Troutbirder II

Troutbirder II
Click on Mark Twain to jump to Troutbirders book review blog

Monday, March 28, 2011

Bird Rescue

Recently, the new editors of the Minnesota Ornithological Unions, Minnesota Birding magazine asked their members to submit "Real Stories of Minnesota Birders." So I did. It was a post from Sept 23, 2008 titled "Bird Rescue." Imagine my surprise when reading the March/April, 2011 issue of the magazine I came across a story titled "Baron to the Rescue." While somewhat abbreviated from the original, I recognized the hero dog immediately. Here's the original story......

I was sitting in my reading chair in the living room, deep into Steven Pressfield’s new novel, "Killing Rommel." The LRDG (Long Range Desert Group) was about to set out on their desperate mission, as new 8th army commander Bernard Law Montgomery was attempting to hold the line against Afrika Korps, less than 80 miles from Alexandria. There was the thump of heavy artillery and ooops... it was something that just hit the window. I rushed outside to find Baron (my GSD) mouthing a tiny bird. "Drop it," I ordered. Like a good soldier he complied.

I picked up the tiny creature stunned but still alive (barely). Walking into the garage I found a rag and placed it and then the bird into an empty ice cream pail. With a cat in the house and a curious dog that followed my every move, I determined the safest temporary refuge for the bird was to place the bucket into a empty Coleman cooler.Heading back into the house I found my trusty Peterson birding book and began searching for an identification. Probably a warbler I thought. I had narrowed it down to several LBJ’s but nothing conclusive. I decided to wait an hour or so and then check to see if the bird was still alive. I took the cooler out into the garden and carefully opened the lid. The bird had previously been laying on its side barely breathing. Now to my utter astonishment, it was sitting perfectly upright with a "I just woke up and where in the heck am I" look about him. I took several pictures. Here he is in the cooler looking at me in mutual astonishment.

Then he tried to fly but kept crashing into the side of the cooler. I carefully picked him up and set him on the ground. We looked at each other for a few seconds . I took another picture.

Then he just flew away into the woods.

When I downloaded the digital pictures I saw the conclusive proof. He had pink legs. It was an ovenbird. The first one I had ever seen.....

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Baron "The Bird Hunter"

He started out as just a little fur ball in my lap but by the time Baron (my GSD) was a year old, he had a limp after strenuous activity. I took him to the vet and x-rays followed. The bad news was that he had a congenital defect in his back knee joints. This misalignment was compounded by the fact that Baron is big. Very big. A typical response when people meet him for the first time is, "OMG, I’ve never seen such a big German Shepherd." Think Marmeduke in size and temperment. Surgery was an option but he was already probably too old to have other than a remote chance of success. The vets advice was to limit his turning and jumping activities and try glucosomine. I did.
Now he is four and very rarely limps anymore. He loves to hike, run and chase small animals. The turning, twisting, jumping part is under strict control especially when he socializes with other dogs. He is not "cured" but managed. I’m now hopeful that Baron and I will be able to do our thing together for many years to come.
One of our favorite joint activities is "bird hiking" This, apparently, is not standard birding technique. Your typical little old man in tennis shoes, binoculars in hand, tip toes silently through the woods peering into the bushes for the sight of a titmouse. Baron and I use the standard grouse hunting technique. I had previously perfected this method in my upland bird hunting days, with all my labs and retrievers. Baron charges through the woods, sloughs and prairies flushing every mammal and bird in his way. They fly in all directions and not being an "on the wing photographer," I note where they land, call the dog to me and then approach for a picture.
The only problem with this birding technique was deer. Baron loves to chase them. As a youngster I had taken him for a hike in the Maynard Underbakke State Forest. What a disaster that was. It’s a very densely forested area, and Baron was exploring ahead down the trail. He had been checking back with me every minute or so, until he disappeared without returning. I had called and called with no response. Following the trail, I noted some deeply imprinted deer tracks. It was as if a deer had been hard and fast. "Not good" I thought. I tracked and called down the trail for about a half a mile. Nothing. Then I returned to the truck and waited for an hour. Still nothing. I figured I had about two hours till dark, so I decided to return to my neighbors, borrow his four-wheeler, load it on a trailer, drive ten miles back to the woods and resume my search for lost puppy.
The access road to the forest, off the state highway, is nothing more than a field road about a half mile in length. . As I drove down that road, next to a plowed cornfield, I saw him slowly working his way toward me. What a relief! Could he have found his way ten miles home? I doubt it.... but he was obviously backtracking. When I stopped the truck and jumped out he saw me and came running. Big hugs and kisses all the way around.
He hopped in the cab and got his butt chewed all the way home. I know it didn't do anything for him but I felt better about it. Unfortunately I think the lesson learned on that outing was (1) chasing deer is a lot of fun, and (2) when push comes to shove my master will come and find me. Grrrrrr.
The next time we went to the Big Woods together, Mr Adventurer was wearing a shock collar. Yes, he still tried to chase deer for a while but a lesson was soon learned. Those big brown running animals somehow bite. Tough love, they call it.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Sandhill Mania

The Sandhill Crane is a tall gray bird of open grasslands, meadows, and wetlands. It congregates in huge numbers in migration. I had never been able to get close to one for a decent picture. Having a little point and shoot camera without even a telephoto that is....... Let's go back to the beginning.
I saw my first sandhills back in the 80's & 90's. There were some resident and thousands of migrants in th fall at Crex Meadows state wildlife area in west central Wisconsin. They would occasionally fly over but mostly were seen in the meadows and fields some distance from the road. I have a few mostly fuzzy Echtacrome slides of those.
In the last decade, I would rarely see them flying over as I was in my fishing boat on the Mississippi River. No chance for pictures then either. Finally, in the last few years, since I took up birding and got a Cannon point and shoot digital, I saw tens of thousand spring and fall in the Platte River Valley on our way to visit the grandkids in Colorado.

More recently we took a trip to Milwaukee, with friends John and Joanne, for some German culture.... I mean cooking and beer. On the way home we stopped to look at the famous Horicon marsh. There were sandhills in the picked cornfields all along the way. I was getting closer as this shot out the car window shows.
Finally, we hit the jackpot on our brief Florda vacation. Visiting Mrs T's cousin in Sabastian, we headed into town so she could get some pictures of the brown and white pelicans that hung around the docks. That mission accomplished we left the dock to head across the busy and adjacent main street to do a little mall shopping. It was then that I heard my spouse yell "do you want a picture of some sandhills?" "Ya" I replied looking up. And there they were standing on this grassy traffic island in the middle of the highway we were about to cross. Considering all the bad shots of them I got, all I can say is she is either good or damn lucky!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Troutbirder's Philosophy

I’m thinking today of a choice I’ll be making in a few weeks and thence till the end of September. Trout fishing or birding.

For now there is no choice really. Trout season doesn't open for two weeks. Still, those are two of my favorite outdoor activities (along with flower gardening). They are very similar actually. To be successful you need to be very observant. Close to nature works best.
The best trout fishing is invariably away from the crowd. Crowds of people might work once in a while for birding but I suspect solitary or with one other person is also best. Walking quietly through the woods. Both hobbies often find me in the most beautiful of places. Stalking really.
Both hobbies can involve storytelling. The big one that swam away. Or the little brown one that was too quick flying away to identify. People sometimes besmirch the fly fishermen as "elitist's". That arises from the trout fisherman’s disdain for the "three guys in a fancy power boat with two cases of beer syndrome." Birders are often stereotyped as little old ladies in tennis shoes with binocs in hand. Also, the birder faces the charge of incipient "dweeb or geekism." .

I think I just like being one with nature and afterward being able to reflect on the experience and tell stories about it. Like the time I caught a bat who was attracted to my homemade fly. Or the time I was trapped against a cliff in Yellowstone Park while two testosterone crazed elk had it out right in front of me. For example, the tendency and the need to place close attention to things and the time to contemplate them is why trout fishing has produced the only real "literature" in the fishing genre.
To paraphrase Michigan Supreme Court Justice John Voelker....
I fish and bird because I love to; because I love the places where birds and trout are found. They are often very beautiful. Crowds, malls, television, freeways, rap music, junk food and junk pop culture leave me cold and depressed. I flee with camera or flyrod in hand, to that which I can enjoy in the company of Mother Nature. Relaxed and at one with my surroundings, the cares and turmoil of a world seemingly gone mad are left behind. Gods creatures do not lie, cheat and abuse their surroundings, nor can they be bought or impressed by status and power. My cell phone often doesn’t work in the places I frequent so I’m left alone (except for Baron my GSD). Thus there is solitude without loneliness. I am at peace with my little corner of the world.

Monday, March 14, 2011


Some views of Troutbirders tulip garden.

Well, maybe not Troutbirders. How about we all take a trip to Holland this spring?

Thanks for the pics Gary!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Frosty Morning Thoughts

Me and the Mrs have been helping a friend and neighbor repaint the rooms of an old farmhouse the last few days. It's about 8 miles out in the country to the location. The ride over yesterday reminded me of why, in spite of all the complaining about the length and severity of this years winter, how beautiful Bluff County can be on a frosty morning,.

Far below, in the valley of Bear Creek, lies our destination. This home was in the hands of a pioneer family for well over a hundred years. Now, a descendent of that family, our friend, has built a new home further down the valley. When refurbished, the homestead will be home to a family of renters. Small and nothing fancy, surrounded by hills, there are lots of memories in the place. I heard a few while working the roller back and forth . It has a beautiful view which is priceless. Yes, we went birding a few weeks back, in warm and sunny Florida. Truth to tell, though, Bluff Country has been my home now, for almost fifty years. And I still love it.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Great Horned Owl (subarticus)

Click on the picture for a closer look.
This is the subspecies of the Great Horned Owl, b.v.subarcticus. Accoring to Hap Huber it is "sometimes called the taiga race" Like other birds from the Canadian north such as Snowy & Great Grey owls, they occasionaly move south in search of food. Other "irruptive" species like pine siskins, redpolls and crossbills also drop by here in southern Minnesota from the north country.
The picture was sent to me by Alex Watson, a young DNR ranger/birder, whom I met at Forestville State Park, a few years ago. He was leading a birding outing for campers at the park then. Later, I had joined him on a "tree" hunt." A possible state record black ash tree had been reported and he was assigned to locate and verify it. Of course, we did some birding along the way! Alex has since moved on to Lake Carlos State Park, one of the many beautiful sites here in the Land of Ten Thousand Lakes.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Winter Hiking

Long ago, I had to give up downhill and cross country skiing. Later, since my knee replacement, I've been supercautious about walking on ice. Wouldn't want to wreck that new knee by twisting and falling. Sub zero temps are not a favorite either. Still, when the temps rise into the twenties or warmer and the wind has died down, the urge overtakes. This is especially true when the "big guy" starts acting especially restless. "Go for a walk?" I'll say. And he springs to life. Tuesday we headed to Forestville.
Deep as the snow is we're not dumb. On weekends, the snowmobile trails are a racetrack. During the week....not so much. They are hardpacked and easy to walk. We headed up the Canfield Creek trail. It's about a two hour hike but we had to shorten that a bit. Near the end the trail crosses a trout stream. The water would be about two feet deep at the horse crossing. For a winter hiker that's not an option. Come on along. It's a fun hike.
Baron waits patiently by the front porch. He knows we're heading out.

The ranger station is closed. The campground is empty, although winter camping is allowed. No people equals no leash. Yes we break the park rules. We park in the fisherman parking lot. The blacktop road is open and clear.
The gravel road down to the trail is somewhat icy. One of us is careful as we head down the hill to the stream. Suprisingly, I spot a puff of smoke beyond the trees and encounter a young man in the middle of the stream flyfishing. I guess smoking a cigar, flyrod in hand, never occured to me. Winter fishing is allowed here. It's "catch and release" only. He says the water is warmer than the air. We trade a few winter fishing stories. Mine included fishing the Lamar river in Yellowstone in mid October. Dang near froze my fingers into permanent immobility that time. I'm quite sure it was the last time I had any enthusiasm for winter fishing.

Can you see him standing just at the bend in the creek.

"Come Baron, don't get too far ahead."
"Good boy. " Baron wears a red shock collar. The woods are full of deer and chasing them is a serious no-no. It's not needed today, as the big boy has learned his lesson from past "youthful indiscretions."

Returning to the truck we head on home. Somewhat tired, both of us will sleep well tonight. Perhaps, dreaming of balmier days, when we can sit among the wild geraniums and say "life is good. "