Troutbirder II

Troutbirder II
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Monday, December 30, 2013

The Men Who United the States

The Men Who United the States: America's Explorers, Inventors, Eccentrics and Mavericks, and the Creation of One Nation, Indivisible   is a fresh, lively, and entertaining look at the way in which the United States bonded together into one nation.  There are a few clinkers in the book but then this is history and misinterpretation does happen.  Basically, Winchester’s book follows the explorers, the visionaries, and the inventors who opened the paths and built the infrastructure and the communication links that made unity possible.  Some of these people, like Lewis and Clark, Thomas Edison are well known to history buffs. Others are not.
Winchester peculiarly largely skips over the Civil War and uses the phrase “War between the States,” the euphemism favored by post-war Confederate apologists to deny that the south fought to defend slavery.  Unity based on human bondage was as Lincoln said “a house divided that could not stand.”

 "The Men Who United the States" held my attention with lots of new (to me) people and information encased in a good story. The authors theme of national good will and unity is a good one. Looking at todays headlines and hearing the rantings of today’s talk radio wingnuts I’m beginning to wonder if that theme is still true…..:(


Monday, December 16, 2013


My parents
Our beloved daughter in law Deanne
Our sons Ted and Tony checking their traps
Our friends John, Joann, Steve and Jewell
Our friends Rosie and Gary
Our friends Dick and Sharon
Our neighbors eldest daughter Shelby an all around talent in our local high school.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Winter Life in Southeastern Minnesota's Bluff Country

This post is a retrospective from January 2009.   Actually, there isn't much life here lately.... at least outside. Upon retirement, I had vowed to myself NEVER to "age gracefully." That meant living to the max by keeping up all the outdoor activities that I loved. Well... this proved to be, shall we say, a little idealistic

Let me explain. A few misguided souls (including yours truly) have been noting, maybe even complaining, that "we haven't had a real Minnesota winter in more than a decade." Such a winter means ice storms and lakes that  freeze over in mid-October. Then howling blizzards come in from Alberta or Siberia or someplace. Roads are blocked for days. The temperature doesn't get above zero for a month. Be careful what you wish for!

We had a rain a few days ago, followed by rapidly dropping temperatures. The consequence has been that I have been chicken to go outside for some time. "Aging gracefully" has meant to protect my artificial knee and other bodily parts I only venture out rarely. I read mostly and stare out the window watching for some excitement at my bird feeders. Good grief! It was Baron who finally brought me out of my funk.

Actually he has been driving me crazy. You can't coop up a 2 year old German Shepherd for weeks without any serious exercise and expect him to remain totally passive. It was time to take him for a good hike. Due to the ice storm the local streets were basically better suited for ice skating than anything else. So I opted to check out the snowmobile trails at nearby Forestville State Park.

I expected the park to be deserted and it was. "No leash needed today boy," I said.  We drove up to the fisherman's parking lot. Mrs. T opened her door and probed the lot with her walking stick. "Forget it," I heard her say. It was pure ice….

With that I turned the truck around and headed back towards the campground. Not many campers there that day! Fortunately the icy road circling the campground was covered with a crunchy layer of snow frost. This made it walkable. We did our thing. Baron romped through the woods looking for rabbits.

Later we drove down to the old bridge and the store which has been preserved as it was in the late 19thcentury. There were no reenactors or crowds of people there this day. We had the park all to ourselves.

 So what about life on the tundra in Minnesota? It can be a challenge, especially for the "older generation." You just have to work at it a little and be willing to adjust!  Now five years after I wrote this post we’re still adjusting. I just bought a laptop to keep up with my blogging friends as we’ve decided to try becoming snowbirds flying to Florida for a bit in 2014….. J

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Book Thief

Mrs. T and I attend movies only rarely and then only when the mood strikes us and the topic seems worthwhile.   The Book Thief is a melodrama about life under Nazism as told through the eyes of an illiterate young girl adopted by a German couple. The story does celebrate literacy, family and friendship during one of the darkest times in history.
Despite the awful setting of a totalitarian nightmare  society, the film offers an uplifting story of perseverance and hope. Perhaps too much so.  It’s often sentimental and sometimes schmaltzy, but the understated performances are very well done. We not talking about the Diary of Anne Frank here and certainly not Schindler’s List. As you can probably tell I was somewhat conflicted about what I saw. I found it interesting but it made me uneasy. At first I wasn't sure why. Perhaps I knew too much of the history.

Yes, when the truth is subverted and information controlled then evil runs rampant. The scene showing books being burned says it all.   The young girls new parents Hans (Geoffrey Rush) and Rosa (Emily Watson) are older and far less attractive than her biological and possibly communist mother. Rosa, at first,   seems quite  cold and conservative, ensuring the little girl with the blond curls and sweet smile immediately plucks a little heartstring to set the Dickensian tone of the whole yarn.
The book, upon which this movie is apparently  based,  is of the genre now known as  Young Adult or Teen Fiction, which is something new to me.  Apparently,  that explains a lot about the movie's appeal and deficiencies.  Perhaps that’s what made me uneasy. A lot of it was more like a fairy tale with the bad stuff cut out or somewhat glossed over.  Spunky heroines are nice but really…..pluck can only carry you so far especially in the shadow of Nazism.  As to character development, except for Rosa,  who shows a caring side, there isn’t much. Each person remains unchanged, in spite of the occasional bombings,  death and destruction or picking on Jews. This all is as hokey as the lack of reality in "reality" TV. In the end,  I didn’t find anything truly redeeming in most of this.  Even though Mrs. T and I could be considered first class sentimental grandparents, when leaving the theater and asking the inevitable question, "so what did you think,"  we both shrugged and displayed our most puzzled expressions.


Monday, December 2, 2013

Moving On

Today was moving day for Troutbirder II.  It will be an addition to this blog. Nothing else will change. For more details click on the moving van cartoon above...

One of the genres of books I have always enjoyed might best be labeled adventure/survival stories. This can be non fiction or fiction at its best. Be it at sea, on a mountain top, in the desert or wherever the odds of making it out alive are slim at best, that's what I want to read about. I was reminded of this, strangely enough, sorting through some pictures I took on a recent "leaf tour" of New England. I had a number of pictures of some of the famous "whaling towns" of Massachusetts. Thus, I was reminded of a book I had read shortly before our trip.

It was In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whale ship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick. It tells the story of the Whale ship Essex from the point of view of Thomas Nickerson, who was a fourteen-year-old cabin boy on the Essex. The book is based on a notebook written by Nickerson when in his seventies which was lost until 1980. This true story was the basis of Melville's classic tale of the men and the sea - Moby Dick.

As I took Mrs. T's picture standing in from of the famous statue to those lost at sea, I couldn't help but think of those 20 men, whose ship had been smashed by an angry sperm whale. In three small lifeboats, running out of food and water, they were 3 months rowing distance away from the coast of Chile to the east.

“They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters; These see the works of the LORD, and his wonders in the deep. For he commandeth, and raiseth the stormy wind, which lifteth up the waves thereof. They mount up to the heaven, they go down again to the depths: their soul is melted because of trouble. They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wits' end. Then they cry unto the LORD in their trouble, and he bringeth them out of their distresses. He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still. Then are they glad because they be quiet; so he bringeth them unto their desired haven.”
Psalms, 107:23-30,

If you like true life adventures Heart of the Sea is far more reality than the pseudo kind found today on TV’s “reality shows.”

Saturday, November 16, 2013


"It's Not Just Another Meat Museum" the big billboard on I-90 going into Austin, Minnesota and Hormel's Spam Museum surely isn't.  All this turned out to be true as Gramma
T and son Tony took the kids to the iconic little canned meat mecca. Take a look.....
Yes indeed.  The letter that eldest grandson is standing in front of, from Supreme Commander and future President Dwight David Eisenhower, suggests that feeding the Allied troops with Spam played a major role in defeating the Nazis in World War II. Oh and Grandpa Troutbirder likes it too.....;)

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Devils Lake

Sometimes people do strange things like climb the world’s tallest most dangerous mountains because they’re there. Well,  we recently, with our friends John and Joann, took the overnight Amtrak from Winona, Minnesota to Devils Lake, North Dakota because it’s there and we could. 

Devils Lake is a town in northeastern North Dakota and it has a lake of the same name. It’s the second largest lake in the State behind the giant reservoir Sakakawea.  It’s special because like the energizer bunny it just keep on going and growing.  It’s growing as in it was  forty thousand square acres a decade ago and now over it's 240,000 acres and in the process of drowning out hundreds of farms, roads, and even towns.   The lake, now having almost reached the maximum overflow height of its closed basin, threatens serious flooding downstream in Minnesota and Manitoba, Canada. There are were and remain big legal controversies.  We checked it all out.
Another big attraction in the Devil Lake area we visited was Sullys Hill, a National Game Preserve.  Established originally in 1904 by President Theodore Roosevelt as a National Park, it was designated by Congress in 1914 as a big game preserve to conserve two of North America's most majestic species: American bison and elk.  The bison was almost extirpated  from its original millions and the elk range drastically reduced and entirely so from North Dakota. 
John, Joanne and Barb take a break on the steep climb to the top of Sully's Hill for a grand view of the surrounding countryside. 
And as the sun set a monster bull elk stepped out onto the road ride in front of us.  Wow!!!!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

North Dakota Potatoes

We, with our friends John and Joanne, took an overnight train trip (on Amtrak) to Devils Lake North Dakota.  Mainly to take a look at the amazing expansion of that lake in the last decade. More on that in a later post. Northeastern North Dakota has long been famous for sugar beets and potatoes. It so happens Johns cousin is a former manager of a potato "house" (storage facility).  Just in time for the harvest we were invited to take a look.  To my astonishment, I as even allowed to climb aboard a giant machine where big trucks were unloading the harvest.....
French fries anyone?

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Whitey: The Wandering Golden Eagle (Part 2)

He was injured, captured, rehabilitated and set free with a transmitter on board to find out from whence he came into the Mississippi Valley.  His name was Whitey and he was a Golden Eagle.....

Golden eagles were thought to be relatively rare in the hill and valley region bordering the mighty Mississippi river valley between Minnesota and Wisconsin. Most experts believed they were lost wanderers from the Rocky Mountain west. More interested birders, better equipment and knowledge of differentiating the big brown eagle from their immature Bald Eagles cousins, has  changed that opinion.

Goldens nest all the way up to the Arctic coast in Alaska and Western Canada. Their range maps in the older field guides show nothing along the western edge of Hudson Bay.

From late April to May, Whitey  flew from western Wisconsin north to Duluth Minnesota at the westernmost tip of Lake Superior. Then he crossed into Ontario, Canada. And then he kept on going and going and going. He flew past Churchill on the southern shore of Hudson Bay. Then further north along Hudson's Bays western edge. He traveled 2,382 miles, averaging 72 miles per day. His  longest one-day flight was 193 miles. From late May to early October, Whitey spent the summer wandering over an immense area of Nunavut — from the northern shore of Hudson Bay to a lake above the Arctic Circle. It had been a migration of astonishing proportions and came as a total surprise to everyone. Or as one of the experts said, “Wow!”

Then in the fall on October 7, he turned and headed back toward his winter home.  By early November, Whitey was back in southwestern Wisconsin after a 26-day, 1,750-mile migration.

Mark Martell, director of bird conservation for Audubon Minnesota said the finding has conservation implications. "These birds are cool, just cool," Martell said. "Here’s this huge, predatory bird that we weren’t even aware was here on a regular basis."

Their presence raises a serious issue — how best to protect them —. But more information is needed first.  Each year in late winter now under the direction and training of the National Eagle Center in Wabasha, Minnesota, volunteers including the Troutbirders, have participated in a Golden Eagle survey.  About a hundred have been counted each year in the  surveys for the last ten years. before they head north to breed. In more recent years other Goldens have also be tracked.
The Rocky Mountain West hosts many of these birds year around.   On a fly fishing trip to the high country in  Montana my brother Greg and I once counted over thirty Goldens along the road.   World class amateur photographer Mona (Montanagirl) graciously allowed me to use one of her many wonderful pictures. Golden eagles are truly golden.  The picture and the link to her nature blog is shown below. Take a look.....


Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Whitey: The Wandering Eagle

This is Whitey, the Golden Eagle. He was accidentally caught in a legal trap in southwestern Wisconsin. Discovered by a bow hunter, he was brought to the National Eagle Center in Wabasha, Minnesota. From there he was immediately transferred to The Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota.

With expert care the bird’s leg was eventually repaired. Whitey was then scheduled to be released back into the wild. The National Eagle Center and several public and private agencies all joined together in a partnership to further study wintering golden eagles in the area. To aid the study, satellite transmitters were provided by the Minnesota DNR Non-Game Wildlife Division.

For years there has been speculation as to where the Goldens, who winter in the Mississippi river valley, come from. Do they migrate from their heartland in the mountain west, across the great plains to Minnesota? Or do they come from the far north in Canada. Whitey would  provide the answer.

On March 24, 2009, at The Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota,  a satellite transmitter was attached to Whitey.  He was than brought to the release site near where he had been first trapped in Wisconsin. Then Scott Mehus, education director and Golden Eagle surveyor at the National Eagle Center, threw the bird back into the wild. Whitey took off, landed briefly in some nearby trees and then soared away, "free as a bird."

Golden eagles in North America are primarily found in the Western States and Provinces from Mexico through Alaska. There are also small breeding populations in northern Ontario and Quebec who are know to follow the Atlantic coast south. In Ontario the golden eagle is currently designated Endangered under the province’s Endangered Species Act, while in adjacent Quebec it is a candidate for Threatened or Special Concern status.

Golden eagles do not breed in Minnesota, Iowa or Wisconsin and had not been thought of as regular users of the Mississippi River Valley. In Minnesota there have been occasional reports of Golden Eagles in spring, fall and winter from most counties
Recent surveys started and coordinated by Scott Mehus of the National Eagle Center, and carried out by volunteer observers have uncovered an apparently regular wintering population numbering between 60 – 100 birds using the coulees and bluffs along the Mississippi River from Red Wing, MN to LaCrosse, WI.
A winter population of golden eagles along the Upper Mississippi River raises new and important management questions and challenges.  Knowing the breeding origin (or origins) of these birds is of high importance.  It is more than likely that these golden eagles breed in Canada and the size of the breeding population in northern Ontario is thought to be small and thus vulnerable. Their habitat use, preferred prey, and home range during the winter are information that will be needed to ensure appropriate management and conservation action in the Mississippi River Valley.
Whitey ended the mystery of where Bluff Countries golden eagles summered. Next I’ll show you how.....

Friday, October 25, 2013

On Wisconsin On Wisconsin

A week after Tony and the grandchildren returned
to Arizona, Mrs. T. and I decided on a little road trip over to Wisconsin.  The destination was the new headquarters building at the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge. Just recently reopened after the Tea Parties folly, the day provided a big surprise. Are you ready for some birding?


After visiting the welcome center we hiked a boardwalk around the adjacent pond.
The it was back into the car where we headed further into the huge refuge looking for birds. Coming over a rise we noted about a half dozen large white waders in the distance.  Mrs. T. started shooting with her digital while I pulled over and grabbed my binoculars . Imagine,   instead of seeing  the expected Great Egrets I noticed the red caps......

Whoopers !!!!  Three pairs to be exact.  And my first "lifers" of 2013."  What a thrill.....:)

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

A Day At The Zoo

We all had a great day at the zoo. It wasn't all that crowded either.  Some seniors  were there and lots of young moms pushing baby carriages.  Minnesota kids were in school and the three Arizona Grandkids  had two weeks off as Arizona public schools are basically year round with vacations every so often.....  Son Tony teaches high school chemistry and biology
Barb and Ray Troutbirder, native St. Paulites , retired teachers.
Born in Fargo, North Dakota, a 7th grader.
 Born in Ethiopia, a 4th grader.
Born in Rwanda, a first grader.
Son Tony, born Spring Valley, Minnesota and taught high school chemistry, physics and biology in Minnesota, Colorado and Arizona.
Next episode:  Hiking in Bluff Country.