Thursday, December 8, 2016

Seven Islands whose name I can't pronounce

I just submitted my biweekely newspaper article which may be entitled a Bridge too Far (my editor at the Watertown Public Opinion usually picks his own and changes mine) and I described my last week in relation to the 1977 movie by the same name, which described Operation Market Garden in WWII.  I spread myself too thin and I spent last week first stuck in Anchorage waiting on the whims of Pen-Air cancelling flights and moving my rebook around to the point that it made no sense to stay because they had no return seats.  They didn’t add extra trips to pick up the slack from the cancelations…..hate that airline.

I don’t want to write about it, again.  It wasn't just that.  I broke a tooth (again), had terrible fever and chills, developed pneumonia, and I ended up coughing up blood.  I had a 6000 mile flight day. I did get the La Sagra’s flycatcher in Key Biscayne, ran into Larry Manfredi and clients, met Smith Juan and saw another thick-billed vireo and a western spindalis btw.  All good but I severely sprained my ankle on a jet bridge in Atlanta, and never made it to St Paul Is.  If you want more of the story invest in the newspaper, I am too tired of that week of my life and do not want to again live the nightmare. 

Fever broke the day before, I left yesterday in a new direction, called Quebec.  I speak neither French nor dress like one, but it was an interesting sojourn to Sept-Iles Quebec to chase another questionable duck, the Common shelduck. This bird first seen by me in Iceland a decade ago, where I got involved in the count they were doing of this bird as I had some good sightings.  This bird is a notorious escapee here in the USA but recently one showed in Newfoundland.  I think they are up to nearly 100 breeding pairs in Iceland now,.  The theory is that they disperse in the fall and that one was recently certified by the Newfy Committee as a first record but the ABA hasn’t acted upon it yet nor of course this bird recently found in the ends of the continent up here about 400 miles east of Quebec City.

With all of this, I arrived last night into Quebec.  I got all worried about my Alaska BS and it made me sick so I’m trying to go with the flow and say everything will work out, you know it did.  I trusted my gut.

I was originally going to fly from Winnipeg MB as it is easier to fly from there to Canadian destinations for me when I’m home (almost as close to me as Mineapolis) but I had a bad feeling about that so I spent a little more and booked through Minneapolis.  A blizzard came through just west of me and lambasted i-29 to Pembina Hwy and the roads are still closed up there.  Gut check #1.
I then had a mixed flight Delta, Westjet, and Air Canada on two tickets to make it there last night and things went well until in Toronto the Quebec City Airport radar went out and West Jet drew the short straw apparently (Air Canada flights landed by VFR but Westjet doesn’t do that) and so my flight was late and once we took off, then we had to circle the airport for 40 minutes before we landed, all the famous buildings in Quebec City were lit up by lights.  I sat there wondering what Benedict Arnald saw  in his ill fated attempt to seize this city in a snowstorm during the Revolutionary war on December 31, 1775.  That ended in disaster and was the American's first defeat of the war.

I had checked in online at Toronto with some difficulty as Air Canada had just released their new website it had bugs.  They would not let me book online and I couldn’t check in.  With persistence, I got checked in but they could not send a boarding pass to me.  I was checked in though and we landed about 3 minutes before my scheduled departure but luckily having checked in, and as the gate people were being slow, I cruised over and they took me with them and on I went.  I was hungry but well I was on the airplane.  Gut check #2 to check in online despite it not working.

Sept-Iles is about as nice of a middle class city you could ever want to see.  I’ve been to places like Winkler MB, here, Lethbridge AB,  for examples and all are very well kept little cities where US cities tend to be a bit shabby and not resident friendly.  I sat there in Sept-Iles thinking this is exactly the kind of Middle Class cities the Green Party is trying to destroy. I do not like to get political but this needs to be said.  Sept-Iles is a place built on shipping, Iron ore mining (Big Rio Tinto plant), and associated support manufacturing and transportation.  The Green Party would just close this place and make everyone unemployed, forcing them to move (or they think of some mythical “green Jobs”, the only green jobs here are cutting the green spruce trees).  They don’t get that people need jobs and this is a wonderful little place.  Not everyone can work for Google.  The sea, woods, and the city is so perky looking. This city looks like a French speaking working class utopia, a little cold but heck, they got an airport.  I have never seen so many auto dealerships in a city this size.   Great restaurants abounded. 

Any hoot, the bird was seen 25 miles west of the city in a river mouth, but there was one problem, cold….-20C last night and open water not on the St Lawrence Seaway was absent, and in some cases the bays of the seaway were frozen.  I got to the river and the bird was nowhere to be seen and it was frozen solid.  The blind was filled with snow.  There was not even a crow around.  I went to the beach.  Nothing.  Two construction workers walking a dog and that was it.  I looked out and saw the sunrise.  Don’t be fooled by the picture above, that is just a great black-backed gull in the orange.  Sigh. 

 I went back for my scope seeing a couple of birds in the distance out in the seaway to identify them…a loon and a gull….I walked the beach in a attempt to see the loon closer as I wasn’t sure what it was.  Gut check #3, follow your instincts.

It was cold but well.  I needed to know for some reason.  I looked at it…a common loon and then I saw a small bit of white just in the narrow channel cut over the sand where the river goes through the beach, it was a lucky and shocking find……got him! I would not have looked here.
Common Shelduck

I’m sure I would have never walked down here if not for some dumb reason, I needed to know the ID of that loon.  My face was cold and shunting blood flow.  Having spent almost everyday in extended periods Ice fishing in my life I can deal with cold but I’m still sort of lazy and well, It was cold here.  But I got the bird.  Everyone described a flighty bird even the last guy, Barrett Pierce, but this duck, just hung around until I closed in a bit and I pushed it out in the Gulf.  It just worked its way ahead of me and never looked  about to fly. 

Pretty bird!

I had an uncooperative sun but I was sort of surprised I found him. This bird will not be in this spot for long, I think it froze up on him last night and I'm thinking he hasn’t gotten around to leaving yet, and I’m not sure where he’ll go.  He’ll starve now staying here.  It might be a young bird but I hope it has some sense.  It was good I got here last night.  That is all I can say.

So I got back to town and Gut Check #4, I needed to go but not sure where or why.  I went to the airport to see if I could jump an earlier flight.  I learned something interesting and angering.  If I would not have tried to jump an earlier flight I would have never known.  I had been triple booked by Air Canada!  Damn them.  The lady was able to cancel it since I came so early and she wasn’t doing anything.   

I also flew out 6 hours early.  In Quebec City I rearranged my plans on more gut checks.  Being top tier Delta I had a grand of change fees waived as I had the feeling I needed to go west, head home, resupply as my stuff I had left in Anchorage had came home.  I'm off to Neah Bay.

So now I wait on this shelduck, I can add this bird two ways, the ABA approves the bird in Newfy and since this one came afterwards and fits the area you would expect to see a true vagrant and no leg bands or clipped wings have been seen.  The second way is that Quebec and then the ABA approves this bird.  If they ever approve a common shelduck it will have to be one of these two birds, if not it is clear no common shelduck will ever pass muster save one with an brochure from the Blue Lagoon stuck around it's neck.

I did have a nice trip and I also learned my newspaper series has been nominated for a regional award, it isn't a Pulitzer but is something.  I'm feeling better and added a pesky flycatcher in Florida and saw a good looking duck to my provisional list, all good.  Maybe I learned to go with my gut.  It got me to this bird and back otherwise I would still be sitting in a truck stop on the North Dakota Manitoba border...yes the freeway is still closed.


Big Year Total:  773 (plus 4)

Coded Birds:  100
provisionals: 4
checklist 2
IDs pending 2

Miles driven.  43,435
Flight Miles 236, 100
miles on ATV 475
speeding tickets: 1
flight segments: 231   Different Airports: 69
Near bear/ death experiences 2
Hours at sea: 284
Miles walked 511
showshoes 4 (isn't going to be any more)
Miles biked 12

states/ prov. birded: 37
Lifer states 49
new ones this year 3
Lifers seen this year:  74 (+2)
nights slept in car:  12
slept in airplane:  16


  1. Another great and successful adventure. Congrats!

  2. Great stuff on the Shelduck, and now you can literally say you are flying coast to coast; well, okay, maybe not flying the whole way but definitely travelling, and not just from some inland waterway to another.
    Little French pronunciation lesson for the day from an ex Quebecer. Sept Isles; sounds like set eel. Au revoir and bon chance a Neah Bay.

  3. You should have stuck with your instincts and not gotten political. "People need jobs" - certainly then you'd be in support of industry if the job was killing little old ladies - after all it's jobs!

    Stick to birds.

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    3. Didn't know there were jobs killing old ladies but would be against that Not sure killing old ladies is equivocal to working at an iron ore processing or driving a train

  4. I liked the arrows for their help in organizing your notes.


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