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War Stories from my Career as a Defense Engineer

I was an engineer in the defense industry my entire career.  I met and worked with a lot of engineers and military people of course, many of them brilliant.  An entire career is a long time.  I worked endless hours with government and military people.  I worked on many truly intriguing projects and accumulated a lot of “war stories” from guys (and gals) that I found fascinating.

I worked with WWII, Vietnam and Gulf War vets, even a few from foreign countries.  Although I never actually served in the Armed Forces, I was a good listener and rubbed shoulders with brave, patriotic and tough hombres.  I’ve forgotten many of their names but a lot of them shared their stories with me.  The following represent some of these stories.  This may be old news to some of you warriors but a lot of these guys are still alive and I’m sure they remember their “war” stories.

The soldier who survived D-Day the Hard Way.  Following my graduation from college, my first job put me next to some of these hombres where I listened to riveting tales.  Sitting at a desk near mine, one engineer told me of his experiences on D-Day and D+1, 22 years earlier.  He was a young soldier who waded, crawled and ran across Omaha Beach and managed to reach the cliffs.  He hunkered down under what cover he could find and survived the first day and night.  The next morning, he and his mates cautiously crept inland for about a mile.  As they walked through bushes, a German soldier suddenly leaped out and fired point-blank at him, hitting him right in the middle of his chest.  He showed me the little wrinkly spot right next to his heart.  The German was killed immediately by another Allied soldier.  My friend somehow held out for a day or so and was evacuated to England by boat and eventually to the U.S.  It was a short war for him.  He recovered but received 100% disability for life.  A likeable and interesting man, I had dinner with him a few times and he taught he to drink only Pinot Noir, which I do to this day.

The F-105 Pilot Over Hanoi.  Whether or not you supported the Vietnam war, I recall several courageous men that served in that conflict.  My colleagues and I were discussing the performance of electronic warfare equipment at my company with a group of F-105 fight-bomber pilots who had flown missions over North Vietnam.  One pilot I had lunch with told me he was at about 30,000 feet over Hanoi when he was forced to

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perform a violent maneuver to avoid a SAM (SA-4 surface-to-air missile).

NOTE:  During that conflict, it was not generally known by civilians like us that avoiding a missile rising toward your aircraft entailed pushing the stick down hard and diving right at the ascending missile.  In attempting to intercept an aircraft, the missiles were unable to make the sharp turn that was necessary to hit the aircraft.  The missile missed his plane by a little bit but his life-saving maneuver caused a flame-out of his single engine.  He did what he needed to do to restart the engine but was down to about 8,000 feet before it reignited.  He told me his stress level was way, way up there.  I don’t recall if he managed to drop his bombs before he high-tailed it out of there.  He probably did.

When Your Mission is Cancelled In-Flight.  I do remember a super guy named Walt Lifsey.  He was a steely-eyed F-105 pilot who I couldn’t help but admire.  He first proceeded to tell me that a mission to North Vietnam is carefully planned and briefed to a squadron of bomber pilots.  This involved the study of detailed maps, target photographs, radio protocol, entry/egress routes, likely enemy search radar, anti-aircraft (AAA) sites, and SAM locations and types.  Early on the day of the mission, pilots and crew checked operation of flight controls, communications equipment and armament loads.  Quite often, the pilot or the electronic warfare officer (EWO) would vomit on the flight line during this walkaround due to nerves.  It usually took at least a couple of hours or more to fly to the target area.  Sometimes the pentagon would relay a message to aircraft commanders during this period that a specific mission was cancelled.  This was usually due to politicians who would have second thoughts or better intelligence or various other reasons to interrupt a bombing mission, even if it was in progress.

During the flight, aircraft crews would review mission data and build up their strength and courage.  Calling off a mission created anger and frustration.  It also meant that the crews needed to “discard” their armament as they couldn’t land at their home base still loaded with fuel and bombs.  What to do?  Pilots needed to burn off their energy as well.  Walt told me that they would bomb or shoot at wild camels, North Vietnam “soldiers’ pushing bicycles, anything shiny on the ground, even people, of course, who were usually shooting at them with small arms.  They had to come back empty.  I was not then aware of this but I understood it.

I learned this while playing golf with Walt at Eglin AFB a couple of times.

Medal of Honor.  I met several airmen during my career.  In 1967, Capt. Merle Dethlefsen, who I met and talked to at an Air Force base in the Midwest, refused to fly his badly damaged F-105 Thunderchief back to Takhli Royal Thai Air Force Base in Thailand.

Dethlefsen, flying the number three aircraft, and three other F-105s, flew ahead of a strike force of 72 fighter-bombers (F-105 Thunderchiefs from Korat and Takhli, and F-4 Phantoms from Ubon) heading to the Thai Nguyen iron and steel works.

Their job was to attack surface-to-air missile sites, antiaircraft guns and a ring of other automatic weapons guarding the target. On the first pass, his flight leader Maj. David Everson and Capt. Jose Luna, both of whom became POWs) were shot down by 85mm AAA fire and his wing man was forced to withdraw with severe damage.

Capt. Dethlefsen then took command of the flight while fending off MiG attacks and responding to his own battle-damaged aircraft.  As he maneuvered, he evaded an intercepting Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 by flying into heavy enemy antiaircraft fire. His F-105 was severely damaged, but he determined the aircraft could still fly.

Dethlefsen made repeated strikes with his new wingman, Maj. Kenneth Bell, against the enemy’s defensive positions. Evading a second MiG, Dethlefsen dove through the obscuring haze to locate the missile complex when he was again hit by flak. Making a final dive bombing attack and a strafing run with 20 mm cannon fire, Dethlefsen effectively destroyed two missile sites before finally leaving for Takhli, 500 miles away.  The mission was considered a success although two F-4s of the strike force were shot down.

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Dethlefsen receives the Medal of Honor

Dethlefsen could have pulled out of the mission with honor many times: when attacked by MiGs, when he and his wingman were hit by flak, or when the smoke of battle made it difficult to locate the enemy.

But he made a conscious choice to make repeated passes, each one more dangerous than the one before.  For his heroic actions, Dethlefsen was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Lyndon B. Johnson on February 1, 1968. He became the third of 12 airmen so honored during the Vietnam War.

Female transport pilot during Gulf War.  I won’t name any names here but it’s a harrowing story.  This transport pilot flew cargo aircraft (probably including wounded troops) from somewhere in the mid-east to Germany during Gulf War I.  Her missions were fairly uneventful until she and a colleague stopped in Italy for a brief layover.  She and a male friend were doing some recreational swimming out in the ocean.  After a relaxing (I presume) swim, they both realized they were too far off the beach.  Due to strong currents, they were unable to make it back to shore.  They both drifted further out to sea and lost sight of land.  Sometime later, she lost contact with her friend.  She used survival techniques to preserve energy.  Night fell and she thought constantly about her husband and children and what was going to happen.  On the second day, she found herself on a coral reef in rough water.  She scraped back and forth on the coral, barely able to maintain a position and suffering nasty injuries.  After another night, she was spotted by an aircraft which was looking for her.  I don’t know the details about her being picked up but she was rescued and eventually recovered, at least physically.  She determined quickly that the Navy life wasn’t for her, with a young family.  She left the Navy soon thereafter.  Her friend was never found.  It’s unusual that her husband was a commercial pilot and still is today.

Flying saucers at WSMR.  I worked part-time at White Sands Missile Range while attending college.  I met and worked with several engineers and military people during the four years I was there.  In conversation, one engineer, who had been working at WSMR several years, told me about a “flying saucer” that he and others had seen over C-Station (Control Station) during the day.  The radar operator at C-Station began tracking this object.  It was stationary for several minutes before it “flew” off.  The radar operator, presumably experienced, said it exceeded the velocity of anything he had ever tracked.  My engineer friend said it was oblong and had circular windows.  When it quickly took off, he said that it disappeared so fast he only saw it briefly.  Now, I was only in my early twenties and he could have been passing along a “war story” that he told to every young engineer who came through our lab.  He seemed credible, however, and I certainly remember his story.  I wonder.  This sighting happened in the mid- to late fifties and there are still unexplained UFO stories from that time.  I don’t have any pictures of this object.

The Landing Craft Operator WWII.  I had a close friend during my college period.  He was a WWII veteran of the war in the Pacific.  Roy and I both worked at White Sands Missile Range and we both loved building and flying model airplanes.  Among other things Roy did during the war, he “drove” a landing craft for transporting and off-loading 220px-Approaching_Omahasoldiers on island beaches.  I don’t, unfortunately, recall which island(s) he “landed” on but probably more than one.  The story I remember is an incident he told me about as he approached a beach.  As the operator of a landing craft (of which there were many types), he was not able to see ahead of the boat until he dropped the forward door to let soldiers exit.  One day, as Roy skidded to a stop on the beach and dropped the door, he saw a single armed Japanese soldier run out of the jungle onto the beach, shooting at soldiers.  He said that so many Allied soldiers shot him, he literally came apart.  No way to understand why he did this but he certainly knew what was going to happen.  I don’t mean to offend anyone with this description but this was war.

POW Story.  A carrier pilot I worked with after he had left the Navy told me harrowing stories about being in a few camps as a prisoner, including the Hanoi Hilton, a major POW camp in North Vietnam.  Harry Jenkins flew A-6 bombers off a carrier in the Gulf of Tonkin.  He was a cantankerous guy and early on after being shot down and captured

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I believe this is an SA-2 missile

they used to torture him by simply laying a heavy iron pipe across his shins as he was strapped to a slab of wood.  He said it wasn’t too bad at first but after 30 minutes he couldn’t stand it.  After an hour, he would be screaming.  He and several South Vietnamese POWs would tend fields of rice and vegetables every day.  He said prisoners would floss with electrical wire to save their teeth.

One day, after a few years, he noticed that a door in his building was open.  He had never seen it open before.  It led to another section of the “hotel”.  He went through the door, looked to his left and saw an American pilot in a cell like his.  Where most of us would have perhaps been overcome with emotion, he simply looked in the cell and calmly said “Nice little place you got here.”  He was a POW for 5-1/2 years and was involved in developing and using the tapping code that prisoners used to communicate.  I believe he knew John McCain, a future presidential candidate.  I really liked him but I didn’t press him for a lot of details.

F-105 Wild Weasel flies a world-class mission.  Because of what these guys did, I believe I correctly recall their names:  Major Pete Tsouprake and Major William Robinson.  Robinson was the pilot of a specially equipped F-105 fighter bomber and Pete was the EWO (electronic warfare officer). I knew a lot of EWOs having worked in electronic warfare for 10 years.  EWOs were also known as GIBs (guy in back).  It was 1966 and this is how I remember the mission as told to me.

First of all:  The “specially equipped” two-seater F-105 was outfitted with electronic equipment to detect and sometimes jam enemy radars.  This aircraft and its 2-man crew were called Wild Weasels.  These guys would lead a strike force of several (as many as

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Pete Tsouprake

70) single-seat F-105s on missions to bomb designated targets.  The Wild Weasel, using its electronics, would go in first to locate search radars, AAA radars and SA-2 Guideline missile control radar systems.  These aircraft would “suppress” these facilities using bombs and rockets and, occasionally, their guns.  The entire strike force depended on the skill and heroism of the Wild Weasel crew.  The Weasels go in ahead of the strike force and then linger in the area until the other aircraft had completed their missions and left.  The motto of the Wild Weasels was “first in, last out”.

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Two seater F-105 Wild Weasel

These two Weasels did something unprecedented on that July day in 1966.  They detected and located four SA-2 SAM (surface-to-air missile) sites.  Using bombs, rockets and their Gatling gun (when they ran out of other ordnance) and evading AAA (flak) they destroyed three SAM sites and heavily damaged the fourth.  Four SAM sites destroyed in one day had never been done before.  This performance earned both Robinson and Tsouprake the Air Force Cross, an award which is not casually offered, even in wartime.  During the conflict, both men were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross as well, for similar acts.  A painting was commissioned to commemorate their mission.

Note that in the F-105 photo above a small bulge can be seen just below and behind the nose cone.  There is a similar one at the top rear of the vertical stabilizer (tail).  These “blisters” housed antennas used to detect enemy radar emissions.  I worked on several of these aircraft, checking the antennas but primarily working on electronic equipment in the turtleback compartment just behind the cockpit on the back of the airplane

Two other things:  I played golf with Maj Tsouprake at Eglin AFB a couple of times.  A great guy that I couldn’t help but admire.

The F-105 aircraft was originally designed to carry a nuclear weapon into Europe and although it never did this, it still carried 3000 pounds of gear related to transporting and releasing the weapon.  It was never intended to do the kind of maneuvering it did in Vietnam.  It eventually was replaced by the F-4 Phantom.

 

 

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Posted by on February 24, 2018 in Bird Lover

 

Looking at Our Ancestors

I have two brothers, Bill and Rich.  Over the years (many years), we and others have managed to create, discover, collect, and store a great deal of information about our ancestors.  Particularly, we are fortunate in having a wealth of photographs of the people who came before us.  We particularly have our brother Rich to thank for his diligent and tireless work in interviewing people and researching data bases and historical websites to gather far more ancestral data than family 20002we ever thought possible.  My brother Bill is also a valuable resource for his penchant to maintain and store many of the original photographs and documents detailing the interesting people who now populate our family tree.

Recently, the three of us have begun a project to organize, digitize and categorize these tiny treasures so they are preserved for years to come.  The characters hanging in the branches of our family tree can thus be looked at, admired and even analyzed.  Through Rich’s genealogy efforts and the fortunes of history, our lineage goes back centuries.  We know nothing about the four-legged creatures and cave people who started all of us of course, but looking at the recent past, we find people we can relate to and eventually people we knew.  Many of our ancestors were born, lived and died within a few hundred square miles of where they began.  They were farmers for the most part but we have learned of hounds-men, sheep “ranchers”, soldiers, ministers, homemakers, restaurant owners, historical figures, American Indians and, probably, a few nobodies.

As civilization and technology advanced and people traveled more, our early roots spread from England and Europe to the American colonies.  This travel was not always by choice as some of our ancestors were driven to leave their homelands by politics and economic conditions.

My purpose for putting my thoughts here is not to impress anyone.  Every family has anecdotes and interesting characters that are remembered either orally or on paper, both of which are equally strong.  My own thoughts are developing as I browse and study the family photographs and documents before me with a new ability and vision provided to me by age.

Mae Walker and daughter Virginia about 1918-20

Our mother and her  mother

In a few very rare photos, I see my mother’s grandparents as she saw them.  I see my mother’s young parents quite dressed up for some forgotten event.  I see my mother as a child of two and watch her grow through girlhood, high school,

Virginia Walker school picture abt 1918

Virginia Draper in grade school – early 1920s

first jobs, dating, marriage, motherhood, pastimes and aging.  I can see pieces of her entire life through pictures.  Delighted, happy, stressed, determined, and proud.  Looking at all these pictures, I can encapsulate her life.  I found it heartbreaking in a way.  A person’s entire life documented in a few dozen photographs.  I can view my mother’s whole life in five minutes.

Virginia Walker in high school - about 1925

High School friends about 1925

She was worth far more than that.  We know she had a sibling, acquaintances, dear friends, pets, neighbors, colleagues, artistic talent, a good-looking husband and a young, growing family.  We can at least fold our memories of her into the thread of her life and fill in details for some of those years.  She was a bit out of mainstream life as an adult.  We know her as one of the first beatniks. (look that up) Hippies came later.

A SPECIAL PHOTOGRAPH.  We have one photograph that is especially endearing to us.  Standing together by a train about

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L to R:  Our grandmother, our mother, our great-grandmother

1920-ish, we see our grandmother, our mother and our great grandmother.  Over 100 years ago.

Further, on a business trip to Great Britain, I managed to visit the grave of my grandmother’s great grandfather, William Sebright.  We don’t have a photograph of Sebright, a master of the hounds at a castle, but we have a painting of him.  He was born in 1791, over 226 years ago and we can see him.  He was our great-great-great grandfather.

WE CAN SEE MORE.  A careful look through our family photographs reveals a short

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Our father (the kid) on an early dump truck

history of transportation technology, including horse-drawn wagons, early dump trucks, the first taxi cab, a variety of automobiles, airplanes and eventually, in my case, rockets.  It’s all there in the pages of our family history.

AND MORE.  We can’t overlook of course, the fashions in clothes for adults and children.  It’s incredible how

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Our grandmother on the far  left

garment styles have changed over the last 120 years.   Through our photos, we can see the progression of styles in dresses, shirts, blouses, trousers, belts, shoes and hats.  Men had huge

George Draper Watts approx 1900 - died in military aircraft accident approx 1922

Little George Draper Watts – later in the military, died in crash of an early dirigible

starched collars and bow ties.  Women and girls looked like they had placed large doilies over their heads.  They way children were dressed it’s nearly impossible to tell girls from boys until they’re 5 or 6.  I notice that belts and all kinds of buttons were a BIG deal in the first half of the 20th century.  I don’t recall seeing covered buttons in my lifetime worn as an everyday thing.  Go back even a short way into the past and it seems men virtually always had their shirts buttoned right up to their necks.  Even workers on construction sites wore long sleeve shirts and sometimes pleated trousers.

AND EVEN MORE.  Evidence of the proud professions and trades of our ancestors can be seen in these photographs.  We see (or read about) farm machinery

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Our grandfather William (R) working on an unknown construction project

and equipment, blacksmithing, product deliveries, restaurant ownership, soldiering, movie studios, early animation and cartoons, cowboys, homemaking,

Sybil Dehougne - our beloved nana - in her Los Angeles patio

Our beloved grandmother Sybil

architecture, stone-masonry and teaching.  We can sometimes see our ancestors as children, getting familiar with the work of their parents.

SOME THOUGHTS ABOUT THE FUTURE.  With the accelerating pace of life, changing attitudes, decreased mores and increased self-absorption, I wonder what thoughts my own descendants will have of me and my two brothers.  Certainly, our lives have been more frequently photographed and our experiences better documented than the previous 100 years.  There are videos and sound recordings of us.  By the time we’re gone, however, the enormous distraction of other photographs, videos, sounds and documentation within a more complicated world may overwhelm any future interest or analysis of the stories of the Draper brothers.  That’s life.

 

 

Bob and Arlyne Draper

 

 
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Posted by on August 29, 2017 in Bird Lover

 

A MAGICAL TRIP TO ARENAL OBSERVATORY LODGE

We waited a long time to visit Arenal Volcano and see the special wildlife there.  In the distant past we stayed near Arenal when the volcano was erupting every hour and a half and digital cameras hadn’t been invented.  Now quiet, the geologists say Arenal can be safely approached and hiked for about the next 400 years.  the road to arenlaThat should work.  The Arenal Observatory Lodge is 1.7 miles from the volcano.   Presumably wildlife chased away 10 years ago by the lava have returned.

Arenal cast its spell before we even got to the hotel.  Our first view of the volcano was shrouded in hazy rain and looked like King Kong lived there and we were the first to discover it.  DSC_6155 gray-headed chachalacaApproaching the hotel on pebbled roads, we saw gray-headed chachalacas Arenal Lodge entranceand a melodious blackbird, new birds for us.  Welcome to Arenal!

But after all, we were in Costa Rica and it rained very hard as we checked in.  As we learned, however, rain seems to be an afternoon-evening thing.  Mornings are typically sunny and wonderful.  An ordinary person can’t explain this but everybody knows it.  The rainy season arrives abut the end of May and this rain was a warm-up.

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Drapers at Arenal

As promised, the morning came with a world class view of “our” volcano.  The Lodge is fabulous and we met interesting people from Spain, the Netherlands, Great Britain, Los Angeles and Canada.   We came for these experiences and hoped to see wonderful birds and other creatures.  A pair of great curassows awaited us at a nice feeder we could see from an observation deck.  These are large birds, unmistakable and unique.  North America has nothing close.

I’m not going to describe all the details of how we saw the birds…….I’ll mostly show them to you.  The Arenal experience is a living wonder for birders and nature lovers.  As a bonus, other delightful animals included the iconic Costa Rican red-eyed leaf frog.

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Iconic red-eyed leaf frog…on a leaf

We went down to a frog pond at 9 pm and found several frogs (called ranas here) and got some beautiful photos.  The star of the frog show defies belief.  The red-eyed leaf frog is a symbol of Costa Rica.  The rain earlier in the evening brought them out, along with a little poisonous snake.poisonous toadcrested guanwhite-necked jacobin

I went the first night and Arlyne came with me the second night.

As another bonus, the next day we saw a poisonous toad that looked as menacing as anything I’ve ever seen.

We chased the white-necked Jacobin (large hummingbird) around some flowers until finally capturing a photo.  Brilliant.

Crested guans saw us but didn’t seem perturbed.

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a favorite of mine – lime green

Red-legged honeycreepers started showing up mid-morning.  Picturesque little guys for sure.  As a surprise, a yellow-crowned euphonia showed up briefly followed by one of my favorites, a female green honeycreeper.  This lime-colored bird was the jewel of the morning.  In the early afternoon, we saw two golden-hooded tanagers.  Sometimes lucky photographic “accidents” can happen and the two tanagers created one!  Great Stuff!  I never saw this coming.  I don’t know if these two birds were fighting, playing, showing off or what.  I caught them as I was photographing another bird.  What luck!  Don’t try this, I’m a semi-professional.

red-legged honeycreeper

a very acrobatic bird this guy

yellow-crowned euphonia

 

 

 

 

 

 

tanager acrobatics

Thanks for following us around Costa Rica…………wait until next time!!

The Drapers

 
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Posted by on May 23, 2017 in Bird Lover

 

Costa Rica Renewed

I want to take a step back and talk about Costa Rica.  We’ve seen quite a bit this trip and have plans for more. We haven’t been here for eight years and our view is a bit different.  We’ve been fortunate to stay at Arlyne’s brother’s house in Puntarenas and with friends (Ronald and Tere) in Alajuela.  We’ve hired an Uber driver for much of our travels in CR, we’ve been driven about by friends and family and we’ve transitioned to driving her brother’s car sometimes.  Haven’t rented a car yet and probably won’t.  The Beeche family isn’t exactly the Mafia but you get the idea.

Costa Rica is a green world, with gardens, pastures, mountains, jungles, farms, fruit and volcanic slopes, all in varying shades of green.  With the possible exception of San Jose, the capital, Costa Rica attracts and catches the eye everywhere.  As I tell everyone here, it’s all normal and routine to you but special and exotic to us no matter what it is, a tree, a restaurant, a highway a river.  I not only married a Costa Rican woman, I married a family, a country, and a culture……a kingdom of riches.  Rich coast indeed.  Sitting as it is, straddling the volcanic “ring of fire”, Costa Rica must have had a turbulent prehistory.  The early volcanic fires still show themselves in the wonderfully colorful green, red and yellow bird life.  Even many iguanas come in various hues of green and yellow-green.  It has been said (Henry Miller) that a destination is not a place, it’s a new way of seeing things.  Henry, in Costa Rica, I have both.

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A wonderful welcome to Costa Rica

Our first tour was to Volcan Irazu.  Irazu is more or less dormant now and even has a little store at the top.  Visitors can walk along the edge of one of the two or three craters that formed from early eruptions.  People from all over the world come here to feel the magic.

As you saw in the last blog (and again here), Volcan Turrialba is active and can be seen from the 11,000 foot summit of Irazu.  It takes my breath away.  Actually, Volcan Poas could now take my breath away permanently with its poisonous gases.

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Aileen and Arlyne on the edge of Irazu

turrialba view

Volcan Turrialba

 

 

 

 

 

 

After decending Irazu, we visited two very old churches and a coffee farm.  older Irazu craterEverything we saw was suitable for framing so we took lots of pictures.  This seems the time to talk about……..

Costa Rican Food.  The national breakfast is coffee, two eggs, mixed rice and beans (gallo pinto, aka “spotted chicken”), and fruit (papaya, mango, bananas, plantains, DSC_5990 typical breakfastpineapple, and/or watermelon).  There are other fruit varieties here that are not regular fare for norteamericanos.  We really like guanabana.

For lunch, customers ask what “natural” drinks are available.  Most of the fruit listed above is made into drinks and smoothies.  Shrimp is very popular everywhere.  Yuca (especially fried, for me) is wonderful.  Fabulous soups seem to be available only at cafes above the really low end, which can be found all over the country.  For those who like meat, there is beef, chicken, pork and tongue in various dishes.  Costa Rica, with a few exceptions, does not really “relish” hot sauce.

For dinner, virtually every restaurant in the western part of CR is an outdoor covered patio affair.  If it’s raining, even torrentially, no one has a problem.  It rains virtually every afternoon starting between 2 and 3 pm.  In the dry season, maybe not every day.  It stops at around 6 or 7.  Everytime.

Bailey bridge

Roads, Highways and “Other”.  Most roads, even small ones, are filled with traffic of large trucks, large buses, small buses, vans, cars, motorcycles, scooters, motorized bikes, bicycles, animals, and pedestrians.  One yellow caution sign we saw near the Tarcoles river warned of crocodiles crossing the road.  I did run over a small iguana last evening in the rain.sugar cane field

We’ve been on freeways, major highways, small community roads, true “back” roads and nice tollwaynumerous dirt roads. We’ve been on farm roads through private pineapple and sugar cane fields that stretched into the distance.  Ask our friend Aileen…..we forded several rivers in our friend Rafa’s 4-wheel drive.  After all, he’s a rancher.  I have home movies to prove it.

New roads in Costa Rica have helped with workday traffic but not much.  CR has a traffic problem and doesn’t have a solution.  There is talk of a contract with a Chinese company to build a new road but it’s a long way off, if at all.  We even saw and drove over a couple on Bailey bridges, portable, prefab bridges developed for WW II military use.  I think these were put in place in Costa Rica in the 50’s or 60’s as part of foreign aid.

Rafa’s Farm.  Arlyne’s family, particularly her younger brother in San Diego, has a long-time friend here.  Rafael (Rafa) Oreamuno is a landowner, rancher (mostly cattle and cattle feed), a commercial pilot, grower of limes and general entrepreneur.  Rafa has several employees who are constantly working.  He has taken a 125 year old ranch house and a large tract of land and made a very successful business, several in fact.  His son, Rafa Jr., operates a lime juice factory and bottling operation at the ranch.  Rafa has a runway and three or four hangers on the ranch, where he keeps his airplanes and rents space out to an aircraft

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two-seat gyro something….

mechanic.  He has a unique small rotary wing 2-seat aircraft that only an engineer can figure out.  I hope to take a flight next time I go to his ranch.  Rafa’s ranch has sleeping facilities for at least eight people, being a current and former working ranch house.

A major attraction of Rafa’s farm is bird life.  Incredibly, we’ve seen 30 species of birds there, including a lot of parrots.  We added six brand new ones to our list right on his property.  We’ve discussed having commercial birding trips DSC_7269 iguana with mangemake a stop at his ranch.  It could happen.  Rose-throated becards nest near his patio.

DSC_7467 red-fronted parrotlet

red-fronted parottlet

Yellow-naped parrots roost in his yard.  Red-fronted parrotlets hang out there too.  We saw a dozen yellow-headed caracaras in one of his pastures.  A wonderful little pond on his “back 40” has lapwings, jacanas, kingfishers and flycatchers. Iguanas like his whole farm, especially his mangos.

NEXT:  Much more birding and traveling in Costa Rica, including La Paz Waterfall Gardens and The Observatory Lodge at Arenal.

The Drapers, Bob and Arlyne

 

 
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Posted by on May 12, 2017 in Bird Lover

 

Costa Rica Adventure – Part 2

Introduction to My Thoughts.  When I was a kid, I read Edgar Rice Burroughs books about Tarzan of the Apes.  I read the comic books too.  I dreamed of life in the jungle.  Growing up in Arizona didn’t quite match up to the African jungle.

Here in Costa Rica, land of volcanos, exotic animals and primary jungle that hasn’t been disturbed by man for centuries, my little dream has been realized.

The birds here are colorful and have wonderful songs.  The other animals are truly exotic to us as well…….iguanas, iconic frogs, snakes, monkeys, coatis, tapirs and many more.  Arlyne and I have found remnants of historic (and prehistoric) Costa Rica in the places we’ve been and where we’re going. Volcanos are smoking, rivers and lakes have crocodiles and alligators, the birds are lit up like holiday lights.  I’ll never see a jaguar, an ocelot or a margay in the wild, but I’ve seen them here in near natural surroundings.  They are some of the planet’s most beautiful creatures.

Irazu Volcano.  We began our adventure with a trip to Irazu volcano, where delightful birds live their lives at 3432 meters (over 11,000 feet).  We loved Irazu, the now sleeping volcano, but were delighted to encounter three high-altitude birds, the volcano junco, the sooty thrush and the sooty-capped chlorospingus.  Some birds have straightforward descriptive names but others seem overcooked by long dead ornithologists.

We love to photograph birds in lush, photogenic, natural surroundings.  My historic first look at the iconic volcano junco at Irazu was on the rim of a picnic area trash can.  I didn’t have any problem with that and of course saw the little guy in better spots soon enough.

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a cute bird at the rim of the volcano

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iconic volcano junco at 11000 feet on Irazu

A highlight was seeing the Turrialba volcano in the distance, sending smoke and hot gases into the sky.  This active volcano is of course being monitored.

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an active volcano we couldn’t visit

Nest-building.  I will likely never be able to show you all the birds we photographed but on our way back from Irazu, we had lunch at a coffee plantation/restaurant and spotted a pair of Passarini’s tanagers.  Only in Costa Rica would birds nest in a small bush next to the parking lot and a busy walkway.  The beautiful black and red male seemed totally

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the female was very cool about the whole nesting process

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this male was stressed out with nest building

stressed as he darted in and out of the bush, presumably making sure everything was ready, while the sweet female waited patiently across the path for him to tell her it was OK.  He eventually did, and then nervously perched on guard duty after she flew deep into the bush.  It was a memorable encounter.

La Paz Waterfall Gardens and Wildlife Refuge.  A couple of days later we drove up to the barrier that prevented us from going to the Poas volcano, which has been closed since we arrived due to poisonous gases from the crater.  Poas has been inactive since 1955 but has just awakened.  We took a fork in the road and stopped at La Paz Waterfall Gardens and Wildlife Refuge. This facility could be termed a tourist trap by jaded visitors but wild birds and other animals are in beautifully designed natural enclosures because they have been rescued from illegal hunters, confiscated by the government or donated by their owners.

We birders know, of course, that wild birds love the surroundings and come here to live and nest.  We found several in the trees and gardens.  Dozens of hummingbirds darted and swirled through a large natural area that had only a few feeders.  We saw green

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this bird is a fast mover – lucky for us it has a white band

thorntails, green-crowned brilliants and black-bellied hummingbirds.  Although officially wild birds, they have become reasonably accustomed to humans.

It was here in La Paz Gardens that we were introduced to my first and probably only ocelot.  A jaguar also prowled a large enclosure.  Arlyne and I also met Tomas, a lovely margay.  He has been here for many years and responds to his name.

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You are just beautiful……..

The La Paz Waterfall Gardens and Wildlife Refuge, as its name implies, has five quite spectacular waterfalls, embedded deep in the jungle.  I was robust enough to take the steep, wet stone steps down to two of them.  It was here that my vision of Tarzan emerged.  I felt energized, even as I clambered back to the top level where I had started, sweating profusely from the world class humidity.

As Arlyne calls them, we saw several “free world” birds that love this neighborhood and raise their families here.  Even leaving a place like this (which I didn’t want to do) it’s

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Tarzan’s abode…..

easy to search for a few more wild birds that hang out here.  We saw a swallow-tail kite, a Montezuma oropendula, and a Sulphur-bellied flycatcher (which has been seen frequently in Arizona).  Very cool!

More wildlife adventures awaited us as you will see in my next post.

Regards,

Bob and Arlyne Draper

Tarzan’s abode…..

 
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Posted by on May 4, 2017 in Bird Lover, Costa-Rica, Nature

 

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The Great Costa Rican Adventure

As advertised, Arlyne and I are in Costa Rica.  We’ve been here before, but this is The Great Adventure.  We thought about it for a few years and decided to make it a life event.  When you’re retired, do you ever really go on vacation?  I think we’ve really done it this time.

We landed in San Jose the evening of June 12th and, courtesy of Arlyne’s brother, were driven straight to Puntarenas, on the Pacific coast, where Arlyne grew up. We’re going to be in Costa Rica for two months.  We’re truly fortunate that Arlyne, well really both of us, have family and friends here.  As I write this, we stayed at her brother’s (Arturo) house for five days before coming back to San Jose to help with his wife Ana who was having surgery.  She’s doing fine now, glad we could help.

During this first week, we did some planning.  There are so many cool places to go in Costa Rica.  The first thing that happened, however, is that two of the country’s numerous volcanos decided to misbehave.  Turrialba had a moderate eruption and threw rocks, smoke, ash and gas into the air.  It isn’t actually closed right now but it’s being watched.  Another volcano, close to the capital of San Jose, is Irazu.  Although it’s putting out some smoke and smoldering a bit, we have a tour to this iconic site in two days.  Of course, on the slopes of Irazu, there is a small bird called the volcano junco.  We’ll be looking out for this bird while we check the sky for flying rocks.  That’s one of  our plans..

When we were initially in Puntarenas, we took a trip to the citrus farm of a family friend.  The birds love this place, especially the parrots.  How nice!  Rafa Oreamuno, the owner, took us around his sizable property on a golf cart.  We saw birds we knew, like caracaras, cattle egrets, tropical kingbirds, and clay-colored thrushes (the national bird of Costa Rica) all over the place.  Then, we approached a small pond and spotted a group of birds we didn’t recognize.  I jumped out of the golf cart and started taking pictures.  Then I realized we had something special as I saw crests on these fairly sizable birds.  I didn’t know what I had but managed to find out later.  My nearly 30 year old Costa Rican bird book didn’t include these birds.  I wrestled with the photos until it struck me.  They were lapwings.  On the trusty internet, I found that southern lapwings had, over the years, moved up from South and lower Central America and were now in Costa Rica.  Beautiful birds with huge red eyes, distinctive coloring and a wonderful feather running back from the top of the head.  Check them out.  Besides this, I snapped a photo of a flying northern jacana and got a special, perfect shot.

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northern jacana

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yellow-throated euphonia

A couple of days later we moved ourselves to a friend’s house in Alajuela, near San Jose.  I’ve known Ronald and Teri for 50 years and Arlyne grew up with them.  There are birds around their neighborhood but it wasn’t until we drove to a mountainous area near the Poas volcano that we struck our first birding gold.  Stopping to preview a beautiful hotel in the mountains, we thought we would plan a day tour of their nature area, which is incredible.  Walking in from parking area, we heard loud squawking from a tree and saw a terrific new bird, the Montezuma oropendula!  We were beginning to tap into the bird life of this beautiful country.

The very next day, we went to a nearby animal rescue/rehab facility, which is quite large actually, covered with native trees, vines and vegetation.  One can walk through this beautiful place and see truly unique birds and other animals.  We were struck with the numerous iguanas that roam freely throughout.  Green, gray, blue…all different sizes.  Of course, we can’t add injured and caged birds to our list.  But guess what?  Birds from the “free” world, as Arlyne puts it, are welcome to the enormous grounds and we began to see them.  We added a cute yellow-throated euphonia carrying nesting materials, a Hoffman’s  woodpecker and a yellow-olive flycatcher which was also building a nest.

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turquoise-browed mot mot

Tentatively, we added a black-mandibled toucan to our growing list because there were two of them flying around the facility, apparently free as, well, birds.  We’ll keep this toucan in reserve because we expect to see more of them later, when we go to the Arenal Observatory Lodge, near the now sleeping Arenal volcano.

I’m hoping to update you with more of the Draper’s Costa Rican Adventure in subsequent blogs.  For you non-birders, I’ll throw in some interesting stuff about Costa Rica and how we’re enjoying our time here.  I think worldwide news outlets are probably keeping everybody informed about the volcanos.

We have a dear friend who is coming down to CR to join us for several days on Sunday.  I hope she doesn’t mind iguanas, high temperatures and humidity and our more or less outdoor life.  We don’t like to sit by the pool or lay on the beach.  It’s OK but not too much of it.

The Drapers

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nest building

 
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Posted by on April 23, 2017 in Bird Lover

 

Birds, butterflies, and Boats

Our lives have settled down, here in south Texas.  The chiggers haven’t totally erupted yet but they will because the weather is getting hotter.  We’ve had a bit more time to look for and photograph birds.  We are birders of course and that’s what we like to do.

REAL BIRDS.  As many of you know, Arlyne and I are going to Costa Rica for two months in early April.  We’ve been fortunate in the last couple of weeks to get some good photos and see nice birds.  It’s a warmup for the Costa Rica trip.  South Texas has a fabulous collection of bird life, including a few that come only rarely from Mexico or Central America.  We’ve been looking for a few rare birds this year but we really like the endemic south Texas birds that hang out here in the Rio Grande Valley.  Here are some we like.  And, we love to hear people that travel here for the winter talk excitedly about green jays, kiskadees, and special woodpeckers.  dsc_2181-golden-fronted-woodpecker

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green jay perched on a branch

BUTTERFLIES AND MOTHS and a rare bird.  We see a lot of butterflies as well and we’re starting to learn their names.  It appears that over 400 butterflies have been seen at Santa Ana NWR.  Amazingly, there are a lot of moths here too.  A couple of years ago, a moth expert was just outside of the Visitor Center and saw a moth he didn’t recognize.  He took a photo and sent it to the Smithsonian Institute.  A couple of months later he heard back and they said “Yes, this is a new one, never officially seen before.” This happens once every few years.

When Arlyne and I were at South Padre Island last week, a young man was happily taking dozens of photos of a beautiful butterfly so we talked to him.  He was a naturalist at the nearby World Birding Center and informed us it was really a moth.  It was a very rare tropical vagrant from southern Mexico, Central and South America.  We got some photos as well.  Who knew that moths could be so beautiful?  Here it is down below, the Urania swallowtail moth.  It seems that on its long journey, its swallowtails wore off.  I guess a 1000-mile journey will do that to a moth.

We’ve been actively looking for three bird rarities here……the rose-breasted becard, Sprague’s pipit and the crimson-collared grosbeak.  We’ll probably locate the pipit soon but the others are proving to be difficult.  (As I prepare to post this blog, we’ve found and photographed the becard!!)

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rose-throated becard

On South Padre Island, a few days ago, we saw an inconspicuous little bird that we had seen many years ago but just for a few seconds.  I was looking in the reeds when I thought I saw a mouse or a frog.  It turned out to be an incredibly cute little marsh wren.  It scurried around and dove for cover anytime a larger bird flew anywhere near.  Check out Arlyne’s terrific photo.

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marsh wren

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BUTTERFLIES.  We’re not even novices regarding butterflies and moths but they are quite beautiful here.  The trick is to take a decent picture then look at the reference books or ask somebody.  Nevertheless, here are some of the little guys we’ve seen all around the visitor center and in nearly every bush.  In this arid part of the world, plants have tiny leaves and tiny flowers because of the lack of water.  The butterflies, for the most part, seem to be smaller as well.  Some of these guys are lucky to be a couple of centimeters across.  And these are not your typical backyard butterflies.  I haven’t identified all of them yet.

BOATS.  At Anzalduas Park, located right on the border, we saw law and border enforcement in abundance while we were birding.  Part of this Park used to be in Mexico but the 2010 floods in the Rio Grande Valley changed the course of the river and part of the park is now in the U.S.

Although I thought the “game warden” terminology was no longer used, having been replaced by “wildlife officer”, this is not the case.  I suppose I should google this.  The Border Patrol (Federal) has part of the jurisdiction, the Highway Patrol (state) has part of it, local Constables (city) have a piece and Game Wardens (Federal) have part of it as well.  I sometimes wonder how it is that Arlyne and I can wander around 50 feet from the border looking at birds surrounded by twenty-five tough-looking guys with bullet-proof vests and side arms.  The really big boats have twin 50-calibur machine guns, GPS, huge lights, radar and probably infrared.  I didn’t ask what other equipment they have but I think their night vision equipment can probably see by the light of one star.  I don’t know what’s going to happen along our southern border but local attitudes seem roughly split down here, even among the Spanish-speaking population.  It’s not always about illegal immigrants.  It’s about the drugs, which mess everybody up, no matter their ethnicity, their political persuasion, their economic status or where they live.

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Check out the river-going hardware.  The BP says they’re outgunned but I wouldn’t want to come across these guys at night or early in the morning.

It’s actually fun down here,  even though other people are working, under  stress, and in danger.

Thanks again, Bob and Arlyne

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vermillion flycatcher

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Posted by on March 1, 2017 in Bird Lover