Thursday, June 9, 2016

If the shoe fits....

It is clear, I must be a dumbass, I'll be crass and say it upfront....

I was in Gambell and Nome this past week and on Sunday, I found my shoes all soaked and covered in tundra mud.  Now you might not think this is odd, but these are just Keen hikers, they are not waterproof I wore them to Gambell, took them off and put on my trademark snake boots, but on Sunday I found someone had been wearing them.
I am so stupid, I cannot figure out who?
At first I thought it was possibly one of the three bears but there are no bears in Gambell.

Our wonderful guide Aaron Lang, found a boot drier for me but that sort of helped but the inside of the three week old pair was basically trashed.  Aaron wears size 14 like me but only wears his Wellington boots and besides, the person who wore mine, cinched down the laces hard, so therefore has a size smaller feet.

In the morning I hoped the culprit would fess up and offer me a new pair or a cash payment like I would hope my wonderful daughter Lauren Elizabeth would have.  "Dad if it was me, I would just buy you a new pair of shoes and apologize." but alas no....

Maybe it was Hooey the Green Parrot or a Gooney bird....they have big feet

I'm reminded of a little ditty from Dr Seuss, well I changed it to protect for copyright

Oh Say Can You Say
Said a book-reading parrot named Gooney,
The shoes on your feet are all gooey.
When you wear them, your feet
will make slips into a seat
and you may end up in Saint Looey!

apparently this bird or whoever it was operates under a different set of golden rules than we do...I guess I am just a dumbass for being unable to figure this out but who else is here in our group in Gambell?

Ah I guess my shoe mystery must have to wait...this is about birds

Alaska Strategy Part 2  Gambell-Nome

Big Year Total:  730
Coded Birds:  73
provisionals: 2

number to go to old record:  20
Miles driven.  30,855
Flight Miles 97,200
flight segments: 101   Different Airports: 41
Hours at sea: 172
Miles walked 216
showshoes 4 (isn't going to be any more)
Miles biked 12
states/ prov. birded: 31
Lifers seen this year:  55
nights slept in car:  9
mysterious shoe incident: 1

best mammals: muskoxen, moose, gray whales, ribbon seal, arctic squirrel

lost items, speaker, scope cap


You have to stop off in Gambell for a spring visit to get common ringed plover and maybe, just maybe something else to do a big year.
It isn't cheap to get here, as you have to plan ahead or use a tour group as lodging is NOT easy.  Gambell is on the edge, so near to Siberia, you can see it.

The town is a traditional native village, on the sea, located by a lake, it is dusty when the weather in't truly horrible.
view of house by near bone yard
Then after a tough tiring slog in the hills, the tundra, or a long and very cold seawatch, you hear local birding legend Paul Lehman yell "Chiffchaff!!" on the radio and everybody runs for the location, and in my case, you didn't even hear the location

but we all found the MEGA bird.....common chiffchaff

great bird great bird but it turned out to be a one day wonder.

The crew of Wilderness was awesome, Aaron, James, and Norm were great but a second problem arose that confirmed I am a dumba$$.  I forgot to read the memo.  We stayed in a house, and we forgot to bring sleeping bags.  So to sleep we piled out coats and clothing over us.  There is severe weight restrictions and as such I just assumed....back in 1997 at a moose hunt, I also assumed..........wrongly that bedding was included.  I have now done this twice, that time I just about froze, this time, we tolerated it.

Lena took to Gambell like a real pro...she is such a likeable kid, she rode bike, hiked the hills and found birds.

She looked fit and spry and I just looked and felt old.  But Craig, I did ADD to my biking total of mileage.
It was a routine, that was exhausting but it was routine, and routine is good.  I showed Lena more this gray whale
I got what we needed, five coded birds and three days later, after buying our fill of ivory, we bid our farewells and went to Nome, me wearing wet and filthy shoes....who or what did this?

here is father and daughter for one last look at Gambell

Nome was more of the same, we took a while to find our car, or hotel, (we were in the Dredge 7 annex, where was that?  Other side of town.)

It took us a little over a day to get all the local birds need and then with one on the next day, we got lucky, we stumbled into some Brits with a great knot sighting and pictures, we drove like manics to the spot, it took a little over a day and it exhausted Lauren Elizabeth but I found them on a gravel bar out in the sound, well at least 2 of them, and in the process of nearly freezing in the wind and cold, got a Terek Sandpiper.  I finally find the knots without there heads tucked and then it is way out in the sound.  I made a decision..should I get closer for a better photo (it still wouldn't be very good and the Brits had perfect photos) or do I drive to the bridge and get friends to come and see birds?...I had a pretty good scope view, there was no doubt what birds I was seeing, there were 2 great knots....birding IS sharing............I drove hard to the bridge got them and got back in five minutes.....knots...gone.  dang...we looked the rest of the day....I even told the guides of the competition where I saw them...because birding IS SHARING...fault me for not getting a good photo of them but well...I sorely wished my friends would have gotten the bird...sorry Don H and Nancy.  I was too slow.

.the sun came out giving me a good photo of a long tailed jaeger which I think was responsible for putting the birds to flight

 bad bird!

The days were long and in the end, we got it all.  We ate dinners which tired me out and in the morning we were at it again.  Even writing this blog is tiring me out.  I'm not as witty and I have been gone for oh so long...I need the hug of a good woman.  Mine is the best.

The list of birds:
Gambell June 3-6
711.  eye-browed thrush
712.  common ringed plover
713.  common greenshank
714.  red-necked stint
715.  white wagtail
716.  King eider
717.  Common chiffchaff (Siberian)
718.  eastern yellow wagtail

Nome June 6-8
719.  Long-tailed jaeger
720.  Spectacled eider
721.  Arctic loon
722.  Arctic warbler
723.  Bristle thighed curlew
724.  Bluethroat
725.  Northern wheatear
726.  Bar-tailed godwit
727.  Pacific golden plover
728.  wandering tattler
729.  Terek sandpiper
730.  Great knot

Least auklet on rock

eye-browed thrush

common green shank

red-necked stint

white wagtail

Northern wheatear

short-eared owl

One day for almost the whole day, I had my chip in my camera backwards as like I said, I am a dumba$$.  I had a nice photo of my daughter next to the Nome 61 sign..rough legged hawk nesting...other birds.....and muskox but no..nothing.

I am actually somewhat embarrassed to admit, my total has risen to 730.  If anyone asks and if I tell them, I don't say it excitedly.  I kind of look isn't an honor calling attention to oneself, it is too many, and to be honest, I'm sort of pot committed to this big year now to use a poker term.  One thing, I WILL NOT ever EVER tattoo my final number on my chest, my arm, nor even my hairy a...bum.  why?  My life is much more than a number.  I will not have it on a license plate.  I may, MAY in small writing on my birding card write "big year 2016 total 7XX".  Nothing more nothing extra.  The number more important is my daughter's number of 487...WOW!!!!!!  I feel worse we missed a Sabine's gull for her in Nome.

I think my first part of my Alaska plan worked well.  Now I wait for fall, or chase....I will finish up breeders in a little over a week.

Many have asked why?
the reason is multifactorial but here is some of my thoughts
1) I needed something to do for a year, I'm sort of retired now and at 50, waiting out a non-compete is difficult for me.  
2) I needed something to make me work out get in shape and loose a little weight, I've lost 15 #s
3) I wanted to bond with my daughter this year as I am doing much of it with her.  In fact I wish I could do all the rest with her.  I miss her when I'm not birding with her.  I also deeply deeply miss my wife plus my two sons off at college...that is hard, but to see her get 500 birds!!!! how cool is that.
4) I had all this legwork done to speed through the breeding birds.....that would slowly be lost to time, do it now or never
5) could my plan get me to 700?  Yes it has

John P, from Seattle a guide and a man I respect told me that us big year birders should come together to promote the hobby.  As I think about it, it would probably be a good idea which I say again, this is all about the hobby, saving birds, maybe I should just save the money and buy 40 acres of habitat?  IDK...but some thoughts on this.

1) I don't think the other big year birder will do it.
2)  I don't think the ABA cares about this or about me to do this.  I doubt very much anyone in the ABA hierarchy reads my blog although I am a member  FWIW.  I sort of don't think the ABA, (or Cornell) or any place would want me as an endorsee.  I tried a little to get Leica to sponsor me, since I proudly advertise my Leica bins...but alas they don't want me, they sponsored Greg Miller and his 2016 efforts not that I deserve anything.  
**please note, this isn't a knock on the ABA, more of a comment as to who am I?  which is a fairly insignificant birder who has just seen many birds this year.
3) this is really about the birds..whatever I get for a number, it is the birds that matter...I am featured once or twice a month during this year in the Watertown Public Opinion (SD newspapers) I write this blog....

but well I still doubt I'm ever going to get any calls...there is no movie in my future, Greg Miller, Sandy Komito, Neil Hayward, Bob Oke, Ben Basham....they are the faces of big year birding.......not me. 

Here are two faces of birding...holder of the largest life list Macklin Smith and Paul Lehman (left) "king" of Gambell, Alaska and seabirding expert....these should be the faces of birding....but alas, not even sure the ABA is interested in them either or maybe that is old news.    

 Yea, maybe my year number is higher than some or quicker or maybe will be higher but Olaf?  Really?  No....I am me, there will never be a picture of us together, nothing...
...and did I also mention I am a dumba$$?
So John, good idea, but well I don't expect the telephone to ring.

I really had fun on this trip to Alaska, except one d$mn shoes.  Now I have to stop in Minneapolis and get a new pair.  This isn't as much fun as my Boobies Peckers and Tits project but it is getting here.

Olaf fans.......If the shoe fits........don't wear them!  Especially don't wear them in the tundra...dang, who wore those shoes?  I liked these shoes.
Does anyone know?  Maybe it WAS the gooney bird?

My thoughts as I see them

20 to go, thanks Nome, thanks Gambell, and thank you Lauren, for just being the greatest daughter a father could ever have, let us get 13 more together!

the sign says it all



  1. I have to wonder how you get a memory card into a camera backwards? My memory card will only go in one way.

    1. Goes in slot and door closes. Not saying one of my wisest moments. Was upside down actually It was 6 am and was half asleep apparently. Like I said I am a dum..,,,,

  2. You are doing what EVERY birder in the ABA area dreams about doing in their lifetime. That is both a privilege and a burden. Some will praise you for your accomplishes, others will be jealous. You are setting the bar that everyone from now on will have to hurdle. Be proud of what you are doing. People will be using your name alongside the "great birders" from now on. It is beyond words to even be able to say I know you, let alone call you friend. Bird on my friend, your friends are VERY proud of you.

    1. Thanks Barry. But I truly doubt the mentioning as certain that won't happen. Maybe snickering

  3. Go get-em.
    Olaf the Large!
    20 to go with 6+ months left.

  4. I'm guessing someone wanted to walk in the shoes of the birder fastest to 700. And they found that they were heavy and difficult to walk in. I'm glad you did more biking. And I'm very impressed with Lauren also. My daughter is waiting for her next update.

  5. 8xx!!! what the heck is with this 7xx number goal... this is the ABA we need a record worth talking about. Big year 2 Olaf the wise against the world!

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. Splendid work! Your daughter will have lifetime memories of this wonderful experience.
    Separately, birding is an individual pursuit, no famous face is needed. That said, agree entirely with your thought that if some achievements get recognition beyond the birding community, that should be translated into supporting the survival of birds for the future.

  8. Your huge number with over six months to go is staggering. And you are getting famous, whether you like it or not. We met a bird guide last week in western ND, mentioned your name, and the guide said he's following you on Go, Olaf!

  9. Suck it up Olaf, you are famous now :-)

  10. You are famous! Laura Keene mentioned you as we birded the coast in Texas in April. Been following you ever since. Told the Texas Girls to look for you in AZ. They found you. Or you found them. Jerri & Ann say hello! So now there is this circle of Texas birders living vicariously through your blog and wishing we were there every step of the way. Congrats to YOU and YOUR daughter!

  11. First let me say that I have enjoyed reading your blog regularly this year. It has been fun to see where the birds have taken you.

    That being said, I want to offer a couple of thoughts about points that you brought up in this post. First, I completely disagree that Big Year birders are and should be the faces of American birding. While they do undertake adventures about which many only dream, they are generally a very privileged few (myself included). They are such a small minority so as to be statistically insignificant. They would hardly well represent the everyday birder.

    This brings me to my second point; The best birders aren’t always the ones with the longest lists. Certainly the more birds one has on a particular list – state, year, life – the more he or she probably knows about the continent’s birds and how to identify them. However, this is hardly an absolute as many very talented and skilled birders simply do not have the required time or money to run up huge ABA lists. There really isn’t a tight correlation between the number of species seen in the ABA area, actual birding ability, or dedication to habitat/bird conservation.

    The point is that the birding community should turn for guidance to those focused on outreach, education, and conservation. A Big Year is an incredible experience, but it is ultimately a fairly selfish pursuit – as well it should be to so as to be successful from a numerical standpoint. There are many dedicated folks doing the ground-level work at the local level to whom the birding community would be better served turning. Organizing a successful birding festival, for example, is a far more difficult and selfless pursuit than a Big Year, your current or my past included.

    You listed a number of Big Year birders by name, and said that it is they, rather than you, that are the faces of American birding. However, you forgot the perhaps the most important Big Year birder of all time, the man who might actually be the face of American birding, Kenn Kaufman. Beyond his own Big Year, Kenn has contributed to birding in numerous way, his pioneering approach to field identification being just one of them. He is a person who has rightfully assumed a revered position at the top of the birding pyramid. The other folks you listed (and I know several of them well) have not yet made that jump beyond their year lists to become birding icons. Some might, but they aren’t there yet. Neither am I.

    Big Years are great, but I know for a fact that many in the birding community are losing their patience for them, particularly as county birding, patch birding, and green birding gain steam. An organization like the ABA might not want to pin itself to a pursuit that some feel, myself included, is losing steam. At some point, and it may be with the number you post at the pace you are going, people (and sponsors) are going to redirect their time, money, and attention elsewhere.

    It sounds like spending time with your daughter has been the highlight of your Big Year. Maybe once you get to 750 you should just close up shop, not chase another bird, and spend the remainder of the year in a car, slowly and casually birding with her. Right now your Big Year is all about the number, as evidenced by the running countdown to 750 you present with each update. You have the chance to break the record AND have the time left over to so something remarkable beyond that. Imagine if you saw 750 species, and then, with your daughter, showed 1000 grade-school kids their first owl in the same year. Now that would be a really Big Year - for everyone.

    You are certainly having an amazing year, so just enjoy it for what it is: a really fun year which is likely going to be the most numerically successful Big Year ever. What it is beyond that will be for you, and only you, to decide. I wish you continued safe travels and plentiful birds. I also hope the time you spend with your daughter continues to be as rewarding as it has been to this point.

  12. Olaf you are doing great! 730 in June, that is insane!

    I have been tracking your progress against previous big year birders and occasionally reporting here in comments so time for an update.
    First of all, you already have the sixth highest big year total ever. And you will quickly pass Bob Ake (731) and then Jay Lehman (734). Heck, pretty soon you will pass everyone.

    To compare against the top three, lets look at the dates on which they reached 730 total and 73 coded birds:

    Date to reach 730 total:
    Neil Hayward (2013): November 6
    Sandy Komito (1998): August 24
    John Vanderpoel (2011): November 6

    Date to reach 73 coded birds:
    Neil Hayward (2013): November 18
    Sandy Komito (1998): June 22
    John Vanderpoel (2011): November 11

    Obviously you are way, way ahead of the pace needed for beating the previous record. Note that Sandy had about 24 fewer regular birds available back in 1998 so you don't even need to match his coded bird total (96).

    BUT..., as you well know, your main competition is not the previous big year birders, but John Weigel, "birding for devils". As of June 8, John has 683 birds total, well behind you, but he has 79 coded birds, which is six more than you. That makes him a serious threat.

    So you two are in different boats right now. You have regular birds just about finished up but need to keep chasing coded birds, while John has to scramble to fill in his regular birds (he is still missing a lot of them, some of which will really be tough later in the year).

    Its going to be fun!

  13. Go Olaf, Go!!!

    Without a doubt you have become a celebrity, at least in some circles (haha). We really appreciate your regular updates and the opportunity for so many to live vicariously through your adventures. And let me be yet another to add: what a blessing to have this precious time with your daughter!

    So just for grins and giggles, I decided to do a little data-mining and come up with the top 20 most frequently seen birds in the ABA area you still need. It's pretty astounding that you only have 3 code-1 birds remaining!

    1) Red-naped Sapsucker
    2) Calliope Hummingbird
    3) Nelson's Sparrow
    4) Groove-billed Ani
    5) Black Swift
    6) Manx Shearwater
    7) Dusky Grouse
    8) Red-faced Cormorant
    9) Buller's Shearwater
    10) Baird's Sparrow
    11) Sharp-tailed Sandpiper
    12) Bicknell's Thrush
    13) Blue-footed Booby
    14) Brambling
    15) Flesh-footed Shearwater
    16) Northern Lapwing
    17) White-eared Hummingbird
    18) Ruddy Ground-Dove
    19) Yellow-green Vireo
    20) Gray-tailed Tattler

    As others have already noted, with a list like this, it's not IF you break the record, but WHEN you break the record! What an amazing run, you've had so far!

  14. Congrats on everything you've accomplished so far - but you still have more birds to see this year.

    If you head back to Colorado for dusky grouse there are nesting black swifts in box canyon park outside of ouray that allow good views and decent photo ops.

    1. Agreed. Best place to see Black Swifts:

  15. For the record, when I said you two should team up in promoting, I didn't mean to promote birding. I meant to promote your big years and the competition, you know, so you would be more likely to get a movie deal next year.


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