Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Finding Utopia

Utopia Texas is sort of a cross between the movie Tin Cup and the Andy Griffith Show.  It is both rural, quirky, and in the end it was just what Olaf needed.  The place came complete with horses walking down main street, above....

Idyllic river setting....

and even like the movie Tin armadillo is seen foraging in the front yard of the lodge I stayed at.

It also had that weird Juxtaposition in time....Olaf style, stuff one can't make up.
What are the odds of me tying a great Big Year birder, John Vanderpoel and having a sign telling me this literally seen from the front of the lodge I stayed at.  I'll let the sign say it.

Now there is a slight spelling issue on the Texas sign but let us just give that one a pass.  Now I have never met John Vanderpoel or Sandy Komito, but along with Neil Hayward are undoubtedly better human beings and members of the birding community than I am, and to be mentioned in the same company as they are, for me, is truly undeserved.  It is just that I have this very good plan, many doubted, but it is a good big year plan.  I am also spending well under six figures (unlike some who are way over six fugures) rarely using guides (except where required and a couple of times in Arizona for the company and to go down a road I don't like) and I will see a lot more birds this year before this is all thru and even better, I am getting some of the most wonderful stories.

I had other reasons to be in Texas.  I had a business partner die in Corpus Christi, partner being a strong word, I owned 5% of something he owned 25% and managed.  He was one of those people you want to go to the funeral to make sure the deceased is really dead.  The man apparently never paid any bills (despite me paying him my share) or for that mater seemed to settle any disputes.  In fact, I was notified by an additional problem by a lawyer representing another "partner" texting me at the funeral, he was there also apparently making sure the man was dead. But that is business and this is a birding blog....

More importantly, Utopia and the Sabinal River Lodge had something else....the green violetear.  One of the most striking hummingbirds occasionally found in North America with its dark green body, dark tail, and blue patches on the side of its face.  Well maybe the white-eared is more striking...but well...that was the last bird....

The bird was first reported in later May, I think on the 19th by Cindy Sperry, although that is a little vague.

She was at this lodge when it was photographed and that posed a bit of a problem for bird chasers.  Then it was not reported again until June 10th. It was missed on the 17th but as far I as I know those were the only visits by the birding public to this location.  After being there and thinking about it now, I think this bird comes in very early and very late and maybe once in the middle of the day.  But that is just my opinion based on very little evidence.

The problem again...the very nice proprietor Sandy does NOT let on random birders as the location of her many feeders does not lend itself at all to that and would really interfere with here guests.  There is no place to publically view her feeders.  Maybe someone can offer a thousand bucks and she would reconsider but in the end all you are doing would be to ruin it for the rest of us. She is not a birder and sort of looks at her hummers but isn't like the rest of us to have to ID every bird.  So you need to stay here to get a shot at seeing the bird.  The first openings that fit my schedule were the last two days.

Unlike some hummers as far as I can tell, the two sexes look pretty similar. This particular violetear is a little uglier than most, with more gray on the abdomen than in most of the pictures and of the bird I remember seeing and what I have seen of this species. This didn't make my life any easier at the lodge.  I have seen the green violetear before, in Belize 20 years ago on a trip that involved, a kidney stone, destroying a car, burying a car in jungle, toucans, going off on foot, more toucans, ending up between a rebel and a pretty much non-existent army, being rescued by Francis Ford Cuppola and the man that handed me my college diploma (weirdest coincidence ever), and finding ourselves on a private tour of Carachol Archaeology site.  It was an adventure worthy of an anecdote as we lived to tell about it.  I got three life birds on that day, the violetear was one of them, but I digress.

This bird is a bit nomadic and is not that uncommon in Texas, and has also been seen even as far north as Ontario, but this so far in is the only one reported.

After arriving from Utah, I cruised in and set up shop at the porch.  Wine in hand ready for a hummer stakeout

There is another problem with viewing hummingbirds here as you can see.  The area is heavily back-lit.  She has 5 hummingbird feeders and an estimated 25-30 black chinned hummingbirds, there could have been 50, it was very busy at her feeders, most of the time too busy.  I was by myself and what I had learned of the hummer, it came in and out and that was it.

Even being careful, the black chinned hummers can look large and dark and be mistaken for the violetear.  Here is one made me do a double take.

It was a long stakeout.  I spent hours upon hours watching feeders and the birds tended to like the feeders farthest from me. The first night I was pretty sure I heard the bird about an hour before dusk, but pretty sure does not cut it.  Then a little later there was a dark big hummer at the far feeder but all I got was tail, I stood and I spooked it...gone in a noisy chirp.  These are noisy hummers but with cicadas and noisy titmice, hearing is tough at times.  FWIW.  It was a big hummer with dark tail but was frustrating.

I decided something odd for the next day.  I drove out early for the LRGV and the National Butterfly Center to search for a yellow-green vireo at opening, well and I needed to check on my gas well interest down there, again the same dead dude involved...there was some trouble maker floating around causing a scene at the hotel in Corpus, demanding money from this guy and I wanted to make sure what I owned 5% in was still okay.  NABA was buggy, there were few birders.  I got great local intel and staked the place out in sweltering heat for 4 hours.  I'm pretty sure I heard the bird twice and then a bird by its MO flew from it's favorite tree but got sucked into the forest there...again pretty sure was not good enough.  It could have been a red-eyed vireo...for that matter even a Yucatan vireo, IDK, by noon sufficiently melted I headed back to the Hill County, feeling the whole project was hopeless.  No one else saw anything except butterflies...

The lodge called me back like a siren.  I set up a vigil and made a mistake...

Again, the gang of black-chinned buzzed the feeders.  I drank some wine (the mistake) and fell asleep.  A noise woke me up, I got this picture.....

Hum...or hummer, sheez or sh4t.  I slapped myself awake.  I was really awake after that, I would have gone and made coffee but I couldn't leave, not fact I was so wound well into the night and I was out of strong drink, that I probably needed to fall asleep.  A note:  Utopia is in a dry municipality so no late night run to the liquor barn for my Lone Star Beer.

I had had a nice long talk with the owner of the lodge in the morning.  I had left the AC on and in general, I felt I was a bad guest.  I was tired and luck wasn't helping me.  There were children playing in the river, and there I sat feeling like a stalker of children with a big camera.  I was embarrassed.  I wasn't sure I wanted to fess up whether I should tell her my observation that the bird was still there.  I decided to talk about my writing.  She looked very bothered by an earlier talk all of us birders calling her and in fact on NARBA and TEX Rare birds, that is warned as something to avoid.  In fact, I think it delayed my confirmation of this place.

The lady left to take her husband for an appointment and well there was a violetear around.  I had two more hours to see the bird again and well I was not disappointed, this was not named Utopia for nothing. It always amazes me how hummers get more active around lunch time...hint hint.  It was a long tiring stakeout but one only gets to Utopia once.....

some of the other birds of this trip

Groove billed ani, Mitchell Lake Audubon Center

Plain chacalaca, National Butterfly Center

In the end, I ticked one more bird to 743, tying John Vanderpoel, whom I deeply and sincerely apologize to in any way diminishing his mighty effort in 2011, marred IMHO, by the whole hooded crane fiasco of that fall, a bird he should have been able to count.

In the end, I have one less person on my contact list although I'm still getting emails from him (secretary?) which is really odd.  I missed a code three bird.    I have now dipped out twice on a yellow-green vireo but they show up.  I could keep this place a secret but well, that isn't my style.   Maybe other big year birders could get a room here too...?.  Sandy needs the money.  Sorry Christian, no car camping here.

My costs of this trip were odd.  Again, Delta flight to Minneapolis 779, to Phoenix thru Minneapolis, $239.  I had my backpacking gear to check so I stopped at UPS store and mailed it home for $118.  Saving 425 bucks or so, was too much to not give up.

Flight $239
lodging  $260
rental car $198
gas.  $65
admissions  $10
food, $52
postage $118
parking 132
the memories of Utopia...priceless

That marks the end of this phase of my year plans.  I promised my wife I'd be home to throw her a 50th birthday party and well, just like my wedding I did last July, I expect a huge crowd.  No mass baptism vows, just a celebration of the next half century for my wonderful Silja.  Maybe I'd be back to Texas and maybe soon.  As I said before, that now is the second time I've dipped on that vireo,  and missed it by less than a day...but well, I know, I can't get every bird.


Sunday, June 26, 2016

Life Elevated

Utah has the motto, "Life Elevated."  They have always thought that they are above Nevada.  The first thing I came to when leaving Nevada was this foot wash.  I never pass up a foot wash.  It was like I was supposed to wash off all the bad the Nevada is and accept the "good" that is Utah....hum?

Was this something to do with Wendover?  The split city with Utah State -Wendover and churches on one side and casinos, strip clubs, and all sorts of sin in West Wendover?  A place that found out you can't have showgirls and strippers in a casino because you have to be 21 to be in a casino and most of the strippers (from Utah State-Wendover, probably) were under 21...hum.  We only bought beer there because well we could.

Ah perfect Utah in all of its splendor.....wait a minute.  The Wasatch National Forest (Little Cottonwood Canyon) bans dogs, and horses, Alta ski resort.....snowboarders....?   A month ago I read about the US Federal Appeals court upholding Alta's ban of snowboarders.  It is a landmark decision about lessors being able to ban things on public land.  Alta hates snowboarders....those evil lots...and of course dogs and horses.....

This is expected to be sent to the US Supreme court, and I guess we'll see.  But dogs....well sort of.  They issue 42 permits for those living over 6 months in the valley, so they are hypocrites.  These are some of the most desired pooch permits in the country.  They say that dogs could ruin the quality of the water which is used for the people below.  Then why not ALL dogs?  Is there a study that dog pooh from just 42 is safe but 43 is too many?  Dog pooh is worse than raccoon pooh, deer scat, goat dropping, rabbit do....?  really?  How about human pooh?  Where do all of those campers and hikers go?   I think they are just mean spirited and bad people!  Who cannot love dogs?   Life elevated...snobs...maybe....the noses elevated nothing more.

okay...okay...rant later, bird first....I need to ask you my well versed and very educated readers better bird related

Are snowcock chicks...half-cocked?  I've always said snow is my favorite kind of cock, I guess, but maybe that is not questions I want to ask either...I would have had a field day with this trip and the puns in my 2013 year, and I could have easily gotten this bird au naturel...but I digress.

where did I start this trip?

Okay...I started in Milbank South Dakota coming back from chasing a rare Baird's sparrow sighting in Minnesota.  Some of you have doubts....let me restart birding there...last week and let us discuss this bird.....

Many of you say that is not a Baird's, it is a funny looking savanah...

These two photos were sent to the ebird reviewer and on my checklist...mine

Tony Lau's
Many of you complained about a central dot....

It really doesn't exist.

Dr. Bruce Fall  Univ of MN faculty, ebird reviewer, MN OU hierarchy etc responded back to me, after confirming my checklist
.  Lincoln's...

I would say the most likely bird this could be if not a Baird's IS a Lincoln, but face wrong and NO central dot, etc.... so I think we all need to go back to Sparrow school.  Baird's can very in looking differently but sound the same.....

I very likely will photograph another, I will end up birding in central North Dakota next week....a birder I know told me to go out and get "proof" of I think a snowcock...not sure.  You know some of you will never believe me, and I can't photograph all the birds and I don't do sound recordings.  So I do my best.  I don't really think that is why I'm in this hobby.  What do you do with the recordings, at least I make huge blow ups of my best photos.  Thank you researchers that have, though...I'm not a researcher, I won't ever do any of it.  But here is a bird, that likely with my pictures, MN OU will confirm it, much like my first flame colored tanager, AND even so many will doubt.  You know....shrug...I won't say it.  I'm keeping it on my list.

June 23  

No sleep on the 22nd, after a nice night at home with the family, I took off at midnight for Minneapolis, flying out at five for Dallas then Tucson.  By 11am I was parked below Beatty's Guest Ranch and was paying my 5 bucks to get in.  The place was empty but not empty of birds I needed.  It took an hour but I finally got pictures of my quarry.

#740  White-eared hummingbird

A lifer bird besides, probably my favorite Arizona hummer.  I have to give you another look...

I was escorted out of the end of the road by the police.  I'm not sure what was up but they didn't pass me despite me stopping to look at birds...maybe the Beatty's had called them...IDK, I was well behaved...really!

It was still early so I drove hard back to Tucson, and booked a flight to Salt Lake city that left by four pm, I drank my lifer beer with John Puschock, birding guide and all around nice guy.  He had a client and was flying home.  It is good to run into people you know, I bought him a beer, sure I owned it to him for intel over the years.

Watsatch National Forest, Little Cottonwood Canyon, Utah, June 23 (PM), 24 (AM) 25 (PM)

Okay, these people hate dogs, and are all around bad people, I guess.  The valley is gorgeous. I drove up the valley after my plane landed.  It was busy with hikers, bikers, fishermen, and everyone not on a snowboard or with a dog....skijoring I guess is banned too?

I looked around and stuck out on my calliope hummingbird search....This is the oddest place.  Everything looks abandoned, sanctioned for private ordeals, or beyond my means.  somewhere near a place called Hell's gate, I ran out of gas, me, I was dead.  No more going anywhere.  I thought about crashing in the car as there appeared to be no place to stay but the whole thing of a multi-million dollar resort complex just baffled me.  I ended up a the Cliff Lodge.  The woman looked bemused by my plea for somewhere to stay.  "We have rooms..."  She said.

"Nowhere in the entire valley does it say we have rooms available.  Nowhere are there any place to eat, and nowhere can I take my dog anywhere."

"you have a dog with?" she said.

"Well no, just saying." I gulped.

"All of the hotels are open and have space."  She looked at me like I was stupid.  Then quoted me 165 a night.  I was still angry over the only rooms in Boston being over a thousand a night and was still mad about the dog policy and then started in about the lack of restaurants and beer.
"Sir we have a restaurant and we serve beer here."  I laughed.  Utah with alcohol, yea...I got a room, they offered me free valet parking, which I don't know what that means.  I have never ever used valet parking.  First the parkers you read destroy your cars, so why would you give it to them.  Secondly, "free?" you have to give them a tip, how much?  Tipping is unAmerican and not a Swedish thing.. What if it isn't enough, do they destroy your car?  These valet people at that moment seemed more evil than the dog haters of Alta/Snowbird.  I sneered at one opening the door for me.  I made him close it and then opened it myself.  I parked a half mile away and happily walked back from a ski parking area.  The guy offered to get a bellman for me and my luggage.  "Do I look helpless to you?"  I sneered.  I found myself in room 858, and asleep before my head hit the pillow.

I woke up a little embarrassed.  I don't usually stay at higher end hotels, they don't let the likes of me in.  I don't think we can afford it.  This hotel is probably the highest priced one I've stayed at in years.  It is true that my wife and I have never used a valet park, or a bellman.  I don't understand thousand dollar a night hotels, what do you have to be worth to stay at places like this?  20 million, 50 million....?  Is there that many people who can come up here and afford to stay and ski?  I don't get it so I went birding.

There were some odd things to see like this hummer feeder made of three ski polls on top of a mound.

this broad -tailed hummer 'owns' this feeder at the village offices, but what is the deal with that weasel in the window?  They had a hummer ID guide behind the feeder too, like who could read that?

I did probably see a calliope hummer displaying near the creek but I wasn't 100% sure so I could not count it.  It looked like one and then it got chased by a broad billed and was gone.  IDK.  Thank GOD my wife texted me that they had landed at the airport and I needed to go get them.  I hoped that I would not have to come back here to these people, dog haters...they say calliope is easy where we were going.....

Ruby Mountains, Elko Nevada.

We had a problem after I picked up my family at the airport.  Lauren E, didn't bring with any shoes. I didn't know what to say?  You got to have shoes.  She gave me that teenage girl look.  We stopped in Elko 4 hours later and went to a CAL Ranch store.  I spent $60 on a new Stetson hat, I needed a new hat, I don't feel like the man in black anymore, so I like my new hat.  I needed shorts and Lena, she grudgingly bought a pair of hiking shoes....great store, this one.  LE hates buying shoes.  Here is my new hat! 

She refused to let me photo here new shoes.

The Ruby!  Cool place.  This is one of the best kept secrets I have never heard of before, and only heard of it because of one bird, and by the looks of quite a few visitors...the secret is getting out.  Generally national parks suck with too many people so people have been looking for alternatives, this is a good one.  

You cannot believe how many people have asked me whether I am taking a helicopter to go get the snowcock.  Does anyone ever do this?  Did anyone ever do this?  How wealthy do you think I am?  I will use a helicopter and not use valet parking...I got two feet and we enjoy backpacking.  Did that really look like that much fun in the movie?   We backpacked on our honeymoon.  It is a great thing, backpacking, and this time, I got my daughter with too and properly shoed, so up we went...

some views of the area

We stayed overnight at roughly 9000 feet and then in the morning in darkness ascended still further.  I wasn't sure where exactly to go so I picked a rock on a ridge top.  There is a trick to getting snowcock, and to be honest, I don't know what it is.  I relied on my old skill, dumb luck.  In retrospect, they acted like they could see us and didn't come down.  Light and then sun was up and no snowcock.  Eventually eagle-eyed me spotted 2 adults and what ended up being 2 chicks a long ways away on a cliff I wasn't initially watching.  I got the scope on them and showed my intrepid ladies the snowcocks...

741.  Himalayan Snowcock 

There is defiantly a snowcock on those rocks.  One takes what one is given.  We should have been up the hill earlier, maybe even walking up at 3am, and it was really fun watching them.  I assumed they would act like chukars and be more quail like but they acted more like grouse, even putting their tail up and walking like grouse.  I didn't expect that and watched through my scope for over an hour and then was even more fascinated as two chicks popped out for a look. Cool!!

They say the bird is noisy when they feed.  It sounds like a loon mated with a chicken, but these birds...silent.  It is a sound I have not heard in person.  We came and we saw and then we counted to steal a line from Komito.  Later, I celebrated with a beer I hiked up the mountain...IT WAS GREAT!

The ladies celebrated by riding the snow in a homemade toboggan  .

We celebrate each in our own won't catch me doing that but it was a good spectator sport.

We went down and then headed out of the beautiful canyon.  I noticed two things.  First there were dogs being walked up the trail...wonderful dogs.  I looked for hummingbirds but found none.  Nevada was my kind of place, and they even liked dogs.  What is it with calliope hummers though?  There were other birds....

Clark's nutcrackers

Lena flushed a dusky grouse but I didn't see it.  I found a red-naped sapsucker, she didn't see.  We both got a dusky flycatcher and Brewer's sparrows.

We drove back to Wendover where I had a photo op with Wendover Will

I had nothing to do with the crime scene tape, honest.

This bit of Americana has stood like a beacon on the west side of the Great Salt Basin luring in travelers (gamblers) for a half century, a large beacon of light stood for thirty years before that.  It is the world's largest mechanical cowboy.  Wendover is also part of the only place that has succeeded, almost....well the US Congress voted to allow it to move to Nevada....the two state solution for these 2500 people is not working well but the Senate has blacked it.  Maybe the Utah border will move...some day.  I must ask, maybe Utah is not nirvana? what was I washing off my feet ten miles down the road?  Maybe I was just numbing them for my return to Utah?

I made a third attempt up in the Little Cottonwood Canyon for the calliope.  The women set up a vigil at the village hall and I went looking around.  I crashed a decidedly non-LDS wedding.  The groomsmen were drinking beer in the parking lot.  No hummers....I found another wedding.  Then the women went to look for food...nope the Alta Rustler  

I went up past Alta from Albion trails and then I got buzzed.  A tiny calliope just about went between my legs from a patch of flowers near where they parked the snow machines.  

742.  Calliope Hummingbird.  I chased it but lost it.  Then I saw the only red thing around.  Two feeders at Albion grill a hundred yards away AND they were open.  We ordered hamburgers at closing time, 6pm. Finally a bit of luck, the cook began to fry.

I waited on the deck on a vigil, watching the two feeders, one broad-tailed, then another.....finally nachos eaten, things were looking grim and LE said, behind the feeder.  I turned and there it was, I grabbed for my camera as the calliope dove down off the deck.  Photographing that bird is like trying to photograph Sasquatch....the ladies were tired so we went back to the the motel.  I would not photograph this bird.  I was ready to leave Utah anyhow , and I wasn't sure I wanted to return.  FWIW the numbers

Big Year Total:  742
Coded Birds:  76
provisionals: 1 + 2

number to go to old record:  8
Miles driven.  33,204
Flight Miles 106, 100
speeding tickets: 1
flight segments: 112   Different Airports: 43
Hours at sea: 178
Miles walked 241
showshoes 4 (isn't going to be any more)
Miles biked 12
states/ prov. birded: 35
Lifers seen this year:  59
nights slept in car:  12
Airplane:  4

flights, $720
Hotel in Snowbird:  $180
not sure what wife paid for place in SLC, I guess that was on her
rental cars, $240
Beatty's $5
gas.  $55
hat and pants, $100
food, $110
lifer beers $30
total $1440
the memories:  priceless

Nevada was a fine place though.  The Ruby's were the surprise of the year.  It was an enjoyable hike.
Utah...the life elevated.....well I guess it was.  No dogs..really?  What really is wrong with snowboarders?  I guess I won't be coming here for a ski vacation.  You can't have it all.  I'm keeping plugging along, three more birds.  742. is my number.  Better still.. Lena is at 499!  Got to get one more that is for sure.

I tip my new hat to her and


Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Whole Crew

Baird's sparrow was first described in 1843 in North Dakota by Audubon.  My lifer Baird, above, seen on a family trip in 1984 and shot with a Pentax k1000 on the way to Glacier Park Montana. east of Havre MT.  I don't know even where I was anymore.  That and my largest brook trout ever caught were my memories of that trip.  That picture is one of my better pictures as a young birder with film.  However when I look at this bird now 32 years later, having scanned them in without really looking at them like a decade ago, along with the front view, photo, as pointed out by a viewer, I'm not so sure I actually had even seen a pure bred Baird's sparrow back then, possibly I owe someone a lifer beer....

Historically, Baird's wasn't reported again until 1872, a year that marked a lull in the plains Native American wars and just two years before a huge discovery in the Black Hills would change everything in the west where in 1872 in the Deadwood Creek, each shovel full of earth contained a veritable fortune in gold.  This influx of treasure seekers onto Sioux land led to friction, which led to Custer moving west, the Battle of the Little Bighorn, more troops, and the as they say...the rest is history.  Let me be the first to say, one diminutive sparrow had nothing to do with any of it.

When my birding friend Tony Lau told me he was heading to central Minnesota to look for this sparrow, I invited myself with as I said, "I need that bird."  We met in Alexandria Minnesota at 6am on the 21st after a much needed day of rest, resupply, and well, you guys and gals know what happens when two star crossed lovebirds see each other after an absence...this is still spring for one day and the summer solstice, a very important night for Nordic stock, a full moon, and ooh la la!

I digress, This area is steeped in tradition of both Native Culture and the west, well and also the Kensington Runestone...we drive right past my name sake "Big Ole" in Alex a remnant from the 1964 World's Fair near the home of of the stone and met at McDonald's.

Fort Juelson is located not far away which was hurriedly built in 1876 by Hans Juelson to protect the local Norwegian population after settlers began to abandon farms in fear.  These were just resettled after the Sioux Uprising of 1862.  Hans built the sod fort over one of the largest ancient burial mound complexes in the region, further angering the local Natives for years.  These mounds oddly also mimic the Uppsala Complex and other Nordic complexes in Scandinavia, but only I write about that similarity typically.  The only battle that this fort ever saw however, was possibly for a larger portion of lutefisk, and now later, over shared historical significance, and conjecture by people trying to authenticate the runestone as real.  I have a passion for chasing bronzed aged burial mounds all over the world and this is but one site of many I've been to.
It is also coincidental that my wife had just finished an ER shift nearby in Fergus Falls, a place I actually have never worked.  As many of you may not know, I have an MD degree.  I don't talk about it as much, even though I have college plus 9 years of training and for a decade, that was all I did.  It isn't like I did anything wrong or am ashamed of anything...IDK.  I ran my group for almost 2 decades.  I have never really been known as Dr. Olaf and don't like the title per say, although I rarely call any other medical colleague by their given name.  Everyone is Doctor or Professor to me.  I'm Olaf, or most hey, you!  I am not sure what to call the great Alaska birder and cardiologist in Anchorage, Dr. Dave?  Should I use his last name.  I don't know.  I think my lack of stories of my doctor experience in print and blog is mostly PTSD.  Life in the ER is like that.

If I do tell the stories, I try to pick the pithy ones, like my month in residency in "Stripper" clinic and what seemed to be clothing-optional Tuesdays for the patients not me, my all-nude delivery, patient, baby, father, nurse, and OB doctor,  (oddly except for me, they recruited me at 1 am to take pictures of all things), or my aborted research into a cancer cluster, where I stumbled upon something sinister that the government didn't want exposed and I made hot dogs burning the research in the parking lot in a bid of self-preservation advised to me by a doctor at Argonne or was in Oak Ridge...or maybe Hannaford....I won't tell.....  I had a residency in Pennsylvania where by noon on my first day as a doctor, my three patients had died and died terrible ghastly deaths.  At one pm my next patient was a famous singer who not only didn't die, sort of jaded my look at fame and what it did to people.

I was trained well in my first two years of head and neck trauma where for example, when I used a piece of equipment like suction cautery to stop a nose-bleed, my attending took it away and then told me I'd be fired if I ever used it again.  The joke as that eventually I could be able to stop a nose bleed with a pen, my clipboard, and one big fat finger.  I never got that far as the place overwhelmed me in negativity.  The goal here, though, was to be able to think on my feet and be able to be flexible.  That training saved my bacon later many times much to the chagrin of nurses as I would frequently head off in the supply room finding new uses for things that would solve problems certain patients came in with.

In the ER, I've worked all over in Minnesota as we were building up our group.  I still have scars in my head.  One case from Sandstone Minnesota involving a birth in a hospital that hadn't done OB for years.  Here, I "ate" a patient--meaning had to deal with something bad as couldn't transfer.  The patient was brought to the hospital by mistake, the previous doctor asked me as I arrived at 8am if I did OB (I replied I delivered some in residency but that was not something I ever wanted to do) and he promptly ran out the door and laid rubber in the parking lot.  I should have closed the hospital and transfered the patient with me in the ambulance.  I didn't.  My famous line when asking what they had the baby warmer set at...the nurse replied.  "Well we use the setting of "5" to melt grilled cheese sandwiches so we decided to use "4".  I recommended 3.5 then.  I was a terrible case, in skilled hands that would be a terrible delivery at a major OB center and here I was in an ER without OB in the middle of nowhere.  My nurse had juts transferred to the ER from a local Psych hospital.  No one in the hospital that day had even had their own children.  I was on my own.  It was bad.  It seems though, I have this "7th" gear where things sort of slow down.  Like an overdrive gear.  I have seen it on tape.  I actually talk slower.  In battle the camera shows this well like in Game of Thrones"  It does slow down in battle.  It even slows down for me in my perception during a big bird finding event.

In that old case, The blue baby born dead, miraculous through nothing I did, the equipment all broke or malfunctioned, breathed at 2 minutes and pinked up. A rare 0/9 Apgar score for any of you who know what that is, without any life support things as we didn't have anything.   Prior to the birth knowing it would be bad, I was thinking if I should drive down to turn in my license after the case, or wait until Monday.  That was 1999....

I have had many other cases, holding a hand of a man in Baudette Minnesota with a rupturing AAA, (Aorta) in a blizzard comes to mind.  I told him I didn't think we could get a plane in for hours and that he was assuredly going to die.  He asked if the TV monitor in the room worked so I sat there watching his beloved Minnesota Vikings loose 41-6 to the NY Giants in the NFC championship game as we gave him the last units of blood the hospital had.  He didn't make it to the end of the game, unfortunately, the Vikings never made it TO the game.  He died wearing his purple hat and clutching his purple jacket and my hand.  I later came down with pneumonia myself on that shift and could barely stand at the end of 60 straight hours of coverage on the Canadian border.  My last act was to xray myself and give myself antibx as there was no relief for me. It took me two days the way it was to drive 5 hours home.

I once had a five hour code on the former cook of the St Louis Rams, who eventually succumbed to the motorcycle trauma. The Rams won the Super Bowl the next year, making me wonder if their diet improved, although I don't like to speak ill of the dead.  I have the odd, the weird, and the scary, and besides knowing my wife will understand, I figured most of you wouldn't, so I prefer to talk about travels, birds, my family, and my idiocy.    

With all of this local history, scar tissue, and after nearly 6 mos of doing a big year, I pulled into McDonald's and then we were off to the fields NW of Alex.

To be honest, in retrospect, it wasn't one of my finest moments in birding especially bird ID.  My daughter needed a willow flycatcher for her year and it took about an hour to actually located the bird after we heard it.  Then we saw it all the time.

You may ask, right now, why I even came over to this part of the world to see a Baird's sparrow?  If you look at a range map, Minnesota?  Yes, always one to do things the hard way, I came to chase a sparrow that has not been seen in Minnesota for 14 years.  I did this to save 4 hours in a car.  This sparrow frequents my cabin in migration but they don't nest there and this sparrow is nomadic and will be found in one year here and not the next.  I saw a whole "crew" in Lemmon SD in 2014 but nary a one last summer.  It is a murder of crows and a crew of sparrows, by the way.  I could have driven towards Bismarck ND but that is 4.5 hours from my house and well, Alex was 2, so here I was, getting a bird I may never see in Minnesota again for a guy that does not keep state lists.

For an hour, we looked but didn't see, I saw sparrows, and photographed them, but no Baird's or so I thought. I thought I maybe heard one a few times but alas I demurred.  I questioned Tony on the authenticity of the sightings reporting it here, and he found 3 truly horrid photos of the bird, but there was a reliable 'ear bird' from a MOU big shot.  Finally nearing 9am I put my scope away and then walked back to Tony.  "Anything?"

"Just this ratty Savannah," I looked at it on a hay bale.  Then something clicked in my head....

"Wait a minute."  I said holding up my camera shooting photos.....I had looked, but not seen all morning.  "That, I think, is it."  We took more pictures.  Tony sent them out and about since I was so wishy-washy on the ID.  We had not only seen it, but we had good pictures.  Tony captured it best...

bird number 739. Then I looked at my photos.  Almost all of my photos are of the Baird's sparrow.  It was like the bird was saying "it's me, it's me" my camera brain was saying take pictures, the rast of my brain was saying, nope not that one.  I felt like Custer, sort of looking but not seeing the bigger picture or comprehending anything in the grand scheme.   This is tired birding and having to dig almost everything out myself or with friends.  Sparrows are hard work on a good day.  My daughter had left us to get away from the birding as she had already had the bird in her mind when it first appeared and figured if we couldn't recognize it that was our problem.

Well, that was that, I now had the whole Crew of sparrows, and had seen every last breeding one in North America on the checklist.....something I've never done before.  my next to last code 1, now I had just three lower 48 breeders and in a week, they will be ticked as in past tense.

 My daughter was up 2 to 494, having found the chestnut collared longspur colony near our cabin and stumbled upon a Wilson's phalarope last weekend.  She was making progress too, 494 is great!  Although she is sort of tired of blogging and has that summertime student malaise, I had summertime birder malaise, too but I needed to keep going.  My dog, Brighid can finally sleep after I'm home and as you can see, my daughter still hasn't unpacked from returning from her trip with me to Alaska.

But alas...poor pooch, sleepless vigils shall return for her as it is off again, I go.  It is a long year and I'm not even half way to the end, an end that will be hopefully spent reveling in not much attire if anything on Orient Beach in St Martin FWI.

I had a nice chat with Big Year historian Joe Lil the other day.  Joe says many birders live vicariously thorough my blog and this adventure.  I honestly don't know what to think about that.  I would advise all of you to go and see America...go see Ft Juelson and the mounds.  Think about who built them and why.  Think about settlers so fearful that you would walk away from fields and houses, and even more, of a life so bad in Norway or Sweden, that you would just jump on a ship and come to a place in the middle of nowhere.  If that is not your thing...go grab a tent and head to the mountains of New Mexico, the shore of Maine....see America and think, think of about what others have endured so that we...don't.  None of this costs much money either.  in the end, maybe you will see a couple of new birds, learn something, and maybe, just maybe you won't have to live vicariously through me.

As my ER exploits have shown me, life is way too short, one moment you are out there walking around and the next, I'm looking at a flat-line with blood all over me.  The weather is nice, get out there....anywhere, enjoy the moment.  No one ever told me in their last breath that they wished they had worked one....NOT A SINGLE PERSON!

advice from you doctor...

Dr. Olaf

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Funniest Travel story of the year

Just thought I'd lighten the mood, this is what this year is all about!
Some times I am so stupid.

I'm going through security at Albuquerque. I was happy to have gotten TSA Pre!  I go cruising through the check in guy and then as I'm piling stuff on the conveyor, I realize that I never emptied my water bottle and since I had paid $25 for it in Phoenix, it is PVC free and all of that, it is metal,  I'm not giving up my water bottle!  I go out to empty it out in the bathroom just around the corner.  No one has got in the TSA line in my absence and so I return.  Same guy ...same deal.

As per rules I have to be re-checked as does my license.  I say I know the rules, and I say "rules are rules."  I am quite jovial now and laughing at my idiocy and state "maybe I should give you my passport to vary it up a bit" as he scans my phone for my ticket and grabs my license.  He gives me back my license ignoring my comment or so I think.

His machine buzzes, This is an odd buzz I have never heard before.  Deadly serious he looks at me.  "Hold on a minute, sir.  Maybe you should zip up your fly before you go through security and so you are not subject to getting added screening. I may expose something you don't want exposed."

Maybe you had to be there, or maybe it is that I'm very tired but I thought it was funny.


Where to next Magellan?

I was thinking of titles for this blog.  "Hot in McCainland,"  "Bloody in Yuma"  "Bruised and Beaten in Buckeye"  "Sizzled in Scottsdale"  "Destitute in  in the Desert."  I could have settled on just "Why?"  Why?  Because we were mad, as in hatter, or generally just I was insane, being a big stupid idiot comes to mind.  "Where to next Magellan?"  Seems to sum it all up.  We should have died, we could have died, but well...I am still blogging

Brian Johnson of Scottsdale, my intrepid partner in this, summed it all up and gave me a title.  "Where to next Magellan?"  The only thing he said basically during the trying part of  yesterday.  We were lost, standing on broken branches nowhere near a trail.  It would be maybe a hundred yards before we could, if we wanted to, even put our feet on the sand or whatever was underneath us, it would shortly be 120 degrees, we were miles from our car and even farther from anyone else.  I had found a cave that we could maybe crawl into to avoid the extreme heat once our water ran out and had pointing it out to Brian.  That wasn't going to save us short of prolonging the agony of death.  We had no cell phone signal but somehow, Brian's phone gave our GPS location.  I looked at it on the map.  We were surrounded by green, buried in a a see of thorns and brush....I did the next best thing a stubborn Swede can do, I swore and charged ahead, promptly ended up upside down....

The synopsis:

Big Year Total:  738
Coded Birds:  75
provisionals: 3

number to go to old record:  12
Miles driven.  32,445
Flight Miles 102, 900
speeding tickets: 1
flight segments: 108   Different Airports: 43
Hours at sea: 178
Miles walked 230
showshoes 4 (isn't going to be any more)
Miles biked 12
states/ prov. birded: 34
Lifers seen this year:  57
nights slept in car:  11

Back to birding...

I am not going to say where we went.  We had heard vague rumors of this bird and I mentioned it to Laurens Halsey, he didn't talk me out of it.  He warned Brian (they found copulating nightjars together a few days ago) that my pants may come off, and yes...they did.  Brian's were nearly cut off, shreaded by the thorns.  Not for the reasons maybe he implied tongue and cheek, though.

I was originally going to not mention this bird on my list until fall/ winter.  I had a witness and a picture but you know, thinking about it, this is really not my style, BUT I'm not going to mention where we were.  The ebird reviewer knows and has seen pictures..we weren't where we were supposed to be ..the rest of you, this is all you get.  The ebird checklist will be hidden, sorry.

I'm doing this for a couple of reasons:  first safety and secondly practical.  This was one difficult place to get to.  As noted we missed a turn on foot.  (the road to where we walked was almost as bad as the road to Aliso Springs).  To where we needed to be and where we were after hiking for an hour and a half was about 4 miles to go back and correct and around to get there.  This is after we had walked miles leaving well before first light.  As such, we tried (mostly I) tried to go cross country, Brian followed and I nearly made a mistake that could have killed us.  We should have just packed it in and gone back to the truck.  Both of us were cut up badly.  I had lost some blood, and AND how I didn't get bitten by a snake is only from the graces of my team, a team of guardian angels.  Much of the blood has been sweated off.

It was 98 degrees at 0900 am, and by noon, 120?  I carried 3/4 of a gallon of water, it was not enough.  No cell phones worked but oddly we had GPS, but knowing where you are doesn't help you get to where you need to go especially standing in the middle of a mesquite and tamerisk forest with blood dripping down your arms.  So no one ever needs to think about going here, it was too much.  I would not return ever to this spot.  I would truly trade being shot at or chased by a bear, both from 2013 than to ever EVER do this again.  We were warned but we didn't listen.  We were stupid, lucky....but really really stupid.  I'm pretty sure heat stroke would have gotten us had we delayed getting aback by another hour.   I'm really sun burnt too.  Just don't go here!

We did see birds first photo of a Bullock's oriole this year.

yellow breasted chats, again FOY photo, they called in total darkness..

and then the bird of the year maybe for me

Nutting's flycatcher....
Brian's photos are even better than mine.

Reporting birds is about ego, but I'm going to say it here but hide my ebird location, just like the guys with owls do.  Secondly, practically for me, this is a big year, and competition, although I don't care about it, Christian has given me info and I him, but no one else has doing it so this here is all the people need to know as why should I help those who aren't helping me.

I got out and went for pancakes because that was what I was thinking about to keep me happy and from loosing it.  Simply know life is really just a stack of pancakes, nothing beats them, I had hoped to be able to eat them one more time...Brian smiled and ordered a burrito and French toast and an endless glass of diet coke.  In life it is the little things....and man those were good flapjacks!

Jemez Springs, NM

I enjoyed my first shower in days after my ordeal.  I wasn't going to sleep in my car again.  I savored  a rare night lately in a bed although I could only get 5 hours of much needed sleep before I had to get up at 0330.  I was groggy and had a hard time getting going.  There is nothing more sobering, though than having to put back on soiled clothing ( I chose ones without blood on them) before going through a McDonald's drive thru to go birding.  I took stock in my body as I was waiting for the standard, coffee--large, three sugars to come my way.  My right arm was luckily not broken, it was sore from when I fell off a tree truck I was standing on and flipped upside down and I put my arm out to brace the fall on my head.  My shoulder got caught on another branch so that stopped me.  I lost a water bottle in the process.  My forearm, as I now remember it, hit the side of the tree pretty hard.  My arms looked like I had gotten into a fight with a cat, deep and heavy scratches on them.  I had a deep one on my left arm that had closed okay so I didn't need stitches but it was sore.  My left lower leg was bruised, mostly as I used that leg to just elephant the brush, break the small branches and some, didn't break too easily but I would heal.

I again had to be early not only to beat the heat but as I was chasing black swift, the early bird gets the swift.  Black swifts are odd birds, they like to live behind waterfalls and feed high up in the sky so high, you can never see them.  I am no expert but in my experience, there is a method in getting this bird (well I know a nest sight in Montana, that is also a way).  One is to wait for fog or rain so that the fog and clouds forces them down to your level, or get your a$$ out to a waterfall before first light.  In June, that is not easy.  The sun comes up early in June and waterfalls are not always right on a road.

I picked Jemez Falls in New Mexico as it seemed handy to an airport and on the way home.  I had never been here.  I arrived in the parking lot with a nearly full moon lighting the road.  I hiked down to the falls and took a seat with a good view.  Immediately I got buzzed by something dark.  I cowered down into the rocks instinctively as out of the corner of my eye I could see a swift heading down over edge of the falls.  "Bastard"  I said under my breath.  Then I put my heart back in my chest so to speak and I got ready for the show.

I was not early and I turned my ISO way up as two then as many of 5 black swifts, large swifts without a speck of light or white on them cruised high overhead, I never got buzzed again.  They were really up there already but I could see them.

It is 0525 in the morning and the sun wasn't even fully up yet but I still managed to actually photograph my third swift for the year.  I haven't shot a Vaux's yet although seen them.  These birds, and at one point, I could see five, hung around for ten minutes on and off and then....they were gone.  I assume they came off the falls but to be honest it was dark down there and my first notice was the buzz-by.

I hung out until 0630 but it was mostly to try to see which Jay was sitting in a tree I could see until the sun hit it.  Stellers but that didn't matter.

It was a neat spot, and looked like yet another place I'd like to come back to if it wasn't for this dang birding year.  Bird #738 in the bag, I went back down the valley and stopped and snapped a picture of Jemez Springs, it is a bit of a throwback town

This is the Stage stop

As I was taking pictures apparently one of the tribal police was taking pictures of me for apparently going 42 in a 30.  You know, this scofflaw from traffic court, me, has no reason to argue.  The Jemez Reservation can use my $75 bucks and the cop was a fisherman, wanting to go to South Dakota to get walleye, I gave him a lead or two.  My perfect birding record over.  I had never NEVER gotten a ticket or arrested while birding, naked or otherwise and now...that is over.  My 67th stop, 7th ticket.  I didn't deserve this one but I deserved one the last 10 stops and didn't get one.  Oh well...

Some clean up items....

I had heard through the grapevine that those arm chair people out there, had doubted my knot sightings because for one thing I had waited two days to post it, well it was just a day, AND I was in Nome with no data access.  I was a little short with the guy who told me this but I was really tired and all covered in blood, really, sorry there.  The stewardess on my flight moved the person sitting next to me to an open seat, as I must have looked bad.  The day I left Nome, I finished a bunch of ebird postings at the Alaska Executive lounge in Anchorage as I did my blog the very next day.  I will add, I'm pretty sure I saw the third knot tucked in a cove on one of the ponds and watched this bird for 30 minutes with head under the wing with my daughter.  I never saw the bill but it had longer black legs and then distracted I turned away, as the bird popped its head out and flew away, I never got on it in flight but my daughter said it was a long narrow bill, she counted it, I didn't.  I couldn't tell even with the long legs and until later I didn't know these knots had black legs.  I was only 90% sure.  I had all my photos of it, which it turned out I didn't, as in the extreme cold somehow I had not put in my chip correctly.  My daughter was through birding....

When I came across the two knots two hours later, about a mile from this encounter with the single bird, I went to get friends I left on the bridge....I saw these birds well on the gravel bar,  50x scope versus my 5x camera in very windy condition and harsh light..I watched these birds walk around some loafing eiders, had light abdomens were long and wide versus stockier surfbirds, had the bronze on the wings folded....IDK.  I snapped two photos and blew it up to this....they aren't jeagers...IDK

Would I have called them Great knots if there hadn't been a previous report?   No.  I would not have called this a slate-throated redstart with out a previous report if this was the only photo in existence, either, but I had watched the redstart for a while before i tried to shoot it.

I showed this exact same picture to the Wilderness guide Aaron Bowman a hour later on the bridge and his partner....I wasn't hiding anything, in fact, I was really wound up about seeing these birds and I wanted to share....I stayed out until midnight trying to help my friends get it.  I worked hard on that bird, over 24 hours I walked quite a bit of the shoreline around the sound, thinking that with the wind they were tucked in somewhere.  When I screwed up my first encounter, I literally cried like a little kid.  .I do wish I had snapped the picture two feet earlier when their feet and lower bodies were exposed or had brought walkie talkies.  Oh well

In the end believe what you want, I'm getting nothing out of this...maybe a bill and a headache.  You guys are reading this drivel.
I guess that is not true, I have sold 114 Boobies Peckers and Tits, since this started, thank you very much.  Those royalties paid for my Motel 8 shower and bed last!  I don't expect to be respected as a birder.  I have said that repeatedly in this blog.  That is okay, this is my hobby.

I will say that with the black swift not even counting the knot, I have now taken more pictures of ABA birds in a calendar year than anyone ever has.  I know Laura Keene is trying to break this record (I think) and I don't know where she is at, I now have more than the current record...but for me I couldn't give a rat's ...well you know, ....about this record....big deal, horray for Laura, if that makes her happy, just note to whomever,  I'm out there and I got a lot of pictures.

Another nice meaning guy told me to sneak off for a week in Hawaii to get a big island total and with that I could crush the USA record.....

Is this only about the records?  If so how very sad all of this is if this is just about that.  I kind of think I had an epiphany in the desert this week.  It was very VERY good for my soul out there even before my mishaps.  Let me say this here and in all honesty, When it is said and done, I will be buried in the Anscarius Cemetery 4 miles east of Grantsburg Wisconsin or at least some of my ashes will be (I hope to be cremated in the long Nordic tradition, ashes spread at two other locations, Orient Beach and Smoothrock Lake Ontario) near my beloved Grandfather and mother, Allwin and Lucille Danielson. The previous story teller in the family, uncle George Danielson, my Great grandmother, Ellen Danielson, and my great-great grandfather Henry.  Hopefully near my immediate family, but I will have no control over that.  I'm not sure I would wish to be near me for eternity either.  There will be no mention of any damn birding records on the tombstone.  The only record I really care about is my nude birding record.  I wrote a book on that.  It has my inermost thoughts and fears in it.  When I told birding stories to Brian, it wasn't 2016 stories I largely told, it was 2013 stories, that is a record I cherish and had a lot of fun doing.  This year is fun too, but in a whole different sort of way.  This record is not not going to be mentioned on my tombstone either, BTW

I am not going to Hawaii and I am NOT going to mention my photo tally ever again, unless I am forced to.


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 ...