Thursday, March 31, 2016

Olaf at the Battle of the Bulls

Chapter 31

Sierra Vista- Thatcher AZ
Big Year Days 89-91

Big Year Total:  536
Coded Birds:  37

Miles driven.  19,550
Flight Miles 58,200
flight segments: 57   Different Airports: 28
Hours at sea: 25
Miles walked 105
showshoes 4 (isn't going to be more)
Miles biked 2
states/ prov. birded: 21

I had been watching the reports of a rose-throated becard at a place I had never heard of called Cluff Ranch WA in extreme Southeastern Arizona with interest and when another snowstorm was coming into Denver and it was 6pm and I had a full tank of gas I thought, heck, what is 835 miles?

I drove all night except for a nap in the back of my car at some ghost town exit south of Albuquerque, waking up to a dream I was in a Tony Hillerman novel.  I even looked for odd Hopi art on my car, but alas only dust.  I arrived at sometime after 8am, Others were already there including another Big Year birder, Christian, Mr. The Birding Project and they had already seen the bird.

It then became a stakeout, for me to see the bird and them to see it better.  After a few calls, it was finally refound, but this is a wily little bird, fluttering in and out so quick, you guessed it.  Poof!  It was going into a large cottonwood fully leafed out and that was making matters worse.  Finally, another fellow spotted it in the mesquites opposite and we all came running.  It was a grassquit esque look, quick but satisfying, Christian snapped a couple of photos, photos courtesy of The Birding Project, me...I was too busy watching to snap a photo.

Two wild and crazy big year birders meet again in Thatcher AZ

Noet that great facial sunburn courtesy of Colorado. It is more than a rosy glow

Rose-throated becard courtesy of Christian Hagenlocher, the Birding Project

Okay, now what?

A dust storm was coming in so I decided to ride that out in The Chirachua Mountains south of here, rain, sleet, snow, waves, and now dust storms?  What more bad weather could I have...wait...I didn't print that.  I got a Mexican chickadee and migrating Pacific Slope flycatchers, and then I decided to stick a day and wait for Ramsey Canyon to open.  The tufted flycatcher was back.

You know, you see historical markers all over the place, most of the time I just drive past but read and learn

 This marker commemorates the Mormon Battalion and "the Battle of the Bulls"

Now I understand memorials to Pearl Harbor, Bull Run, Appomattox (as that started today 151 years ago) etc. but the Battle of the Bulls?  What was that?  I read a book on the battles of the Mexican American war but...

It was 1846 and the US declared war on Mexico.  Why?  I guess why not, was the idea back then and I think there were two larger desires....G O L D and California, but well, that is another story.  A group of 550 Mormon soldiers enlist and become the first and only religiously dedicated unit in US Military History.  Fremont heads to California and General Kearney distrusts him so decides to send this column by the southern route to San Diego Mission.  They leave Council Bluffs IA and head to the Southwest.  In what would become their only encounter with the enemy (not counting engaging and capturing Fremont when he declares himself leader of California in 1947) at a ford in the San Pedro River between what is now Sierra Vista and Tombstone AZ.  Charleston Bridge is the name and the old one-lane bridge is also there as is the bed of the Old San Pedro and Southwestern Railroad.  It is a cool place.

It was a crisp November morning in the desert.  Seeing the soldiers cross the river agitated the enemy  on the west bank, it must have made them feel like red meat, and hoofing it fast, they charged down the back on the right of the picture and rushed the US column.  Catching the American army somewhat asleep, the herd mentality of the charge initially caused some damage to the Morman unit, injuring two and killing a few of the mules and disabling many of the wagons.  Things were in disarray and the army was about to break ranks when the strong leadership took over.

The commander of the US forces decided to slaughter the enemy and ordered a counter offensive and made mince meat of their charge.  Killing between 11 and 15 of them before they retreated into the mesquite.....the American captured the west bank and victory was theirs, they even hoisted a flag to signify their big victory....the problem was the Mexican forces were entirely ......Cattle.

This area saw the Fight at the OK Coral, Geronimo's campaign, Pancho Villa sacking Columbus NM, and what was to become a BBQ and yet it is commemorated by markers, service medals, and such.........Does the military need continuous glory even when there really isn't any?
This is worthy of a marker?  Should PETA put up one for the opposing forces?

When the forces came to Tucson the next week, obviously aware of the battle nearby the few admin officials retreated away, not wanting to be eaten themselves, apparently.  

What did this Riparian paradise yield for me, charging cattle?

No, It had more Lucy's warblers than I had ever seen in one place.

These are our smallest warblers and they have the highest nest density of any birds.  They also don't sit still.  I guess when they like a place, everyone wants the same place.

I also saw Plumbaceous Vireos, and violet-green swallows under the watchful eye of a resident gray hawk.

I tried to call owls in the evening, but all I called in was Rangers, and the police.  When the forth car came, I left. However, while I was being checked over for drugs and after showing the officers my owl calling device was not some way to signal the drug traffickers, we discussed the border.

You know, at the bottom of the Huachuca Mtns, the border fence running from El Paso ends

On the other side there is a five strand barb wire fence, which is essentially nothing.

all the way to the Colorado River, hum!!!  where would you cross?  The fence itself is not complete, it has breaks for wildlife as they migrate, so I wonder, do other things like people migrate at these openings too?  I got into a little argument with some Californians up on Montezuma pass when I asked, how big should the fence be? ten feet, 20, 30?   

I left the officers to their own waste of time and money, I was going to say it was the battle of the bull sh&^t when they were checking me over but I didn't now did I?

It was a great day though 10 new species of birds here and elsewhere, I think I'm now done with Carr Canyon road!!!!  I was going to say I am married to two things, my wife and Carr Canyon road as both take commitment that upon starting, you can't turn back, they are both windy, uphill and rough in spots, and well, there is always the unexpected, a rock or a tree down in the road, but when you are on top, it is bliss.  I don't think I want to say that.  I am not married to a road.

What kept me going was the thought that if Neil Hayward could make it up this road in a Corolla, I could in a SUV.  It had been graded, and some of the wicked flood diversion humps had been leveled but at the cliff where it is soft and has big rocks in it, there were bigger rocks and a tree in the road.  Luckily, I didn't meet anyone coming up or down.

On the 31st, after calling in my western screech owl in Carr canyon, Ramsey Canyon opened to a near fight.  People were waiting in line for one of the potential 23 parking spots, when someone was mistaken for a birder who was passing the line, angry words were spoken and it got real tense.  More battles of the BS.  I stayed out of it.  I got in and a space, but others after 8, there was no chance what-so-ever.  The problem ended up being the only small group that saw the Tufted flycatcher didn't tell anyone, I was maybe 100 feet away, and so word got around much later and by then the bird was a no show for the rest of the day, the Flame colored tanager put on a show but alas... that was an old been there done that bird.  It was even starting to sow and the weather looked worse coming in over the mountains, my wife needed me to call and so I left, I'll be back and the tufted will hopefully settle into a routine.

Here is my list of what I added...

Somewhere on I-10 Western New Mexico

519.  Swainson's Hawk

Cluff Ranch WMA Pond #3
520.  Bell's Vireo
521  Yellow Warbler
522.  Rose-throated becard

Chirichua National Monument
523.  Pacific Slope flycatcher
524.  Mexican Chickadee

Carr Canyon Reef Campsite
525.  Buff-breasted flycatcher
526.  Grace's warbler
527.  Olive Warbler
528.  Hermit warbler

Ash Canyon Bed and Breakfast
529.  Lucifer's Hummingbird
530.  Scott's Oriole

San Pedro Riparian WA
531.  Lucy's Warbler
532.  violet-green swallow
533.  Plumbaceus Vireo

Montezuma Pass- Coronado National Memorial
534.  White-throated swift

Carr canyon Picnic Area-lower
535.  Western Screech owl

Ramsey Canyon
536.  Dusky-capped flycatcher

Some of the Birds

 Flame Colored tanager

Dusky-capped flycatcher

Buff-breasted flycatcher

Olive Warbler

Yellow Warbler

Lucifer's Hummingbird

Scott's Oriole

White-throated swift

Zone-tailed hawk
One quarter of this is over, 536 birds!!!  I think that is a good start, shrug.  It will be good to take a vacation for a bit before the big push starts.
Thank you all for your support and help.

Just like that epic Battle of the Bulls, I keep fighting this battle, just keep looking down so you don't step in any, well what the bull makes....I am still trying to answer the reason why?  Maybe in 1846, they were also asking why?


Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Colorado Snow Loop

Big Year Days 85-88

United Airlines is not my friend, it never was.  They had delayed my wife’s arrival by two hours, as we were coming to Colorado from different airports on different planes.  I waited patiently…chatting to myself, when in doubt don’t fly United. 

This trip was harsh, exhausting, gut wrenching, and soul searching.  Silja and Lena came with too.  It was snowing before I came, it was snowing during my stay and the forecast was for more snow upon my departure, I headed out fast....El Nino, thanks ole' the way, where are those west coast vagrants?

I did this trip last year for practice...we got all the birds so quickly we added birds and then done in 72 hours I flew home early...that was then this is now...what should I expect on a bad weather big year?  but Bad weather....

I had a list of 16 birds I could get, we hit the ground running  We headed west on I-70 into the teeth of a traffic jam.  It was stop and then just stopped.  It took us 3.5 hours to go an hour.  Loveland Pass was closed, any ptarmigan try was out…dang and worse, it was snowing and the police were checking for chains, and enforcing laws 15/16 of the vehicle code.  Luckily I had rented a Jeep at the advice of my wife, the lovely Silja.  Since no hazardous cargoes could go around on the pass, they had to stop traffic at the tunnel to let them through.

Tiring of the traffic jam and taking a break before any added accent to Vail Pass, we got off at Silverthorne and I went up Wildernest Rd to a neighborhood to lurk feeders.  It was barely passable to drive around in the heavy snow but rosy-finches of all three stripes were everywhere, they were loaded in the few feeders and trees of humdreds were spotted.  There was a few black ones but mostly Gray crowned and brown capped ones maybe a thousand or two in all...maybe more.  They were in trees coming to feeders and a lone gray-crowned by the car in the snow

 brown-capped rosy-finch

Here is a feeder,
But with the snow and bad lighting, hard to get photos.

Waunita Hot Springs Road, Gunnison Cty CO

We awoke at a relatively manageable 0515, and pulled out of Gunnison at 6am, and arrived the to the lek area about 20 minutes later.  On advice of Doug Kibbe, we parked about a quarter of a mile north of the viewing spot ignoring the signs which informed us that what I was doing wasn’t legal.  I could rag on the whole management of this bird for the public but I’m not sure anyone cares and I have.  Parking at viewing spot almost cost me a bird last year.  They mark viewable bird sightings on a sign that shows 1500 bird signings ten years ago and just 55 in 2015.  However, they don’t start until April 1st, and therefore didn’t include 8 from me last year.  Also if the lek moved north, it says nothing about dwindling bird numbers.

We turned off the lights as the light snow slows outside and waited, allowing our devices to charge up.  When I can see, I turn down the windows and we listened.  It takes not more than a minute to hear them, then I see one moving across the prairie, wait….It has a long bushy tail…a red fox, and this marks possibly the first time a red fox has been mistaken for a Gunnison sage-grouse.  I feel stupid.  No grouse here so I back up for a quarter mile.  We scour and then scour again, it is now maybe half light.  We are elevated and have a good view and then, I see some birds flush up, I can’t tell what they are and then they turn towards us, they get bigger...sage grouse, 26 in a flock and they go across the road north of us.  That is why we didn’t see them the night before.  They were on the sage on the hill way too far off to see.    Still hearing the lek, I scour the open areas and then I spy two males dancing, Gunnison sage grouse!  I set up my digiscope and snapped a few pictures.

Overcast, snow in the air, low light, it wasn’t a good, but half as close as my 2015 sightings.  Being 500 yards away, just driving off and going isn’t going to spook these birds and since I am not supposed to be here anyway we drive on. 

We drive on the road to the west and spot mule deer everywhere, my daughter is definitely part of this family in that she also likes deer.  Then we come across a CO Natural resources truck at a walk in spot which ominous closed signs.  I assume he has a much better lek to view, and I feel my anger rise a little, and so it is time to bolt west for more birds.

We get my daughter a triple on the open stretches of the Gunnison River when we spot a small flotilla of Barrow’s and Common goldeneye plus a bonus common merganser, and eventually we get to Black Canyon of the Gunnison as it starts to snow harder.  By the top and as we pass the gate, there is snow on the roads and when I pull into the visitor center I notice something bad, the road on the south rim is closed, a three foot snow drift blocks the road past the visitor center along with a sign.  My no fail, Clark’s nutcracker spot, inaccessible.  The area seems almost devoid of birds, except Townsend’s solitaires singing which I hadn’t photographed until now and a couple of scrub jays.

We have a Kodak moment with a German tourist who braved the walk to the overlook below snapping our picture, like us he said he wanted the look as he came all this way.  There was no hope of Dusky grouse, nutcrackers….nothing.

I take a photo of a Townsend's solitaire since I haven't this year

There is not grouse up there, we can't get to the Clark's nutcracker spot and all there is is snow.

The weather warmed to 45 and the snow magically was gone by the time we drove the few miles to Montrose, it was odd.  Suddenly, I had the urge to stay up on Grand Mesa.  I had seen Boreal Owl reported up there already but I didn’t know the area at all, thinking it was just like Colorado National Monument we booked a night at the Grand Mesa Lodge, as I thought, then I wouldn’t have to drive too far to call owls, and we had to stay somewhere.  Luckily, they had an opening…..

Grand Junction CO

At Colorado National Monument, my 6th visit, I think, we had a bit of luck, finally.  We stopped at Hanging Rock and waked around and I heard Pinyon Jays…oh, finding these rascals, isn’t so easy.  You can drive and drive and not ever find them  They travel in a large flock, sort of the blue hoard, and are consistent in their travels, until they aren't.  I have only seen them 4 times, once where they shouldn’t have been.  The flock came over the mesa, literally almost hit the mesa wall on the other side and then descended straight down and landed in a bush over the park road.   They allowed for a couple of pretty good pics.  I have not photographed this bird very well, so this was a treat.

Pinyon Jays.

Then on top near the visitor center, after more memories of the overlook, I got another year bird out of the junipers for a photo, juniper titmouses, or is it mice?  IDK.
Juniper Titmouse.

We looked over the edge for white-throated swift for a while but they never showed, I assume, too early for them since spring hadn’t arrived yet.

Cameo Wildhorse area is my lock it down and throw away the key spot for Chukar.  Doug warned me not to be so self confident, but I’ve been sending people here since I found it.  No one complained of dips.  We drove in on the bad road, past another makeshift shooting range out in public land, again making me wonder why?  I know of only one way to get this bird, besides dumb luck and I’m not sure if I would have time for that.  You walk into a good chukar area, and call.  One responds, and then you triangulate and locate.  We walked in about half a mile, I stopped, “this looks far enough.”  I said as we had encountered dogs right away but I had just passed some squirrels foraging in the very dry desert habitat that this is.  I called.  One immediately answered.  I got a bearing and my wife and I crossed the dry stream bed, as my daughter took up a skua-like position to snap a photo if one flew and then…it flushed.  I watched it land on the hillside, they always do and then walk up the hill.  I snapped a good picture.  We walked back to the car with a fist bump. 

  Grand Mesa CO

Serendipity is an odd thing.  Why did I have this urge to stay up on Grand Mesa?  Why? This or that?  Answers few have.  We left Cameo, drove three miles and turned up 65 to the Lodge, just as a snowstorm hit the top.  As I climbed into fog and snow, I was starting to get nervous, I didn’t like this.  We turned past Powderhorn Ski Area and it got more ominous, then snow on road and then in nearly whiteout conditions I passed an avalanche area that said no stopping.  I understood this warning unlike those at the sage grouse area and clenched the wheel.  I had overwhelming urges to turn back, at one spot where the road was clear before I resumed the accent, I almost wanted to cry.  Ever the stubborn Swede, I just kept going.  I wasn’t going to die today, was I?
Then we were there.  I got out of the Jeep, shaking and could barely walk.  Crap, I hate this.  We talked to the very positive owner of the lodge.  Then I asked about birds…”yes we have this really odd bird everyone apparently wants to see.  Had some woman come from England to see it.  They nest in that tree, he pointed.  They make such a racket, too.  Had no clue that was from a bird until three years ago, warned guests it was from some wild animal, but it was probably safe.  Then someone said the noise was from Boreal owls….”  I gasped quietly, the shakes stopped.  “They are quiet right now but around May 1st….”  Serendipity.

Our cabin was basically a snow cave with a cabin in it.  

The snow promptly stopped but as your can see there has been no shortage here.  We ate, the women passed out and at 8pm, I went out to call owls, hopeful but not overly so.  I walked to the top of the road and called.  Immediately before I was done with the second poop-poop-poop call, I had an answer.  I repeated and so did the response, but it wasn’t a poop-it was harsh barking.  If I hadn’t hung out with Rickey Olson in Pierre and worked so hard on saw-whets, I wouldn’t have realized the vocal range these little owls have.  My ibird and Sibley’s only had one call but I knew what I heard, but the xeno-cantho website had many many barks and squeals of the European version of this bird. 

 Oddly, I played some saw-whet calls and got nothing, then the poop-poop and the barking from up in trees on the cliff resumed about two notes int the poop.  After a few rounds I ran to get the ladies but alas when I returned…nothing.  The bird had either figured out I was not an owl or it had flown off to feed.  None-the less, I had a Boreal Owl!!!!!!!  Good bird!! 

I returned at 5 am as this was so cool I had to try again. I got out and turned on my speaker and hit the phone app.  My phone has a weird tick, every once in a while Lady Gaga and Bad Romance starts playing at top speaker volume.  This happened again and with my gloves and cold hands, it was like 5 degrees out, I couldn’t turn it off as Lady Gaga started bouncing in the valley in the predawn darkness...and I don't think the owl was dancing….thankfully, my phone discharged power and was off.  I had my owl, I went back for a warm bed with a woman sleeping in it, and eventually coffee.  All I can say is Serendipity. 

It was the beginnings of a technically challenged day.

We walked around the property, saw another three-toed woodpecker and heard it repeatedly, then finally after calling in Steller's jays for Lena's year, Cassin's finches perched for a great photo-op, a year bird.  Eventually tiring of the local birds and needing a Clark's Nutcracker, we packed up and drove up to pass and in a parking area found a lone Clark' I would show you my photos of these birds and those later in the day, but I forgot to replace the chip in my camera...I took some great photos....they even looked good on the camera, but with no chip, I got nothing.  My daughter won't share until she publishes her blog.  Oh well.

I took a Cassin's Finch photo on the next day
It was probably better.

My wife now understands what the Green cross signifies in Colorado, in France, it is a pharmacy, here...well....

Don't worry, it was Easter and they were closed, they share space with a liquor store, and a logistics company.

Loveland Pass

Back last year when I rolled though here, I had great luck at Loveland pass, elevation 11,990 in getting white-tailed ptarmigan, it was a once in a lifetime moment, the bird flew and landed at my feet, I had to step back to take a photo with my iphone.........this year?  There were skiers, tons of skiers on both sides of the pass this year.  Despite, me hearing the birding song on the way up the pass, nothing iphone didn't have a call for the birds, then it failed all together and just shut down.  It was windy, and I couldn't see any birds....It was a bust.  Why the birding song?

We searched for Williamson's sapsuckers without luck and finally, we just found a room.  March 28th was going to be a long..LONG day.

Guanella Pass

Swear words describe my thigh burn, my sunburn on my face, and burning lungs.  I sent my wife and daughter home (good thinking!) and Doug Kibbe, Denver Master Birder took me up on snowshoes to the closed pass to get the ptarmigan, THE spot for this bird...except it wasn't.  Last times up here over 30 and 50 ptarmigan....this time......the big 0...I don't know how far we hiked.  We hiked up and then through snow.  Then down through snow.  The highlight was sitting on a rock taking my lone picture.  I had oxygen choices and well, fat and out of shape I am.  Doug is much older than me and he made me look bad, even taking my pack around on the pass.  We criss-crossed and saw just one, day old track...I imagined something...then I miss called a herd of Elk...Bighorn...It was time to get off that God forsaken place.  I don't want to say any more....It was tiring..,I'm sick of 4 to six foot deep snow....

Now I have to hail Mary a ptarmigan....I will have to think about this bird, and the Dusky grouse, and sapsucker, my other big misses.  Doug took photos of me wore out in parking lot, ass-deep in snow, dragging bum up the hill, but I am not ready to see them or post them...too soon, the memory is still too painful.

I got 12/16, the Boreal owl was key but those d$%m grouse

Big Year Total:  518
Coded Birds:  36

Miles driven.  17,950
Flight Miles 58,200
flight segments: 57   Different Airports: 28
Hours at sea: 25
Miles walked 98
showshoes 4 (isn't going to be more)
Miles biked 2
states/ prov. birded:20

507.  Brown-capped rosy-finch
508.  Black rosy-finch
509.  Gray-crowned rosy finch
510.  American three-toed woodpecker
511.  Gunnison Sage-grouse
512.  Sage Thrasher
513.  Pinyon Jay
514.  Juniper titmouse
515.  Chuckar
516.  Boreal owl
517.  Cassin's Finch
518.  Clark's Nutcracker

Rare birds in Arizona, I rented a second car and Doug graciously dropped me off at the Avis spot and away I go...Arizona with out snow.  I'll be least I got the western side birds done...dang birds.


Heck Lena's total is now 341!!!!!!!!!!  Wow!

Here is her blog


Friday, March 25, 2016

48 Hours with Olaf

Big Year Days 83-84

Big Year rule #3

As hard as it may seem..please keep off the walleye

Okay I think tongue and cheek....reason below.

So just so some of you understand what a couple of days are like doing a big year, I thought I'd try to document two days with me.  Reading a Facebook page, many of you don't like the Movie the Big Year.  I have found it can inspire you when you are doing this, if you have nothing else to push you on, but it has flaws. What it does do to some extent is to show the hardships we all experience.  I sleep in cars, I eat on the run or skip meals, I drive long and hard. well...on the good side...I meet some interesting and new people.  Big Year Birding and birding in general is the only competitive activity that you help your competitors, well in general.  So you can get a feel for what I'm up to, here is here is a look at 48 hours with Olaf, the last 48 hours.

3/23/2016  3am Florida City
...I awake and quickly pack for my trip to the airport in Miami, skipping shower, breakfast everything, I just pack and go.  The woman working the Ramada desk, is still on... doing a 24 hour shift, she is asleep and a homeless guy has snuck into the lobby.  I take off and luckily find no traffic, even where they closed a highway.  I arrive at the rental car center at 0430.  Assuming there will be extra security from the TV warnings and the Brussels incident, I am prepared for the worst and lines, I assume wrong.  By 450, through security and waiting for Delta Sky Club to open at 5am.  I have lots of extra time.  I eat at the Sky Club, the reason I have a AMEX card, cheaper meals and coffee and free internet.  I start my blog of Florida trip.

0715 Flight to Atlanta boards, I am surprised by being upgraded to first class, but alas, no breakfast on this flight and seat 1A isn't so wonderful.  You have no leg room despite the theory of first class in seats 1 on almost all planes, especially 757s.

0845, land in Atlanta, A1, I transfer to B4, stop by this Delta Sky Club to post blog which takes too long, and just make 0910 boarding to Minneapolis in the dreaded MD80.  MD80s are the worst plane flying for room, seating, everything.  I fight with attendant to stuff my carry-on in Economy extra, which is supposed to have "guaranteed" space but the attendants have taken much of it and I almost break the door.  I took an economy extra seat instead of an aisle farther back as these planes take forever to unload.   Note to self-never take a middle seat on MD80 no matter what.

I make reservations for a rental car in Minneapolis in the air as the wi-fi generally works on this 2 hour flight.  I need one since I don't have a car there while in air and get lead on Northern saw-whet owl from Tony Lau on Facebook messenger.  Hertz, Alamo, Avis don't report having any cars so I'm forced to use Thrifty--not a favorite.  I land at 1200 and go to Thrifty and notice that a snow storm has hit Minneapolis.  The lady at Thrifty talks me into a bigger car, since my "manager's choice" is a micro car.  Then...I get the same car, I have to argue about the rate.

Eventually, I find my car and call Butch, the man with the owl in his yard.  He lives in Deerwood MN, 125 miles north of the airport.  I shrug, I've driven in worse.  Luckily, the snow clears up north of Minneapolis.  They get none up north and 7 inches at the airport.  I get three hamburgers and a coffee at McDonalds in Elk River MN, the birders lunch and keep driving north.

At Garrison MN, I stop to look at the ice on Mille Lacs lake.

Looks like a couple of weeks of ice yet.  Deciding not to climb on it, I snapped a selfie of me with the walleye and head to Deerwood, as my owl awaits me.

Butch Ukura lives in a nice house in a grove of trees between Deerwood and Crosby MN.  I know the area well, having both worked at Crosby Hospital 2 miles away, and Aitkin Hospital 15 miles away and also based the early parts of my novel Anders Zorn: Unveiled in Crosby.

The forlorned ER doctor, Alan Zorn Evardson is the probable illegitimate great-grandson of the famous Swedish painter Anders Zorn (cover art Rodloga) and one of his models who is banished to America.  A dying Crosby ER patient offers his physician (Evardson) a way to improve his self-esteem and sets him on a life of adventure.  But enough about my writings....

I arrived as the homeowners were sitting in their garage and Butch, the ultimate birding host, took me on tour.  Unfortunately, the day before, the poor owl was being mobbed by chickadees in his front yard but was seen by 15 birders.  Today, it left but was calling during the daylight along with a second owl.  I walked around, looked in holes and then called the owl.  It was 4pm and I got two close responses, one across the road, where I couldn't trespass and one in a tree at the neighbors but that bird only responded once unlike its buddy 100 yards away.  I couldn't see it and triangulate and when Butch came out to check on me, the other owl called in the neighbors and I decided to leave the bird alone, I had it, it was witnessed, so we chatted and talked about all the local birders we knew in common.  I told a Kim Reisen story, a guide who is based nearby, and I last ran into in Nome and I left at sometime after 1700.  Ticked Bird #505.

I finally nabbed the little bugger, NSWO 4, Olaf 1, but in this game just scoring gets the X on your O, and my 12th owl was in the checklist.  Thanks Butch!!

South of Brainerd, I had another photo op....who is that man trying to get my attention?

.this Paul Bunyan statue was only made in 2005, just can't have enough Paul Bunyan statues...Brainerd has 2 large ones.  This is the small one.

245 miles later, I arrived home at 945 pm, 420 driving miles plus and just under 1700 miles in the air for the day.

I watched the current episode of  Shameless with my wife and petted my dog and drank a single Ardbeg Scotch and was shortly was a long day.


It was a restless night, especially since my son Allwin in Germany texted that his keys had arrived.  He forgot his apartment keys before he left on Monday and also apparently forgot about the 7 hour time was 430 am and unfortunately 8am came far too quickly afterwards.  Everyone overslept including my daughter, she grabbed a trail bar and out she went.

Barry Parkin had reported for the last couple days to me in Aberdeen that Baird's Sandpipers were in and hanging at the James River wetlands area off Hwy 12 east of Aberdeen.  Baird's is typically both the first and the last bird through, the alpha and the omega.  They can be easy to miss as is the White-rumped which is typically next to last each spring and also have the long wing projection but a white behind.  The bird is named after Spencer Fullerton Baird, who among other things, hiked 2100 miles on foot in 1842 around America, and collected stamps.

I decided to go and get this bird, as Chris Feeney says, "More Birds!"  I know I can rest next year.  I left Milbank at 9am for the 125 mile trip to Aberdeen.

Along the way I spotted some migratory geese east of Bristol SD, they always seem to hang there.  Most of the snow geese have come through and went on and the greater white-fronted are coming through now.  It is nice seeing both still.  They are keen looking birds.

25 miles down the road, I changed to the eastbound lanes at the James River.  The overlook from the expressway wasn't a good place to bird but there and I counted just 21 Baird's tiptoeing on the ice, the pond refroze overnight in the 19 degree evening, their long primaries quite obvious and I snapped a picture.  Not good but a picture

#506  Baird's Sandpiper

you can see the projection of the long wings behind the tail better on this photo

Barry wanted me to drive in to Aberdeen to look for a Harris's Sparrow with him, so after another quality birder lunch, this one at KCF, we looked at two spots in the city.  There were lots of juncoes, a Cooper's Hawk, FOY for Barry and a fallout of robins but no sparrows of any stripe.  I drove back and the Baird's were gone when I passed.  Olaf had came, seen and counted, so now they could move north to the next stopover on the way to the Arctic.

I drove back to Milbank, waiting 20 minutes for a train at the new crossing before my house and I forgot to get bird seed for my feeders.  After a return trip I loaded up my feeders

the view at the ranch looking at my feeder trees, the person watching the feeders was one of my cats, Nightmare, she said to me I needed more feed but maybe she was thinking something different than was 5pm.

I may live out in the prairie but I may have an advantage over east/west coast birders, I have a good flyway right here, and people will struggle to get birds out here that are my backyard birds....Baird's fly right by me, they migrate right through my house in fall.  I will only need to bird the Northeast to get Bicknell's not counting chasing of course.  I can fly west really easy, too.  IDK, we'll see.  I am beginning to miss South Dakota

I petted the dog at 1715 before she had to go to the kennel after finding out delayed flight for wife and daughter from Sioux Falls to Denver to join me a little.  United strikes again, I am flying out of Minneapolis...I leave at 1am to drive back in.

At 8pm, I take a bastu (sauna) in my Swedish room with my wife

The room is being taken over by emergency food and water supplies since the treadmill broke. It is hard to store 9 mos of supplies.  I built the electric sauna from a kit in 2004 and is one of my prized possessions.  Saunas refresh and empower.   I drink a single Erlanger beer.

I work on a novel, Sjofn, the Goddess of Love, and go to sleep for two hours before the 4 hour drive to the airport.

So that is the exciting life I (we) lead as Big Year birders. I get champagne only on my 50th birthday and if I hit a really big number, no fancy meals, luxury hotels, and door to door chauffeurs...this is long, tiring, frustrating, and well why am I doing it?  Why really do anything?  I guess because I can. These were 2 bonus days and I was only here on these days because I had finished early in Miami and didn't have any birds to really get down there.  My scheduled Florida trip is still upcoming next month.  Two days to see wife, house, 2 bonus birds, 850 miles, two adult drinks, laundry, and my bed for a night. I did need to repack switching from Miami to snow in any event.

No time to reflect and relax as Chris Feeney's words haunt me..."More Birds!"


Big Year Total:  506
Coded Birds:  36

Miles driven.  17,150
Flight Miles 57,300
flight segments: 56   Different Airports: 27
Hours at sea: 25
Miles walked 88
Miles biked 2
states/ prov. birded:19

That is the sexy life of a Big Year birder...

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 ...