Monday, September 1, 2008

Great Lakes.......NO ESCAPE

Yes. The much-anticipated and heralded PANAMERICANPERPETUALWEEKEND is in full effect. It kicked off with a trip to Humboldt County a couple weekends ago, which per the norm, did not involve any birding whatsoever. The drive up did feature a bear, a woodrat, and a couple Peregrine Falcons. One falcon was flying with the traffic pattern inside the superstructure of the Golden Gate Bridge, then swooped out to attack a flock of Elegant Terns lurking innocently on the outer side of the bridge. Impressive.

Arcata activities consisted of a new tattoo, copious alcohol consumption, vegan treats, attempting to hang out with Pinko's schizophrenic homeless brother he hadnt seen in 22 years, and attending a wedding reception filled with nerds (er, birdwatchers) who I havent seen for a long time. Very positive overall. Some things never change, which isnt necessarily a bad thing.

A week later I am on a plane to Milwaukee, reading Steinbeck and blasting Bad Religion into my ears over the roar of the engines and the annoying, incredibly loud fat man behind me who was attempting to burn calories by talking politics to some poor stranger next to him. Awful. I land, and am immediately whisked away by my physician downtown, where some massive Harley-Davidson festival is underway. Thousands or roaring motorcycles, large with handlebar mustaches and their thick female companions coated in leather were everywhere. My physician and I ate dinner and drank beer at a brewery on the shores of Lake Michigan (literally; you could park your boat there) and I was very glad to be in the warm, fragrant air and out of the cold, dank, dirtiness of San Francisco.

The next morning I awoke bleary-eyed and partially hung-over. I petted the cat (Hercules), and stumbled outside to try to find a park where I could get some birding in while my physician was out saving lives. Outside, a young Red-tailed Hawk wheeled low overhead while a Baltimore Oriole sang from someone's backyard across the street. Good. The park was where it should be, and pretty soon there were cardinals, catbirds, Black-capped Chickadees, Blue Jays and Yellow-shafted Flickers flopping around. Swainson's Thrushes started popping up; they look very different than they do out west. A Veery popped up too.

It was about that time that I realized that I desperately needed to go to the bathroom, so I started wandering around more quickly in hope of finding one. However, I kept getting distracted by birds, which made the urge even worse. First it was Tennessee Warblers, then a Black-throated Green Warbler. Then I started panicking, for there were no bathrooms anywhere, limited shrubs and quite a few children running around. I feared something terrible was going to happen, and felt that it was imminent. At the last second I crashed into some bushes and did the was a close call.

By now it was getting hot and I wandered back to the apartment, picking up migrant American Redstart and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher on the way. Now it was time for the main event of the weekend: The Beer Pong Tournament.

My physician and teammate.

Me and a Ukranian.

Wow. Talk about a flashback to college. What a fun party. There was devirginizing, blatant unfaithfulness, people blacking out left and right. There were lots of women, all showing lots of flank. I was very popular with them, oddly enough. There was even a scene straight out of some 80's movie that I kept drunkenly seeing later in the night; a good looking, confident blond girl showing a complete nerd how to dance with no music playing (this lasted for some time; hopefully he learned something). My team, The HJ's (google HJ if you dont know what it is), only made it to the second round, winning 2 out of 4, but we fought hard and bitterly. We were beaten by a nice girl and a total douchebag, who I will politely call here Dickhammer. Dickhammer and friend went on to win it all; hopefully someone maced him for a prize.

The next morning we went to George Webb's for breakfast, which is like a greasy-spoon breakfast chain. Epic. If you ever see one of these, be sure to eat there. Ask about the two clocks.

Afterwards my physician and I drove north along Lake Michigan, looking for somewhere where I could look at some birds. Finally we arrived at Doctor's Park, which was curiously situated next to the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center. I do not know how this baron of malt liquor came to be involved with bird conservation, but I fully support it. I am actively seeking sponsorships from Olympia Beer, Jameson Whiskey, Skoal chewing tobacco and Luckie Strike cigarettes, so I can understand how two seemingly unrelated industries could coexist so well.

Lake Michigan, Schlitz habitat.

The birding was good here, despite the dreary humidity and large numbers of people. A flock of Black-throated Green Warblers, a Red eyed-Vireo and a Mystery Flycatcher put in appearances on the walk out to the beach. Don't you hate mystery flycatchers? Seeing a mystery flycatcher is kind of like getting whiskey dick.....initially, the whole situation is pretty cool, then you are suddenly confronted with dealing with the embarassment and dissapointment of it all, wishing the whole incident never happened.......wondering what could have been. All I saw was an orange lower mandible. Very frustrating, could have been any number of species.

Some more walking around lead to various other species, including a couple Magnolia Warblers and another ego-crushing Mystery Flycatcher. Good times.

By now my physician and I were very hot and took our leave. Later that night I found myself at a BBQ with some more med students. Jesus god, they took the whole nerd image to a whole new level for me.

"These are my nerd friends," indicated my physician. "I don't tell them anything. They know nothing about me."

And indeed, this was so. But they were good at Taboo (the game, not doing unspeakable things that our culture abhors) and were good at belittling the lone Republican amongst them.

As we walked out to the grill, a small owl flopped off the ground and into a tree. Now I knew this was an Eastern Screech-Owl, which I had never seen up to this point. But it was not to be added to the venerable Life List of Steve, for I had deduced this from size, habitat, season and geography. I didnt see what the thing looked like at all, and I think I would be cheating myself if I counted it as a new bird.

Is there a good euphamism in birding that is equivalent to getting whiskey dick? "Foggy binoculars?" That just sounds lame. "Glaucoma"? Hmmm. Let's go with "shiteyes". Yes, shiteyes. I got shiteyes with that damn owl.

Before I knew it, the Milwaukee leg of the PANAMERICANPERPETUALWEEKENDY2K8 was over. It was very successful, to say the least. Birds were seen, beer was consumed, sweat glands exercised, important issues discussed. I have a feeling I will be returning to the Midwest someday, hopefully with more time and more whiskey (does no one drink whiskey over there? Sheesh.). Besides, Ive heard a lot about Fon Du Lac.

Getting back on the plane, I was pulled aside for "additonal screening". I didnt exactly resemble the average midwesterner, so I wasnt suprised. "Come over here rockstar", chided one of the security guards. At first I thought she was being condescending, then I realized she was actually serious. "I think I know who you are under there" she said, staring intently at me and trying to conjure up the facial structure of some celebrity under my sunglasses.

I said nothing, and was let go without much more hassle. I was, after all, a celebrity, and I deserve nothing less.

Milwaukee Bird List:

Canada Goose
Wood Duck
Double-crested Cormorant
Red-tailed Hawk
Herring Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Eastern Screech-Owl
Common Nighthawk
Mourning Dove
Rock Pigeon
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Red-eyed Vireo
Empidonax spp
Blue Jay
American Crow
Black-capped Chickadee
White-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
American Robin
Swainson's Thrush
Gray Catbird
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Tennessee Warbler
American Redstart
Black-throated Green Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Magnolia Warbler
Northern Cardinal
Chipping Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Brown-headed Cowbird
Baltimore Oriole
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow


  1. Any idea who that security guard thought you were? Besides you, of course... cuz you are a rockstar.

    It's just that some rockstars look like other rockstars. Like Benji and Joel Madden. Or something.

  2. I really dont know. They were big sunglasses, but not "fuck-off" hipster glasses.....but the point is she couldve imagined anyone. Hopefully it was someone from a good band and not Good Charlotte (how embarassing).