Friday, December 21, 2012

Christmas Bird Count

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

This year, from Dec. 14 through Jan. 5, the 113th Christmas Bird Count is taking place throughout the United States, Canada, and several other countires. Ruth and I will be out at sunrise on December 22 to spend the day counting every bird we see or hear in our assigned count area. This will be the 18th Christmas Bird Count for us.

The Christmas Bird Count was born out of a concern by ornithologist Frank Chapman regarding the number of birds that were being killed in the annual Christmas “Side Hunt.” This tradition called for sides to be chosen, followed by teams heading to the fields to shoot as many birds and animals as they could. The side returning with the most dead animals and birds was declared the winner of the event.

Realizing that the declining bird populations would not survive this tradition, Frank Chapman suggested that birds be counted on Christmas Day rather than hunted. This resulted in the first Christmas Bird Count (CBC), which occurred on Christmas Day in the year 1900. That day, 27 dedicated birders participated in 25 inaugural Christmas Bird Counts, tallying around 90 species in total. Last year, tens of thousands of birders gathered data in over 2200 CBCs. This data, which has now been collected for over a century, is valuable to conservation biologists and researchers in determining the long-term status of bird populations.

In 1994, Ruth and I participated in our first Christmas Bird Count, which occurred the day after Christmas. Because it was our first experience with a bird survey, we were lucky to have the guidance of a very experienced birder to “show us the ropes.”

It was extremely foggy that day and the fog didn’t lift until around noon, so mostly we birded by ear. At one point, however, as we crossed a bridge over a small stream, the other first-time CBC participant who was with us thought she saw something in the stream, which was mostly frozen over. Ruth and I looked long and hard with our binoculars and said it wasn’t moving, but our friend insisted that we set up the spotting scope to make sure we didn’t miss something.

After setting up the scope on the tripod and taking a closer look, we confirmed that it was actually a goose decoy frozen in the stream. Well, you can imagine the laughter and kidding (for years to come) over that “species.” Later in the day, when we were tallying the day’s counts, we jokingly tried to enter one “frozen goose” on the official count form, which caused another fit of laughter from the group. One of the highlights of that day was counting 49 mourning doves gathered in a cornfield toward the end of the day.

As we look and listen for birds to count, we do a lot of it from the car (because of the weather), but we also get out and walk as much as we can. We use our binoculars and a spotting scope, check bird feeders by homes, watch the sky for anything flying over, hope to see something rare or unusual, check our many bird reference guides to validate our observations, meet a lot of nice people (and some suspicious ones), and have quite an enjoyable day.

In 1996, we recorded our first CBC bald eagles (five of them) and our first pileated woodpecker.

We also counted 111 wild turkeys during that count. Over the years, turkeys have become a source of fun for us. Sometimes they are easily spotted and the numbers are large. Other times, they are nowhere to be found. At some point, someone in the car will say, “Hey, there’s a turkey!” And when the rest of us look but don’t see it, that someone will point to another person in the group, identifying them as the turkey.

In 1998, on a very cold day with snow on the ground, we recorded four Eastern Bluebirds. They were sitting on a bittersweet vine and the bright orange berries complemented the orange on the breast of the bluebirds. I wish I could have gotten a photograph, but I would have scared them away, so we just took a mental snapshot. We also saw about 120 robins in one tree, which was an unusual sight indeed. And, in 2000, during a heavy snowfall, we managed to see a short-eared owl hunkered down in a ravine. This was a very special treat!

As I mentioned before, we are always hoping to see something rare during our Christmas Bird Counts, such as this:

I’m just kidding, of course, because it would be rare indeed if we saw a Greater Roadrunner here in Wisconsin. But someone conducting a CBC in the Southwest will surely see one. Speaking of rare birds and our CBC kidding, we conducted a CBC one year without one of our usual companions. At the end of the day, we met up with this friend, who was eager to learn what we had observed that day.

When she looked at the copy of the data form that we had supposedly submitted to the CBC compiler, which would then be turned into the Audubon Society, she was stunned, not to mention upset with us. In the “Rare Bird” section, we had filled in “One Blue-Footed Booby,” which is a bird that has bright blue webbed feet and lives off the western coasts of Central and South America. She was really worried that we would be banned from participating in future CBCs, until we started to giggle uncontrollably.

Participating in the Christmas Bird Count every year on a day very close to Christmas allows us to get out and enjoy the early Wisconsin winter. And when we see a farm scene decorated for Christmas, it adds to our enjoyment.

Merry Christmas and Happy Shunpiking!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Historic Wisconsin Gas Stations

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

Today, gas stations everywhere are mostly large convenience stores. They are very handy to pull up and pay at the pump and be on your way, but a lot of the history of America’s affair with the automobile has been lost. Wisconsin is no different, in that most of the small old gas and service station architecture has been lost.

Thankfully, there are a few wonderful people who long for the old days. They save these old buildings and collect gas memorabilia to display at their restored or recreated old time gas stations.

Whenever we’re near any of the ones we know about, we make sure to stop by for photos. We also take time to soak up the atmosphere. Many of these small old gas stations are reminders of the stations that we frequented when we first started to drive. I have fond memories of a little Citgo station at the edge of the business district in our home town.

The Texaco station in Independence was built by Leo Breska in 1931 when the old State Highway 93 was being improved. As roads were improved, it meant more traffic passing by and soon the town was supporting five gas stations.

The station was constructed with hollow fire-proof tiles and covered with stucco to give it a southwestern feel. It has rounded arch doors and front windows. It originally had one service bay at the back of the building, but eventually two additional service bays were added.

The station is now an auto-repair business and a used car lot. When it was just an auto-repair business, a restored Chevrolet sat in front of the pumps, but now used cars sit around the lot and it is harder to see the historic station or to get good photographs.

This small service station was a prefabricated building. It was manufactured by the Milwaukee Corrugating Company and shipped to Mineral Point in sections. It was assembled on site.

Josiah Paynter ran the station from 1925 until his death in 1934. His grandson, Chester Owens, took over and operated the station until 1940 when it closed because of wartime rationing.

We had driven past the Davis and Barnard Filling Station multiple times and had never stopped to photograph it. Often when that happens, it is because it is on a route to and from some destinations and we are always there at a bad time of day. Finally, on a late winter photography trip, we decided it was time to get a few photos before the station is no longer there.

This Tudor Revival cottage-style gas station was built in 1926. The single-bay service garage was added in 1930. The station was an affiliate of Johnson Oil when it opened. It managed to stay open through the Depression and World War II, but when the bridge over the Wisconsin River was out of service in 1946, the rerouting of traffic caused the station to close.

Since its closing, little has changed about the station. It still has the original wood and glass door and the stone veneer on the front and south side. The pit in the service bay has been filled in to make the building more safe and usable for other businesses.

We accidentally drove right by this small brick gas station when we went looking for it. We were talking, and soon we were past the furthest point I thought it could be. We turned around and found that we must have driven by almost immediately outside of town.

It is an English cottage-style station that had pumps outside. It was first a small gas station for Standard Oil, and later was also the office of the family-owned tourist camp. The tourist cabins are gone now, but the station stands as a testament to that time in our history when roadsides were dotted with these precursors of the mom and pop motels.

Freitag’s Pure Oil Station was built in 1935 by Clarence “Slim” Freitag, who was a big-band trombonist and a pilot who gave flying lessons to several Pure Oil Company executives. When Slim’s father, Henry, lost his part-ownership in an automobile sales dealership, Slim bought this corner lot and built the station for his father.

Henry passed away in the mid-1940’s and several people operated the station after that. One of those owners was Simon Meyer who ran it from the early 1950’s until the 1970’s. Shortly after it became a Union 76 station, it closed. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980 as an example of early twentieth-century architecture.

Early one morning, after Joann had read an article that the site of the historic Parman’s service station in Madison was going to be redeveloped, we visited to take some photographs. We wanted to get some pictures, since this is one of the oldest remaining gas stations in the city of Madison.

It was built by Clayton “Clayt” Parman in 1941. It was a box-like structure that combined the operator’s room with the service bays. It is covered with white stucco and has bright red trim and a flat roof.

This station had pumps offering full service until the pumps were removed in 1998 when expensive upgrades would have been required by law. The service business continued with Clayton “Junior” Parman Jr. and his brother Keith working at the shop daily.

We’ll continue our exploration of historic old gas stations as we travel around the country. It’s part of the fun of seeing what’s around the next corner or in the next town on the map. We hope you look forward to your travels the same way.

Happy Shunpiking!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Jingle All the Way

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

Every year right after Thanksgiving, our thoughts turn to getting our Christmas tree from Summers Christmas Tree Farm. This year the plan was to meet our sister Linda and her children, Emily and John, at the Christmas tree farm at 9 AM.

When we pulled into the lot, they were already there waiting for us. We got out of the car and chatted a little and then started to hike up the hill to the area of Fraser firs. Since we were cutting down three trees, we picked out two saws to make sure we had a nice sharp one for cutting.

We started into the Fraser fir area as several groups were coming out of the woods already carrying their trees. After one tree was carried by, we could hear singing coming out of the woods. Soon a young mother and her daughter, who looked to be around two, came over the hill. The young girl was singing jingle bells, or the couple of lines she could remember anyway. “Jingle bells, Jingle bells, Jingle all the way…hey!”

It took us a little longer to find our trees this year, and as we were looking, more families were heading into the woods. One group went by with three golden retrievers, and several more families had brought their family dog along to romp among the trees.

As we cut down each of our trees, Emily and John carried the trees down to have them baled and set next to our vehicles.

And as we were ready to head out of the woods, several people went by, and one exclaimed that she had forgotten to grab a saw. She was starting to turn back when Joann called out to her and told her she could take one of our saws since we were done. She said they had been coming to Summers for years, so there was no excuse for forgetting the saw. We assume it was their excitement to get to the hunt for the perfect tree.

The weather was cold, but there was no snow on the ground. That is a blessing in one way since you can easily see the shape of the tree, but it’s harder to be in the Christmas spirit…

unless you’re lucky like us and you can hear “Jingle all the way…hey!” ringing through the woods in an excited child’s voice as you pick out your tree.

Happy Shunpiking!