Thursday, August 22, 2013

Disrupted, Stymied, Delayed--Bruised, Beaten-up and Angry ....but not Defeated

I arrived home late last month to ensure that my new vehicle's warranty would be maintained with the 30,000 mile checkup and oil change and address a recall that sounded ominous.  What I did not expect was to become embroiled in a property rights, storm water run off issue/battle with a neighboring home owner's association (HOA).  It took 2.5 weeks to get it resolved, a lot of it waiting for tradesmen to respond to look at the proposed job/solution and waiting for return calls from the city manager.  Meanwhile, I looked for nearby birds to add to my year list and did some very hard manual labor on my property, originally planned for next year, to work off my anger.  A resolution of this issue was in sight last weekend, August 17, with the work to be done on Monday, August 19.  The final decision leading to the resolution was a political one, and I believe that my property rights have been violated, and were violated when the homeowner's association  installed erodible landscaping, mulch, on city right of way, with the city's permission, in front of my down spout exit lines and a mandated exit line to take care of driveway runoff.  Both of these water exit lines were in place, prior to the installation of the landscaping about 12 to 13 years ago.  The HOA was informed of the issues back then but chose to ignore the issue.  It would be miraculous for the mulch to not wash away!  None of the final decisions made by the city manager affecting this issue are based on the input from professional plumbers and landscapers who work on resolving these kinds of issues.  It was all politics.  However, for me it was a matter of time and money to get a final resolution favorable to me or not.  Before the work was finally completed on Monday, August 19, I chased down some birds that I needed for my year list here in Ohio.   More about that later.

This has been a year of bad luck for me for doing a Big Year.  It started last fall with a diagnosis of prostate cancer and a relatively large number of follow-ups required.  In the process, I discovered through my personal care physician that a urologist who was managing my care was not being completely open with me about test results.  Consequently, I decided to become an informed patient and subscribed to the latest information about my condition and treatment from Johns Hopkins Health Alerts.  It has been time consuming to read and understand everything I can find and available about my condition and still try to fit in a Big Year.  During the late winter and spring I had to manage an interaction with the urologist who was insisting on a course of action with which I was not comfortable.  Because I am in the low risk category (the urologist seems to agree) based on results so far, I delayed further actions and treatment until later this year when there are no birds to chase.  Hopefully, for my health, this was the correct decision, but I am comfortable with the risk.  However, this issue caused major disruption to any planning and pursuit of birds this year.

When I started my Big Year I thought that I could leave my house and property relatively unattended for most of the year with neighbors watching and with appropriate preparations in the fall and winter of 2012.  I arranged my bills too be paid while on the road.  However, in the spring I discovered that some unexpected things showed up in the mail requiring immediate attention, such as a tax bill with penalties for non-payment, and a demand from the State of Ohio that I demonstrate that I have auto insurance on my 2005 van parked in my drive way, fully licensed.  I have never owned a vehicle that is not fully insured.  The penalty for not responding within 21 days was to lose my license.   I also received a bill from the state of Florida for tolls where they have removed cash payment.  The signs in Florida say that the tolls will be billed to your insurance.  Not so.  The toll bill had penalties and significant fines for not paying on time.  While in Florida, I could not find an online location to pay the tolls but it was on the bill mailed to me.  Fortunately, I was able to catch these things and take care of them in a timely way.  After these incidents, I realized that I needed to check my mail placed on hold frequently and carefully to uncover any unexpected things like these.  In addition, I was not able to clean out my garage fully to accommodate the 2005 van before I started my Big Year.  Just in case someone was reporting an un-driven vehicle sitting in my driveway, fully licensed, after returning from Alaska, I finished cleaning out my garage and parked my van inside the garage out of sight. 

Unlike others who have done a Big Year, I have no trusted friend or nearby family (family is 700 miles to the east in PA) to take care of and look out for my property and interests while I am gone.  Sandy Komito's son took care of his business while he was doing his Big Years (I discussed this with him in the past.), and if memory serves me correctly, his wife looked out for the hearth and home, to alert him of any issues needing his attention.  Chris Hitt, Bob Ake, Dan Sanders and John Vanderpool had family available to look out for their interests and to alert them of issues that required their attention during their Big Years.  Otherwise, they could focus on birding except when wives protested abut being gone too long (John, apparently from his blog).  Greg Miller did not own property and lived in an apartment during his Big Year.  I have discussed this with Neil Hayward by e-mail.   His girl friend is helping him out with his property, but he has had some recent issues requiring his undivided attention costing him some time.   Enough about the issues.  It has not been an easy year.

Back to birding.  On Sunday, August 18, I found the reported Baird's Sandpiper at Lost Bridge in southwestern Ohio.  Baird's Sandpiper was missing from my list, and late summer is the best time to see them during migration in the mid-west.  The Baird's Sandpiper was on the exposed gravel and sand on the north side of the bridge.  I did not get the best and most definitive photos of this bird.  See photo below.  After the Baird's and a quick lunch, I left the Cincinnati area at about 2:00 pm and drove to East Harbor State Park in northern Ohio along Lake Erie to search for the Red Knot reported there in the last few days.  Special thanks to Doreen Linzell for her help by cell phone in finding the exact location of the best mudflats in northern Ohio.  I had never been to this location before.  Doreen Linzell and Dan Sanders, who are very experienced in birding all of Ohio, also had initial problems finding the exact location, requiring three tries driving the loop at this state park.  By 7:45 pm, I was on my way south to Cincinnati.  I saw the non-breeding plumage Red Knot beside a Short-billed Dowitcher.  The Red Knot was approximately the same length as the dowitcher, but with a difference gizz, larger head and more bull necked look, larger, and perhaps fatter body with a shorter than dowitcher very slightly downward curved dark bill, gray back and wings, whitish under-parts and dark wing tips.  In comparison, the dowitcher has brownish back and wings, a smaller head with a long straight bill and a sewing machine motion while feeding.  Red Knots are becoming rare in the east and particularly in the mid-west.  The west coast population is in better shape, and there may be opportunities to see them in the fall in the San Diego area during pelagic birding.  I am very happy to add this bird to the list, but obtained no photos, because the Red Knot was too distant.

I was back home in Cincinnati Sunday night to be available for completion of the work on Monday, August 19, to resolve the downspout and storm water issues, created by repair of a sewer lateral underneath the downspout and storm water exit lines.  I chose the contractor carefully and used a person who does work for the HOA members, who are satisfied with his work.  The HOA members had issues with the quality and timeliness of the work done by the original plumbing company who replaced the sewer lateral; however, their concerns are ill-founded and do not take into account the length of time it takes for clay soil to settle after such a job, from 8 months to two years based on input from professionals.  The work was completed Monday afternoon, August 19, which is one week less than two years after the sewer lateral was replaced.  Most of the landscaping work except for this last storm water issue was completed within one year and three months of the sewer lateral replacement.  Final resolution of the storm water issue was delayed by five months by the HOA, because they sat on, took no action on and did not try to contact me about a suggestion I made to resolve the issue in the spring...but I am to blame.  Such is life. 

I had started making plans to pursue the Curlew Sandpiper on Long Island.  My mind was strong but my body was weak, requiring a good night of rest from the hard physical labor of the past week.  I left early on Tuesday, August 20, but not soon enough to arrive before sunset.  I had looked at flights to NYC, but found that there were usually multiple flights involved and with waiting at the airports and picking up a rental car, it was almost as quick to drive there, just short of 11 hours.  I drove to the Mecox Bay area, arriving just after sunset, and miracle of miracles found a reasonably priced motel in nearby Southampton.

I arrived at the parking area at the end of Dune Road close to the location of the Curlew Sandpiper at a little after 8:00 am on Wednesday, August 21 after wading through major traffic jams.  The parking area is designated for residents only, but I had been alerted by local resident and birder, Eileen Schwinn, that one can park in these areas early but need to leave before 9:00 am to be gone before the police patrols.  Thanks Eileen!  Excellent advice!  I found the Curlew Sandpiper quite easily near a pile of fence wire on an island beyond a man-made sand levee and around the point to the west.  When I first found the Curlew Sandpiper, it had its head tucked but showed the red under-parts and the very long legs.  Eventually, the Curlew Sandpiper woke up and started feeding, showing the downward curved bill, with not as much downward curvature as I have seen before on this species.  The Curlew Sandpiper is rapidly losing the red on its face.  The face is mostly white with a dark eye-line and a white supercillium/line above the eye.  See photos below.

As I left the parking area just before 9:00 am, there were other beach walkers/lovers that were also leaving for the same reason.  After stopping for gas at 10:00 am, I headed west on the Long Island Expressway (LIE) expecting to be back in Cincinnati in about 11 hours.  There were considerable delays on the LIE due to sweeping the road surface and edges, which eliminated the HOV and left hand lanes, reducing four lanes to two in most places.  There were also considerable delays going through the city approaching the George Washington Bridge.  While stuck in the traffic delays, I regretted driving rather than flying.  However, it was smooth sailing on I-78 to Harrisburg and then back on the PA turnpike to I-70 and home on I-71.  I arrived home in Cincinnati at midnight.  This trip took longer than expected, because I stopped to eat lunch and dinner.  All the effort in driving and actually seeing the Curlew Sandpiper, helped to work off some of my anger about my property issues.

Curlew Sandpiper
Curlew Sandpiper with Semipalmated Sandpiper
showing size difference
Baird's Sandpiper, Red Knot and Curlew Sandpiper raise the total to 583.  Next I'm heading west to AZ and So. CA with potential stop in TX.  Hopefully, there will be no delays in my plans this time.  I should have been close to 650 species by now.
Baird's Sandpiper,
 long straight bill, buffy wash on throat
mottling on back and wings but shows signs of feather wear
 at bend of wing, long primaries extending beyond tail, larger/longer than
Semipalmated and Least Sandpipers with it



  1. Replies
    1. Hey Jay

      hang in there, this is a marathon, but agree with you about the home front, no way I would have been able to leave my business ventures or house without wife, and a great COO

      I had a run of seven cancelled flights in a row in April
      hope your health holds, keep up the pursuit, yea saw fifteen Baird's 30 minutes ago on MN/SD border...we had no water here (drought) last year so seeing them now is something sort of new


  2. Hi Olaf,
    Thanks for your support. I was totally surprised by your naked approach to a Big Year when we met on this year's Attu trip. I came to appreciate your wit and humor and the courage to do something totally different. Good thing we had a lot of good weather. :>) I enjoyed meeting you and Tyko on the Attu trip. Congratulations on completing your Big Year at 593 and your manuscript of your new book about your naked big year, "Boobies, Peckers and tits, a naked look at a world record in birding." I have tried to keep up with your progress by reading your blog, When your book is published, I will certainly get a copy and read it. Thanks again for your support.

  3. Wow, Jay, you've been in over your head in diversions. Glad you've gotten them resolved and are heading west for some real birding that should add a significant number of year birds to your list. Keep it going and keep posting.


  4. Hi Bob,
    Thanks for your understanding and support. I appreciate all the help you have given me this year.

  5. I hope you have better luck soon Jay. Also I hate to be the bearer of more bad news but it looks like your photo of the Baird's is actually a fresh juvenile Semipalmated Sandpiper. The supercilium is too bright for one thing and the wingtips not long enough among other things. Hope you can get a good Baird's they are always interesting to see. Hope to run into you during your travels again.
    -Ben Warner

  6. Jay,
    It was very nice to meet you at the dealership while you were in town.
    I wish you continued luck in your Big Year and have enjoyed your blog thus far.
    Wishing you much success and many rare finds!

    Jenn Mullins