Saturday, December 18, 2010

2010 CBC - Counting Birds is FUN!

Here it is December again...time to see how many birds there are in Area 20...

The Schlitz Audubon Compiler for the southeastern Wisconsin area established Saturday  - December 18th, 2010 as the Christmas Bird Count date (CBC) for 2010. The CBC is rich with history and tradition.  Not wanting to be left out of the count for this year; I signed up for Area 20 in the WIMI circle.  This would be the 111th version of the annual count.  The Milwaukee Circle was coordinated (compiled) again this year by Andrea Szymczak.   

The “bird-brained” participants are to "count" the total amount of each species (they are sure of) recorded in their section, to the best of their ability from midnight to midnight. The "official" turn in date for all data is January 5, 2011. Again the WIMI had its "turn-in party" beginning at 4:00 PM at the Schlitz Audubon Center the evening of the count.  Barbara and I started the count around 9:15 AM in the 10 degree air.  We drove to the Honey Creek Parkway behind Hart Park and walked and walked until the wind chill drove us back to the shelter of the vehicle (and the heater).  One of the most interesting facets of this year's count were the plethora of European Starlings and the dearth of American Robins logged.

Barbara and I turned over our count data at around 4:20 and shared a glass of ginger ale; while basking in the afterglow, (and chatting with WIMI faithfuls like Scott Diehl, Marilyn Bontly, Judith Huff, Andrea Szymczak and Jean Frelka) of another successful CBC.  If you'd like to join in a count (either the CBC or the upcoming GBBC February 18, 2011); email me at and I'll hook you up.  In the meantime...keep watching your feeders cause you never know what you'll see this winter.  You could even spy a wayward Red-winged Blackbird in Boulder Junction, WI in 12" of snow!  Yes, can (and does) happen.

Here's the count for 2010 (in area 20)

  • Canada Goose - 23
  • Rock Pigeon - 12
  • Mourning Dove - 14
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker - 2
  • Downey Woodpecker - 8
  • Hairy Woodpecker - 2
  • American Crow - 8
  • Black-capped Chickadee - 10
  • White-breasted Nuthatch - 6
  • American Robin - 1
  • European Starling - 267
  • Dark-eyed Junco - 14
  • Northern Cardinal - 14
  • House Finch - 22
  • House Sparrow - 182
  • American Goldfinch - 32

Have a Merry Christmas and GREAT birding adventures!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

In My Real Life...2010 Video File - Discovered!

Milwaukee Public Schools - Excellence In Education Award Winner...ME


Maintenance and Repair Supervisor

Division of Facilities and Maintenance Services

Joseph Edward Devereaux has been employed with Milwaukee Public Schools, in the Division of Facilities and Maintenance Services (FMS), for 20 years. Joe started his career at MPS as a Plumber, was promoted in 1994 to Plumber Foreman, and in October 2005, became the first of three maintenance & Repair Supervisors. As a Maintenance & Repair Supervisor, Joe is responsible for supervising and overseeing skilled-trades personnel and outside contractors, works with internal and external stakeholders to refine FMS process and procedures in an ongoing effort to reduce costs and improve service, administers expense budgets, and monitors performance metrics.

Joe brings 25 years of skilled-trade experience and a total-quality-management style of leadership to the team that he supervises. This combination of skill sets and expertise ensures that our district facilities remain safe, clean, and welcoming environments for students and staff.

Joe is a leader at FMS and has volunteered for many assignments above and beyond his normal duties and responsibilities, including coordinator of the MPS blood drive, the Employees’ Combined Giving Campaign, and the UPAF Campaign.

Joe recognized the need and importance of donating blood and personally began his own blood donations at age 39. In 2007, he organized the first blood drive at Facilities and Maintenance. Under his leadership, the number of individuals participating in the annual blood drive has increased by 36%. Joe’s creative flair has contributed to the success of the annual event. Over the years, Joe has invited celebrity volunteer hosts, including local pageant winners, politicians, and celebrities. While this is a serious endeavor, Joe keeps the event fun and entertaining with a new twist or surprise for participants every year.

The Milwaukee Public Schools’ Combined Giving Campaign has been extremely successful, in large part due to the efforts of Joe Devereaux. As a member of the district planning team, he has brought creativity, enthusiasm, and success to the campaign. In addition to his work on the overall yearly planning, Joe serves as a site coordinator for Facilities and Maintenance and regularly achieves one of the highest dollar totals and employee participation levels in the district for his division’s campaign.

Since Joe became the coordinator for Facilities and Maintenance, contributions have steadily increased, for a combined total contribution of $118,000 in the last nine years. It is important to note that the MPS Combined Giving Campaign is the main source of funding for the MPS Foundation and provides funding to over 200 health and human services agencies throughout the metro-Milwaukee area, many of which provide much needed services to MPS students and their families. Because of Joe’s dedication to the success of the campaign, it has finally met a longtime goal — exceeding the $400,000 mark in 2009-10. Joe’s involvement in the MPS Combined Giving Campaign has had a positive impact on many lives.

Joe became the UPAF Campaign leader in 2009, when he introduced the first FMS silent art auction. The auction was a fun way to highlight the UPAF campaign, promote involvement of FMS employees and FMS business partners, and raise additional funds for the MPS Foundation. This year, Facilities and Maintenance has invited Roosevelt Middle School to be a partner, and the silent art auction will include students’ artwork. The auction, which is open to all district employees, is another example of Joe’s ability toreach out and collaborate with schools, business partners, and individual donors.

The most recent endeavor that Joe has embarked on is creating the first chapter of a Milwaukee Optimist Club. The current focus is to gather MPS individuals for a presentation on how Optimists can naturally partner with youth in the Milwaukee Public Schools. Optimist clubs are currently using the slogan “Bringing out the best in kids.” Joe accepted the appointment to the Charter Presidency of the Metro Milwaukee Optimist Club. In this role, Joe hopes the Milwaukee Chapter will begin to partner with MPS schools at all levels.

As part of Joe’s commitment to MPS, he has also participated in:

•The MPS School-to-Work program with high-school students interested inthe field of construction;

• Multiple Career Day presentations at MPS elementary, middle, and highschools;

• MPS Math Buddies, which focuses on assisting high-school students in theclassroom;

• National Young Readers Day; and

•The Junior Achievement program for elementary-school students.

Joe’s responsibilities as a Maintenance and Repair Supervisor ensure that the students’ learning environments are safe, clean, well maintained, and conducive to learning. More important, the leadership role that Joe has taken with programs outside of his required duties and responsibilities demonstrate a strong commitment to supporting the district’s mission.

The Milwaukee Board of School Directors and the entire school community recognize Joseph Devereaux for his dedication, outstanding leadership, and commitment to excellence on behalf of the students of the Milwaukee Public Schools.

And...He Watches Birds Too!!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Birds of an Urban State Park

Taking a nature break after work, can sooth a troubled mind...but what was the machete' for?

Lakeshore State Park, Milwaukee Wisconsin is a truly beautiful (entirely man made) restful place.  I was killing some time before my every other Thursday evening MMOC Optimist meeting when I last parked the WPT for a visit.  I was struck by the way that the prairie had established itself since I had been there in the summer of '09.  The various raised hills of earth created when the place was conceived were now alive with growth and colorful grasses and native flora of Wisconsin.  The pure white limestone rocks that formed the breakwater were positively glowing in the afternoon sun.  The temperature was just perfect and the sun abundant on this particular afternoon.

Small groups of immature European starlings hopped and foraged in the grasses along the rocks as I walked.  At this stage of their lives, they look a bit like a meadowlark in the mottling of the breast, but lacking any of the color.  Ring-billed gulls congregated on the open grassy areas and Mallards and Common mergansers lined the edges of the inland backwaters.  Rock doves could also be seen pecking at small piles of aggregate as a young child on a scooter and his mother ambled past my location.  Fishermen trying their luck on the calm waters of the lagoon didn't even seem to bother the flotilla of ducks as they cast their rods in hopeful motions.

Several signs are posted along the concrete walkways explaining both the environment and the animal life which are found in the park.  You need to look down to find them.  There is also an experimental area of grassland management in various stages and an explanation for it as well.  I walked on, thinking about how surprisingly peaceful and serene this human-created slice of land really was.  The gulls overhead with their plaintive calls and the sail boats dancing on the "big" water added to the romanticism of the experience.  I smiled that smile that says both, "I am happy to be alive" and "don't blink or you'll miss capturing the feeling of serenity".

That's about when I spotted the two long sheaths and the torpedo level in the grass.  I (of course) prepared to take an image because of the unexpected nature of the collection.  I began wondering what the odd juxtaposition of these artifacts had with the environmental offerings of any group of volunteering well-doers and drew a blank.  Scooter-Mom watched me with my camera pointed into the ground.  I glanced her way and gave a shrug of puzzlement, but clicked the shutter anyway.  I don't know what comes over me, but things (all things) interest me on some level; this was no different. 

Oh well...I walked on with my question forever unanswered...that's the way life can be sometimes right?

Here's more images to enjoy!
(Remember to click on them to get a larger image)

Looking for a Little Bird
Picture postcard perfect

Say "fiiissshh"!

The Milwaukee Iroquois Tour Boat

Common merganser

The Map and Rules of Lakeshore State Park

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Birding Mountain Bike Highway

Remembering how it makes me smile...

It’s been an unusually hot and humid summer - especially for Milwaukee Wisconsin. Don’t get me wrong…I like the warmth much better than the cold.  However, human nature is to complain regardless of the weather. I guess the reason I notice it (and mention it) is my current self-imposed living arrangement. You see, I left my wife of nearly 26 years; the love having all but evaporated like one of those cone-shaped room air fresheners that you have to open up to expose the soft inner core, and moved into an upper half of a house with zero AC. Since the place I’m renting didn’t come with it, and I would have to pay for it…I’m suddenly uber-frugal with my meager stipend. I can also unequivocally attest to you dear reader that heat does indeed rise…I have the sweat-stained tee shirts to prove it. I guess that’s one reason I totally enjoy getting out in the deep woods…the coolness of natural shade.

Even at 8:30 AM on this particular Sunday; the Cicadas were buzzing with gusto as I parked the White Pickup Truck under the westbound bridge of Milwaukee’s Capitol Drive. Why not park the vehicle in the shade I thought, as I gathered up my binoculars, tripod and camera. I knew I’d be away from it for a time and didn’t need to come back to an easy bake oven interior. My goal for today was two-fold; investigate the crumbling and forlorn cemetery plots directly adjacent to the Capitol Drive highway 45 North freeway on ramp, and to walk the trails that lead away into the woods near the ruins. The only convenient access was to park where I did and walk a short distance, so walk I did. Note: The focus of THIS particular blog installment will be the Trails, if you want the “cemetery” segment (because it is more birdy in nature)…look HERE within my NEW "Roads Less Traveled" blog.

The path started just west of the bridge over the Menomonee River Parkway and Capitol Drive.  The signs at the trail head hinted that I would have to share parts of the trail with the BRAINDEAD.  That's if they followed the little blue man on the bicycle insignias -nailed to the marker posts.  I was following the little blue man with the hiking stick markers, and I hoped not to "bump" into anything on two wheels wearing gaudily colored spandex.  The mosquitoes were thick and I cursed my decision to leave my camo fanny-pack in the truck.  It had my Off wipes in it darn-it!  Oh well...slap and move, slap and keep moving.

This particular trail wound its way mostly northward along the west edge of the Menomonee River.  The ground was primarily wet and/or damp due to the recent 500-year flooding of July 15th and 22nd.  The fact that most of this (lower) area had been far under water was quite evident due to the flotsam and jetsam higher up in the tree branches.  Colorful dragonflies, Blackwinged damselflies and Monarch butterflies flew about and the prevailing sound was that of moving water.  The sunlight at that time of the morning didn't seem to reach all that far into the heavily leafed-out forest, to add much heat; that was a good thing. Dappled patches of light filtered through to the ground creating shadows on the moist earth.  I was listening closely and moving as soundlessly as possible when I heard the familiar sound of the Red-eyed Vireo high in the tree tops.  Chickadees and Red-bellied Woodpeckers called back and forth to their kin and I heard the welcome song of the Eastern Wood Pewee in the distance.

A clearing in the tall grasses along the still hidden but heard from highway 45, yielded a pair of Song Sparrows flitting about from tree to tree, visibly upset by something unknown to me.  A female American Redstart zipped here and there; its tail fanning and twisting this way and that as it chased insects.  I noticed that I must have gotten into some sort of low nettles, as my ankles and shins began and to burn and itch.  I was wearing shorts and it is a professional hazard of the hobby I guess.  Gray Catbirds and American Robins were the next species I heard as I approached the western most part of my morning walk.  The urban "artists" known as taggers had decorated the newer bridge abutments on Hampton Ave. near the intersection of the Oak Leaf Trail

That looked like a likely place to disengage myself from the tangle of the dense woods and emerge onto some nicely manicured asphalt path.  To be honest, I hadn't realized just how far I had traversed until I came out and recognized the road. 

I walked back to the WPT on the macadam with slightly soaked shoes and socks, but feeling like I had gotten back on that horse and ridden once felt good to "get lost" for a time, chasing avian folly.

I think I'll go again...soon.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Nature is Where You Find it (Where YOU Are)

Beauty is all around you...Naturally.

Sorry dear readers of the B-Stud blog (all 8 of you), that I have not written in over two weeks.  Big changes in my life have kept me preoccupied...but more on that some other day.  This installment is dedicated to getting away for the weekend and what (extras) just may be awaiting you, if you care to notice.  If you have read my blog before, you know that I spend a good amount of paragraphs on the subject of keeping your eyes open for nature in the unexpected pleasures that surround each of us every day.  My latest example comes from a trip I took to the Minneapolis area to assist my college-age son move (again).  

I LOVE Priceline.  You'd love it too if you tried it.  I mean, where else can a thrifty guy like myself "bid" 40 bucks on a 3-1/2 star luxury hotel and score amazing accommodations that I'd never be able to afford?  The answer is; no place.  That's the reason I ended up a bit "out of town" while in the Twin Cities area.  All I had to do was drive a bit and voila; instant opulence.  This place was a two room "suite" with two beds, two TVs, and a (fill and drain) whirlpool tub big enough for a party.  

On that note, I must tell you I love irony when I encounter it.  Imagine that on your bed there's this trendy little PC sign card that has the header of "SAVE OUR PLANET" and goes on to explain that washing towels in hotels all across the world amounts to millions of gallons of wasted water and if you could possibly see your way clear to NOT having the staff launder your soiled sheets until later, that the world would thank you, blah, blah, blah.  Great...feel smugly do-gooder-esque and just fill up and drain that giant whirlpool tub once so you can soak your aching joints...that will save a few gallons of water eh?   Ahem...anyway, (he continued) I also had a little coffee maker and a mini-fridge to boot.  I felt like a king and enjoyed every minute of the time away from the heat of my sweltering upper apartment...ahhh sweet AC!  Anyway, give Priceline a try the next time you need a room and you are not too picky about the may even get as lucky as I did.

So I parked the WPT (White Pick-up Truck) in the outer lot and zoomed the eight stories up to my personal haven with my overnight gear.  The view of the far off Cities was spectacular and even better was the view of the wetlands on the other side of the freeway (94) off-ramp. 

 That little area piqued my interest right away, but would have to wait until morning; Nelson and I had had a big day and he still needed a ride in to work his shift at Annie's Parlour.  That's another place you ought to put in your bucket for someday...their Feature called the "Riverside" is an eating man's meal of hamburger meat-patty and roasted vegetables (onions, mushrooms and green peppers) on wheat bread (open face) with a little pitcher of heavenly mushroom gravy and Annie's signature fries on the side.  Don't forget the jaunty, luscious half peach that festoons the loaded platter either - it's all To DIE for!  But I digress...ahem...back to the wilderness area on the side of the freeway.

I awoke at 7:30 AM the next day and dressed for the warmth of the outdoors.  I gathered my usual accoutrement of paraphernalia (binos, camera, hat, etc.) and journeyed past the (do not walk) signs screwed to the side of the stop lights on the corner of Boone and Executive to the great unknown at the base of the La Quinta sign. 

I walked gingerly in the tall and extremely dewy grasses, moving slowly and purposefully towards the edge of the do not cross this chain-link fence, barrier near the water's edge.  I noticed immediately all the varied and colorful wild flowers, and wild weeds that dotted the landscape as I crept.  The amazing array of insect life too caught my attention; dragonflies of many sizes, colors and configurations alongside beautiful butterflies and moths, crickets and grasshoppers.  It was then that I spotted my first warbler of the later summer; a Palm Warbler in the low shrubbery at the water's edge, pumping its tail in that unmistakable way.  Attempting to get a "better look" at it, I ventured into a waist high patch of grass.  That's when the dual "soakers" happened.  Oh well, I sighed and decided that since I was already good and wet, what the heck...and kept going.  I was rewarded for my efforts and soggy feet with a special view of a Canada Goose nest and several pairs of Wood Ducks in the waters near the freeway.  These stalwart waders seemed quite oblivious to the noise of the traffic, or the close proximity to any potential danger; and unless you went where I just slogged, you'd never ever see them.

Being careful not to disturb their solace, I navigated out and around the edge of the roadway where I stirred up a foraging woodchuck who must have been munching on the plants near the shoulder.  I mutter, "that was cool" and looked in vain into the tall grass for more signs of it.  

The sun was getting higher and the birds in the trees were becoming more active.  I stood with binoculars raised and counted 14 species from where I stood.  There were Cedar Waxwings and Goldfinches, House Finches and Starlings, Mourning Doves and House Sparrows, just to name a few...each one bringing a smile to my (on vacation) face.  I felt alive and rested, ready for whatever the day would bring.  

Which when you keep your eyes open; can be quite a lot. (fin)


Sunday, August 1, 2010

What Happened to my Marigolds?!

Just a simple question...why are bunnies so damn cute?

Let's plant some flowers to brighten up the front of the know, some instant "curb-appeal" and something nice to make a person smile.
  • Two flats of Home Depot marigolds planted firmly in the soil in front of the house...check. 
  • Sufficient watering for new plants...check. 
  • Sunny conditions to spur on new growth...check. 
  • A crap-load of newly hatched 2010 (cute as a button) bunny rabbits who apparently think that marigold leaves, and flowers (and not the stems) are delicious...check?
Yes flora-fans, the rabbits got to my flowers.  What can I say except to ask a simple (yet somehow complex) question: Why is it that "cute" little bunnies are decimating the plants?  You know...why not some "other" creature; detestably horrid and vile? 

When poignant issues like this arise, I think of my son Max and his incessant verbalizations in large public spaces regarding the highly implausible scenario of an imminent Zombie attack.  He'll scan the surroundings of (let's say) a shopping mall, or large open warehouse area in a Lowes or Home Depot, and remark matter of factly, "If the attack should begin here and now, that hardware area there - would be the first place I'd head in order to hold them off."  Hmmm...well, I of course (as the responsible parent) will always remind him that, "Zombies aren't real and that he should stop thinking about contingency plans related to a possible Zombie VS. the rest of the human race stand-off". 

But now, pondering the bunny infestation, my loss of marigolds, and the obvious conundrum surrounding their impossible God-given cute-ness - linked to the inevitable question of, "how could I possible take retribution against such a lovably-soft, large-eyed mammal?" I summarize that I'd rather fight Zombies instead...assuming of course that Zombies would (or could) eat marigolds.  THEN, at least I could pull the trigger and eliminate a few horrid, hellspawn marigold-mauraders with a clear conscience.

But bunnies?...c'mon...that's not fair.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Po-tay-toh, Po-tot-oh ~ Ci-kay-dah, Ci-ka-dah

However it is pronounced; this bug rocks my summertime!

It seems as though my life has been blessedly marked (as many others have) by particular annual natural events which have left their indelible mental check marks. For instance, ever since I was a kid I have been fascinated by insects...all of them, and what their delicate life-cycles mean in the flow of life here on earth. The late May days in northern Wisconsin when the mayflies would emerge nearly simultaneously to spend their precious few hours to a few days in constant flight and reproduction. The dragonflys that would attach their larvae to lake-side pier posts, until one day when the time was right, finally bursting through into the world to unfurl their lacy wings, leaving behind a parchment thin crispy carapace. The appearance of a multitude of caterpillars that would some day "worm" their way into their more beautiful and universally accepted and celebrated flying works of art. The "June bugs" with their claw-like hooked legs flying sorties past my head, whirring and floating until they "grab" something (or someone) on which to rest their bulbous bodies.  Whether we all admit it, insects with their various arrivals and departures have imprinted their existence on each of our personal hourglasses marking the passage of time. 

For me...summer officially starts when the cicada sings. ZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz!

Over the long 4th of July weekend, I finally heard my own familiar personal harbinger of heat; the Cidaca.  (in Latin meaning "buzzer") Interestingly, when I hear this wonderful ringing sound I immediately think of the old 1937 George and Ira Gershwin standard; "Let's call the whole thing off." Why you might ask, would I think of that song?  Well, it's simple if you reside inside of my head and have forever equated that song and the multitude of ways which I have heard the name of this marvelous bug pronounced.  Tibicen linnei is its Latin name, but then who knows that little factoid?  In some circles this super-sized fly has been called a, jar fly, dry fly, heat bugs, and (a definite misnomer) locusts and did you know that there are over 2500 species of this amazing insect?  Well, there's a whole lot that is available on the vast Internet, so I will not regale you with all that I personally know other than a few of the coolest things which you may list off and impress your friends with: HERE

I have been fortunate to actually have a few of these bizarre creatures resting in the palm of my hand from time to time, and find that I can stare at them for long periods just appreciating their intricate design.  I have seen the House sparrows in my yard chasing them through the branches, and even took a photo of a tiny Black-capped chickadee with one pinned to the dirt in its claws, as it pecked it apart for a meal...that was totally spectacular.  I even recall one car ride to Florida in the middle of the summer of 1980, stepping from my vehicle for a gasoline fill-up, unable to completely avoid crunching them underfoot due to a sudden massive hatch crawling on the tarmac. 

Each of these impressionable memories are possible because I took the time to make a mental note to be amazed with the natural world.  What are YOUR personal markers of the passage of time, and do any of them involve bugs?  If you answer no, then I suggest you were not paying attention...and there's still plenty of time to notice and record some.  Just listen and smile as you feel the warmth of a brand new summer dawning; one bug at a time.

Emergence of a Cicada

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Fledging Another Chick

OK little one...time for you be on your own now...

My daughter Dedra has graduated. 

Yes folks it happened last weekend just like it was happening all over the country to countless other "Dads"...their only daughter was finished with high school.  While Dads don't have it "easy" in this regard, they do tend to have it "easier" than the Moms.  Dads by their very nature are not as emotional as their better-halves generally are.  Dads are mostly "rub some dirt on it" types who go immediately for the solution to the issues; not stopping for a good cry along the way.  That's how it "usually" goes isn't it?  Well, here is one Daddy who felt a growing lump in his throat when he witnessed his one and only standing there so straight and tall - ready to take that last long walk across the high school gymnasium floor.  I guess I am a big softee after all.

Sitting there on the God-forsaken, unforgiving pine bleacher seating, the mind goes into rapid playback mode on all the mental images taken along her way:  The first steps taken and precious words spoken, (I want to believe it was "dada") the multiple birthday parties, badgering for homework completion, countless school concerts attended, cell phone probations, dates with "boys", after-school sports and activities, friendship train-wrecks, scraped garage doors, money borrowed,  job interviews, tears shed, and oh the many, many laughs and smiles along the way.  College awaits you - and then you name it...

I am so very proud of you - my Dee go grab the world by the handles and haul it in...because I know you CAN do it!  But don't forget to write. thing ends, and another begins...always.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Weborg in May (Part Two)

I just love it when a plan comes together...

So it was with my plan to camp at Weborg Campground in Peninsula State Park on May 21-24 - 2010.  The weather was (mostly) nice and the birding was as phenomenal as I had dreamed (hoped) it would be. 

Lured in to my early spring junket to Door County, WI by a promise to rent those little motor-scooters when we got to the Park; son Nelson had agreed to come along.  Now Nelson probably would have gone along regardless with his old-man, however the chance to zip along on something motorized and different appealed to him immediately.  The intense birding I was planning on doing - probably not so much.  I will give him a lot of credit for even pretending to be interested in the constant avian anecdotes and factoids which I was gleefully spewing, as his face never betrayed anything different.  I actually kinda' sorta' think he may have really enjoyed the intensity of the hunt, but I'll gladly wear his admission of, "No, Dad I didn't mind at all...I really learned a lot" as a badge of honor.

While moving around the Park in our three and 1/2 registered days, both on foot and on bicycles we had brought with us we saw over 76 species of birds; many of them migrating warblers.  (No...sorry...I choked on the $ 48.00/hour quoted charge for a single motor scooter, and Nelson didn't even seem to mind my backing away from that idea) I made it up  for stiffing him on his scooter-ride the best I could, by playing three rounds of stimulating mini-golf and competative go-cart racing in amongst stopping for locally made ice cream in delicious waffle cones and other area confections.  One of the more famous of the must-do stops is in Ephraim.  The signature red and white themed place is called "Wilson's" and is a local iconic (104 year-old) restaurant and ice cream parlor that serves your basic hamburgers, fries and malts, while filling the summer-time college kid need for steady employment between semesters.  I particularly LOVE their home-brewed draft root beer.   This year I bought both of us commemorative ball caps...why?...cause I just love ball caps.  (and tee-shirts...I love those too, so I bought one)

One of the most memorable things particular to this trip to the State Park was definitely the enormous patches of brilliantly blue forget-me-nots.  Because I had never been in the park this early in the year before, I didn't know about this particular stunning display.  As I rode along one of the many bike paths in the park, I was taken with the incredible beauty of these simple flowers.  The sheer concentration of them seemed to cause the ground to glow with their natural iridescence.  Another first for this trip was the amount of trilliums in bloom and the occasional delicate yellow Lady slipper along the trails.  Mostly I just enjoyed the company of my first born, as he gladly accompanied me on each adventure I dreamed up.

The two of us had nice fire-side talks while sitting and sipping beverages, and allowed the time of day and amount of natural light to slowly lull us into a non-typical bed-time each night.  The crickets and frogs on our side of Weborg's natural marsh, cranked it up to full volume at dusk.  The cacophony was truly spectacular and would probably keep most light sleepers from drifting off to La-La land...not me...I absolutely enjoyed each chirp and croak until dawn came to nudge my eyelids open.  Bacon on the camp stove, coarse ground camp coffee, and blueberry pancakes made the trip that much more memorable, and having my oldest child along to share in the simplicity of the natural world around us, was priceless.  Memories are made of these...indeed.

Thanks for allowing me to wax familial for a bit...It meant a lot to me.

Here's our bird list from the trip:

Forget-Me-Nots in Bloom!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Weborg in May (Part One)

I was right...dammit..I was soooo RIGHT!

...So there's this tiny (little) campground spot within a more massive campground in Door County, WI and I was bound and determined to actually "camp" there one day.  That day came recently the weekend before Memorial Day 2010, but not without some careful, strategic reservation.  If you have read my blog, you know that I have written at length about the Peninsula State Park in Fish Creek, WI. and how much FUN there is to be had there in general.  Well, just add to that "usual fun" the possibility of being in the slipstream of dozens of migratory birds and voila...nirvana!

From the many other times that I had camped within the State Park, I had gathered enough of a sense that all that I needed to do was rely on timing and location, to substantially pick up the avian action.  To that end, I started HERE on the greatest camping reservation system known to modern man; Reserve America.  Weborg is a tiny footprint made up of only 12 sites.  It has both its own flush toilets and showers however and is one of the more sought after areas in the entire Peninsula State Park.  Firing up the old computer, navigating my way to the RA site; I then read the caveat on the RA site that said: Booking Window - Reservations must be made 2 day(s) ahead of arrival and can be made up to 11 month(s) in advance.  To put the whole experience into perspective;  I had to "back up" from the weekend I had targeted, 11 months and cross my fingers.  That basically meant putting something on my calendar for 12:01 AM, June 21st to get me in there (if I was fast and lucky enough) on May 21st of the following year.  Crazy eh?   Yeah, crazy like a fox.

I will tell you that when that date and extraordinarily early time came, even though I was Birdstudy-on-the-spot, I still only barely landed my site, getting the final one available within Weborg.  Don't think that me (Mr. Sceptic) doesn't wonder if there's some under-handed tom-foolery going on there within the bowels of the RA hierarchy, offering clandestine sweet-heart reservations to big money contributors...  C'mon, you just KNOW that's got to be happening...right?  The next thing was to explain to my wife why in the hell I would reserve a campsite in May, in (almost) northern Wisconsin.  Yep, it can still be doggone cold then.  I fretted over that one for a few moments on how to justify the insanity, then decided it didn't matter to me...I had NAILED one...YES!

When the time actually came to gin up familial interest and excitement in my admitted folly that next spring; a wedding invitation and graduation party threatened to derail my train.  Still unassuaged I soldiered onward, committed even if I were to go by myself.  Thankfully my oldest son Nelson (just finished with his Junior year at U of M, and home for a spell) gleefully signed on for the trip.  This was shaping up to be a real honest to goodness "Dad and Lad" time for the both of, could I just get Nelson to watch a few birds with me? 

(Watch for Weborg in May  part two...)

Sunday, May 30, 2010

It's a Gull-Darned Head Scratcher

Only they know for sure...

Here's one of those urban animal mysteries that is sure to keep you occupied for hours and hours if you let it...why the daily morning gull gathering?

I live on the typical urban mid-sized (mid-western) city of Milwaukee.  My house is also located next to a typical green-space (called a "park") carved out between several city blocks in a (mostly) quiet neighborhood.  Granted, Milwaukee is a city on a Great lake so the fact that there are gulls (not "sea" gulls people) frequently spotted anywhere in the vicinity is not news.  However such a large concentration of gulls (mostly Ring-billed gulls each morning no where near the water is a bit of a conundrum.  Each morning I would hear their plaintive cries and maniacal "laughter" through the bedroom window each day as I am getting up.  The other day (at approximately 5:30 AM) curiosity got the better of me and I decided to finally walked the 200 steps over to Enderis Park, for a better look. 

I took the camera, cause I always take the camera.  While we're on the subject; take your OWN camera just never know what you'll see.  I snapped a few images for the purposes of this blog, however who has not seen a large gathering of gulls right?  Well that crossed my mind too, but snap away I did.  The VIDEO segments are more interesting simply because there's motion and audio too.

So what did I learn from this one stint of gull observation?  Not much really...only a few more questions came to mind.  What I did see and mentally record is the following; the gulls divided themselves into two larger groups; one that seemed to prefer the combination girl's softball / kickball diamond and field and another that took the southern end of the narrow park property, basically doing a sweep of that 1/2 of the grounds, making several "adjustments" by hopping into the air, and moving back north a bit before landing - only to repeat the process.  The entire "show" took about 30 minutes from start to finish.  I paid particular attention to whether or not the Ring-bills were finding (or attempting to find) food in the grass - they were (did) not.  Instead, this morning ritual of typically sea-side avian species seemed to merely be congregating for some larger. more mysterious purpose.  They didn't all land at once, nor did they leave en mass; however the southern group did it's curious sweep and did vacate their chosen area well before the other diamond dwelling conclave.

The ultimate purpose of this morning's "flocking" behavior was lost on me; however that didn't stop me from coming up with several implausible anthropomorphic theories: Perhaps they all meet in Enderis Park each morning to decide the best route each group would take in order to cover the greatest number of unsuspecting citizenry in their chalk-slimy excrement, as they deposit what they have eaten and drank via an aerial carpet bombing campaign?  Maybe this is their birdy equivalent to "let's all meet at Starbucks"?  I guess I'd  prefer to think something a bit more pedantic;  that they enjoy slugs and that each morning as the grass is in full dew-mode, the possibility exists for the greatest number...either that or the early gull gets the worm (or leftover human picnic garbage...yechhhh)

Never the less, they come - each morning - stay for less than 45 minutes - and disappear into the morning sky...the question remains why...why indeed?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Reading of Phoebe...

Snetsinger that is...

Have you read about Phoebe?  I have.  As a matter of fact I finished the book about her life and times while in Florida on spring break.  The book I read was entitled: Life List: A Woman's Quest for the World's Most Amazing Birds by Olivia Gentile.  My friend Tammy had loaned it to me and I eagerly began reading it, interested to learn more about the woman, the myth, the legend.  Granted, this book has been reviewed by all the biggies out there, so my little response isn't really all that necessary, but I'll lay it on you anyway, in just two simple words: astonishingly sad.

I found the book a but sluggish and boomerang-esque with all its back and forth through Phoebe's life over a period of many years.  You do learn more about the ins and outs of the Leo Burnett Advertising Agency (Phoebe's father) but the frequent story rewinds are a bit too, "who cares" for my taste, to keep me riveted to the book.  As a result of that, it took me far longer to trudge through this book than it did for me to read Kenn Kaufman's Kingbird Highway.  Now that book I truly enjoyed, but back to Life List for a few more moments.

The "astonishing" part of my two word review deals with the remarkable birding accomplishments of this uniquely driven, maniacally obsessed woman.  With her boundless financial resources and the understanding of her long-suffering (Purina-rising star) husband Dave; its no wonder Phoebe was able to see all the birds she has recorded on her life list.  Add the threat of a shortened life due to cancer, and Phoebe let 'er really snap.  She took chance after chance with both her safety and her life in pursuit of goal after goal.  Some would look at this behavior and merely applaud it, however I was torn between a "you go girl" attitude, and "what the hell were you thinking?" mindset.  The unfortunate scenarios that she gets herself into are the "sad" portion, and her final, untimely demise is truly the saddest thing about her life.  Most will wistfully say, she died doing what she loved...I logically say, she died and that's a damn shame...I blame the van operator by the way.  If there was ever a more aptly named person (who shared a bir's name) I have yet to read about them...both loners, both obsessed with flitting about in search of stuff...yep, both Phoebes indeed.

So if you want to delve deeply into (not only Phoebe Snetsinger's life) but the lives of anyone she was related to, or came into contact with, read Life List.  If you want pure unfiltered Phoebe, by Phoebe; read Birding On Borrowed Time - her posthumously published autobiography.  I plan to do that very thing; just as soon as Tammy buys it.