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.


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.


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


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.

DSC_5471 sooty thrush-blog

DSC_5478 sooty-capped chlorospingus

a cute bird at the rim of the volcano

DSC_5428 volcano junco-3

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.

Turrialba volcano-blog

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

DSC_5544 Passerini's tanager (f)-blog

the female was very cool about the whole nesting process

DSC_5540 passerint's tanager-blog

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

DSC_5885 green thorntail

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.

DSC_5735 ocelot-blog

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

DSC_5776 La Paz waterfall

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.


Bob and Arlyne Draper

Tarzan’s abode…..

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



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.

Northern Jacana DSC_4588

northern jacana

DSC_5005 euphonia

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.

DSC_4982 mot mot cocked head - Copy

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

DSC_5145 flycatcher with nest material

nest building


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


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!!)


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.


marsh wren








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.


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


vermillion flycatcher


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Posted by on March 1, 2017 in Bird Lover


Extreme South Texas – the Edge of the Known Universe

Arlyne and I are at Santa Ana NWR, our latest volunteer assignment.  We’re helping at the Visitor Center, with other duties thrown in.  Arlyne is working at the Nature Store and I work the front desk and the fee booth at the entrance, which I call Fort Apache.  We like being at the refuge.  This is our third time here.  The people are great and we’re surrounded by our birds.   Down here in the Rio Grande Valley, you don’t stop and smell the roses……you stop and smell the broccoli, the onions, the cauliflower, the kale, the cilantro… get the idea.  The farms are cool and they’re all around us.

THE REFUGE.  We had a 3-hour briefing when we got here.  The staff explained how the NWR protects birds and other animals, how the habitat is being protected and restored and the people who do it.

Right here in our little complex of buildings we have biologists, botanists, real estate experts, Fish and Game Officers, wildlife experts, local law enforcement, firemen, border patrol, maintenance, oil and gas experts, environmental education experts, a non-profit organization (Friends of the Wildlife Corridor), various managers and, of course, volunteers.

Now you know where we are and what’s done here so let’s talk about……………..

ALIENS.  (not what you think) Arlyne and I always find fascinating things to see and do when we’re here.  Just driving around the Rio Grande Valley we see stuff that no one else will ever see unless they visit here.  Here’s the thing:  Take a look at these pictures of great-tailed grackles.  I believe great-tailed grackles are actually illegal aliens.  They’re not from Mexico or Central America as some people say……..they’re from outer space!  Think about it.  We don’t know what beings from other solar systems look like.  We don’t know what they would do if they came to Earth.  Well………there are millions of grackles living among us on our planet right now.  We really don’t know where they come from.  I’m quite suspicious of these so-called “birds”.  They may look like birds but they’re not.  Just because they fly doesn’t mean they’re really birds.  I think grackles are robot-birds that mimic the appearance and behavior of true birds.  I say they came here from another planet or galaxy.  Here’s why:

They don’t speak English or any other known human language.


Figure 1 – I am your leader

Their “language” is a complex, unintelligible mixture of squawks, whistles, clicks, growls and buzzes.  Remember R2D2 from Star Wars?

They have ghastly, glowing, piercing, other-worldly yellow eyes.  See Figure 1.

They’re totally shiny, iridescent, glistening purple/black in color.  Probably a cloaking system.

They have a prehistoric appearance, particularly the tail, which is often held vertically instead of horizontally, kind of like a stegosaurus.

They have unusual behaviors such as extreme bending of their necks or simply gazing into the sky in silence.  Remember ET the Extraterrestrial?

They’re VERY aggressive, taking up habitat and residences previously “owned” by other life forms.  There are well-known stories of grackles watching tired migrating birds that have just crossed the Gulf of Mexico….then attacking them, breaking their necks, but not eating them.  I personally saw a grackle swoop in after a newly-arrived wood thrush, both of them disappearing into the bushes.  I think I know what happened.

Grackles are completely undocumented, having no papers, visas, passports or IDs, not even interstellar versions.

They’re spreading through the entire southwest of the United States.  There are other species of grackles that are encircling the globe.

They don’t pay any form of compensation to the countries they live in.  They just take over.  This is not a recent phenomenon.  Grackles began to appear in North America in the late 1800’s.  They cluster together in neighborhoods that include only their own kind.    See Figure 2.


Figure 2 – Grackle Condominium

U.S. Fish and Game personnel are, as we speak, devising ways to rid our planet (or at least this area) of these creatures.  I’ve talked to them.

They don’t observe state or national boundaries

They don’t have licenses to fly in our air space.

They don’t respect the boundaries of national parks, state parks, wildlife refuges, preserves, countries or infrastructure.

They ignore our culture and everyone else’s

They respect no authority except their own

They have huge numbers of offspring (up to 7 eggs)

They don’t assimilate into any earthly society

They don’t aspire to higher education (that we know of) for themselves or their offspring

They don’t learn English (or any other earthly language)

They don’t encourage us to learn their language(s).


They are highly social.  They live among their own kind peacefully, unlike humans (see Figures 3 and 4)


Figure 3 – Incredible Organization

They are well organized and faithfully follow their own laws.  They have a definite pecking order that we can see as they manage their roosting/living space, typically on wires and trees.  It has been said there are perhaps 20 million grackles in just the Texas Rio Grande Valley.

Engineering Assessments:  Arlyne and I drove along Highway 83 in Alamo a few evenings ago.  As I saw these “birds” lined up on the wires, I estimated that each one was 5 inches from its neighbor.  I drove about one mile and saw them the entire time.  There are 5280 feet in a mile.  That means about 12,600 birds per mile for each wire.  Typically, there were four wires full of birds on each side of the highway.   So, multiply 12,600 times eight and I


Figure 4 – There’s no end in sight

probably saw over 100,000 birds in a mile.  As Arlyne and I drove home, there were several other locations with more wires and more birds.  My rough estimate is we saw upwards of 500,000, just in our area, around the small city of Alamo.

A few evenings ago, I saw a “cloud” or swarm of these “birds” flying over the Refuge, heading north to Alamo (probably).  As I looked south, I saw more and more of them in a continuous stream.  I estimated about 25 birds passed by me every second.  After about 6 minutes, the bird swarm stopped coming.  My arithmetic says I saw (wild estimate) nearly 10,000 birds in just this one swarm.  I was blown away.


Figure 5 – Can you do this?

CONCLUSION:  Clearly, these creatures are hiding in plain sight, mixing with real birds.  Some say grackles are smart.  I say these alien creatures occasionally slip up and reveal awesome intelligence.   Some say they’re crafty.  I say they are cunning and wily, exactly the behavior that intelligent alien creatures would exhibit here on earth in an attempt to mask their true motive of taking over the earth.

I had fun doing this one!  But the next blog will have pictures of REAL birds!

Bob and Arlyne Draper

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Posted by on February 2, 2017 in Bird Lover


One of My Heroes……

Many of my stories are from when I was younger but as long as I have these memories I’ll consider relating the ones I find interesting.  This story is certainly about an interesting (actually incredible) guy I knew who was one of my early (and current) heroes from both an engineering and sports perspective.  We all have our heroes and Charley Johnson is one of mine.

I was in college at New Mexico State University.  The football team was the Aggies (we all were) because in the early days of NMSU it was an A&M (Agriculture and Mechanical) college.  Students learned about soils, cotton, cattle and other farming subjects.  It later became a great engineering college.

The quarterback of the football team during my first year there was Charley Johnson.  In 1960, he led the Aggies to an undefeated season and a national ranking.  He was that good.  I believe that was the only time the Aggies had this kind of success.  The other thing that impressed me; he was taking Chemical Engineering.  He was getting straight A’s.  A 4.0 grade point.  I had started my college career in Chemical Engineering so I knew it to be a difficult subject.  Although I loved chemistry, I changed from Chem E to Electrical Engineering in my sophomore year.  Not Johnson.  He took the Aggies to the Sun Bowl twice during his tenure at NMSU, winning both charley-johnson-3games.  He was selected as the MVP both times.  Impressive for anyone but incredible for an engineering major.  There’s more.

Johnson went on to the NFL, initially playing for the St. Louis Cardinals (football team), followed by the Houston Oilers.  Although he had a spotty record with these teams, he was picked up by the Denver Broncos in 1972.  He took over the starting assignment in 1973 and led the team to its first ever winning season in the 14 years of its existence.

As an active player in the NFL, be began studying for his master’s degree in Chemical Engineering at Washington University in St. Louis.  Night classes!  There’s more.  Johnson was in the United States Army Reserve and was called up to active duty during this period.  He was away from the team during the week as an artillery officer, flying back to the team on weekends, throwing touchdown passes.  He was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1964 and 1965.  There’s more.NFL Historical Imagery

Johnson got his master’s degree and began studying for his Doctorate in Chemical Engineering.  He achieved this as well.  I heard he continued to get straight A’s.  Of course.

Later, Johnson went back to NMSU as the Department Head of the Chemical Engineering School and retired just a few years ago.  Amazingly, I heard this news while Arlyne and I were passing through Las Cruces (location of the NMSU campus) on our way to California.charley-johnson-quarterback-chemist

It is said of Charley Johnson that it is “unlikely we shall ever see this rare combination of accomplishments again.”  He showed how much one person can do if he puts his mind to it.

I actually recalled much of this story from personal observation but also borrowed some of it from Jim Saccomano’s* article, “Charley Johnson, the quarterbacking chemist.”

NOTE:  Jim Saccomano recently retired from the Denver Broncos as VP of Corporate Communications, after 36 years.

Thanks for reading my stuff,

Bob Draper


Posted by on January 12, 2017 in Bird Lover


Closing the Circle

Recently, many readers of this blog have followed and commented on the story about my friend and colleague Steve Athan from so many years ago.  He died tragically in Yellowstone NP.  (see blogs from January 6, 2016 and July 13, 2016) Last year I was given an exceptional opportunity when I heard from Steve’s wife and daughter, 50 years later.  When I realized that Steve’s wife Felice still lived in California, I knew Arlyne and I were going to visit her.  I told Felice that we should have a cup of coffee together.

On a recent Sunday, she invited us for lunch at her house and we drove there.  Thanks Felice, for having us over.  As I said, I thought this was a truly unique opportunity to meet Steve Athan’s wife.  We both have our memories of Steve but had never met.  In my mind, our lunch with Felice was a chance to close a circle that has remained open for 50 years.  I told her she has always been the “imaginary” wife.  I always sort of wondered about her over the years.

She remarried sometime after Steve died and her second marriage lasted 40 years.  Incredible.  She and her second husband traveled the world a bit and it must have been a very good marriage.  Let me congratulate Felice for a continued great life in spite of some challenges, not the least of which is, of course, the passage of time.  It’s happening to all the rest of us as well.


Felice and Me

She told me her marriage with her first husband, Steve, was “the best seven years of my life.”    I believe her of course because I knew Steve.


Wedding Day

Felice allowed me to take a picture with her and permitted me to take a few pictures of her photo album.  This is my friend Steve Athan and I remember him well.  Most importantly, Felice (Athan) Hunter is no longer the imaginary woman and the circle (my circle) has closed.  I’m sorry that we’ve both aged (pretty well, actually) but we’re leading the way for the rest.    Thanks Felice,

Bob and Arlyne Draper


  Felice and Steve Athan



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Posted by on January 5, 2017 in Bird Lover