Academy Chapel

I went on Academy grounds today with my department to see a movie on Engineering in the Planetarium. The movie was designed to interest kids in engineering as a career and featured mostly women in the field. It also didn’t seem to be particularly well designed to be shown on a curved overhead screen—all the tall buildings curved ominously.

Anyway … I had a half hour to kill before the movie, so I walked over to the chapel.

A steady stream of tourists were wandering about inside, but I hung out until I could get this vertical panorama of the Protestant chapel.

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The Longest Day of My Life

Lindy and Andrew dropped us off at the Stuttgart Airport about two hours before our flight home. It was sad to leave. We had a great time with them and they were excellent tour guides. But the knowledge that we’d see Lindy again in a month and Andrew in three months made it easier.

We had to weave our way through baggage check, check-in, security, passport checks and several other checks. By the time we’d gotten to our gate, I’d shown by boarding pass and passport to a whole parade of people. We stopped at an airport cafe on the way for breakfast. I just got a muffin because my throat was excruciating. Sally had some sort of egg torte thing. And I had a warm Diet Coke.

Again we had to bear with Delta’s slow boarding system. And this time it was exacerbated by the fact that a plane with mechanical problems was parked at our gate. We had to take a shuttle out to the tarmac somewhere and walk through the rain to our plane.

I was hoping to see more of Europe out the window, but we were soon above the clouds. I was exhausted, not having slept at all well the previous two nights. I took a little bit of a nap, but the seats on the plane were so upright that there was no way to support my head. This was an older plane. It had the seat-back screens, but the movie options were very limited. I watched The Catcher Was a Spy and Instant Family, pausing regularly to close my eyes and wish I was anywhere else. We were served a hot dinner. I chose ravioli. I really don’t remember much about it.

There was one highlight on the trip. I glanced out my window and saw water below. We were over the North Sea. I watched as the English coast approached. As soon as we were over land, the clouds began increasing again, and the view was soon blocked. But for about 10 minutes, I saw England.

We came in over the Humber River. I was able to identify the point of land on Google Maps.

I took this shot further inland along the river. That’s the city of Hull on the north shore. The white horse-shoe shape visible in my photo and on the Google photo is a stadium.

We finally made it to Atlanta, where we had a three-and-a-half hour layover. It was 2:55 local time, which was already 8:55 German time. Atlanta is a major hub for people coming into the U.S., so you’d think they’d have an efficient processing system worked out. They don’t. We were ushered from one line to another until I felt like I ought to start mooing. We had to clear customs, then pick up our bags on one conveyor and walk them about 100 yards to another conveyor where we surrendered them. A large, brutal-looking woman stood there and screamed at us like she was a prison guard. She screeched the same thing over and over like it was the most important information we’d ever hear. It was this. “Open your passport to the page with your photo. It is not this man’s job to open your passport for you.” We thought this was pretty ridiculous. Not only was it rude and annoying in the extreme, but if they actually made it the guy’s job to open the passport for the occasional person who wasn’t prepared, they wouldn’t have to pay the obnoxious woman to scream about it. I couldn’t help wondering if that was her only job all day every day. If so, she was perfect for it.

We then had to walk a very, very long way to our new gate. We carried our heavy carry-on bags the length of two entire terminals, then through a tunnel under a wide stretch of tarmac and then almost the length of another terminal to our gate. We still had a couple hours to wait. I got a little bit of a second wind and wandered some. We finally boarded in Delta’s usual inefficient way. Sally had the window seat. I was in the middle. Next to me was a young man who was very pleased with himself. He was going to Denver to see a concert that very night. He started the flight by ordering three tiny bottles of gin and kept telling his buddy in the seat behind him about it. For whatever reason, the airlines kept finding more luggage that was supposed to be on our plane. We sat at the gate for an additional 45 minutes before taking off. My second wind was gone and I was simply miserable. Sometime on the flight, I began coughing. My cold, or whatever it was, was turning into bronchitis (which I’m still very much dealing with as I write this eight days later).

I didn’t do anything to win the guy next to me over. I’d bought two bottles of water in the Atlanta airport, not realizing they were sparking water. When I opened one on the plane, the contents exploded all over me and Sally. The guy jumped up, and I apologized profusely, but somehow none had gotten on him. We, however, were drenched. The sparkling water was awful and I couldn’t bring myself to drink it, so during the three-and-a-half hour flight all I had was a tiny cup of apply cranberry juice.

This plane was a newer one, with a larger menu of movies and TV shows. I watched the final 20 minutes of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off which I’d started on the flight to Europe eight days earlier. I then watched Reds. Or sorta watched it. I was near delirious by this point. Sally was just as tired, and her stomach was cramping (as was mine), but I also had the sore throat, the cough, and fatigue from two prior nights of little sleep. I didn’t realize at the time that I was also very dehydrated—I wasn’t thinking clearly.

When we were about half an hour out of Denver, the fatigue, the pain from the bronchitis, the dehydration and the stomach cramps caused me to faint. I don’t know how long I was out, but when I came out of it, I was slumped over toward Sally (she thought I was asleep) and my body was as drenched with cold sweat as if I had been swimming fully clothed.

We finally got off the plane and found our way to the baggage claim for our luggage. I knew we were in no condition to drive the hour to Colorado Springs. We made our way to the Westin Hotel at the airport, but the woman, who looked at us with pity and a touch of disdain informed us that rooms were $475/night. Even in our condition, that was ridiculous. I was increasingly nonfunctional. Sally guided me over to a table in the lobby. She called a Fairfield Inn nearby while I called a Hampton Inn. She got through first and made a reservation for $140. We grabbed a taxi and rode the five miles or so to the hotel. It cost us $32. The driver wasn’t fluid in English, but he was friendly.

Very few places in my entire life have looked as good to me as that hotel room. I took a quick shower and then headed to bed. It was already 6:30 am in Stuttgart, 25 hours after we’d gotten up. I slept a bit, but my head was caving in. I kept drinking water, but that just meant I had to get up more often. Then I realized that my body was on German time for caffeine. Sally had bought a Coke in the Atlanta airport, drank about half of it, and then for some reason carried it with her through all our adventures. I got up at about 5:00 am and drank the rest. It helped me get a few hours of sleep.

When I woke up, I grabbed a quick breakfast in the lobby, then caught the free shuttle to the airport. (We could have taken it to the hotel the night before instead of the taxi, but the thought of waiting for a shuttle bus at that point and trying to figure out if it was the right one, was unthinkable.) At the terminal, I climbed off that bus and immediately onto another one that took me back to the lot where we’d parked our car. It cost us $81 to park it there for eight days. Sally had eaten breakfast while I was gone. I picked up her and our luggage and drove home, arriving around 9:30 am.

The trip home was horrible, but the trip itself was fun. It’s my goal to forget the first over time and just remember the latter.

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Stuttgart Fair

On our final day in Germany, Andrew and Lindy’s plan was to spend the afternoon at a fair in Stuttgart. That meant I had the morning free. My sore throat had kept me awake most of the night, so I very much contemplated staying in bed instead of going out birding. But I reminded myself that it was very likely my last ever opportunity to bird in Germany, so I got up. I spent about three hours in the woods near the base and saw three new species, bringing my total for Germany up to 41.

I felt worse and worse as the day went on. Every time I swallowed, I was in severe pain.

We caught a train near Böblingen and rode it for about half an hour. I thought it was interesting how there were no inside divisions between the cars.

Lindy and Andrew dressed in traditional clothing for the occasion.

Perhaps a third of the people at the fair were dressed similarly. The young women in dirndls looked feminine and pretty. It was pleasant.

We were at the fair for two or three hours. We grabbed pork on a stick for lunch. The rolls were covered with sunflower seeds and tasted like it. We ate while enjoying the stylings of a keyboard player. I don’t know what it was about the guy, but I thought he was fun. You can see him on the video.

We also had chocolate-covered strawberries on a stick, which were very tasty.  We went on two rides—a Ferris wheel and a haunted house roller coaster that Sally fixated on for some reason. (The entirety of the roller coaster ride can be seen on the video.)

Scenes from the Ferris wheel.

The roller coaster.

We caught the train back to Böblingen. I was so groggy by this time that I fell half-asleep and we almost missed our stop. Lindy had been sitting several seats away and was walking off the train when she looked back and saw us sitting there paying no attention. She yelled, and we managed to stir ourselves and get off in time.

I took a short nap before we went to a local brauhaus for a light supper. I didn’t sleep much this night either, mostly because of my throat. This wasn’t the best way to prepare for jet lag.

One last thing about Germany. I’ve mentioned a couple things they could learn from us, like ice in their drinks and free bathrooms. But it’s not all one-sided. One thing we could learn from them is the way they merge in construction zones when traffic goes down to a single lane. Instead of everyone immediately pulling into one lane and getting angry at anyone who passed or trying to prevent it from happening, in Germany traffic stays in both lanes until the merge is actually reached and then cars from take turns zippering in. There are even signs explaining this. Literally translated, it says, “Please thread.”

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Bird #547 — Black Woodpecker

dryocopus martius

Thursday, April 25, 2019 — 9:46 am

Böblingen, Germany — hiking trails through the woods along the Panzerstrasse

This bird was also on my “boy I hope I see one of those in Europe” list. When I was looking at the Gray-headed Woodpecker on Sunday, I heard another bird that I thought must be this one because its calls sounded like a large woodpecker.

I heard the calls again on this trip and was keeping my eyes open. There was a section of forest that had been cut and planted with new trees. They were very short, giving me a long view over the woods on the far side. The top of a dead pine poked above the leaves, and I could see a black “lump” near the top. One look through my binoculars convinced me I was looking at a Black Woodpecker. Which surprised me. I expected it to be the size of a Pileated Woodpecker. The field guide says it’s even a couple inches larger than a Pileated. But it sure didn’t “look” any larger than a flicker from where I stood. Perhaps there was a trick of perspective and the pine was much further away than it looked.

Anyway, through my binoculars, I could see an all black woodpecker with a red cap, a white eye, and a pale bill. It stayed where it was for several minutes while I watched. It did nothing but look around, call occasionally, and flap its wings a few times.

As I got closer, it was hidden by the taller trees. I never could find the particular tree it was in from any other angle, and I didn’t see the woodpecker again.

The bird is blurry in this next photo, but I include it because its the only shot that shows the full red cap of the male Black Woodpecker.

And that was it. I’d seen 41 new birds in Europe. I kept my eyes open to the very end, but never saw some that I though would be easy finds— like the Jackdaw (although through the car windows I did see smaller black birds hanging out with Carrion Crows that may have been Jackdaws, I never could get a clear look). There were  others that I saw well enough to narrow the identification down to a couple species, but counting them just doesn’t pass the feel-good test. These included a probably a probably Goldcrest that was so far up in a dense pine that I can’t definitively rule out Firecrest. A Marsh Tit or Willow Tit that was actually calling, but I didn’t realize until checking the field guide that the call was the way to distinguish them and I couldn’t trust my memory because I wasn’t paying strict attention.

My numbers were also limited by the fact that I only spent quality birding time in a single habitat—mature woods except for the hour or so I spent in the wooded cemetery. I’m sure I could have added several more species if I had a chance to wander through more open rural areas or along rivers, lakes, and marshes. It was also a couple weeks too early for some spring migrants.

Still, I’m happy with what I saw and achieved my long-time goal or birding where almost everything I saw was new.

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