Monday, February 14, 2011

Gentlemen Seeking Bohemians

Monday, February 14, 2011
Geoff Heeter (right) and yers trooly BOTB.

Friends, by the time you read this, I will be far to the north, traveling with my old pal Geoff Heeter. We're on a several-day quest to add a bird to our life lists: the Bohemian waxwing. In case you don't know it, this is a species that's very similar to the smaller, more common cedar waxwing. But the Bohemian is a bird of the far North and it rarely ventures as far south as Ohio. Or across the international border into West Virginia.

This winter the Bohos seem to be popping up quite regularly in southern Canada and across the northern portions of the northern US. I've been following sightings on the listservs and it seems like our closest opportunity is going to be along Lake Michigan. That's about a 10-hour drive north of here—13 hours for Heets.

The Heets.

If you don't know Geoff Heeter, you should. He's one of the two dudes (Dave Pollard is the other) responsible for The New River Birding and Nature Festival held each spring near Fayetteville, WV. The New River festival is kept intentionally small to keep the quality of the experience high, and to permit the event to be held where it is—just minutes from great birding spots.

If you are not familiar with the NRBNF, here are a few words and images for your edification:

You get to go birding watching in places like this spot along the New River.

While you are in a beautiful spot such as the one shown above, you are likely to get a chance to see the hard-to-find Swainson's warbler.

And when you do, you may feel inclined to do the Life Bird Wiggle.

It's quite the charming and friendly, spiritually-enriching, fun-as-hizzle birding festival. The organizers and a great crew of field trip leaders go out of their way to make sure everyone is happy. You need to check it out.

Now back to my buddy Geoff Heeter.

The Heets is one of those throw-back people—firmly grounded in the fieldcraft of outdoor adventure and rural living, who also digs technology and many of the trappings of modern life, such as Facebook and smart phones.

He knows how to run whitewater rapids safely in a raft. He knows how to make a primitive camp in the boonies. He knows how, when, and where to harvest ramps (and how to cook them up). He knows how to keep a string of pack horses from bolting when there's a mountain lion around.

He is kind to all animals.

And he runs Opossum Creek Retreat near Fayetteville, WV—a delightful bunch of cabins he built by hand using local timber. Opossum Creek is the epicenter of the New River Birding Festival. Heets is a really amazing person and I'm proud to call him my friend.

However the occasional hole does appear in Geoff's very impressive suite of skills.
Keith Richardson (left) and Geoff Heeter tag-teaming the grill.

Last spring at the traditional final night cookout for the New River Birding Festival, Geoff and his right-hand man Keith Richardson were manning the brand new, huge and shiny gas grill. They hooked up the gas and fired that baby up, turning to prep the meat for its fiery demise.
That's when acrid gray smoke began appearing from beneath the grill's lid.

Upon opening up the grill, these masters of outdoor cookery discovered that they'd left the owner's manual inside the cooking unit. Had it not been reduced to ashes, I wondered (aloud) whether or not the instructions read something like:

Congratulations on the purchase of your new grill. Please follow these instructions before use:
STEP 1: Remove this owner's manual before lighting the grill.

The ashy remains of the owner's manual.

When I realized that I need a little birding break, and I felt the urge to head north after Bohemian waxwings, I called Heets to see if he could join me. Happily, he could make it happen. And now, as you read this, we're somewhere in the northern reaches of Michigan, searching for Bohemians.

I'll be sure to let you know how the quest turns out.


On February 14, 2011 at 10:21 AM Julie Zickefoose said...

"The Brohemians," coming to a theater near you.

On February 14, 2011 at 10:40 AM Mary said...

This is a scream! I didn't know about the owner manual, and look at poor Jim! Love it.

Hope you spot a flock of Brohemiams real soon.

On February 14, 2011 at 10:52 AM KaHolly said...

Delightful post! Certainly put a smile on MY face. Good luck to two geeky birders in finding your Bohemians! I've seen them many times during the winter months in Cape Breton, but I'm still looking for that Swainson's!!

On February 14, 2011 at 10:52 AM nina at Nature Remains. said...

I'm thinking again about that nice little cabin tucked in the backwoods of Michigan.
And how much fun it would be to pack it with friends...

On February 14, 2011 at 11:25 AM Cheyanne said...

The Brohemians might be having a Bro-mance on Valentine's Day....(No Sexually Explicit Pun Intended)..Just natural love of the birds and love-birds.

Loved learning about Heets.

On February 14, 2011 at 11:29 AM Cheyanne said...

Bro-mancing Bro-hemians with the Love Birds on Valentine's Day...What could be more finer?

**Look up bro-mance for defintion of man to man love of anything bro or birds or cars or trucks or......That's a bro-mance (non sexually)

Great insightful blog about Brother Heets

On February 14, 2011 at 2:03 PM MojoMan said...

Further proof that real men don't need no stinking instructions.

On February 15, 2011 at 9:33 AM Rondeau Ric said...

You boys look like you would fit in in the WV backwoods.

Brohemians are welcome in Canada eh.
If you're not already home, consider a stop at Rondeau, about an hour from Detroit.


On February 15, 2011 at 3:55 PM Kathie Brown said...

Ggod luck! I am anxious to see if you are successful! It is a species I need to add to my life list also. BTW, I had a great time at the NRNBF when I went 2 years ago and would highly recommend it to anyone!

On February 15, 2011 at 10:38 PM Jim McCormac said...

Congrats on the Bo-Wax, boys. Turns out five of them showed in Marietta while you were gone. And hope you two had a lovely Valentine's Day, nestled in your pup tent in the piney North Woods.

Bill, I'll still be glad to help you get your life Tufted Titmouse sometime...

On February 18, 2011 at 6:21 AM Anonymous said...

Geoff is my big brother. He is loving /brilliant / funny/ passionate about life, an extraordinary brother & friend. Hope you saw the bird you were looking for.