Sunday, February 28, 2016

Get Rhythm

Big Year Days 57-59

Big Year Total:  462
Coded birds:  31
Cool animals: Bobcat, Harbor seal, gray whale, California sea lion, pronghorn, porcupine, sea otters, Island gray fox, 

Miles driven.  13,300
Flight Miles 38,200
flight segments: 42   Airports: 23
Hours at sea: 25
Miles walked 63
Miles biked 2
states/ prov. birded:15

After a near crash of Southwest Flight 578 in Midway, I took a couple of days off before trying this again.  I was shook up but like passed.

As I headed to the airport on February 26, the birding song came on the radio, it was play of Ex's and Oh's number was a good sign.  We were heading west, California, and we were Getting the Rhythm and this trip, my son, Allwin, the one that damaged my car had to come with as penance for the insult to my car.  Allwin is a traveler but no birder.  I had been looking forward to this trip for months since he has been abroad studying since May and we needed time to bond.

My Favorite Johnny Cash song is Get Rhythm, which was released in 1959 by the artist.
here it is,

Also in 1959, Johnny Cash decided to go fishing.  Unfortunately while driving up a mountain pass in the Las Casitias NF his truck overheated or so he said, and started on fire and Cash just took out his fishing stuff and still went fishing, ignoring the inferno.  In the forest fire that ensued, 49 of the regions 53 California Condors disappeared or 50% of all of them and were never seen again, no one knows if Cash actually killed 1/2 of the condor population in order to get a few trout...but he was fined a million dollars although no one knows exactly how much he paid.  Cash oddly started a second forest fire in 1965, one in which he almost died....Cash and the ring of fire....odd, well as as far as I can tell, the condor is countable now so this was designed to be my Condor trip.


Let me do a little provisional discussion here

Provisional 1A.  I have counted the hoary redpoll and if as expected, the AOU lumps the two redpolls together, and the ABA drops it from the checklist, as per the rules, I get to keep it.  The example used was the Northwestern Crow but it is on point.

Provisional 1B.  My counted western scrub-jay is a "Coastal" or California subspecies seen in Irving, CA, on Martin Luther King Day in January.  On February 19, in Davis Mtns Texas, I spotted a "Woodhouse's" subspecies so if it is split by the AOU, and this is also up to a vote, I will add one via the old armchair tick, we will wait for their summer checklist changes.  No other splits/ lumps, look to affect the checklist this year for me.

Day 1 A Ruff time
Central California


Allwin and I drove out to Merced NWR after some concern over bedbugs at the hotel in Merced, I am not sure if it was real or a mass hallucination.  A day later I had no bites.  We got there at first light and found the pond the Ruff, a sandpiper, had been seen even the day before we got ruff.

we gave it three hours and even endured NWR Rangers yelling at us for being more than 25 feet from out car, we were about 50 at the time.  I was trying to get a better angle on a shore of the pond but I just had to move the car and block traffic and THEN get out to look through my scope....why?

We saw the hoard of Ross's Geese and decided to punt.

we'd have to return another day.

PANOCHE RD, California

I studied the map and this road looked good, it went from I-5 to Hwy 25 and had all the requisite ticks of birds I needed, so after cruising through the farms of the San Joaquin Valley we found the road and quickly it changed to dirt.  All along the road, people had set up makeshift shooting ranges, it was sort of odd in a way, even to a gun owner like me.  The road got worse but stayed okay and so we kept going.  Finally, I came to a year bird on a fence.

#456  Mountain Bluebird

always a pretty bird and then we continued on, got across ruts and then we came to a water hole.  Allwin took his shoes off and waded across, it was way too deep for a Ford Fusion.  This is the second time water has impeded my progress, damn.  Maybe a SUV next trip?  Two hours later....we were back on this road.  What a detour...I did drive past a hot springs that looked interesting.

The second stop was near a ranch, and I found my first key bird for the trip

#457  Yellow-billed Magpie

Nothing to say about this but tick!  Then we got behind a camper pulling a Jeep.  It was 10 mph for a while, but it all worked out when I saw blackbirds near the end in some trees.
The right blackbird...

#458  Tricolored blackbird

These birds have a red patch on their wings which they frequently hide, and all of these birds in these trees hid theirs.  Things were starting to roll, I had the two birds I needed and so off we went in search of Cash's cursed Condors


In 2014, the ABA clarified their rules on counting Reintroduced endemics and if the bird is found in its former range (like ever or in the last 200 years?), and the population (not defined) has reproduced (how many?) it can be counted.  This rule only really covers 4 species, so the ABA could have just discussed each one separately, but they didn't.  Also, Condors live so long that ones taken into captive breeding have since been released and for a birder like me, I don't know where these birds are and so that is the third part, if unable to know which can be counted and which can't they can be counted. I feel I need a PhD in this bird to understand how to count it.   So I think Pinnacles Condors can be counted.  I have made my best effort to decipher it all and if I need correction....say it!

#459  California Condor

My son and I had a fly-by so close you could hear their wings.  It was cool.  We saw 6, even one way out of the park feeding on a dead something in a field, and as was Allwin's rarest bird.  We had a really nice hike up here.  I really like this park and the valley near here.  It is a cool place that makes you think of Montana, not California.

oh Johnny why?

#460. California Quail

We heard 2, and to show my son, that was their call, I played it and instantly one answered me down below me in a little draw.  

Allwin looking sharp..

As it got dark, we drove out of the park and had to make tracks for Ventura, 200 miles away.  Driving between the valley and Hwy 101, I flushed a common poorwill at 10% light, it flew in front of my car and I didn't hit it!  I could count it even if I did but who would want to?  bird #461.

We drove like maniacs as my son directed and then he told me he had a short cut.  It would save time and miles as 101 makes this loop before turning on the coast to Santa Barbara.  It was just as we were coming down the mountain to 101 again when the traffic just stopped--apparently a terrible accident.  We waited.  It was after a few cars turned around and went back up, when Allwin told me he had another shortcut so we turned and found San Marcos Road, it looked on paper to go directly to Santa Barbara...problem was it was a 10-12% grade down....narrow, tightest turns ever, most marked at 5 mph and with the grade, and total darkness, my headlights were too high and as many cars from town were coming up to avoid the bypass, it was beyond treacherous.  Allwin stated that the Saint must give out medals personally to whomever safely makes it to the bottom of this road.  That was one road, I never ever want to go on again, even in daylight.

I am not Catholic and I kind of wanted to say a little prayer to old St. Mark  

Day 2.  The Big Blue Tick.

Santa Cruz Island

This isn't my name for the ritual to come and see this bird only found here, but three years ago, I said, I would never need to come back here again and three years to the day, here I was, taking a Island Packer boat in rough seas to Santa Cruz Island, but it was a Big Year and I had to go.  It was really rough this time....

Everyone writes how easy it is to find this bird...IT IS NOT THAT EASY!

In 2013, I spent three days at Scorpion (well I had clothing issues to worry about too) and I only saw 5 of them, and this time we had to hike and well...we saw three, and only one was photogenic.  We were the only birders there is we had no one to complain to BUT I found the bird...

#462  Island scrub-jay

I don't know if it is just me but this bird never is anywhere near the landing spots.  We came to Prisoner's Harbor because it seemed that this area had more of them but alas no.  It was a good hike though, to Pelican Bay.

I showed Allwin Bewick's wren

After the fist bump when we lEft the jay, Allwin said, jay down fox to go.  I then saw a fox come down the trail to us.  "We need to find a fox."  He said again.

"Like that one?"

well, we had the big blue tick and the big gray tick, but as we weren't counting mammals, we had nowhere to mark this tick.

The ride home on the boat was better and flatter and there was a veritable pelagic of seabirds, lots of Scripp's murrelets and a pink-footed shearwater plus all of the other expecteds...unfortunately having done a pelagic near here a month ago, there was nothing new for me to tick.

We got back, drove to In-and -Out Burger, and drove to Glendale.  The blue tick in my book and now my count up to 462...then Elle King sang her little song and I sang my own words...

Well, I had me an owl, turned up a common crane
I just scoped all the birds that no one could believe
Whoa, and then I had to go
Now, there's one in California that's been easily tame
'Cause I found me a better bird out in the A-K
Hey, hey, until I made my getaway
One, two, three, they gonna fly up to me
'Cause I'm the best birder that you'll ever gonna see
One, two, three, they gonna fly up to me
They always wanna come, but they never wanna leave
Ex's and the oh, oh, oh's they haunt me
Like ghosts they want me to see 'em all
They won't just go
Ex's and oh's

I had a summer tan'ger down in New Orleans
Kept him warm in the winter, let him migrate in the spring
My, my, how the seasons go by
I look high, and I love to look low
So the chases keep commin', and the ticks just roll
You know that's how the story goes
One, two, three, they gonna fly up to me
'Cause I'm the best birder that you'll ever gonna see
One, two, three, they gonna fly up to me
They always wanna come, but they never wanna leave
Ex's and the oh, oh, oh's they haunt me
Like ghosts they want me to see 'em all
They won't just go
Ex's and oh's
One, two, three, they gonna fly up to me
Climbing over mountains and a-sailing over seas
One, two, three, they gonna fly up to me
They always wanna come, but they never wanna leave
My ex's and the oh, oh, oh's they haunt me
Like ghosts they want me to make 'em all
They won't let go
Ex's and the oh, oh, oh's they haunt me
Like ghosts they want me to count 'em all
They won't let go
Ex's and oh's

Now I don't have any rhythm but If I could get someone to sing the parody, I'll make it into a music video.......anyone?

X's are successful ticks and the O's not seen birds that haunt you...AND ME!

Okay, Johnny Cash, this song is for you, the man who hates birds...


Tuesday, February 23, 2016

9-1-1 to Florida

Some days, I feel like an owl in the headlights.  I am siting in the dark, comfortable and all of a sudden I have light shined on me and I don't know where to go.....this barred owl in the Everglades and me have things in common but I am getting ahead of myself.

Big Year Day 53-54

Big Year Total:  455
Coded birds:  31
Cool animals: Bobcat, Harbor seal, gray whale, California sea lion, pronghorn, porcupine, sea otters,

Miles driven.  12,300
Flight Miles 34600
flight segments: 38   Airports: 22
Hours at sea: 22
Miles walked 55
Miles biked 2
states/ prov. birded:15

I heard of the code five zenaida dove while seeing the common crane in Texas.  I was urged by friends to go get this bird and invited by fellow big year birder, Christian Hagenlocher to join him as he was chasing this bird and was driving south to Florida.  I arrived Midland at 4pm and in the airport rearranged my flights, cancelled Phoenix and traded a potential code 5 dove for a ruddy ground dove. I looked at the United Airlines flight to Miami, the only way I could get there that night and closed my eyes and hit the "purchase" button, burning 12,500 miles and possibly finding myself have to do some fast talking to airport agents as United always bites me in the bum....always....

      I wrote my blog on Texas about what bothering me and on my mind and well I guess I offended or at least turned off some, but oh well, I write what I feel and think what I do, because that is what I have always done.....sometimes I say things I feel I must the time I'm done with this year, I'm certain everyone will hate me, at least those that don't know me and that is fine...I suspect I won't need 750 birds, I may need 760, so any thought of a record is just ludicrous, and this isn't about that, .at least I didn't get a conceal and carry permit for birding...yet.  Ha..ha...eee....yeah.  Maybe I will reserve my thoughts on that.

      Christian picked me up in Miami at midnight after delayed flights, and both because they had no gate agents....and we drove south into the keys.  In Key Largo, we picked up a friend, Officer Friendly, who stopped Christian, his first traffic stop ever for not moving over properly on a DWI stop the officers were making to a dude in a neon green Dodge.
      We had a little issue when he asked for paperwork Christian had in a locked glove box, and....opening it was not an easy proposition.  He walked back to his car for advice from headquarters.  It could have been bad....Montana plated car, South Dakota passenger, a car full of camping gear and who knows was too late for Officer Friendly and so he let us go, we could have went to jail.  Then pushing our luck, we found a parking lot on the edge of a bridge and pulled over to sleep in the car.  It was noisy but I fell asleep exhausted.  At first light Officers Protect and Serve came through the parking lot to kick us out.  We left for breakfast under the watchful eye of the Monroe County Police.
     We arrived in Long Key State Park and walked the trail and found Rangel Diaz from Miami and other birders and started the search for the dove.  It did take an hour and a half to find it, but when we did, it was a ham....

a wonderful code 5 bird...zenaida dove.
a bird I see in St. Martin all the time, but in ABAdom a great bird.....
why was it here...IDK, but it was the most photographed bird by me this year, I have maybe 200 shots of it, 100 are 9-10 on the photographic scale of goodness...

I also spotted a black-throated blue warbler in the undergrowth for another year bird.  Then we teamed up and searched for the grassquit and the Key West Quail dove but had no luck.  Christian and I then went off on our own.

I photographed a Reddish egret to document a bird I didn't photogrpah before

and a scissor-tailed flycatcher I counted a couple weeks back without getting a picture.

I continue to try to document and have witnesses for every bird I can, I know I can't photograph them all but I have to continue to try as there will always be ones that say I didn't see what I saw.

Over a bridge near where we slept, I spotted a frigatebird over the bridge.  It had a really odd white pattern but I just shrugged it off as bird #553 for the year...magnificent frigatebird.  Then someone reported a Lesser Frigatebird some keys south of there on the 23rd.  Was that the same bird?  It made us wonder and wished we had snapped a photo but we were on a bridge.  That was the only frigate we saw the whole time down there, too.  It may have been a missed MEGA bird but oh well, without a picture, it was just chatter and even with one, that is a hard bird to ID...and from me, I doubt I could have enough photos.  We were dreaming....when you here hoof beats, think horses not zebras...unless you are driving past the people who have the zebra on the way to the Glades and we were going there next.

We drove down to Flamingo and walked out on the very buggy and muddy Coastal Marsh Trail to call black rail and we found the spot, and saw many tracks of something, then we called them and got two great answers.  Our friends got them to storm the speaker but we were happy in the fog of mosquitoes to just get the bird.

It was my first shower in a while and a short night on the Ramada Inn in Florida City.  We had an odd dining experience at the Mutineer next door but well, it WAS food.  The morning brought traffic and more traffic and then at Loxahatchee NWR, Christian showed me the pair of smooth-billed anis, bird #5 for the trip and my 31st coded bird.

The anis were skittish and I didn't get the best picture, but well I have a wonderful life bird picture of this species so I didn't really care.

After Christian interviewed me for his birder project (he is doing research on birders) I got dropped off at Fort Lauderdale Airport for a trip home for a day to do laundry before I resume my trek out west to finish up on California birds.  I hope the added traffic to see the zenaida finds Key West Quail doves so I can come back to Florida.

As for me, I have surprisingly few bug bites that still itch.  Birding-wise, I sit at 455 birds and I feel a little behind the pace, there are good birds I need to see, and well to really have a chance at this thing for being anything, I need to break 500 as soon as I can in early March and push the coded birds up as close to 40 ASAP if there are enough birds around to do that.  Right now, I know of 4, and they have to be gotten fast.  It looks like I might have already screwed up on a MEGA frigatebird

one more look at the zenaida

#451  Zenaida dove
#452  Black-throated Blue warbler
#453  Magnificent frigatebird
#454  Black Rail
#455  Smooth-billed ani

sigh....a lot of work to do...maybe an insurmountable task but I keep going ..


Monday, February 22, 2016

The Crane Whisperer

…and the saga continues.

I didn’t get any sleep on the night of big year day #49.

I went on Thursday and applied for a handgun permit.  I owned my first pistol at aged 15, a Ruger Security six, nickel plated .357 magnum.  I won it at Duck’s Unlimited. I traded it away at aged 17 for a trolling motor.  Bad trade, in retrospect but I caught a lot of fish with the old “Esox Magnum”…”big pike!)   The reason me and three office people went to get gun permits…?

       One of my former employees, a man that owned the IRS hundreds of thousands, filed suit on us for obeying an IRS seizure order to send them his final paycheck….tax protestors….they believe in the constitution and say the 16th amendment doesn’t allow income taxes….go figure….but that is is not what kept me up either.

What did was United delaying my 0500 flight so much it might as well cancelled it.  I got something half figured out so, I’d get to west Texas eventually but 2 hour delays become 6 hour delays and then cancelled when I can’t do anything about it…
            I may be ugly, I may be a fat idiotic Swede.  I may not be be the best birder out there, but I’m one wily dude in an airport.  I’ve learned.  So I get up to the woman at United at 0400.  There is a huge line up behind me of similar fated people and I’ve done my homework.  I sart my line…I got a job interview in Midland at noon and I’m so disappointed.  I don’t even know, if it can be pushed back because it is…4 in the morning.  I continue the crocodile tears…I look over at American and sigh…If only I was on American…
            Then she looks up their flight…something she isn’t supposed to do on an award mile flight like mine.  She says “oh they got lots of seats”…she rebooks my ticket on them.  That flight leaves in now 50 minutes….the line at American is going nowhere, so I causally walk into the Premier access line, some place I’ve never had access to “officially” on American and when it is my turn in a minute, the woman looks at me.  She knows I don’t belong.  “The woman at United told me to just use the 1st Class line, plane delay and family emergency.  You are so kind to except a change over ticket.”  The woman pats me on the shoulder, tells me everything will work out, and upgrades me on both segments through Dallas, no I skip the 1 hour security checkpoint, since they’ve just changed the system at Minneapolis and ten minutes later, I’m buying coffee at Starbucks.  Since my wife was flying to St. Martin, one gate over, I said hello and then I got on my plane and arrive to Midland, 20 minutes before I would have on United.
            I was there…west Texas.  The oddest things happen and are seen in west Texas….I may give a list in another blog, like the time a Halliburton truck ran over my cell phone and made a pancake out of it and the ringer still worked, or the story of Eve’s Garden B&B in my BPT book and year, or my lactose intolerant pal who finds out there is lactose in quesadillas as we drive into Bordon County a place with few people, no bushes and especially no bathrooms.  Just look of Judge Roy Bean on the internet and nothing more needs to be said.  Roy Bean is west Texas and west Texas is Roy Bean.

            West Texas Memorial Cemetery.
            My go to spot for scaled quail is two miles north of the airport in Midland, five minutes in Texas, I drive behind the property on the Nobels EOG oil lease, and there are 30 scaled quail running every which way, just like all the other times this noob oil man has been here.  Sometimes they are in the cemetery, sometimes behind.  Again, no way to get a photograph.   I did get a shot of a photogenic curve-billed thrasher.  One year bird, down and then off I headed south.  I once had to attend a burial here, to make it look good and luckily today, only the groundskeeper was there when I paid my respects to Mr. Thurmond.  Poor guy, I don’t know…I bird a lot in cemeteries.  I wonder what my cemetery count would be?

            Down the road I saw something.  It wasn’t initially a bird.  

Okay, I didn’t know whether to laugh, cry, or just shake my head….I drove past a stuffed horse or at least what looked like one as I was getting towards Fort Davis and I had to stop.  It was made out of steel but the hat with ears out was real.  This was the Thundering Hooves Memorial Fence.  There were saddles, picture, and even pictures kids had drawn about a horse they owned now dead….many horses…even one mule and a burro named Pedro.  It was odd.  A dedication to a horse so loved the owner had promised the saddle would never be put upon another horse…it was on a log here.  I wanted to cry and then, I spotted a dead roadkill Killdeer, my roadkill list doesn’t have a killdeer so I took a picture..forgot about dead horses and drove on.

Davis Mountains, Texas
Quail never come easy for me and the Montezuma quail especially, this bird is like finding a ghost, the only I’d ever seen in Arizona was dead in front of me seen while relieving myself on the side of a road, somehow, I got things tucked away and my camera on the bird to get a single blurry but ID-able shot. 
As advised by Thor, I called ahead and yes, they have had the quail at the feeders, but when I checked in at 2pm at the state park, the volunteer and flushed four once near the feeders, no one had seen them in the feeders well, since he came and after I got checked in, I read the log, since at least July, when they had started a new log book…….phooey!  Then I found out someone had my camping site and so I had to go and reregister…crud.
I finally looked where he had said they occasionally see them, and I got hot, hungry, so I ate a sandwich but my cheese had melted as it was hot.  I got tired, I got stared at by other campers, and I found a Townsend’s solitaire in a juniper tree…some consolation prize.  I walked trails, staked out feeders and well, I didn’t even hear anything quail like I could have made up to be a quail.  By dark, I was pooped, having not slept in a day and a half so I pitched my tent and prepared for the night.  It was then I noticed that my tent smelled significantly of cow, more precisely, cow manure.  I had switched tents at home as this Eureka one is lighter but I was so tired I didn’t care…..zzzz

It was a thirteen hour sleep interrupted by night sounds.  I had hoped to have had the chance to hear a western screech owl but alas….3 great horned owls or maybe the same one that moved three times and a plethora of noisy Eurasian collared doves.  I crawl out of the aromatic tent and it was about half light and went to the rest room.  I then started my quail hunt and unfortunately, it was more of the same….no quail.  I climbed trails, drove, walked, and even once tiptoed by camping areas 68-70 where the volunteer told me to…no quail.  I then went to the feeders.  At the first feeder I spotted a lone Brewer’s sparrow hanging with two green tailed towhees, another small consolation.   I looked at the map and saw a second set of feeders at the interpretive center and drove over there.  I hiked the trail and was just back to the car and heard some crazy person on the main road in honking.  WTF?  I could eventually see it coming not really all that slow and it honked and then I saw a blur of wings.  IDK, maybe I was a quarter mile away as the crow flies?  But birds flew off the road and they were definitely quail.  Now some birders, possibly that referred to in my opening would have just counted those quail, and been gone but they could have been gray partridge for all I know, and as such I couldn’t count those.  That isn’t birding to count birds like that… 
I cursed at the black car as it turned into an RV Camper spot…and then kicked a rock and sighed.  Missed opportunities…quail…

I drove past the campsites, hiked another trail, went to the overlook, drove out of the park and looked by picnic areas and then frustrated went and took down my tent after a 16th time past campsites 68-70.  My tent was in need of a good airing out, I was frustrated and the only quail in the park almost got killed by some maniac with Louisiana plates.  It is times like this to just give up, so I did.  I threw it all in the car, and I didn’t even take the poles out of my tent.  “F’ this place” I said and was backing out, but vowed, one more, one last drive towards 68.  I had gone 50 yards and then window down I sensed something.  On the side of the road, there they were!
Montezuma quail……

Nothing more to be said.  I took pictures, breathed deeply, and shook my head like I was dreaming and left.
I saw a phainoepepla on way out, hadn't got a good photo this year of one so..

Winkler County, Texas
Of all the oil mavens of Texas, one man alone I would love to have spent a week with…Sid Richardson.  I don’t know if I’d learn the art of business, carousing, drinking, become saved, or learn how to control politicians, but in the end, it would be a hell of a week.  Sid largely, made his first big fortune on drilling wells in the lonesome dry wasteland that is Winkler county, located right where the border of Texas turns from south to west.  These towns…Wink, and Kermit that house this county, are barren, and look like they were run down 30 years ago.  Of the Billions taken out of this county so little has been put back, that some ghosts towns have more going for them.  Largely, in the 20s and 30s nobody had anything so the minerals could be bought for a song and dance and then oil!   The Bass family, heirs of Richardson, have more money than some Treasuries of other countries.
This is also prime bird habitat but there are few roads and even in the oil bust lots of trucks….
I thought I saw a sage thrasher but it was something else and then a bland sparrow came up and went down.  I thought…Cassin’s?  I played its song to remind myself in the car and this bird went nuts…….yup…definitely Cassin’s.  I never left the car.

Then I began seeing birds I could not recognize.  It got out of hand and by the time I got to the sand hills, this strip of sand about 2-20 x 100 miles that goes at an angle through Monahan State Park and up through here, I finally figured it out.  Winter lark buntings changing over to black plumage….I have never seen them in this in between phase. 

All totaled, I bet I ended up seeing 3-4000. 

The sand hills, barren land and if someone would give you $100 bucks in 1925 for a mineral rights…you would laugh at them.

I was making time and stopped at some of the towns.  Seagraves advertised a museum with art exhibit.  I had an urge to stop.  You can see cool things in some of these museums.  It was closed on weekends….alas everything I tried to stop at or shop to browse in…closed.  They did have gas though…

Brownfield TX area
I rolled into the cotton fields north of Seminole Texas where the land grows slightly more fertile in the early afternoon.  I lurked in a park for a moment starring at trees and the grass and to everyone enjoying the park, I’m sure I looked like a stalker.  I got behind a row of cars with consecutively numbered license plates with no added birds and headed for the Mound Lake area, where Justin told me to stake out possible crane fields.  I looked on the public roads north, east, west, and then south of the lake, and then crossed 380, heading even more south.  I stopped, looked listened.  No cranes.
I did find a covy of bobwhite quail after I followed a hawk, which I never adequately identified go into a grove of trees…quail came out the other side.  Here is the last one, or maybe the next to last one, the hawk never came out so maybe he had dinner.

The vigil for cranes continued, I saw what looked like a field sparrow but something about it was wrong.  It had too much of a line behind the eye.  I wondered if it had some hybridization in it and although 90% positive, I second guessed myself and finally in a fit decided it was nothing and I'd call the bird nothing.  I couldn't be positive, so that was that.  Maybe it was just that i was tired and I had just about enough of the nothingness of these cotton, milo, and wheat fields.  I found the road towards Lubbock and after Justin Bosler whom Petra Hockey has nicknamed the Crane Whisperer, graciously allowed me to crash at his place and I decided to invite him to dinner, I headed north.  I came upon a colony of burrowing owls in a prairie dog town and then eventually met Jason and his friend Adelaide from Alpine TX.  They both put up with my BS and we enjoyed great Tex-Mex food.

Morning came early especially when I hadn’t even drank my coffee and Justin called and was on Barn owls.  The problem was I was 20 miles behind him due to me getting lost in SW Lubbock and then deciding to grab something a few days old at a convenience store for food.  Nothing but the best for this birder---day old, day old breakfast sandwich , the best.
I drove at what is now owl speed, something above the speed limit and below getting killed.  I saw Justin ahead and I slowed beside him in the middle of the road and soon barn owls flew overhead in a quarter light….owl number 9.
We stashed my car in a rest area and then spotting a flock of sandhill cranes already moving south x southwest, we followed, then turned, and followed again.  Eventually, some maybe 15 miles from the start, we found the secret feeding location of the 50,000 cranes of Mound Lake.  That was the easy part…now, where was the rare crane?  If it was still even here.  One in 50,000...luck...?  It was like a lottery. We skipped some small groupings, looked at one and Justin looked disinterested, we then trespassed on a field to get a better look but that didn’t feel right so we got on a real road and headed north.  We looked at a flock of maybe 5000 and most of their heads were down and well, we wanted a better group, then we went around the corner and stop on a dust, erosion filling in road and parked, note, NO COROLLAS HERE!  We got out and scoped, I went from left to right and Justin right to left and then….”I got one!” He said excitedly.
Common Crane…code four bird, I’m the second human to see one in North America this year….cool.

Then…I got one, wait…2 cranes?  Then while I was trying to digiscope one it went behind a water tank and Justin called out the locations…there were three locations…?  We had most likely found three birds.  It was a very excited morning out in the cold wind of the Texas Panhandle, we both had the shakes maybe because we were cold or maybe just a great score….”man, Justin, you are my vote for birder of the year in Texas.”  I said and then as he reported it, I learned Justin had given much for these birds…he had reported them, which I am forever grateful otherwise I wouldn’t have known they were around and told everyone to keep out and look for them in the fields and the TX Dept of Wildlife/ game and parks got mad and pulled his Graduate school funding….assholes.  Apparently they don’t like birders……..
Oddly as I was in the car to warm up, good old Jay Lehman, big year birder extraordinaire (4th all time) himself emailed me asking about…common cranes….”Jay, I am just warming up after looking at least two..strange you ask...”  Or something like that, I wrote and Jay got the NARBA alert we sent out in the time between his writing and my reply….Jay, it appears, is also in the ‘zone.’
We drove around finding one again later after they all rotated fields and then as they began the cycle of returning to the water, where I couldn't go.  We found a waterhole of our own and tallied, one gadwall, crows by the thousands, some horned larks and my last year bird for the trip, a pair of McCown’s longspurs coming to the water.  A final year bird for Texas.
Also when we were cruising around we got another rare bird alert…zenaida dove in Florida…as I drove south to Midland Airport, suddenly Wellton, AZ, my next scheduled stop didn’t look very good, and then people started emailing me, one offered to pick me up.  I turned in my car and opened up this computer….only 12,500 miles to Miami on United….when in doubt don’t fly United, but well…what the heck, I hit purchase, and then off I ran for the gate, it left in 40 minutes…"run Olaf, run" a friend wrote me, and run I did.....

Thank you Justin

Big Year Day 50-52

Big Year Total:  450
Coded birds:  29
Cool animals: Bobcat, Harbor seal, gray whale, California sea lion, pronghorn, porcupine, sea otters,

Miles driven.  11,900
Flight Miles 31600
flight segments: 34   Airports: 21
Hours at sea: 22
Miles walked 53
Miles biked 2
states/ prov. birded:15

Western Midland County
#441  Scaled quail

Davis Mountains
#442  Townsend’s Solitaire
#443  Brewer’s Sparrow
#444  Montezuma Quail

Winkler County
#445  Cassin’s Sparrow
#446  Lark Bunting

Brownfield TX area
#447  Northern bobwhite
#448  Barn Owl
#449  Common Crane

#450  McCown’s Longspur

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

A Swede in a Strange Land

Philadelphia PA

Big Year Day 47

Big Year Total:  440
Coded birds:  28
Cool animals: Bobcat, Harbor seal, gray whale, California sea lion, pronghorn, porcupine, sea otters,

Miles driven.  11,100
Flight Miles 28200
flight segments: 30   Airports: 20
Hours at sea: 22
Miles walked 49
Miles biked 2
states/ prov. birded:15

The National Swedish History Museum has sat completed in Franklin Delano Roosevelt Park in Philadelphia since 1938, even before the park had his name.  It was designed to be opened at the 300 anniversary of Swedish settlement in North America. The building's design is based on Ericsberg Castle, a 17th-century manor house in S√∂dermanland, Sweden, which I have seen and been to. 
        The architect, John Nyd√©n, a Swedish-American from Chicago, combined Swedish and American elements by modeling the exterior arcades on those of Mount Vernon. The copper cupola is a copy of the one atop Stockholm City Hall. The Museum has 12 permanent galleries displaying a broad and interesting collection combining history and culture. Three of the Museum’s 12 galleries are devoted to the history of the New Sweden Colony established in the Delaware Valley in 1638. The museum provides a wealth of information about this often unfamiliar period in history. Other galleries, ranging in style from Art Deco (my favorite) to International, concentrate on more recent Swedish contributions.
      Currently, they are having a United Stockholm exhibit where some guy went around and photographed all the Stockholms in the world, even the one near to where I live in South Dakota, population, 105.  Okay, a guy going around and trying to photograph all the birds OR a guy going around trying to photograph all the places named Stockholm....who is more weird?   Then again, he is featured in the museum as a significant contributor to Swedish-American history and me...well.... then there is Olaf.  I'm never going to be in here.
     Truth be told, I'm not sure what I am besides an American, my grandfather Allwin could have been a Swedish citizen, but I'm too far removed and now with Mennonite, German, and Irish blood, I'm the lovable mutt, like most everyone else here.
     So did I come here just for a history lesson?
     No....a bird.  I flew from Norfolk, VA to Detroit, ran to a connection, flew to Minneapolis, hugged my wife and daughter, grabbed my stuff in baggage, repacked, switched car keys, and flew to Philly last night.  A journey of 2500 miles to go 270.  Hertz was so screwed up first they gave me two cars, then the wrong car, so it took me an hour to get that straightened out and then off I went to the Airport Waterfront Hotel.  It was is good right?
      My room only had three mouse holes in the wall.  I am thinking the fourth was from a cable line, since removed.  They did have heat.  The thermostat was stuck at 84.  All the bugs I could see were dead...more good things?  It isn't an "airport" hotel.  The name comes from the landing of planes which actually vibrated the floor enough that the dead bugs moved.  Maybe an airplane hotel?  It was sort of a really WTF sort of way.  By 6, I had enough and snuck out before I got mugged or the mice woke up.
      From the parking lot for the museum, I walked to an overlook and presto.....

       It wasn't 7am and here in the shadow of the museum and Citizen's Bank Park (home of the Phillies), I had bird number 439, a code 4, the barnacle goose. I now had one of the winter east-coast geese off the board (the other the pink-footed), although I was going to wait until fall to get them, but this goose was just too tempting.
       It was then a couple of players came by.  They saw me and slammed on the brakes and then cautiously walked up the steps of the pavilion I was standing on scoping the geese.  They always kept a post or a wall between them and me so I never got a good look at them.  This was a hunting motion, even my tomcat Tiger does this.  I wasn't sure of this place or neighborhood.  You hear stuff about Philly (and nothing much good I may add) especially when we lived a couple hours NW of here.  This is Trading Places and Rocky but....I packed up my camera.  I got prepared for a defensive position and tactically retreated.  Being a big guy now with a beard....two thugs may have thought about it twice.  When I neared my car, the two got in their Bentley, zoomed past me and honked the horn, pointing at me out the window making a gesture like a gun, our maybe they were just being friendly and were software engineers....IDK.  When they had circled the lake and came by a second time, honking more and gesturing ...I took the hint and I left.  A state trooper was parked out in front of the entrance to the park, much like a military sentry, right in the middle of the street.  Hum....definitely players.        By 0720, I was back at Hertz and plotting my retreat from Philadelphia.   
     Note to you guys thinking of chasing these geese.  They are easy, just 5 miles from the airport.  Take Broad north (exit 17) and access is from the north of the park, but be careful, not sure about the safety here.    A bird isn't worth a mugging, or worse...
    All I can say is these two barnacle geese and I were Swedes in a very strange land (Philadelphia).
Lifer beer for breakfast?  #731

stay safe, Barnacles away


PS an update.  As I periodically like to do, I spent the ride back from Philly auditing my year list.  I keep a list in triplicate.  I use Ebird and try to post checklists real time if there is cell-phone service, occasionally, I use shared checklists from pelagics and others, and I also keep a manual checklist using the January 1 ABA checklist.  My third plan of attack is to list the birds in my diary sequentially.

When I was doing my first species audit, I noticed that on my checklist, the wrentit was absent which I photographed in San Diego, when I compared my checklist to Ebird, I noticed that in the Lower Florida Canyon somehow, and I don't think Laurens Halsey misses to add a bird to a checklist very often, he omitted a painted redstart to the list, which I failed to notice when I imported that checklist--a bird I also photographed although poorly.  We were talking to Christian Haganlocher at the time and were distracted, sorry Christian.  So that is plus one bird on both counts, I had also on my sequential list elsewhere and the ABA kept the Flame-colored tanager as a provisional and I don't think there is any doubt that that is an immature non-hybird, so due to that, I am revising my list up to 440 total birds, so that all of my lists are the same here on February 16.  My January total is then 406 birds which I still think is a record.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Frostbite Birding--Tar Heel style

The North Carolina Coast, February 11-14

Big Year Day 42-46

Big Year Total:  438
Coded birds:  27
Cool animals: Bobcat, Harbor seal, gray whale, California sea lion, pronghorn, porcupine, sea otters,

Miles driven.  11,100
Flight Miles 25800
flight segments: 28   Airports: 19
Hours at sea: 22
Miles walked 49
Miles biked 2
states/ prov. birded:14

            Lena and I left her school at 1230 when I picked her up with what we now call the “Maverick's Falcon,” as my car was not quite done yet so again Maverick the Seal led the way to Minneapolis.  

I’ll get to this new name of Lena’s Volvo in a moment.  Her principle, Mr. Snaza took one look at me, and laughed.  I have become something of a bit of a celebrity in my town.  “Where to this time, Olaf.” He smirked.
            “Hatteras, North Carolina.”  I shrugged.  Apparently in winter in Milbank, South Dakota, I’m the news...the only news.
            Lena read my recent blog and said, I had the force, the birding force and amazing good luck in a tight spot so that would make me just like Hans Solo (of course Harrison Ford was a Ripon College attendee like me, although I graduated).  “That would make me Chewbacca,” Lena said and then she admitted she liked being referred to as a Wookie.  Hans and Chewie, Olaf and Lena, and the whole way there, Maverick just did his little dance.  Then I remembered, Hans gets killed in episode 7…

                 When I got to Minneapolis I got the Hatteras weather report, what else…horrible weather.  By Detroit, Brian Patteson had already cancelled Saturday’s outing for the great skua and everything else, pushing the two days of trips back a day and to be honest Sunday didn’t look much better to me.  This was a carbon copy of last year here when we endured the nastiest two days I could imagine in a coastal and southern destination.  What else to expect on a bad weather big year?  I guess we’d get what we could and start with the woodpecker.  I was like the blue demon from earlier in the week had overcame me and filled me with depression.  I was busy making plans of how to best tackle all the birds I needed to chase and now this?  I didn’t know what to do so I guess, I just would have to wait until Sunday and see what happened then.  I don’t wait well for anything.  
                The Hertz woman wasn't making any sense to me at the rental counter and all I wanted to do wanted go.  She gave me keys, Then I noticed the car, a Dodge Charger. I looked at the reciept, I had been upgraded.  I don't want this experience with one in Arizona was the worst.  If there is a worse birding car I just don't know about it.  I was too tired to walk back in and say.  "I just want my Carrolla?  Can't I have a Corolla?"  I would live to regret this laziness.
                We got in late about two in the morning to Nag's Head and then I found out they had 2 Comfort Inn's and of course I went to the wrong one, 0515 in the morning came awfully early.  I drove to the Palmetto Peartree Preserve by memory, it was maybe 35 miles from the motel.  We had it timed just correctly.  at 3/4 light the birds-red-cockaded woodpeckers come out of the tree, the hang for a few minutes chirping and climb the tree and then away they go for the day.  If I missed it, I was screwed.


                Crap, we turned on the road off the blacktop and around the first turn the road was flooded, crap and I'm in the worst car.  I put on my boots (luckily they were packed), and walked in the water, it seemed firm underneath so  I drove up to an island of gravel about 200 yards further, I could feel the real wheel drive car not going well.  I walked again, this part seemed deeper.  Crap.  Even now turning the car around was going to be an issue, where even was the road exactly?
                 Turn or go on?  Right there, a wise man would have turned around and came back again, although all this would crust over in ice I thought but what if there wasn't a next time for this bird?  Crap! again. Then the radio played the song.......Elle King started singing "EXes and Oh's"  crud.  "Lena get your boots on" I shouted, it is a message from the force, "Yoda is speaking to us."  Well, I didn't say the last part.  I double parked the car maybe leaving room to pass it, but I didn't test where the ditch was, and we took off on foot.

Here is the location of the car when we returned.   It was the fastest mile and a half in birding.  All in snake boots and Lena, bless her heart, trudged with and kept up even getting blisters.  We got to the trees in I don't know how fast but were we too late?  There was absolutely no sound, just one song from a Carolina wren.  Lena sat on the ground.  I looked impatient.  I hoped....One minute, two minutes, and then four, they came out!!!!!!!!  We'd made it.  Whew!

Then I realized that Lena's camera only had power for a couple of photos, I didn't bring mine to allow for greater speed, as less to carry.

#422  Red-cockaded woodpecker

The rarest non-extirpated woodpecker in America.  It was great and then as we casually walked to the abandoned car, we took time to start recognizing our first common east coast birds. The little low hanging fruit I had left for the year.  Lena also needed a Carolina chickadee and we bagged that one too. 

#423  Tufted Titmouse
#424  Eastern Towhee
#425  Brown Headed Nuthatch

I got back to the car and realized, I didn't have battery power either....but we had the woodpecker!  Then I managed to turn the car around using a 34 point turn and the beast mobile didn't got stuck, and I gunned the big hemi-engine through the middle of the puddle and we got out of the cursed road.  Note to self----NEVER EVER EVER NEVER RENT A DODGE CHARGER!

We drove to the Alligator River NWR, and added to the local total

#426  Tundra swan  *here is a later photo as I still had no battery power

I got #426 at both locations, the pond at Bodie Island and at the Inlet

#427  Rusty Blackbird 

The Dunkin' Donuts had a power outlet to charge batteries while we ate and drank coffee and decided out next move.  A kid with a cup of coffee saw my camera and started talking and gave me a lead for a bird Lena needed at a feeder in Manteo, it was just a few blocks away.  After I found the painted bunting (female) for Lena, we went to Oregon Inlet--Bodie Island one of my favorite places to bird.  I always see odd things here.   It was there that the weather went from okay, to "are you kidding me?"

#428  Black Duck

I walked out on the breakwater looking for a purple sandpiper, but largely the rocks had been sanded in, so I didn't locate one.  It was very very cold out there, heavy wind and I dressed in my full bad weather gear (first picture), and my poor daughter was getting cold, she had lost her hat.   But gannets were everywhere, there were razorbills easily seen out in the ocean, and luckily as I scanned the cormorants, one clearly didn't belong to the other twelve, a great cormorant, it seems there is always one here, and then first that one and then the double cresteds all flew out to sea. The pictures attached are from 2/14 at sea, but in order of year birds, they go here.

#429  Northern Gannet

#430  Razorbill

#431  Great cormorant

Then it started to snow and snow hard.  It was entertaining at first, and I took this picture of a black scoter with snow on it

but it was soon icing the roads..It had been a long cold and now snowy day and I drove on to Hatteras, we bought supplies and we just crashed at the Breakwater Inn.


With today's pelagic cancelled I had to make use of my time.

I just knew there had to be a purple sandpiper at the Oregon inlet, there just had to be one, so we drove 50 miles back there at first light.  It was cold, but sort of cool with all the snow on the a cold sort of way.

Even the Bodie Island Lighthouse looked cool in the snow and the bright morning sun.

Then with two hats, extra gloves, long underwear and maybe even wearing what looked like space suits, since we were Hans and Chewie, and I guess the force was with us, birding force, we looked the part and we kept at it. It was still cold, so don't kid yourself.....we tried the south side of the bridge for purple sandpipers again.  I checked every rock, every crevice and then on the last possible rock........there he was.

#432  Purple Sandpiper

#433  Black-legged kittiwakes

Lena noticed two odd looking and smaller sized gulls over the bridge as I was putting my camera away, cool immature kittiwakes, classic M pattern on wings.  I've seen thousands of Kittiwakes, I was cold and tired and I wasn't going to dig my camera back out for one of these, oh well

We went back to Bodie Island and the pond, and out on that board walk it was what they like to call "Butt Cold."  Now I'm a hardy soul, I've seen and experienced below -52 three times, and twice, once even on a high school date, once even on a high school date when the car froze up when I was out in -100 and beyond wind chill, but single digits with a harsh 25 mph wind in your face, it was still really cold.  Lena looked like a sand person from Star Wars, too.   

I figure, the ice is forming in the marsh grass and there being king rails here, they might be conducive to being found.  We started calling and then shortly not all that far away we got a clear answer. He was in a little higher ground in the long grass and I'm sure we could have flushed it, but I was cold and I didn't want to bother the poor thing and call it out, it was tough enough for the thing.  Lena and I smiled and that was that, king rail found #434.

#434 King Rail

we went to lunch in Nag's Head.  It turns out that a good reason to NOT eat at a restaurant is when there are fire trucks out front.

Did someone die from the food, or did the kitchen just burn up?  Whatever, we drove on.

back in the field, we tried to flush sparrows we needed but all we seemed to be able to flush was songs and savannas, nothing new

Lena liked the view from the dunes at one spot, but we got worn out and so we eventually gave up and came back and found my old pal Thor, a fellow Norske, although Thor is proudly Canadian.  We ate dinner with a nice couple from New York, and tried to psyche ourselves up for tomorrow.  It was going to be cold and long, fun would never be admitted on this pelagic by anyone. It was like we were all having colonscopies in the morning.

The Pelagic

It wasn't the coldest day in birding history, but sometimes when you think about it, a non-birder would have thought all of us needed to be examined psychologically for going out.  Brian and Kate do a wonderful job on the Stormy Petrel II, and not wanting us to get too beat up, Brian delayed departure to 0730 and then we weren't in a hurry.  When we finally got thru the pass into the open ocean it wasn't long before we realized that it was still going to be tough out there, tough birding and tough on your body.  Lena got to experience quite a few new things

1) her first sharks (a large hammerhead)
2) first 8-10 foot rollers
3) first frozen sea spray on the deck
4) first sea smoke
5) first bout of seasickness
6) first heave over the back rail

Sigh, it was a long and very cold voyage for her.  

The sea smoke was both eerie and cool at the same time, we even saw sea smoke vortexes.

The sea smoke is basically steam where 70 degree gulf stream water is going through 20 degree air.  The coastal water was about 50 degrees or colder and where these two hit yielded birds and huge monster waves.  

here is a Bonepart's gull at the junction. look at the bird but dig those waves behind it, we had driven through them to cross a shoal at one point.  I think 10 foot was conservative for a few of them.

 One of the over a thousand Boneparte's Gulls had distinctive black markings on top of the wings and it was noticeably smaller, and immature 1st year Little gull, #435  Little Gull is a coded bird too!

It became hard to take pictures out on deck as the sea spray coated everything and so I eventually just stowed the camera.  Nothing out here was worth the damage salt water could cause and with frozen ice on deck, I needed both hands to not have a real close interview with the sharks..

We eventually saw a bunch of red phalaropes at the temperature break and then finally two dovkie dove in the front port side of the boat before reemerging aft and flying away letting everyone back there get a bit of a look.  Birds #436-37.

What a difference a year makes.  In 2015 dovkie were everywhere, now, just these and no shearwaters.  I wasn't sure now, where I'd get my manx as none showed on this trip.  I hadn't planned on that.  I need to look into that bird. 

The day rocked on, like we really rocked.  Lena couldn't mover her toes, in fact I couldn't move them either but I toughed it out.  It was hard to really get much of a look at anything in the water, it was so rough.

We started to head home and I needed to warm up.  A fan wanted his picture with me... and then Brian shouted, "There he is, flying in at 8 o'clock."  Almost everyone was in warming up and dejected and I was thinking of a cool name for Thor's nemesis bird.  Something like the Brown Bastard or something and then the call.  Thor and I were first to the door, we almost broke it down and then we went aft as Kate was pointing and with the naked eye, both of us saw it, big brown "angry flying" bird and then it swung about, keeping low to the water and flew off and Brian put the breaks on the boat.  I didn't know if I should put up bins, or camera, and ended up just looking.  There the bastard was.  Somehow Lena had fought through the throng and I asked her what she saw?  "A brown bird bigger than a immature herring gull, flying away, did it have white on its wings?"  That it did.  It was the great skua Lena dear, sigh, a quick view but one guy got confirmation photos.  Some didn't even get that.  
It just wasn't me, photos were tough on this bird, but another lifer, and another coded bird.  The force was still with us, Hans and Chewie won again.  Thor had him too.

#438  Great Skua  

It took Lena a long bath to warm up her toes, she screamed when she first put them into warm water and then also agreed to wear a patch out of Adak on probably an even rougher pelagic.  This one in Hatteras was not for the casual birder but all in all, we got almost everything, except no Manx and no puffins, oh well.

Monday's makeup cruise...cancelled, another storm moving in, more snow inland.  There wasn't a makeup of the makeup day...we were done.

Thor and I drank beer in our room celebrating and then Lena came over finally warmed and then we locked ourselves out of the room.  We had to call the owner to come and let us in.  Then at 0550, the fire siren in town went off.  I guess it was time to leave, all I can say is it HAS to be warmer in May, it just has to.  Does every adventure have to be fighting the elements?

Next up, Philadelphia, but first Hans had to go to a forgotten planet in the hinterland, some call it South Dakota, and drop off Chewie,for specialized training using the force with a Jedi master others call Mr. Snaza.  There were lots of peril enroute to this secret place--snow in Virginia, cancelled planes, and a mad dash through Detroit airport where the forces of the dark side tried to ruin the master plan with the weather, but alas, Princess Leia came and took Chewie the rest of the way from Minneapolis so Hans could go and face the next mission ...Alone...
Would the dark weather Sith ruin him or would the birding force continue....?

stay tuned on this channel for the next installment.......


PS.  Maybe I really am sort of something.... I got a notification that Greg Miller had accepted me as a Facebook friend, who have ever guessed?  The force is really working....I have to think about who Greg Miller is in the Star Wars analogy.  Hum.....will have to ponder that

Golden dreams and memories

  Today brings me to the north suburbs of Chicago.  Although not for a bird even though a lifer bird had been flying tantalizingly close to ...