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Thursday, June 28, 2007

ELY - ATTACK OF THE WOODCOCKS

Friday, May 10 ’07: calories: 1856 (eff counting the annoying calories); tasty, healthful water: only 3 cups (v. bad, kidneys have morphed into desert rat mode); ticks: 6 (#$&%#); units amusement/entertainment: 100 (off the chart)

When we left Dutluth I really enjoyed our drive north. We visited Gooseberry Falls, a Minnesota State Park.


Gooseberry Falls


Visitor Center

We spend one night at Silver Bay. Bright and early the next morning we drove north to Ely, making several birdy stops on the way.

We found an American Black Duck. I only ever saw one before, when I was a kid in New York State.


The duck was photographed from quite a distance, but its chocolate feathering and greenish bill were visable in the spotting scope

We stopped at Spruce Road - a spot we would revisit - where we looked for birds. Don saw Boreal Chickadees there. I did NOT as the snotty little chickadees were avoiding me. Bugger! I did see this lovely little Snowshoe Hare which posed prettily for me as you see below.


Poor bun-bun - it had blood-swollen ticks at the base of its ears - horrifying!

But we also saw loads of other wonderful birds as well, along Spruce Road and by the Kawishiwa River Bridge were we found dozens of highly vocal eensie little Least Flycatchers, which croak "Che-bek! Che-bek!". They sounded like tiny frogs.


Least Flycatcher

As we drove into the town of Ely, it was live at first sight; Impeach Bush & Kerry/Gore campaign stickers everywhere. There were loads of cutesy shops and outdoor sports outfitters lined the streets. We had a few shopping sprees in Ely.

We showed up at the Northern Lights Lodge with groceries in hand, to take over a very pretty ‘suite’ all done up in Early American Woodsy D├ęcor.


We did some wonderful birding in the Ely area, some of it enjoyed from the balcony of our second story suite.


The balcony from which we did some close up birding of the feathered beauties below


Blackburnian Warbler that is well aware just how adorable it is


Chestnut-sided Warbler - he looks a tad grumpy, doesn't he?


Magnolia Warbler


Magnolia singing away


Click Here for a better view of a Cape May Warbler

Also, one day as we drove along the driveway into Northern Lights Resort, we found a very slow Ruffed Grouse crossing the road. The bird was only slowly and deliberately lifting up one foot after the other, setting its food down like it was crossing a mine field. I got out the car and took picture after picture and the bird continued to walk slowly, making me feel like time was standing still.


Crest Down...


Crest up! Raising that foot, quite literally in slow motion...


Ruffed Grouse have two color options; grey or like this one, or red

One night we drove out to Spruce Road, stopping at a few meadows there. We noticed a weird sound.

"MEEP!"

"What the heck is that?" I asked. “Frog,” said Don, and believe me, a highly reasonable answer.

"MEEP! MEEEP!”

What else, except a frog, could such a melancholy croak be?

That night I listened to my iPod. I must add here that It’s been more than a year ago that I treated myself to a spiffy, top of the line iPod and I loaded it with the calls/songs of every bird in North America. I have since, used my iPod for all sorts of things - music, movies, podcasts, but NOT for birding. Well, the iPod's day - or rather night - was finally at hand. I knew the identity of the mystery croaker.

The following night we returned to Spruce Road. I played a particular call on my iPod.

iPod: “MEEP!”

Bog: ‘MEEEEEP!” “MEEP!” “MEEP!” "MEEP!" "MEEEEEP!"

It was an American Woodcock calling back to the iPod. Woodcocks are baseball sized little butterballs, with very long bills with which they hunt for worms by sniffing them under their noses, deep in the ground. Woodcocks are peculiar looking, having cryptic camouflage coloration and beady black eyes placed on opposite sides of their strange little noggin.

"MEEP! MEEP!"

All around the meadow little woodcocks called out to challenge the new guy on the block, which of course was the electronic iPod. It was a Festival of Meeps calling!

From just in front of us a pissed little Woodcock called to its electronic rival. A lantern in hand, Don leapt down into the rushes to get a look at the bird but no dice. He returned and we rather resigned ourselves to hearing the birds - getting them on our life list - but in not getting to actually see any of the blasted little birds. Just then my iPod played a second call - a peculiar bat-like twittering. Apparently Woodcocks have two calls – the MEEP! call, and an agitated twitter. Then it happened! Like a feathered ball, on short rounded wings, a woodcock shot by, circling around us in a wide arch.

HURRAH!

Must admit, I rather hoped the Woodcocks would – as rails are apt to do - walk out of the bog for a look at us. But nope, Woodcocks were into aerial reconnaissance! The bird flew by several more times past us in wide, circles and with each pass the circles grew closer to us.

It was marvelous seeing that rotund little body silhouetted against the ever darkening sky. Between flights, the bird would land in the bog on either side of the roadway.

Hurrah! We had both achieved a new lifer, based on a sighting as well as the calls. I squealed as the bird - I was unsure if it was the same bird or a different one - whizzed past my head, so close I could have caught it in a catchers mitt - if I weren't so clutzy anyway. As the bird zipped past it was twittering a message to us, either "Who the eff are you and why are you in my territory?" or possibly "Hey! You’re kind of cute - wanna nest?"

Don and I exchanged high-fives. I was elated but beginning to feel a tad guilty for messing with the bird’s heads. We called out our good wishes to the birds with our own vocalizations of "MEEEP! MEEP!" and headed back for the lodge.


No, I did not take this pretty photo of an American Woodcock -
I would have, but damn it, it was dark out there!

Monday, June 25, 2007

Zip Zam Boom, Sax-Zim Bog

Wednesday, May 9, ’07: calories: 1627.2-ish by 8 pm (a bit much); healthful water: 3 cups (bad); ticks: 2 (v. good!); units amusement/entertainment: 75 (got a Lifer, Excellent!)

Sax-Zim, is not a jazz musician from the 1930s, it is a marvelous a wildlife area best known for its winter birding. When the snow comes so do the winter speciality birds such as Bohemian Waxwings which are also not jazz musicians, as well as Great Grey and Boreal Owls.

The Sax-Zim Bog region gave me a second lifer for the trip, when Don spotted some tiny forms, hanging at all angles onto pine cones at the very tippy-top of some conifers – Red Crossbills. The crossbills did not stay put for very long, but I still managed a few shots, getting mostly shadowy photos of the little birds, except for this photo here below.


Ok, it's not much to look at, but see how the very end of its bill crosses itself, to form 'x' at the end. Cool, eh? It uses that crooked bill to pop open pine cones. There was another surprise at Sax-Zim when we stopped by a creek for a look around -I had a close encounter of the furry kind.

Here you can see the entire length of the weasely
critter; head to the left, tail to the right

Here are its beady eyes peeking at me from
under a fallen log; center, somewhat blurry

Here the beastie pauses to again stare at the strange human
through the brambles; you can see its fur is wet

These photos of a largely brown animal against a largely brown background demonstrates for me one reason why people go ‘birding’, but not ‘mammaling’. The creature was too big to be a weasel or a mink. I decided it had to be either a Pine Martin or a Fisher, both of which mustellids (big-arse weasels). I concluded the elongated beast was a Fisher. I stumbled excitedly along the shoreline, managing several shots of the creature as it slunk along. Hurrah! It isn’t often I get a new animal for my mammal life list.

[Management regrets that Ms Miller will have to wait a bit longer to add a Fisher to her mammal life list. The creature was a Mink. Due to stubbornness and a distinct dislike of admitting Mr. Pendleton was right, Ms. Miller will continue to pretend the creature is in fact a Fisher. But take note - the wet, white-chinned creature IS a Mink.]

Following the mammal encounter we drove along a road by some Sod Farms, I spied two small, fat, short necked stumpy ‘doves’.

See how short-necked the bird looked when I saw it? Rather dove-like, don't you think?

“Doves …’ I said in an uninterested voice, not giving the birds a second look.

‘I don’t think so,’ said Don cheerily, as he knew he had a new lifer #13.

But AHA! When it stretches out that long neck and even longer legs, it's a Bambi-eyed, Pencil-necked Geek Bird, the Upland Sandpiper!

I looked back at my ‘doves’. They had strolled out of the long grass revealing their very long legs. They raised their heads revealing long necks and for a final ‘tah-dah’ they turned their large eyed heads on profile so I could have a nice long look at their enlongated bills.


‘Bambi-eyed, pencil-necked Geek birdss!’ I shouted. That strange description was how I had as a kid, taught myself to ID Upland Sandpiper. My method normal works too, unless the darned birds are crouched like the tallest girl at the junior prom.

A few more stops gave us good views and me some nice photos of Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers and Bobolinks. Sax-Zim was as great as we'd thought it would be. And although we saw no spring owls we did hear 2 different Eastern Screech Owls which gave us their ‘string of Os’ call. We also got the Eastern Kingbird and there wasa life Palm Warbler for Don. I really enjoyed Sax-Zim Bah... make that Sax-Zim Bog.


Don's Lifer Palm Warbler

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Friday, June 22, 2007

Flirting with Wisconsin

Bright Spot in Wisconsin for Wildlife

On the recommendation of a birder we ran into at the Rice Lake Wildlife Refuge, we made a brief visit to Wisconsin’s Crex Meadows Wildlife Area. We had only just arrived when we stopped the car to check out something that was fluttering nearby - a Field Sparrow. I’ll grant, not the most exciting looking bird but it was exciting for me, it was my FIRST LIFER FOR THE TRIP! Hurrah! Yippy Skippy! About $#%&ing time!


My 'Lifer' Field Sparrow

At our next stop brief stop by a waterway where Don picked up another lifer, a Trumpeter Swan. The slender bird had several yellow collars around its neck.

Don's Lifer Trumpeter Swan; it came LABELED even! How lucky was that?


A bit later we stood staring into a marsh, flummoxed by a strange buzzing call. Was it bug or bird? Just about the time I decided we were hearing an insect, I spotted my ‘insect’ calling from a tree, brownish feathers and all; a Clay-colored Sparrow. Driving on, playing leap frog with several cars full of senior citizens (oh shut up, they were at least three years older than us) we found another lifer for Don, a Harris Sparrow.

Clay-colored Sparrow, singing buzzing his little heart out

We made a few more stops and then it happened, we hit the birdie jack pot – a fallout of warblers –birds stopping off from their migration for a snack. There were Grosbeaks to the left of us and Warblers to the right of us! Birdie heaven!

Running back and forth in the day use area we found: Cape May, Palm and Black & White and Golden-winged Warblers,American Redstart and Blue-headed Vireo, more Harris Sparrows and loads of White-throated Sparrows.

My favorite however was a group of female Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and one very vocal male that sang sweetly as he rummaged through a tree.

Male Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Even this guy's arm wing pits are attractive.

It was a great bout of birding we had. Nearly sated, we headed off to Duluth – me reluctantly so, because I would have rather canceled Duluth and stayed put. Still it was a great hour of birding with loads of lifers for Don.

Cape May Warbler

Sandhill Cranes in the midwest are all rust stained
and in need of a good scrubbing; it's a shame really.

so-so view of a not so-so bird - an American Redstart

Blue-headed Vireo

Eastern Chipmunk - no feathers, but still noteworthy and cute

Thursday, June 21, 2007

LATE BREAKING NEWS!

The red lines show the migration routes taken by the L3 Haplogroup
Hurrah! I interupt my prolonged diatrabe about my recent Minnesota vacation to bring you a late breaking news flash: My National Geographic Genographic Project results are in.
I am pleased to announce, that I belong to the genetic haplogroup: L3 (subclade L3e2).
Ok, now no doubt, you are wondering, 'what the eff does that mean?' It means I belong to the oldest, the first group of rebellious youngsters of humanity to say, 'Ef this crap, I'm outta here!'. It was my ancestorial group (L3 which mutated from L2 group) who picked up lock, stock and loin cloth to leave Mother Africa.
Yes, unlike my stay-at-home ancestors of the L2 or L1 haplogroup, it was my rebellious arsed forebearers that pushed and hunted their way out of West Africa to populate the rest of Africa (sub-sahara, north Africa) and northwest into the Middle East.
Yes. You may well pause here. As sobering a thought as it is, I may be a distant cousin of Osama Bin Laden. Actually, since every human alive is at least the 53rd cousin of any other human on the planet, Osama is YOUR cousin too, so put that in your genetic alphabet soup and blow on it.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Ticks 5, Claire 0

Yet another once-in-a-lifetime porcupine adventure

Sunday, May 6, ’07 Lifers: zero (sad); calories: 800-ish by 3pm (v. good); refreshing water: 2 quarts (not bad); ticks 5 (v. bad); units amusement/entertainment: 26 (so-so, was better prior to bog)

We were several days into our vacation. There is a point where a vacation becomes rather like a job at which you are required to soak up as much fun as possible – this becomes difficult if your primary supplier of ‘fun units’ are tiny feathered or furry beings, because the units are not always cooperative.

For example; the porcupine rattling its quills at me, as shown above was worth a whole load of ‘fun units’. For some perverse human reason, the more annoyed the porcupine, the more fun it is for me, an evil yet innocent human. Nothing I love more than a once in a lifetime chance to chase, and otherwise enjoy cuddly wild porcupines. On our Minnesota vacation I had numerous once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to enjoy porcupines.

There are times however when your ‘fun units’ are outright uncooperative, as when I was sitting on a back road in the Rice Lake Wildlife Refuge in the car and Don raced up, all excited.

‘I saw a Connecticut Warbler!’

For those who are not birders, I must tell you that Connecticut Warblers are a highly secretive species that runs around on the forest floor, hopping through shrubbery and over fallen logs, and avoids being sighted in the manner of a feathered Ossama Bin Laden.

‘A Connecticut Warbler!’ I echoed. Grabbing my binoculars and camera I was out of the car and racing (galumphing) after Don. He dropped down into a gully by the roadside and before I knew it, he was traversing a rather narrow looking log over a creek.’

“There’s a creek?” I asked as if the presence of such a thing was his fault

“Yes, but no problem. Take it slow.”

Really, he need not have told me to take it slow; there was zero danger I would cross at the gallop. I hesitated.

“I saw the Connecticut Warbler in the shrubbery, over there by…” said Don.

That was all I needed to hear – there was a lifer bird just ahead, a lifer that had eluded the entire birding party on my 2004 Manitoba trip. I catapulted forward and onto a log, as keen as a yellow Labrador after a downed duck. I latched onto the branch of the downed log, and quickly concluded if I applied any pressure whatever to the limb, it would crack; the branch was not strong enough to uphold the weight of a Red Squirrel much less me, loaded down with a half ton of camera equipment.

Don stood looking hopefully at me – an act probably unrivaled since Brando got an Oscar for the Godfather.

I felt the creep of especially frigid water into my socks; the log was sinking.

“SAVE THE CAMERA!” I yelped as I tipped over backwards, my arse landing in icy black bog.

Don made a valiant grab, taking the camera.

Looking around for the ice cubes, I was somewhat in shock to find myself seated in Mother Nature’s frozen sitz bath.

“COLD…” I squeaked, still shocked. “It’s fucking cold!” I've noticed that when my rear is drenched in ice water I take on the potty-mouth vocabulary of drunken sailors.

Grinning, and trying not to laugh - too loudly - Don gave me a hand to steady myself by and I managed to pull myself up and out of the bog.

“Ok, now where the hell did you see the damned Warbler?” I asked determinedly.

Though we could hear the bird singing in the distance, the distance between us and my lifer songbird was increasing. The irritating feathered tease of a bird was gone. I was stunned. I had paid my dues! I had earned my lifer Connecticut Warbler so why wasn’t it perched nearby, singing? Apparently dues have gone up.

As we headed back for the car I stopped to pull a Wood Tick from my leg and I began to wonder if leaches were the other Minnesota State secret.

I pause to mention there that ticks had become routine. A night hadn’t gone by that I didn’t precede my nightly tick-dislodging shower by plucking the odd, though probably appreciative Wood Tick out of my underpants. By now, many a flotilla of Wood Ticks had crawled, floated and back-stroked in the toilet back at the Geise B&B.

Chipping Sparrow

We returned to the Rice Lake area decided on a hike. We did not traverse more than a hundred feet when a tall, man in hiking shorts, outdoorsy looking, and with an air of adventure, marched in from the direction we were headed. He looked like a genuine granola loving, tree hunger. I could spot him for a birder byt he mint condition spotting scope with tripod slung across his shoulder.

I stood there smiling in what I hoped was a coy smile. My wet, cold drippy pants clung to me in an unflattering manner.

Having apparently sprayed himself with both mosquito and fat-old-broad-repellent, the man politely smiled back at me.
I croaked out the international greeting of birders everywhere. “See any good birds?”

The man looked at me and said “Wow”.
I’m not kidding nor was I halucinating, he really said “Wow”.

“Damn, I’m sorry,’ he continued, sounding abashed. “I’m staring.”

I felt my cheeks redden.

“I’m sorry,” he said, still staring, “I’ve got ‘Big Lens’ envy.” He was staring at my Canon camera.

I looked down. I always thought my giant Canon 100-400 mm zoom lens with its sheath like hood was a phallic joke waiting to happen. I halted, which caused the long lens to bob up and down in a disturbingly obscene manner. I gave the guy a shy look as I crossed my knees and crossed my arms shyly over the lens.

Don had walked up now which meant I was no longer on chit-chat duty, Don could take over. Don told the the dude about the Sharp-tailed Grouse blinds and he told us he was on a business trip and he was using his free time to bird Minnesota and nearby Wisconsin. Earlier in the day he hit on a very ‘birdy’ area at the Crex Meadows Wildlife in Wisconsin, which is to day he ran into a fall-out of warblers and the like. He also said while up on an overlook in the refuge, he spotted a wolf, for which I was wild with envy. He strongly recommended we take the time to visit Crex Meadows. There was a jovial exchanging of maps.

After parting company we continued birding the Rice lake area one last time. We had another once-in-a-lifetime run in with this treed, blondie porcupine.
Blondie Porcupine

That afternoon we left checked out of the Geise B&B. We were off to south to Wisconsin and the Crex Meadow Wildlife area.

Common Marsh Marigold

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

As You Lek It (a birdy play in one act)

By the dawn's early light - a Sharp-tailed Grouse


4:08 AM; I lay sound asleep.
TAP TAP TAP TAP TAP TAP....
e: ‘what the….?’ The tapping was at the door in my room at the Geise B&B. Through the dark I stumbled to the French doors. ‘effing stupid woodpeckers! Knocking on wood this early in the morning why I ought to strangle…’ I peeked through the curtains. Don was peeking back at me.
Don: It's after 4 AM!
Me: ARRRRGGGGHHH!
My alarm hadn’t gone off and we were on for our Sharp-tailed Grouse adventure, out to a grouse lek (dancing area) where the boy birds get ‘dance’ for the ladies, in hopes of nabbing a breeding partner, you know, like human men at a honkey-tonk bar.

In short order I was in the car and Don was driving off. I had done my part – I was in the blanking car; hair uncombed, shoes on my lap. I was thoroughly groggy and cranky. I don’t ‘do’ mornings very well, even when dancing birds are involved.

An hour’s drive got us to a plowed field where a blind awaited us; a crate covered over in tarping. We climbed inside and fumbled with ropes and bungy cords against swift early morning breezes to shut the door. Inside the blind we faced deluxe seating arrangements, a pair of pickle tubs. The tubs were upended for seating. The tubs were a size large, which meant no problem for Don: arse, size medium. It was rather a problem for me: arse, size XXXXXL.

On the way in a few birds had flushed so we knew the Grouse were out there, but it was a bit windy and maybe – maybe the birds wouldn’t feel like dancing and since serving them Jello Shooters was out of the question, there was nothing left to do but wait.

I sat, my camera at the ready, staring through a chink in the blind but nothing stirred. We stared for maybe ten minutes until it occurred to us we might be staring in the wrong direction. We shuffled our pickle barrels around and stared out the opposite side of the blind. Bingo! There were Sharp-tailed Grouse, scattered around the field stubble. The birds sat, looking indifferent, disinterested and disinclined to dance.

The sun was barely peeping over the horizon and I’d just about convinced myself that I might as well have slept until noon, cause these birds were obviously Methodist birds and there would be no dancing here.

Then suddenly, there a bizzare sort of moaning rose up from the field. 'Uuummmm!' Then silence. Uuummmm, ummmmm!' It was the birds. They sounded like constipated old men on toilets. Next there arose another noise, sort of a cross between a very loud hiccough and a turkey's gobble.
Poofed up and Ready to Booggie
Bottoms Up!

Now the birds leapt up and quickly ran up to opposing birds, forming several pairs of birds, beak to beak, heads leaning forward as if they were about to sprout antlers and butt heads. Their pointed tails were arched up, over their backbones, their wings spread so their primaries swept the ground. For a finishing touch, their purple throat pouches flared out and the birds began to drum their feet, looking like little toys, wound up and then suddenly turned loose.

Synchronized Dancing





Their feet drummed and rapidly, they circled each other. They covered the ground in the manner of skittering mice. Their feet hardly seemed to touch the ground as they just floated along, making their ridiculous noises, which could probably be translated into ‘put ‘em up, go on, put ‘em up!’, like the Cowardly Lion facing up to Toto. Some birds that had not found a sparing partner yet, ran up to other single birds. I half expected they would pull switchblades on each other. Then suddenly, birds dropped in their tracks. They flopped onto their bellies, beak to beak, flat to the ground, wings folded, looking thoroughly befuddled as they stared at their partners.
Don and I both thought we could hear the birds whispering, ‘That was a good one - d'you think the girls saw us?’
Apparently the cock birds had no audience of admiring hens. Maybe the available hens had gone off with the biggest, baddest cocks at the beginning of the breeding season, because we saw no hens at all.
I wish I could say I think the photos I got were the greatest ever, but they weren't. The birds were fast and my field of focus was narrow so the birds ran in and out of focus as I tried to capture them for prosperity. Oh well! Some day perhaps I will take a week from my life to huddle in a blind on a size XXXXXXL pickle barrel for another go at the funkiest Dance Party the prairie has to offer.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Where All the Women are Strong and All the Men are Good Looking

It was our first full day in the Minneapolis and St Paul, home to more than more than 2 million souls, the Minnesota Twins, the Mall of America (largest mall in the US), & Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion radio show. Eager to enjoy what the Twin Cities had to offer we had a tough decision to make. Where to spend our short time while in Minneapolis? We perused a list of possibilities and finally we made up our minds; we were going birding.
The Minnesota Valley Wildlife Refuge sits atop a ridge overlooking a wide spreading valley. A birdfeeder at the visitor center had a nice hodgepodge of birds; Goldfinches, Red-winged Blackbirds, Grackles were everywhere. Red-bellied, Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers flew in back forth between the feeders and several stately old trees. Some beautiful, copper tinted Tom Turkeys marched out of the woods and made pigs of themselves at a platform feeder.

We hiked down to the lake with hopes of picking up some warblers. It was a treacherous trail downhill and I almost plummeted to my death when an unleashed toddler, at least 2-years-old, sped past me.
Don was putting his bird song identification skills to work and he had correctly pegged a slowly sung ‘deee-deee-deee as the song of Black-capped Chickadees. I could hear in the distance a different song that was oddly familiar but I was unable to place it exactly. Then we both spotted the singer at the same time; a White-throated Sparrow.

I pondered a long standing mystery; the song of the White-throat begins with two clear notes followed by triplets - ‘Old Sam Pea-bo-dy, Pea-bo-dy, Pea-bo-dy’. However, the amazing fact is that north of the Canadian Border, the same White-throats sing, a similar song - ‘Oh sweet Can-a-da, Can-a-da, Can-a-da!’

A great mystery remains - just how do the birds know which side of the border they are on?


White-throated Sparrow


Northern Cardinals

Following the hike, I got the first of many Minnesota National Wildlife Refuge stamps for my Blue Goose Passport Book. Don asked after other hiking trails in the refuge. A refuge docent suggested a trail that started more or less from where we had just returned.

‘You coming?’ Don asked. He was eager to get out and put additional mileage on his hiking boots.

‘Naw,' said I. There were three weeks of vacation ahead of me. I wanted to pace myself.

>Don went on his hike, I settled myself by the big picture window to watch the parade of animals around the feeders, this time from the inside of the center. I saw my first Blue Jay for the trip and my favorite of all song-birds for both looks and for song – the Northern Cardinal. The last cardinal I saw had been on a Christmas card and I really missed them. Aside from the birds, there was a tiny Red Squirrel munching seed at the base of the feeder and a 13-lined Ground Squirrel. These ground squirrels are chipmunk-sized and dapper with their pretty stripes. So it rather surprised me that they gave me the willies the way they crept around; like fuzzy, streaked cockroaches.


Thirteen-Lined Ground Squirrel, known to
Minnesotans as a 'gopher' and to me as 'creepy'

When Don returned I was elated – he hadn’t spotted any migrating flocks of Prothonotary or Cerulean Warblers. I was more pleased about that than I let on. Ok, sometimes I'm a less than a perfect friend.

Don has relatives in Minneapolis and we went to visit Don’s father’s Minnesota<> cousins, Marianne Seekamp and her brother Pat Lyon. We drove to the Seekamp’s house in a cute little neighborhood with the typical beautiful old multi storied Midwestern houses. I admired the beautiful scarlet and yellow tulips that bloomed by the Seekamp’s front door. I can never coax tulips to bloom in SacramentoAs we walked through the front door, Marianne’s husband Dick, smiled down at me with a mischievous grin.

‘What’s that on your shoulder?’I froze. Out of the corner of my eye I could see a polka-dot sashaying around on the shoulder of my orange camp shirt.

Don plucked the mobile dot and said calmly, ‘It’s just a tick.’

‘WHAT DO YOU MEAN ITS JUST A TICK!’, I shrieked.

All in all , I must say having a tick on me was some sort of great ice-breaker;the afternoon was a delight. The Seekamps took us on a car tour of Minneapolis which included Lakewood Cemetery. That was not a strange thing for Don, who was researching his family’s roots. Nor was that unusual for me, who used spent many a memorial day in my youth, on family picnics in Farmingdale where my paternal grandparents were buried. Don saw first hand where several of his father’s aunts and other relatives were buried.


(L to R) Maryanne, Don, Dick and Pat

Following the cemetery tour we were treated to a delish Midwestern backyard barbeque and then it was back to the Nan’s B&B and not a jot too soon because I was dead tired.

The following morning, under the capable direction of the GIS system’s persona,
Chachalaca, we drove two hours north and arrived at an eensie little village called Geise, which rhymes with wheezy. We would stay at the Geise Bed & Breakfast for a few days. The B&B was a three story affair with the owner’s living quarters in the lowermost level, an antique shop in the mid-level and generous guest quarters in the top floor.

The guest area had two comfy living rooms, each with their own fireplaces, televisions and opposing bedrooms. I thought the rooms and their folky decor were lifted straight out of Country Living Magazine. We were told we could have any of the rooms and I went for the one with lavender quit and cute birdhouses over my queen sized bed. Just outside my room’s French doors a wooden balcony/walkway had a view of the beautiful Minnesota Woodlands.


Her Majesty's Quarters


Some balcony type scenery

Once we were settled into our rooms we decided we would visit the Department of Natural Resources where birding blinds can be reserved to catch the early morning Grouse show – more on that later. But first we had to find the DNR offices and for the first time, poor Chachalaca for all her high tech satellite wizardry, was clueless.

Take a right hand turn in 50 yards,’ Chacha cooed as if she knew what the hell she was saying. She dinged twice to let us know we ought to make a turn, but there was no road to turn on to! But Chacha did not seem to appreciate that we did not turn on her recommendation. She sounded as if she was in a bit of a snit, as she insisted, ‘make a U-turn when it is safe to do so’. I suspected she was trying to run us into a ditch and on the spot I decided Chachalaca was not really an appropriate name. If we were going to be directed into the thick of unnamed woods, perhaps Chupacabara, ‘Chup’ was a more appropriate name. The name stuck; Chup (Choop) she was from then on.

The skies were overcast when we made it to the refuge headquarters and a light rain had begun to fall. While Don got helpful information and signed us up for the Grouse lek, I perused the cool free pamphlets. Then it was back to the B&B for a short rest. Later we decided to go out for dinner. We headed out in the car and on it was still raining I decided to not take my camera. And as nothing brings wildlife out of the woodwork like not having a camera on hand, it was no surprise to me that before long, Don asked, ‘What is that way up there on the road?’

I squinted. There was a porcupine, methodically lumbered along the side of the road. Adventure! Once, when I was in my 20’s I had wrangled with a porcupine. I had run it down, tossing my jacket over it to nab some quills as a victory souvenir. History was about to repeat itself!

I got out of the car and raced after the porcupine in an incredibly fast run... ok, maybe it was more like an incredibly fast lumber actually. The prickly critter stopped in its tracks and looked back at me. Suddenly its quills flared - just like that little dinosaur in Jurassic Park. The thick milk white quills that edged Porky's tail rattled like a saber at a Civil War reenactment. Then the critter put on a burst of speed, disappearing into the scenery. I stood, coughing on the porcupine's dust.

Damn. In 30 years porcupines have really picked up some speed haven't they?

The following day we returned to Rice Lake, known as such because the Dakota Indians used to harvest wild rice there.

We drove along the refuge's Wildlife Auto Tour, stopping occasionally to watch birds, such as the numerous Wood Duck, Ring-billed Duck, and Blue-winged Teal in numerous ponds just off the road. We also stopped to walk around and look for the ever evasive warblers. One thing that caught my attention was all the ponds seemed to be unusually reflective, probably due to the water’s clarity.


Blue-winged teal, drake and hen

We also found a Solitary Sandpiper and some Sharp-tailed Grouse we flushed while driving past a large field. Later in the afternoon as we drove around the county we found a Eastern Broad-winged Hawk and even an adult Bald Eagle that was sat by the highway as if waiting for a bus.


Broad-winged Hawk

Not to be outdone, that evening I picked up a lifer myself - a Deer Tick! I shrieked when I found the nasty thing and gave the creepy thing and his travel partners, 3 Wood Ticks, free diving lessons in the toilet. I was horrified - the ticks were not in the least upset by the dunking – they just crawled around in the bottom of the toilet, like eensie deep sea divers. Ugh!

It's the eensie Deer Tick that carries Lyme Disease
and they have to be attached for a
couple of days to spread the disease.

Late in the day we drove along the wooded roads headed back to the B&B. I was in heaven, in the heartland, listening to a Prairie Home Companion on its home turf.


Don's lifer Solitary Sandpiper