Saturday, June 28, 2014

Two-Wheeled Bird Watching with Dog

On a rare (non-raining) but humid Saturday morning at the end of June 2014; Barbara, Opie and I headed west in the WPT to do some bicycling before the rains were supposed to roll into Milwaukee.  We gathered up all the other important things we use when preparing to ride our bikes, and then stopped for a quick shopping trip to our local Wal-Mart grocery; packing a nice picnic lunch into a small soft-sided cooler.

The easternmost end of the New Berlin Recreation Trail begins near Greenfield Park and 124th street and is an offshoot of the mighty Oak Leaf Trail.  We had decided to bike the entire length this morning; all seven miles there and back.  It's a virtual straight shot paved trail that runs just to the south of the large metal power line towers (following them as they stretch west to Waukesha, WI and next to a quiet railroad track.

Dozens of Gray catbirds were in residence along both sides of the trail; screeching and meow-ing in the underbrush.  The mostly flat areas underneath the power towers were intermittently littered with Milkweed plants and eager Monarch butterflies flitting about in search of prime egg-laying territory.  The trail itself was busy.  Bicyclists of every shape, size and determination, were riding east and west calling out, "on your left" as they rode up behind us.  Opie was riding shotgun in his special fleece-lined basket on the front handlebars of Barbara's mountain bike.  People always smile and say something kind when they see him in there.

A Great egret in breeding plumage sat upon a log to the south of the trail in the middle of a backwater estuary.  American robins would drop down to the asphalt to hop from one side to the other as we approached their positions.  Common grackle, Red-winged blackbird, Song sparrow, American goldfinch, and Northern cardinal were the predominant species we encountered.  I also heard Killdeer, Common yellow-throat, house wren, and Northern rough-winged swallows as we rode from mile marker to mile marker along the trail.  Several dangerous road crossings across busy multi-lane roadways caused us to be extremely careful and wary of danger.  Heck, just bicycling along such an obviously popular route made one stay on their toes for fear of either being struck, or at minimum; verbally shamed by a more expert cyclist to, "stay on your side of the path."

The sun was slowly, but incrementally losing it's dominance in the sky as we neared our picnic spot; two wooden tables underneath one tower in the parking area of a weekend shift -Waukesha factory.  People on roller blades, recumbent bikes, and on foot continued to pass by us as we ate our pre-packaged ham and cheese triangles paired with some peach ice tea and barbeque potato chip lunch.  Sure it was only 10:40 AM; but the seven mile ride, coupled with a natural spot in which to eat comfortably, caused it to make sense to us.  Opie needed to stretch and go to the bathroom anyway. 

Bicycling with your parrot?
A curious site unveiled itself as we sat munching on our food; a pair of cyclists out with their parrot (and I thought Opie's bike rig was unique) was quite an eclectic sight to see indeed. Some jogger dude stopped them as they were riding by to chat; so I was able to snap a photo.  We eventually left our cozy table after about a half-hour break, to head back east from whence we had come.  The grade seemed to be slightly more in our (downhill) favor as we rode.  The sun was still cranking down and the slight breeze seemed to be in our face each way; which was weird.  We swung into Buena Park in New Berlin (which is directly off the trail) just to see what it was.  It was small but nice.  It had all the amenities of a good place to bring the kids; playground, ball diamond, tennis court, grassy field, etc.

The rest of the ride back was without incident.  We arrived back at the WPT to load the bikes at approximately 10:45 AM; just as thunder began to rumble in the distance.  After loading everything and our short drive back home; the rain began to fall by 11:30.  It seems we had timed it out just right. :)

Here's the bird list for the trip:

  1. Turkey vulture
  2. Canada goose
  3. American robin
  4. American goldfinch
  5. House finch
  6. House sparrow
  7. Song sparrow
  8. Grasshopper sparrow
  9. Killdeer
  10. Common grackle
  11. Great egret
  12. Northern cardinal
  13. Gray catbird
  14. Northern rough-winged swallow
  15. Mallard
  16. Mourning dove
  17. American crow
  18. Red-winged blackbird
  19. Black-capped chickadee
  20. Lincoln's sparrow
  21. Blue jay
  22. European starling

New Berlin Recreation Trail

Trailside Cycle - Calhoun Road Crossing

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Hang in there...Don't let "them" win!

...and now...time for a RANT!

Whether we wish to admit it (or even consider it); we humans have an ongoing love-hate relationship with animals.  From the dawn of time when the serpent tempted Eve and ruined her Garden party, to that pesky and thoroughly destructive Gray squirrel that gleefully nips the heads off your emerging spring tulips; animals can really piss you off sometimes.

Why would I even “go there?”  Well, the other day when I was in the rental’s storage area in the basement going through the camping gear for the first time this season; it came to me.  I was unloading things that I had carefully arranged on the built-in shelving, when I reached the top shelf.   This was where I had left the items specific to backpack-style camping; including a substantial amount of expensive dried meals.  My first indications that I had a “situation,” were the multiple piles of chocolate jimmies and shredded foil lying on the shelf.  I grabbed the bag that had previously contained what was supposed to be deliciously dehydrated, human food and instead discovered only the completely chewed up remains of the air-tight packaging, intermingled with the stench of vermin urine.  That made me mad!  I was mad first at the audacity of whatever tiny, whiskered interloper had fed itself all winter-long on premium dried camp-chow; and then at myself for my trust.  I mean, “C’Mon!”  Sure, I had culpability for placing the food on a basement shelf, but I sure as hell didn't also place a “free meals for mice” sign on the containers.

As if the lost food wasn't enough; the little shit (or shits) had made a nest and toilet facility out of my stuff-able Coleman camp pillow and a nearby tent bag.  I was fuming at the very injustice of this egregious and ruinous affront to my stuff as I swept, vacuumed, and tossed previously perfectly good items into the trash bin.  Also, imagine the irony on my way outside to the alley dumpsters as I noticed that even the avian-loving “Birdstud” isn't immune to having birdshit on the hood of his vehicle.

This entire spring has also found me battling daily to regroup from the insane digging and pouch-full plantings of black-oil sunflower seeds by some damn Chipmunk that lives under the front porch.  Yes, I put the stupid seeds out (FOR THE BIRDS) but must I also suffer the consequences of this misguided rodent gardener.  For crying’ out loud “chippy,” what the hell exactly do you think you’re doing removing the soil from around freshly planted annuals, just to shove a soggy mouthful of seeds into the dirt, that will only sprout into more plants?!  If you thought this was effective seed-hoarding behavior; you’re wrong…not unless you are purposely doing your level best to grow even more plants for an eventual fall harvest!  Alas, you feed the birds; you also get rodents.

Who amongst you (dear reader) have not had your prized (such and such) plant nibbled to the ground by a feral bunny rabbit or lumbering woodchuck?  The residents of the Northwoods have to endure non-stop destruction of their beloved flora by a host of woodsy creatures.  Whitetail deer and Black bear are amongst the leading candidates of disdain when it comes to trying to be in harmony with Mother Nature while attempting to manage a stupid three-month garden.  People have spent tens of thousands each year re-planting, and re-purchasing in a vain struggle to enjoy the great outdoors and live in harmony with every living creature.  Skunks that spray inside your garage full of recreational equipment, cats that have litters of unplanned young in your pop-up camper,  horses that chew up your decorative woodwork, to bats and pigeons taking up residency in your attic and decorating your child’s box of saved artwork…it seems that nothing is sacred.  I haven’t even started on our beloved house pets!  Cats that spitefully piss in your closet on your fancy cowboy boot collection because they are irritated with you, and the dog that eats your brand new couch while you had the audacity to go to work and leave them alone.  THESE are the times that try men’s souls.

What are we (humans) to do?  Basically, there’s nothing we CAN do but keep rolling with the punches we receive from animals, insects, etc.  If you think about it (and you've seen the old Sci-fi movies, like Planet of the Apes, Logan's Run, Day of the Triffids, Food of the Gods or Night of the Lepus) we are only a few months of doing no maintenance, from the natural world completely devouring up everything we have built and/or created.  Bugs, lizards, vines, tree roots, and dirt piles will eventually win the day if we give up, turn our backs, or let “them” win.  So, are you with me?  Step outside and yell the following with me, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!”


Don't let your guard down!
...there...I feel better already...

Friday, June 6, 2014

Weekend at Weborg

The week after Memorial Day was beautiful.  The weather was mild and sunny, and the rain held off until we needed to leave.  Thankfully, eleven months prior I had decided to set my alarm for a specific time to alert me to the fact that I needed to log into the Reserve America camping reservation site to grab a (highly prized) campsite at Weborg loop; Peninsula State Park, Fish Creek, WI.  These twelve specific State-run campsites are among the most highly coveted in all of Door County.  The reason is that they are more intimately situated far away from the vast majority of the other sites, all electric with their own toilet and shower facility, tout recently upgraded electrical infrastructure, have incredible views of nearby Fish Creek, WI across a beautiful bay, and are (wait for it…) privy to some of the park’s most desirable bird watching ecosystem.

Our site (106) was chosen because it exposed a lovely water-view and was on the “end” nearest the overflow parking lot.  It was a wide open spot with the most available clear, grass and dandelion landscape.  About the only drawback to the site only effects “tent” campers like us.  Unfortunately rules are rules and “camping” (via RV or tent) must only occur on the designated areas.  Well, the State-designated area for any tent is at the end of the gravel drive in a non-descript “circular area” of more gravel; that’s it.  What that means is that in order to have any smooth and soft area under your feet is to layer many tarps down under the tent before you set it up.  The second pain is that you’ll need heavy duty tent stakes (like landscaping nails) in order to anchor the tent corner loops through the hard-packed gravel substrate.  For your information; tent kits don’t generally contain that industrial-grade style of anchoring hardware…good luck.  Rule-followers that Barbara and I are; we complied even though our camp-neighbors didn’t seem to get the same memo.

Firewood is another bugaboo (pun intended) as you are no longer “allowed” by the State to transport any firewood INTO a State Park unless you can certify that it was purchased (according to their website) ten miles or less from that particular Park.  I state it that way, as a sign within the Park listed the (old) distance of 25 miles…go figure.  The rationale is that pesky Emerald Ash Borer and what it can do to a stand of trees if it is accidentally “imported” from one besieged woods to another unsuspecting glade of fresh and vulnerable trees….Mmmwhahahaha…  Anyway, obtaining firewood was now quite “locally” monopolized and everyone must pay the price; regardless.

I was standing next to the end of the obligatory State Park campsite-picnic table cooking bacon the first  morning in camp when I had an idea.  There was this old Coleman, white gas, single burner contraption that my friend Dave Dombrowski gave me; and I thought I’d see if it worked.  Dave, a habitual rummage-saler and scrounger; picked it up “cheap” somewhere and never used it.  He gave it and some other cool camping stuff to Barbara and me during a visit to their home.  Well, (I reasoned) it was kinda-sorta like the Coleman lantern I had along on this trip; pump it up to add pressure to the liquid gas so that it atomized at the point of flame contact.  How hard could it be to resurrect the old contraption?   I “pumped it up” and turned the gas valve to let the pressurized gas flow to the burner.  I held a stick lighter there and a small flame began to sputter.  I watched and thought, “oh, this may actually work as a small stove burner…,” when that sputtering flame began to build, and build, and flow underneath the burner to the gas tank, and build…I shut off the valve…it got bigger and bigger and bigger.  I panicked and grabbed the entire fire-engulfed thing and flung it to the grass behind me.  Just then I heard a sweet but concerned female voice call out, “Are you OK?”  Then, for whatever God-blessed reason, the antique rummage-sale-deal / turned-conflagration, blessedly self-extinguished as it tumbled along the lawn.  Whew!  I answered, “I am now,” in a sheepish but grateful voice as I looked over to the tent window where Barbara stood watching the exciting scene unfold.

One important factor that (in hindsight) I wish I’d been briefed upon, was the fact that clouds of mosquitos had recently hatched and were now hungrily awaiting fresh camper-grade hemoglobin.   This interesting factoid of nature is one that is not difficult to understand; birds eat lots of bugs = lots of bugs bring lots of birds.  The hard part of that simple equation is that undesirable bugs also enjoy bothering humans and pets while waiting being eagerly eaten by our desirable avian friends.  Enter Deep Woods Off wipes…LOTS of them!  Long pants and sweatshirts also help; but the temps predicated (at least my hot persona) the wearing of shorts and short sleeve shirts.  No problem, as the trade-off was the great outdoors and plentiful quantities and varieties of birds…just don’t accidentally lick your fingers…yuuuck!

I have written before in this blog about Peninsula StatePark, so I won’t belabor and regale you with rehashed specificities regarding the layout or amenities, as you can read about that yourself.  What I will say is that we both thoroughly enjoyed our time in camp for various reasons.  One such enjoyable time came on one early morning, when Barbara and I accidentally wandered into a “Nature Walk” that was about to start near the Weborg Marsh trail.  A small group of four women (three of which appeared to have on “official-looking” uniforms) stood talking near the roadway as we approached.  Two of the officials finished up their brief nature-walk primer to the third (youngest of the three) and the four of us (now) wandered east into the woods on a small grass and weed path led by that one remaining official State Park representative.  Her name is Katie and she explained to Barbara, me and the third nature-walk attendee that she was “new” and would do her best to impart some basic forest and avian knowledge.   She did fine.  Was she as knowledgeable as I am with birds?  No, but I am 52 years old and have been birding since 2003.  The few feathered facts she did know were more than enough for a casual camper to be fascinated with.  I did learn some plant and species information such as, what “Bloodroot” looks like and that a pretty, purple, smallish flower was called a “Dwarf-like Iris.”  I also remember something about a “Canada May-something-or-other” and that there are several types of Solomon’s seal varieties depending on the bloom; but she’d have to get her book to know which one.  I think I also know what Poison Ivy looks like compared to another plant which looks like Poison Ivy.  At least I hope I can tell the difference.  The tour lasted about 45 minutes and ended with all four of us chatting in the roadway next to our campsite.  Overall; Katie was youthfully delightful and energetically adequate as a tour guide in her wide-eyed “newness.”

Water in the bay on one of many sunny mornings sparkled like a million diamonds with the slight breeze encouraging it.  Bird watching (particularly warbler-watching) was amazing by late-May standards in Wisconsin.  I was fortunate to see many FOYs during the few days we camped.  The two of us (and sometimes Opie) saw birds while hiking and biking.  At one point; we even took a side trip into “town” (about six blocks) to a small hardly-used Town Park, to walk (with Opie) along the serpentine trail that extended out the back of the grounds.  On another day-trip we rode our bikes up a paved road in the State Park to the very peak of altitude to look from Sven’s Bluff, out onto Green Bay and the islands that can be seen from there.  I heard an unfamiliar bird sound.  Tracking it down eventually yielded a lovely Mourning warbler that was in the woods opposite the overlook.  Black-throated green warblers could also be heard high in the quickly leaf-advancing tree-tops.  The forest floor here was (in large patches) almost completely covered with Lily of the Valley and the beautifully cloying scent of them (my favorite scented flower) filled the air as we rode.  Trillium dotted the landscape and in certain areas had already turned to the signature pink shade as they had aged.  Garlic mustard seemed to be handled in most areas of the Park; however they still had large swaths to eradicate.  Poison had been sprayed on some sections and marked accordingly alongside the paved road as bicyclists of varying prowess and intelligence (the groups without any helmets) rode both their personal and rented machines.

Wood frogs and toads began to strike up their cacophonous marshland band just as the sun began to set along the Sunset Trail.  Spring peepers joined in and crickets happily added their voice to nature’s evening chorus.  The air was cool enough for us to run the electric “milkhouse heater” that Thomas Devereaux (my father) had gifted to us the fall before.  We were glad to have had it packed along for this spring trip.  Each night after a time in front of the campfire sipping adult beverages; we climbed aboard the S.S. Air-Mattress and attempted to overcome the permanent (gravel-provided) downhill list.  This meant dragging yourself incrementally uphill throughout your night to keep from falling off and or/being uncovered by the sheets.  Opie didn’t help either as he is always (middle-up) in-between us, as his place of preferential sleeping/security position.  Either way; through exhaustion or necessity, one finally does eventually drift off to sleep regardless of the unending natural noise, or pitch of the mattress.   Ahhh...all the creature comforts of home…and we paid good money to live like this for a time.

Here's our birding species list for the four days:
  1. Least flycatcher
  2. Eastern kingbird
  3. American redstart
  4. Black-capped chickadee
  5. Black and white warbler
  6. Red-winged blackbird
  7. Baltimore oriole
  8. Common yellowthroat
  9. Yellow warbler
  10. American white pelican
  11. American robin
  12. Blue jay
  13. Red-breasted nuthatch
  14. American crow
  15. Common grackle
  16. Northern cardinal
  17. Eastern phoebe
  18. Herring gull
  19. Northern flicker
  20. Mourning dove
  21. Common merganser
  22. American goldfinch
  23. Red-eyed vireo
  24. Cedar waxwing
  25. Song sparrow
  26. Gray catbird
  27. Turkey vulture
  28. Northern rough-winged swallow
  29. Great egret
  30. Chestnut-sided warbler
  31. Blackburnian warbler
  32. Ovenbird
  33. Indigo bunting
  34. Black-throated Green warbler
  35. Common loon
  36. Great-crested flycatcher
  37. Double-crested cormorant
  38. Common nighthawk
  39. Chimney swift
  40. Chipping sparrow
  41. Canada goose
  42. Eastern wood pewee
  43. Killdeer
  44. Least flycatcher
  45. Scarlet tanager
  46. Wild turkey
  47. Ruffed grouse
  48. Barn swallow
  49. Bald eagle
  50. Hairy woodpecker
  51. Ring-billed gull
  52. Alder flycatcher
  53. Red-bellied woodpecker
  54. Common tern
  55. White-breasted nuthatch
  56. Pileated woodpecker
  57. Solitary sandpiper
  58. Mourning warbler