Monday, July 15, 2013

Day 7: Birding Places And Histories Faces

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

With dawn, we were up and out.  Our first target bird of the day was what has to be one of North America’s most obnoxious warblers – the Connecticut.

Why obnoxious? Simply put, they are not easy to see. One can hear them under the right circumstances (breeding grounds, for example), but they manage to hide behind anything that could possibly obstruct your view.  It really is quite annoying.  Found in boreal forests (for the most part), Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, northern Wisconsin and large parts of Minnesota are breeding grounds for this yellow and gray sneak.

Sadly, after driving and hiking and listening and watching for miles and hours, we secured a ton of birds but no Connecticut. Many other warblers were on the grounds, including Parulas and Chesnut-sideds, but no Connecticut. Not a peep.  A consolation prize was a stunning look at another Clay-colored Sparrow for Natalie. Sure, she saw one the night before, but not like this bird. He was sooooo cooperative.

Pressing along to bird the Brule River, the evil spectre of “I’ll sing for you and get your hopes up, but you’ll never see me! “ reared its ugly head. It was the Black-backed Woodpecker. Exactly where the book said they would be, we heard one.  After entering the woods from the road and doing everything right, the bird never showed itself.  If we re-entered the woods, he moved off.  If we followed, he went deeper in. If we retreated back to the road, he came back to the road.  The cat and mouse game ended when the mosquitoes came out in force and the roadside ditch we had to cross was confirmed as a tick metropolis.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, ticks.  The one creepy crawly that can get grown men squealing like little girls, ticks became a common feature on this leg of the trip (we had them in Michigan, too).  The trick is to look for them frequently and grab them before they suck your brains out latch on for a blood meal.  No, I don’t squeal, but I hate ‘em as much as the next guy.

Following the guide, we checked other sites for Connecticut Warbler and Black-backed Woodpecker to no avail. We tried. We really did. But nothing worked.

A brief walk along a portion of uneventful trail allowed for another pin in the map.  The Saint Croix National Scenic River.  Nice.

By mid-afternoon, Natalie was in sleep mode and was napping as I drove.  Her napping is not to be confused with the Black Bear that was “napping” on the side of the road. His slumber looked like all the other animals that we see “sleeping” on roadsides. Yes, it figures.  The only bear we saw on the whole trip and he’s dead.

With bird activity slowing down, we plotted a course for the town of Poplar.  Not quite New York City, the 2010 census recorded barely over 600 people.  But it wasn’t to visit them; it was to see the grave of one who lived there once upon a time….

Richard Bong is not a name that many people know.  World War II buffs, however, know him.  Stationed in the South Pacific and Philippines, Bong is, simply put, the best combat pilot in the history of the United States.  Scoring 40 confirmed kills in a P-38 Lightning named after his wife, Marge, he grew up in Poplar, Wisconsin. 

Joining the Army Air Corps in 1940, he soon became a threat that the Japanese simply couldn’t handle.   The “buzz saw” action of the P-38 armament (4 .50 caliber machine guns and a 20mm cannon clustered in the nose) sliced and diced Japanese planes.

Indeed, the Japanese never got him.  A test flight did.  In January 1945, with the war in the Pacific winding down, Bong was sent stateside to be a test pilot.  On August 6th, the same day as the Hiroshima bombing, a fuel pump in the experimental P-80 Shooting Star failed.  He bailed out, but sadly, was too low for his parachute to be any good. 

Some historians might tell you, by the way, that the numbers don’t tell the complete story.  While Bong had 40 confirmed kills, the second highest kill total, 38 enemy planes, was tallied by Tommy Maguire.  Some honestly think that Maguire was the better pilot but had fewer kills as he was spending a lot of time flying a desk; he had administrative duties.  They feel that if Maguire flew more missions, he would have eclipsed Bong’s total. 

Of course, we’ll never know.  On a fighter sweep in January 1945, Maguire committed a known “triple no-no” in his P-38. He attempted a low altitude, low speed, tight turn with external fuel tanks still attached.  He did so trying to draw an enemy fighter off of his wingman.  The plane’s engines failed.  He rolled and pancaked into the jungles below. 

Both men earned the Congressional Medal of Honor. Both men flew the P-38. Both men -total badasses.

A quick fuel stop (after all, my Cruze gets about 450 miles on a tank of gas compared to the P-38 range of about 1300 miles….) was followed by grassland birding.  North and east of Poplar, Nat and I found ourselves gawking at Upland Sandpipers (a bit too far for my camera) and Bobolink. 

A camp dinner and DQ dessert (there was one right up the street) was perfect as we planned the attack for tomorrow. Early to bed for an early rise….

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