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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 continued, 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

1 comment:

  1. As the hare's eyes glow in an early pix i asked myself just that question, what kind of lens is she using. yes, its a beut.