Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Why Do Bobolinks Stop Singing In Early July?

As a kid growing up in Northern Wisconsin I remember always looking forward to the days between May 1 and May 5 when, just like clockwork, Bobolink's returned from their winter habitats on tropical and subtropical grasslands of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil and Paraguay. Their return was exciting for me because I got to listen to their nearly-indescribable voice each time I was anywhere near a grassy field.

Bobolinks always livened up summer days whether it was as a kid in Wisconsin, or later while living in North Dakota or Nebraska. I remember quite well in the early 1980s doing breeding bird censuses on native prairie plots near Woodworth, North Dakota, that Douglas Johnson had maintained for many years. Plot number 11 was always the one where you could be assured that you would have to scratch your head for awhile trying to figure out which male was singing on whose territory and how do you map all of that on an 8 x 10 piece of paper. In Nebraska we found Bobolink's to be quite common in the eastern half of the Platte River Valley, where they especially liked wet meadows along the river, and nearby alfalfa fields for nesting.

In the summer of 1978 Hal Kantrud and I were able to listen to Bobolinks singing on native prairie research plots all over both Dakotas and Montana and even a few in Wyoming. In 1980 and 1981 I remember finding them on native grasslands and in domestic hay fields throughout west central Manitoba and east central Saskatchewan.

Still, no matter where I was looking for them when July 1 came on the calendar it seemed like some switch went off in the head of Bobolink's and they stopped singing. At least they greatly reduced their song output. Go out on a patch of prairie on the Mormon Island preserve south of Grand Island Nebraska this evening and if there are no tornadoes around, you will hear a feast of Bobolink voices. Go out to Mormon Island in 24 hours and you'll hear 1/4 the voices you heard today. Go there a week from today and you'll be telling yourself you have to wait until next year to hear them again.

In fact, the latest day on which I have ever heard a Bobolink singing anywhere was July 7, 2007 when I found one bedraggled male still singing from the grasslands adjacent to the Halifax International Airport in Nova Scotia, Canada.

Why Bobolinks abruptly cease to sing on July 1 is one of those ornithological mysteries that will always be a mystery. Mourning Warblers return to northern Wisconsin about the same time as Bobolink's return and like the Bobolink's they beginning singing the moment they alight on their territory, but Mourning Warblers keep singing, at least occasionally, through July and into early August. Northern Parula start singing here in late February and continue to do so well into mid-August. But for Bobolinks, its a two month show and then its over.

This past spring I found Bobolink in abundance on the Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park in Okeechobee County Florida in late April. A week later I found several migrant Bobolink in Glades County near the southwest shore of Lake Okeechobee. There were also a few along the beach at Lido Key in Sarasota, County. Luckily for me at least some of the birds in Okeechobee and Glades Counties were singing. I listened to them and wondered where they would be a week from that day.

However despite where they were going, in all likelihood the song fest that is a Bobolink is going to substantially shut down beginning tomorrow morning at sunrise on July 1.

I always knew there was a reason I didn't like July.

Friday, June 25, 2010

A Mississippi Kite in Sarasota County!

On June 21, 2010, I attended a Gulf Coast League (Rookie League) baseball game at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota (the local team lost). At about 12:30 p.m. when I looked up to follow a pop fly hit to right field I saw what I was certain was a Mississippi Kite slowly moving southward over the baseball field. I had been out birding before going to the game and luckily had my binoculars with me in my day pack. With them I was able to confirm that the bird was an adult Mississippi Kite. What it was doing in Sarasota County on the first day of summer remains a mystery.

The booklet "Birding Hot Spots in Sarasota and Manatee Counties" (Fourth edition, 2008) published by the Sarasota Audubon Society does not include Mississippi Kite in its checklist of birds seen in both counties. Data from the eBird database maintained by the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology shows that Mississippi Kites are quite common in the Panhandle and North Florida but spotty (at best) south of about Gainesville. Further, the Florida Breeding Bird Atlas, although currently 19 years old, shows confirmed nesting by this species in Florida south to Levy and Marion counties. Thus the bird on Monday may have been the first record for Sarasota County.

I wonder if this was part of a pair that had a failed nesting attempt and this bird was making its way back south already? I put a notice about this bird on the BirdBrains list serve that covers much of the Florida birding community. In response to the message, Rex Rowan from Gainesville directed readers to a summary of nesting season Mississippi Kite records south of the known breeding range through 2006. His summary from that 2006 message to BirdBrains is reprinted verbatim here:
Subject: Mississippi Kite range extension.
From: Rex Rowan <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To: Rex Rowan <[log in to unmask]>
Date: Sat, 10 Jun 2006 21:29:25 -0400
Content-Type: text/plain

Mississippi Kites seem to be in the midst of a rather rapid range expansion. After arriving in the Gainesville area in the latter half of the 1960s, they seemed to stop moving, and the 1986-91 Breeding Bird Atlas found them well established in Alachua and Levy Counties, with nothing beyond that limit except one confirmed nesting in Ocala and a sighting in Hernando County:

However in the past two or three years they seem to have worked their way both south and east:

NASSAU COUNTY: Pat Leary saw one in northern Nassau County in late April this year, though given the date it could have been a migrant rather than a resident.

DUVAL COUNTY: This month Noel Wamer reported two birds south of the St. Johns River and Kevin Dailey reported up to three north of the St. Johns. A pair has nested in south Jacksonville in recent years.

CLAY COUNTY: I saw four or five near Green Cove Springs on May 29th; Lenore McCullagh informed me that they'd been present for at least one year previously. Bill Pennywill saw two sitting in a tree at Penney Farms in western Clay County this spring.

BREVARD COUNTY: Tom Dunkerton reported one at Tosohatchee Preserve in June 2005.

MARION COUNTY: Last spring Angela Luzader made multiple observations of 30 or so over fields between Ocala and Belleview.

CITRUS COUNTY: If I'm remembering correctly, they're resident in Crystal River.

HERNANDO COUNTY: Bev Hansen reported a nesting near Brooksville in July 2004.

SUMTER COUNTY: Yesterday I saw one soaring over a treeline just north of where CR-514 dead-ends at I-75 in Coleman.

Any other sightings outside the range shown on the BBA map?

Rex Rowan

During June 3-10 2010 I was in the Panhandle and north Florida visiting State Parks and looking for birds for my "Big Year". Mississippi Kite was one of the target species and I found them as far south as the intersection of US 19 and State Highway 24 (the road to Cedar Key) in Levy County.

I guess now I could have stayed home and just let the year birds come to me.

Gulf Coast League (Rookie League) Baseball in Sarasota

Monday June 21 marked the beginning of Gulf Coast League (Rookie League) baseball in Sarasota. The "hometown" team is the Gulf Coast League Orioles, an affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles.

Wikipedia has this information about the Rookie League:

Leagues in the Rookie classification play a shortened season similar to the Short-Season A classification leagues, starting in June and ending in early September. This lowest level of minor league baseball consists of six leagues, the Appalachian League, Pioneer League, Arizona League, Gulf Coast League, Dominican Summer League, and Venezuelan Summer League.[1] The Appalachian and Pioneer leagues are actually hybrid leagues; while officially classed as "Rookie" leagues, several major league teams have their higher-class short season teams in those leagues. These teams also maintain Rookie-level teams in other leagues as well. All of the other Rookie leagues are short season leagues as well.

You can read more about all of Minor League baseball at this link.

I attended the first game of the GCL Orioles season on June 21 here in Sarasota. The games are held in the back fields (spring training practice fields) at venerable old Ed Smith Stadium which is being renovated (finally!!!) in preparation for the 2011 spring training season.

Very little information has been made available about the GCL Orioles and their schedule. I finally called the Orioles about 10:00 a.m. on the Monday and was told when the season would start (that day) and at noon (in 2 hours!) and that they would be playing on the back fields of Ed Smith.

The person I talked with was Tracee Crump a Field Operations Assistant (does that mean Intern) with the Orioles in Sarasota. She was most helpful and immediately emailed me a copy of the GCL Orioles home season schedule that I've included below.

As instructed by Tracee I drove to the usual parking lot at Ed Smith and intended to walk south to the playing field. However the gate there was locked and bolted so I drove over to the Orioles Clubhouse and office and walked in from there. As I did I encountered a classically grumpy old bastard who took it as a personal affront to him that the gates in the main parking lot were not open. Unfortunately for Ms Crump she was walking back to her office when Grumpy Old Man found her and proceeded to read her the riot act about any number of things including the fact that there was no information anywhere on who the players were for either team. I thought the grumpy bastard was going to blow a gasket he was so upset. Ms Crump nodded her head knowing, as we used to say in Wisconsin, "when you get in a pissing match with a skunk all you get out of it is sprayed."

There were six fans sitting on the wooden bleacher behind the playing field. As you can see from this picture taken with my Blackberry, you can get really close to the field here.

Here you can mingle with the players on either or both teams, several of whom were sitting in the bleachers with me running the radar guns and recording data on pitches and their speeds.

The game was between the GCL Baltimore Orioles and the GCL team representing that state just west of Wisconsin where traitorous football quarterbacks go to play. Of course I was rooting for the Orioles (when asked by someone what team is my favorite I tell them "whomever is beating the team from just west of Wisconsin." As the final score indicates, the team from just west of Wisconsin beat the Orioles 8-4.

The quality of baseball played here is pretty limited. Think of a cross between a junior college and high school baseball team and that pretty much describes what I saw of Rookie League baseball. For the 35 or so kids in uniform on a Rookie League team this is likely their only shot at getting to the show. In AAA ball you can get sent down to Single A and work your way back up, or in Single A you can get sent down to Short Season A and work your way back up. However for Rookie League if you are cut then you go home. For the multitude of Dominican kids on both teams I watched that day that means back to cutting sugar cane in the fields north of San Pedro de Marcoris! This is it.

I won't make it a habit of going to GCL Orioles games like I'm going to the Bradenton Marauders games. The excitement just isn't there, the quality of play isn't there, and there is no beer to be had at the field. What's the point of watching baseball if you can't quaff some suds and eat a dog? However as time allows I will no doubt make it to some other games this year. I certainly won't travel away from Sarasota to watch the Orioles but if the Bradenton Marauders are out of town and I'm bored senseless I might stop by occasionally. After all there are few places where you can watch the greatest show on dirt for free.

Day Date Time Opponent

Monday 21-Jun 12:00 Twins
Wednesday 23-Jun 12:00 Red Sox
Saturday 26-Jun 12:00 Rays
Tuesday 29-Jun 12:00 Twins
Thursday 1-Jul 12:00 Red Sox
Friday 2-Jul 12:00 Rays
Tuesday 6-Jul 12:00 Red Sox
Wednesday 7-Jul 12:00 Twins
Saturday 10-Jul 12:00 Rays
Monday 12-Jul 12:00 Red Sox
Tuesday 13-Jul 10:00 Rays
Thursday 15-Jul 12:00 Twins
Monday 19-Jul 12:00 Twins
Wednesday 21-Jul 12:00 Red Sox
Saturday 24-Jul 12:00 Rays
Tuesday 27-Jul 12:00 Twins
Thursday 29-Jul 12:00 Red Sox
Friday 30-Jul 12:00 Rays
Monday 3-Aug 12:00 Red Sox
Wednesday 4-Aug 12:00 Twins
Saturday 7-Aug 12:00 Rays
Tuesday 10-Aug 12:00 Red Sox
Thursday 12-Aug 12:00 Twins
Friday 13-Aug 12:00 Rays
Monday 16-Aug 12:00 Twins
Wednesday 18-Aug 12:00 Red Sox
Saturday 21-Aug 12:00 Rays
Monday 23-Aug 12:00 Red Sox
Wednesday 25-Aug 12:00 Twins
Friday 27-Aug 12:00 Rays

*All times are tentative. All games held on backfields, please park in east parking lot on the corner of Tuttle Ave. and 12th Street. Games are free to the public.

Knee Surgery - Or What Happens When You're 58 and Still Think You're 18

Yesterday, June 24, I had surgery on my right knee to repair my torn medial meniscus (as shown in the drawing above). Along with the torn meniscus the orthopedic surgeon also scraped away other things in my knee that had degenerated with age. Apparently this part of my knee has worn out and my femur was pinching down on the torn meniscus adding to the pain. What a bite this was! Furthermore the doctor told me that I never did myself any favors being a catcher in baseball so many years ago. And to think my mom wouldn't let me play football because "you'll hurt your knees." I guess mom's don't know everything!

In late February 2010 I was at the You Fit health club doing my usual every-other-day upper body and lower body work out. On the days when I was not at the club I was putting up to 21.2 miles on my bicycle as an efficient cardio exercise.

Then came that fateful day in late February when I was doing my leg extension exercise. I was going for fewer repetitions with more weight in a pyramid workout (30 reps at 120 lbs, 20 reps at 135 lbs, 10 reps at 150 lbs). Leg extensions were my last exercise of the 19 upper and lower body stations that I hit in this exercise. When I sat down for the leg extensions my legs were feeling just fine and especially my knees. On my first extension with 150 lbs, as my legs were pushing my torso back I heard and felt a loud "POP" from my right knee. Not exactly a good sign!

Wisely (a first for me) I stopped the exercise and hobbled away from the weight station. From that day onward I limped like old Walter Brennan in the old television show "The Real McCoys."

Foolishly I continued to bicycle after this injury and I did so under the guise of being male and thinking "ah, it will get better." Unfortunately over the intervening two months it didn't get better - it only got worse. My hunch was that I had probably blown out my medial meniscus - the cartilage that serves as a shock absorber between your femur and your tibia and fibia.

On April 19, 2010, I visited an orthopedic surgeon (who is personal friends with and plays golf with Johnny Bench!) who looked at the x-rays and confirmed that I had done just that - torn my medial meniscus.

He shot me up with a cortisone and two other anti-inflammatory drugs. The plan then was to see if the drugs will eliminate the inflammation that was causing all the pain in my knee. If so, then good news. If not, then it was going to be arthroscopic surgery to scrape away the torn cartilage. This knee injury is the latest in a string of issues that my body keeps using to remind me that I'm not 18 any more.

At the initial consultation with the orthopedic surgeon he said the scenario would work like this: 1) Cortisone would give me instant relief from the pain (which it did), 2) after a few days the pain would come back and it would be worse than before (which it was), then 3) the pain would go away again. If 4) the pain came back then I needed to go back to see him. Unfortunately number 4 became reality and I went back.

Over the intervening six weeks after the cortisone shot I have been limping although not as bad as before. The only relief would come from swimming in the ocean. I guess with no gravity to get in the way the knee felt fine. As soon as I was back on land however the pain came back.

I visited my orthopedic surgeon about 2 weeks ago and said that the pain was not going away. Consulting with him we concluded that surgery to fix the torn meniscus was the best alternative. By the way my orthopedic surgeon is Jeffrey Oettinger, a hell of a nice guy whom I would recommend to anyone. I think he's a Republican but I'll forgive him.

My surgery was scheduled for 8:00 a.m. yesterday and I was told to be at the Intercoastal Medical Group's Ambulatory Surgery Center by 7:00 a.m. This being the first surgery I have had since my tonsils were removed in January 1958, I was a bit more than a tad anxious and wound up not getting a second of sleep the night before.

After a brief time spent getting checked in, I was taken back to the preparation area where I was hooked up to an electrocardiogram and a blood pressure monitor. The nurse took my blood pressure four times before she got a reading that wasn't off the scale. Eventually she said "we'll give you some happy juice that will bring it down" and it did.

Before the surgery began I understood the procedure to be that I would receive a local anesthetic in my right knee and that also I would be sedated so I could be awake during the procedure. Doctor Oettinger told me I'd be able to watch the work on a screen as he scoped my knee. It didn't work that way. They started me on an IV of Propofol (the drug that killed Michael Jackson because it wasn't being monitored) to sedate me.

The last thing I remember was talking to the anesthesiologist (who was a chemistry major) and telling her how I still have nightmares about the year of Organic Chemistry I took as an undergrad. The next thing I remembered was waking up in the recovery room and asking my nurse Sue Ellen "is this the operating room?" I woke up about 9:30 and don't remember a thing about the procedure. All I know is I had (and still have) a huge bandage on my right knee.

I was given a list of information about the drugs that were administered to me, told to stay off the leg and keep my knee above my heart (damned difficult to do when you're sleeping), use a cane to get around (why do they call it a cane when its made out of metal?) and drink no alcoholic beverages.

My check out materials included a list of what I can and cannot do for the next few days. It also included a list of all the drugs I was given including:

Versed (to reduce anxiety before surgery - must have been the "happy juice" she mentioned). Information I was given says that Versed may cause amnesia which might be why I dont remember a thing about the experience.

Ketamine (sedation)

Propofol (maintains sleep in anesthesia)

Ancef (to prevent infection) This was apparently injected directly into the joint where the surgery occurred.

Pepcid (to prevent nausea)

Reglan (to prevent nausea)

Robinul (to prevent nausea and decrease secretions - which might explain why my mouth was so incredibly dry after the procedure)

(an opiate used to reduce or eliminate pain - Fentanyl is also known to cause constipation which certainly seems to be true!)

Adding to this cornucopia of drugs in the surgical center I was also prescribed Hydrocodone which a note on the prescription label says was "substituted for Lortab-500). Hydrocodone is a narcotic in the opiate family used to reduce or eliminate pain. I'm supposed to take 1 tablet every 4 - 6 hours "as needed" but the nurse told me to take it before hand so I have it in my system when the Fentanyl wore off. So far so good.

When I woke up from the anesthesia my throat was very sore - as if I had gotten some sort of cold or virus while asleep. I learned later that this was from something stuck down my throat to keep my passageway open while under anesthesia. The other thing I noticed this morning was a very pungent odor to my urine, no doubt a direct affect of my kidneys and liver metabolizing and excreting the drugs I was given yesterday.

My life long friends Larry Stoffregen and Dave Bylsma who are both nurses back home in Wisconsin have been their usual wonderful and helpful selves giving me all sorts of information and support in the last 24 hours. I appreciate every bit of it.

Now that I am on the mend I have several positive things to look forward to. First and foremost I wont be hobbling around like Grandpa McCoy any longer. I can get back on a bicycle and start putting on some miles in a month or so. I can get back to working out in the gym and I can be back on a boat in a week or so. I had been thinking about making a trip to the Western Aleutian Islands in mid August to look for Short-tailed Albatross for my life list with my friend Jon Andrew and to hang out with my oldest daughter Jennifer who lives in Anchorage. However the doctor said despite me being able to be on a boat here in Florida there was no way my knee could stand the rocking and rolling of a research vessel in 20 foot seas in the Aleutians so I have to cancel the trip for this year. Hopefully in 2011.

Before falling asleep yesterday I also mentioned to the anesthesiologist that when I had my tonsils out the doctors then told me that I could "have all the ice cream you want when you wake up." Of course they lied to me - I never saw an ounce of ice cream. Reacting quickly the anesthesiologist laughed and said "Any you're not getting any here either."

So ended my knee surgery adventure.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Ridiculous Hotel Sign

The Siesta Inn at 4787 North Tamiami Trail in Sarasota, Florida is a less than exciting hotel along the Trail just north of downtown. It looks rather downtrodden and consequently I would stay in it only if there was no other alternative available.

I've driven by the Siesta Inn every time I've traveled south on North Trail and each time before today I have meant to bring along my phone so I could take a picture of the hotel's ridiculous greeting sign.

Note on this sign that the Siesta Inn proudly claims to all who give a Cheney about such unimportant things, that real 'Merikuns own the hotel. The owners are probably part of the "English-is-the-only-language" crowd that watches Fixed News and listens to Rush Limbaugh. Notice also that visitors are welcome (as if local residents make up most of the hotel clientele?).

Most importantly notice that despite this likely being an English-is-the-only-language kind of place, visitors are greeted with the Spanish word "Abierto" which means "open."

I guess the hidden message here is that the owners want other real 'Merikuns staying here but we'll take your money also if you're a "Mexican" (which is what 99 percent of the redneck crowd calls anyone of Hispanic heritage or who has a Hispanic surname).

Just for the hell of it I think the next time I drive by the old Siesta Inn I'm going to confuse the owners and stop by. I obviously look like a real 'Merikun but I think I'll just ask for a room by speaking only in Spanish. I wonder if they'll still let me stay there?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Sarah Palin's Real Death Panel

Tryin To Reason With the 2010 Hurricane Season

Today, June 1, marks the start Hurricane Season - traditionally my most favorite and anticipated season of the year.

Every June 1 I write about hoping for the coast's long deserved and long overdue Category 6 hurricane. Its a hurricane that is so strong that its never been recorded at that intensity before. My dream hurricane (the "Great Undeveloper") never makes formal landfall. The center of it comes within 5 miles of the coast at the mouth of the Rio Grande on the US / Mexico border. There it moves north and east, keeping the eye five miles off shore so it retains a constant energy source. It follows and scours the coast of the Gulf of Mexico in a perfect arc along the Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida coasts to the Florida Keys. There it follows the islands northeast to Key Largo where it miraculously changes course once again and follows the entire east coast of the United States (including the Chesapeake Bay and Delaware Bay inland to Philadelphia) to Calais Maine where it becomes extratropical in the Bay of Fundy. At the conclusion of its trip along the coast it has removed all condominiums, rejuvenated the coastal sands, and cleared out the vermin known as the human race that has done so much to destroy the integrity of the coast.

However this year, 2010, poses a special case for coast lovers, even someone as twisted in their logic as I am.

This year we have an even more horrific disaster, a real one, in the Gulf that further exacerbates the problem. Thank you very much British Petroleum and thank you even MORE George Bush's administration for looking the other way in the permitting process and allowing this disaster to unfold.

Since April 20, at least 12,000 barrels of oil (42 gallons per barrel) and maybe 19,000 barrels of oil have been spewing daily into the ocean just off the Louisiana coast. Much of that oil is now or soon will be coming ashore somewhere along the Gulf Coast from west of the mouth of the Mississippi River east to who knows where along the Florida coast.

Because of the oil spill coastal habitats are going to be overly stressed this year and I worry that the spill on top of a large scale hurricane could be too much for existing habitats to bear there. Because of that, for 2010 I'm moving my dream a little further east.

For the 2010 season I'm still hoping for a great undeveloper hurricane to come ashore and cleanse the coast but this year I am hoping that it makes landfall just five miles off the coast of Miami and then moves northward along the coast to Calais, Maine. At least half the coastline of the United States will still be cleansed of condos and other eyesores and while this happens the Gulf Coast will be given some much needed time to heal.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is predicting a more active than usual hurricane season in the Caribbean region. NOAA is giving us this prediction of activity:
We estimate a 70% probability for each of the following ranges of activity this season:

* 14-23 Named Storms,
* 8-14 Hurricanes
* 3-7 Major Hurricanes
* An ACE range of 155%-270% of the median.
Three to 7 major hurricanes is fine with me. Maybe a couple will be Category 5 storms. If they come ashore and do some reconstruction of habitats so much the better. This year I'm hoping the most damage occurs at and in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, a city in dire need of huge rearrangement.

So join me in welcoming in this most auspicious and potentially regenerative season. All day today I will be playing this classic song by Jimmy Buffett each hour at the top of the hour to help welcome in the season. You might consider doing the same.