Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Summer Doldrums

The doldrums of summer have descended upon me like a curtain descends on a play for intermission, where I wonder if I should go grab a glass of wine, go to the bathroom, or go and make a phone call.  Like most Julys, I start pondering things—thinking, scheming, or finding things to amuse myself. Other years, I just sit out in the sun and work on my tan, or lack-there-of.
Some years, I start a novel, either writing or reading one.  Almost all of the novels I’ve written were started in July.  Not this year and the one I’m trying to read, a history of the founder of Rolling Stone, I can’t get into.  It is hard for a Midwest boy to even understand either San Francisco or the Seventies.  I was too young to appreciate the Seventies, by the time I “woke up,” It was 1985 and the Baby Boomers had turned off the switch for the good times and conservatism and Reaganism were firmly in control.  I was 10 days old enough to be able to drink at 18, but that was a minor consolation. 
 I have an idea for a non-fiction research project but, ….yawn!  It is just too hot to sit in a museum and do research in Benson or Granite Falls, Minnesota.   Two dead congressmen will still be dead this fall when I’m more motivated. 
I get into hobbies in July, but rare birds are few and far between. The pike don't bite well, although even a blind dog occasionally finds a bone.
  The dickcissel have stopped singing, as had the snipe.  So these views from June are now fading memories.
My local pair of red-necked grebes are leading their chicks around and although fun to watch, how many photos can a guy take?  

Generally, not much is moving and neither am I.  Usually, I end up photographing snakes, bugs, furry mammals, and occasionally sunsets.  Not that anything is wrong with that and it is about the only month I do it.

A white-faced meadowhawk gets chummy with a garter snake in Day County, SD

A red admiral lands on my wife, she is now blessed with good luck and  fortune

Mud-puddling Melissa Blues

We binge watch television series, like "Comedians in Cars having Coffee" with Jerry Seinfeld., but I won't say anything about that.
There is a behavior I do in July that scares my wife.  As it is the time, I plot adventures.  My two big year projects were July ideas as were two company formations.  Mind you, they were profitable, but still, as they say, an idle mind is a Devil’s tool. A new lake cabin was thought of in July.  I buy things, sell things, and worse for my wife, I schedule things in July.  Even spending July’s in Europe, I schedule things.   “I wonder where that plane goes?”  These are never good words.   Largely, our kids were spared this as they spent July at Swedish camp, and it was being without kids that led to many adventures and many ideas.
This year is no different.  Yesterday, I plotted something big.  Chapter 97, or something like that,  in Olaf’s life now has a title.   Where it will take us?  I don’t know, I never know.  The next adventure starts in Lincoln, Nebraska next Wednesday and I will leave you guessing.  A movie, I like, “Yes Man” goes to Lincoln, too, one of the few, and that ended both good and bad.   So be advised, Olaf IS up to something, something big.  That is next week’s story as Wednesday is coincidentally August 1st, and August brings action to Olaf’s July’s ideas.


Sunday, July 15, 2018

Birds in the Attic, Interesting Inheritance part I

Ladysmith  Wisconsin is a large small town in Northwestern Wisconsin.  It is the county seat of Rusk County and was platted in 1885 along the Soo Line main line, but was first named Flambeau Falls and four names later was renamed Ladysmith on July 1,1900.

I do not have any specific memories about Ladysmith. I never played them in sports and I never birded there.  I had a room mate from Ladysmith for a week during a leadership camp when I was 18, but other than that it is just a dot on a map, but one with some color.

It was back in  1926, when two loggers, Art Charpin and Walter Latsch,  were scared out of their wits on a February day. It was first told by a Rusk County weekly newspaper. The day started out innocently enough. The basswood had been marked by a timber cruiser for cutting and Charpin and Latsch were wielding the saw. They noticed a large hole in the tree some 30 feet above the ground, but they felled it anyway, figuring they’d get a 20-foot log out of it. The trouble started when they tried to saw through the trunk. The saw bound up against something hard. They came in from another angle. The saw again hit a rocklike center. At this point they were curious about a rock inside a tree, and turning the log as needed with a cant hook, they managed to saw all the way around the “rock” and pull the end of the trunk away. The wrinkled face of a man stared up at them. Shaking, they hightailed it back to town.

Eventually their story was believed and a party of four went into the woods to investigate. Sure enough, when the trunk was completely removed, they found the body of a man, fully clothed in coarse homespuns and buckskin, which fell away when touched. The head, covered with long hair, still wore a coonskin cap. With the mummified body the men found an old muzzle-loading flintlock rifle and a fancy muzzle-loading pistol. Pieces of paper found on the body at first seemed to identify the man as a Captain D’ Artagon who had been with the Marquette-Joliet party seeking a route to the Pacific Ocean in 1673. This seemed totally implausible, however, as the exploring party never came near Rusk County, and if the man had been lost, it is not likely that he would have continued to travel westward, away from the Wisconsin River. The finders of the grisly surprise finally theorized that the man, whoever he was, had been pursued by Indians, had taken refuge in the hollow tree, and unable to get out again, had died there. According to the Rusk County weekly, the body was supposedly shipped to the University of Wisconsin–Madison. The two loggers vowed never to return to the haunted forest near Ladysmith.

Some how this story got forwarded by telegram and appeared in Duluth, Madison, Chicago, and within days, thousands began to appear at the Historical society in anticipation of the arrival of the "Petrified Man."  Unfortunately, this was always intended to be a work of prose, like the later War of the Worlds. The story just got out of hand
The buzz around Ladysmith had died down by the next year, when unrelated, a worker at the Flambeau River Lumber Co.named Walter Evans fell off a scaffold at the mill and severely hurt himself.  After he healed up enough, he learned that he could  never work again.  Undoubtedly dejected and needing a way to support himself.,he carved a couple of duck decoys, and sold them. Then in a burst of entrepreneurial spirit, he formed the Evans Decoy Company in 1927 and bought a lathe machine from the Rhinelander Boat Company to make duck bodies as it had never been used for production.  Duck Decoy history began in earnest that summer and for six years some of the finest most desirable duck decoys were made. When Evans, got too ill to lead the employment of  six women making wooden ducks, his son in law, the local mortician, led the company until it closed in  1934 after just 7 years.

I was working on my Grandmother's estate this past week.

Packed away in large box, covered with "postage due" stamps, postmarked on my Grandmother's birthday, March 14,1972 and sent from somewhere in West Germany was a surprise.  The box was located in a closet no one ever visited and was a stash of old duck decoys I had never seen. In the middle of them, were three "field fresh" Evans Decoys classics.....

Birds with history.  I have no idea where they came from. They still even had their anchoring lines attached.   Did my grandfather confiscate them when he was a game warden in 1942? Did they buy them at an auction?  Certainly,they weren't sent to them from Germany in that box in 1972, but who knows?

Cool 90 year old rare decoys,with a mysterious past, but that is what interesting inheritances are. In my grandmother's will, the decoys go to my son Tyko, I hope his grandchildren don't find them in a box in 90 years.


Monday, July 9, 2018

Skippering around in the Prairie

I posted a photo of a butterfly on Facebook last week without really looking at it and a good birder from Minnesota responded.  “Ooh wow!  That is a Regal Fritillary!”  I looked at it again, yea, he was right.  The Regal Fritillary is one of North America’s vanishing butterflies, now only restricted to tall grass prairies and lush meadows on states that border South Dakota, local colonies are common here but in the eastern US now, extremely rare. Today, I saw probably 300.

Northern State University in Aberdeen SD writes, “Regal fritillary populations have declined in the Midwest mainly due to the conversion of tallgrass prairies into cropland. Pesticides have also contributed to the species' decline. Large tracts of native prairie with abundant wildflowers are needed  to protect this beautiful butterfly. One such area is the Samuel Ordway Prairie near Leola, S.D., managed by The Nature Conservancy. The regal fritillary is a candidate for listing as a federally threatened species.”   To be needs to get in line.

I’m lucky enough to have large tracts virgin prairie near my cabin on Enemy Swim lake.  As the blurb from Northern State explains, this butterfly is being decimated my farming and pesticides, every swath of marginal farmland plowed up on the Coteau brings this gorgeous insect closer to not being with us anymore.

I may be primarily a birder but there is much on the prairie to see, and as I get older, I am realizing that butterflies are really cool.  It isn’t that I’m not trained in entomology.  It was a fun diversion to got out and photograph butterflies this past week.  I though, became entranced with finding something really rare,

Currently, South Dakota does have two species listed as threatened or endangered.  One is the small butterfly the Dakota skipper, and the other is the Poweshiek skipperling.  The little skipperling has not been seen west of Wisconsin since one was found near Brookings in 2008, the last one seen at Waubay NWR two years earlier, and for all purposes now it is considered extirpated in the state, so its designation as endangered in 2014 was too late for these bugs.  It still hangs on in isolation in Wisconsin and Michigan.  In my opinion, its days are numbered.

The first of July is an important day around the prairie.  It is the central day for the emergence of the other endangered butterfly, the Dakota skipper.  They only live for a couple of weeks and if you miss the flight, you out of luck for a year.  But there are other skippers that are similar, at least 8 of them.  Skippers are small, shy, fly low to the grass and are direct.  If they are not perched up on a flower, they are impossible to find.  I find myself using bins to search the tops of the flowers for bugs that are waiting for females to mate with.  

I sent some emails to birders I the eastern Dakotas...I asked them if they new of skipper prairies.  "Skippers?  Like in the insect?'  "One had never even heard of it.  Here we are people who walk in the prairies every week and we do not even know about our local endangered butterfly.  

It is hard to get excited about this bug.  It has little PR, and it was hard to find on the internet if any had even been seen in the last decade.  With intel scarce we looked up prairies that were being managed for the insect and they are few and far between but one was 15 miles away.

I ended up our near Summit SD, looking in a small piece of virgin, native prairie, there is little untilled or not over grazed even up here on the Coteau.  Barry my bider buddy tagged along.  We found skippers, some looked suspicious for Dakotas, and another was small and we had no idea what it was.  Soon we learned this was not going to be easy.  We identified a couple....



Later, I brought my wife back to this prairie.  Then Silja finds a dead one standing on a flower later that evening.  I take it home, despite rules against collecting endangered insects without a permit.  In my eye it looks exactly like the insect on the Waubay NWR photo, 

So is it a long dash or a Dakota?  Eventually I take it to the biologist at the refuge who is unsure maybe a long dash, maybe a Dakota so she is sending it in.  She brought out their specimen collection and even then, identifying it seemed a bit hopeless, fritrating, or impossible.  I had added seeing a Dakota skipper to my lifelist and had called it, but now, I uncalled it.  

I also learn something, at least half of the photos of Dakota skippers on the internet are NOT Dakota skippers or at least not for certain Dakota skippers.  People reporting this bug are probably seeing long dashes.  I talk to a local bug expert on the telephone who says the prairie near my cabin might be the best one in the state for skippers so on July 9th, I went out for a last ditch effort next to my cabin.  The males should be dying off soon and so any longer and I will have to wait until late next June.

Two miles of hiking the prairie, I found ...another long dash skipper, the line on the wing is too long. 

then something entirely new

I could be wrong on this one but it looks like an Arogos skipper, a little smaller, yellow on underside and large bands on wings.  It also likes to keep its wings, was I out of luck?

It is yet another skipper becoming hard to find.  Possibly on the way out of this world.

No, I wasn't out of appeared on a cone flower, shorter line, clean edges

I'm calling it....Dakota Skipper, rarest South Dakota butterfly and 450 yards from my deck.  All I can say is too many skippers to sort out, they all look the same.  I will add, the bug listers are a crazed lot.  

I did see some cool stuff  The prairie right now is incredible.  There are butterflies and other cool insects everywhere.  One of the best long grass prairies in the state is adjacent to my cabin.  There are cone flowers everywhere.multiple species of colorful butterflies

It is loaded with life and diversity.  As I said, it is also one of the best Dakota skipper prairies left on earth
Here are some of the sights.... enjoy!















I do not think, though,  I could make a hobby out of butterfly photography.....skippers?  Next year, you need to come and try to see this bug, they may be gone soon.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Life is Good Today

In 2008, Country and Western singer Zac Brown, opened his catchy new single Toes

I got my toes in the water, a$$ in the sand 
Not a worry in the world, a cold beer in my hand 
Life is good today Life is good today…”

Zac Brown didn’t invent this “philosophy” he just restated it eloquently.  It was “invented” by his co-performer, a now 69 year old barefooted man wearing hearing aides that on Saturday I paid $480 for two tickets to go see.  Jimmy Buffett is a marketing genius and one of my heroes.  He invented a philosophy of relaxation, enjoying life for what you have, and worry about tomorrow …well…tomorrow, because today…”it is 5 o’clock somewhere.”

 His concert was awesome, and I had felt I got my money’s worth and then after he was done  wooing us for an hour and a half, Don Henley of the Eagles stood on stage and said.  “We are going to play music straight for two hours and thirty minutes because…WE CAN!”  To the minute, Don Henley closed out the 5 hour concert singing “Desperado” a song saying that we need to go through life together…another piece of sage advice.  The Eagles learned that themselves that they are much better as a group than as a group of single performers.  After 14 years apart, they came back together.

I do not consider myself a Parrothead.  I wore flowers around my neck in a tropical print shirt but I just like the idea.  Yes I’ve owned and visited the islands and the Gulf, but even last week, I followed the mantra in Canada.  I headed north to Ontario to chase pike.  I had my toes in the water, maybe not certain backside parts in the sand, but life was good those days as I caught fish, watched some birds on gorgeous Smoothrock lake way north of Thunder Bay.  It would have been good with just a cold drink in my hand.  I took a morning off from even the sport of fishing and motored up to the cool “Hanging rock,” a geological oddity on that lake that is just cool.

The local herring gull colony gave us a break and largely ignored us as I reconnected with the place, and life, and just took a deep breath.  “Life is good” and it was a great day, even before two hours later, I caught the largest walleye I had since 2014, at 27 inches and had a great lunch with my loveable wife.

You see, the advice isn’t to go to Key West or Mexico.  You don’t really need to go to much of anywhere, even Canada.  This is July.  Go to Kampeska or even Thompson, Enemy Swim, Pickerel, or even Roy Lake.  You can even do it in your back yard.  Take a break, put your toes in the water and if you don’t have water, spray some water on the grass with your garden hose and put your feet in it.  You be surprised how good that feels.  You can even just close your eyes and think about it as Zac Brown sings in another shared song with Jimmy Buffett, Knee Deep:
“Gonna put the world away for a minute

Pretend I don't live in it
Sunshine gonna wash my blues away…
…Got the blue sky, breeze and it don't seem fair
The only worry in the world
Is the tide gonna reach my chair
Sunrise, there's a fire in the sky
Never been so happy
Never felt so high
And I think I might have found me my own kind of paradise”

Do it and do it often and have a great summer.  Jimmy Buffett is my guru, and Zac Brown and Alan Jackson are his disciples.  Wait, I think it is 5 o’clock…somewhere…I need to go.


Sunday, July 1, 2018

Birding and Fishing in the Boreal Forest

Smoothrock lake, Armstrong, Ontario Canada

Last week, I visited places known for their structural, geographic, or obvious features like the "Hanging Rock," the"Hump," the "Triangle," The "S-curve" "The backside," "The Corner" or the "Sandhole"  On the map names like "Lonebreast Bay" could be a name expected by a lonely hunter or trapper thinking of his woman he left behind.  There are places named for people who performed feats of fishing over the year, like "Wilbur's Run," "Bosak Bay" or "Docs Bay."  There is "Three Dead Guys Point"  named for a plaque on a rock for three dead guys, that I never met.  There is even the "No-fish Bay"  Then there are places that are named for mythology and legends,  "Seamonster Bay" fulfills this category, it is a story in a chapter of my birding/ fishing book.

Names aside it was a week of fishing with family and for me, surveying the birds up there.  Which itself was quite sad as the small common tern colony had disappeared from last year's survey.  They had been there since I first came in 1982 and every year since, never more than 12 pairs, the 5 pairs from last year were not found or even a single Common tern was seen all week.

I landed right in the middle of a Ministry of Natural Resources inspection.  I figured seeing the officers was normal as it seems they always stop to interview me as must just like to talk to me.  I've been told they find me entertaining.

"Beware of yellow planes!"  I have said before but none of the MNR wardens wanted to talk to me I guess as I hadn't even been on the lake yet and didn't have any news to share.  I kept trying to strike up conversations with them but they seemed distracted and not interested in idle chit chat.  Apparently, they had somewhere important to go, maybe somebody was doing something illegal.

Getting to or home from Smoothrock camp,  260 km North of Thunder Bay isn't so easy.  We had to wait for them to unload gasoline from the DHC-3 plane before we could get in.

Some of the birds:.

Northern Waterthrush.  The most waterthrush ever encountered.  Was averaging about 10 a mile with well over a hundred on Tuesday alone.

Ruffed grouse, had two hens with five chicks each walking around.

Ruffed grouse chicks

Nesting herring gulls, with eight chicks on the colony and still four birds on nests at the Hanging Rock colony.

Herring gull chicks

Canada jays (new name)

yellow-rumped warblers

Bald eagles

a good supply of common mergansers

Even found a record population of song sparrows

The first ring billed gull found in a decade was hanging out with the herring gulls.

I also found the usual winter wrens, boreal chickadees, assorted warblers, spotted sandpipers, alder and least flycatchers, vireos  of various stripes, broadwinged and a lone harrier, pretty much summed up the trip.  Unlike my fly-by reported whopping crane, I saw nothing "rare" but that is the way things go.

I got some butterflies
Canadian Tiger swallowtail

White admirals

I can't forget the bear, I always seem to have a bear find me

Of course there was fishing, but it wasn't so competitive, here I am with a trademarked Olaf's large pike, a modest 36.5 inch fish

My dad Doug watching the action at the dock at camp

daughter with a nice walleye

My niece Lil going butterfly hunting with me

What to do with small walleyes, kiss them for luck!

My sister, Jena wasn't kissing any walleye

My wife has a new fishing hat, love that hat, Silja!

I caught the biggest walleye...and I got some sun

my mom even found some walleyes near camp at a new point named "Sue's Point" 100 yards from camp

So it was a busy week being off of the grid.  The weather was hot at times but the day we got there a huge cold-front came through and dropped the water temp 8 degrees making fishing difficult, shutting down the pike fishing for the remainder of the week and scattering the walleyes for a few days and leaving most of them in the shallows.

Heck, it beat work


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 ...