Wednesday, April 29, 2020

A visit to Corona (virus)

Some of you, I suppose, figured I'd be posting photos of the ultra rare crescent chested warbler today from Arizona, and despite it all, I'd be down on the west slope of the Chiricahua Mountains finding a great bird, but well...that would be irresponsible.  To put it simple, I just can't go.  You see, today is day #10 in my probable experience with Corona, Coronavirus, or COVID-19.  Nine days ago when I suspected I was coming down with it, I fully expected to be on a ventilator today, or dead.  I was writing letters to my wife and children last week but I got too sad and could never finish. I was writing down all of my passwords and thinking about my past.  I had been a good run. Such is this dreaded disease, one that moves fast but slow enough that you sit and wait, hoping for the best but fearing the future. It seems you either got it hard, or you hardly get it, luckily, I got off easy.

I say presumed, as my wife made contact with two clinics, one never responded and the other: we didn't meet the criteria for a diagnostic test.  I even wrote to the State department of health for South Dakota, wondering if since I had been thinking if things got bad in Grant or Day County SD, and knowing if we had it, we'd volunteer as doctors to help, and since both counties, have as of yet have had no confirmed cases, it may be good to show it is around to keep people from being reckless, that email, went unanswered.  I will only say to you, trust me, people with this disease are closer than you think.

It was an odd illness and an odd feeling.  I dreaded the nights, not that they were so bad, but that the unknown awaited in the morning.  It is hard to sleep when one thinks about would I be short o breath, would I even wake up in the morning?  But each day I did, and so did my wife.  We had GI symptoms, a persistent gut ache that was just there to remind you that things were wrong.  We had a really mild Upper respiratory symptom, a little sore throat, headache, a severe case of malaise, and well, some night fevers, but I am not complaining, it was pretty calm.  It was odd at times, though, I could feel something wrong in my chest and occasionally had to force myself to breath....the rare times I coughed it was like I didn't want to stop and then...I did, and I said a prayer every time the coughing ended, and it was only rarely.

It is clear that we either got it from buying milk in town or from our two sons, which if you work backward, our son Tyko was in Seattle late before they closed the city down in March and timing wise, he could have brought it back, then gave it to his brother (he is now holed up in Madison WI with his twin) and then they came to visit two weeks ago, thinking they had been isolated for a week and had never had any symptoms.  Six days later, I had a fever....So, at least it was the West Coast variety...I think that is a milder strain, but it is hard to know.  Oddly, our cat was also diagnosed with mild pneumonia at the VET last week, he had a UTI to boot, but he seems to have also gotten by with a slight case.  Kitty is out stalking again but it makes you wonder...did Tiger have COVID?  The Vet didn't think it was worth the test which he wasn't sure he could get.  There was a real tiger with COVID in New York....

I also might have been lucky as I did have Yellow fever vaccine series a year ago, another RNA virus and there is some studies that if you get your immune system turned on for RNA viruses, yellow fever is an RNA virus, oral polio is maybe a better one, that can help you fight it off, but who knows.  Yellow fever was a nasty vaccine for me so anything it helped with later is a good thing.  I also spent the worst days in the sauna, figured what didn't kill me made me stronger and the Finns had good survival numbers

The fact that we probably got it, considering how out of touch we've been with people, makes it important to realize how contagious this bug is.  The USS Kidd has not made port in over a month , yet, cases suddenly appeared on the ship at sea, I think we experienced the same situation.  It harbored in our kids for a month until they spread it to us.

You may ask, why have I been going out?  Well, we haven't seen anyone.  Even talking to a neighbor who seemed to want to get closer, I stayed 10 feet apart.  I felt the fresh air helped clear the lungs as did moving.  We tired quickly but we still went looking for stuff, the birds are migrating and in some cases, our deck was the best place.  I am lucky to be where I am and seeing each bird made me believe that it would be the last time I would ever see the species....kind of a last of life list.  It was very very macabre.
A pair of Solitary Sandpipers, part of a "Contradiction" of solitary sandpipers, the approved name for a group of them, a group of solitary birds?  A true contradiction

Wilson's snipe

common loon and FOY red-necked grebe
field sparrow
Harris sparrow

Black and white warbler
white-throated sparrow
Well, the stories and thoughts of (my) our demise have luckily been premature, now we just wait to fully get rid of this virus (assuming our symptoms are over and we did beat it) and then we can worry about the future to find out if we can catch it again, maybe next time, we won't be so, though I think I've lived to bird another day,

There will be other rare birds in Arizona, ones I can safely chase and be safe to the other birders and fliers.  For those of you doing things....take this seriously...The Beast is a beast.  I (we) was (were) VERY very lucky, assuming this was the real deal, and just because it appears that this virus isn't nearby beware of people like me, or others who don't appear sick but yet harbor the Beast.


Sunday, April 26, 2020

Frogs, frogs everywhere

I live in an interesting place.  I have threatened and endangered butterflies flying around from time to time. We have interesting birds and mammals, and it turns out, we even have some interesting frogs.  I don't pay much attention to frogs but some years our yard is filled with them.  Take the wood frog.  Being from Wisconsin, these early breeders were such a common sound heard in our wooded ponds, I paid no attention to them, sometimes even thinking the singular croaking sound was more birdlike than frog-like.

The South Dakota DNR is out surveying wildlife, mostly frogs by my house, and one of them, Dennis Skadsen, a man I've talked to but never met, told me to look out for Wood Frogs.  I walked out the door and heard some.  I was thinking, "what is the big deal?"   Then I did a little research.

It turns out wood frogs are reportable to the state DNR in my county, as we are in the edge of their range.  Day County is in light green
 However other maps show just this distribution, which is very scarce....apparently they are expanding OR they have more people looking for them
Clearly, quite a ways from me, and in the literature specimens have only been reported in Day County South Dakota in 1929....until some were found about 8 miles south of me in 2016, and then a few more, yet, I go out and stand on my deck and hear them the first moment I listen and then photograph one.  Then I don't know what to think.

I do know wood frogs are cool, they freeze every winter including here and then thaw out in spring and resume their lives.  It is a complex and not 100% known process but they prove who they can survive life on the egde

Wood frog, Day County, South Dakota 4/26/2020

Sometimes I wonder about all of this rare stuff.  Maybe my friend is correct and Bachman's warblers are still around, lurking in the shadows somewhere.  Even Ivory-billed woodpeckers....Sort of like yellow rails and Northeastern South Dakota, they aren't here because no one is looking.  So here it is, an extremely rare frog and poof they just magically in my back yard, I suspect they are everywhere.  It all makes me I reporting this to the state?  Hell, no.  If I was looking for anything up here, Dakota skippers, wood frogs, rails, the first place I'd look is in my backyard....the state can go sneaking around at night irritating my pets and my daughter, I guess they need something to do.
I've been thinking, I've always had this species of frog in my backyard.

Got a lot of frogs outside right now and there was some serious frog sex going on
Kandiyohi color pattern of Northern Leopard Frog, very sharp looking
Burnsi color pattern of Northern Leopard Frog
Normal morph of Northern Leopard frogs
All three patterns in five minutes of looking
We also have Boreal chorus frogs singing behind my house, they are a bit skittish, quite a diminutive frog but a classic spring sound up north
Boreal chorus frogs

I have seen some birds this week...not everything is...FROGS
Female Red-winged blackbird

gray partridge
sharp-tailed grouse (male) 

White pelican
So we are trying to survive COVID and like the wood frog, none have been reported in Day County nor even Grant County in Milbank but like the frog, I suspect it is also here, just no one is looking for it in the correct locations.

Who have thought a rare frog in my backyard, 40 feet from my pillow....
So stay safe, keep looking in your backyard, you might find something rare....


Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Going to the Post Office and Gullipalooza

I knew I had to break isolation today, I've been thinking about it for weeks.  I had to go to the post office, it is tax day, April 15th and yes, the tax man waits for no man, virus or not.  Now many of you know that payments for taxes have been delayed, but not the actual filing, and yes, I could have filed extensions and I in fact did, but at some point I was still going to have to mail a bunch of tax forms to multiple places and so at some point I was going to have to venture outside and into the wilds of they say and chance the Beast.  Even extensions cost 50 cents to mail and I may need that money.

It shouldn't be so complicated to go to the post office, but  Yesterday I schemed, where are some of the lowest volume post offices in the area?  Which counties have no cases of COVID-19?  How far should I drive?  I looked at all of these variables and others to determine where I was going to least likely encounter the bug and settled upon....Grenville, South Dakota, where I happened to be thinking about in my last blog--population 54.  The postmaster had NOT seen a customer since Monday and averages only about 5 a day.  They are open 10 AM until 2 PM, and it has even less than 20 PO boxes in a different room so, I decided that was my ticket and away I drove up towards my cabin to mail my taxes this morning in a almost forgotten spot in the middle of the Coteau des Prairies.

Walking in, masked up, literally holding a rag of bleach in my hand, seemed to be a scene from some dark movie, somewhere.  Was Terminator going to get me?  I opened the two doors, which I should have included in my screening of "COVID safe" post offices, scrubbed the small dest with bleach and then alcohol, and started writing out certified mail orders and return reciepts.  The poor lonely post master, seemed healthy enough and it took about 30 minutes but we got through it all.  I was a little unnerved because even here, a plexiglass shield had been installed between me and the lady, if I stood right in the middle.  To think of that out here, isolated that we are, is a bit daunting and worth hesitating and thinking about it.  COVID-19 is going to get everywhere and kill whatever it wants, I fear, no matter what we try.  I am probably delaying the inevitable, but I guess, that is what I have to try to do.  I succeeded in getting the coveted April 15th postmark and after a full disinfection back in my truck with everything I had with short of fire, and on the way home, I looked for birds, since I was already out and about.

It has been a brutal and cold spring, just awful, we've had snow for the last few days, it has blown like it almost never blows up here--hard and furious well over 30 mph on most days recently and its been cold, today, the sun was trying to come out but still my truck thermometer said 28 degrees at noon, spring has not sprung, maybe it won't and we get to choose between starvation and COVID, some choice.

The ponds have refrozen over after getting the ice blown off by the wind and on many, the only open water were small holes kept open by pied billed grebes trying not to freeze in.  Some were looking in a bit of a perilous state

 I have never seen blue-winged teals walk on ice before (geese and mallards all the time) as usually, being smarter than most of the prairie pothole waterfowl, they come in later, but not this year, the ice is hanging on late and they have arrived in the last few to days to this.  I had never seen a duck slip and fall on the ice before today either.  It is a year of firsts
an interestingly marked teal in front of a sliding bird
The water on Waubay Lake in Grenville is at road level.  With the heavy wind and waves breaking over the road last few days, dead carp have frozen and been left stranded on the road and the place has becaome a buffet for lucky gulls.  I saw five species, Franklin's, and ring-billeds, plus uncommon gulls in these parts, Bonepart's Herring and even a few California gulls were out eating carp.
Bonepart's gull
California Gull
Herring gull next to an abandoned propane cylinder, you probably always wondered where they go when used.
You see such strange views around Waubay Lake
No parking, although getting out might be a little damp
So that was today's outing, now I just have to wait two more weeks to see if the virus found me and wants to take me out, such is the life we have to deal with now in America and everywhere.  In the middle of this, the government thinks people will instantly want to go to restaurants and get onto a plane, shop and go to DisneyWorld and it will be business as usual...That ship, I fear sailed a month ago.  I'm not flying until we get a vaccine and I hope, sincerely hope, someone is working hard on that, instead of fake news, press conferences that say nothing, and "generous" donation of ventilators that haven't been made yet, let us see the vaccine makers.  As far as purchasing anything, like a car, a boat, even clothing....sorry, I ordered a part for something in the house last week, they say it will come in June....yea, luckily it isn't a part for the furnace, cause that is running hard.  Hey it will make it to 31 at our cabin today my Iphone says....but I digress.

So there I am, patiently waiting for the viral scurge to arrive to the flyover country of Northeastern South Dakota and I wait for spring.  Only God knows which one will arrive first.

stay safe


Sunday, April 5, 2020

Prairie distractions

I got a call today from a person in Ree Heights, South Dakota.  I answered the call, "What the hell do you want."  I was hoping this call had a person attached, hopefully someone from Bangalore or Philippines, but unfortunately it was just a computer.  How did I know?  Ree Heights is a small town at the crest of a little hill heading west  10 miles from Miller, itself only about a thousand people, and Ree?  Its population is 62, and in my opinion, that is generous.

Back a long, long time ago, I fell in love with what I called the skyscrapers of the prairie, grain elevators.  In the mid-Eighties, I took the above photo of the grain elevator along the ex-Chicago NW track, (now Soo Line) that still runs to Pierre.  I remember it being a hot day.

Ree Heights is a town named after the Arikara tribe, who were featured in the Revenant movie (means one who returns after being dead or from a long absence)  about Hugh Glass's life, his wrestling with a Grizzly bear about 200 miles west of here.  The site of the fight is actually a favored Spotted towhee spot for birding, not far from a Baird's and Sprague's hotspot.  I've written about him before, Glass was a bad guy IMHO.  The Arikari  were so affected by a smallpox epidemic in the late 1700s and in that the 34 villages along the Missouri River were reduced to 2.  TWO!  In this time of epidemic, we should think about the Beast (want many call the COVID-19).   Things are not THAT bad.

The town was formed in 1882, and it took 136 years before the city issued its first liquor licence back in 2018.  As far as I can tell, that is about the highlight of this small town besides be a popular exchange for telemarketers and scammers.

Not all that far from the battle of the bear by Hugh Glass is Morristown, South Dakota, also a town of 62 people.  I filmed this grain elevator last summer.  One of the more interesting things here is the bank in Morristown printed money back in 1910, trying to support the nascent local economy.  A souvenir from another era worth more than the grain elevator now is.  Do you think in 1910 one could buy a grain elevator for $10?

Morristown isn't much now, but honestly back when they were printing this money, it wasn't much either, so even if times are tough now, they have been tough before.  Like America, things will get better, they have to

Thinking of the prairie and elevators makes me forget what is going on in the world.  I found this photo today, too.  I've taken many photos of the elevator in Grenville just recently torn down.
Grenville (pop 54) is a town in Day County, up near my cabin.  I took this picture 2001 or 2002.  Grenville is a strange little town in that it was platted to be something sizable, and even in the 1951 Soo Line Annual report, the railroad lists Grenville as an industrial center akin to Duluth or Minneapolis.  It has always been the end of a rather tenuous railroad connecting such hopeful places as Eden (pop 80), Lake City (pop 50) and the biggest Roslyn, maybe 200 people and the World Vinegar Museum these days.  This line after a good 3 hours of being on the railroad ended at Fairmount, North Dakota, still a long way to anything.

Grenville was the end of the line, literally.  If there was ever anything of significance save some serious railroad marketing hype that happened in Grenville, I'm not sure what it was, but something sinister happened in Grenville.

Beginning about 30 years ago, Waubay Lake became a beast of its own, growing from 8 to 27 square miles in size, inundating pasture, farmlands, entire farms, a national wildlife refuge, roads, and even, almost the city of Grenville.  This is a large basin like the one in Devil's Lake that doesn't have a natural outlet, so the water just keeps rising.  The area does NOT drain to either the Red River Valley (on to Hudson Bay) or the The Missouri River watershed(Gulf of Mexico).  The water stays.  At one point before the third raising of the roads, almost cutting off the town of Grenville entirely. 

Before you get out there and complain about global warming for this slow moving catastrophe.  Grenville was settled in 1914.  The two smartest people in Grenville turned out to be the Catholic priest who picked the location for the church in town, and cemetery, both on top of the hill.  The over genius was the chief surveyor for the railroad, who put in a line of course now pulled up that still has never gone underwater.  He knew something, he planned ahead and knew something about the cyclic life on the prairie.  You see, this water level, has happened before. When they built Fort Sisseton just northwest of here in 1864, they placed the revetments at the water edge.  The 1860s-1890s was wet and the last time I was up there these earthen revetments were still a few feet from the water.  So the basin isn't even full yet.  Obviously, the guys who built the railroad did their research.  It went down, at the turn of the century then up in wet Twenties, then down in the Thirties hitting the recent nadir in the Seventies.  Global warming?  You can blame the Winter of the Blue snow 1886-87 (worst winter in the prairies) on Krakatoa, You could blame the winter of 1996-97 (the second worst prairie winter in recorded history) on Vatnaj√∂kull  the Iceland volcano that erupted in late 1996, but the relationship to that volcano is not as close and both years were solar minimums and well, who knows.  They were bad winters, everything flooded and many people and animals up here died.  When I was born, 20,000 sandhill cranes were killed in a prairie blizzard the next day.  You could just as well blame that on me.

The nice thing with all of this water up in the Coteau (The hills of the prairie) the name for the large terminal moraine, is that there is lots of water for ducks and muskrats.

northern shoveler and a pied-billed grebe
So, do you think you could stop a 30 year 5 foot high flood?  seems easy, correct.  How about 10 feet, 15, 25 feet?    Waubay Lake has risen about 25 feet.  Think about that.

So, things go round.  The water levels, and epidemics.....luckily, COVID-19 isn't a real killer like small pox, imagine 90% (or more) of everyone you know dying.....just imagine the Rees, those luckless prairie nomads, the Arikara....I think I'd rather be Hugh Glass and have to fight that crazy bear.

So we still got some American Tree Sparrows hanging around

 I bet a flushed 200 song sparrows this after noon walking fence lines.
so migrants are coming back, they come they go, the economy booms, it busts, we live, we die, and the sun goes round and round, I guess.

I even saw a golden crowned kinglet
It's hard to be sad thinking of kinglets, they are so fun, so uplifting
well, my family is all doing okay, my daughter holed up with us in South Dakota and our two sons in Madison.  I checked on my parents today, shut in the woods of Northwestern Wisconsin, isolated from everyone, deer, squirrels, and such, they are happy the ice came off the lake.  The Passion Play in Germany, a decade event in the Alps designed to celebrate being saved by the Plague, was cancelled due to this pandemic, and as such so was their trip to Munich.

I'm thinking our ice might go next week, with the wind and the two day warm spell we have, but it was 11 and snowing Friday.  Our hot tub is making sounds like a flying drone but it still works, it is about our only distraction.  Tomorrow will come and I guess I will wake up, but that is the only agenda.

Stay safe out there


Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Thoughts for the Year that Won't Be

Life takes weird turns.  2020 will be a year that lives in infamy, but I'm try, trying to be positive, so as I sit here looking out my window for interesting things, I'm thinking of what is missing and what I want to do or see.  I'm not a poet, but this pestilence is making me do things I would never otherwise do, like stay based in my house for two months.  So here are my thoughts.  Maybe you dream of these things to?  Will the world ever be the same?  Will we ever get to do anything ever again?  Do we have to worry about how we are going to pay the bills, or how we are going to eat.

I dreams of hugs, a firm handshake, or
the passing kisses of strange women,
especially French women.
I desire people, crowds or people,
doing nothing but existing in a world
without fear of the unknown, or of me.

I think of hugging all three of my children
without fear of contagion.
I wish to see my parents again,
to play cards as a family,
to bid 10 spades and get only a few tricks
much to the dismay of my sister.
snowy owl
I yearn to go to a bar,
drinking a great beer on tap,
eating at a restaurant,
or just taking up space
I want to go shopping without fear of the bagger,
the handicapped person coming to package our groceries.

I don't want to have to Lysol my cash.
I don't want to have to quarantine the mail.
I want to go to the post office, and
not think about how many days of rice I own.
I don't want to look at farmers and think badly
that they are talking only three feet apart

I'd like to think of a huge bird stakeout,
with scopes lined up for as far as I can see,
with people telling chasing stories to each other.
and people laughing.
I strain to hear someone shout, "I got it!"
My legs ache for the sprint to see it, something rare.
canvasbacks and a redhead

I yearn for baseball, America's sport.
I want to wait impatiently for a 3-2 pitch,
and hear a close called third strike.
I think of hot dogs, nachos, and aluminum bottles
of beer without tops,  all being passed down the row.
There is something special about a beer all have touched

I yearn for the 7th inning stretch of 42,000 people,
singing Take me out to the ballgame,
or the harmony of God Bless America.
I'd even pine for yet another loss to the Yankees,
those damn Bronx Bombers
extending the Twins record for futility in the post season.
tundra swan
I'm thinking of the sun,
the life giving orb of heat
bathing my skin in warmth.
I think of crowded  beaches,
filled with people young and old,
dressed in too much or even, ...nothing at all.

I hope for the 6PM news on which state senator was intoxicated,
or a headline of warm snap, or a good storm.
I'd maybe even like to hear the fishing report.
Who did win the state golf tournament?
Who graduated at the top of their class?
Which kids are going to the service academies?

Let us celebrate something!
common goldeneye
I want less cancellations,
more celebrations, more parades, rousing concerts,
crazy parties, impromptu gatherings, or
even public drunkenness, and lewd behavior.
I would be so good to be inappropriate
Let us talk about #meetoo! and not coronaviris

I even think of karaoke.
I will sing, I really will.
Give me an old Kris Kristopherson tune or
I'd even dress in drag and sing,
Like a Virgin, or  Nine to Five.
Maybe I'd just croon to Elton or Elvis.

I want to go to a funeral,
to honor the deceased of a life well lived.
I'd like to go to wedding, any wedding,
to share in the joy of the future.
I'd like to think they have a future,
I'd also like to think I have one two.
greater white fronted geese
I want to go to a potluck, a barbecue
or even to church,
to worship free of fear, to shake
the hands of the pastor,
or to talk of good times past.
The past really was better, wasn't it.

I want to go somewhere, anywhere,
north or south, east or west.
I'd drive to Lubbock or Detroit,
Billings, Liberal, or Springfield,
Which Springfield, you may even ask?
Any or maybe even all of them.
I'd fly in a jet plane to Newfoundland,
or a prop plane to St Paul Island, or
even on an otter into the wilderness of Ontario.
How does one get to Botswana?
How many connections does it take to fly to Mauritius?
What airline even flies to Easter Island?

I don't know but I'd really like to find out!

Mostly, I'd just like to live,
I'd like to live without fear of my neighbor,
I'd like to not have to think about,
planting potatoes, to make it through next winter.
I'd like to just throw away old potatoes and not have to save them for the future,
a future bleak and bereft of hope.
Rough-legged hawk

In 1919, my great-great grandparents,
didn't died of influenza.
They had come to America late in life,
answering a plea for help on the farm,
to see their son, daughter, and their grandchildren
and to get away from the horrors of Europe.

Just because they avoided a horrible disease.
they are still buried under a gravestone marked
with a name they never used back in Sweden,
they were never Danielsons,
A virus, pestilence, or something else,
we will all end this life and be buried or burnt

I want to think about corona,
as old typewriters, writing classic stories.
I want to struggle to shift for a capital letter.
I want to slam the page return lever.
I yearn  to get black ink all over my fingers,
changing the ribbon, which never ever fits.

I want to think of corona as a beer, with people drinking
beer in warm tropical exotic places.
Places with names I can't spell.
I feel my toes digging into warm sand.
I want to just look over at my wife in just her hat
and hope to see her sly smile, saying

"You've just been dreaming, honey."  There is no virus, it was just a dream.

Stay safe!

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 ...