"Wherever I go and wherever I am, I find I should be somewhere else."

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Last Chance ..out on the range

"Home home on the range...where the deer and the antelope play...."
I have a business meeting in Colorado Springs before I head up to Spearfish, South Dakota for the fall SD OU meeting tomorrow, cause like Colorado Springs is on the way to the Black Hills...

I cruised my way west

Ogallala, NE
I stopped in Ogallala Nebraska to get a car charger and to photograph the UFO of those "must sees"

The alien is looking at me.....

You can't make some of this stuff up.

I like a morning drive in the Sandhills of Nebraska.  44 greater prairie chickens....but my camera discharged so I got no pictures until the Walmart in Ogallala helped me out.

Last Chance, Colorado
I decided to check up on my property out in Northeastern Colorado and see what, if anything is going on.  My lease expires this year and I have to find a new person to make a deal.  There never seems to be anything going on in Washington County and nothing ever goes on in Last Chance, well since Hee Haw saluted the town in 1974...and the fire of 2012 that burnt much of the ghost town, but unfortunately not all of it.

The Dairy King and the motel have been dead since the Reagan administration and The Texas to Montana trail... well that is a story in itself.

In one of the most suspicious deals in the history of insider deals, Charles and John Farwell, Chicago mercantile owners received a little over 3,000,000 acres comprised in the XIT Ranch in 1879 in exchange for building the Texas State Capitol in Austin.  It was the largest fenced ranch ever in the world.

Lets do the math:
in 1885, the cost of the Austin Capitol construction was 3.7 million.  In today's dollars that would be 91 million dollars.  A fair chunk of change.

What about the XIT Ranch?

Land:  Using the prices for Lamb County, Texas for the entire ranch (understand this ranch was 10 counties in size), $1200/ acre would be 3.6 billion dollars

Oil:  an 2014-15, the Ranch would have earned 20 million dollars each year from just the production in Oldham County.  This is slightly more than all of the oil ever produced in Parker County which it would have had.  The ranches lands in Hockley County produced about half of the 1.8 Billion barrels of oil produced in the 100,000 acre Slaughter Field.  Despite declining production this would have yielded $200,000,000 in 2015 alone and in high priced oil years in the last decade would have exceeded half a billion a year in royalties.

Add in cotton production, wind rights, water rights, coal, gravel,  etc

so this might be worth 10-20 billion dollars.  So 90 million OR 20 billion?  I think Texas made a mistake here, a big mistake.

The Farwells and their XIT Ranch, though proved that even with a gift horse, one could get fleas or in this case....  Texas Tick fever.  The plan was simple, at first just drive them to Kansas, but then that avenue closed.  It still seemed easy raise 100,000 head of cattle in Texas, then drive them to lands that the Farwell's owned in Montana to fatten them up and then ship them by train to Chicago, return and do it again  They had to by-pass Kansas because of fear of the tick born disease kept all cattle out of that state once the disease appeared a decade earlier.  It was such a great deal that the boys from Chicago went to England and borrowed all of the money to build the capitol on a 20 year bond.  The ranch never cash flowed, not even a little.  Maybe because the Farwells got distracted.  Charles became a senator and served in Congress in the late 80s, and John was busy building up a department store...1901 came and they owed 3.7 million dollars plus 20 years of interest.  They had nothing to support this.  The land went for sale and the Farwells died....being remembered as philanthropists, although raping and pillaging the range, spreading disease, would be better memories, and well..that is always forgotten about.  

Here is a marker on the trail in Last Chance, Colorado...the cattle came through here

So how did I get to own something out here?

It was at a bank trustee auction in Michigan and the last item up for bid was some property in Colorado, it wasn't why I was there.  Most everyone had left and this property had some title issues that were evident to me and I was I bid a token amount.  The auctioneer looked at me and said sold in like two seconds, I felt like an idiot, had I even bought anything?   Luckily, after I studied it, some of it had a good title, I chased down a decade of back rent, but I spent a couple bucks in legal fees to get another 80 acres cleared up.  The rest of it ...I now just get a tax bill for, which I ignore, as I can never own it, it is all tied up in a life estate for a woman without family in a nursing home somewhere in New Mexico...the county will get it eventually, probably soon....  A lawyer in 1979 made a mistake, it would be malpractice except the lawyer died in 1981, and then a person added something illegally to a trust in 1985 and he died and well...the trustee kept paying the taxes on something they didn't own....I probably should have left after the painting I was eyeing sold, but well...I was curious.  It was also a project piece, damaged in Superstorm Sandy and it was needing total restoration but the bidders went nuts on it and I never got my hand raised fast enough.  But my "last chance" was me.  The painting went for more money, shockingly, and it wasn't that high a priced painting.  A good used pickup costs more.  So what does this little piece of "heaven" look like?

It looks dry.  WORDS like flat, barren, ans desolate come to mind.....generally it is devoid of life..

Well, there were a few birds out there, I found 2 different Great horned owls

One on the power-line was very gray.  This is like my third lifer power-line bird for the trip.  A greater prairie chicken and an American pipit were my others.

Mountain bluebirds are always pleasant finds

I even have a local herd of antelope which came in across the road.  The bull is pretty nice but I spooked the harem so they went away from me and the road and watched me from a safe distance.

They are drilling an oil well nearby, so that is good, I guess.

They've moved off the massive drilling rig, and here they are swabbing to complete the well.  That is all I could glean from the road.  Going on to a well site without permission, especially here in the secretive edges of the Niobrara shale on the eastern Denver basin.  Trespassing would get me yelled at to beaten up.  It is said, Colorado holds up to a Trillion barrels of oil but as the geologists say, commercial production is speculative at best.  I think the owls and antelope have a better chance for commercial success than the oil for me.

I hope this isn't my last chance.......

My children will realize that some day, this piece of heaven will be all theirs.....maybe I'll wrap it up and put it under the tree?

the gift that keeps on giving...

Well, tomorrow, a meeting about what is the matter with Kansas, or something like that and then up to the Black Hills and the South Dakota Ornith. Union fall meeting tomorrow.

Colorado Springs is on my way to Spearfish...correct?   Maybe I should have brought a map!!


Monday, September 25, 2017

Black Swan Events

It was an odd week.  I'll say it again, an odd week.  It was filled with black swan events.

black swan is an event or occurrence that deviates beyond what is normally expected of a situation and is extremely difficult to predict

I returned from Oklahoma stopping off in Lindsborg Kansas for some quality medvurst sausage.  I bought 10 pounds.  Lindsborg is a pretty town settled by Swedes and nearby to a namesake of my hometown--Falun KS.  They have a small Lutheran college, and cool town celebrations.  Their bed and breakfast is almost post card perfect.

In this Swedish town, the most interesting looking thing, though was this really odd driveway

Sweden, equals gorillas?  Maybe?  Maybe not!  It was across the street from the sausage shop. and I had to take a picture.

Unfortunately, I think my prophesy of the demise of the masked duck proved correct as on Saturday morning, A group of hunters had taken over the wildlife area and the duck disappeared.  Sigh....hunters.....

What a weird week.  First there was Hurricane Maria hitting Puerto Rico, destroying Dominica, a deadly earthquake, there was the whole crazy NFL thing along with the whole Emmy award thing.  I want to watch football and an awards ceremony, If I wanted politics, I'd watch politics.  All week, it seems, somebody was protesting something and so I felt the need to protest something.  We had yet another flood in my South Dakota home...and I went on a college tour.  My short answer to that teenagers.

We flew into Tampa, I had a meeting, and I went to St Petersburg, FL on a college tour of Eckerd College with my daughter and wife.

here is my youngest at the Marine biology building.  Wow was Eckerd a cool school.....relaxed students (I wont mention the 2/3 of the class that fit nicely into a bikini) and were.  They had a beach, research on the interaction of Osprey and Monk Parakeets.....wanted every student to go abroad and did I mention the beach??  They even allow pets.  Can I go back to college??
I'll pay for it this time.

Unfortunately as my wife and I liked it, our daughter being a teenager, was the opposite.....sigh.  I need to work on the psychology of teenage girls.  Maybe she is a black swan?

It seems some birders seem to report any bird they see, no matter what ignoring ABA rules.  It seems odd to go on a big year or even list and not know the rules and report birds in exotic duck ponds.....or birds that don't count, like the black swan from above.

So here is a tawny frogmouth.....can I count it??

Okay it is not on the list...

American Flamingo?

they are on the list and I'm in Florida....I see ebird "counts" the Whooper swan and the white-cheeked pintail from the Tamrac Exotic duck pond....??

Okay....I'm just sick of seeing the ebird reports of this, so I started submitting protest posts....sure I'm making friends and influencing people.  If the NFL can protest at the National Anthem, I'm protesting these zoo bird posts.  It really irritates me.  This is the time in the history of the world that it seems it is okay to protest everything.  Why not screwy ebird reports?

I went to a local Buddhist Temple for a little Buddhist breakfast we are in the noodle line.  Very good noodle soup.  The fried bananas........YUM!!

The temple was quite nice:

I'm covering all of the religions this year...Wiccan ceremony anyone?  The Presbyterians across the road should figure out that there is 400 cars on one side of the road and just twenty on theirs on a Sunday morning.  Maybe a little Presbyterian Lunch would show their dedication.  Free food (donations encouraged at the temple) to the masses is a great way for outreach in the community.  These smart Thai people got it figured out.  The nearly abandoned Christian church....I don't think so.
I ran into an old Frat brother Craig Casper from Ripon College, he is moving from Colorado Springs into the area.  Craig needed a new place to go, why not a Buddhist Breakfast??.

Image may contain: 3 people, people smiling, people standing and outdoor

so yes, an odd week....then we flew home and learned that it had basically rained since we left and our bridge was out again.  Just a little water

At least it was not now over the road, but well it eroded the bridge again....

It was not like any of the Black Swan events down south or in the islands but again, our bridge is closed and I have to drive 10 miles around to get two miles.........

Oh and maybe the masked duck didn't get shot... there is a single report tonight, I'm a little suspicious but time will intrepid little duck, if the report is true.

...and its raining again....

 (The blackest of all the black swans as no one can predict what I'm up to)

Monday, September 18, 2017


As I said before the birding must go on, and what a chase I had.  It was a "Sooner" chase....But before that, I want to share some photos of St Martin...

First, the house we almost sold....shockingly, it survives to be slept in another day

The fence is beat up along our pool and we have some minor damage but It isn't too bad.

The place we were going to keep took a beating but stands, but everything around it is pretty tough.  It may be many many months before water and electricity go to it.  I've been trying to get rid of that pergola for years BUT IT IS INDESTRUCTIBLE.... POSSIBLY though it held the house together.

some other photos of nearby...

It will be years before i get these houses straightened out and it down there, but we have to go to Florida and Honduras this year...very sad....I've already made arrangements.

I got a lifer SD bird on Sunday at Hartford Beach State park, a red-bellied woodpecker, my 65 South Dakota lifer of the year.....I know a red-bellied woodpecker...why would I ever chase one?  I was just out for a walk and I saw 5

I was sitting in my basement watching our beloved Packers taking a beating when I got the email...Masked duck in Oklahoma....yea, right.   I had just seen a post of a bananaquit in New Jersey with all kinds of explanation except the bird was clearly a yellowthroat....imagination run amok, but for some reason I looked at the picture of the bird...dang, it was a masked duck and it was a hen,...fifteen minutes later, I was out the door, 9pm, heading south, way Oklahoma.

I like Oklahoma, if I wasn't married and in another life, I'd have either lived in Oklahoma or southern Kansas.  I like the people, I like the accents, I like the terrain..I'd leave in April and May to hide from tornadoes but can;t have everything.  Oklahoma is quirky....weird history.  Even their nickname is after a bunch of dirt poor people waiting in Perry or Enid for the start of a land grab of the Cherokee strip, the fourth land rush in Oklahoma and the largest, of course it was the Sooners that left early and got some of the best land, most that waited got nothing....the difference between 1893 and today...?  The date.

It is a state that we acquired during the Mexican-American War of 1848 with a little from the Texas Annexation, that nobody wanted so we gave it to the eastern Indian tribes, ex slaves, and there was even a piece, the now panhandle that was no-man's land, having no designation at all, and for a time was illegal to even be there.   Some enterprising people even tried to get that area to be its own territory Cimmaron Territory and maybe someday even a state...but those were always it took some fast PR in Chicago to drum up support for it all and as we are....

It was along night but like the Sooners, I had a goal in mind and a bird that might not wait as it is teal hunting season in Oklahoma and there is nothing more prized than someone getting the opportunity to get a rare duck.  That thought kept me going.  It beeter get there soon if I wanted to see that bird.

Hackberry Flat, Tilman Oklahoma
872 miles, two wrong turns, a two hour nap in a corn field, and I arrived 15 and a half hours after I left NE South Dakota.  It was 1230, and the day was getting hot.  I was tired but then I saw a group of people way out near a pond.  I just drove over there as three cars were leaving.  One guys said, the guy we left behind knows where it is.  I shuffled over 100 feet and there it was sleeping, head ticked under a wing.  Every ten minutes of so it popped its head out.  Eventually, it put on a little swim by for us for excellent photos in near perfect light.

What a stunning bird!  Even if it is a hen.  These may be the photos of the year!!

In fact, I’m happier it was a hen.  Exotic wildfowl keepers usually have males.  We got to see both legs and it was unbanded.  

I even photographed wings

I suspect it was just a bird displaced by Hurricane Harvey. Great bird!  Lifer bird!!  

Hard to believe that in the 1993 Texas breeding bird survey they estimated a statewide population of 3000 of these birds but then they just disappeared.  The cause is unknown but in the last 5 to ten years there have been like three sightings and those where fleeting.  Masked ducks like to stay in the weeds and can be hard to see even if you know  where one is but this one came out, I felt very lucky.  It could  have came out to a man with a shotgun.  Sadly, it still might.

The four of us there laughed at my long drive they were from Wichita, Tulsa and Fort Worth.  I had them beat....

I had heard the new checklist is delayed by 1-2 months so it will be a while before I know how many I the meantime, I 'll keep chasing birds

Wichita National Refuge, Lawton Oklahoma
This is an area I’ve never been to before so despite my exhaustion, I wanted to look around.  I drove into this huge wildlife refuge of 59,000 acres I'd never heard of next to Fort Sill, which oddly, my old company, just started a clinic contract at today, this very day.  What are the odds of that?

WNR is a wildlife refuge with little wildlife save a wild herd of Texas Longhorn cattle.  I refused to photograph longhorns.

I saw a loggerhead shrike and vultures, that was the best I could do.

I went and saw the Holy City of the Wichitas that is tucked back in the refuge.  This is a place where they still do the annual passion play every spring.  I'm not sure how many attend.  They have little parking.

Built in 1934 by the WPA, when Church and State used to be the same thing,  It is billed as a "slice of old Jerusalem"  Although it looks much like 1930s western USA with a painted chariot laying around.  There is also the large modern statue of Jesus and a sign saying the government does not support this....but it is on federal land.  Oh, I'll be nice...I bet the play is very moving.  I've actually seen the REAL Passion Play in Oberamergau Germany, where the seats were hard and the play even harder.... to understand at it was in German.

Views from Mt Scott at 2464 feet high.

It was a nice area that I may never get back to.  I stumbled into Chickasha and found a lo-cal room.  I was too tired to care, and too tired to appreciate an expensive one.  The bed looked as though only a few people had sex on the sheets before I got here, so that is good and it beat sleeping in a corn field.... but I did go out for a lifer beer!!  I had to..

Cheers!  To a damn nice duck!

If I wake up, I think I need some sausage with that beer and the best Swedish sausage spot is in Linsborg Kansas, a little out of my way....... but for one of the 5 best sausage shops in America...I shall take the detour!

yum, I can almost taste it now!!!


Thursday, September 7, 2017

Ode to a Dying Island

In the last three days, i was filled with worry.  Hurricane Irma bearing down on St. Martin, an island I own not just one house but two, with a closing of selling one house set for next week.  So instead of watching the Weather Channel my wife drove me to the airport to go bird.  I would be better off without internet.  So away I went.

I saw two lifer birds in what could be assuming the ABA adds what I have in the bank to the checklist, my 800th bird. wasn't so grand a feeling.

Swallow-tailed gull, Seattle Washington, a great code 5 bird from the Galapagos Islands, which I saw a lot of birders I knew, everyone who was anyone was there on Monday.  Some of the people I thought I was friends with gave me the cold shoulder.  I didn't care.  It was at a nude beach BUT this bird is not on my nude life list...honestly, I didn't think about it, I was distracted by Irma.

I flew immediately to Salt Lake and rented a car to drive to Idaho, on Tuesday Morning, I got another lifer, the new Cassia Crossbill, a bird split off from the red crossbill which lives in the Sawtooth National Forest.  I shall be honest, I can add this lifer bird to my sans clothing list btw, as I thought about it, and the forest was pretty sparse of others.

But it still left me hollow.  I went to Shoshone Falls to get a hotdog but they had turned the water off, I can watch water flow for hours...Not today but they did have food though at the park near Twin Falls Idaho.  Tired and worried as the NOAA forecast moved the hurricane turn westward, I drove in a funk back to Salt Lake.  It was a sleepless night at the hotel.

At 0530 I boarded the plane local time, Irma, a hurricane name meaning immense or universal, a really odd woman's name, and one also a derivation of a goddess of war and destruction came ashore on Orient Beach St Martin.  We all drank Scotch in first class as it was a wake for the island.  The earliest I've ever drank hard liquor.

Since then, I watched video of seven story buildings collapse, and many many pictures of the devastation.  Here is a photo from Anse Marcel, one bay north of Orient.

Image may contain: sky, tree, plant, outdoor and nature

I don't know what to do, I sit here in shock, alcohol numbs but it doesn't sooth the pain, I've seen one photo from the Dutch military copter flying over the Orient Beach Village, it looks as bad as the above photo.  many dead, maybe people I know.  It is bad...really bad.

Here is a comment from the Manager at Club Orient, a place on Orient Beach on the French side.

The island is in complete devastation.

Steve has been able to call briefly by cell, but his battery is almost used up. There is no electricity anywhere on the island, and it will be out for the "foreseeable future."
Markets have been cleaned out. There is no food or water to be had.
Housing is gone. Some people have set up camp under the pool tables at the casino. The casino is gone but the tables provide some security/shelter.
There is no gasoline to be found. Cars are not moving. Steve's car is OK, but all the windows were blown out. I'm not sure any roads are open.
Steve and Linda are OK but in shock. Their room started to fall in so they took refuge in the bathroom with their dog. They were not hurt when the floor above collapsed into their unit. 
Bert (head of maintenance) wasn't as lucky. He was cut by flying glass on the head and arms. He was treated by first aid personnel and will be fine. 
About 12 people took refuge at the Grand Case Beach Club (GCBC). 
Anne spent the night elsewhere and has checked in by phone. She is OK. There is no word yet on Florence (reservations). 
Keep in mind communications are sporadic at best.

Bert's son is trying to get to the resort on foot to assess the situation.

I share this with tears in my eyes.  We've had 15 wonderful years, I've seen exactly 100 bird species, a have a field guide to the island birds coming out (for naught) in a month, but with no tourism on this island in the future it is just something to remember it all by.  They are all gone.

One of two forests that has the threatened scaly naped pigeon is totally defoliated, so I assume they are all dead.

The bridled quail dove??

there were only a couple breeding pairs on the sad so sad....

here are just some pictures I had in a file to copy quickly here, too painful to review much more...

So sad, my two house, one I'm certain totally destroyed and the second...??  The closing next week on the other one... that won't happen.  There is nothing to keep the French family on the island.  There is nothing, no hope and no future..not even food and water....they and those with that have means will leave.  

The airport is destroyed so how will they even get off?  IDK, but a cruise ship will need to be taken there....I'm certain that before the French Army gets there that desperate means will become the norm, so we can't go down there any time soon.  Tourists better arm themselves with whatever they can, rebar, boards, knives, sticks....  For us?  Pray...all we can do.  I could post many many photos of the destruction, but it is can't handle it, beyond a is the view I want to remember..  A view gone....that is Club Orient below from deck of out villa, what was a chalet we owned is certainly as well as all the foliage, gone.

Hundreds of thousands of dollars and over 50 trips........sigh...I told you all that there is more to living than just birding and well, this is one thing.  It could have been worse, we could have been there.  If this was last year, I would have had to abandon my big year.....Life Bird 800?   Big F$%ing deal....does 800 birds matter?....that is my thoughts today.

so sad so sad

To my favorite island...St.. was a good run....