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

Friday, May 18, 2018

Birding the Peoria Road ...

Some have rode the Burlington Route, others have been routed on the Milwaukee Road.  My grandfather ate on the Nickel Plate, and a few took the curves on the Soo Line...but few remember the old Peoria Gateway.  The Peoria  Gateway!?......when I think of Peoria, I don't think of it as the center of anything let alone transportation and the gateway to what?...but...I could be wrong.

Today I was birding on the road bed of the abandoned railway of  one of the most inconsequential railway enterprises that was ever built.  The amazing fact is that this 1400 mile rail system that went from nowhere to the middle of hardly anywhere lasted for 90 years....90 years!

The Minneapolis and St Louis  railroad, the Peoria Gateway was described as a "Spunky Line" and today I was walking the grade between Revillo and Strandburg SD, looking for an eastern towhee.  Old rail beds are surrounded by bushes and those bushes....are habitat for a bird I need in the Rushmore fact I also need it in Illinois, because to be honest, I've never even been to Peoria, having skipped a speech tournament at Bradley Univ. in college.

Today, I went for a walk to see what I could find....

I saw some deer

Some rather common year birds....eastern kingbird

A saw blackpoll warbler females

Bobolink female

Then I heard something in the brush and I tried to phish it up and I waited and I tripped down the grade and then...up it popped......
A brown no towhee for me
Eventually, I ran out of bushes....and didn't experience any ghost trains...luckily enough for me.

And I looked around.

I'm a mile from LaBolt , South Dakota, a town of about a hundred people, and it's own railroad, still in operation--a BNSF branch that also went through insignificant towns on its way to Watertown, South Dakota, so I was thinking why would they put another railroad here?

I thought about it the whole way home. Then I did a little research.

The Peoria Gateway....Their west of Minneapolis main went right where I was standing and until 1960 came complete with passenger service although truth be told, I can't picture a lot of demand except for taking it all the way to Minneapolis.  Strandburg to say Gaylord Minnesota.  Maybe there was a huge appetite for Hauenstein Beer in New Ulm?

After 1940, the western end was Leola, South Dakota....then Aberdeen on to Watertown, Madison, Minnesota, and Minneapolis then you could go dead south towards Mason City Iowa, meander your way through Iowa to Oskaloosa and then you could go east to Peoria.  It would take a few days, but you could go from Northcentral South Dakota to Peoria, I can't picture any doing it though?.

The 1870 charter for this railroad, like many rail charters showed promise and hope.  Hope for profits of Minnesota and Iowa farmers sending wheat to Minneapolis to be milled.
One interesting facts of this road.  In 1886, North Redwood, MN agent Richard Sears, maybe 60 miles down the road bed gets a box of watches.  They go unclaimed.  Using these as seeds, he created a mail order business....Sears Roebuck....go figure?

The railroad began building its "pacific" division in 1906 heading westward from Watertown, and developing towns along the way laying tracks across the prairie, being called a "dirt railroad" as most of the track was not laid with ballast, only dirt....grass growing through the rails....

they reached the Missouri River the next year and founded the station of LeBeau on the east bank.  They began some effort to secure the crossing and made a deal with the Cheyenne River members about development but the Milwaukee Road was also laying track west in the hopes of getting to the pacific and when the bridge in Mobridge was built, the Milwaukee Road then swung a branch line from their main south on the west bank of the river to cut off the Peoria Gateway, founding towns along the line ending in Faith.  The plan worked and the Milwaukee Road blocked a competitor east of the Missouri......The Peoria ended at Lebeau......When Lebeau didn't work out, and the ghost town was flooded when they damned the river at Oahe....the end of the line was moved back to Anaska....a town that literally meant "confusion" in Lakota, and confusing it was, the railroad went from Anaska to Peoria, literally from nowhere to really not much of anywhere.

After the railroads were nationalized in 1917 in one of the worst things  to happen in America as the big roads liked it since the government agreed to pay them profits based on their previous 3 years of earnings, however, the smaller lines like this one got little and when congress voted to give back the lines in 1920, they basically left this one with nothing.  The railroad went bankrupt in 1923 lasting there for 20 years.  During that period, it was marginalized and the government postulated plans to parcel it out, sell it for scrap, just abandon it entirely, or merged but somehow it survived, and then entered the colorful man, Lucian B Sprague, not to be confused with Louis Spray, the man that caught the record Muskie for a long period in Wisconsin.

Sprague became the white knight of this railroad and a legend in the industry.  He even had a name for his road, the "Miserable and Still Limping."   Sprague turned the lemons into lemonade, except that the Gateway didn't even have any lemons....and it made money, somehow, despite it being a road in the middle of nowhere, he found customers, and was liked by his employees.  It eventually exited bankruptcy in 1943 after one of the longest in US history.  Sprague started spending on infrastructure and guess what?  People used the line,  Despite it going from nowhere to no place, it soon was no longer limping......Sprague bought a Stanley Steamer and showed it off along the route, was a marketing genius and he had his own personal train and sped along the route and top speed hauling famous people to Conde to hunt, fish and caroused with loose women and drank with actors and comedians. 

By 1954, the line had no debt, was profitable and serving some of the smallest towns in America.  The only thing he did was to abandon the end and close the line from Conde to Anaska,  Things were going good but then entered big Chicago money and boardroom drama.  A vulture capitalist came in, bought up stock on the cheap, won a proxy fight, and then kicked out Sprague.  Immediately, the line began to lose money, because they didn't care and which was probably the plan.  Having no debt, like a few of railroads, these lines were worth more in parts than from operations so in 1960 it was sold to the Chicago Northwestern and they basically sold off everything.  Passenger service ended in 1960.  The last freight train out of Watertown went through Strandburg in 1974.  The entire pacific main was disposed of.  half for scrap, a part was sold to the Burlington east of Madison, MN and the line in southern Minnesota became one of the most decrepit shortlines ever....less than a 5% of the 1500 miles was even owned by the CNW when it merged with the UP, but that was apparently the plan.....
Everyone made money except the local people.....but to be fair, many of these towns shouldn't have even existed.  Building west of Watertown in the first place was an ill conceived plan...

Towns along the route took a beating over the years.  Anaska now has a population of 40, Lowry, 6, Wallace 84, Bradley 74, and Strandburg sits at 72.  Conde has 140 people down from nearly 600 when the railroad had a junction there in 1910.  many of the other towns are now doomed, with places like Revillo just losing their high school which can only lead to more of a population drop.

all this knowledge and no towhee...oh well....the walk was fun and the history was interesting


Monday, May 14, 2018

Warbler Week!

Its warbler week in northeastern South Dakota!  This is always a happy time in spring migration.  This year, especially so, since after last week.  That ended up being dominated by a screwy car deal gone bad.  It was an anger filled and frustrating six days, so having something as happy as this is a very good thing indeed.  I’d write a column about last week, but it was just too exhausting and irritating. I’m not sure I want to relive it.  I’m even hesitating on writing Yelp and Google reviews, despite it being a OMG event.  I did get a new car but I did apparently contribute to getting a general manager dismissed, so it wasn’t without a casualty or two.

This blog is also the basis for my Column this week in the Watertown Public Opinion, so it is meant for a more general audience than my followers of avid birders.

I was also working on scheduling book events for my new book “Confessions of a Pike Whisperer,” which is much more satisfying than writing nasty reviews online about Volvo dealers and employees of Volvo dealers.  I will be at DDR Books in Watertown on June 5th at 7pm to sign and sell books.  If you are reading this and located in NE South Dakota support your local bookstore and show up and say “hi!”  I’m sure more on that it looks like I’ll also be in Sioux Falls at Zandbroz on June 16th form 2 to 4 PM and working on others, so contact me for questions.  I'll be at the Grantsburg Public Library in Wisconsin on June 2 at 10 AM.

Warblers….every year, the northern birders wait patiently for the annual spring return of the colorful little song birds called warblers.  These birds can make it about a hundred miles a day in good weather after wintering in central and South America.  They can literally, if there happens to be a fallout, fill trees with yellow, orange, red, and even blue.  A fallout happens if the migrating flock of birds hits a front or a storm causing the birds to all end up in the same place like a small grove of trees, a cemetery, or one shore of a lake.  Places like the south shore of one of the Great Lakes can be a great place as many birds can pile up, waiting for favorable winds to cross the water.  Magee March in Ohio has the “Biggest Week in Birding Festival” where you can see over 20 species or more on a normal day.  After May finding warblers is hard work as the little birds hide in either the tops of the tallest trees or in the middle of the thickest bushes.  Many of them also breed in the wilds of the northern and northeastern forests so even getting to where they live can be a bug and tick infested adventure.

We are on the western edge of warbler migration so here in South Dakota, it is always a very spotty event.  I tend to monitor locations in the eastern border of the state with mature trees and water like Milbank’s cemeteries, Hartford State Park, Sicca Hollow, and the park in LaBolt, but last year, the best fallout around here was at the cemetery on the west side of Aberdeen on a day when a “mega” rare bird showed up near Sand Lake NWR.  We had to abandon the fallout to chase the curlew sandpiper which after driving above the speed limit over there, flew away just as I got the scope on it.  I really didn’t see the sandpiper and I left many unidentified warblers in the Aberdeen treetops so it wasn;t the best of days even if it was the best day of the year.  So we’ll see if we have a good year or not.

They call a group of warblers by many nouns.  One I like is a “bouquet” of warblers but the terms “confusion,” “fall,” or “wrench” also works.  So far I’ve found some small wrenches, and logged two state lifer warblers.  A magnolia warbler and a chestnut-sided warbler this one which eluded my camera since I had ran out of battery power…the luck of Olaf.  I have such a paltry state warbler list...

Magnolia warbler, SD Lifer #295

 Blackburnian warbler

Palm warbler

Go out and find a pretty bird this week!  You might be surprised by what you see.


Friday, May 4, 2018

Marketing and self promotion

It seems always a little weird self-promoting something you did like a piece of art, a performance, or a book.  Despite everything Swedish in me telling me not to, to be frank, books don't market themselves, so I'll say it.  My new book is out!!

To be honest, I have to market the &&% out of this book or my garage will not have room for my car. .

Today I have my first two retailers locked up, Log Gables in Brule, WI and DDR Books of Watertown, SD.  I have also scheduled my first book event for June 5th, 7pm for DDR Books in Watertown, SD.

Some say it couldn't be done and some say it shouldn't have been done, but well, I have (I think successfully).  I have crafted a book about my two passions, birding and pike fishing, telling a lot of stories about my many zany pike fishing adventures AND my big year of 2016. 

Have I have fished with..?
a) A convicted murderer
b) A congressman
c)  An NFL and college sports legend
d)  A crazy Finn who only spoke Clint Eastwoodism English

The answer is ALL of the above.......the stories will leave you ..well....they will leave you scratching your head

The history of the Falun Sucker Club has never before been written

It has some good reviews so far.

I think that is the best book you have ever written
                                            Susan Segelstrom, my mother and author

Okay family members aside:

I have enjoyed Olaf Danielson's tales for years. Whether its high-adventure birding in Alaska or documenting the environmental tightrope of modernization in the tropical paradises of Hawaii and the Virgin Islands, his world-traveling adventures always pull my mind into a magical world that actually exists somewhere beyond the beaten path. Through his stories, photographs, and humorous philosophy I find myself pulled into Zen of learning without even realizing it, and Confessions of a Pike Whisperer fits that genre like the finest fishing braid on the spool of a well-oiled reel. Read it, loved it, and am insanely jealous of his knack for collecting and photographing monster fish, not to mention his unrivaled ability to paint a zesty story that perfectly captures mankind s love affair with the raw beauty of nature.
 --John Luthens, Wisconsin Outdoors Jounalist and Author of Taconite Creek

Here is the official synopsis:

Born into a family of avid fishing people, Grantsburg, Wisconsin native and Watertown Public Opinion columnist, author and adventurer Olaf Danielson’s life quest of catching big fish has taken many very interesting twists and turns.  Even Olaf’s first date with his future wife was ice-fishing. Confessions of a Pike Whisperer  outlines the mysticism of pike fishing and shares many his tales from his founding of the Falun Sucker Club in 1984 to various other surreal experiences from the Midwest to Canada to Sweden. In his Year Without Pike section, Olaf also relates how he became a Big Year birding record-holder in 2016. This is the book for everyone who loves adventure in the outdoors.

So there you have it

it is 296 pages with lots of pictures, PG, and'll even learn something

You can buy it on Amazon shortly (they don't have any in stock as it was just printed) but my publisher sent me a garage full to market and since Amazon doesn't pay royalties save for a few pennies, I would rather you buy it from me, I even take credit cards....$19.50 post paid....

email me at if you want a signed copy and we can figure out the details.

Obviously, you like my blog or you wouldn't even read this, this is more of the same, fish stories, UFO stories, birding adventures, and like I said the history of the Falun Sucker Club....all for one low-low price...........

can you beat that for entertainment?

Thanks for your support


PS  a few spring birds from the week.....   so you feel like you are getting some birding value here...there are field sparrows everywhere
Field sparrow

chestnut collared longspur

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Chili-dippin' down in the desert

An odd thing happened on my way to a bird.....Murphy Rules.

Word went out last weekend that a fan-tailed warbler was a foot in Arizona, unfortunately Sioux falls airport was closed and so was Minneapolis and we were snow bound, then on Monday my father-in-law had a stroke...luckily, a small one as they say.  Then Thursday was my daughter's 18th birthday.
all this and my camera hasn't returned from being repaired yet.  Friday, I got the green light, unfortunately, the bird no showed Thursday and I didn't get word until 0230 when I was heading south to a 5 am departure to Tucson by way of Minneapolis and Salt Lake City.  I got on the plane on time

...and then it happened.  there was a wire hanging from the door.  The pilot delayed pull back, and then as it seemed the mechanic was still in bed, we deplaned.........I went for breakfast after the gate agent rebooked me to Phoenix.  Delay was supposed to be an hour 45, Then came an urgent call to get back on the plane, my breakfast hadn''t arrived so scrapping that, I raced back to plane, all was not lost....I boarded......then as we pushed back, the generator wouldn't go.  So we sat and sat, Phoenix flight looked doubtful...then gone.   I rebooked to Tucson, this time on the non-stop which didn't leave Mpls until 11am.   It got going knocking out the TV/ video screens.  I got to Minneapolis....then we boarded the TUS flight and right in front of me was the maintenance guy....

The holder of the flashlight in the emergency kit had broken, I watched for 30 minutes as he fixed it, and for a moment, even held a part for him, everyone needs to be able to pitch in to get a plane off these days apparently....eventually though late, we left, at Tucson, my rental car reservation was lost, as was small the time I rolled into Portal AZ, at 1630, and found the home of Rick and Nancy Taylor, the site of the fan-tailed warbler, I had no hope of the bird and the chase in general was long since doomed...but there I was on a quick trip for no singular purpose.

I sat there and met the nice couple of alpha-birders and watched the hooded oriole (above) and began to think about what I was doing.....truly doing

In my worldly travels I've met some people with some really strange hobbies, really strange./ some are so off the wall that I'd hazard to even present them here.  There is this doctor I know (but he doesn't work with my company) that collects everything tanks, tank pictures, model tanks, uniforms, and he even has a full-scale working Russian T-35 in his shed.  of course there are the pathologists with reams of odd tissues and tattoo pictures.

Then there are the people I met in Europe, oddly watch them quickly strip bare in front of the Vatican who have collected naked pictures of (usually their wives but not always) in front of world heritage sights, like the Pyramids, the Louvre, Notre Dame, The Obelisk at the vatican, Mt Rushmore etc, .  They were shockingly efficient.  On a same vein, I know of someone who does this in front of "Welcome to State" signs. Those are odd hobbies....

I'll pose a question here, what ARE the most pointless hobbies?  Truly hobbies that one sits and wonders...really?

here are 10 I'm thinking of...feel free to add some

10)  Train spotting.   The hardcore of this endeavor keep tack of train car and engine numbers, they are train to speak....they do photograph drive bys, drive or fly thousands of miles if a certain engine is brought out for a workout from retirement....and after 9-1-1 had to watch out for the ire of Homeland Security and the FBI.  TRAINS Magazine is a popular read for these people.  I must confess, I subscribed for about six years.

Don't ask why I took this picture in Alaska  or any of my train pictures, I've only gone twice to chase a train, and one of those ended up with me bringing my son (four at the time)  to an ER.
There are ship spotters, license plate spotters, car spotters, plane spotters, they'd all be in this category.

9)  Pooh Sticks.  This is a game from Winnie the Pooh.  You take a stick, personalize it in some way, go to a bridge with your buddies or even alone.  Throw in sticks first to an arbitrary point wins.  Now a good kid game but there is a world championship in England somewhere for adults. I haven't done this in 40 years.  this proves my belief that they will have a championship in anything...but for this?

8)  Beer can collecting.  Let me describe some pitfalls of this.  HARD to display and harder to explain.  Let me just say that I was a member of the Beer Can Collectors of America, now Brewery Collectors Club of aged twelve.  My first publication was in the club magazine.   My photo of an old brewery in Sheridan, WY.  I got a book with defunct brewery addresses.

Somewhere now in retrospect tI think his was like candy cigarettes, and I wonder if Miller Brewing had some fingerprint in the formation of the hobby.  Pinholed from bottom opened cans used to be worth more.  I got a multi cubic meter collection of stuff.  When I found myself bidding down to the last cent in my checking account for the sign on top of the defunt Chief Oshkosh Brewery in Oshkosh Wisconsin, I took a deep pause.  There are large conventions and over 100 chapter clubs...still.

7)  Match book collecting, much like above, mostly in support of cigarette industry, I had found myself with 10 gallons of rather unique matchbooks as a kid.  Now I just wonder why?

6) Generic bizzaro collections, these make match books and beer cans seem normal.  Tops of liquor bottles, wine corks, pop tops, napkins, etc.  There is an endless list of pointless collections

5) Making candles out of one's own ear wax.  I had a patient come in once and when I cleaned out a plugged ear, I was ordered to return her ear wax.  She had candles from all sorts of people.....let me just say this here, this was a really weird hobby.

4) Cup stacking.  Also called Sport stacking.  They have a world governing body. Timed event to stack up usually plastic cups into a pyramid and then back into pile.  A very competitive event, sort of like martial arts for people who do not desire contact.  Best women in world are all Asians for some odd reason.

3) Geo cashing.   Finding a hidden stash at some GPS point, one thing to do this locally but I know people who go around the world just for this...?  At least the sights are real, unlike

2) Pokemon Go.  Like catching a mythical thing at a mythical site, placed at some random point by a computer.....virtual birding will be next

1) Bird chasing

Okay, just going out in nature to see and appreciate birds is a wonderful hobby, not to be confused with bird watching but militant OCD bird listing

Yesterday, vanquished of the target bird I was driving down the the state line of New Mexico and Arizona.  State-line road.  I see an Osprey, not a great bird, but heck, a fish eater in the desert...

About a mile farther along, I come up to birders on the road.  They got Brewers sparrows, they ask me what I got.  ""An Osprey back on the west side of the road a mile".....I say.

"We are only birding in New Mexico, what is on that said of the road, doesn't matter."

I drive on, two miles father, I stumble upon another car.  We roll down windows.  They ask me what I have seen....brewers sparrow down on the left.

"left?"  The man exclaims.   "New Mexico doesn't exist in our car..  It might as well be Mexico."  I then tell them about the osprey and they speed off to count it.

Bird listers........and to spend a garnd to go chase a bird and to dip on it as in, not see it....?   I am crazy crazy

well....I did see some interesting birds, I spent a day and a half wondering aimlessly around SE Arizona, looking for some cool things

Mexican Chickadee

A bird that only breeds in USA on the top of  just one "Sky Island"

Slate throated redstart

Actually a code 4 bird, I've seen before, possibly even the same bird.  I met a fan of mine, Sam from Santa Fe, it was a lifer bird for him.  I was so honored when at noon, he asked me to share a lifer bird with him.  Cheers!

Stellar's jay

Common but an extra spectacular jay
greater pewee

Rufous winged sparrow
pretty isolated distribution and a bird I always like to find

Broad billed humming bird on a nest

I met my friend Thor for breakfast coffee today and he gave me some intel on a Tubac rose-throated becard, a bird, I'd seen in AZ, but a cool one, so I went after it.  There is a pair in the cottonwoods and she is on her nest.

It took some doing but I found her nest.....

Maybe  I heard the male, but saw nothing and then had to scram for my plane.  I did see some things that made me think

I pretty scary bridge to walk across, and in fact I chickened out and I learned, the car bridge nearby is so afraid of birders we got are own walkway with hazzard guards.  I never saw a car use this bridge either..

Even the local people in Tubac know that birders a to be feared. 

Initially I thought I nabbed a thick-billed kingbird, although, on looking at the photo, I' started hesitating on it, It's dark bit the bill looks too small, but the bird is so dark, with a forked tail, hard to think what else it would be besides a Cassin's Kingbird?  

Pointless and without hope, the chilidippin' bird chase


PS  I booked myself at the wrong lodge, DD Gamble Ranch Lodge south of Rodeo, but in AZ, quite a surprisingly nice place, they even fed me.

If you are down this way, I'd recommend it.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Trumpetting Successes of the Eighties

The Eighties called last week but unlike the 2014 Radioshack commercial, they didn't want their store back and in fact, they also didn't want me back.  To be honest, I didn't want to answer, and I don't want to go back but then they kept it was an odd week at the ranch to say the least.

Truth be told, my rare bird alert called, with a fan-tailed warbler in Arizona, and at first I couldn't go because...the airport was closed. ..and then my father in law had stroke, and  nowThursday is my daughter's 18th no Arizona for me before maybe Friday.

But while I was stuck, I had a bit of a flashback to the Eighties, on Friday as I noted, the STORM OF DOOM showed up and dumped more than a foot of snow out here on the snow we already had.  Minneapolis broke their April record of snow that was set way back in April 1983.  That was a snowy year as the suckers ran late and in March, my high school burnt, changing my life forever.  Honestly, it did.

On Sunday, in some sort of flashback, I went over to colleague Troy's house, and we watched "Valley Girl."  Yes, the 1983 classic.  Troy seems to have embraced 1980s cinema which I'd add, poor Troy.  Valley Girl grossed 18 million more than 7 times the cost of making it, so it was a commercial success, and after a wine, I was a good laugh.

Thirty years ago this week, 1988. back at Ripon College, I presented my Senior Seminar in Art History.  If you had guessed I was an Art History Major in'd have guessed WRONG.  So Why was I in a major's only class to present and provide a defense of an undergraduate thesis with a bunch of Senior Art Majors.  Technically I was thinking about being an art major, but in my sophomore year, my Drawing I prof. kept loosing my portfolios, I got an "A" after I was given an incomplete after I produced a receipt in a confrontation in her office to complain of her losing my semester of work.  I was on my way to the Dean.  I was not sure if I deserved an "A" but I had completed all of my assignments.  I had her in a corner for that class but I soon surmised that taking more art classes with her would jeopardize my college career.  I switched to an ecology second major and forgot about art.  Which wasn't good.  Thinking my 4 years of competitive speech would cover my fine arts requirement, I avoided the entire building like the plague.  It was the second day of my final semester in College when the Academic Dean sent for me.  They knew me from my days on student councils, I was good at finding loopholes.  They had come prepared with all the rules, policies, and everything.  It was like a legal briefing.  Forensics didn't count as I had not competed for credit the first semester of my freshman year, and the fact that I was going to nationals and the TA for speech didn't matter.  The rule required a full 4 years.  It was clear, I needed an art class to finish off a year in a subject.  Oil painting sat over my PChem lab.  Another class was on the hour of my "Women in Psychology" class, another requirement.  The Dean then smiled, "Olaf" I think you should complete a theme, having almost a "woman's studies minor" will round you out."
"What do you mean?"  I asked.  I'll only have three classes in that.  I'd had an Archeology class on woman's roles in societies, and another on Women radicals in History.

He made a call.  He told me that they'd forgive the single credit I'd be short (it was just a two credit class), if I survived and passed, if I did I deserved it, I thought he was joking.  Twenty minutes later, I was in the Library in a room I never knew existed as a member of the toughest class I ever had, in any level of study.  Pathology in Medical School was easier.  Thermodynamics in Physics...easier.  Even my Gynecology rotation at a women's clinic was easier, albeit slightly

"Women in Art Seminar"  Was the name of the class

I was the only male in a class of women art majors hating males.  The professor just gave me the look as I sat down.  Everyone moved away from where I sat.  No one wanted any part of me.  I didn't even recognize a single soul in that room.  I was truly alone.  I sat on the left and the other nine majors sat on the right.  It was two hours that from beginning to end, I took a beating personally and generally from who I was, and what sex I was and what I said.  My women Psych class was right after this on one of the days and I was so keyed up on similar issues, I could have taught that class.

I gave a paper on my favorite woman French artist which I learned wasn't graded as it all relied on my presentation at the end of the term and the open ended defense that followed.  The professor looked at me and gave me a date.  It was my date of Doom.

I had presented my summer research from Iowa on Leaf-cutting ants early in the fall for my Chemistry Major and speaking for me was easy.  My day came.  I had worked hard on my topic but then my professor introduced me to a gathering of all the majors, all the faculty (even the one who I had to use the receipt for).

 "Next is Olaf.  He is neither an art major nor a woman.  He is only in this class as a special favor for the dean.  His entire graduation from college, depends on us passing him.  His subject:  Woman in Wildlife Art.  That is going to be a tough order as first, I don't think any of us consider wildlife art ART.  Secondly, his subject person, Marianne North doesn't appear to even be an artist, and third of all, he is a male, and how could a male even understand the plight of women in the arts?"  She looked at me.  "I have a feeling we'll be seeing Olaf in an art class next term."

 I wasn't through my introduction and this slide caused an interruption as it was considered sexist and misogynist.

The hummingbird was considered the male and was "controlling" its stable of vaginas (flowers) in a chauvinist manner.  "Do you believe in Sexual Slavery?"  One of the professors asked me.  This was two days after we were in Chicago studying Georgia O'Keeffe flower paintings which were presented as "extremely pro-feminist."

It was an OMG moment but the women psychology class had helped me as for two hours they used my plight to get me ready for all complaints and questions.  I had pictures of female birds in flowers for just such a question.  I'm not even going to say what my reply was.  It was a tough slog, and in the end miraculously, I got an "A."  On my one sentence written comment on my grade.  "Never have had someone so involved in the class."  Yes, because I was emasculated on a moment by moment basis.

I'd forgotten about my subject artist, even forgotten her name, and then on Saturday, while watching the story of another Victorian era and later Woman adventurer, Gertrude Bell, "Queen of the Desert" the woman who knew the Middle East circa WWI like no other and was a king maker in the region, the name came back to me.

Marianne North, 1830-1890, was probably the best botanical painter of her era, and maybe ever.  By herself, she decided to just travel and paint heading on around the world adventures when she had the funds.  Forsaking marriage as she put it for her painting, she saw things that in some cases, that now no longer are even found.  She went everywhere, and brought back wood from all of the trees she saw and was a prolific painter, only painting for documentation never selling a single painting.  Her flowers are stunning. All of her work 830 paintings and her collection of wood now hangs at the Kew Gardens in London,

The Kew Gardens, a place that all of my english friends have been to but her museum there since before 1890, to a person, no one has ever seen.   

Golden breasted cuckoo from South Africa

Most of them don't have birds in them, but Ms. North's wanderlust made me enjoy nature and made me want to go and see stuff.  I'm glad her name came to me.  Now I want to go to London and see her museum, I missed it when I was there last, since I couldn't remember her name.  Thankfully, Nicole Kidman's portrayal of Gertrude Bell jogged the Eighties memory as traumatic that it was and now I can enjoy her work again.  Like Bell, North is one of those people you just never hear of.

The Eighties kept calling....
It was 1989, a biologist plucked a viable egg from a nest in Alaska and shortly, this and other swan eggs were on a Kohler Faucet  private plane from Fairbanks to Wisconsin.  This bird was reintroduced six miles north of where I grew up later that year and in 2014, was seen by biologists and by me, on the Wood River across the lake from my parents, 82K is the name of the oldest living Wisconsin trumpeter swan and now lives between Indiana and NW Wisconsin.

If you don't know the story, in the Thirties, the trumpeter numbers were thought down to 70 birds and extinction was thought imminent.  The last one in Wisconsin was seen near Oconto, then they found a remnant population of 2000 birds in Alaska, protected them and allowed them to come back and they reintroduced them back into the lower 48.

As I started birding heavily after college, I grew accustomed to seeing trumpeters, they lounged on nearby fields, flew over my parents house, and swam in the local lakes marshes and rivers, but this was a success story.  I see more trumpeter swans in Burnett County Wisconsin than I see house sparrows.  I have all sorts of photos

Here are three just above the location of the 2014 sighting last month in Wisconsin

But I have never seen one in South Dakota.  So it was with some surprise that I stopped on Sunday to scan a slushy low spot in a corn field after digging out from the Doom Storm to scope some swans and I actually saw some.

 Trumpeter Swan, Grant County SD

Of course there were some tundra swans mixed in the two flocks, but there were quite a few trumpeters, too

tundra swans

But I had it, state bird #294  trumpeter swan, one more on the list, got to love those swans. Not s fan-tailed but hopefully it will stick.  Sixth report of them in SD this year, so not rare rare, but not an easy bird either

Winter 2017-18, 
this is what I think of you.......a snowball in the face.

taken April 15th.  

Winter...... go back to the Eighties where you warming, please come.  Tomorrow, more snow.  Yes, more snow.

Snow willing, on Friday, I'm going somewhere where there is 1) no snow, and 2) spring and 3) birds
did I say I'm sick of snow?


Friday, April 6, 2018

Lektastic on a Frozen Prairie

They say New York City is the city that never sleeps.  If that is true... Pierre, South Dakota, our diminutive state capital, is a city that never seems to wake up.

Try finding a place to get some food before 6am?  Try finding a convenience store on the main drag open to get coffee before was almost as hard as trying to find a politician to actaully want to do anything.

I just returned from Big Bend Texas, and despite the cold, the snow, the absence of spring, the birding MUST go on.  Every year, I go to a Lek to see prairie grouse, sometimes more than one.  Last year it was sage grouse, this year...  Barry Parkin, a friend from Aberdeen made an appointment a while back for a lek south of Pierre in the Ft Pierre National Grasslands, so despite a short turn around, I promised so, off we went. Our reason to be in the state capital.  Besides, I need something to write about next week in the Watertown Public Opinion, my three fans need me.

Our back-up day was Monday and since we are expecting a foot of snow, despite the cold weather, off we went to see the glory of spring.  I talked Tony Maunu, State Trooper from Pierre to come along because misery, loves company.  The wind...30 mph out of the northwest, the temp, 9 degrees, and the wind chill, minus 16 degrees....this is April 6th it really April?  I've rarely go ice fishing this cold, in fact, we could have went ice fishing.  Everything is still frozen

We went, I parked the truck and ran for the blind since it was so cold, we crawled in the box and literally a few moments later the erie sounds of spring on the prairie echoed through the howling wind.  It was cold, colder than a witch's ti....chickadee.  We brought with a space heater and we were still cold.

The birds were doing their thing, 10 chickens, 2 sharptails and a mutt, it was so nasty you could tell they were only going through the motions, a daily ritual that had to be done.  They almost seemed relieved when something flushed them away, and in their absence we also snuck away, since I was down to feeling only two toes.

Scenes from the lek,
Greater prairie chicken

GPCX x Sharptailed grouse hybrid

Some hen apparently went to the wrong side of the lek, and well, this poor bugger came out.  he didn't know whether to stomp or dance.  He wanted to run around but then he just stopped and clucked.  The male GPCX just wanted to beat on him.....prairie mutts....

here is a peripheral male staring that mutt down

It was Tony's first lek, and he looked enthralled despite the weather, literally in over 20 leks, the coldest ever.  considering how I sometimes bird...that is saying something.

Later it was off to scout for something new.  The waterfowl are stacked up here, and besides seeing the first marbled godwit seen in South dakota this year, nothing much is around.

.We ran into Rickey Olson at the Oahe dam and since 150 miles away someone this week had reported long-billed curlew, we decided to go into the prairie and look, as futile as it seemed. Like finding a needle in a haystack, but I'm lucky so  he gave us a couple of roads in Stanley County maybe 60 miles to search, so off Barry and I went.  Ten miles away
I exclaimed..."got one!"

We had found a pair.....luck is not a lady, it is Olaf and Barry

SD Lifer #293  Long-billed curlew in the snow



Barry even took a picture of me, taking a picture of the curlew (male is on my left)

It was still cold out there

I drove the five hours back from Eagle Butte on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation, 20 miles from home I saw my first live snowy owl in South Dakota this year sitting in a tree (seen others in MN, ND, MB) and I instinctively slammed on the brakes.  The road near Summit SD was ice covered due to our ground blizzard and I skidded in my truck, and I straightened it out, unfortunately my Nikon went flying around, and something broke........

So these ended up being costly birds, and the camera shop will be in my future..dang.

I keep counting, if spring ever comes, my 300th SD bird should be bagged by June now, as I need many warblers....I need two ABA birds for 800, and i need something to show get my 300/800 done

As the sign at my office's Accounting department says, as well as with Olaf, "Everyone Counts!"
i count, you count, we all more tick......

Put on your booties cause it is cooold out there!  It is cold out there every day.  I'll tell you about this weather.  It is going to be cold, gray, and it will last for the rest of your life! is never going to come, NEVER!