Adventure begins where civilization ends

Adventure begins where civilization ends
Adventure begins where civilization ends

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Relapse Island

It all started at a gas station in Hutchinson, Minnesota, on our way to the airport. In a moment of weakness I bought three packs of gum, justifying it by saying I would give them to friends never got any.

Most of the first pack was gone by the time we landed in Orange county, California. All of that first pack and most of the second were gone by the time, an hour and a half later, my dad showed up to take us to the hotel.

Day 1:

I had become slightly hardened to the life of a birder and didn't complain over being woken up at 5:30 a.m. We left the hotel room armed with backpacks full of rain gear and snack food. We headed downstairs and true to form Jim was sitting there drinking a cup of coffee. Jim is one of my dad's birding companions and was hanging out with us all weekend. My parents left us in the lobby while they went to get the car. While we were waiting, Jim realized he had misplaced his backpack. He ran off to find it and I covered for him. When he came back without having found his backpack in his room, we drove him to the nearby McDonalds where he had eaten breakfast. While waiting for our food to be ready and for Jim to find his backpack, I witnessed a homeless lady hiding her stuff in the bushes. It was with sympathy that we informed Jim of the large number of homeless people walking around.  We all came to the conclusion that his backpack was gone for good. `

We sped off to catch our boat. We got lost trying to find the right pier, but with some help from Siri we made it on time. We said goodbye to my mom at the parking lot and headed off to the boat.

I was shocked to see giant bags of popcorn next to the boat. I remembered my dad mentioning that popcorn would be used to lure in the birds.  He started talking to the other birders and abandoned me. I found Jim and stayed with him since my dad was swapping bird stories with old acquiatances. Jim pointed out a Surf Scoter while we were waiting. The ship sailed off just as the sun crested the tree line and I soon saw all three of the commonly seen gulls.

Heerman's Gull

This is most likely a immature Herring Gull

Western Gull

I don't particulary like terns due to an accident involving a flock of them when I was young, but I took this picture anyway.

Even though I already saw one I couldn't resist taking pictures of my favorite bird, the Brown Pelican.

I saw many new birds as the day progressed:

Rhinoceros Auklet
Common Murre
Mammals too:

Grey whale with dolphins
Being on constant look out for birds is exhausting and after a few hours of this I feel asleep. I awoke to people shouting "I see a brown booby!" Not at all how I planned to wake up and on anything other than a birding boat it might have had a different connotation. However, since we were on a birding boat a Brown Booby happened to be the main attraction.

The Brown Boobies were situated right under the burning natural gas from the oil rig.

  The day was long after that, we had all been in the boat over four hours and had seen nearly every species possible on this pelagic cruise.  No one minded having the boat head back to port.

We  all agreed to meet up for dinner that evening, and while waiting for my dad, we starting discussing dementia.  Jim showed up and added his own story of dementia.  As it turned out, his backpack was not in the possession of a homeless person but safely locked in his room.

Day 2:

Much to both my mom's and my joy, the ferry for Catalina did not leave until 9:30 am.  After sleeping in and packing snacks, we headed to the ferry.  This time, Jim brought his backpack. 
The ride over was uneventful except for when I pointed out a Sooty Shearwater which was one of the few birds we had missed the day before.

Once at Catalina, we headed to the bike shop where my brother's old roommate was working.  He got us set up with mountain bikes and directions to the best places to find Spotted Doves. The ride started ok, but I soon realized how out of shape I was. It was during one of my frequent breaks that I first saw the dove. It was a fleeting view. We made it up to the botanical garden that was situated at the top of the road. My mom being the rule breaker she is, sneaked through the turnstiles and walked right in. My dad and I, who are not quite to that level of rule breaking decided to wait for the attendant to return from lunch. I broke out my gram crackers and we ate some lunch ourselves. Eventually my mom returned, looking slightly miffed at us for waiting.

Once we got in to the gardens, it was a steep climb up to the top. We didn't see many birds, but we did get to pay our respects to a man who has made my life better but is also responsible for my gum addiction.

William Wrigley Jr.

The ride down the road was far easier and much more fun than the ride up. My mom sped down it like a speed demon and was going fast enough to pass golf carts. I sped down it too but at a much less deadly speed. We met up at a place with a sign calling it the bird park, but when it actually was either a day care or a preschool.

We visited some of the other good birding places around the island and got a better view of the dove.

Also a great look at some hummingbirds.

Allen's Hummingbird

Anna's Hummingbird

It was almost time to head back to our ferry when we stopped at Big Olaf's Ice-cream for a snack.

The ride back was relaxing and I finished my book (Ash by Jaymin Eve and Leia Stone) and sat in the back of the boat watching the sunset.

Day 3:

We checked out of our hotel early the next morning and headed off to see a Oak Titmouse. My plane didn't leave until that afternoon so we had plenty of time. It wasn't a long drive to Irvine park, but during that time my dad's self appointed themesong came on, exes and ohs.

We saw our other target bird the Lewis's woodpecker right away.

And soon found the Nuttall woodpecker too.

After seeing the Nuttall, we wandered around and ended up next to a playground. My mom couldn't resist trying out the mini zipline-like contraption attached to the blog, however as she stepped off she landed wrong and tumbled to the ground. Originally we thought she had broken her ankle but thankfully it was just a bad sprain. When my dad turned around and saw my mom on the ground he had to comment "this is why fifty year olds don't play on playgrounds!'' After making my mom start laughing he helped her to the car and sent me and Jim off to find either some titmice or owls. We found neither. I did see a Western Scrub-jay though which was a year bird for me.

My dad met up with us then and we trekked around in the woods for a bit and eventually sighted a lone Oak Titmouse sitting atop a tree.

We were contented after that and rejoined my mom. The next destination was the park pond and I got two new species of duck there, the Mallard and Wood ducks.

Wood Duck

That was the last bit of birding before heading off to the airport and once there I said goodbye to my dad. My mom used her suitcase as a makeshift crutch in order to get into the airport, but I knew she wouldn't be able to hobble all the way to our terminal. So I found her a wheelchair and with Jim wheeling our suitcases I pushed her to security. The vast power of the wheelchair allowed us to skip the entire line at security, I have a deep respect for wheelchairs, and allowed us special treatment. Jim left us to eat his peanut butter, which in the airports eyes is a liquid, and so I struggles to push both my mom and our two suitcases, not to mention our backpacks.

However, we made it to the terminal with plenty of time to spare. My mom wanted to attempt to hobble down the passage to the airplane but I talked her out of it. Our plane was full and we all knew that after first class the fight attendants were going to start mandatorily checking peoples bags. I remembered that only one group of people got to go in front of first class, people who required more time to get down the airway. Both my mom and I got to be the first people on the airplane and I was lucky enough that the Steward wheeled her down and offered to call ahead and have someone waiting to take her to our car.

So, all in all our trip went well. I got to see new places and see many new birds, 40 to be exact. I also saw two different species of dolphins, one seal, many sea lions, and a grey whale. I relapsed back into my gum addiction but I am taking William Wrigley's memorial as a sign. I am happy to say I don't get sea sick and I am looking forward to all of my future boat trips. I hope everyone reading this had an amazing weekend!

With love,


Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Is Texas really the place for me?

Texas did not go as planned. We arrived on Friday, and after six hours of sleep we were in the car and driving to Oliveveros park in Brownsville. We drove around for a while, but when we couldn't find any parrots we decided to walk around. It was cold, about forty degrees, and after about twenty minutes of searching my mom went back to the car. My dad and I kept looking for a while, and eventually we heard squawking from across the park. When we got there we realized why we hadn't seen any parrots before then: they were all in this one tree. There were about a hundred parrots all sitting together squawking their little hearts out, and it was a sight for sore eyes.

Everything went downhill after that. We reached Frontera Audubon Reserve in the middle of a downpour that lasted until late that night. We went there to see a Crimson-Collared Grosbeak, and we left three hours later miserable and cold. We hadn't seen any sign of the Grosbeak and all we had from our efforts were cold hands and wet feet. In an attempt to get our birding spirit back again my dad drove us to Santa Ana Nature Reserve, where we went looking for a Jaccana. We walked through the park to the places where the bird had been seen before, but we saw no sign of it. Eventually my mom and I were so cold and soaked that we left. We walked to a bird blind over looking on of the ponds, we were able to get out of the rain there and it was sightly warmer. As we were standing there, we happened to look out at the pond and saw a bird fly by with bright yellow wings. It was the Jaccana. My dad had followed behind us, but he was too late to see the bird. He insisted on staying and trying to see it however (he eventually did), and after a little bit my mom started comparing the differences between our situation and that of a homeless person....there weren't many.

The rain never stopped. It was merciless, I had come prepared for warm weather and sunburns, not cold rain and wet feet. The birds didn't seem to like the weather either since the only large group of birds were water fowl at Shrimp bridge. The rain didn't seem to bother them at least, so we got around ten new species there.

We headed back to Frontera again in a vain attempt at seeing a Crimson-Collard Grosbeak. We stayed there for another couple hours, without seeing it, but we were fairly certain that we had heard it. The care taker was very sympathetic and offered to let us come back early the next morning for another chance to see it.

We went to our hotel and for the first time all day we were warm and dry. We used a hair dyer to dry our clothes, and then relaxed by watching "The Longest Ride" which happened to be on TV. It is one of my best friend's and my favorite movie, so seeing it on TV helped to relieve some of the disappointment from the day. After the movie, we headed to Red Lobster to eat, the rain had stopped and we had a pleasant night.

We were at Frontera again for the third time in two days, hoping that our luck would come didn't. We did hear the Grosbeak, however, and counted it. While everyone else was waiting for the Grosbeak to make an appearance, I wandered off and started looking around for the other rare bird that had been seen at Frontera. It is a smaller bird with a yellow belly and grayish-blue body that behaves similar to Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, so I kept an eye out for anything small and flighty. I walked away from my dad, who was talking to another birdwatcher at the time, and stood waiting to see some birds. It didn't take long before a large group of assorted birds were scared my way due to my dad's and the other birder's conversation. I was looking for it's yellow belly as I surveyed the birds and sure enough there was something yellow flitting around in the trees. I used my binoculars and identified it as the Tropical Parula. My dad saw me looking at something and came over asking "what are you looking at?'' The bird was gone and the moment was over.

I was happy that I had at least seen the Parula, and since it wasn't raining the day seemed much better. In some ways the day improved from there, it wasn't raining and we were headed to see one of my favorite birds, the Burrowing Owl. I started to get a little concerned when we couldn't find any and I worried that someone had gotten rid of them. I was relieve when my dad flushed one from it's hiding place, but still a little concerned when that was the only one.

We were then scared off by an opinionated dog in a sweater.

We birded for the rest of the day, and went to our hotel tired and carsick. I had had my wisdom teeth out the day before Chrismas and after only a week of healing I was supposed to be keeping the pockets (where the teeth had been) clean, which was hard to do when we are driving all day and stopping only for birds. So, they had gotten infected. I as lucky that my mom always packs antibiotics when we go on trips. Sadly, my mom was feeling under the weather herself and she passed out soon after making us a diner of microwavable pasta.

The next day was the last day in Texas, which was a relief to both my mom and I. She was daydreaming about Dayquill and I even though I had enjoying finding all of these birds, I couldn't help imaging what sleeping in my own bed, having dry feet, and a pain free mouth would feel like.

The day started off at Max Mendel golf course, where we were hoping to see a Red-billed Pigeon. Once we got there, I couldn't help asking my mom to let me rent a golf cart, they are one of weaknesses. My mom gave in and as soon as we were out of sight of the club house, I was at the wheel and driving.

We didn't see the Red-billed Pigeon, but we made two new friends, Katherine and Raul. They were local birders and gave us advice on where to see the Pigeon later in the year.

By the time we left the golf course and my beloved golf cart, we we slightly pressed for time. Our plane boarded at three and we still had to find a Roadrunner. We made it to my dad's own personal birding hotspot, Marthena Road, without incident, and drove down it looking for either Roadrunners or Quail. The Quail were nowhere to be found, but near the end of the road we saw this lone Roadrunner, meep meep.

Texas was interesting, but I can't say that I'll ever see it the same again. I love South Dakota and I was happy to be home, even if it was two in the morning when we got back. I had hoped that my Big Year would start a little happier, however. I have experienced the worst and survived, so even when I'm sitting in Alaska wishing they had indoor plumbing and something other than cold spam, it will still be able to beat cold rain, an invisible Crimson-colored Grosbeak (which was seen 10 minutes after we left), and infected wisdom teeth.

Here's to a great 2016!


Sunday, January 3, 2016

Happy New Years!

If I had a dollar for every time someone said "happy New Years, baby'' then I would be a very happy fifteen year old.

We were up at five thirty on New Year's Day,and after a brief stop at Krispy Kreme, we made it to Bark'm and Markham dog park. Once there, my dad had us to spit up and search for the rare Western Spindalis. I walked around the nature trail and I heard chirping. I couldn't see the bird and figured my dad had already found the Spindalis; However, when we all met up, we realized that none of us had found it. So my parents set off together, and I followed behind them. They were chatting and walked right past the tree where I had heard the chirping. I looked at again in the hope of seeing the bird that I had been hearing, and I found was the Western Spindalis.

I started trying to get my parents attention, but since I didn't want to scare the bird I didn't dare call out very loudly. They continued talking and it wasntn't until I started flailing my arms and waving that they finally looked at me. I called out that I had found the bird and the only response I got was a disbelieving smirk from my dad. He walked over to me and I pointed to the Spindalis, his disbelief quickly turned into excitement.

After looking at the Spindalis for a while my dad and I took a walk around the dog park. I found the Spot-breasted Oriole and some Monk Parakeets.

Right away when we entered the Loxahatchee Refuge boat landing and kayak rental stand I saw a Limpkin. It was very tame and allowed me to go right up to it.

While Dad (Olaf) and I were photographing the Limpkin, my mom was looking around the boat landing.

She came over to us, pointed at some alligators in the water and commented "I don't think I'm going to rent a kayak."

Once we had looked at all the birds (and alligators) that were at the boat landing, we headed down the trail. One hour, eighty-five degrees, thirteen birds, and no water later, my mom and I abandoned Olaf. We felt better after eating some candy bars and water. Our next destination was Snook Island in Lake Worth.

Snook Island is a mangrove sanctuary that is rated fitfh best birding hotspot in Florida. It happens to be a favorite haunt of my father's, which was obvious when another birder recognized him. Dad got to meet an admirer and I got to see a brown pelican, which happens to be one of my favorite birds.

The last place we stopped at was Green Cay. I was unnevered by the sight of a red blotchy colored snake, which may or may  not have been poisonous.

After the possibly poisonous snake I was on high alert and when my mom told us she had found another snake I was ready to get the hell out of there. My dad had other plans, however, and we continued searching for a Purple Gallinule. We found some Purple Swamphens who tricked us into thinking they were the Purple Gallinule we had been searching for. At this point my wet feet were aching and I was hungry, but we continued looking for the bird. We never did see it, but since we clearly heard it, we counted it.

We saw many birds besides the Purple Gallinule and my total added up to 72 different species, 14 turtles, 2 snakes, 4 alligator and 3 very tired birders.

Our trip to the airport was uneventful, and since we were there two hours early the line for security was short. Although, my container of sea salt looked suspicious and was searched by security (I just got all of my wisdom teeth out and the salt was needed to disinfect my mouth). My dad was quite impatient and walked ahead of us to the gate. He picked out seats that were right next to some outlets and he was planning on working on his blog, but fate had other plans....his computer was gone. He searched around where we were siting and when the computer still couldn't be found he backtracked to security and asked around. It took about an hour for him to return (with the computer), and we soon boarded our plane to Houston, Texas.

In the spirit of Florida....Happy New Years, Baby!