Sunday, April 22, 2018

Chili-dippin' down in the desert

An odd thing happened on my way to a bird.....Murphy Rules.

Word went out last weekend that a fan-tailed warbler was a foot in Arizona, unfortunately Sioux falls airport was closed and so was Minneapolis and we were snow bound, then on Monday my father-in-law had a stroke...luckily, a small one as they say.  Then Thursday was my daughter's 18th birthday.
all this and my camera hasn't returned from being repaired yet.  Friday, I got the green light, unfortunately, the bird no showed Thursday and I didn't get word until 0230 when I was heading south to a 5 am departure to Tucson by way of Minneapolis and Salt Lake City.  I got on the plane on time

...and then it happened.  there was a wire hanging from the door.  The pilot delayed pull back, and then as it seemed the mechanic was still in bed, we deplaned.........I went for breakfast after the gate agent rebooked me to Phoenix.  Delay was supposed to be an hour 45, Then came an urgent call to get back on the plane, my breakfast hadn''t arrived so scrapping that, I raced back to plane, all was not lost....I boarded......then as we pushed back, the generator wouldn't go.  So we sat and sat, Phoenix flight looked doubtful...then gone.   I rebooked to Tucson, this time on the non-stop which didn't leave Mpls until 11am.   It got going knocking out the TV/ video screens.  I got to Minneapolis....then we boarded the TUS flight and right in front of me was the maintenance guy....

The holder of the flashlight in the emergency kit had broken, I watched for 30 minutes as he fixed it, and for a moment, even held a part for him, everyone needs to be able to pitch in to get a plane off these days apparently....eventually though late, we left, at Tucson, my rental car reservation was lost, as was small the time I rolled into Portal AZ, at 1630, and found the home of Rick and Nancy Taylor, the site of the fan-tailed warbler, I had no hope of the bird and the chase in general was long since doomed...but there I was on a quick trip for no singular purpose.

I sat there and met the nice couple of alpha-birders and watched the hooded oriole (above) and began to think about what I was doing.....truly doing

In my worldly travels I've met some people with some really strange hobbies, really strange./ some are so off the wall that I'd hazard to even present them here.  There is this doctor I know (but he doesn't work with my company) that collects everything tanks, tank pictures, model tanks, uniforms, and he even has a full-scale working Russian T-35 in his shed.  of course there are the pathologists with reams of odd tissues and tattoo pictures.

Then there are the people I met in Europe, oddly watch them quickly strip bare in front of the Vatican who have collected naked pictures of (usually their wives but not always) in front of world heritage sights, like the Pyramids, the Louvre, Notre Dame, The Obelisk at the vatican, Mt Rushmore etc, .  They were shockingly efficient.  On a same vein, I know of someone who does this in front of "Welcome to State" signs. Those are odd hobbies....

I'll pose a question here, what ARE the most pointless hobbies?  Truly hobbies that one sits and wonders...really?

here are 10 I'm thinking of...feel free to add some

10)  Train spotting.   The hardcore of this endeavor keep tack of train car and engine numbers, they are train to speak....they do photograph drive bys, drive or fly thousands of miles if a certain engine is brought out for a workout from retirement....and after 9-1-1 had to watch out for the ire of Homeland Security and the FBI.  TRAINS Magazine is a popular read for these people.  I must confess, I subscribed for about six years.

Don't ask why I took this picture in Alaska  or any of my train pictures, I've only gone twice to chase a train, and one of those ended up with me bringing my son (four at the time)  to an ER.
There are ship spotters, license plate spotters, car spotters, plane spotters, they'd all be in this category.

9)  Pooh Sticks.  This is a game from Winnie the Pooh.  You take a stick, personalize it in some way, go to a bridge with your buddies or even alone.  Throw in sticks first to an arbitrary point wins.  Now a good kid game but there is a world championship in England somewhere for adults. I haven't done this in 40 years.  this proves my belief that they will have a championship in anything...but for this?

8)  Beer can collecting.  Let me describe some pitfalls of this.  HARD to display and harder to explain.  Let me just say that I was a member of the Beer Can Collectors of America, now Brewery Collectors Club of aged twelve.  My first publication was in the club magazine.   My photo of an old brewery in Sheridan, WY.  I got a book with defunct brewery addresses.

Somewhere now in retrospect tI think his was like candy cigarettes, and I wonder if Miller Brewing had some fingerprint in the formation of the hobby.  Pinholed from bottom opened cans used to be worth more.  I got a multi cubic meter collection of stuff.  When I found myself bidding down to the last cent in my checking account for the sign on top of the defunt Chief Oshkosh Brewery in Oshkosh Wisconsin, I took a deep pause.  There are large conventions and over 100 chapter clubs...still.

7)  Match book collecting, much like above, mostly in support of cigarette industry, I had found myself with 10 gallons of rather unique matchbooks as a kid.  Now I just wonder why?

6) Generic bizzaro collections, these make match books and beer cans seem normal.  Tops of liquor bottles, wine corks, pop tops, napkins, etc.  There is an endless list of pointless collections

5) Making candles out of one's own ear wax.  I had a patient come in once and when I cleaned out a plugged ear, I was ordered to return her ear wax.  She had candles from all sorts of people.....let me just say this here, this was a really weird hobby.

4) Cup stacking.  Also called Sport stacking.  They have a world governing body. Timed event to stack up usually plastic cups into a pyramid and then back into pile.  A very competitive event, sort of like martial arts for people who do not desire contact.  Best women in world are all Asians for some odd reason.

3) Geo cashing.   Finding a hidden stash at some GPS point, one thing to do this locally but I know people who go around the world just for this...?  At least the sights are real, unlike

2) Pokemon Go.  Like catching a mythical thing at a mythical site, placed at some random point by a computer.....virtual birding will be next

1) Bird chasing

Okay, just going out in nature to see and appreciate birds is a wonderful hobby, not to be confused with bird watching but militant OCD bird listing

Yesterday, vanquished of the target bird I was driving down the the state line of New Mexico and Arizona.  State-line road.  I see an Osprey, not a great bird, but heck, a fish eater in the desert...

About a mile farther along, I come up to birders on the road.  They got Brewers sparrows, they ask me what I got.  ""An Osprey back on the west side of the road a mile".....I say.

"We are only birding in New Mexico, what is on that said of the road, doesn't matter."

I drive on, two miles father, I stumble upon another car.  We roll down windows.  They ask me what I have seen....brewers sparrow down on the left.

"left?"  The man exclaims.   "New Mexico doesn't exist in our car..  It might as well be Mexico."  I then tell them about the osprey and they speed off to count it.

Bird listers........and to spend a garnd to go chase a bird and to dip on it as in, not see it....?   I am crazy crazy

well....I did see some interesting birds, I spent a day and a half wondering aimlessly around SE Arizona, looking for some cool things

Mexican Chickadee

A bird that only breeds in USA on the top of  just one "Sky Island"

Slate throated redstart

Actually a code 4 bird, I've seen before, possibly even the same bird.  I met a fan of mine, Sam from Santa Fe, it was a lifer bird for him.  I was so honored when at noon, he asked me to share a lifer bird with him.  Cheers!

Stellar's jay

Common but an extra spectacular jay
greater pewee

Rufous winged sparrow
pretty isolated distribution and a bird I always like to find

Broad billed humming bird on a nest

I met my friend Thor for breakfast coffee today and he gave me some intel on a Tubac rose-throated becard, a bird, I'd seen in AZ, but a cool one, so I went after it.  There is a pair in the cottonwoods and she is on her nest.

It took some doing but I found her nest.....

Maybe  I heard the male, but saw nothing and then had to scram for my plane.  I did see some things that made me think

I pretty scary bridge to walk across, and in fact I chickened out and I learned, the car bridge nearby is so afraid of birders we got are own walkway with hazzard guards.  I never saw a car use this bridge either..

Even the local people in Tubac know that birders a to be feared. 

Initially I thought I nabbed a thick-billed kingbird, although, on looking at the photo, I' started hesitating on it, It's dark bit the bill looks too small, but the bird is so dark, with a forked tail, hard to think what else it would be besides a Cassin's Kingbird?  

Pointless and without hope, the chilidippin' bird chase


PS  I booked myself at the wrong lodge, DD Gamble Ranch Lodge south of Rodeo, but in AZ, quite a surprisingly nice place, they even fed me.

If you are down this way, I'd recommend it.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Trumpetting Successes of the Eighties

The Eighties called last week but unlike the 2014 Radioshack commercial, they didn't want their store back and in fact, they also didn't want me back.  To be honest, I didn't want to answer, and I don't want to go back but then they kept it was an odd week at the ranch to say the least.

Truth be told, my rare bird alert called, with a fan-tailed warbler in Arizona, and at first I couldn't go because...the airport was closed. ..and then my father in law had stroke, and  nowThursday is my daughter's 18th no Arizona for me before maybe Friday.

But while I was stuck, I had a bit of a flashback to the Eighties, on Friday as I noted, the STORM OF DOOM showed up and dumped more than a foot of snow out here on the snow we already had.  Minneapolis broke their April record of snow that was set way back in April 1983.  That was a snowy year as the suckers ran late and in March, my high school burnt, changing my life forever.  Honestly, it did.

On Sunday, in some sort of flashback, I went over to colleague Troy's house, and we watched "Valley Girl."  Yes, the 1983 classic.  Troy seems to have embraced 1980s cinema which I'd add, poor Troy.  Valley Girl grossed 18 million more than 7 times the cost of making it, so it was a commercial success, and after a wine, I was a good laugh.

Thirty years ago this week, 1988. back at Ripon College, I presented my Senior Seminar in Art History.  If you had guessed I was an Art History Major in'd have guessed WRONG.  So Why was I in a major's only class to present and provide a defense of an undergraduate thesis with a bunch of Senior Art Majors.  Technically I was thinking about being an art major, but in my sophomore year, my Drawing I prof. kept loosing my portfolios, I got an "A" after I was given an incomplete after I produced a receipt in a confrontation in her office to complain of her losing my semester of work.  I was on my way to the Dean.  I was not sure if I deserved an "A" but I had completed all of my assignments.  I had her in a corner for that class but I soon surmised that taking more art classes with her would jeopardize my college career.  I switched to an ecology second major and forgot about art.  Which wasn't good.  Thinking my 4 years of competitive speech would cover my fine arts requirement, I avoided the entire building like the plague.  It was the second day of my final semester in College when the Academic Dean sent for me.  They knew me from my days on student councils, I was good at finding loopholes.  They had come prepared with all the rules, policies, and everything.  It was like a legal briefing.  Forensics didn't count as I had not competed for credit the first semester of my freshman year, and the fact that I was going to nationals and the TA for speech didn't matter.  The rule required a full 4 years.  It was clear, I needed an art class to finish off a year in a subject.  Oil painting sat over my PChem lab.  Another class was on the hour of my "Women in Psychology" class, another requirement.  The Dean then smiled, "Olaf" I think you should complete a theme, having almost a "woman's studies minor" will round you out."
"What do you mean?"  I asked.  I'll only have three classes in that.  I'd had an Archeology class on woman's roles in societies, and another on Women radicals in History.

He made a call.  He told me that they'd forgive the single credit I'd be short (it was just a two credit class), if I survived and passed, if I did I deserved it, I thought he was joking.  Twenty minutes later, I was in the Library in a room I never knew existed as a member of the toughest class I ever had, in any level of study.  Pathology in Medical School was easier.  Thermodynamics in Physics...easier.  Even my Gynecology rotation at a women's clinic was easier, albeit slightly

"Women in Art Seminar"  Was the name of the class

I was the only male in a class of women art majors hating males.  The professor just gave me the look as I sat down.  Everyone moved away from where I sat.  No one wanted any part of me.  I didn't even recognize a single soul in that room.  I was truly alone.  I sat on the left and the other nine majors sat on the right.  It was two hours that from beginning to end, I took a beating personally and generally from who I was, and what sex I was and what I said.  My women Psych class was right after this on one of the days and I was so keyed up on similar issues, I could have taught that class.

I gave a paper on my favorite woman French artist which I learned wasn't graded as it all relied on my presentation at the end of the term and the open ended defense that followed.  The professor looked at me and gave me a date.  It was my date of Doom.

I had presented my summer research from Iowa on Leaf-cutting ants early in the fall for my Chemistry Major and speaking for me was easy.  My day came.  I had worked hard on my topic but then my professor introduced me to a gathering of all the majors, all the faculty (even the one who I had to use the receipt for).

 "Next is Olaf.  He is neither an art major nor a woman.  He is only in this class as a special favor for the dean.  His entire graduation from college, depends on us passing him.  His subject:  Woman in Wildlife Art.  That is going to be a tough order as first, I don't think any of us consider wildlife art ART.  Secondly, his subject person, Marianne North doesn't appear to even be an artist, and third of all, he is a male, and how could a male even understand the plight of women in the arts?"  She looked at me.  "I have a feeling we'll be seeing Olaf in an art class next term."

 I wasn't through my introduction and this slide caused an interruption as it was considered sexist and misogynist.

The hummingbird was considered the male and was "controlling" its stable of vaginas (flowers) in a chauvinist manner.  "Do you believe in Sexual Slavery?"  One of the professors asked me.  This was two days after we were in Chicago studying Georgia O'Keeffe flower paintings which were presented as "extremely pro-feminist."

It was an OMG moment but the women psychology class had helped me as for two hours they used my plight to get me ready for all complaints and questions.  I had pictures of female birds in flowers for just such a question.  I'm not even going to say what my reply was.  It was a tough slog, and in the end miraculously, I got an "A."  On my one sentence written comment on my grade.  "Never have had someone so involved in the class."  Yes, because I was emasculated on a moment by moment basis.

I'd forgotten about my subject artist, even forgotten her name, and then on Saturday, while watching the story of another Victorian era and later Woman adventurer, Gertrude Bell, "Queen of the Desert" the woman who knew the Middle East circa WWI like no other and was a king maker in the region, the name came back to me.

Marianne North, 1830-1890, was probably the best botanical painter of her era, and maybe ever.  By herself, she decided to just travel and paint heading on around the world adventures when she had the funds.  Forsaking marriage as she put it for her painting, she saw things that in some cases, that now no longer are even found.  She went everywhere, and brought back wood from all of the trees she saw and was a prolific painter, only painting for documentation never selling a single painting.  Her flowers are stunning. All of her work 830 paintings and her collection of wood now hangs at the Kew Gardens in London,

The Kew Gardens, a place that all of my english friends have been to but her museum there since before 1890, to a person, no one has ever seen.   

Golden breasted cuckoo from South Africa

Most of them don't have birds in them, but Ms. North's wanderlust made me enjoy nature and made me want to go and see stuff.  I'm glad her name came to me.  Now I want to go to London and see her museum, I missed it when I was there last, since I couldn't remember her name.  Thankfully, Nicole Kidman's portrayal of Gertrude Bell jogged the Eighties memory as traumatic that it was and now I can enjoy her work again.  Like Bell, North is one of those people you just never hear of.

The Eighties kept calling....
It was 1989, a biologist plucked a viable egg from a nest in Alaska and shortly, this and other swan eggs were on a Kohler Faucet  private plane from Fairbanks to Wisconsin.  This bird was reintroduced six miles north of where I grew up later that year and in 2014, was seen by biologists and by me, on the Wood River across the lake from my parents, 82K is the name of the oldest living Wisconsin trumpeter swan and now lives between Indiana and NW Wisconsin.

If you don't know the story, in the Thirties, the trumpeter numbers were thought down to 70 birds and extinction was thought imminent.  The last one in Wisconsin was seen near Oconto, then they found a remnant population of 2000 birds in Alaska, protected them and allowed them to come back and they reintroduced them back into the lower 48.

As I started birding heavily after college, I grew accustomed to seeing trumpeters, they lounged on nearby fields, flew over my parents house, and swam in the local lakes marshes and rivers, but this was a success story.  I see more trumpeter swans in Burnett County Wisconsin than I see house sparrows.  I have all sorts of photos

Here are three just above the location of the 2014 sighting last month in Wisconsin

But I have never seen one in South Dakota.  So it was with some surprise that I stopped on Sunday to scan a slushy low spot in a corn field after digging out from the Doom Storm to scope some swans and I actually saw some.

 Trumpeter Swan, Grant County SD

Of course there were some tundra swans mixed in the two flocks, but there were quite a few trumpeters, too

tundra swans

But I had it, state bird #294  trumpeter swan, one more on the list, got to love those swans. Not s fan-tailed but hopefully it will stick.  Sixth report of them in SD this year, so not rare rare, but not an easy bird either

Winter 2017-18, 
this is what I think of you.......a snowball in the face.

taken April 15th.  

Winter...... go back to the Eighties where you warming, please come.  Tomorrow, more snow.  Yes, more snow.

Snow willing, on Friday, I'm going somewhere where there is 1) no snow, and 2) spring and 3) birds
did I say I'm sick of snow?


Friday, April 6, 2018

Lektastic on a Frozen Prairie

They say New York City is the city that never sleeps.  If that is true... Pierre, South Dakota, our diminutive state capital, is a city that never seems to wake up.

Try finding a place to get some food before 6am?  Try finding a convenience store on the main drag open to get coffee before was almost as hard as trying to find a politician to actaully want to do anything.

I just returned from Big Bend Texas, and despite the cold, the snow, the absence of spring, the birding MUST go on.  Every year, I go to a Lek to see prairie grouse, sometimes more than one.  Last year it was sage grouse, this year...  Barry Parkin, a friend from Aberdeen made an appointment a while back for a lek south of Pierre in the Ft Pierre National Grasslands, so despite a short turn around, I promised so, off we went. Our reason to be in the state capital.  Besides, I need something to write about next week in the Watertown Public Opinion, my three fans need me.

Our back-up day was Monday and since we are expecting a foot of snow, despite the cold weather, off we went to see the glory of spring.  I talked Tony Maunu, State Trooper from Pierre to come along because misery, loves company.  The wind...30 mph out of the northwest, the temp, 9 degrees, and the wind chill, minus 16 degrees....this is April 6th it really April?  I've rarely go ice fishing this cold, in fact, we could have went ice fishing.  Everything is still frozen

We went, I parked the truck and ran for the blind since it was so cold, we crawled in the box and literally a few moments later the erie sounds of spring on the prairie echoed through the howling wind.  It was cold, colder than a witch's ti....chickadee.  We brought with a space heater and we were still cold.

The birds were doing their thing, 10 chickens, 2 sharptails and a mutt, it was so nasty you could tell they were only going through the motions, a daily ritual that had to be done.  They almost seemed relieved when something flushed them away, and in their absence we also snuck away, since I was down to feeling only two toes.

Scenes from the lek,
Greater prairie chicken

GPCX x Sharptailed grouse hybrid

Some hen apparently went to the wrong side of the lek, and well, this poor bugger came out.  he didn't know whether to stomp or dance.  He wanted to run around but then he just stopped and clucked.  The male GPCX just wanted to beat on him.....prairie mutts....

here is a peripheral male staring that mutt down

It was Tony's first lek, and he looked enthralled despite the weather, literally in over 20 leks, the coldest ever.  considering how I sometimes bird...that is saying something.

Later it was off to scout for something new.  The waterfowl are stacked up here, and besides seeing the first marbled godwit seen in South dakota this year, nothing much is around.

.We ran into Rickey Olson at the Oahe dam and since 150 miles away someone this week had reported long-billed curlew, we decided to go into the prairie and look, as futile as it seemed. Like finding a needle in a haystack, but I'm lucky so  he gave us a couple of roads in Stanley County maybe 60 miles to search, so off Barry and I went.  Ten miles away
I exclaimed..."got one!"

We had found a pair.....luck is not a lady, it is Olaf and Barry

SD Lifer #293  Long-billed curlew in the snow



Barry even took a picture of me, taking a picture of the curlew (male is on my left)

It was still cold out there

I drove the five hours back from Eagle Butte on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation, 20 miles from home I saw my first live snowy owl in South Dakota this year sitting in a tree (seen others in MN, ND, MB) and I instinctively slammed on the brakes.  The road near Summit SD was ice covered due to our ground blizzard and I skidded in my truck, and I straightened it out, unfortunately my Nikon went flying around, and something broke........

So these ended up being costly birds, and the camera shop will be in my future..dang.

I keep counting, if spring ever comes, my 300th SD bird should be bagged by June now, as I need many warblers....I need two ABA birds for 800, and i need something to show get my 300/800 done

As the sign at my office's Accounting department says, as well as with Olaf, "Everyone Counts!"
i count, you count, we all more tick......

Put on your booties cause it is cooold out there!  It is cold out there every day.  I'll tell you about this weather.  It is going to be cold, gray, and it will last for the rest of your life! is never going to come, NEVER!


Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Tricky Dick and the Big Bend

Many people remember what they were doing when JFK was shot, others remember where they were when they learned Elvis or Lennon died, and some, yes, some, even remember the day the music died.  I remember exactly where I was on April 22, 1994.  I was driving into the McDonald Observatory in Ft. Davis, Texas, and I saw a person lowering the US Flag to half-staff.
“What happened?” I asked out the window..
“Nixon just died.”  The person said.  “Tricky Dick Nixon is dead.”
Was I some huge fan of President Nixon?  Did I think he had been pushed out of office unfairly? Did I admire the man?  The answers…no, no, and NO.  Then why does that day linger in my brain like the aftertaste from a bad burrito I ate that evening in Pecos, Texas?
The day before, April 21, 1994, I completed my first real bird chase, nabbing a Colima warbler on top of the Chisos Mountains in Big Bend National Park, when my wife asked me when I was taking a break that if that bird I was looking for had yellow under it’s tail and a brown cap.  "There it is!" She said proudly. It was perched near my backpack. 
That began an odd love affair I have with west Texas and Big Bend National Park.  So much so that when I was last here in 2016, I vowed that I would walk up Pinnacles Trail every so often as a family hike and if I can’t make it, I going into assisted living and giving up birding.  Those are strong words and my wife just looks at me like I’m odd when I repeat them.  

Considering I've had a rather bad year in terms of an injured rotator cuff, a bum ankle, and generally feeling old, slow, and out of shape, and highlighted with the mortality of life that crept into my thoughts with my grandmother’s death, I needed some mental reassurance and as such….unlike the last three Easter trips that all went to Colorado, this year, we were off to the Big Bend of the Rio Grande River in Texas to renew and recharge my spirit.  I got prepared for west Texas by watching my two favorite west Texas movies, The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean, and Tin Cup—not classics of the cinema just favorites.
We flew in Good Friday and spent the first night in Texas at a very quirky bed and breakfast in Marathon called Eve’s Garden.  The place is comfortable, colorful, fragrant (the rooms basically open up into a greenhouse of flowers), and it has the best breakfast of any B&B I’ve ever stayed at.  I stayed here in 2013 with a fellow birder named Jim Brown “Arvid” when we sort of blew in and out on our way to get 3 days of birding done for that project.  This time it seems even more colorful.  

There were a few hummers at the Public Library a block away, mostly black-chinned, 

and we found numerous Vermilion flycatchers down at the Post Park south of town.

I call my church the church of St. Ocotillo, the tenets created by “Arvid” and me back that same year, 2013.  Our sacred plant, and using some tenets of the Aztec religion deifying hummingbirds and the sun, when I heard Lucifer Hummingbirds were being seen nearby, and Lucifer meaning of the Latin as “light bringing” therefore, this would be the holiest of hummingbirds in association with the sun god. 

Carolyn Ohl-Johnson lives in a forlorn corner of the Christmas Mountains way northwest of the park.  She has created an oasis out of the creosote, rocks, and sand of the property she had purchased years ago and has become THE place to go to find Lucifer hummingbirds in Texas.  

Back during my big year, a pretty male showed up to Ash Canyon in Arizona, so I never had to come here to look.  This year, she has been reporting a few of the sacred birds.  I had tried to find the place without specific directions when we drove down from Marathon, I got lost and all we found was a white donkey, that our rental pick-up wasn’t 4x4, and that they shoot people trespassing on the Terlingua Ranch property.  I emailed her for an official invite and directions.

That next morning now armed with a map, but less one of my birding partners, my daughter, who decided to sleep in, we made the trek to her Christmas Mountain Oasis.  It is a cool project she has accomplished.  Three Lucifer hummingbirds waited for us perched at first light before feeding, mating, and then dispersing off to the blooming sacred ocotillo to hang for the rest of the day.  By 8am, it was all over but my wife and I had seen the stunning hummer.  



I could say it was like a religious experience but alas…that would be pushing it. 

We spent the rest of the morning hiking up the Lost Mine Trail, which doesn’t go to a mine, (as in it is lost, I suppose) and we left a little late due to the hummer side trip, and it got really hot descending back to the truck.  In the trips here previously, I had never been up this trail.  Another stunning view from the top, one picture even had me in it.

That evening after 5 miles on foot, we drove down to the Rio Grande to see how hot it was down there.  It was just 97 degrees, I’ve seen it over 110 in April.  We had a group of Chinese students take our photo in front of St Elena Canyon showing what the only wall on the Mexican border should look like (Mexico is the wall on the left).  

I photographed a roadrunner, then ocotillo, then a roadrunner in an ocotillo, and then my lady hiking companions by ocotillo,

 I did see a blue-throated hummingbird feeding in ocotillo but it was too quick for me to get my camera up and then we went back to Study Butte to La Kiva to eat Easter dinner.  We were hot and tired, this restaurant was a great find, as like the hotels down here, the food previously was the worst part of traveling down here.

On Monday, the assault up the dreaded Pinnacles Trail, began at 0515, after arising at 0400, a full two hours before first light.  Some people call me crazy for going up this trail with headlamps and spot lights but as it was 55 degrees when we left and two hours after sunrise would break 80 on its way to 90 degrees, it makes for a much more comfortable hike.  The darkness also, in my opinion, makes it less daunting as until you get to the “saddle” ¾ up, you don’t know where you are.

There is always something new that happens to me on a repeat trip.  This year, it was many Mexican whippoorwills that serenaded us from about 0615 to 7am.  I had never heard or seen them before up here.  I don’t know why, either.  This was my forth nighttime assault on this mountain.  This year as I was trying to see them with my light we traversed a dozen switchbacks without realizing we were doing it.  It was like the birding Gods, namely the Aztec Lucifer God was helping us out.  We even got buzzed by one while resting at the saddle eating breakfast on the trail. 

We reached prime Colima warbler habitat right when it became prime warbler activity time.  This range is the only place to ever see this bird in North America and I am 3/3, but I had never photographed one.  I lugged up my big 500mm lens just to get one.  I knew it was very early for them, April 2nd is about a couple days after the early edge of their arrival, but the trip was set by my daughter’s Easter break so it was the best I could do.  Besides, the hike up the mountain was more for the hike than the bird.  No Colima’s were calling from the down hill side of the gap, I’d seen them here on two years, but not this time.  We made it to the top, so no assisted living for me…this year!

We hiked around the rim for a while, finally on an overlook of the next canyon south, a Colima started to call angrily at me and we saw it flit from the bushes going up the valley, and then it got mixed up with a feeding flock of black crested titmouse (titmice?) and gnatcatchers going down across the trail into the trees of the valley and we lost track of it without a photograph.  It continues to be my photographic nemesis bird, I’m 0 for 4 now in that, but at least we saw one.  A Titmouse, at least, posed for me. 

Bird seen, my hiking buddies were limping and looking like they had experienced enough of the Pinnacles trail and warbler finding, they were sucking down our rations of water like they were a part of the desert, so we headed down, finishing our 9 miles of fun just after noon and with the outside temperature now reaching 88 degrees.  

There were other good birds seen, a zone-tailed hawk riding the thermal just above my head just below the wall calling was the highlight.  This one looked so much like a vulture that without seeing its yellow feet, I might have not gave it a second look (although the call was quite unmistakable).   A playful squadron of white-collared swifts buzzing us at the top was also fun. The best birds were definitely the whippoorwills, a Texas first for me, and of course just making it up filled me with confidence, a burst of energy, and a resolve to fight on for a few years more until I can convince someone else stupid enough to come back down here with me to attempt this hike again.

ash throated flycatcher

cactus wren

cool cactus flowers

Ladderbacked woodpecker

Mexican jay

Spotted towhee

white-collared swifts

After a siesta, we celebrated our success at the Starlight Theater at the Terlingua Ghost Town just west of the park.  It is an old theater.  The music was true Texas...

They say it is ALSO the birthplace of the “Chili Cookoff.”  

I don’t know about that but it is the most populated ghost town I’ve ever been to.  The nearby church has been invaded by cave swallows and this place, including the store next door, has been taken over by the kitsch and slightly crazy.  I ate quail as somehow, eating a quail, seemed right and good for a change in west Texas.  

scaled quail trying to be supper

Some drunk guy at the bar tried to tell me “Tejas” meant “friend” in Navajo and I just smiled and nodded as I wasn’t sure why the Texans would use a Navajo word to name Texas instead of a Spanish word but My Big Bend Brewery “Tejas” beer was the best beer I’d drank on the whole trip.

My wife bought us a baby ocotillo plant to bring home.  My daughter named it Occi.  He is just 4 inches high.  We will plant it in our house and put it in a place of honor.  I do wonder though, if it dies, will that be bad luck?  I wonder what Nixon would say?  Maybe, like the break in at Watergate, it must have seemed like a good idea at the time.  I fear I may be regretting this ocotillo purchase, but as they say, life is one big adventure and it seemed a lot less extreme than bringing a Lucifer hummingbird home.  Nothing good would ever come of that.

Ah Big Bend….it just keeps on giving and giving.  A local put it succinctly on a bumper sticker.  Some call Terlingua hell, we just call it home.  I’m not sure I could ever live down here, but every so often, I just got to return....just remember if YOU go, carry lots to drink around here.

Stay thirsty my friends

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 ...