Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Curlew Sandpiper

I mean, really.  Too many "Siberian" i.e. Eurasian birds have been taking a wrong turn this year, and keep showing up in California. (By the way, birders in Hungary, Holland, and Hong Kong go running when an American bird like a Franklin's Gull or a Baird's Sandpiper shows up)

First there was the Bean Goose, then the Brown Shrike.  Then the Mongolian Plover, then the Little Stint.  And now, of course, your standard-issue Hungarian bird (as is the Little Stint): a Curlew Sandpiper.  He should be spending the winter in Australia.
To make matters worse, while we're staring across the Imperial Beach salt works through our scopes at the Curlew Sandpiper, through the heat haze, I am reading the email about the Spotted Redshank in Del Norte County.

Ten bucks says that one shows up in the L.A. River on August 5th.
Curlew Sandpiper, Caldris ferruginea (second bird from the left, to the right of the Red Knot)
26 July 2011
Imperial Beach, San Diego California
Nikon Coolpix 10 Megapixel taken through Brunton 80 mm spotting scope

There's only one thing to do after seeing a Curlew Sandpiper in Imperial Beach: go splash in the surf, then eat.

"Dada, is he dead? He won't talk to me."

Then, of course, it's time for desert:
"Hey, look!  They named it after me!"

Monday, July 25, 2011

Aprópartfutó (Calidris minutus) Los Angelesben

Ennye, ennye, aprópartfutó.  Mit keresel Los Angelesnek a sivatagi külterületén?
Little Stint, Calidris minutus
Piute Ponds
Edwards Air Force Base
24 July 2011
Nikon Coolpix 10 Megapixels
digiscoped through
Brunton 80 mm scope
Szegény Varga Csabát nem is vihettem oda, ahol futkorászol a sárban.
Hát mondjuk, a Csabát ismerve, még ha felájnlottam volna neki, hogy oda visszem, nemet mondott volna.
Majd legközelebb!

Sunday, July 24, 2011


     Cryptozoology is the search for i.e. study of elusive creatures like the Yeti, Sasquatch, and the Loch Ness Monster.      
     Well, keep on looking, 'cause they don't exist.  Neither do the Chupacabra, or little green men from outer space.
     I have decided to search out 3 creatures that do exist, but have been seen by less than 0.00001% of California residents, despite the fact that they are known to be permanent, year-round residents of the state:

1)     Bassariscus astutus,
2)     Sauromalus ater, and
3)     Heloderma suspectum

The word I am coining for this search for elusive, yet real animals is counter-intuitive, but I think it works: Pseudocryptozoology shall be the antithesis of cryptozoology.  Instead of searching for creatures that are hard-to-find because they don't exist, I am searching for creatures that are hard to find, even though they exist in large numbers.

I am going to start with Bassariscus astutus.  There is a population of them on and around Mount Baldy.  For this particular search I bought a 2 million candlepower, rechargeable, hand-held searchlight.  I will try this Tuesday night, and will probably leave a couple of piles of fresh fruits and vegetables for them at likely spots (probably Glendora Ridge Road, and Ice House Canyon), with the aim of spying on them Wednesday night.

Wish me luck.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


NOTE: in Hungarian, you say family names, first.  In Hungary I am Mikó Tamás [pronounced tuh-maash], so my mother, Susanna Dragon, was Dragon Zsuzsanna.

Today, July 12th, 2011 is the tenth anniversary of my mother's death

Máma van a 10.ik évfordulója anyám halálának.

San Pedro, California 1988

 I want to write a long,  articulate essay about her, and our relationship.  I want to repeat her stories of her childhood in rural Hungary.  That would turn into a 400 page book.  She was born in Makó, Hungary, the birthplace of Joseph Pulitzer, father of the Pulitzer Prize. 

When she was a kid, her family had the only telephone in Makó.  When she was 12 years old, she rode in an automobile for the first time, in her life. Her father was the vice-president of the local bank, and the bank's safe got stuck closed, so they talked the warden of the Star Prison (Csíllag Börtön) in Szeged into releasing a famous safecracker.  My grandfather, Dragon Kálmán , my mother, a prison guard, and the safecracker (in handcuffs and leg irons) rode 30 miles from Szeged to Mako, where it took the safecracker a few minutes to open the safe.

During the Depression, my family were the haves, as opposed to the have-nots.  My mother grew up with her mother directing the maids and cooks in their daily activities.  She used to tell funny stories of when they would catch a maid stealing silverware, socks, or underwear.  Then, World War II and all of its horrors came, and the next thing she knew, she was an 18 year old bride and mother in a country now occupied by Russian troops.  Ten years after that, she was a divorceé (being a divorced woman in the 1950s was scandalous) working as a lab tech in the Budapest Heim Pál childrens' hospital, when she and her 10 year old son were cowering in the basement while the Russians bombed Budapest to pieces for rising up against the Communist Hungarian dictatorship.  Buildings collapsed to the left and right of them.  The basement they were in filled with smoke from the fire, next door, and my grandfather had to decide whether to risk getting his family shot by Russian troops on the street, or being enveloped in flames.  When the shooting supposedly stopped, her brother, Dragon Béla, saw the Russians mow down a line of people standing in line for food  at a bakery, with the heavy machine gun mounted on the turret of a T-54 tank.

Despite losing the 1956 revolution, Stalinist hard-core Communism ended in Hungary, but my mother and my father (her second husband), Mikó Géza, left in 1964, eventually arriving in Los Angeles in 1967.  The Communists wouldn't let my brother leave Hungary, and they confiscated my father's condominium because he left Hungary illegally.
In Los Angeles, disaster struck.  We had been here a year, and my father suddenly died of a brain tumor.  Here she was in this big, strange country, alone with a 2 year-old kid.

To make matters worse, her heart--damaged when she was 12 years old by a bout of scarlet fever, worsened each year.  During her 15 year marriage to my stepfather, her heart grew weaker and weaker.  Walking up the 3 flights of stairs from the garage to our second story San Pedro apartment was the equivalent of climbing Everest.

One Friday day in June of 1995 I called her from LA County-USC Medical Center, to let her know that I was leaving work in 5 minutes, and would be home in San Pedro in time to take her to the bank (this was before the internet existed, and you did your banking on-line).  She said, "Okay.  See you when you get home."

When I got home, she was sprawled out on the bathroom floor, naked, bloody-mouthed, and paralyzed.   Her left leg was twisted underneath her body, at an impossible angle.  A tooth as missing where she had slammed her face into the counter.  She had a massive stroke.

She spent the next 6 years in convalescent homes.  That's ironic, because she had made me promise when I was a kid that I would never put her into a convalescent home.  Her first job in America--because she arrived not knowing a word of English--was as a nurse's aide in a convalescent home.  She told me horrible stories. For 6 years, strangers--other female immigrants with little-to-no English--rolled her in different directions every few hours, to avoid bed sores.  I spent at least half an hour visiting with her every day, without fail.  My visits were the highlight of her day.  I would hold her left hand while we watched Jeopardy, or the news, or tell her about what happened at work, today.

Her condition got worse, over the years.  During the hot summer of 2001 her doctor called my cell phone while I was at work, and discussed my mom's ever-worsening condition.  She had been in and out of the hospital with infections, with a breathing tube down her throat, and i.v. antibiotics trying to fight off the inevitable.  Septicemia wanted to take her away.  The doctor said that all we were doing was forcing my mom to continue to live, so that she could suffer. She suggested that we discontinue the antibiotics, and give her morphine.  In my heart, I knew she was right.

On July 12th, 2001 the phone rang at 04:00 in the morning.

I knew who was calling, and why.


"Mr Miko, this is Darlene at Huntington Memorial Hospital.  I'm sorry, you're mother passed away a few minutes ago."

"Thank you.  I'll be there in twenty minutes."

I put on my best suit, and leather shoes.  Why?  Why not just go in jeans and a t-shirt?  I don't know, but that's what I did.

I decided to take her ashes to Hungary. I figured that was where she would want to be.  To rub salt in my wounds, I was supposed to take her ashes home in the early fall, and September 11th happened.  That delayed everybody's plans, and I finally took her ashes to Budapest in February of 2002.  The mass was scheduled in a beautful church in downtown Budapest, that had a space for her in the crypt downstairs, and when the priest started, it all came pouring out of me.  I cried like a baby.

A lot has changed in my life in the last 10 years.  Wow.  Ten.  Such a big number.  Having no children, and no family at all in the U.S., I dovorced my Hungarian first wife, who was sticking to her pledge to never have children.  I moved to Claremont, got a dog, changed jobs, met my wife, and now there is a blond 6 year old and his 5 year old sister who want me to take them out to the pool.

When I look at my 5 year old daughter, sometimes she rolls her eyes with disdain in a certain way that so remarkably resembles my mother that the first time she did it, I realized something wonderful: I got my mom back.

Monday, July 11, 2011


Okay, I wanna know one thing: what’s the deal with Southerners who get drunk, and wind up in the hospital?

I mean, really.

Have they still not gotten over losing the Civil War? Was Sherman’s March to the Sea so devastating, that to this day, the only way Johnny Reb can deal with it is to drink copious amounts of alcohol, and carry out symbolic acts of ritual suicide?

So I got an x-ray request for a dude with a name that caused me to assume that he was African American. First clue that a white guy is from The South: his first and/or last name cause you to assume that he’s black. Imagine my surprise when I found him, and he was a white dude with—and this is ultimate proof that there is no God—a full set of beautiful hair.

He’s lying there on the gurney, moaning in pain with a sports injury. It happens. I ask him some questions, and he tells me, “Mah friend done pulled ahn me, and it popped out.”

Then he he wiggles, and starts screaming, “Durn! Durn! Oh mah Lord! Oh, it truly hurts crazy!”

I wheel him over to radiology, where I employ 20 years’ worth of experience in how to x-ray severely injured people while moving their body parts as little as possible.
This is my superpower. If I was a superhero, I would have “ICXYWMY” across my chest (I Can X-ray You Without Moving You).

His injury was very real, but (1) he had a bruise on that part of his body that was 4 days old [I am an expert on bruising, just ask my wife] (2) he reeked of alcohol, and (3) he had swim trunks on, so I think this is what happened: He and his friends got drunk 4 days ago, went swimming, did something stupid, he got hurt, and for the last 4 days he’s been drinking Wild Turkey and tryin’ to wahk it auff.

Needless to say, despite my expert radiographic handling, he done hollered and screamed so loud while I x-rayed him that coon dogs in Pascagoula howled in sympathy.

He kept screaming, “Durn! Durn! Oh, gosh! Gosh, dang nabbit! Oh Lord, this pain is silly!” until I got the right views, and took him back. Unfortunately, despite the ER doc’s best efforts, his injury was still out of alignment, even after I x-rayed him a second time (DURN! Oh mah goodness!) calling for the intervention of a specialist.

So my wife dropped by with a Starbucks grande mocha with extra whipped cream (my own private form of heroin) and Forrest Gump’s friend had arrived. His friend had an equally Southern name—ripped from the pages of a Faulkner novel. With a military moustache, white t-shirt, a camouflage baseball hat, and a good solid 20 to 25 teeth still in his possession, he smiled at J the ER nurse and shouted a warm Southern Greeting:


Not skipping a beat, J droned, “Sir, this is an ER. We get a lot of drunk people here.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

30 hours in Arizona


Check my emails. What? Tufted Flycatcher in Phoenix? At the Boyce Thompson Arboretum?


Welcome to Starbucks, my name is Christine, can I take your order? Lisa got a mocha and an iced tea, I already had a cappuccino that I had made at home with my espresso maker. We got on the 10, and drove all the way to Phoenix, with only one stop at an Arizona highway rest stop at midnight. The desert sky was full of stars. Tommy & Maggie woke up, stepped out of the car, and marvelled at the Milky Way. I used a flashlight to make sure that Gina, The World's Most Dangerous Basset Hound doesn't get bitten on the nose by a rattlesnake.


Our belongings in our third floor Motel 6 room, the room's air conditioning humming, we lay down, and fall asleep.


We leave the Motel 6, and I drop off Lisa & the kids at the Arizona Science Center, where they will enjoy science exhibits for children in an air conditioned building. I drive east on the 60 out of Phoenix, to look for the Tufted Flycatcher. The drive takes an hour, including my stop to stare at a Harris' Hawk resting on top of a saguaro cactus.
Flame Skimmer Libellula saturata
Greater Earless Lizard Cophosaurus texanus


Yes, there really is a town called "Superior". The arboretum is 3 miles outside of Superior. There is a surprisingly small crowd of birders looking for the Tufted Flycatcher. One guy has flown in from Colorado. It is hot. Gina demonstrates her dislike of the heat by constantly trying to hide in the shade, making it impossible to get good photos of any of the lizards, birds, or butterflies on the arboretum's grounds. The birders are milling around, staring at the trees, and muttering under their breaths. We collectively agree to keep looking for the Tufted Flycatcher. After all, it was seen all afternoon, yesterday, until the place closes at 3:0o p.m.

I see beautiful Arizona birds: Northern Cardinals, Broad-billed Hummingbirds, a Zone-tailed Hawk, Lucy's Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat, Yellow Warblers, Summer Tanagers, Brown-crested Flycatchers, Bell's Vireo, Abert's Towhee, Gambel's Quail, Varied Bunting, Phainopeplas, and for me a really good bird: a Yellow-billed Cuckoo that perched out in the open.

The Tufted Flycatcher never showed up.

Hm...supposedly 2 birders saw it at 7:00 a.m. That's problematic. I experienced the same emotional response that other birders have when someone they don't personally know sees a good bird: I decided that they mis-identified a female Phainopepla as the Tufted Flycatcher. For me to even think that way--let a lone say that out loud--would make me a hypocrite. I'm still insulted about birders telling me that I didn't see a juvenile Common Black-Hawk at the Montclair flood control ponds, or the Yellow-billed Loon that Bill Myers and I found at Lake Perris. In the case of the Black Hawk, somebody went out there the next day, saw a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk, and declared that to be the bird that I had seen 24 hours, earlier.

In the long run, it doesn't matter. Unlike the previous 3 Tufted Flycatchers that showed up in the U.S., this one didn't stick around, and pose for a week to ten days. This one bolted.

Thing is, though, that I saw a lot of really cool Arizona birds, so I went home, happy. Because of my employment situation, I had no intention of even going to Arizona this sumer, but now I've got Harris' Hawk on my year list.


After picking up Lisa and the kids, we take Gina to our nice, cool air conditioned Motel 6 room, where she cools off after her hard day of birding. We leave her there, panting, and head off to the Phoenix botanical garden for their moonlight nature walk. It was over 100 degrees F and all of us were tired, but I'm glad we went. Their docents have little exhibit tables et up out in the desert, at various spots along the trails.  If you are a big city slicker who could care less about birds, plants, bats, or lizards, you should still find out about the nature walks held in your neighborhood.  The docents who lead these walks do it for free, and you will find out about the living things in your neighborhood.  Find out the name of your local squirrel.  You'll be glad you did it.
We drove out of the Phoenix Motel 6 parking lot at 06:15 a.m., and hit the 10 Freeway.  We have been in California  for 2 hours, having stopped at the General Patton museum in Chiriaco Summit.  These desert mountains were General Patton's desert warfare training grounds, where he preapred American troops to fight the German Afrika Korps in North Africa, during World War II.

 The museum only has M-60 and M-48 tanks, built decades after World War II ended.  Why the musem doesn't have a Sherman tank or a Willy's Jeep is beyond me.
Next stop: Cabazon, the famous dinosaurs off the 10 Freeway, west of Palm Springs.  We pull into the parking lot, and walk up the Brontosaurus' rectum*, in order to be informed that the Earth isn't as old as those liberal colledge perfessers are claiming, and that men and dinosaurs coexisted in the past.



* Yes, Jim, I know they're not called "Brontosaurus", any more.  I could have said "Apatosaurus"
 but didn't feel like it.  But then again, I never stopped calling western Yellow-rumped Warblers with 
 yellow throat nd no white eyeline "Audubon's Warbler", and now it turns out that I'm right, and that
 they are a separate species. So there.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Hemingway is God

I am reading the Hemingway collection that my friend, and fellow x-ray tech John Welsh sent me. During spring and fall migration I don't read any fiction, because I am too busy (a) reading bird books or (b) birding. Right now is the summer lull, when I can relax, rent some movies, read some fiction etc.

True story: in the 80s at Lincoln High School in Miss Lew's English class she complained that my sentences were too short. They weren't grammatically incorrect--they were too short.

I said, "But Hemingway writes short sentences."

She squinted, and bellowed, "I HAAATE HEMINGWAY!"

So, from then on she gave me Bs based on her hatred of Hemingway.

There is an article in today's L.A. Times about Hemingway that touches upon today's internet age wimpy boys who wile the hours away on FaceBook and Twitter.  I felt some frustration with the younger guys at USC.  Maybe it's because they work in academia.  Guys younger than me who work at the hospital don't act the same way as the USC wimpy boys.

I do have a hypothesis, though, about today's wimpy boys: the world is a helluva lot more crowded than it was in Hemingway's heyday, and the big animals worth shooting are extinct, or damn close to it.  We're crowded together, and such a high population density and its concurring competition for resources forces one of two coping mechanisms: either you have to be violently aggressive, or really good at cooperating with others.  In today's world "cooperating" includes texting, Twitter, blah blah blah...
Modern society can't function if we're running around getting into barroom brawls, so we ritualize violence with basketball and football games, or go mountain biking and do other "manly" things.

John thinks that birding is unmanly, but he doesn't know about me hiking alone in Santa Anita Canyon at 10:00 p.m., the sheath of my oversized buck knife unbuckled, my hand on its hilt, because I am alone in a stretch of forest known to have mountain lions.

It's hard to explain, but I have a need for "Authentic Experiences".  Besides the paycheck, this is why I work in the ER.  I'm a weird kind of adrenaline junkie: I have no desire to ride roller coasters or go bungee jumping, but get something from being the x-ray tech when some guy gets shot or stabbed.  It's not the blood or gore; it's the intensity of the moment, of the need to act RIGHT NOW, before it's too late.  That's when I feel most alive.