Saturday, April 2, 2016

The Biggest April Fool of All

Chapter 32

New Mexico

Big Year Days 92

Big Year Total:  539
Coded Birds:  37

Miles driven.  21100
Flight Miles 59,200
flight segments: 59   Different Airports: 29
Hours at sea: 25
Miles walked 111
showshoes 4 (isn't going to be more)
Miles biked 2
states/ prov. birded: 21

Roswell, MN  Lek 45N
I drove from Arizona to Roswell NM.  I had planned on getting the Lesser Prairie Chicken in Dodge City but looking at the map and seeing where two big year birders had bagged their prairie chicken, about 40 miles east of Roswell, the map genie that I am quickly deduced that I would save 4 hours on the road by stopping there and that may, may give me a shot at some sapsuckers later.  I didn't turn north at Deming.  The initial plan was to just sleep at the lek but with 4 hours, I could sleep in a bed and get a shower in the morning.  It is good to feel like a human sometimes.

My choices for lodging in Roswell were endless, I settled on a place called Leisure Inn, it was 48 bucks after tax and was on my route.  Efficiency..efficiency.  After avoiding all the Billy the Kid this and that in Rudioso, like who would want to go to a Casino, named after a thief?  Billy the Kid Casino, are people nuts?  I found the actually expansive hotel, maybe 10% occupied, checked in, and crashed.  I'd been up since 4 am.  I HAD to wake up on time, just had to.  I set my Iphone AND the hotel alarm clock for 5am.  I zone out before I even blinked.  It is god to be able to sleep anywhere.

April 1, is notiously April Fool's day, and during the day, I saw phantom posts for a Little Curlew in Massachusets and the finding of a hidden Auk colony, that one given away by a note that the birds flew in front of the bow of the research vessel.  My April Fool's tales unfortunately are real.

A rather odd noise awoke me, and still, thinking about it, I'm not sure what it was, maybe it was a guy outside unlocking his car, I don;t know but I awoke to total darkness.  TOTAL darkness, the alarm out, I tried to check my cell phone, it was out of power.  I booted up my computer to see the time, out.  I had no power in anything.  Had the Aliens came back?

I groped for something and found my sweatshirt and forgetting where I was, I tried to find the door.  I had thought when I checked in, that this was an oddly layed out motel room.  I got to the car and got it open and then realized I was searching frantically for my spot light bare-ass.  I saw the guy next to me in his car looking for a flashlight wearing less than I did.  I got the light, started the car and saw the clock....0555, what time zone was I even in, was this really 0455?  No, F...U...C...I ran back in, was going to take a quick shower but alas the water iced cold, I looked at the fridge defrosting and thought, had the power been off all night?  What gives?  I found some pants, nothing more threw them on and barefooted threw everything I owned in the car and tore off.  I was going to be late.  I could NOT afford to miss this bird

The rain hit the car as I sped out of town in the darkness.  There was power everywhere else in town. The drizzle became a deluge as I climbed on the plateau.  The directions were good and dawn began to break in the rain as I turned at a rest area north.  Let me say here that this road is dangerous in the dark, it was dangerous being able to see some of the large sandy holes.  Not knowing where even the lek was in relation to the road, I cautiously approached the end and then realized the lek WAS the road.  Birds scattered as I bounced over a rise.  I stopped.  These are protected birds.  They came back just as the rain changed to a heavy snow.  I took a couple of pictures out of the passenger window.  As snow blew in the window.

#537  Lesser Prairie Chicken
The birds tried to dance but it was tough in the worsening weather.  One chicken was so close to the car, I couldn't see it.  I finally had to shut the windows as the snow was blowing in the car and about 5 minutes later they flushed.  I have seen many Lesser prairie chickens in Oklahoma, and have seen bobcats rush leks, hawks buzz them, and once an angry meadowlark caused them to go.  They eventually come back but once when the weather was actually better than it was now, they gave up and didn't go back.  I looked as the ground became white and decided that I was 7 miles off a road and I didn't know how bad the storm was going to be, I didn't want to get stranded out here and so I left.  Oddly, I flushed a prairie chicken 5 miles from the lek on the trail out.

I was lucky they even came in today and I don't know what happened in Roswell at that hotel.  I don;t like this town.  I got a bad feeling when I left...but I had a bird...a good bird.

 I drove north in the rain in Roswell and heavy snow north of there.

More bad weather...I screamed out the window, is that the best you have?  I turned on the radio for the first time all day and the first song...kid you not...EX's and ohs

It stopped when I crossed I-40 and then in Las Vegas NM, another town I have bad memories of from a trip to Santa Fe once, I pulled off the road to look for red-naped sapsuckers near Mora NM, there had been reports.  I also like Swedish immigrant towns, but when I finally made my way up the foothills I noticed that this was a Spanish town, and was built at the sight of a 500 year old land grant. Communal living for centuries and only modern day has made these people poor and a sad.  The story of this valley is fascinating but I don;t feel like another history lessen.  I was finishing a four-day--2400 mile loop.  I was still 300 miles from Denver.

I found the location of 3 sapsuckers I called and called and then I called in three....four...five...maybe even six, they just kept coming.....

Great Pyrenees dogs!

Well that was as best as I could ID them.  They never barked but when I played a sapsucker call, they turned their heads processing and then slowly circled the SUV.  This one was alpha dog.  I moved and they just tightened their circle.  I moved again and so did they, they followed me a mile.

One younger one causally led rear guard action.

Finally I turned around and tried to drive off but soon they circled the car, they were slobbering, drooling, looking at me and then the one in the road took a better central position, laid back down,  and refused to move, even when I slowly put the bumper of the SUV up to him and tried to nudge him.  Nothing.  These were 150lb dogs or more, and if they didn't want to move they weren't moving.  Who feeds these things?  Maybe me............Finally the old dog just gave me the look and like he said April fools, he let out a very subtle whine and the dog in the road walked away, lifting his leg on the corner of the rental.  The older dog looked like he shrugged, "so what do you expect from dogs?"  and then with dogs on both sides I was let out of my K-9 trap.  What was that all about?
It was too odd to even process.

I saw a sign for Miller Lake State park, down a mile and found my way to very scenic lake.  I called for Red-naped and listened.  Then called the whole time I was in the bathroom.  Still nothing.  I played their drum and then I heard a different drum very quietly almost like it was echoing my iphone but it wasn't the same.  My phone has issues and rolls over to the next bird sometimes and in this case a Williamson's is next in the Alphabet and immediately the unseen bird tapped back.  Where was this bird?  I then looked straight over my head.

 Bird #538  Williamson's sapsucker, one of my missing Colorado birds.  How'd it get up there?

This bird never moved, never made a sound just tapped a little.  If it would have been two trees over, I never would have seen or heard it.

They are stunning woodpeckers, so much contrast, if the lighting would have been better.  It was like this bird was trying to make a fool out of me.

I had more fool in me.  I went to Raton to eat and hopefully correct a picture error in my last blog, the McDonald's was closed and so I went to Dairy Queen, they had neither internet nor power outlets, i drove looking for a coffee bar and none.  I came back to DQ and ate a salad, they didn't have salad dressing.  I left and was entering Trinidad when I realized my backpack was missing, with my computer, passport, small camera lens, field notes.......the swear words were flying.  I had no cell phone reception then when I had enough to get the phone number, it was out of service.  I reclimbed the pass and went down and sped into the DQ rehearsing my story to either of the two state patrols that would stop me.  I rushed in, and there it was same place this FOOL had left it.  I aged a year up over that damn pass.  So I reclimbed Raton Pass the third time, this time not leaving anything in New Mexico but a really odd day, a fitting April Fool's day

I met up with an old fraternity brother of mine from Ripon hadn't seen him since 1988, he lives in Colorado Springs, Craig Casper.

I actually got the idea to base my 4 book "Defenders of the Earth series out of Ogallala, Nebraska due to him, that is his home town.  We told stories and I learned one of the brothers I had taken fishing in Canada in 1989 was doing 25 years for impersonating a doctor and killing someone...I guess when he was all excited to make a coffin for the 22.5lb pike he caught to take home, maybe it was somehow a warning of the future.  IDK.

We drank beer and went to bed.  It was a very VERY long day.


I am still exhausted from my snowshoe outing and I don't want to say much about it but let me say this:


I drove up to Loveland pass, on 4/2 fighting the skiing traffic and looked for 2 hours.  I was so shaky from the height I stopped shaking, like counter shaking cancelled it out.  IDK.  I finally heard two on the opposite side of the pass from where I had one last year.  One on either side of me.  I heard clucks and tried to get them to come out, but I couldn't locate them.  I went higher still to get a better angle on where it was, and I found what will be the highest elevation bird of the year, 12,350 feet.

Horned Lark, a hardy rascal.  This bird wasn't making clucks but i wonder, what was he eating up here?

I could not see the ptarmigan, from the lark's vantage point so I walked back down to the road, I gave up my parking spot, which was brave as a skier took it immediately and at the next lower turnout got out my spotting scope.  I worked the area under where I was sitting hearing them for 20 minutes slowly studying each foot of snow.  Then I saw one, maybe  15 yards from where I had heard it--a white bird shaped snowball, with a head, it was a long ways from me now and then as I tried to attach my digiscoping stuff to the scope, a skier decided to go very near the bird.  Afterwards, I couldn't refind my feathered snowball.  He or she probably dug itself down in the snow and hid.  No pictures but bird #539.  White-tailed ptarmigan.  I got my perfect lifer picture last year here so no worries there.  That was something.  I was so relieved, i almost got hit by a gasoline truck as I was bouncing too near the traffic.

I searched for a dusky grouse for two more hours down the mountain and around haunts nearer to Denver but nothing, no tracks, nothing.  One Colorado bird will have to stay on the board....DUSKY GROUSE.....any one got a plan for this bird?  I will probably wait to concentrate on it when I'm in Montana in June, but open for suggestions.  I may have to even chase it.

Loveland is a pretty Pass but I don't ever want to bird up here again.  I hate passes and heights, and thankfully THANKFULLY I got my ptarmigan........whew!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

539...I'm heading home for a bit, I probably should go back to Arizona but I need a shower, my own bed, and I need to cuddle a dog, but maybe I'm not going to ever cuddle any Great Pyrenees, those dogs are up to something.




  1. You listed both the Lesser Prairie-Chicken and the Williamson's Sapsucker as #538, no April Fools.

    1. thanks fixed, chicken 537, sorry. When I have counted past fingers and toes, it is tough..LOL. I get not credit for the dog breed, though, that I understand

  2. It was great seeing you. Both sorry and not sorry we made you stay up late and miss quality sleep.

    1. It was great thanks, first time ever in Co. Springs

  3. Wow, one minute you are in Arizona at a ranch finding the becard, and then you're in Colorado, finding White tailed Ptarmigan, after what sounded like a surreal experience in Roswell, former site of some kind of aliens, and last year's Common Crane; not the most beautiful town in America, but not bad I guess if it leads to Lesser Prairie Chickens. Keep on truckin.

    1. Yea. Sleep was optional on this trip. I don't know what happened in Roswell you can't believe how dark it was. I was in a fog in the dark. Maybe I should check for implants?

  4. Roswell, N.M.M.I., Common Crane, what else do you need? I saw a Dusky Grouse on the way to the Greater Sage Grouse lek dancing in the road near Craig. Gunnison National Monument is also good. Buy a cheap battery operated alarm clock!!

  5. P.S. I got lost and ended up in an oil field near there looking for Lesser Prairie Chickens and one crossed in front of me at dusk. Fond memories of going to school at Eastern New Mexico University.

    1. you are like a novel, Chris, so many chapters ENMU cool

  6. Hey Olaf, it's been fun following along with your big year. I live in Ogden, Utah and know a fairly consistent dusky grouse location, if you're in the neighborhood and still need it later in the year. Good luck and good travels.

    1. that might work well when i fly into slc to go for the snowcock in elko thx

  7. Olaf,

    You are really doing fantastic and it's great that you are getting to share so many of these adventures with your kids! I'm really enjoying reading the reports and I wish you much luck the rest of the way.

    Ron Furnish

  8. Biking over that was of the hardest days of my 2014 bike big year!


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