Sunday, November 17, 2019

Swift afoot

BIRD CHASES and RV trips are like a box of chocolate, you never know what you are going to get.  I can almost hear Forest, Forest Gump saying this.  Maybe it was just that I had spent a night near Bayou la Batre, Alabama recently.
             I had not chased a life-bird for North America since before New Years in 2018, the blackhawk up in Maine.  It had been over 10 months.  I had seen over 450 life world birds as a consolation, so I'm not complaining. There had been many quality and cool birds out there, but I had either been in the Southern Hemisphere or Europe, driving my RV, or been on the brink of some mandatory obligatory activity where I could not get away.  Most of these birds had been nowhere even near to me or been unchasable in Alaska.  
          I had contemplated chasing a green-breasted mango in South Texas that had been reported when we were in El Paso but it was only a one day wonder and by the time I got Big Bird my RV, to San Antonio no one was still reporting the hummingbird.  We continued heading east.  It was a bird I’d photographed in Roatan in February anyway and seen many many times. 
            Another bird I had seen in February, this one in Jamaica, was the Antillean palm swift and one of these had been reported in South Florida. It is hard to chase swifts, they don’t usually stick but this bird had arrived in the summer and been seen for a couple of weeks and then disappeared but in October, it had returned to Marathon about six miles away from its original location.  It was a code 5, and prior to this bird, only a pair that had shown up after a hurricane in the early Seventies had ever been reported.  It was a great bird but one I never planned on seeing but as we got closer to Florida I began to think…maybe?
            We came to Florida and immediately I chased a Florida Scrub-jay for my year list, it turned out Don and Nancy Harrington, of our Antarctica and Europe trips were camped a half mile away from us and he needed it as a life bird.  I had a guaranteed go to spot.  finding it took a few minutes.
            I talked to Don after we chased the scrub-jay and he was game for a real chase, and since I had nothing to do on Monday the day before we had to depart Florida albiet temporary, we took off on Sunday.  The plan was simple.  Stay in Florida City and meet Larry Manfredi the next morning, a local expert and a fun guy to bird with.  I could have probably found the bird easily myself, but I had been lazy to do any homework and I hadn’t seen Larry since 2016 and well, it is good to catch up with people.  Life is too short and one can lose track of people.
            We arrived at the golf course in Marathon about 9:30 on Veterans Day.  Standing out in the ruins of the front nine was a familiar face, Chris Feeney, a man who had spent a month getting great birds up in Alaska and seemed to have been everywhere in the last year, knocking his list up to over twenty more than me.  He was sitting on ABA 823 with two in the bank.  That was not including Hawaii.  Chris had never even birded the 50th state.  Larry called him and he hadn’t seen the bird yet that day.  He had bagged it the day before.
            So, we started looking.  It was basically finding a place with a good view and look for a quick bird that was not a swallow.  I saw my lifer mangrove skipper first.
Mangrove skipper

We switched locations and then there it was, lifer #802.  We saw the Cuban bird at distance for brief times and then met up with Chris Feeney and took a break for lunch.  It was after a really nice lunch.  Later, I had decided that I would rather hunt for butterflies when the swift made some passes that were almost too close.   
Antillean Palm Swift

It was a great bird, and this was much closer than I’d seen the bird in Jamaica, but I was 300 miles from my RV in Lutz and we had a 2000 mile trip to leave on in the morning.  It was also worth the trip to see some of the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.  This golf course had been severely hurt by the winds and the surge.  Palm trees were still topped and they had only opened half of the course.  The camping areas of nearby Long Key State Park had been destroyed and it looked nothing like the last time I had been there chasing a grassquit and a dove back in 2016.  It brought me back to St Martin and where I had started this writing project I was currently on.
We got to Lutz at 8 PM and after a night of sleep, I awoke, packed the car with a dog, closed the RV, rounded up two cats, and a wife, and we headed out.  Then thirty minutes later after we had realized we had forgotten cat food and circled back, we left again.  It was a beautiful 78 degrees, later ten miles north of the Georgia border, it was 58, by Atlanta it was 42, and in Nashville, it was now 26 degrees.  10 hours and a loss of 56 degrees.  They even had snow on the ground.  I began to wonder why we were leaving the south. 
The next morning, the hills of Tennessee gave way to the fields of Kentucky, but it was still a cold ride home, and there was even freezing rain by the time we got to Iowa.  I had only packed my sandals and well, my feet would have to toughen up before I could get home and find some shoes.  We stayed about a mile where my wife and I had lived in Evansdale, Iowa near Waterloo.  That was 22 years ago.  It had been an eventful two decades of life.  Lauren, out daughter, wasn’t even a thought when we lived in Iowa.  We were too busy with the twins.  I have always liked Iowa and driving US 20 that next morning was quite enjoyable.  I dropped Silja off in Sioux Falls to go to a concert with her book club.
I got home at four, let the pets out of the car, and then made a 45 miles sprint to our cabin to turn on the heat and hope the place hadn’t frozen up.  It had already been below zero and Enemy Swim Lake was frozen over.  I arrived at dusk and the temp inside was just 39 degrees, but luckily nothing had frozen inside as the warmer ground under the house had kept it above freezing.  The furnace fired up without problems. 

I came back home for the first time in 7000 miles and two months.  I was tired.  The TV and the internet were down.  I had no food in the house and all it seemed I had was a bottle of Ardbeg scotch.  I made do.  I drank a toast to a long journey and by 9 PM, I was asleep, exhausted.  It had been a long trek—a very long trek, but like the others this year, it was now over and soon another new one would begin. 

AFTER WE ARRIVED home for the first time in two months, we turned around after less than twenty four hours and drove the northwestern Wisconsin for my sister’s and my father’s birthday party.  As has been the trend lately, a family gathering includes cleaning out my beloved grandmother’s house.   Being a creature of the depression, she saved everything and also collected fine antiques.  One never knows what one might find or how it would move you.
            On a previous trip we found left over alcohol from the Seventies.  Cheap Phillips vodka from 1972 still tasted like old cheap vodka in 2019.  A case of Bruenig’s Beer from Rice Lake, Wisconsin (it closed in 1974) made us all laugh as I threw it out in the dumpster.  All of this was found hidden in grandma’s favorite hiding place for important artifacts.  Under thirty years of taxes, her prized pickles, was a box of deeds and all of this old booze.  I was afraid to even taste the sloe gin.  Does anyone even drink that these days?
            My family was always very well read for periodicals and newspapers.  For thirty years, two daily papers and at least six weekly newspapers were received at my grandparents house.  I believe every gardening magazine ever created was delivered monthly in care of my grandmother Lucille.  My grandfather read Fur, Fish, and Game religiously every month which was also the first magazine that ever published something I had written, a letter to the editor on sucker fishing.  If I desired a subscription to about any magazine, I would never have the request rejected.  I got everything from Outdoor Life to Time, the Sporting News to Sports Illustrated.  My friends in school also looked forward to me receiving my copy of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue which was banned at my high school for being too provocative.  I think I even sold one year’s copy to a fellow lusty teenager.  The results of all of this current events reading was my near mastery of current event competitions in school. The other result were stacks of old magazines and newspapers with stories that interested my grandmother stashed around.  Throwing away a magazine was something my grandmother didn’t like to do, especially a gardening magazine.
We were throwing out a pile of old Life and Look magazines from the Sixties when I came across a classic that got me to thinking a little.   Dated June 1962 was this issue with Marilyn Monroe on the cover.  I’m not sure, but this is probably her last cover ever while she was alive, as just a few weeks later, she would die from too many pills.  This story involves some outtakes from the movie Some like it hot.    A skinny-dip you’ll never see on the screen celebrates her nudityThe article is suggestive as hell, but remember, Life was a family magazine and the pictures are pulled so that they don’t really show anything.  Probably like my old SI Swimsuit issue, I bet I could have sold this issue two decades later for a tidy sum, that is if I had found it.  I felt a little like I had missed an opportunity at commerce.  
            One thing that is proven by this magazine that even in 1962, nude recreation and nude activities fascinate readers.  Maybe it is just the thought of seeing a cheeky pose of Hollywood’s biggest starlet of the time, but in reality, it shouldn’t matter.  Marilyn Monroe was not the first person to swim naked, in fact, many years before this, swimming naked was the rule and not the exception.  Theodore Roosevelt would take a walk from the White House and jump in the Potomac for a dip.  I guess it was just that no one talked about it and it was especially true that no one brought with a camera.   Who would have been interested in a naked picture of our portly President?  Even today, typically, no one brings a camera or at least they shouldn’t. 
            My son wanted this magazine.  His interest was not for the movie icon or her shapely buttocks.  He is a Millennial.  “Marilyn who?”  He asked me.  Being the graduate student he was attracted by the article, Cancer may be infectious.  I don’t think that article is why this magazine is for sale on Ebay for prices that are above $50.00.


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 ...