Sunday, December 31, 2017

Yet Another Year in the Books

Well, another year is history, as is another chase.  Loki had his way with me and well, all I can say, is 2017...and as they say.............that was that.

2017 was a year of post big year lethargy, trips, retirement, college tours, asset sales, asset purchases, baptisms, graduations, weddings (where Pastor Olaf forgot the bride's name), books, fish, big fish, a dead cat, hurricanes, property damage, busted dreams and hopes, friends, and well, I don't know, can I say I actually had fun....can I say that?  If life wasn't fun, you might as well just die.

So...the bad wasn;t bad enough to get me and the good, well pretty good

well like I said, Loki was busy with me this week.  Ian Paulson, a birder, and comment-meister told me so, he was kidding but then it came true.

I went ice-fishing up in Wisconsin on Christmas and nothing bit on Big Dunham Lake

Nothing was biting except the cold on Big Wood Lake next to my parent's house

Then I get this call from my dad, a guy, a local yahoo named Harley Meyer, was driving across my Dad's lake, lifelong ice fishermen, we all watch the lake, and the ice was two thin, but Harley was going like hell as they say, and my dad watched as the ice began to form waves from the pressure of the too heave SUV as the ice pushed up in front of it, and then it happened, it snapped and down went dad called 911 from his window.  The two men, wet and cold got out, but it was in 25 feet of water and the SUV, sunk.

IT has been 4 decades since the last car sinking on the lake, generally, Big Wood is not a dangerous lake to drive on, if you let the ice form, there is usually a road between the two landings cutting off some miles to town.     but this event I MISSED IT!

Under Wisconsin law, you get 30 days to get the car out.  Next Saturday, armed with beer, camera, spotting scope and well, a comfy chair, I'm heading over to watch them cut it out, the event of a lifetime.  Everyone who is anyone will be there.  Even this humble writer.

So I went birding...

I need a white cheeked pintail and after coming home with something bad in the tum-tum from St Martin OR the Christmas bird count, on December 26th, I was medically clear to chase birds.  Someone reported the pintail was back so away I headed to Florida.

sitting in the Delta lounge, I got a message, report errant, it was the 23rd, too late so off to Florida I went.  Along the way, I booked myself from Miami to San Diego.

I get there and...of course, no duck, I hang out, count a couple of year birds and go to Bill Baggs SP, park at nature trial near lighthouse and look around.

I get a Mag. Frigatebird for the year, hunt for LaSagra's and well, by 1pm, it is time to go to the airport.

I get to San Diego and would you believe?  A Loggerhead kingbird at the very same place I parked my car, less than 24 hours away, the 24 hour rule BITES!!\

Well, there was nothing to do but get the bird I had on the west coast and it took me an extra day to get out in the bay to see the target bird here a Nazca Booby with Dave Posey in which I ran into a whole slew of people I knew

Malcomb from Kansas City KS, Greg from Reno, Martin, from Trukee, Larry (number 3 all time ABA life list) from Indianapolis, in which I pointed out the booby to him from shore, how many life birds can you get to that with the great Larry Peavler?  Even Monte, number 6 all time and 1st all time with photos called me....
I met many others for the first time

of course the lifer Nazca booby from South America....we did see that

afterwards I went to Balboa Park....there Loki taunted me while I was looking for state birds.  You see California is my third highest state and although I don't care, I had a few hours, and a greater peewee is a good bird, unfortunately this homeless looking guy at first walked by me...

"Trump...TRUMP, he is killing all of the birds, killing all of the birds.  You know, he is killing them, killing them all....ha ha!

Then later, sitting by other gods in the trees, "big lens, I've seen bigger, much bigger.  You CAN''T PHOTOGRAPH WHAT YOU CAN'T see!!  I curse your lens.  No birds...trump killing them, he eats them...ha ha!

Then in the bathroom, he wanted to show me a bird...a very big was time to catch my flight

nice birdy park though, and with all the planes coming overhead, you knew where the airport was

I did get a summer tanager and a Bullock's oriole, a rare bird and a another state bird, so that California passed South Dakota for my number 2 state by a single bird.

Bullock's Oriole

Summer tanager, female type

but who is counting, I guess

A year of lists:

Strangest Bucket list item:  making meatloaf
worst bungled bucket list item:  Tracking down a Thor Gustafson, from grade school, he didn;t want to be me.


I put in 295 birding checklists into Ebird this year
with 1044 ABA area ticks, so I still got around despite me pretty much taking the year off from birding

In ABA land.  I saw 434 species of birds down 344 species from 2016, but considering I was on a moratorium for true bird chasing, not too bad.

all in all adding 7 life birds this year, 
Gray-headed chickadee
Swallowtail Gull
Cassia crossbill
Masked Duck
T. Crow
Nazca Booby
was not the worst year.....I sit at a rather irritating 797
which includes the 2 armchair ticks from 2016, plus an armchair lump

Best bird:  Masked duck

Worst miss:
I only had two full on dips on a full blown chase
I also dipped on seeing smooth-billed ani but I was just 30 miles away and decided to go see it

The real miss:  The white-winged tern though on an ill-fated trip to Pennsylvania hurt the most
missed it by "that" much, was there at dark, I was there at first light....poof!

In South Dakota, I saw 266 species, adding 77 state life birds to my cache bringing it to 289, a very sad number but I've set myself up to break 300 in May next year
best bird?

Ruffed grouse

worst miss...
Curlew Sandpiper, put bird in scope to show Barry Parkin standing next to me, who needed bird and Peregrine flew in and everything scattered, never found by anyone again.  Could not count it.

I saw 79 species of birds on St Martin, which is a record for me:
I added a few birds
Best bird...
Bare-eyed Pigeon

worst miss:  Black-throated green warbler

Best spot:  The Brooks Range Alaska

Bets day
Ripon College graduation, one day, 2 graduates

Bets fish, Daughter L with a 39.5" pike

coldest walk

the route to Aaron Lang's secret dipper nest

goofiest idea, buying this Frank Lloyd Wright house

last bird was a common redpoll  on last checklist at home

the last photo

last temp will be around -28F or so, tonight, no New Year cheer for us, I'm drinking Gran Marnier 

I guess again, who is counting?

I am two days from finishing a huge novel, "Counting Owls" and that seems like a better project


You know I will keep having adventures...I need three birds, 

So give it up Loki, you tried and failed

happy New Year, I hope 2018 treats you well


Monday, December 18, 2017

On Christmas Bird Counts and Camels

Christmas is the time of eating, giving presents and ugly sweaters, people singing, programs at church, watching the same movie (from It’s a Wonderful Life to Love Actually), and even eating strange fish- inspired meals (lutefisk).  Luckily, we only celebrate Christmas dinner with Swedish potato sausage which, in my opinion, is pretty good.
               Something else that happens every Christmas ….is the Christmas Bird Count, the CBC.  This tradition came about as something productive to replace the activity of going out and seeing how many birds one could shoot on Christmas Day.  This year is the National Audubon Society’s 118th Christmas Bird Count, and all counts will be conducted between the dates of Thursday, December 14, 2017 and Friday, January 5, 2018.  This isn’t just going out and counting birds.  These are quite organized affairs.  They are held in Sioux Falls, most of the major cities around, many of the National Wildlife Refuges, and most of the cities in the Hills.  However, there are very few of these held in Northeastern South Dakota.   I’ve never seen data or an invitation of one being held in Watertown, so I don’t know the history there.  There isn’t one in Milbank.
I have memories of the CBC in Grantsburg WI as a kid.  I never participated, but my grandmother’s house was just at the 7.5 mile radius line from town, and she had for two decades one of the only colonies of evening grosbeaks in Northwestern Wisconsin.  Unfortunately, they all disappeared in the middle 1980s, never to return, and neither did the counters.

On December 16th, I drove over to Aberdeen to participate in their count.  Gary Olson of Aberdeen has run this bird count for the last six years. Talking to the locals, although records have not been kept, this is probably the 34th or 35th year this has been held in Aberdeen starting in the late 70s.   There were periods in which it wasn’t held when there was no one in charge of it.  Doing a bird count in late December in Brown County is a thankless, mundane task.  The weather has a tendency to be nasty, and there aren’t many birds around.  Last year’s bird count was postponed due to a blizzard, and in 2015, the morning started at minus 15 and we even came across someone stuck in a snowdrift on a country road.  Needless to say, most self-respecting birds have long before hightailed it south.  
Getting assignments       

             The count in Aberdeen begins at a McDonald’s at 7:45 in the morning where this year, 13 intrepid souls get the assignments, another was already at watch at a key feeder.  Then we load up and head out.  This year my team consisted of Betty Clay, a local woman from Aberdeen who recorded from the back seat, and Paul Mammenga a local wildfowl biologist for the SDGF.  He drove and I spotted.
               The way the bird count works is that one draws a 7 mile radius circle from a stable center of the search area which stays constant.  In this circle, the goal is to cover all of the territory in the area.  In Aberdeen, the center is the intersection of old 12 and 281.  We were assigned the northwestern quadrant, excluding Richmond State Park, which was assigned specifically to someone else.  Others got assigned other quadrants, parts of the city, parks and cemeteries, and feeders—all potentially good bird habitats.  In the winter, there is a paucity of birds out in harvested fields, so one can drive a lot of miles without seeing much of anything.   It took us two hours after lunch to see a new bird.
The plan was typical birding.  We lurked in people’s yards, staked out feeders (assuming they had seed), as about 90% of hanging bird feeders are never filled, and drove over 85 miles.  We talked out way into the county dump, and watched powerlines for any signs of avian life.  We tried not to trespass but found a spot that seemed like a good place to get permission to hike around in the 2018 count.  A guy on a four-wheeler stopped to ask us what we were doing, and it is always with an apology that we say…counting birds.  It isn’t normal for people to just go out and count birds.  No one came out to offer us eggnog and yell, “the counters are here!”  It was probably lucky we didn’t get shot at.
In 2015 while doing another quadrant, we found 426 pheasants, but this year we just got 9, with only 70 for the whole count.  The numbers of pheasants around Aberdeen is way down this year.  Everyone hoped for some owls or a rare bird, but no snowy owls were seen, and our best birds were a merlin ...

and a lone female red-winged black bird sitting on a fence maybe three miles from the nearest bird or any cover, but a red-winged blackbird is not a very good bird. 

  It was odd that we only saw one.  Mostly we saw invasive species—starlings, house sparrows, and a plethora of pigeons. 
It was a long and tiring day driving farm roads.  The most excitement we had was late in the morning, I was getting tired of the same old same old and in a place where I could walk through a frozen marsh, I got out to walk.  About half way through the grass I jumped a white-tailed jackrabbit.  It ran across the road in front of the others in a truck.  Suddenly they were hitting their horn.  I’m thinking, yes, I know I flushed a rabbit but then they shouted that there were birds up. 

This silly rabbit had ran across the road and flushed a flock of what turned out to be common redpolls and then thinking dinner might be coming its way, a rough-legged hawk flew up.   It was the most excitement we had.  Luckily no rabbits were harmed in this story.  In Brookings, their best find turned out to be four camels in a field near Sinai, SD.  Camels?  Really?  In a town named…Sinai?  Coincidence?  I might have to look into that more for a later project.

They did find some rare birds in and around Brookings.  White-winged crossbills are a seldom-seen winter bird in the eastern half of South Dakota at feeders and in spruce trees.  I’d never seen one before in the state, so on Monday, following the lead, I found myself in the First Lutheran Cemetery south of the Brookings airport photographing these birds.

As I said, our bird count was not too exciting.  This year the official count for the Aberdeen CBC was 3545 birds representing 45 species.  The record for the last few years was in 2015 with one more species and a 120 more total birds.  In other CBCs already held the number of birds and species was higher.  I think they saw 58 in Sioux Falls.
They are many odd and strange Christmas traditions and maybe you think a Christmas Bird Count is right up there with the Yule log and St. Lucia, but at least it is something to go and do.  In my history it beats finding the pickle in the Christmas tree or gagging on Lutefisk.  Luckily, the warm Glögg (a wine, vodka, cinnamon drink) washed down a lot of potentially painful memories.
Merry Christmas

Olaf .    

Thursday, December 14, 2017

La vie pas facile

Baie Orientale, St Martin, French West Indies
               I have been writing about the damage to our property in St. Martin, French West Indies in a multi-installment of my column in the Watertown Public Opinion.  I went down there this last week to survey the damage and this blog condenses and also expands Silja and my adventure to the island.  I know it is long but I decided dividing it for you my blog readers didn’t make any sense.  I also know many of friends also have property destroyed on the island and are NOT going to like my brutal honesty.  This was NOT a sun and fun vacation.  This trip was designed to survey dead birds and destroyed property and to see if there was any signs of life.
Let me bring you up to speed.  We have two properties on the island, One house was a week from closing to sell when Irma hit, and had some exterior damage but survived, our other house was destroyed….C’est la vie.   There is a better French saying which I saw printed on a back window of a small pickup.  La vie pas facile, or “life isn’t easy.”  That about sums up what we experienced and what we found.

September 6th, 2017 is a day that will live in infamy, at least for my family.  I can remember exactly where I was, too. I was sitting seat 3C on the 0530 Delta flight from Salt Lake City to Minneapolis.  I was watching the CNN feed into my video screen as the forward eyewall of Hurricane Irma hit Orient Beach on St. Martin, the Friendly island of the Caribbean.   I was in shock.
               The Stewardess came and asked me if I wanted something to drink and she looked at me like I was ill. 
‘I have two houses on that beach.”  I said pointing to the screen. “I was closing on selling one next week.”
“Oh, my.”  She said and then I asked for Scotch.  Funerals deserve Scotch, I thought.  “Dewars it is, sir.”
The guy in front of me hearing what was going on, said.  “Scotch all around.” 
As the plane pulled back from the gate, we had a little wake right there in the first class section of an airplane, toasting to the bad luck of a poor man in row 3C, whose dreams had just been shattered.
You know, one sees devastation on the television all of the time, from all sorts of disasters, but no matter how empathetic you feel, and no matter how much it moves you, it still isn’t quite the same until it happens to you.   I knew the news from the island would not be good, and we waited for quite a while to get the status of our home we had for sale, which was not as bad as it could have been, the 10 foot wall of the Atlantic ocean that met our other house was a pretty one-sided affair, the house lost.  Then came the other realizations including that there was French fine print on the insurance policy for the destroyed house including caps on total damages for the entire neighborhood to a number about 30-40% of the cost to rebuild and restrictions to the condo association bi-laws that could paralyze any response. 
Adding a little salt to my wounds, I had just finished a birding guide: Birds of St Martin.  I spent hundreds of hours in the field in the last few years compiling it.  The book had gone to the printer on the day of the hurricane, and it was too late to stop it.  I knew all the information I had compiled including birding locations and the best places to find species had instantly become obsolete.  I was on the hook for the first 500 copies which at least, I guess, it could have been worse.  I now knew what everyone would get for Christmas.  My publisher graciously allowed me to post it on Amazon, despite the fact that I would be surprised if I sold many, but it was a nice looking book.
It took 9 weeks for the airport to reopen after the winds destroyed the main airport.  It took us exactly three months to the day to get the courage to return last week along with Janet and Neil, Canadian-St Martin neighbors of ours, and a suitcase full of birding guides to give as gifts.  It was hard to know what the proper emotion was coming down and then when we arrived, it was so surreal, like I was reading a copy of National Geographic.
The airport experience both coming and going harkened me back to the days of yore, maybe 1995, maybe earlier.

Arrivals went to one tent, departures left through another with the gates now being in the bowels of luggage of the old terminal.  There is going to be a SIGNIFICANT problem with this airport trying to get more tourists in here as hotels and things open as this airport can maybe handle one more departure a day.  I did like the naked statues in the departure area, it was an interesting touch.

The island…it was as bad as I imagined, and this was after much had been cleaned up….but it was also better  The villages had generally hauled away the debris, and the roads were cleared.
storm surge destruction..

broken windows on cars

damaged ecosystems...

business devastation

there is gas and some restaurants are open

but the island isn't able to handle many tourists but they have done a lot of work



Our place on the hill, as suspected, was livable and slowly we got things sort of working…more on that a little later.  We got the storm shutters that had withstood 185 -200 mph winds open, the subsequent bow had pushed the outer set off its track, luckily we had a second set behind the first ones to protect our house.  We got in and we got the lights on but it turned out our water was disconnected somewhere down the line.  It ended being a campout in our house, but that was okay, many on the island had to do worse for weeks, we were just here for an action packed week. Views from the hill...

We only really lost a single tree.

Then things started to happen.  Janet, managed to cut herself on broken glass and we spent much of the first day on the island, in the Emergency Room as she got stitched up.  Finally, on the first afternoon, we got down to where our other house was, near the beach, got hit with 10 foot storm surge and well, was a mess.  It was like walking into a war zone.  To say the area was devastated does not give it justice, what was worse, now three months later, absolutely nothing has been done and it was like it had just happened.  Debris was everywhere as abandoned structures stood like dead hulks to a bygone era.  I had seen a similar view in Croatia years after the Bosnian war. 
The locals acted like the area was abandoned and to be fair, it looked abandoned as grass and vegetation have grown through the debris.  We observed looters coming through now for the tertiary loot.   Just after the hurricane, looters came through for things of value like food, alcohol, and the like (primary looting).  During this phase, every safe in the buildings were punched in, one by one, including ours.  Ours was empty.  Then they came for the secondary looting, slowly and methodically checking out abandoned closets for anything of value, taking repairable appliances, and especially, removing any circuitry or wiring.  I looked in one junction box.  They had clipped every inch of half inch or smaller wire, obviously the one inch main cable coming in was too big.  I was sort of surprised they hadn’t pulled up the main cables out of the ground, using a truck.   They had picked our cupboards of every unbroken plate and glass, neatly stacking the cracked ones on our only counter top that was still present.  Now with the tertiary looting happening, roofs are being picked for steel roofing and undamaged lumber.  I saw two guys hammering out roof beams for whatever rebuilding project they had.  I met a car that had two useful closet doors in the back seat.  They stopped and the friendly looters got out picking the dregs out of the former gift shop at the resort.
It was a family affair, three generations picked at the piles.  The gentleman found a useful straw hat.  “Nice hat.”  I said. 

“Hey, I found two, you want one?”  He asked me. 
“No, I already have a hat.”  I said pointing to my Duke University cap.  He looked happy to go away with both hats, a bag of treasures, and two useful closet doors.  I left with just pictures and a really odd feeling.  It was not like it was even real.  On a beach that even this time of year could have a thousand people on it, twenty people walked the beach like things were somewhat normal.  Police helicopters flew overhead.

Where the resort used to rent beach chairs and had a bar, an enterprising employee of the resort (still being paid) had built a beach bar and was selling drinks and renting recycled chairs for his own profit.  Unfortunately under French squatting laws, it might become impossible to remove this venture if and when the area is ever rebuilt.
I salvaged some brass cabinet handles for mementos of our destroyed house, and marveled at all of the toilets left behind where houses once stood.  The walls and everything else have floated away in the storm.  The neighborhood?  I'll let you decided....
My place....

go Packers!  My Cheesehead hat...

The neighborhood....

Janet and Neil by their freshly painted and former house across the street from us

they have more trees...

As there was nothing to do with my destroyed house, I headed off to see the status of the birds.  The water birds are still alive but one of the best waterfowl areas, Baie Lucas was an unreal scene.

A floating shipping container had scoured out the mangroves destroying the blind.  A pile of cars sat across the road and the Coralito Hotel, the few rooms with at least three walls on the second floor came complete with squatters.  Abandoned power wires laid strewn everywhere.

 At least there were a few white-cheeked pintails in the pond

In the nearby Orient Salt Pond, one of the best winter habitats for shorebirds, (where last winter I saw thousands out here, this day I counted 3 ruddy turnstones as a fifty foot wide channel (above) had been carved reconnecting the body of water to the sea, changing the whole habitat.  I walked around and saw few if any resident songbirds.  Where I saw 50 to 60 doves in May, now I saw one.  Where I saw hundreds of song birds, I saw none.  Even the intrepid local flock of royal terns looked diminished.

the mangroves here are such a can't get your hands around it to be honest

Earlier, I found a woman who had a single hummingbird at her feeder, so at least one of those survived, but as of yet, it is the only one I’ve found. 
               I sat there at the end of a road now blocked by the channel and I was overcome with the emotion of the moment.  I had to sit down, get a drink, or even leave the entire island, but I couldn’t.  There was so much damage and so much loss and the wildlife….it was terrible.  I had surveyed quite thoroughly the bird life on this corner of the island before, I knew what was supposed to be here and it didn’t look good. 
I wanted to have hope, I needed hope.  I had to go into the mountains and search for pigeons—my next project….well not quite, I still had this nagging water problem of our Villa Plage d’ Elan (house of the beach of the Elk)
               There is also an old saying.  “Water, water everywhere but nary a drop to drink,” or something like that.  We arrived at our house in St. Martin and we didn’t have water.  This wasn’t because of Hurricane Irma, and in fact, we had water and power right after the storm, or so I was told.  The water company had turned off our water, but they wouldn’t admit it.  Their computer showed that it was on, and the French believe what they are told. They refused to come over to turn it back on or they just didn’t understand us, as they only spoke French.  Eventually, they told us that they’d have a someone drive by.  The second morning we did have one of their trucks stop in front of our house for 15 seconds, but before we could run down the steps to grab them, they just drove away, apparently, here, having our technician “drive by,” means, they just drive by.  Luckily the pool was full to use to flush the toilet and we were thinking that we should only drink bottled water anyhow.  This made up our minds.  There is something about giving your spouse a shower by pouring cold pool-water on her in the backyard that says vacation fun.  
           There was plenty of bottled water on the island so we bought a car load to drink.  We went to our French speaking neighbor and tried to call again, then tried to get a plumber to come by.  In short we even tried to drive around in the hopes of coming across a person that worked for the water company.  I came home from going for a walk scouting and eventually a second water guy came back, if it took us laying down in the middle of the street to make them stop we would do it. He stopped and yes, our water was turned “on,” as it was the regional main that had been turned off across the street.  The French are never wrong.  A turn of a four foot tool gave us something that seemed like magic, water.

one of the best views of the trip....

  Then the plumber stopped by…everyone seemed to stop by.  It was a minor victory but then I refocused on the plight of the wildlife.
As I wrote before, I just had to go into the mountains and find pigeons.  Water was one thing, but I had to find the pigeons.  I just hoped that they had survived.  In short, I feel all of my work making a field guide for the island was for naught, but if species had become extirpated on the island…it would be so much worse.

Hey, someone bought one on Amazon yesterday....a shocker.

I also had doubt about the hummingbirds.  Three species used to be found on the island with the purple-throated carib being extremely rare.  I heard about the “crazy bird woman,” a local, who post-hurricane went door to door, bumming sugar to feed the birds.  She lives a block away from our house we had for sale. Her feeding station was like a packed tavern, with 100 bananquits drunk on sugar, as many as I’d seen in total around the whole rest of the island. 
There are some flowers starting to come back out so the critical period of time for these birds to live or starve has past.

I had put up feeders right when I arrived but only attracted a handful of bananaquits.

I staked out the bird woman’s house and then I spotted it, a lone male green-throated carib, which was the only hummingbird I saw anywhere on the island.   Eventually, probably the same one, found its way twice to my feeder before zipping back towards its previous confines.

My treks to find pigeons were more of a project and would involve me getting up into the forests where these skittish birds lived and also where danger lurked.  In 2002 on Pic Paradis, we were robbed.   There isn’t as much lawlessness around the island as a few months ago, but looting is still ongoing on our other property.  I used the term looting but to be honest, that property has been abandoned.  The management did not and has not put up a sign that states “occupied.”   There is no one watching anything.  I believe the French (or at least the locals) operate under the laws of the sea and if a boat flounders and is then abandoned, it is fair game for any person to lay claim to it.  Therefore, the term for what we were seeing might be put as “salvaging,” and not looting.  I didn’t initially get what a local meant about that property.  This is all ours now.  I guess it might be and so is what is left of our house.   

"salvagers"....pulling aluminum roofing off nearby houses to my destroyed house

Early in the mornings, my wife and I explored Anse Marcel, an area devastated, and climbed Pic Paradis—the central mountain.  It was a search for the threatened scaly-naped pigeon, that don’t typically move around much from island to island.  The other migrant species of pigeons, bare-eyed and white-crowned were never on St. Martin in enough numbers to breed.  All we found up Pic Paradis, unfortunately, were local hikers, a few resident songbirds including the rare scaly-breasted thrasher, and migrant North American warblers in for the winter.  A cheery Northern parula flited in a mango tree before posing for me in a bush.  There was a dearth of pigeons.  I have never not seen them up there before.  

We inspected the tourist stop called the Lotterie Farm, which had zip lines between huge trees that are now a mangled mess.

To be honest, though, the forest looked better than I expected.

 The mountain was littered with suspicious looking characters loitering about, and when the local hiking troop from Marigot left (they hike to the top every Sunday from the sea) we also left.  No use taking chances.  I then concentrated on the mountain by Anse Marcel.  
It took until the last full day, and after finding a mongoose pair, an established pest,

and many, many green iguana, also non-native, we flushed two scaly-naped pigeons.

Like many encounters with this bird, it was too quick for a photo, but at least they were here, a couple of them anyhow, so it gave me some hope.  It could have been so much worse.  It seemed quite odd to me then and almost like the birding gods spoke to me as I waited to leave for the airport the next morning, not 50 yards from my villa,  there appeared on a snag, in a perfect photo opportunity, a single scaly-naped pigeon.  I’d never seen one anywhere near there, and to have it wait for me to photograph it was a once in a lifetime opportunity.  Coincidence?  Fate?  A gift from the birds?

Except near my destroyed property, the island is cleaning up pretty well.  Insurance payouts are slow as it takes at least 90 days to get payment after a report is filed.  We haven’t seen the report on the property we had for sale.  We are unsure if the sale will ever go through.  I don’t expect to get anything for our other property except a large bill and what we will do with that is unknown.  We had planned on living there all winter but now we are getting the feeling of moving on.  This does not seem to be our island anymore and the places we liked to hang out will never be the same.  Many of our North American neighbors down here are still clinging to their dreams and seem hopeful, but the reality is stark and staring them in the face.  They do not live here full-time and I think all of the memories may be clouding their judgement.  I have other dreams and ambitions.   To them, all I can say, is good luck.  They are going to need it.
Life isn’t easy, that is true.  Birds, iguanas, mongoose, and even the local population are tough, much tougher than me.  Many thousands of birds died on that fateful day in September and in the weeks that followed, but eventually, the birds will multiply and come back.  I watched five endangered, Caribbean subspecies of the American Coot making nests.

 I viewed a juvenile pied-billed grebe and a parent on a small pond.

This young grebe had to be born after Irma as it still had the juvie plumage.  The 13 red-billed tropicbirds that live in the crevices of Green Key until they emerge in the late afternoon were chasing each other in a prelude to mating.  I have never seen them so close to the beach, maybe it is that there were only 20 people on a beach that typically has thousands...maybe next year there will be might be a good year for them.

A small flock of ruddy ducks have stopped by in migration

and despite the mortality of 90 to 95% of some local species and the destruction of the shorebird and mangrove habitat...It could have been worse

.In February I tallied 37 pearly-eyed thrashers in the same areas this visit I saw three (above).  I saw two in Anse Marcel on a trail I've never seen under ten before.  I did flush a lone unphotographed scaly-breasted thrasher, an ultra-rare resident bird here and my third sighting I guess  life goes on.
Material possessions are just junk we think is important when, in fact, our lives are what matters and we luckily weren’t here.  Living for a few days without water was bad enough and a reminder of the stark reality that others had to face and in some places, are still facing  and heck...I found pigeons........
La vie pas facile, My friends …life is not easy!

Enjoy the day,


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 ...