Friday, April 29, 2016

Groundhog's Day

Chapter 38
Falmouth, Maine

Bill Murray stated in the Groundhog's Day after being asked about seeing him tomorrow, "What if there isn't a tomorrow?  There wasn't one today."   The definition of stupidity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.  Here Olaf, me, is chasing bird after bird, lately with minimal success.....this time to Maine and again I'm expecting different results from Sacramento and Key West.  I, therefore, am the definition of stupid.  I seemed trapped in an endless loop of failure...I needed an escape out.

With that in mind, I needed help from a mythical creature...was my hope the Groundhog, that almost mythical creation?

Big Year Total:  613
Coded Birds:  47

Miles driven.  24990
Flight Miles 72,400
flight segments: 77   Different Airports: 34
Hours at sea: 30
Miles walked 164
showshoes 4 (isn't going to be any more)
Miles biked 2
states/ prov. birded: 24
other animals seen:  gray whale, dolphin, bobcat, ring-tailed cat, elk, bighorn, jackalope, feral pig, California sea lion, harbor seal, bedbugs, iguana, woodchuck, red fox

I flew to Portland, Maine, the first time I have been to Maine since 1979, when I stumbled out of a plane in Bangor as a 13 year old at 2am, did a circle on the tarmac and reboarded.  It wasn't much of a stop, but I counted it, I did have my foot on the ground.

I was also reminded of my last Blog...Clean up on Aisle 1, I was still on Highway 1, about 300 yards off of it, AND the place was loaded with groundhogs, in fact they were all over.  Maybe that was a good sign...?

But when Bill Murray tried to kill Phil, it didn't help his plight...I showed up at a nice place, Gilsland Farm Audubon Center, on a nice day and looked around, and found...2 snowy playing duck duck goose, in that game I was always the goose, and a few luck on the little egret seen here the past few days.  Then I saw a report of it seen on a nearby island.  Not to be deterred, I got over there, the home of a School for the Blind, but all I saw were lots of Common eiders.

I hadn't photographed any in the big year yet.  I looked all evening until I just about passed out from exhaustion, so ended the day of April 28, 2016.

I awoke and repeated my search...nothing, then on the island for the 3rd time walking the 3rd loop, I noticed a sign

According to the sign, the area has Fairies, tomte we call similar creatures in Sweden..........oh, now I get it, the groundhogs are just coincidental, this is tomte country.  I didn't realize they had moved into Maine.  I know how to take care of troublesome tomte, every Swede does.  I saw some houses and did what I had to do.  I wasn't too proud.

With confidence, I drove back over to Gilsland Farm, followed my instincts and then there, tucked into the bay to the south was my bird..........

#612.  Little Egret

Yellow free bill, two plumes on the head, the real deal.  I then went to Two Lights State Park and spotted some birds including a new one too.

#613.  Thick billed murre, a flyby but something I needed, i'll get more to photo in Alaska, problem was, I lost my second lens cap on my spotting scope on that point.  By the way, there are no Lighthouses, at Two Lights SP.

I also saw a Merlin at the coast

Breeding plumage Willet, they are so odd looking on the east coast

The best lighthouse around is Portland Head Lighthouse which I saw later after i gave up birding

I had time to sightsee, thanks to my truce with the tomte.  He was a stubborn one that one, but I convinced him to let me see the bird, if I left.  It is lucky I'm a Swede and knew what to do or I still would be looking for that bird.  You know, I've always wanted to be the Mythical person inspector in Iceland, maybe there is a future for me doing that in America?

I went back to Minneapolis. I left 28 hours after arriving, where I plan on doing some migrant searching before I head west to San Diego, to finish my both coasts twice in the same week plan....I did say I was stupid right?

Thankfully, on this chase, it wasn't groundhog's day, it was just Maine. I like Maine, I shall return...

Be smart


Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Clean up in Aisle 1

Big Year Day 117

I was in the old SuperValu in Grantsburg, WI where my pike fishing partner used to work.  Suddenly I heard a phrase overhead, "Clean up in aisle one, clean up in aisle one!"  I ignored it, and then this old woman appeared, all bug eyed and she wore one of those hair nets you only see on high school cafeteria cooks and servers from like decades ago.  She pointed to me.  "I said boy, Clean up on Aisle 1!"
      "I don't work here." I said.  I never worked at that grocery store.
      "Don't make me get my broom, you'll be sorry"  She said.
       Okay, I'll clean up aisle one.  I looked but there wasn't an aisle 1, the place started with 2.  She was following me and then I heard an alarm, it was my alarm.  This was a dream.  I needed to wake up.
       I sensed a bright light shining on me.  I opened an eye.  It was a street light and it was dark.  I could hear  a breeze but where was I?  I came to and looked out the window.  I tried to focus on a boat trailer, a guy was carrying something towards a truck.  He put it in back and drove off.  I scratched my head.  "Where was I?"  I got outside and stumbled to the front of my Dodge SUV I was driving.  I looked at the plate.  Texas!...?  How did I get back to Texas?

Big Year Total:  611
Coded Birds:  46

Miles driven.  24990
Flight Miles 69,400
flight segments: 73   Different Airports: 32
Hours at sea: 30
Miles walked 150
showshoes 4 (isn't going to be any more)
Miles biked 2
states/ prov. birded: 23
other animals seen:  gray whale, dolphin, bobcat, ring-tailed cat, elk, bighorn, jackalope, feral pig, California sea lion, harbor seal, bedbugs, iguana

No I wasn't part of my fictional novel of the bad big year, and I wasn't really in Texas.  I looked at the sign on the boat ramp.  Monroe County...."Crap I'm in Marathon, Florida."  I shouted as it all came back to me and jumped into the car. It was 0605.  
    I had landed in Miami at midnight and then I stopped at every lighted area I could to hear nighthawks, finally at 0300 in the morning or thereabouts, in a restricted parking lot for the support area of Marathon;s airport, I heard the stuccado of the Antillean nighthawk.  All I got in Key Largo and thereabouts were common nighthawks.  
    What I don't get in nighthawks is how the Lesser sounds like nothing else in the whole family, Commons and Antilleans sound sort of the same, one a continuous buzz while the Antillean cousin, is stuccado for lack of a better description.  Despite 6 years of piano lessons, I have no musical skill at all.  Don't ask me for descriptions, little birding song remembering tools make no sense to me, they never did.  I'm a photographic memory guy and have an ear for nothing--hands like salami, and ears like potato sausage would describe me.   But I had this bird and then after getting thrown out of what turned out to be a taxi cab only parking or sleeping area, I found this boat ramp and crashed.  Nothing like sleeping in a car to make for a good birding trip.  
      I got some coffee and went back to the airport using the usual parking area and heard two more ANNIs the abbreviation for my quarry before it got light enough for me to move on.  Finally I saw one way out and it was up there but wasn't sure if it was singing or there was another one singing I couldn't see. I had the bird so I guess it didn't matter.  
     I found out about the roseate tern hang out at the Monroe County Government Center by accident, I hit the wrong button on ebird and got them to come up instead of the nighthawks in Marathon.  30 terns at 0715, yesterday interested me.  It was three miles away.  Siri took me in loops before I realized the map on my iphone was for the government center and Siri was directing me to Government Plaza on Monroe Ave in Miami or something like that.  I figured this out after three u-turns on Hwy 1.
    Three miles finally logged and then I pulled in and parked.  I looked up.  Roseates in the air.  I counted 26 of them.  It was bad and low light but I could even see the pinkish hue. I didn't know if they nested here or what, but they were here.  It wasn't breakfast yet and I had cleaned up my two missing Florida Key birds I missed last week.  I guess I was cleaning up on Aisle 1, or Highway 1.  Fort Zachary Taylor opened in an hour and I was 48 miles away.  I needed to go.
#610  Antillean nighthawk

#611 Roseate tern

Sorry, my pictures are so bad, but they do look pink to me.
      I don't know what was going on in Key West.  It was a bad driving special.  People stopped short, pedestrians were standing in the road, cars turned late, and everyone was swerving for female joggers in tight things loping on the sidewalk, especially me.  I need to go home.
      Well, the success ended at the Fort.  The Cuban vireo, gone, poof.  There were some good birders there including Chris Feeney, who blew in from California a day ahead of me, having nabbed the Marsh sandpiper, unlike me.  I'm sorry to report, the most interesting bird was this common ground dove chick.

There was a raptor fly-over, which the ID of which perplexed me, as I was tired.  I was trying to find a new warbler which didn't happen.  I didn't want to think about this hawk.

Okay, now I'm interested, what is that hawk?  Here is second picture.  

It has to be a red-tail, no bands on tail for anything else, and it was pretty light on top, I live in this world of Kreider red-tails and find they look weirder and weirder....although some short-tailed hawks have pretty faint bands on their tails here is a picture from I'm rethinking my opinion.

Boy....even what would seem easy doesn't seem easy any more.  I need a  break.  I know what it is not.  So I don't what it is, I guess. UFO.   Maybe I'd say short-tailed if put a gun to my head.  My lifer short-tailed came from sitting in a pool in downtown Key West one Feb as one flew over us.  We call this fun....!.....?  I'm sure you will think I'm an idiot but I'm just being honest.

I could ID this sighting of the Great white Heron, a variant of the Great blue

Despite great birders, no vireo, oh well......

It sure seemed that there was a disproportional ratio of more women then men at the beach, and as I caught myself staring, I decided at a little after twelve to pack it in and head for the airport.  I bid "Good luck! to those who stayed behind.  They'll going to need it.  The bikinis are in a full distraction mode and seeing the vireo is tough enough.

It was a bit satisfying though, my best year was 2013 when in the ABA along with what i was doing by my au naturel big year, I saw 610 species of birds, I have now bested that by one, and it didn't take 4 months.  The sky is NOT the limit but despite my somber tone lately I'm on track.  I don;t like missing short puts, good pike hits, or free throws either.


Monday, April 25, 2016

My stint in California

Northern California
Big Year Days 115-116

Let me just say....I just am a ping pong ball, getting slapped around at both ends of the table.  But that may not be just me...I don't know.  There is no I in Olaf, but there is a whole lot of o, as in Oh no, oh my, and the big one, Oh my God.....

Big Year Total:  609
Coded Birds:  46

Miles driven.  24850
Flight Miles 66,900
flight segments: 71   Different Airports: 32
Hours at sea: 30
Miles walked 149
showshoes 4 (isn't going to be any more)
Miles biked 2
states/ prov. birded: 23
other animals seen:  gray whale, dolphin, bobcat, ringtailed cat, elk, bighorn, jackalope, feral pig, California sea lion, harbor seal, bedbugs

FIRST A few comments from my last blog, one, thanks for the ID support on that Philly vireo, yea, I scrapped that right after I put the blog out there, it was a bad ID day, I also am pretty sure I missed a solitary sandpiper that day too thinking about it, I saw a sandpiper with an orange bill and got distracted, yea what has an orange bill?  Really?  I showed a couple of birders and then got the digiscope stuff out of my pocket and it went into the weeds, a USO, unindentified sandpiper object, but I just forgot about that sandpiper next to it and too late now, and the un-vireo ...I marked it as a orange crowned warbler, so no worries, life isn't so easy all the time.  I didn't count it,

SECOND Some of you have confronted me on the Bed Bugs

1) YES, they were bed bugs, not chiggers, why?
I have bites below the sock line and in lines like above the knee, a little higher up the leg, higher still, and a forth in what Mike Myers calls the mommy daddy region, I have a bite on my 4th knuckle right hand, and on my foot, all non-chigger locations, beside a bit on my bum, back, etc.  Also, I hiked all day with Jim T, he was wearing shorts, I had on snake boots with pants tucked in in chigger precaution, he got NO chiggers, and no bites, as we had separate rooms, his was apparently not infested.  If chiggers, he should have had some too. In my humble medical opinion and well, I do own an MD degree, BTW.  University on Minnesota Medical School Class of 1992 etc......bed bugs.  I AM an idiot 99.9% of the time, escpecially camera issues and maybe birding issues, too...but no, these were bed bugs.

2) I stayed at Texas Inn in Weslaco, TX (I thought I was clear).  I noticed the bites that morning and then badly the next day heading north.  I cannot blame the Motel 6 then in Kingsville.  I think Texas Inn it was north of I-2 on Hwy 88, BUT I may have location wrong, there are a few of them.  I was tired and wasn't paying attention, I have eaten at the restaurant across the street  before and that was coming down from Hargill Playa so I assume it was on Tx-88.  DON'T STAY THERE!

THIRD  Largely this blog is meant to entertain.  It is somewhat to document the year but unless I get 750 who really cares and even if I do, I can't document enough.  I doubt I'll write a book on the year.  So some of this is to help me remember. I'm sorry, I am whom I am. I don't have an agenda, other than a now 50 year old guy who is retired...yes, I'll say it.  What I'm getting out of this year is the kindness of strangers....some cool birds and well something to do.

FOURTH.  Apparently I have earned a disclaimer on the ABA site about my blog.  Oh well. Maybe that is a badge of honor?  If you read "Boobies Peckers, ..." I won't say it, and most of you haven't, my last adventure would have gotten a big red X.  I did move the blog around around today but it wasn't because of that.  I guess if you can't handle a rather tame Anders Zorn Painting on the cover from....1916  "Vatn" (He is THE master artist of Sweden) which is privately owned (sold for 1.2 million about 10 years ago), you have larger issues.  It is a museum piece....

Okay...caught up

Let me just summarize what happened yesterday.  I broke a record.  I may even send it to the record people.  I not only had one Jet bridge failure, not two but plane out of San Antonio was two hours late as....they couldn't get the bridge to work when they had to come back in for some one to sign off on the plane's safety, and that was after they swapped planes with the Minneapolis plane.  When we got to Salt Lake, they ran over the power cable to the bridge or the bridge did, you could see it, they had to push it off, tighten up the cable and then reattach, but late already, it didn't matter.  At Sacramento, it just didn't work, and they had to find stairs, remember those?   Well they did eventually, the captain was saying we might have to use the emergency chutes, but he was kidding, I was in the front and it was just something to do while we waited for an hour.  Older people panicked at using the stairs, it was a circus.  Many took pictures, like somehow using the stairs to board a plane is something camera Alaska to Adak is OUTSIDE!  I vowed not to post a picture here.

Okay, I was supposed to be in Sacramento by 0930, I got here by 130, but no matter, the Marsh sandpiper didn't get here at all yesterday.  It had already departed for points unknown........

Already giving up at 230 PM I drove hard for the back-up bird, at the eastern terminus of the San Francisco Bay near Santa Clara, 100 miles away.  There problems arose, like it was windy, not just a little, but somewhere between a tempest and a zephyr.  40 mph...more? It was blowing peeps all over the place and worse, I met a helpful local guy who said, nobody had seen the stint after the tide had come in.  I worked my way down the the dike as sea form flew into me.  A guy said there was a phalarope out there and I put down my scope, a gust hit my front lens cap as I was taking it off and it sailed out into the water, more lost and damaged equipment.  It was a red-necked phalarope and I needed it.

I worked down to the hardiest of the birders as the rest were packing it in as the wind came up more and more...they were hunkered down and as I walked in I heard one say, "got it!"  I didn't have anything but Westerns.  I looked their way,  I still didn't have it, then they struggled over and showed us, nice people these Californians and oddly, one knew me through Darlene Moore, the woman who took me in during the busted goose stakeout in Connecticut.  Thanks again Darlene. You are the gift that keeps on giving.  Everyone is so nice.    

So then I high-tailed it (one of my favorite Wisconsin slang terms) back to Davis, where it turns out all the hotels were full.  Except, the woman at Quality Inn snickered, Motel 6.  She wouldn;t expand on that.  I went to Motel 6, they had a room, and well I was blunt.  "Do you have bed bugs?"  I asked..."no!" She said.  "Then why do you have the only rooms available in town?"  She shrugged.  I smiled "no murders, drug labs, dead bodies..."  I couldn't think of anything more..."no" she said.  I checked in.  Do you want to know why it was empty?  I'll get to that.

Summary of the day...
April 24, 2015
Alviso Marina Park, Santa Clara Cty California

#607  Red-necked phalarope (I took this photo though on 4/25 at Yolo Bypass)

#608 Little Stint

A western sandpiper is on the left in the bottom one.  It was a good secondary target and a lifer bird, I celebrated it, lifer beer and all, my quite modest lifer total of 741 now, at a place called Cindy's they served Thai food on Sundays and oddly had a different name for that day only, that is when I heard of the pitfalls of my hotel choice next door.

It made me drink the beer....why me?  Is it the beard?  Is it my opinionated persona?  Is it the nudity on my book cover jackets?  Maybe it is.

Okay, the Motel 6, was evacuated as was the entire block just before and the Motel 6 woman did NOT lie to me......a guy in a room that was next to mine, had pipe bombs, not look alike pipe bombs but real, ready to blow up pipe bombs and nobody knew why at the restaurant.  I don't know if they arrested the guy.  I am afraid to read the article.  Here is the link if you think I'm BSing you.

I can't make this stuff up.  I think he was in room 208, I was in 206.  I thought about razzing the woman at check in but I was too tired and where else was I to go?  There were NO rooms.  You wonder why I get bedbugs...I need to think about camping now that it is warm, but I've had fire ants camping.....thanks again to Darlene Moore for sparing one night of potential crap at a hotel for me.  This woman is an angel.

April 25

The winds pounded Yolo Bypass all morning and I did get a year bird, maybe the fastest Vaux's swift fly-by ever, down wind and he or she was booking east.  Whoosh!  I almost didn't register the sighting in my brain.

#609 Vaux's swift

I couldn't have kept a camera on it if I tried.  I had seen one the night before over I-605, but I had no idea where I was and I wasn't going to text or log the bird in 80 mph "all hands traffic," so I'll count this one,

I did photograph some birds I hadn't yet in 2016,

western kingbird, counted in Texas.

Cinnamon teal, counted like in January.

That is about it, except for a passing thought.  When I drive around California, I think of how wonderful this place was in the 60s and 70s, at least for a non-ethnic person like me.  There were riots in Watts, I guess. I feel bad I missed the rest of the boom in California (not the riots).  I had written my opinions below about what I have seen this year, the politics, the questions we the Americans aren't asking our leaders, or maybe they are too hard so we just try to change something, but I just deleted it, ........there....all you guys want is birds...I guess.  I'm sorry.  I monologued in my 2013 adventure BPT occasionally but this is better.  

I'm tired.   I need to get home.

FWIW, I got three birds, I guess, but as I boarded my plane back to Key West today, the Cuban vireo is absent and I have come to the realization that the big year is finished in terms of any records in all likelihood, 750 is a tall order and one can't make any errors.  It is lonely birding alone for stretches and by going to Texas and meeting a friend flying in, (how could I ask him to eat a plane ticket?), I had cost myself 3 birds, at least two anyhow.  The stint I will probably see again in St Paul in August, so not much of a reward.  I appreciated a friend from Duluth, JG encouraging me today.  Many people are happy I did what I did, that is okay, I am happy every time I see the White Sox or the Pats lose.  I'll keep plugging, I have to go to the Keys anyhow for the nighthawk and the roseate tern, maybe I'll get lucky with a good fallout in the morning.  You know, only a couple of handfuls of people have seen 700 birds in a year.  I will, too, unless I like, get injured.

  Critical Birds I still need (five most worrisome non-Alaskan).

1) Gray Vireo
2) Yellow Rail
3) Saltmarsh sparrow
4) Dusky Grouse
5) Manx Shearwater

Any intel or help in getting any of these is much appreciated, some other birds are tougher but I have leads on them.



Sunday, April 24, 2016

The life and times of Judge Roy Bean

Chapter 37

McAllen to Big Bend TX

Okay, let me start out with a question:  What famous actor below has NOT played the somewhat legendary Judge Roy Bean in a movie?

a) Paul Newman
b) Andy Griffith
c) Lee Marvin
d) Yule Brenner

More on that later......

Last year I wrote a novel.  It took about a month to do the manuscript and I have done nothing with the manuscript since, I may add.  It doesn't really have a title but let me call it The Big Bad Year.  In it, the main character is doing a big year, he comes back from Alaska in June and cruises into the Texas Hill Country on record pace (nearing 700) in June and is looking for a black capped vireo.  He is just driving north of a place called Utopia, and the character like me, has never birded in the Texas Hill country before.  He hears one, then more and goes down a trail and photos one, but not well, but igt is identifiable and he fist bumps a tree as he is by himself.  Then he thinks he hears the second endemic bird in the Hill Country, the golden cheeked warbler.  So he works down some ranch road and he follows the sound.  Bingo bird #700.
      Before he can celebrate, the main character trips and senses pain, all is dark.  He awakens in a strange bed and an alluring woman is nursing him.  It turns out he has stumbled into a utopian commune (not to be confused with the burg, this place is off the map) but it is in the Texas Hill country.  He falls in love and is slowly nursed back to health.  He finally goes for a walk and even photos a Crescent chested! what a find, he thinks.  The record is within reach.  His head is not right and so he spends the summer as any thoughts of a Big Year are put aside and fades away plans on a day to join the self-sufficient community.  He is going to ask the next day to join, you see he is fallen in love.  His woman already has implied she'll marry him and a lonely birder needs such hints.
       There is a big party, much merriment and well, a wonderful night with his beauty.  The next thing, this birder awakens outside the petroglyphs in Bad Axe, Michigan.  He is confused, dazed, where is he?  Where is his woman.  It is early the next spring, and he stumbles back to a rental car in his name. A map for a brambling sighting is pointing to this spot.  His cell phone rings, it is an Audubon club asking if he can give a speech on his Big Year record.  Was it all some sort of dream?
 He looks up the place he was on his cell phone, it doesn't exist.  He sees all sorts of emails, some he has even answered     Then he goes home to Minnesota, all is strange, it appears he did set the Big Year record and he checks his camera and yes, every bird from the warbler is there, sea voyages, and so he checks his ebird logs, a couple were with a birder named Olaf Danielson. He calls me up and I act like he was right there with me.  He then gets an overdue utility bill for a property in Iowa.  The only thing is he doesn't own a property in Iowa.  He doesn't know what to do but decides to drive south to check it out.  He goes into the house, which he has a key for on his key chain.  The house has one chair in the middle a single light, and every wall is covered with racy pictures of the woman he fell in love with in Texas....there is what looks like blood smeared on the floor and strange rambling writings on the he going insane.....then there is a knock on the door....he sees a deputy sheriff's car through the window.......

Okay, I'll probably never finish this but I'll leave you in suspense anyhow....

When I wrote this, I had never been in the hill country, I had seen the warbler north of San Antonio and the vireo in Big oddly and maybe coincidentally, after I had finally nabbed the hook-billed kite on hawk watch 4 at Santa Ana, bird #599 but failed to find a groove-billed ani anywhere, my friend Jim Terrill and I bugged out north.  I was literally scratching all the way on the road as I got a really bad case of bedbugs from Texas Inn Weslaco.....crud....crap....scratch. S&*&^!!!! My second birding bedbug attack.

April 22, 2015, Texas Hill Country, Bandera County

I picked the road I had written about accidentally and the whole way I had deja vu.  About the same spot I had prophesied about, there was a scenic view.  I pulled over.  Jim stayed in the car.  The place is gorgeous...what a view.

There was what looked like a trail, beckoning me to go down it.  Is truth also fiction?  There were  black-capped vireos everywhere, finally I got one to photograph, but it wasn't perfect.  It was identifiable.  Deja vu!  Man were these guys skulky birds...noisy but they wouldn't come out for anything. was a monumental bird, my 6th century bird.  I was fist bumping a tree.  Deja vu. I could hear a warbler but I was NOT going down that trail, no WAY!!!!  Too much deja vu.   We drove down the road and I spotted a Nature Conservancy Preserve, Love Creek.  There was a gate, I didn't know if the place was public, or permanently closed but a guy had birded there as a hotspot the day before.  The trail went up not down so NO deja vu.  I climbed the gate and walked up the hill, Jim demurred and went back to the road.  I was about halfway up the hill when I played the golden cheeked warbler song to remind myself again.  Immediately a bird flew at me, the yellow on the head was obvious as it flew by me, bird #601, golden cheeked warbler.  The bird hid and remained quiet.  I didn't know what to do.  Was I trespassing? The Nature Conservancy is funny about things.  Could I use tapes, and Jim was down below, standing on the road.  There was a criminal look to it all.  I decided to turnaround and go back down.  We left quietly.

We then ended up at Lost Maples Scenic area and it wasn't yet 930.  We walked the trail as I wanted a golden cheeked photo.  I heard one, then a second, then I saw a yellow-throated warbler, what was that doing here?  Then I got my camera unlocked so I could use it again, it got jarred in the car.  I shot #602  Philadelphia Vireo.

This was an odd bird.  It looked odd I looked at the range map on my field guide, it wasn't supposed to be here, either.  I checked the checklist on ebird.  It was on it.  I looked at the bird.  I couldn't find any white wing bars. Black eye line, it wasn't a warbling vireo.  I was trying to make it into a Bell's, but all it had was these olive wing bars.  It had to be a Phily.  It never wagged its tail or even made any noise.  The Bell's I would and have seen in west Texas this time of year are like the noisiest birds.  This bird was silent.  I didn't initially even mark the bird on the checklist, as it couldn't be one.  I then put it in thinking it would come back as "rare."  It didn't.  I don't know.  I spent the entire day second guessing, myself and all the birds.  I was still worried about the Nature the king of Guerrilla birding.   I even sent a rather odd hawk picture around for some opinions.  A bird, I didn't even need, and I don;t ended up being a juve Swainson's.

***I think I'm going to provisional this bird and pending concensus, as one of my friends whom I trust says doesn't look like a Philly he's ever seen, well me either, I thought the bill too thick for a orange crowned. Having the sun beating right on that tree doesn't help in the contrast.

During all this checking and rechecking, I skipped a photo I took mostly in frustration while I was trying to photograph the black capped vireo.  I finally looked at it when I was writing this blog.  Wait a minute......there is no eye ring on that flycatcher.

Bird # 602.  Eastern wood pewee.  I don't know what planet I was on when I took it, I didn't even log the bird.  I needed that bird.  I needed to wake up and get my head on, I almost lost a bird.  I guess, though the Hill Country just gave and even kept on giving.

To conclude on the Hill Country, I like it, although I found myself thinking I was somehow living my fiction much like I found myself feeling back in January in Kansas.  Despite this, I WILL come back at some point in my life.  After finding my first beverage barn, a drive thru beer store which you don't even leave the car.  Many poor sods were drinking beer in the parking lot, as you can't consume in the "barn."  I picked up a quick six of Lone Star Beer, what else do you drink in Texas.  I don;t think they make Pearl Beer anymore...I guess I could drink Shiner.  We hit Hwy 90 and turned west into the desert of west Texas.

Judge Roy Bean Historical Site, Langtry TX

I have many people I admire in life and one of those is Judge Roy Bean.  In general, this man was a scoundrel BUT he lived a life of being a true American.  He made himself out of nothing, and no matter what the obstacles, he was a doer and went around all obstructions.  I like that.  When the Texas government refused to sanction a prize fight he was sponsoring, he just held it on a sand bar in the Rio Grande on the Mexican side of the border.  He has the Can-do spirit that is America or at least was, now we like things given to us like we are all entitled.

He named his town after the famous sex-symbol personality of the day, Lily Langtry whom he wrote to repeatedly and she actually came to visit the small community after his death, although it was to actually visit him.  The bar was named the Jersey Lily, too.  It all seemed so perfect, a man admiring a woman so much he named his town and saloon after her.. but much of Bean's life is more fiction than fact.  The town was named a few years before he even arrived after an Engineer George Langtry.  There is nothing sexy about George Langtry.   As odd as it may sound, any association with Lily Langtry was coincidental or contrived.  What a better way to market a town than to create a distant love affair with a truly hot actress in England that he would never meet?  Bean's claim of "the only law west of the Pecos," also made quite a moniker.  He even stayed a judge when he lost an election.  Who was going to say otherwise?  He died in 1903.

I like this place even though since the last time I was here, April 1994, they had built a huge visitor center and added quite a bit of concrete around the garden area.  I don't like big fancy visitor centers, I like the actual history.  I remember a much more authentic looking western locale, not a museum, oh well, I enjoyed the pilgrimage to the shrine of this crazy man....oh and by the way, Lee Marvin never played him in a movie although he would have done a great job.  Answer C.  Marvin even looked like him, beard and all.

I photographed the elusive (sic) yellow-headed blackbird for the first time this year even though I got to count it two days earlier.  They were in the tree to the east of the Visitor center over my rental car.  This was much to my daughter's chagrin.

While Jim T was looking and reading the exhibits.  I found myself thinking more clearly at Roy Bean's, then I began to scheme like Bean.  I looked at tons of bronzed cowbirds.......I thought for a moment...these birds are only nest parasites or whatever the correct term is of orioles...Orioles...?  I still needed an oriole.  There must be some around.  I went looking in the very few trees they have in the "garden" area and then I heard chattering.  I saw orange in a tree, well that was the right color and then I saw the large male Oriole with a clear line of black through its eye, a Bullock's.  Yes!  Bird #603.  Bullock's Oriole

I pulled up my camera checking my bad dial.  then out of the corner of my eye, a female came into view and in a flash, she garnered his attention and off they flew.   I couldn't relocate.

April 22-23, Big Bend National Park, Texas

I really like Big Bend in a stark sort of way.  It is in the middle of nowhere.  Jim T along the way, found out the name sake of Terrill County a Major Terrill is probably his great great grandfather.  I'm not sure having the county that has the poor town of Sanderson TX as it's county seat being a family heirloom is such a good thing, but it is some thing.  The 900 residents there (the whole county) are a hardy lot or just don't know enough to leave.  Jim T is expecting to do more research.  The man even helped Maximillian the Austrian Emperor of Mexico in the 1870s organize his army.

I complain about the hike up Pinnacle trail from the Chisos Basin as the most brutal morning in birding.  I over dramatize, it isn't.  The hike I did from Carr Canyon to get the Tufted last year was worse, but it wasn't hot today and I do this trail almost unlike anybody else, I leave about an hour or earlier before first light.  You have to be down the mountain by noon or you risk melting, literally from the potential heat.  Going early also gives you the best chance at singing birds, you can pack less water, need less calories to carry the water and you have a chance to hear owls if you need them.  You also don't start on the trail, you hike up through the cabins and start the trail there, it saves a bit.

We arrived late afternoon and after the visit to Dugout Wells to see the skulkiest chattiest flock of Bell's Vireos, but nothing more...we went to our hotel in Study Butte, the Chisos Mtn. Lodge was full two months ago.  Nearing dark, I took off to the Castolon Area to search for nighthawks.  I had a nice chat with a ranger and saw more bats than nighthawks as the wind picked up, and it threatened to rain.  At 80% darkness 3 common nighthawks flew low over me and then finally, a lesser, bird #604.  They were all silent and weren't making ID easy.  Then I drove back to the west entrance stopping at every turnout to call elf owls.  I heard nothing.  At 11pm, I gave up and then just at the west entrance, I flushed an elf owl from the side of the road, bird #605.  I got out and tried to use my spot light.  I stood in the middle of the road and never relocated the owl but heard lesser nighthawks in every direction.  As birding went, I had driven 65 miles for nothing, to the river.  It was time for a few hours of sleep and an early start.

Nemesis birds are tricky things, I guess now the Colima warbler may qualify as one for photography.  Back in 1994, up here with Silja, we had tried to backpack, but alas there was no water at elevation and they had recently closed the spring.  Staying for 3 nights we drank our water the next morning and said heck with it.  Depresed and dejected resting near a cliff as I had not yet seen the warbler, Silja asked me what the bird looked like.  I told her.  "Like that one?"  She pointed 8 feet to my right.  I snapped a quick picture on my K1000 only to find out that when the roll got developed later that summer, I had double exposed the roll and a picture of me holding a fish was superimposed over the warbler.

I came up here in 2013 for my Boobies, Peckers, and Tits the day after "Arvid" Jim and I had invented a church, the Church of St. Ocotillo.  I appreciated more of how I did it then this day and how many people I ran into but you can read the chapter on The Church of the Sacred Ocotillo in my book.  We had hiked up 3.7 miles of the 3.8 miles mostly in the dark, and I was tired when we reached the madrone trees and I put my pack down.  Then Jim said it.  "There it is."  A Colima came out to a tree and looked at us, i walked down a bit to see it clearer.  My camera was up the trail 20 feet in my backpack, I hadn't even unpacked it yet.  I ran, dug it out, and focused on the bird.  Jim was pointing.  I put the camera on it just as it flew. I have a picture of a blurry gray tail.

Then there was this year.  Would I get the photograph?  Would I even see the bird if no one was going to point it out to me.  You see Jim T got about 3/4 the way up the initial climb which is harsh, if not brutal, before it levels off for 2 miles until the final mile plus of switchbacks and punted the attempt.  I was then walking up alone.  But I got up there without issue. I was actually filled with some resolve about making this a tradition.  I made a vow to do this every five years, I would have this trail be my thing and if I could not do it, I deserved to be in assisted living somewhere.  2021, who is coming with?

There is a great relief in seeing that last switchback at the top of this trail

it is even a greater relief standing up on top.  I had a couple of back packers take my photo

Actually clothed this time, and as it was a bit chilly, even clothed in a jacket, I heard 5 Colimas, saw glimpses of two and was almost exactly in the same spot as in 2013 when one popped out being the gimme bird, maybe even it was in the same tree.  I had unpacked at the madrones this year.  I brought up my camera.  Hit the shutter and the damn camera tried to autofocus, damn!  I had it still on auto from the backpackers 200 yards back on the top.  I almost pushed that shutter through the camera but that damn camera wouldn't take a picture, it was still trying to focus.  I fumbled for the switch to turn it to manual, and poof, the bird flew up into a crack in the cliff wall.  I looked and there was a tree way up there.  The bird decided to sing out of view.  taunting?  I heard another at a switchback down but it would not come out in 20 minutes and frustrated I just left.  Next time time, in five years.  But it was bird #606.  Colima warbler.

I saw a broad-tailed hummer feeding on a cactus, I hoped it was a blue-throated but it wasn't.

Mexican jays were everywhere

 I walked down the hill and passed 156 hikers, young college aged kids, a few old people and a group of birders.  Why is it every time I run across a bird touring group here the guide wants nothing to do with me?  They never ask here what i saw, heck, I could have nabbed a coded bird just up the trail but this time again, I tried to chat but they just left.  Then I got chatty.  Me, Olaf the dumb the socially inept flirted with all the college girls in yoga clothes hiking I got 37 comments about the size of my lens.  My answer.  "Well some say by the size, I am over compensating for something else, but my wife never says that.  She knows the truth."  Which is true, btw. She knows the 400mm lens wasn't big enough in my opinion.  I got laughs, a friendly pat on the shoulder, it was kind of fun actually, it made the two hours down go by fast.   I saw crazy things on that trail, two guys talking to themselves, having some self help app I think.  Old people booking, young people sweating, some carrying 2 gallons of water one in each hand.  That must get sore after 4 miles up, and a wild-eyed birder who I think had just been let out of an insane asylum.  He was like Quasi-motto meets Barney Fife.

I finished up what was an 11 miles hike just after noon and it took a while but I found Jim, he was cheerfully sitting in the car.  I ate a big lunch and being too tired to continue to look for the missing hummer, we drove out of there.  Like Macarthur said, I will return.

 What I liked about Texas...

1) the Hill Country
2) The Pinnacles Trail (it hurt so good....?)
3) Beverage Barns....could they work in South Dakota?
4) State Troopers with in God we trust on the back bumper.
5)  The Motto  "Don't mess with Texas on their garbage cans"
6) fallout
Texas is so bigger than life......

What I didn't like about Texas
1)  bed bugs
2)  bed bug bites
3)  Texas Inns with bed bugs
4)  The scratching of bed bugs
5)  That my crap will have to go out into the garage in quarantine when I get home

Well I need to get home next week to pick up my new camera and refurbished lens.  This has been a hard year on equipment.  I got a new 850 Nikon for my trouble, we'll see how bad I am with that.
I now only need a groove-billed ani in Texas.  I will save it for a coded chase to the LRGV or July, whichever comes first.

Rare birds all around and back to letting Delat decide...the answer is....Sacramento, 1800 miles through Texas in 5 days, but the count is getting there... I holding on the ID of that Hill Country bird (note will correct numbers between 601-607

dang bedbugs.....drat!

Big Year Total:  606
Coded Birds:  45

Miles driven.  24550
Flight Miles 65,100
flight segments: 69   Different Airports: 31
Hours at sea: 30
Miles walked 148
showshoes 4 (isn't going to be more)
Miles biked 2
states/ prov. birded: 23
other animals seen:  gray whale, dolphin, bobcat, ringtailed cat, elk, bighorn, jackalope, feral pig, California sea lion, harbor seal, bedbugs

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Going dark

I have been birding blind for the last few days.  I slammed my computer power chord in a car door and I lost use of my computer.  I could not find a replacement for it.  I bought one at an airport and alas, the Lenova adaptor they had was wrong.  I finally got to a Best Buy and they had a spare that worked and so....I am connected again.  I have been rolling up year birds as I'm starting to get a little angry and as such this is going to be a long blog as I am merging just 96 hours of birding but a gob of stuff.  I will start with a newspaper submission that will be in this weekend's Watertown Public Opinion.  This will save me some writing

This big year of mine is bringing me to a lot of hidden corners of American history. One of these corners is old Ft. Jefferson located 2.5 hours west of Key West by boat out on the Dry Tortugas.  Much like Santa Cruz Is. In California all birders eventually strive to visit this Civil War era fort and this place maintained by the National Park Service and reached only by a daily ferry.  You may ask why is that?

Dry Tortugas is the only location in the Continental US or Canada that have breeding colonies of not one, but three birds:  Brown noddy, sooty tern, and the masked booby.  It is not only a three-fer spot but also during spring migration, depending on the wind and weather, it can be a prime fall-out spot and on April 18th, 2016, we had significant fallout.  It is the first speck of land that many of these birds see doing an over gulf migration.  You never know what might be out there.  All I can say is WOW!!  Not only was the inside of the fort teaming with warblers and other assorted migrants but on the way across on the Yankee Freedom III we met hundreds of little warbler still struggling to make it to land, any land, as they finished up their one night hop across the Gulf of Mexico.  Looking at these poor birds struggling right above the ocean trying to go forward into a stiff wind is always a little hard to fathom.  Life is tough, life is rally tough for these little guys.

It was so windy on the Fort, that searching for other rarities was almost impossible.  I did see a smaller blackish noddy with a different head patch of white and a longer bill sitting on a cactus, but getting a photograph was impossible.  In fact, my whole set up blew over into the sand and I just terminated any thoughts of that.  Then I lost it.  The black noddy was a life bird but one that didn’t leave me feeling satisfied.  I kind of kept quiet about it too.  The birds didn’t loaf where you could see them well out on the old coal dock and just trying to look through a scope was a challenge. Only two brown noddies even visited the pier. The wind buffeting you makes it hard to sort birds at a great distance.  It made it hard to even stand, you get sand in your face, and your equipment takes a beating.  Terns are also constantly moving in and out and so focusing on one bird is just something you can’t do.

The boat captain took us so far from Hospital key, I wanted to write a complaint but who cares about birders?  Besides the three expected birds, and the rarity, I tallied an Audubon’s shearwater enroute, another on the way home,  Plus my missing swallow—a bank swallow, and one species of warbler I still needed—the blackpoll warbler.  All that along with three common migrants seen in Key West at the sister fort:  Ft. Zachary Taylor brought my total up to 578.  I got 31 species on this trip and three lifers for Florida, but why was I feeling so disappointed as my plane flew over the Gulf?  Was it because there were no brown boobies out there?  Another birder spotted one near Key West.  I saw no such bird.  No, I was relieved I got that bird in California.

Birders have something called the 24 hour rule.  It is a rule that loosely means, that the most likely time a rarity is going to show up is within 24 hours of you leaving.  This rule struck me in less than 24 minutes.  I guess, ever the impatient one, I should have expected it quicker.  Exactly 24 minutes after I had been dropped off at the Key West Airport to make a flight to San Antonio, it happened. I was meeting a friend and we were going to tour the King Ranch, something that I could not afford to miss as two birds awaited that I was at risk to miss and these ranch tours are filled up already for the spring.  Using a metaphor, lightning then struck.  The first EVER appearance of something called the Cuban vireo showed up at the Ft Zachary Taylor, maybe 30 minutes after we had left this morning.  It was heart-breaking boarding a plane leaving when I knew people were driving hard to get to Key West and see that bird.  I stood on the steps outside the Delta 737 and didn’t want to go in.  I rolled my eyes at the stewardess when she welcomed me aboard.  I was not happy.  I’m not sure what I was but I was definitely NOT happy.

It sort of hit me then—the futility of it all.  There were also ultra-rare birds seen yesterday in California which a friend of mine was flying overnight to get.  There was fallout of European golden plovers in Newfoundland, although they were having a blizzard now.  The tufted flycatcher I had dipped on in Arizona a few weeks ago was now even back in Arizona.  Every direction had rare birds except the direction I was now going, Texas.  I sat down in seat 10A and put my head into my hands.  Today is a good day, why did this have to happen?  I cried.

In a nutshell, I was being humbled by the shear randomness of what I was trying to accomplish.  I did have some luck down here in the Keys, a second extremely rare vireo, the thick-billed vireo appeared in Ft. Lauderdale two days ago and we went up and were some of the few to see that bird.  After a slow start, I bagged almost all of the warblers I needed.  The ying goes with the yang and just as unlucky was a report of a fork-tailed flycatcher in Key Largo which I missed by either 200 feet or 5 minutes.  The fork-tailed flycatcher is almost an impossible bird to chase as it is the one-day wonder of all birds, here today, gone tomorrow.   I was thinking being 28 miles from where it was reported would be close enough but alas, this bird had other ideas and disappeared never to be seen again. 

I also missed a pretty common Antillean nighthawk and a second species of tern both of which seem to have not migrated yet this year.  I have seen them both as early as April 19th, and there has been a couple of reports of them around Key West,  but I think anyone reported them any earlier in the year is just not identifying the bird properly.  These two birds look like other birds and can be tough calls, especially if you don’t hear them. I didn't.

Unfortunately then, I will have to come back to Key West.  In fact, if the Cuban vireo holds, I will be back in a few days, such is my life this year.  I write in my blog that “wherever I am or wherever I am going, I find I need to be somewhere else.” This motto is holding true on this day in the middle of April.  I am giving this big year all the effort I can, but the birds are not giving me any slack or any room for error.   If I fail in my quest, that failure will be taken back to April 19, 2016, mark your calendars, which is also the 16th birthday of my daughter.  April 19th is a day that is always special to me as 16 years ago, while we were chasing snowy owls near Duluth, Minnesota, my wife went into labor and a few hours later, my sweet daughter Lena was born in Spooner, Wisconsin.  It is a marvelous memory.  I won’t blame the date, I can’t blame the date as today is definitely a GREAT day whether or not I ever see that silly Cuban bird!  Sigh, I just have to keep birding.

Big Year Days 107-109  FLORIDA

Big Year Total:  578
Coded Birds:  42

Miles driven.  22250
Flight Miles 65,100
flight segments: 67   Different Airports: 31
Hours at sea: 30
Miles walked 133
showshoes 4 (isn't going to be more)
Miles biked 2
states/ prov. birded: 23
other animals seen:  gray whale, dolphin, bobcat, ringtailed cat, elk, bighorn, jackalope, feral pig, California sea lion, harbor seal,

John I Lloyd State Park Ft Lauderdale FL

563.  Cape May Warbler

564.  Thick-billed vireo

Fort Zachary Taylor

565.  Northern Waterthrush

566.  Blue Grosbeak

567.  Indigo Bunting (photo from Dry Tortugas)
568.  Prothonatory warbler

Dry Tortugas trip
569.  Audubon's shearwater
570.  Masked booby

571.  Sooty Tern

572.  Brown Noddy

573.  Bank swallow
574.  Blackpoll warbler

575.  Black noddy

Ft Zachary Taylor, Key West

576.  Chestnut sided warbler
577.  Wood Thrush
578.  Baltimore Oriole  (photo from Sotuh Padre island 4/20)

Okay, I flew into San Antonio and was ready to bird.  I picked up Jim Terrill a non-border friend of mine from Minneapolis and we went right to work.  I went to a sod farm on the 19th SW of San Antonio an netted four species, good ones

579.  Upland Sandpiper
580.  Buff breasted sandpiper (3)
581.  Western kingbird
582.  American Golden plover

I had a problem there.  Those people didn't like us.  I had people come and park right next to me and blare their music so load, my scope shook.  I was never more that 5 feet off a black topped road.  Some lady walked down with here dog to ask me if I needed help.  Another local dude followed us in a black car until I turned west a mile away.  I got the finger, people stood on their lawns and is a GD sod farm people!!  Holy cow....advise to you all...don;t go their.  They had buff-breasted but i was so wound tight, if I would have got accosted, my walking/monopod is a weapon and I could have done terrible things until the guns came out and I don't pack one.  I just don't get it.  This is a hotspot.  It should carry a warning label.  It is a SOD FARM...

We woke up at 0430 after spending the night in Kingsville, Kings and Birds, I always say.  I wnet right to work on my list.  Coded bird.

583.  Ferruginous Pygmy Owl
584.  Brown Crested flycatcher

was on a powerline opposite the owl

You know, I'm not a real fan of tours.  We saw birds out the window but you really couldn't get photos, and there were 8 of us on this tour.  I have seen all of these birds before and except for the parula, have really good photos of all of them, and our guide did a good job

585.  Dickcissal

586.  Botteri's Sparrow

587.  Yellow headed blackbird 

588.  Tropical Parula

589.  Northern Beardless Tyranulet

590.  Grasshopper sparrow 

Then we bid adieu to the others and sped to South Padre Island for migrants. I ran into Ben Basham again, he was calling out warblers and looking to be having a ball.   I, though, had a bit of a problem.  My camera got jarred in King Ranch and I went to speed control and all the photos went black.  Ben would not have been pleased with me.  Sigh, I was NOT pleased with me.

We saw.

591.  Orchard Oriole (2)
592.  Least Flycatcher
593.  Red-eyed vireo (2)
594.  Grey-cheeked thrush
595.  Swainson's Thrush
596.  Western Tanager (make and female)
597. Yellow-breasted chat

maybe 20 indigos, and lots of Tennesee warblers, I did salvage a picture of that too.

all that I can apparently salvage from 85 photos sadly is this photo of black-bellied whistling ducks and the above photo of Baltimore oriole.  It was a downer

at least I got a picture of the three toughest birds of the day earlier.  I would have been crushed if I had screwed that up.

Shrimp Bridge, Cameron County Texas

598.  Semipalmated sandpiper

Big Year Days 110-111, South Texas IV

Big Year Total:  598
Coded Birds:  44

Miles driven.  22750
Flight Miles 65,100
flight segments: 69   Different Airports: 31
Hours at sea: 30
Miles walked 135
showshoes 4 (isn't going to be more)
Miles biked 2
states/ prov. birded: 23
other animals seen:  gray whale, dolphin, bobcat, ringtailed cat, elk, bighorn, jackalope, feral pig, California sea lion, harbor seal,

I got a new powercord, but I still feel behind the gun here. I need 2 birds for the next milestone, 600 and they will be had tomorrow, although I only have two endemic LRGV birds left to get.  I kind of feel sorry for Jim as I ended up behind the 8 ball.  600 on April 21,

On non-Alaska migrants or seabirds, I'm down to

2 rails
5 sandpipers
0 gulls, 4 terns
2 cuckoos
3 goatsuckers
3 swifts
3 hummers
10 flycatchers
4 vireos
1 wren
2 thrushes
1 longspur
1 pipit
12 wood warblers
6 sparrows
4 cardinals/ tanagers
2 blackbird/oriole

that is only 61 species
plus 4 owls, 4 grouse/ quail and a single woodpecker, IDK, maybe I'm not so behind?

Thanks again everyone


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 ...