Sunday, November 26, 2017


In looking back at the past year, I have a lot to be thankful for.  One of the most important things to be thankful for was my health.  Last year on this day, I severely hurt an ankle.  This year, things could have been a whole lot worse. 
I could talk about the updated ABA checklist,  but instead, I'll put in here what is going to end up in my newspaper column this week.

I've mentioned this story before here, but last summer I was hiking around the Catskill Mountains in New York when I stumbled upon a Hindu temple out in the forest.  It would be an odd find, except that I was looking for it and soon, bits of a murder mystery involving kali worshipers began bouncing around in my head.  

Brahmanoor Kali Temple, Grahamsville NY

A writer sees something and it stimulates those creative juices.  The day was young, so I continued up into the hills looking for birds, eventually ending up on one of the highest mountains in the area.  I found the threatened Bicknell’s thrush totally by accident.  Walking back down the mountain, I slipped on the scree and fell down a cliff ten yards below, landing hard on a big flat rock.
I laid there on my back in shock taking inventory of my body parts.  I was still holding a pizza shaped rock I had grabbed on the way down after dropping my camera.  I threw off the rock and noticed blood around me, then I felt the pain in my right leg.  Initially, I figured I had an open fracture of my leg but surprisingly, I could bear weight on it.  I limped the four miles back to my car.  Down at the bottom of the mountain in the small town where I started, I dragged my leg into a convenience store looking for first aid supplies.  I was a mess.
The clerk looked at me like was toxic.  I talked her out of calling 9-1-1 and she went and grabbed what I needed.  “What happened?”  She asked.
“Well, I was at the Hindu temple and then went walking up into the mountains…”
“Hindu temple?”  She looked at me as I was bandaging my leg.  “We don’t have one of those.  This isn’t the city.”
“Yes, you do.”  I said.  I then told her the rough location I was at, no more than four miles from where I stood.
“You must have hit your head, sir.  Maybe I should still call 9-1-1?”  No ambulance was called and I limped off to the car, I looked at my pictures to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating. I drove back to Pennsylvania and had an epiphany, it amazed me how people had such a lack of knowledge of things in their own areas.  They were missing cool things, or so I thought.  I vowed to stop and check out any roadside attractions I came across.  All historical markers would be worthy of my attention.

The other day, I had a meeting in Colorado that took me south through a slew of points of interest.  I photographed a UFO shaped water tower and looked at lots of old houses of former congressmen.  Eventually I ended up in a place called Last Chance, Colorado, a town now located at the corner of nowhere, and forgotten.  It used to be a cattle boomtown, but now it isn’t much. 

Stephen Penrose Statue, Colorado Springs, CO, 

There are many boomtowns around the west.  Some are from mining, some are from oil and gas, and some are even from the changing tastes of tourism (thankfully not from birding).  Epiphany, South Dakota, however, could be the only medical boomtown around.
Many cities have grown due to having a very successful hospital and medical practice.  Mayo in Rochester, Minnesota comes to mind, but no one ever thinks of Epiphany, South Dakota.  Mostly because no one has ever heard of Epiphany.  I asked a few people and all I got were shrugs and zero recognition of the small hamlet northeast of Mitchell.  Epiphany is a 101-town, it has a population of 101 and is located exactly 101 miles from the offices of this newspaper.  It isn’t Deadwood, but Epiphany has a bit of a story, in fact, quite a bit of a story.

Four years after its founding, a rather unique man appeared into the prairie town.  A Cincinnati priest named William Kroeger was assigned to the fledgling parish.  Unlike most priests, coming to save his parishioners, Kroeger also claimed to be a doctor and started healing the local sick and ill people.  This attracted many other sick and ailing people to the town.  Soon, he was forced to choose, priesthood or medicine, and as a result, he set up his medical practice in town.   This was no hang your shingle operation.  He integrated the healing experience and the money began rolling in, Epiphany-Kroeger became a company town with the father’s enterprise having 90% of the property value of the area.  Everyone around was involved in the business.  He built hotels, set up a bank, developed tranportations, started a newspaper, and built medicine manufacturing facilities.   He even founded a box making factory to improve shipping for the various elixirs sent using the mail.   In fact, he even negotiated bulk passenger and shipping rates for the various railroads that served the area.  When he got into a price war with the Chicago & Northwestern, eventually banning them.  It is hard to realize that in a short period of time, this Priest controlled the economy of this part of Hanson County,
There are some interesting findings in looking up Kroeger.  He wasn’t just a pious dual trained priest.  Kroeger claimed he had graduated at the medical school in Cincinnati but there was no record of him ever attending that school.  Even the South Dakota Board of Medicine knew this marking his application as fraudulent but granted him a license anyway.  Initially, Kroeger treated his parishioners for free but then set up the Father Kroeger Remedy Company and began charging.  He became very wealthy, spending three months every summer traveling overseas with his companion, his live-in secretary/ former housekeeper/ whom he trained as his pharmacist.  As the company grew, to treat more patients, he trained his office manager to be also be a consulting physician. 
Kroeger bought the first x-ray machine used in South Dakota in order to treat skin cancers, then added two more.  Thousands of people made their way to Epiphany each month from all over the world seeking cures for anything and everything.  Surprisingly, unlike 3500 practitioners during the period, Kroeger was never investigated by the American Medical Association and is rarely referenced.  Things were booming in 1904 and then something unexpected happened.  He returned from his summer of 1904 tour of Europe with his female companion, and he got ill and died later that fall.  The boom went bust.  He was barely over 40 years of age.  The cause was possibly due to radiation sickness.  On his deathbed, he was ordained back into the priesthood by the bishop and buried in Epiphany. 

His companion tried to keep it going but she was unable to convince the state medical board that her training with Kroeger was sufficient to be granted a license and eventually sold everything off at auction.  One newspaper estimated that his wealth was about $250,000 which would convert to about 7 million in today’s dollars, not bad for ten years of effort.
At the same time period, there was a similar healing center located in Almena, Wisconsin, a small village located near my home town in western Wisconsin.  This one was led by a barefoot Austrian healer named John Till.  Till never ever wore shoes, claiming they caused disease.  Till, it was reported by the Wisconsin State Historical Society archives, would work 16 hour days, seeing up to two train loads of patients a day, sometimes seeing the very same patients seen earlier by Kroeger in South Dakota.  Till was not as integrated and his treatment involved sponging on a harsh oil concoction onto the backs of his patients.  This would inflame the skin to the point where it would ooze apparently in an attempt to draw out toxins.  Unlike Kroeger, Till never charged his patients nor set up manufacturing facilities.  He did take donations and was reported to deposit a few thousand dollars a week into the local bank.

1906 Almena, WI John Till's clinic courtesy of Library of Congress, below 1908 photo of the barefooted "healer"

Image result for john till healer

Entrepreneurs built bakeries and a hotel to serve the estimated 5-600 patients a week that made their way to Almena.  Many businesses and people profited thanks to Till.  Unlike South Dakota, however Wisconsin never granted Till a license to practice medicine and arrested him many, many times for practicing without a license.  In 1922, when he was deported back to Austria instead of serving a jail sentence due to a public outcry for leniency.

There is a lot of history out there.  It is everywhere and sometimes in some rather unique and unassuming places.  All it takes to learn It seems, is to stop and read a sign.  Epiphany….who knew?

With many thanks


Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Down in the Dumps

I told my family I was going to Texas to go get a bird, and when they asked "where exactly?"  I should have told them a recognized tourist center, IF, and that is a big believe this sign.  Instead, I told them I was going to the Brownsville dump, nothing says travel "fun" than traveling over a thousand miles solely to go to a dump.

To a person, they all thought I was insane.  I think my wife encouraged my son, Tyko to come along just so there would be someone handy to commit me, but yes, I headed off on Sunday to the Lower Rio Grande Valley's most famous trash heap.

The bird?  Some call it a garbage bird.  I prefer a junk bird.  It is a bird that for the last 9 years had found itself on the trash heap of history, well so to speak.

I could keep you in suspense during this blog which will end up being the backbone of my column in the Watertown Public Opinion Thanksgiving weekend, but well, I won't.

Monday morning my son and I were having a bad day.  We headed off from South Padre Island to Brownsville to be at the dump at opening but we were greeted by the dump maestro at the main gate driving up in an old ambulance and came out to give us the once over.  He radioed ahead and we were told mud and rain made it closed to visitors for a while.  "How long was that?"  I asked.  Another guy got a little pissy.  Said he had came a long ways and I didn't mention my South Dakota start.  The man shrugged and drove off in the dump's 9-1-1 vehicle.

The other guy stayed, Tyko and I went driving to find other birds.  That seemed like a good plan until we got lost trying to get to Laguna Atascosa and then as their circle tour road is still closed since someone(s) killed two ocelot down there three years ago.  Apparently, they are moving the road a mile north.  We have had a new phrase in my family for a few years, "driving at ocelot speed."  This is a speed so slow, that if you'd hit an ocelot, he wouldn't notice.

This whole deal seems bizarre to me.  Moving four miles of road....Would it be cheaper to just put in 50 speed bumps?  Trust me, you put in serious speed bumps every hundred feet, no body is going to run over a silly ocelot.

Besides being the premier (or one of) wildlife loops in the USA, the issue with this was on Monday, that 3 crows were seen on Sunday, unfortunately 7 miles down that road.  To hot to walk although the woman at the Visitor center talked it up as doable.'  We then drove around, saw a couple of birds and narrowly averted trouble when a scorpion found itself on my field guide.....whew!!

After scrambling from being hit by a nearly out of control vehicle on Hwy 100 filming Aplomado Falcons

We arrived back at the dump at 11:15 and they let us in no problem, we drove up where anther birder was and we looked over some ravens, some garbage

some other birders came,

and then it popped up on a fence.

Tamaulipas Crow, a life bird.  Now, I know, this looks just like a "Crow"...

A older woman birder ran up to us as we were looking at the bird.  "Which one is the crow?"  She asked and then before anyone could answer.  "Oh, the one that looks like a crow."

Yea, it is smaller, a little more of a bluish sheen to it, when it isn't bathed in such harsh lighting that it is in my photograph, but it really isn't a garbage bird.  They haven't really been seen in almost a decade when probably west-Nile virus killed off the ones frequenting the dump back them or the habitat destruction south of the border has move their range south. (I've always tongue and cheek said that the dump employees got sick of birders and went on a little crow hunt one Sunday when the dump was closed.  No one knows for sure.

In fact, this crow was unknown north of the border before the 1960s and many think it is so similar to the Pacific slope crow in Mexico, the Sinaloa crow, the two may be the same species.  I leave that to others to decide.  On 11/13/2017, if was a reason for another lifer beer and a story.

Afterwards, Tyko and I tracked down battlefields

The last battlefield of the Civil War, The Battle of Palmetto Hill, where 5 weeks after Lee surrendered a fame seeking incompetent colonel (or one trying to steal cotton) tried to force his way to capture Brownsville and got defeated soundly.  There are more rumors about this battle than almost all of them, including French aid to help the Confederates.  Yes, the Confederacy won the last battle of the Civil War..and that is about all that can be proven now.

Would you fight over this?

There was a photogenic white-tailed hawk down there....

Then we also went to visit the Battle of Palo Alto, which is the first battle of the Mexican-American War, fought basically on the same days, but in 1846 (19 years earlier) than the Palmito Hills battle.  That war, now like my crow and the Civil War Batlle is thrown in the trash heap of history but basically allowed us to steal six states from Mexico, including the LRGV, which wasn't part of Texas or the Alamo traditionally.....

The odd thing about the leaders of the Battle of Palo Alto is that General Arista and Zachary Taylor would both become Presidents of their respective countries within three years and both would die the same way, from Pneumonia not long after that.  Taylor would be our second shortest Presidency leading to his VP Milliard Fillmore becoming our 13th President.  Not sure what if anything save answers for jeopardy can be said about that but neither them nor this battle is remembered by much of anybody else these days.  Like the crow, trash heap matterial

Now, I've had a lot of potentially things happen to me while birding, some in South Texas, so I decided to keep those teaching points to myself.  I gave my son the basics.

1) shower after a day in the field in the LRGV, to avoid chiggers
2) put on bug spray for mosquitoes
3) watch out for snakes
4) Don't speed in Starr County

then we added number five.....beware of scorpions on the field guide, then six, beware of traffic, then seven, don't tell the Border Patrol, why you came to south Texas, if the answer is "I came to go to the dump to see a bird."

Crisis was averted in time, by the way.

What could possibly top going to a dump to see a crow?
How about going to a H-E-B parking lost to see parakeets?

Ah, my son is getting the joys of birding.  Next maybe a sewage treatment pond, Donna anyone?

Well this is the life of bird chasing, go when you can where you need to,
the Tamaulipas crow, one bird closer to that coveted but of no real significance 300/800 club

and as for my family....

Recycle more my friends....recycle.....


Thursday, November 9, 2017

Mission Aborted

It was a long 24 hours.  You know, as I have repeatedly said, I get stopped all the time from the police and other authorities, occasionally I even know why they stop me.  I might be the only guy driving to have blown four zero breath analyzer tests, once when the first came up 0, a second trooper was notified and he brought a second device thinking first one was defective.  Driving slowly at 2am with my head out of the window listening for owls must not be a common traffic encounter for the poor troopers.  Maybe I should NOT have told them what I was doing?  If I had been stopped today, I'm not sure I'd would even answer the usual question I get, "so what are you doing in my county?"  I'm not sure any one would believe me--they'd just send me to the hospital on a 24hr hold..
"You did what?"

The day started good enough, I got South Dakota year bird, #260 (no where near a record) a common redpoll.  My first redpolls since was going to be an expensive winter.  The flock of 250 that came that year cost me over $500 in bird seed

I also have pine siskins for the first winter ever

I cannot live by bird feeder birds alone.  A corn crake was reported on Tuesday on Long Island and yesterday, it was reported still on location.  Being not an easy chase, I wanted to make sure it had stayed overnight to go.

Yesterday, at 9am as I was booking my afternoon flight to JFK, New York, to go get it, a Facebook report came through.  A mystery hummer was reported at a friend of a friend's feeder in Berkeley--the opposite coast.  I looked at it, female Xanthu's but it looked different, somehow.  I'm not an expert on those birds.  A Baja bird only reported once before.  Later an argument of whether it was a female mountain gem, one of two species that are indistinguishable in the field rose up.  A Xanthu's is a great bird but a "Mountain Gem??"  That would be a "wow!" bird.  Always chase the better bird, I say.

I texted a California friend for details and chasability and went to winterize my cabin to give me something to do.

You go driving up here and you see things. I drove past this Merlin and made the birder U-turn to go back for the picture

It was so close, it looked big and well, I initially was thinking Prairie Falcon before I had sense knocked into me.  Typically we get Taiga subspecies here or I see these birds in the Caribbean and they are much darker.

The cabin looked good and Silja was first person to be out on the ice on Enemy Swim lake this year.

Winter isn't coming, it is here.  Deciding to get ready for ice fishing, I loaded up the truck with equipment to get ready for some fishing action before the end of the month.  Nothing beats fresh ice.  Back in the day, I'd fish on ice like this cruising around on an inner tube tied to a tree on shore.

It was about 1230  when the definitive word came out on the hummer.  Birders smelled a rat and those masters of observation recognized the feeder and triangulated a broken perch on it to one in Panama.  Intentions unknown, bird was at least not an ABA area bird, so no need to go to san Francisco.  I got home at 1;30, and because of last flight out of Minneapolis to NYC, leaves at 630 PM, with the 200 mile drive,  I had missed out.  I booked first flight out today.  I got a ticket to Islip which meant, I could leave 45 minutes later, 0630, and I could avoid New York

It was an early morning, I left at 0120 and arrived at the airport driving in snow, arriving at 5am.  There was no line at security and by 0530, I was eating breakfast at the small terminal in MSP.  I had time so I checked Facebook.  i ALMOST DIDN'T.  What new could have happened?  Hey, cool a friend Justin Bosler, we share birthdays, he was going today so I texted him, maybe we could share a car, even a hotel room.  He texted back, he was at Houston, flying to luck.  I saw the clock, 0545.  damn, my flight left at 0605, I had to run but I had read the ticket boarded at 0605.  I sat back down on the floor leaning against a wall.

My sound was turned off.  Then I noticed a second message from Justin......"Bird Dead!"
"Really?"  I texted back, "call me."
Was he joking?  I thought.
"Aborting mission."  We connected after he had deboarded his plane.  It WAS found dead.  Dang.  If I had flown Delta or if it wasn't for the dang hummer report, I'd have been out there this morning much more disappointed than I was.
I un-checked in, felt happy Southwest doesn't charge change fees, left the terminal, paid my $6 parking bill, and drove home.

I was tired but well, had saved most of the trip.

Bird chases.....two rare bird reports and for could have been worse.

I kept hearing a quote from Austin Power's movies....."Abort....Abort....ABORT!"

Mission Aborted....


Saturday, November 4, 2017

The Big Wave

We were in Orlando having a reunion of sorts, with other displaced St Martin couples.  Discussing the present, and the future.  It was a total of 20 refugees that all showed up, it was a great week, sad in a way, but great.

I got on an elevator today with a man wearing a University of Michigan hat.   I looked at him as I held the elevator to get to the Delta Sky Club at Orlando Airport and rolled my lip and as usual, said something pithy and snarky.  I despise Wolverine football like I despise nothing else in this world.  "I hear Ohio State has a good team this year," I said.  I can't use my team so I have to improvise.
                 You see, as I've written before that I am a University of Minnesota fan.  Being a Gopher fan is about five steps below being a Cub fan for a variety of reasons that I won't get into here.  We are a pathetic lot as to be honest, the Gopher football team sucks, it more than that but I can't say it here.  Their last claim to fame was winning the 1960 National Championship in Football even after losing the 1961 Rose Bowl.  Despite tying for the conference title in 1967 and not even going to a bowl game that year, it has been 56 years since UM had Big Ten immortality that being a seat in the New Year's stage, a second futility mark only to Indiana University, a team steeped in absolutely NO football tradition.  I will never see a Maroon and Gold Rose Bowl...never.
           These years of woe have had some respectable season's, but they have been few and far between and Murphy's Rule comes into play during almost every season.  Our principle rivals are the University of Iowa.  The Hawkeyes and the Gophers play every year for a bronzed pig, "Floyd of Rosedale" but although I am firmly in the Maroon and Gold camp,   I have a UI hat, a sweatshirt and a diploma on my wall from the University of Iowa, for Graduate Medical School Education in Family Practiced.
             Minnesota plays for unequaled, four official travelling trophies--with Iowa (Floyd of Rosedale), Wisconsin (Paul Bunyan's Axe), Penn State (the Governor's trophy started by Jesse The Body's bet with PSU), and Michigan (the Little Brown Jug) this is not counting the dreaded "$5 Bits of Broken Chair Trophy"

Image result for broken chair nebraska minnesota

Which was reportedly destroyed by Nebraska in 2016, but there is rumored to be a replica in place for the 2017 game.  They won't sanction the trophy though.
      Rivalry Games are fun,  I still remember the many years Minnesota knocked Iowa out of the Rose Bowl, once with Jim Gallery kicking four field goals in Kinnick Stadium beating the Hawks 12-10.  Again, though, I despise the Wolverines.  Anybody but Michigan...I always say.
       Today, Iowa plays Ohio State and Minnesota plays Michigan and I of course will always root against Michigan, but it is futile, so I'm hoping for Iowa to do something with another team I don't have a lot of time for, the Buckeyes.  They play in Iowa and in this day of rampant academic fraud committed by North Carolina, and others, something magical will happen like it does at every Iowa home game.
        Before the game everyone stops, turns around, and waves at the windows of the Children's Hospital built recently right next to the stadium.  It involves everyone in black and yellow, even the players on the field.  It moves me to tears just thinking about it.
       Maybe it was that 20 years ago, my Son, Tyko sat in the old UI Hospital having surgery as a toddler.  It was the lowest day of my life as a parent, that night was longer than any other.  I always have a special thankfulness of that place and I can only imagine what a child with cancer must think having 90,000 fans waving at him or her.  It is special.  Nothing greedy and self-righteous like other sporting events.  It isn't always about 'me.'

It brings tears to my eyes just writing this.,,,,,,,go Hawks!

Well I need to change the subject to Florida or I will just be incapacitated with emotion.

That really was a fun and happy week
well despite our family cat having lost another "LIFE" but that will be in the Christmas letter...

I was crowned Strawberry King for a moment at Parkesdale Strawberry Farm in Plant City Florida

Here I am with my lovely Queen

Then I went to see some sights.  Of course I went birding...what kind of guy am I?

I wanted better photos of a snail kite........

I guess I still do.  Always a good bird and then we went to Spook Hill, one of those gravity distortion places that i never seem to get.

Oddly, three other cars were there.  Considering the legend involves something akin to Paul Bunyan, I don't think, I'll use this "legend."  The cars do roll backwards though.  They come towards the sign which is an illusion of sorts.  One guy did it six times....he needs to find birding or something as a hobby.

I got a pretty view of Mottled ducks there with some white Ibis

After a great  Halloween party at an Undisclosed location, we went to find some hard to find birds.

Florida Scrub-jay

Always a favorite.  The Catfish Creek State Park was deserted and a great spot for them.  We then staked out the Disney Preserve for Red-cockaded woodpeckers.   We may have seen a pair in the distance but could not confirm them, seeing what I initially thought was a black swallowtail butterfly, later pointed out by a reader that it is an E. Tiger Swallowtail.  Seeing this instead, almost as good as I'm on a mission to see butterflies and ID them this year.

We did get brown-headed nuthatches

 My second spot for them in Florida this besides (or in spite of) some noisy walkers.  They just talked and talked.  Again, the place was almost deserted.  How this place even exists is a story of corporate greed and basically a cop-out from everyone.  It is managed by the Nature Conservancy, who, I might add isn't usually happy to have people looking at their wildlife.  They open late, have trails that don't go where the critters are that they are protecting, that is if they allow people on their land at all. a second try for the woodpecker, I thought like this and when the trail went left, we didn't ignoring the "Authorized persons" sign and kept going.  Sure enough, a half mile later, we found marked red-cockaded trees.  

More of them were just a tramp into long grass away but well, it was late and they were off feeding and I didn't need them of anything so we went back for lunch.  It was just nice finding where they hung out if I ever need to find them.

During the week, no great birds showed up in Florida so I had nothing to chase, just the rays of the sun and warmth and since it was snowing at home, that was enough. 

I still got an unidentified butterfly to ID

A guy needs something to do...

Anyhow.....GO HAWKS.  BEAT them dang Buckeyes because my boys have no hope versus those Wolves....and that loathsome Harbaugh and company, even Tom Brady (he was a Wolverine...too...once) is in the bottom of my barrel

And if you are in Kinnick some day....give those poor kids a WAVE!!


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 ...