Tuesday, October 18, 2016

My Clown Car and Me

Okay, again, you may say, Olaf, this time you have gone to far, done some crazy hair-brained stuff, stuff no other birder would try.  Maybe that is so but well, who else would dare do it in a clown car?

I flew south on Saturday landing in Seattle just in time for the arrival of a remnant typhoon that hit the west coast, the Pineapple Express they call it and it meant for wind and rain all the way done to California.  At SeaTac, I waited for an hour just to get a gate and then ran for my plane, a flight to San Francisco that was bump and grind, rough, and just wild up in the air.  You don't hear screams everyday and then crying on a jet.

I was a little woozy when I got to SFO and stumbled to the rental car lot.  Usually, I rent "Manager's Special" at Hertz and typically I get nice big cars.  I saw my number on the Hertz Gold Board, #18, cool, I didn't have to walk too far.  I saw a sea of cool cars, one of them had to be mine.  I was soooo excited.  It is about time I got a break from Hertz, whose points BTW, you can never use.  There was a Mercedes, a couple of Mustangs, three nice full sized vehicles and then in space #18 I saw it....OMG, I stopped right there and started to laugh.  They had given me a clown car.

It was cherry lipstick red, small, well puny, but it had four doors, like why would you buy a 4-door of this Yaris model any how?  The driver's seat didn't go back far enough just about for me to get in, but it was tight.  I kind of wanted to drive with one of my legs in the passenger side but that didn't work so being me, I just drove it away, away on another adventure with just me and my clown car Bozo (my wife named her car Batty White, and here I am with a clown car named Bozo.  It drove loud, had the pick up of a lawn mower and fish tailed at speeds above say 45, climbing a small hill, it sputtered and just about died.  It was a clown car.

So I headed down towards Monterey into a real soaker which is VERY good for California, they need rain.  I tried to find a sharp-tailed sandpiper in Moss Landing but I could not figure out the dairy the bird was in and it looked like I had to drive off road with my clown car on some muddy dirt.  Off road for Bozo is a Walmart parking lot and I'd give it 50-50 that I could even drive through that so I bailed and left the sandpiper unseen and went to my motel.

Here is Bozo at the Motel Six in Watsonville.  I ate a place called Round Table Pizza, oddly they only had square tables.  The pizza was good but there was pieces of pizza everywhere like I had just missed a food fight.  Maybe all the round tables were out being repaired or disinfected?

October 16th got me on Debi Shearwater's last pelagic of the season and it was a bit of hell, a bit of melancholy, and I bit of stupidity.  It rained, it blew, there was swells, and generally only a few birds.  Debi told some Brits that there was "No f^&& way" we'd see storm-petrels when they asked but a little ways out of the harbor, that was essentially the only thing of note we saw....go figure.  Many asked what my goal bird I needed here and to be honest, I didn't have any (the stupidity).  I had already paid and my big plan was for Monday.  What else was I going to do?

I like Debi and sort of miss her already, like I said, she has one heck of a story to share in her biography, I'm just waiting for the word and we can write it....

Best bird....Wilson's storm-petrel

We saw ashy, black, and Leach's too.  We had a guy so seasick, like I can't believe anyone that gets that seasick would ever set foot on a boat.  He laid on the floor of the boat and after crawling there from the stern and didn't move for three hours.  It was hard not to step on him....me, I don't get seasick.  This wasn't rough enough for me to worry, but it could get bad out a ways.  One of the birders on the boat wanted us to strap in the old people so they wouldn't get hurt and head out deep to look for rare birds....Debi just shook her head and we headed back to port.  It isn't worth dying out there.

We got back at 1230 and I drove up the coast and birded my way to Half Moon Bay.  I found some young golden-crowned sparrows and lots of wind and rain.

Bozo got pushed off of the road twice by big gusts, I as afraid i'd be a road casualty so I went to San Mateo and sacked out for the day.  After I ate what was a bad burrito.  I need to have a moratorium on eating Tex-Mex food--broken teeth,  Son of Montezuma's revenge, beans and gas....I just have to say no.

The bird I really wanted to get in the bay area was the blue-footed booby and I tried everything to get out there but there was either no room or no boats.  I asked my wife if spending this kind of money for one bird was worth it.  She was understanding and told me she would expect me to pay this and go.  If another BFBO showed up in say Los Angeles, there would be new plane fares, motels, cars, and I was here already, I needed to do this.  On Friday I called a boat broker Scott who said he'd help me and things looked good so I invited a couple of people with.  What I paid for this boat in this time of need makes me feel really bad.  But I guess it is only money.  I don't want to think about it any more.

2130 last night Scott gave me a call, boat "A" was stuck in Santa Cruz and so he had gotten boat "B" as no one wanted to go, thinking it was too rough out there.  The Perfect Storm was too rough for me, otherwise, I can handle anything.  I needed this bird.  Well, this back up boat was it, otherwise I couldn't go, it was just a 30 footer, only held 4 people and had no bathroom, so only guys could go.  I called a couple of Facebook friends I had invited and then uninvited them.  One had driven 7 hours already and was staying a mile from the boat....I was in the dog house.  I was the clown in a clown car.  Sleep was poor, thinking about the lives I had ruined at least for a day.  Sheez!

I arrived at Point Pillar Harbor at 8am stuck for a while in a traffic jam, so was the broker Scott, and the captain, Scott at the party boat rentals called me said, we got a back up to the back up boat, (yes let another boat) and it was a bigger one and so I called everyone I had told not to come and they drove down, I was out of the dog house.   We got out late but we got out.

The ocean swell was 15 x 14, fifteen feet high at 14 second intervals.  The biggest seas I had ever been in short of the Aleutians.  It was not for the faint of stomach.  One of my guests failed pelagic 101, chum the BACK of the boat, not the floor, at least she was outside.  But she was the first victim of the seas.

Mr. Birding Project-- Christian came with, he searched the left side and I the right side of the boat for birds.  There was no team of spotters, we were the team of spotters

It was no pleasure cruise but slowly we made it to the Farallon Islands.  What a neat place!

The seas were too rough to go around them but we got into fisherman's bay next to Sugarloaf and looked for my quarry.

The only west coast northern gannet was found first.  This is the rarest bird we saw on this day. I have now seen this bird three times 25 miles apart, odd bird, how did he get on this side of the ocean, this is an Atlantic bird?

then we kept looking, one then a second brown booby was identified and then there it was... year bird 766, the cover bird for my book Boobies, Peckers, and Tits the

Blue-footed booby

Yeah!!! More boobies, more often, I always say.  I had seen juvenile birds of this species in 2013 on the Salton Sea, well I saw 9, which is closer to their home in the Gulf of Baja, Mexico, but it was still nice getting one this year especially considering all of the logistics and money I paid to even try for this bird.  I doubt I'll ever see the Farallon Islands again, and it was cool to just have the privilege of coming here.  The land of angry Great White sharks, interesting scenery, and cool birds.

We headed back after everyone had seen the birds and found a feeding area of sea lions and whales

one of the birds in this melee was a black footed albatross

The only one I've seen in my last 5 west coast pelagics, there just isn't much food out there and the birds are largely gone. We did see a few Buller's shearwaters and 4 south polar skuas including a rather different looking light phase.  But in general we just surfed the huge swells home and back to port seeing a paucity of bird-life.  The only other boat out there?  A container ship and a fishing trawler, nothing else.  No one else was crazy enough to go out on a day like today, but I needed a bird, and well the captain needed some money.

So after the initial snafu of playing musical boats, my inaugural Booby Charters by Olaf, "the Boob Cruise" was a success!

So there you have it.

I was there and so was Bozo, my Booby Prized Car!  My clown car and me, what a pair are we.

You know there is this band from Minneapolis called Dillinger Four with a Song called Clown Cars on Cinder blocks.  The singer laments December is 31 days too long and this year has gone way to slow, yes it has, but I still have 2.5 months to go to get more birds...

So after doing ebird lists with Christian, eating a very good hamburger, I drove back to the airport and returned Bozo with two warning lights on, a window doesn't shut properly and well Bozo can be someone else's problem from now on.  My ticket says Minneapolis and then home to dentist but who knows if I'll ever get there, I am like my clown car, you will never know what will come out of it or where it or I will turn up next.  Where to next?   Even I don't know that.

Blue-footed Booby, though, is off the board.



  1. Okay. The boat I rented actually ended up being the New Captain Pete Dennis's boat. the boat Debi uses although she had nothing to do with it. small world. I ended up paying a thousand bucks for this bird. In my pursuit of openness. I probably got a bargain in the private pelagic department

    1. If for whatever reason you do this again in NorCal this year, count me in. Itching to get out but the two main operators are done for the year.

  2. Being a naturist and a birder, I've read your book and loved it. I'm in awe of your Big Year!

  3. Well done! A great bird, even if it was expensive.
    As they say, in for a penny.....

    1. Thx, crazy crazy, oh well, I was an anecdote...remember that time Olaf when you had to charter your own boat?

      Man I got material, I since I never met a podium I didn't like, I could just open up my mouth and I'll never repeat myself...LOL


The Lowdown of the Lowcountry

On Wednesday, we moved from a very overcast and wet Southeastern Virginia to a sunny southeastern North Carolina.  We reached the Low countr...