Archive for the ‘Friends’ Category

A long day in the Andes

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2019

In the PunaPuna

Saturday morning Claudio showed up as planned about 8 AM, and we set out for the mountains. Calama is at an elevation of about 7500 feet, and our birding expedition would take us up a good bit higher. As we climbed, we followed the course of the Rio Loa, which brings snowmelt water down from the high peaks to Calama. Our first stop was at Laguna Inca-Coya, a little sinkhole lake near the village of Chiu-Chiu, at an elevation of about 8000 feet.

At Laguna Inca-CollaClaudio points out a bird at Laguna Inca-Coya

Our first new bird of the day was an Andean (=Slate-colored) Coot. Shortly after we saw that, an Andean Gull flew over. Two lifers at the first stop, not too bad.

Church at Chiu-Chiu
Church at Chiu-Chiu

Next we headed for the geyser field, which entailed driving on some really bad roads. Hamner was up to the task, though, as he continued to be throughout a very long day. As we climbed, the terrain began to change. Clumps of grass abound at the higher elevations, an ecological zone known as Puna. The grass supports a lot of wildlife, including wild vicuña and guanaco.

In the Puna

While you can go to the main geysers and pay an entrance fee, Claudio had another idea. He guided us to a place with a lot of very forbidding signs saying that we weren’t allowed in; it seemed that there weren’t a lot of cops around, though, so we ignored them. We parked, and just down a slope was a geyser of mud, belching sulfur-scented steam.

Mud Geysers
Me at the mud geyser

Just beyond the mud geyser was a marshy seep, where Claudio and I saw two species of Cinclodes and an Andean Negrito. This spot was the highest we went all day, at about 15,000 feet. I had to take two breaths per step most of the time. Next we continued in the Puna to the Rio Putana, to a wide bend that forms a shallow wetland area. It was full of waterfowl such as Puna Teal, Giant Coot, Crested Duck, and Andean Goose, and we also saw a Plumbeous Sierra-finch and a couple of Gray-breasted Seedsnipe.

Puna Teal
Puna Teal

From there, we stopped at a place called Machuca, which had some shops that were all closed. There were, however, several more bird species to be seen, including Greenish Yellow-Finch, Cordilleran Castanero, Gray-bellied Shrike-tyrant, and Black-hooded Sierra-finch. An Aplomado Falcon flew over in a surprise appearance as well. The landscape of the Puna is amazing. The elevation and lack of rain make it an exceedingly difficult place for anything to survive, yet it’s full of beautiful plants and animals. And of course, wherever there is water such as the Rio Loa or the Rio Putana, which carry snowmelt from yet higher peaks, animals congregate. And many of these animals are unique to the region, including of course a lot of the birds – as you might guess from all the ones that have names starting with “Andean” or “Puna”.

Lupine in the Andes
A lupine of some sort


We continued on, later seeing a beautiful adult Mountain Caracara, and finally made our way to San Pedro de Atacama, where we had dinner with Claudio and saw some of the festival of San Pedro — the streets were full of people in costumes dancing and parading. We drove back to Calama in the dark, and Hamner had put in a good 10 hours of driving, much of it on dirt roads in the Andes. He deserves a medal. Meanwhile, I had 20 lifers in one day.


To the driest place on Earth

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2019

On Friday (June 28) we packed up our stuff, Hamner maneuvered the SUV out of the exceedingly cramped underground parking, and we set off eastward into the brown mountains.


Train between Calama and Antofagasta

Train in the Atacama desert

 Robin always tells how she and her siblings had a game they played in the car when driving from Calama to the coast for a vacation.  The first one to see any kind of green plant in the distance would yell “I see the river!”   She wasn’t kidding.  For long stretches there is nothing but brown, gray, and reddish dirt to be seen.  The shapes of the mountains are like giant elephant’s feet, contours unspoiled by growth of anything alive.  It gave us all  a bit of perspective into Robin’s mother, Betsy, who grew up on Staten Island.  Anaconda Copper transferred Robin’s father to Chuquicamata in 1942, and the shock never really wore off. Nevertheless, our apartment in Calama is in a very nice building with a lovely view of the sunset.  

Sunset in Calama
View from our balcony in Calama


We called our guide, Claudio Seguel Huidobro, whom I’d been corresponding with for a few weeks, and he showed up soon after.  We had some bread, cheese, ham, olives, and wine, and discussed our plans for the couple of days we’d be there.

A day in Antofagasta

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2019

Turkey VulturesTurkey Vultures on masts in the Antofagasta harbor  

Thursday after breakfast Hamner, Peggy, and I set out to walk to the jetty with the lighthouse, where we’d seen some promising birds from afar the day before.  Robin’s hip and knee weren’t up to it, and furthermore the all-in-one washer/dryer had failed to dry our clothes, so she opted to stay and dry stuff with the hair dryer a while. We walked out on the historic pier (Muelle Historico), which was the original site of the nitrate exports that made Antofagasta.  It, like pretty much everything in Antofagasta, was covered with Turkey Vultures.  Never saw so many. We continued on to the mall, which is right on the waterfront, and has an outdoor walkway with a nice view of a rocky cove.  There we saw a lot more vultures, gulls, a Whimbrel, and an American Oystercatcher.   The walkway continued around to the south, giving us a good enough view of the lighthouse jetty to determine that it’s a working port, and not accessible to us.  So I set up the scope to see what we could find on it.

Lighthouse at Antofagasta

Lighthouse jetty


It was covered with Peruvian Pelicans, and also quite a few cormorants of all three local species – Neotropic, Red-legged, and Guanay.  Hamner asked if there were nests on the far end of the pier, and I looked with the scope; they were actually ends of rebar sticking out.  Gray gulls were sitting on them, along with three Inca Terns – very cool birds, and sadly I don’t have a photo that does them justice.  But a lifer anyway.

Neotropic CormorantNeotropic Cormorant  

When we turned around to head back, it was after 10 AM, so the mall was open, specifically the Juan Valdez patio coffee shop.  Hamner and Peggy got some real coffee.  We’ve been drinking instant most of the trip, which seems to be the norm here (yecch).   An Oasis Hummingbird buzzed around some ornamental plantings nearby. On the way back, I took another look at the rocky cove, and was rewarded with a Blackish Oystercatcher.  The light wasn’t too good, but apparently it was a juvenile, with an orange/yellow bill instead of the adult’s bright red.  But then Hamner spotted a second, and it was grown up.  A second lifer for the morning, and a decent photo of it. By the time we got back, it was time for lunch, and then we all set out for the Antofagasta Museum.  It’s free, and not large, but we did learn a bit about the history of the place.  It’s been inhabited for about 10,000 years by fishing people; the Spanish didn’t pay much attention to it until they decided to mine guano and mineral nitrate deposits starting in the mid 1800s.  Now it’s primarily a copper port.

Old train engine in Antofagasta

 Old train engine


 Robin poses in front of a mural for the Chuquicamata apartments

From there we headed to Avendida Arturo Prat, which is a pedestrian street for several blocks.  I think in the summer it’s a bit more interesting, as we missed the one street musician, a sax player who was leaving as we arrived.  We did stop for coffee, and this time I had a very good cup of espresso, though.

Back to the apartment for bread, cheese, and olives and a fair amount of wine.  Friday we pack up and drive to Calama, closest extant town to Robin’s birthplace, Chuquicamata.

July 23, 2013: A little walking in Belo Horizonte

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013

So yesterday around 5 we decided to venture out and look for something to eat. And drink. We wandered around a bit in the central city, and wound up at a tiny bar with plastic tables out on the sidewalk on a very busy street, Rua Sao Paulo. Peggy took some pics of us sitting there with buses booming by right over our shoulders. We had olives, cheese, and beer, which I believe represents all of the food groups. Then we wandered around some more; for some reason no matter where you walk in BH it’s always uphill. Eventually we got back to our hotel, and stopped at a cafe across the street for dessert. Peggy and Robin had crepes; I had beer. Again, all food groups covered. This place was kind of the polar opposite of the first cafe — upscale and very quiet and tastefully decorated.

Then, to make it a fully wild and crazy night, we went up to the hotel room and taught ourselves to play Sheepshead. This is apparently the official card game of Milwaukee. Do not ask.

This morning we had planned to go to the Parque Municipal Americo Renne Giannetti, and we did get over there for little while, but Robin wasn’t feeling well (too much crepe?), so we took her back to the hotel. Peggy and I proceeded back to the park where we birded for a couple of hours. Here’s my list:

Neotropic Cormorant
Black Vulture
Rock Pigeon
Squirrel Cuckoo
Swallow-tailed Hummingbird
Yellow-chevroned Parakeet
Masked Water-Tyrant
Cattle Tyrant
Great Kiskadee
Social Flycatcher
Tropical Kingbird
Pale-breasted Thrush
Sayaca Tanager
Blue Dacnis
Rufous-headed Tanager
House Sparrow
And a mystery bird I can’t figure out. Looked kind of like a yellow oriole, but oranger and the range is wrong anyway. I’ve looked at every pic in my Brazil bird book (van Perlo) and I can’t see any likely matches. Oh well.

We finally got good looks at the parakeets, which I’m sure were the same as the ones that were so annoyingly elusive at the Parque da Liberdade yesterday; they’re yellow-chevroned parakeets. I didn’t bring the good camera (big lenses are too heavy to carry around), so any bird pics I post are coming from other people’s Flickr accounts. Like this one:

 periquito-de-encontro-amarelo na Paineira-rosa / Barriguda / Yellow-chevroned Parakeet in Cotton-silk tree (Ceiba speciosa
Photo by Flávio Cruvinel Brandão. Yellow-chevroned Parakeet.

Now we’re back at the hotel resting. We plan to go to the Inhotim park and botanical garden tomorrow. Robin and Peggy are napping; Robin said she felt better.

Night ride to Trail of Tears

Friday, August 22nd, 2008

This Wednesday was the last one before classes resume at the University, so Laura wanted to schedule the ride to Trail of Tears State Park.  She’s been pushing for this most of the summer, so this was the last chance.  Trail of Tears is about 15 miles from Burritoville in Cape Girardeau, where the Wednesday Night bunch (aka, for reasons that are best left obscure, the David Hassellhof 5) meet at 10 PM for beer and biking.

After the obligatory stop for beer,

Wednesday Night Ride to Trail of Tears

we headed north out of town.  There’s something visually impressive about a group of a dozen bikes, adorned with assorted lighting, out on a country road at night.  My photo doesn’t really do it justice.

Wednesday Night Ride to Trail of Tears

We were a very strange sight indeed to the few motorists who passed us.  One of the nice things about riding on Wednesday nights is that a) there’s not much traffic and b) most of it is sober.

We made it to Trail of Tears, where we sat around in the road and had a beer.

Wednesday Night Ride to Trail of Tears

Fortunately, the park was closed, so no traffic there.  We made it back to Cape about 1 AM, stopped in a parking lot to drink another beer, and headed back to Burritoville in a rapidly diminishing pack as various participants peeled off to go home.

All in all, a fun evening.  Most of the DH5 gang don’t get out on the road for long rides very much, being more townie types, so it was a nice challenge out in hilly Cape county for them.   I don’t ride much in groups, so that was a nice change for me — and of course, I get a bit loopy when I’m out that long after my bedtime.   There were a few long-haul types there for a change, too.  Tim drove up from Sikeston, outfitted with a set of headlights that I kept thinking was an overtaking car.  And Rick brought his touring bike and his grey hairs to join the kids, too:

Wednesday Night Ride to Trail of Tears

A good time had by all as usual.  I was in bed by 3 AM, and up by 7:30.  I am probably too old for this s**t.

Hannah is a bridesmaid

Sunday, May 18th, 2008

Well, actually Maid of Honor, if you insist. Hannah’s friend Megan got married yesterday, and Hannah flew in from Boston for the event. The wedding was in Union, MO, southwest of St. Louis, and Robin and I drove up yesterday afternoon; Hannah had gone up with Megan’s mother on Thursday for the dress rehearsal and stayed up there.

Here Hannah and I are at the reception, looking Blue Steel:

Megan's Wedding

And here’s Robin when we were killing time between the wedding and reception, at the Missouri river waterfront in Washington, MO:

Waterfront at Washington MO

Why you should always have a backup

Wednesday, January 30th, 2008

This morning I got all my gear on (I do mean ALL — it was 16 degrees when I left the house [that's -8 C for you furriners]) and proceeded to ride merrily away.  8 miles into the ride (That’s about 12.8 km, foreign devils) I noticed that the bike wasn’t steering normally, and I pulled over to find that my front tire was going flat.  Not a big surprise, really.  We had gale-force winds yesterday afternoon when a big cold front went through, and there was debris all over the roads.

No big deal, right?  I have a spare tube, and a pump, etc.  So I get out my tire pump.  The handle is stuck, so I pull on it a little harder– and it pops right out of the pump.  It’s busted.   Perhaps not actually designed for these temperatures.

At this point, I stop to mentally kick myself a few times.

I have, at home on another bike, a CO2 pump that would have solved the whole problem.  It doesn’t weigh much, it would be easy to carry it in the panniers, and I’m an idiot for leaving it home.

I have an emergency backup of EVERYTHING.  Else.   I have pepper spray for dogs, and also an ultrasonic “dog remote.”  I have a 9-volt battery in case the battery pack for my headlight runs out.  I have extra batteries for the front and rear flashers.  I have an extra taillight that I don’t turn on normally.  I’ve got flashing lights on my helmet in case other lights run out.  I have a spare pair of gloves.  I have a patch kit in case the spare tube gets a hole.  I have a multi-tool in case I lose my screwdriver.  I have three pairs of glasses.  No, four, plus three sets of interchangeable lenses for the bike glasses.   I have an extra balaclava, in case –God knows what– happens to the one I’m wearing.  Why don’t I have a spare pump?

Okay, got that over with.  Next I pulled out my cell phone and looked at it stupidly for about 10 seconds.  Should I call Robin?  Nah.  A) She’d be late to class if she came and got me and B) I’d never hear the end of it.  Who do I know who both has a pickup truck and is likely to be awake at 6:40 AM?  I called Walt, who came and got me — he was already at work, as usual.

So later today I’m going to the bike shop to return the broken pump and get something a bit more substantial.  I know this won’t be a problem, as it’s a Serfas pump, and Serfas exchanges or refunds no questions asked.  And my local bike shop is great anyway.  Meanwhile, I guess I’ll go teach genetics.