Monday, March 8, 2021

The Deceitful Plovers


I have never seen a deceit or possibly a brace of Wilson's Plovers (who gives out these names for groups of birds?  We will get to that).  I have only seen one or two birds at a time, and even at that I have only recorded 9 different sightings of this bird named after Alexander Wilson, whom never saw the species (was documented by George Ord from Cape May in early 1800s).  Of my nine sightings, three have occurred on St Martin, where a pair nested near the salt marsh behind the resort I frequented, but did not find every year.  Today, though this bird was hanging around the east end of Fort DeSoto Park in spades...were there 30, definitely, could there have been a hundred, possibly, they were sitting, feeding, snoozing, and one even took a bite out of a sanderling for offenses not apparent, maybe for just being too pale or something.

My wife went off to see manatees and I figured it was a good day for me to go birding, so off I went, being too lazy to get up at 4am to head north to see the flamingo.  DeSoto was a more manageable drive.

Wilson's plovers are interesting birds, and possibly a bird in some trouble over disturbing their beach habitat.  One source estimates on 22,000 breeding pairs internationally, and less that 9,000 pairs in the USA.  Maybe only 2-3 times the totals of Florida scrub jays for comparison.  People, dogs, and the dreaded peregrines are also listed as culprits.  

Their large beaks make them good at fiddler crab feeders and they are rarely if ever found inland and away from beaches.  I have seen them on one of the access waterways nearby to South Padre but that area looks like a salt marsh, so it was not that much of a surprise.

I have no real agenda for this blog, just enjoying a day out from our COVID hibernation in Lutz, Florida.  What does one do?  DeSoto is a safe outing and with all of these plovers, a lucky bonus.

The only other plover around were a few semipalmated plovers, smaller beaks, with a little orange on them.  They are about the same size.

The end of land here was not very busy, it was cool and windy, good for birders, no so for bathers.  I started at the north end where I usually find Nanday parakeets and I was not disappointed, but I'm not photographing them unless I get something good, now.  I think this is now the most reliable spot for these guys.  They are always near the parking lot here in the mornings.

DeSoto Park is a place where apparently the Mottled ducks (and there was just a pair) are suspect, as on eBird Mottled ducks are rare and mallard/ mottled are NOT.  This looked like a mottled duck drake to me.  I looked at other reports from there and there are was I over thinking this to mark it as mottled/mallard or was I lazy, as I did not have to write a description?  

the hen was nearby

Also  nearby was a pair of redheads, which had attracted the attention of two guys with large cameras

Redhead is not a "rare duck" here

The small flock of red breasted mergansers was much more interesting to me, but no one save me with a large camera, cared.

I had actually came here to get my year reddish egret
No one cared about him.  My friend Barry says the redheads are already up north, so big deal, I guess.
I saw a group of tripods, people with hand held cameras in the distance, being the skua birder I walked over and looked and looked at what rarity they were on, no one talked, no one seemed even remotely friendly, and all I was seeing was this osprey in her nest, but then I figured out the stakeout was FOR this osprey.  I wandered away to photograph a white peacock butterfly, then more butterflies before I drove back to the RV after a trip to the post office.

then a monk skipper

Gulf fritillary

The migrant passerines are a month away from here, but it was a pleasant morning outing and worth the ten bucks of tolls and the admission.  What is the value of seeing a deceit of plovers?  More then 10 bucks IMHO.

A "deceit" of plovers...It comes from a 1486 book of venery of St Albans and from the northern lapwing's broken wing routine, and also used for plovers which, not to be outdone by their larger cousins, can perform the hoax very well themselves, maybe better, but today, they were just eating and scurrying away from Olaf, the birder. Such a pejorative description of many majestic birds.
The Alexander Wilson's I've said before see them while you can, because the future is unknown, both from COVID, sudden illness, and habitat destruction. 

Stay safe out there


Sunday, February 14, 2021

Southern Living

It's Valentines Day.  It is cold up north in the Dakotas and we're not up there, lucky us!  I'm down south as we have been for a month and being down south makes me think of my first "experience" with the south, Television.  "Cooter Davenport," was a character in the now quite politically incorrect series  Duke's of Hazzard.  He drove a tow truck, had on a well worn ball cap and dirty jeans, and spoke his mind in a southern country drawl, but never went to jail, unlike his two cousins, those Duke boys.  Quiz question:  

The southern nickname "Cooter" comes from:

a) a southern slang term for a raccoon

b) An 1840s era nickname for usually dirty and unkempt Georgia miners who would come down from the hills in the state's Dahlonega Gold Mining district

c) a species of freshwater turtle

d) A breed of hunting dogs closely related to the Blue-tick hounds that are sometimes used to track deer and people.

e) Crayfish

While you are contemplating that, I've been busy doing everything down in Florida except birding.  I have been finishing off writing two books these past few weeks, and that seems to have consumed me. We watched the Super Bowl, and caught the fly-over of the B-1, B-2, and B-52, they went right over our lot.  That was cool!

We've been tending to our crop of Monarch caterpillars, we've planted milkweed and moving the little buggers from leaves to better leaves.  We have about twenty on the plants right now, a few are in their chrysalises (not a word I write much).

We are just doing our part to try to save the species, but they are hungry little buggers, eating us out of house and home, and striping our milkweed, which the local nursery is only too eager to sell us.

There are other butterflies, like this barred yellow...

We also bought an RV lot. What is owning a piece of paradise worth, you say?  Looks to me like it costs $75,000..and I cannot tell you if we got value or taken.. .but it is a place to go, in Florida no less, and I guess campsites are not always easy to find where you want them.  I have buyers remorse now even buying a hamburger through the drive-though or even buying toilet paper, so it is hard to read this deal. There was no celebration even though we went to our neighbors and got quite drunk "celebrating" or "consoling" the purchase. Despite the hangover, we like our neighbors and the quite unusual community we have now spent a few winter months in, so all is well there.  We even have our own Tiki hut.  It is not out in the wilds, in fact, it doesn't even have grass, but it works.  The bar in the center has to go, though.  We need to get a shed, but that is another story.

A male cardinal lives in the Tiki hut, too, who can say that?  We went canoeing on the the  Hillsboro River this week.  I got the worst case of boat butt ever, I could write a country song about this extreme boat butt I had, ala Garth Brooks, or Zac Brown but other than that, it was a good time.  Besides the usual birds, we saw out FOY (first of year) alligators, there was no problem finding them, they were all over.  I could of hit the paddle on their snouts if I liked.

So that gets us to the Cooter Davenport answer.  The word "cooter" is not on Microsoft's spellcheck either despite it being a word, so it works in Scrabble.  Cooters are turtles about 7-10 species of which (depending on taxonomy) live in North America.  I am not sure if that is why they picked this name for the character.

The Hillsboro River had cooters, lots of cooters.......Florida or Coastal plains cooters

Then we went walking in Pasco County today and saw another species of cooter, the Peninsular cooter walking in the woods.  It was a cooter two-fer for the week so to speak, and a lifer turtle.

Ben Jones, the man who played Cooter, was elected a Democratic Congressman from Georgia but after two terms was redistricted in 1992 and faced and lost to Newt Gingrich, now 80, he is a man from a different era and along with the other cast, from a story that isn't even shown in reruns now due to sensitivities.

Living in the South, is different, and even for us as temporary that it is, makes one shake their heads some times or almost all the time. Each day is different, Life here is going on, COVID is well, not front and center.  Most of our friends down here have been immunized for the plague unlike my poor mother-in-law which at 83 seems to not be a priority for Minnesota to find her an immunization. Which seems odd thinking that Minnesota is everything Florida is not, yet, they can't get immunizations going up north.  I need my shots but waiting impatiently.  I assume I will get fired up to go bird, but today, I'm just enjoying the warmth, the love of my life--Silja on a very special day, and southern turtles.  Cooter is a cool name, despite the past association with a car painted with politically incorrect insignias and an even cooler turtle. 

Maybe I'll go birding next week....
or maybe not



Saturday, January 30, 2021

The Catfish Hole revisited

What is Olaf up to?  Well, I've been spending the last few weeks trying to save the monarch butterfly, one butterfly at a time.  My neighbors and me have spent a lot of money planting milk weed and trying to encourage and feed the caterpillars. We've saved caterpillars crossing the street, moved them when they've eaten up their plants and saved them from being tossed out with the pruners. This is the first caterpillar we've had hatch from an egg so far.  He is busily eating a leaf.  We'll see if they eat us out of house and home.

There were other lifer butterflies, this orange barred Sulphur for one.

I went birding on the beach while visiting my sister in law, recently
We saw black-bellied plovers yawning

Black skimmers sleeping

Royal terns at attention

Sandwich terns being distracted, by....something

Back at my RV I have a cardinal living in my Tiki hut, and I even had yellow throated warblers at my bird feeder but we were feeling stuck and shut in, so we had to go do something.

So today, with nothing better to do, I had to go birding, so I got Silja organized early and we headed out east this morning to check on the status of the Florida scrub-jay population at the Allen David Broussard Catfish Creek Preserve State Park, what I call the "Catfish Hole."  It is located out in Polk County Florida and has miles of very sandy trails and loaded with the endangered birds. My favorite spot to find them. 

We hiked over two miles and found about 30 of the noisy buggers who found me and scolded me for just being there. I enjoyed a properly distanced talk with a horseback rider down in oaks and pines as well.

There were quite a few tufted titmice, eastern towhees, and a whole lot of Spanish Moss.  Nothing says the South more than Spanish moss. 

We were going to look for snail kites at a nearby lake but unfortunately there was an airboat fishing tournament and the lookout onto the lake was overrun with boat trailers.  We didn't bring our rods so we turned around and left to go get strawberry shakes in Plant City.

COVID be damned, I guess, we tried to go to Parkdale Strawberry farm but it was out of control with people everywhere so we didn't stop. No shake there.  People in Florida were everywhere in huge numbers, the wait at a Wendy's drive through was even 30 minutes, traffic was nuts. But we got frosties.  So we ended up back at the RV and in the pool.  Safety outside and the pool was nice.  I had to ID a bird on a woman's necklace.  A tropicbird in pure gold.  It was safe there though, as it seems we are being helped out by all of our neighbors who have all gotten their first (or second) COVID shot now.  Luckily, my parents up north and my son in Chicago were also vaccinated Thursday for their first dose as well.  We are still waiting our turn.  I'd volunteer to help give immunizations but where does a retired doctor even volunteer?  I never had a license in Florida so probably no where here.  

The retired life.  One needs things to do. I guess I can just stay home and play with Gamestop stock.  I did spend all last week teaching my children about stock shorts and how the whole deal worked.  My son Allwin made a good amount on a trade.  He is getting a new coffee table with his new found fortune.  One of my investments, Weis Markets, the stodgy supermarket we shopped at back in 1994 in Pennsylvania was even caught up in a short squeeze...but to be honest, I didn't sell it and Friday is was back to where it was a week ago.  I guess birding is easier.

Birding....but even my little smidgeon of fame is now over.   My 2016 record for the lower 48 big year of 723 species, was broken last year by one bird, by Jeremy Dominquez of Ohio.  We are Facebook friends, but I've never birded with him nor met.  Congrats to him.  I was surprised it took four years to break.  I once wrote if I had spent all of my effort on the record, I could have gotten 740 birds and with the rules change this year on the checklist, that number would be closer to 750.  The Key west chicken I saw in November that year might have been countable even in 2016 due to this new interpretation of the rules which I saw back then but no matter....but whatever, I got other things to do now and time for another to hold that mantle and considering he did it in a COVID year, even more surprising and an accomplishment.  If I ever do that again, it would be for that record but life has moved on from that activity, so doubt that will ever happen.

Things to do.  Next week, I'm buying an RV site in Florida, working on a book, and going kayaking to catch something.  Not COVID!  I'm trying to catch a fish in a nearby lake and not a catfish....they have this record lunker bass that reportedly lives there and well, I have been challenged....Silja had a nice one on last week but it escaped unharmed.....SOMETHING TO DO!

Stay safe and warm out there, we're still hiding in Florida for a while, seeing birds, getting some sun, and staying out of trouble.


Thursday, December 24, 2020

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, a letter to all of you.

It has been another year, I'd say this year looks like last year, but it isn't.  2020, a year like few others, especially in my lifetime.  We are alive.  We are trying to be festive, but to be honest, we haven't put up a tree this year and last year's tree in the RV got squashed by a box of books so I'm recycling a 2019 picture of Leroy to wish you a Merry Christmas.

Maybe we should celebrate Festivus this year, but my knee is sore from driving so much and so "Feats of Strength" would not be good.  "Saying of grievances" for 2020 would be long, maybe too long and most involve COVID.  Ahh, well, maybe we should celebrate the tradition of the Yule Cat, an Icelandic tradition of telling the children  a story of a large vicious cat, lurking in the snow waiting to eat anybody who isn't wearing new clothes for Christmas.  I guess this would be hard since these are the 'Yule Cats" in my house this winter. This is what I have to deal with, and these cats would hardly scare a stirring mouse and definitely not petulant children.
"Yule Cats" Tiger and Snowball, be afraid, be very afraid.  There was a story in which I told a pair of Jehovah's Witnesses about Snowball the attack cat, "Don't let her purring fool you, it is all a secret ploy..."  but that wasn't a 2020 event, no one came to visit us, so I'll move on.

so the year that was 2020.....  

We started 2020 in Costa Rica on a family vacation, spending time with our kids, which are grown and are starting lives of their own.  this was sort of a late planned trip, one which was sort of organized by the seat of my pants, one in which it could have been a fiasco, worked out and was quite enjoyable.  Don't let the sign deceive, it was a shack in the woods, but a woods filled with monkeys and sloths.

While we explored the mountains, I of course went birding, here with a collared aracari.  

We came home, Allwin, went back to University of Wisconsin where he became a PhD Candidate for Chemistry.  Tyko went to Chicago where he is now a second year Medical Student at Rush Medical School, and Lauren went to Hamline University in St. Paul, now in her Junior year.

We....went went back to Florida to catch up with our RV

We rented a lot for the winter north of Tampa.  We enjoyed the sun, took up pickle ball, walked, and stayed warmth.  I did a little birding, chasing a rare bird in Naples and saw the local specialty, the Bachman's sparrow (below).
We saw manatees, tortoises, and some butterflies.

In late February, we went on a theme cruise out of Tampa, it was a bit of a fiasco and ran in the shadow of something ominous, COVID.  The cruise atmosphere was flat, I tried birding, but it was both windy and raining.  We organized birding tours in Mexico and Honduras (Roatan). We saw lifer birds like the cute Cozumel emerald, butterflies...erato heliconian, and Mayan ruins. 

We floated around quarantined ships in Cozumel, and generally tried to stay away from everyone, especially Europeans.

We returned March 1, just as COVID was taking a hold of everything, I flew back to Minneapolis for dental work on the 3rd, was extra suspicious of everyone, became the last on both flights, Cloroxed my rental car, and coming back, Cloroxed my seat on the plane.  This would be my last plane flight for how long?

We sort of isolated ourselves in Tampa, the club next door to us, barred us from entry on the 10th, and our RV park, closed the pool by the 16th, and the park we rode bicycles in on the 17th, reasons of which seemed to just be fear.  Lauren had been kicked out of school to go online so she was home alone.  I had begun stocking up for a long isolation as soon as we returned.  Anything instant online was sold out by a week later.  by the 19th, we decided best to head home.  It would be easier in South Dakota.  The virus would get to the Dakotas last, which proved correct.  We drove the RV hard doing 1775 miles in three days.  worried that everything would be closed, we did find truck stops for gas, ate in our RV, and found open campgrounds.  I arrived home on my birthday.  It was a surreal day, to say the least.  Who would have guessed I'd be toasting being 54 speeding on a freeway with an unknown scourge at our heels.

I came home, instantly picked up our half of beef, a case of wine I had ordered arrived the same day, and we unloaded our supplies, and went to the store and as people in South Dakota hesitated, myself and a bunch of Hutterites fought for vegetables, until only celery remained.  This day left us with 6 months of food.  

Tyko has just returned from a trip to Seattle, when his school closed, he moved in with his brother in Madison.  By Easter, they begged us to come home for a visit and how could we say no, but I think they brought COVID with them, it was a wonderful visit not knowing if the world was ending or what.  A week later, I had a fever and significant gut issues, so did Silja and interestingly, our cat Tiger, Tyko's cat, got pneumonia, making what we had really suspicious for the Plague.  Cats can get it, but they shake it easily enough.  As my chest began to feel tight, I cursed and started a countdown to the ICU, but something odd happened on my way to Sanford health, nothing really happened.  day 9 came ...and went.  The cat got better too.  I asked the Vet for a COVID test on him but they couldn't do it, and me, the state wouldn't test me as COVID didn't cause GI issues or so they parroted, (which never made sense since that was quite common in Europe and New York).   
So, we never got tested.

I finally got out and forced myself to get fresh air.  It was good to be alive and if that was the plague we were lucky.

I spent the spring in hiding and looking for rare frogs at the cabin
Boreal chorus frogs

second recorded wood frog in Day County South Dakota

COVID life was more than just mucking in swamps for frogs

I finished book on my photography in the spring
A few people bought it, and it was something to do.  I think it is a nice collection of my photos of trips in the past.

I also spent the summer writing and researching a book with my mother Susan, I have never called her so many times.  It kept us both isolated with something to do.  I am really proud of this project which was a bucket list item and my 2019 Christmas gift to her.

I think this is the definitive history of Grantsburg and the surrounding area in this period (1920-1985), and turned out really nice, and we have just started to sell these.  We'll see if the non-profit that produced this ever has any profit for other projects, as who buys books?  How can you even market books in the time of COVID?

I wrote two other projects isolated due to COVID, riding the creative high that I got on, the first, a history of Club Orient Resort on St. Martin, I'm having someone editing that now, and I just tracked down some obscure newsletters with key info, so I may need to add that in somewhere.
Yeah, sigh, maybe too NSFW for some of you, and I also don't know what I am going to do with it.  Not sure it is worth the production costs.  It is loaded with 30 year old photos I stumbled upon (I ate dinner with a woman who had an entire famous professional photographer's collection in her garage.  There is also a segment of the former owners that either see things differently or haven't moved on, but we'll see.

I also finished our adventures of 2019, including trips to ..Curacao, RVing all over the US, Bahamas, Roatan, Jamaica, Mexico, Uruguay, Argentina, South Africa, The South Atlantic, France, and Canada
I did a world big year birding in 2019, and had a whole lot of fun going on the road less traveled.  But again, despite being done, what am I doing with this book?  I don't know, so there it sits.  

In 2020, we were going fishing three times to Canada, cruising to the Amazon and off to Bhutan and Thailand, all of which cancelled or postponed.  How long until a postponement becomes a cancellation? 

In June, saying heck with it, a friend and I cannonballed to Arizona to see a very rare bird, an eared quetzal.  we did 3500 miles in 96 hours, I got two lifer birds including the quetzal.

My family, going insane due to COVID isolation, came to visit us in late June, we rolled the dice and everyone was disease free.  We could only rearrange the wall, play with the Yule cats, check on the cattle at the ranch, or the level of the flood water, so many times.  How often do you dust a stuffed bobcat?

It was time to venture out, a little.
My niece Lily with our old dog, trying to get her to eat

Silja, Lauren, and Allwin, went to Oregon in August to her nephew Tristan's wedding.  They were being careful and even braved a plane flight which we had to use a credit for before they maybe went bankrupt.  
the three with Aunt Carol (right)

at least my kids were being safe

We headed off out west on an RV trip as South Dakota's covid cases started to rise the day after first frost in September.

 Winter was coming.  It was time to go.

We spent a week in Oklahoma, four north of Phoenix, then a week in San Diego County.  We visited friends in Tucson area, before camping for a week in SW New Mexico, a week in West Texas, before we got to Florida on December 1, just before the winter rains found us, we saw odd butterflies like this snout...

other people who had too much time on their hands, Sanderson Texas

we hiked....a lot, even with friends.

looked for the Marfa lights but all we found were strange things

 and some stuff we saw, well, seemed like messages from previous years, almost like 2020 never happened at all

the year of the tarantula seeing them in three states and three species

It was like we had come a full circle, back to Lutz Florida where COVID had all started, in two weeks, I chased birds to Key West twice, seeing this red-legged thrush, hopefully avoiding COVID, which I tested negative a week later, and then we headed north, just as we heard that some bad things were happening to Silja's dad.

so alas, it wasn't all mindless travel.  We had some deaths in 2020, luckily not from COVID, the only family members with COVID were my sister, Jena and my two young nieces.  They all did well, and only my sister had any symptoms.

The bad news, My father-in-law, Don Kramer broke his femur in early December, and in recovery had complications and died suddenly.  Don was a quiet, religious man, and somehow he put up with me.  Don's loss is still sinking in here at the holidays.  He'd had some close calls before but those weren't his time, unfortunately this one was.
Donald Kramer (1926-2020)

We also lost our dog in July, very sad and I still ,miss her too.  This dog was a travel companion, liked pizza and hated bicycles
Brighid (2006-2020)

Sigh....I'll miss Don, and I miss my dog.  Why do we love pets so?
Two Christmases and is like a bad movie, this whole year has been a bad movie.  but well, 2021 begins anew, vaccines are a coming, the COVID case load up north is dropping AND God willing we'll slide south again early in the year....2021 plans?  

Eurovision 2020......maybe they'll have it, but will it be Eurovision 2021 but will it happen?
The Summer Olympics....will it happen?
Will the Canadian border open for fishing?
Will rare birds show up?
Will we get springer spaniel 3.0?
More yule cats?
Will they have to yank out our President kicking and screaming?
Will I write more books, or will anyone buy my old books?  Will their be book singings?  Will there be anything ever again?  
Will the grass grow on our ranch, will the butterflies fly, the birds return, or will this snow ever melt?
All I can say is that the Vikings will NOT win the Super Bowl or the Gophers go to the Rose Bowl, with or without COVID, the wind will not stop blowing on the Prairie,  these things are certain, everything else, is purely speculation, but Olaf will be there to write about it.

Merry Christmas and to a better 2021,

Olaf, Silja, Tyko, Allwin, and Lauren


The Deceitful Plovers

  I have never seen a deceit or possibly a brace of Wilson's Plovers (who gives out these names for groups of birds?  We will get to tha...