, and injured birds.  I didn't count all the parrots she had, some endemic black-bills, and other exotic species.  The local authorities contact her about a mistreated or illegal bird and she picks them up.  The only problem is once she has them, the government makes it illegal for her to release them or even farm them out to other caring individuals.  As such, her flock grows weekly, parrots live for ever, or so it seems, some of her birds are almost as old as me, and well, there is no end.  There is no break in sight for her and what is the end game?  She can't carry on this forever.  

This is a labor of love, as she is currently without help, a local woman who has helped her wants to retire (or has).  There is Little money to pay anyone or even buy food for her birds.  The birds and her really need your help, but I'm not sure of the best way...

Wendy can be best described as a bit of a burned out environmentalist, a person who practices what she teaches, and I don't say that disparagingly.  I'd have gone postal long ago if I'd been her.  She has spent much of her life trying to teach the local population that there is a better way than just throwing their garbage everywhere, she also tried to point out to the government that slash and burn was a bad plan, but all she has seen in the last twenty years is a growing problem, made worse every year by human and government indifference.

Don't let me get started on Cozumel, they have an even bigger garbage problem.  Here is a soup of garbage just a few hundred feet from the busy tourist port, yet ignored by millions of tourists

There is the old argument of trying to teach poor people environmentalism when they are just trying to  feed themselves, but that is a "cop-out."

This brings me to the Dutch kid, Boyan Slat.  The kid who has people give him hundreds of millions to build some new age plastic collector that will magically strain the ocean of plastics.  All well and good, except it hasn't worked yet.  This is like a huge super -super computer to improve the education of our kids.  The problem is local.  We need to forbid the manufacturing of plastic bottles.  Place a huge deposit on them, and find something to do with the plastic.  We all recycle, seems good, and honorable, but most of that plastic has ended up in China and I've read, has ended up in the sea anyhow.  

Plastic is a local problem.  Instead, take twenty million, go to the poorest areas of Jamaica, pay them say, $100 per pickup load of garbage, burn it in an incinerator until its all gone.  You've  motivated the poor, you clean up the crap, take another 40 million and do the same thing in Mexico, Bangladesh, and some other countries...all the while banning the stuff.  we got plastic because of environmental concerns over cutting trees for paper and paper containers, laziness over cleaning returnable bottles, and because it is cheap and easy.  We are all to blame.  My water bottle is aluminum, I drink my cola from aluminum cans, what do you use?

Anyhow, my plan will (which is not really my plan, others say the same thing) will rid the world of plastic better than Boyan's great contraption, but helping out a young guy is so cool...

enough rant....

Wendy took us birding, me, and two non-birder, Stuart and Vivian, up into the mountains and we saw some cool things.  I saw 18 lifer birds, photographed a northern potoo, and I even got to hear the cool call of the Blue Mountain vireo

not the best photo of a black billed parrot

 for and aft views of Blue mountain vireo, 2nd rarest bird on island, 

 for and aft views of Blue mountain vireo, 2nd rarest bird on island, 

Jamaican woodpecker

Jamaican elaenia

Jamaican crow, one of the coolest sounding corvids

Jamaican vireo

Jamaican tody wrapped up in a spider web

Loggerhead kingbird, present on most of the larger lslands

Northern potoo

bad picture of a female orangequit

rufous tailed flycatcher

sad flycatcher, it might be sad due to all the garbage, otherwise I'm not sure on origin of the name

Streamertail (red-billed) the national bird and not easy to always see

yellow billed parrot

Invasive Lime swallowtail, pretty but working its way to Florida to harm the citrus industry

A butterfly I had not identified  at writing this but was told by a reader it was a Jamaican flasher, a butterfly apparently named after me

Great birds, couple bugs, some red stripe but I'm still unsettled

So do we start a Go Fund Me page for Wendy and her rehab center?  Call it Operation Jamaica.  The place needs surgical help, time to operate.  

Do you want her Paypal email account to send her money?

Contact me


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 just hope to get home, that is the adventure
The first trip was over, 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


 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


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...