Double Rainbow

It wasn’t much of a storm, but it created the perfect conditions. I was reading in my study with the window open, listening to the rain, when the sun burst through the clouds to the west. I grabbed my phone and ran outside, pretty sure I would see a rainbow but not expecting this.

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Balloon Ride

I’ve been saying for a long time that I just have one item on my bucket list — to take a ride in a hot air balloon. Some friends heard me say this and very generously paid for and arranged a flight for our 36th anniversary. I’m sure they did this because they love us and not because they are ready for me to kick the bucket.

We scheduled six or seven morning flights last summer and fall, but every one of them was cancelled due to weather. This year I decided to schedule afternoon flights and on my very first try, we were in.

I received a call around noon telling me to meet the balloon crew in a parking lot in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, at 6:00 p.m. We were met by John, who is the pilot, along with five crew members who help him inflate and deflate the balloon and keep it from blowing away when it’s on the ground. We also met Rene, who sometimes works as a crew member but on this evening was coming along as a passenger.

Sally and I piled into the back of the pickup that was pulling the balloon trailer. John gave us directions on the way and contemplated the weather. The sky was cloudless, the weather was in the low 60s. The only issue was the wind. It was blowing at about 11mph, which can make for bumpy landings, but was due to calm down as the evening wore on. We drove about 10 miles to a school lot next to a housing development.

Sally and I stood and watched while the crew unloaded the basket and envelope (that’s what the balloon guys call the balloon itself). Nobody noticed the little red chair I was carrying until I took this photo.

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John released a couple helium balloons and watched them rise. After they rose above the surface winds, they rose pretty much straight up, so he determined to go for it. The inflation of the envelope began with a fan.

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Then John fired up the burners in the basket and continued inflating the envelope.

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As the balloon rose, it tilted the basket upright.

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We were standing by, waiting for the order to climb into the basket, which came very quickly. And we were hardly positioned inside when we took off. There was no fanfare. We drifted up calmly and were soon well off the ground. (I grabbed this next photo from the Lake Geneva Balloon Company facebook page. You can’t tell, but that is our flight.)

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The largest building in the center of this photo is the school. The pickup and trailer can be seen parked on the grass in front of it. That’s where we launched from.

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We climbed steadily past 2,000 feet, then more slowly to our top altitude of about 4,000 feet. John takes photos of all his passengers in the air. (I got this on on the Lake Geneva Balloon Company facebook page also.)

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I handed him the chair and took a shot of him and Rene.

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He pointed out Chicago on the horizon to the southeast …

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and Milwaukee on the horizon to the northeast. For a little while, there was a small plane performing acrobatics a mile or so away.

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Lake Geneva was off to the west.

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To the south we could see Twin Lakes and, right on the horizon, Chain O’Lakes in Lake County, Illinois.

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I expected that we would be drifting steadily over the landscape, but once we got up high, we pretty much parked.

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I am not, as a general rule, afraid of heights if I have something to hang onto. At no time during this flight was I nervous. There was a bar in each corner, part of the frame that held up the burner. If I was leaning out at all, I hooked my arm around this, but otherwise I paid no attention.

 

On a couple occasions, we drifted into winds that were moving faster than we were and felt a little breeze. But most of the time there was no wind at all because we were moving at the same speed as the air. The only temperature variation came when John punched the burner and a hot burst of air hit us on the back of the neck.

The burner was loud, but when it wasn’t going and we weren’t talking, it was silent. We could hear dogs barking down below us, even when we were at the highest point. I heard, and then saw, a couple of Sandhill Cranes flying about half a mile off to the south.

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I found the shadows fascinating. The height also gave us a great look at the bumps and ripples in the ground, left over from glaciers.

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This was the closest we came to flying over a body of water. This is Dyer Lake.

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We weren’t harnessed or anything. The only thing preventing us from falling out of the waist-high basket was our will to live.

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At times we just enjoyed the quiet and view in silence. At other times we chatted, punctuated frequently by the blast of the burner as John kept the balloon at the altitude he wanted.

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Looking up into the envelope from the basket. This is the only way to take a photo of a balloon from in the balloon.

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I took this photo to try to capture the balloon and the view and posted it on facebook while we were in the air.

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John told us he’s performed a wedding in the balloon. He got ordained into some church online so he could offer the service. He said he’s lost count of how many marriage proposals he’s witnessed.

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John pointed out an airport where he hoped to land, but the wind didn’t cooperate. After 45 minutes, he dropped down to just above the treetops and began communicating with his ground crew.

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The last 15 minutes were the most exciting for me. We caught the surface wind and began moving faster. We scared up a Wild Turkey which flew cackling across a field into the woods and a Turkey Vulture that flapped away as quickly as it could go.

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We also startled a lot of dogs, some of which ran around under us and barked and others which panicked and ran for cover. People heard the noise of the burners and came out to look, wave and take photos as we passed over. This woman’s dog had just scurried inside, whining as it went.

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We saw the ground crew, and John was communicating with them about where to land. He settled on a cornfield and told the crew he would come down on the far side and lay the balloon down on a dirt road that ran next to it. He told us how to brace ourselves by holding onto handles inside the bag with both hands.

The next two photos, taken by the crew as we approached, are from the Lake Geneva Balloon Company.

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That’s me in the front with the camera around my neck. Check out the moon in the upper right.

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He bumped the ground a couple times to slow down as we crossed the field. I could see inch-high corn plants growing in rows. I figured we were doing quite a bit of damage, but Sally and Rene, who were on the backside, said they couldn’t see that we were hurting anything at all.

The bounces were pretty jarring. I almost went overboard at the first one. Holding on to a handle with both hands at belt height isn’t the most efficient way to brace when you’re tipping forward against a waist-high railing and jarring into the ground. I managed to stay in the basket and not kill or embarrass myself.

I turned on the camera and let it record as it dangled from my neck.

 

We bounced four or fives times. When we came down on the edge of the field, the crew grabbed and held on. John got us all arranged and situated, then had us climb out of the basket one at a time. He was kind enough to allow me to get a red chair photo while the envelope was still inflated.

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They let the air out of the envelope and tipped everything over.

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The process went quickly. Air was pushed out by drawing the envelope through a metal ring.

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While all this was going on, Sally and I chatted with a guy who pulled up on a motorcycle to watch the proceedings. I’d seen him earlier, watching as we sailed over.

The envelope was folded over into its bag. One of the crew guys grabbed the chair from Sally and told her to jump on the bag to collapse it.

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We drove back to the parking lot. John, Rene, Sally and I sat around a table outside a pie restaurant. He gave us a little history of hot air balloons — the first one went up in the 1780s and until fairly recently they were mostly considered for military purposes.

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We then toasted each other with champagne (I only took a single small sip because the stuff is disgusting) while John recited the Balloonist’s Prayer:

The winds have welcomed you with softness.
The sun has blessed you with its warm hands.
We have flown so high and so well that God
has joined you in laughter and set you gently
back into the loving arms of mother Earth.

And we were home by 9:30. It was every bit as beautiful and cool and amazing as I’d imagined and I am very thankful for having had the opportunity. ThaNK you.

John posted this flight record on the Lake Geneva Balloon Company page.

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Here it is on a satellite image. The red stars indicate our take-off and landing spots.

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And close-ups.

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And to put it all into perspective.

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Sugar River

Sugar River Forest Preserve, up near the Wisconsin border west of Rockford, is one of my favorite places to bird in Illinois. There are always a lot of birds around, including some specialties that are hard to find in the state (although I didn’t see any of them on this trip). I also usually have the place to myself, which is a decided plus.

I got there around 8:00. It was overcast and cool to begin with but got sunnier later in the day.  Warblers were moving, and I was having a great day but then wandered off on a horse trail that took me off into a field and when I finally figured out where I was, the quickest way back to where I wanted to be was a mile-and-a-half walk on country roads.

Fortunately, I like walking along country roads and I saw some good birds by the time I finally got back to the park. Unfortunately, the warblers had disappeared and things were a lot less lively. I didn’t stick around very much longer because the maintenance men were out with their tractors mowing the picnic areas and roadsides.

  • Canada Goose
  • American Robin
  • Blue Jay
  • Pileated Woodpecker
  • Baltimore Oriole
  • Northern Waterthrush
  • House Wren
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker

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  • Tree Swallow
  • Gray Catbird
  • American Goldfinch
  • Yellow-throated Vireo
  • Canada Warbler
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • American Redstart
  • Magnolia Warbler
  • Tufted Titmouse
  • Red-eyed Vireo
  • Eastern Bluebird
  • Black-throated Green Warbler (heard only)
  • Chestnut-sided Warbler
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Eastern Wood-Pewee
  • Black-capped Chickadee
  • Great Crested Flycatcher
  • White-breasted Nuthatch
  • Golden-winged Warbler
  • Yellow Warbler
  • Northern Flicker
  • White-throated Sparrow
  • Common Yellowthroat

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  • Wild Turkey (flock of eight)
  • Wood Duck
  • Hairy Woodpecker
  • Chipping Sparrow
  • Field Sparrow
  • Northern Cardinal
  • American Crow
  • Barn Swallow
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Palm Warbler
  • Eastern Kingbird
  • Eastern Meadowlark
  • Wood Thrush (heard only)
  • Bobolink
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  • Mourning Dove
  • Nashville Warbler
  • Red-headed Woodpecker

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  • Eastern Phoebe
  • Eastern Towhee (heard only)
  • Ruby-throated Hummingbird
  • Turkey Vulture
  • White-crowned Sparrow
  • Indigo Bunting
  • Swamp Sparrow
  • Song Sparrow
  • Gray-cheeked Thrush
  • Brown-headed Cowbird
  • Barred Owl (heard only)
  • Black-billed Cuckoo
  • Swainson’s Thrush
  • Ovenbird
  • Brown Thrasher

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My next stop was Rock Cut State Park, just east of Rockford. I’ve had some very good days here and some very dull days. It was  early afternoon when I got here today and things were slow, although there were birds around. I only listed one’s I hadn’t seen yet on the day.

  • Great Blue Heron
  • Warbling Vireo
  • Mallard
  • Rough-winged Swallow
  • Broad-winged Hawk
  • Tennessee Warbler
  • Rose-breasted Grosbeak
  • Green Heron
  • Red-tailed Hawk

I stopped for an hour and a half at Moraine Hills State Park before heading home.

  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Prothonotary Warbler
  • Spotted Sandpiper
  • Belted Kingfisher (heard only)
  • Veery
  • Common Grackle
  • Mute Swan
  • Sandhill Crane
  • Lesser Yellowlegs
  • Pied-billed Grebe (heard only)
  • Great-horned Owl (Down in tall grass looking around. It then flew toward me and landed in a tree about 30 yards away. Very good look.)
  • Chimney Swift
  • Killdeer
  • Great Egret

With the House Sparrows, Starlings and House Finches I saw along the way, my total for the day was 91 birds, much higher than I expected.

I had so much fun that I debated going out again the next day — but I didn’t have a car. And then I woke up to discover three Pine Siskins on my feeders. That settled it. I walked over to Hickory Grove and Lyon’s Prairie for a couple hours. Things were moving early and then died quickly at 10:00, like usual. I’ve highlighted the ones I didn’t see on Thursday.

  • House Finch
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Baltimore Oriole
  • Blue Jay
  • American Robin
  • Pine Siskin
  • Song Sparrow
  • House Wren
  • Mourning Dove
  • Common Grackle
  • Chimney Swift
  • Belted Kingfisher
  • American Goldfinch
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • American Crow (heard only)
  • Chipping Sparrow
  • Black-throated Green Warbler
  • Barn Swallow
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Common Yellowthroat
  • Savannah Sparrow
  • Tree Swallow
  • Eastern Bluebird
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Henslow’s Sparrow (heard only)
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Scarlet Tanager
  • Palm Warbler
  • Tennessee Warbler
  • Brown-headed Cowbird
  • Orchard Oriole
  • White-crowned Sparrow
  • Golden-winged Warbler
  • Gray-cheeked Thrush
  • Warbling Vireo (heard only)
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  • Indigo Bunting
  • Field Sparrow (heard only)
  • Eastern Wood-Pewee
  • Eastern Kingbird
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Ovenbird (heard only)
  • Wood Thrush (heard only)
  • Gray Catbird
  • Red-eyed Vireo (heard only)
  • Black-and-white Warbler
  • Chestnut-sided Warbler
  • Magnolia Warbler
  • American Redstart
  • Bay-breasted Warbler
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Sandhill Crane
  • Sora (heard only)
  • Canada Goose
  • Broad-winged Hawk
  • Blackburnian Warbler
  • Nashville Warbler
  • Rose-breasted Grosbeak
  • White-throated Sparrow
  • Mallard
  • Yellow Warbler (heard only)
  • Northern Waterthrush
  • Killdeer
  • Red-tailed Hawk

That’s 66 birds in just a couple hours and a total of 101 over the two days.

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Mystery Trip 2016

For the mystery trip this year, we headed to Patterson Glass in Mundelein, Illinois. There were 20 of us, and we spent about three hours taking turns making glass pyramids. We got to choose our own colors and then Peter Patterson and another guy walked us through the process. We were supervised so closely that we really didn’t have much of an opportunity to mess things up. It takes a couple days to cool the glass properly, so we have to wait a couple days to get our creations.

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If my face looks red in these photos, it’s because it was hot in the room and the furnace that I had just been heating my glass in was 1,200°.

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That’s Peter Patterson next to me.

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When we were all through, Peter demonstrated another technique and made a vase.

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For lunch we went to Empire Buffet, where I got a photo of my coworker Johannah Wenig with the chair.

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Posted in Red Chair, Roadside Attractions | Leave a comment

Neighborhood Birds

took a 10-mile stroll through three forest preserves near home. It was a warm, sunny day but the winds were from the north so there weren’t a lot of birds on the move. In about four hours, here are the 52 species I saw or heard.

  • Common Grackle
  • Mourning Dove
  • American Robin
  • House Wren
  • House Finch
  • American Goldfinch
  • Brown-headed Cowbird
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Canada Goose
  • Mallard
  • House Sparrow
  • Chipping Sparrow
  • Eastern Phoebe
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Song Sparrow
  • White-crowned Sparrow
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Killdeer (a pair with four chicks, which I gently herded off a busy road and back into the grass)
  • European Starling
  • American Crow
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Great Egret
  • Field Sparrow
  • Eastern Bluebird
  • Tree Swallow
  • Blue Jay
  • Brown Thrasher
  • Broad-winged Hawk
  • Northern Flicker
  • Black-capped Chickadee
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Baltimore Oriole
  • Sandhill Crane
  • Rough-winged Swallow
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Northern Waterthrush
  • Gray Catbird
  • Yellow Warbler
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  • White-breasted Nuthatch
  • Eastern Towhee
  • Eastern Meadowlark (heard but not seen)
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Bald Eagle (soaring in the same kettle with a Cooper’s Hawk and a Red-tailed Hawk)
  • Cooper’s Hawk
  • Mute Swan
  • Common Yellowthroat
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • White-throated Sparrow
  • Black-and-white Warbler
  • Ovenbird
  • Savannah Sparrow

I also saw several animals (although nothing out of the ordinary):

  • Eastern Chipmunk
  • Eastern Cottontail
  • Eastern Gray Squirrel
  • Muskrat
  • Woodchuck
  • White-tailed Deer
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Pleasant but Muddy

A quick walk at Crabtree over lunch. It looked and felt like spring today — very pleasant when I wasn’t dealing with the muddy paths caused by three days of rain over the weekend.

  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Blue Jay
  • Canada Goose
  • White-crowned Sparrow
  • American Goldfinch
  • Warbling Vireo
  • Yellow Warbler
  • American Robin
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Tree Swallow
  • Great Egret
  • Common Grackle
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

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  • Eastern Phoebe
  • Mallard
  • White-breasted Nuthatch
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Brown-headed Cowbird
  • Turkey Vulture
  • House Wren
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker (heard but not seen)
  • Song Sparrow
  • Black-capped Chickadee
  • White-throated Sparrow
  • Northern Flicker (heard but not seen)
  • Gray Catbird

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  • Palm Warbler
  • Eastern Bluebird
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Swamp Sparrow
  • Northern Waterthrush
  • Common Yellowthroat (heard but not seen)
  • Blue-winged Teal
  • Downy Woodpecker (heard but not seen)
  • Eastern Towhee
  • Barn Swallow
  • Field Sparrow (heard but not seen)
  • Sandhill Crane
  • Sora (heard but not seen)
Posted in Birds, Scenery | Leave a comment

Busch Stadium in St. Louis

Another post from Olive Swan

Little Red is on his way home, but first a stop to see the Cardinals play the Nationals. Lot of red around here, but Little Red still cuts a fine figure with the Trevor Rosenthal bobblehead sitting on him looking out on the field.

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It Looked Like Spring, But It Felt Like Winter

Maybe not winter, but it was chilly — in the 40s with a 20 mph wind and overcast.

As I left my car, a family of Canada Geese were walking away from the parking lot. One of the goslings, which obviously had a problem, couldn’t get up over the curb. I watched for a minute or so and then couldn’t help myself. I trapped it between my feet and gave it a push with my finger to get it up and over. It was wobbly and slow and wasn’t long for this world, but I gave it another day — or hour — to live.

Here’s what I saw:

  • Great Egret
  • Canada Goose
  • American Robin
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Sora (heard but not seen)
  • Mallard
  • Eastern Phoebe
  • Brown-headed Cowbird
  • Common Grackle
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker

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  • Great Blue Heron
  • Wood Duck
  • Bufflehead
  • Barn Swallow
  • Tree Swallow
  • White-throated Sparrow
  • Blue Jay
  • House Wren
  • Sandhill Crane
  • American Goldfinch
  • Caspian Tern

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  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Swamp Sparrow
  • Palm Warbler
  • Hairy Woodpecker
  • Eastern Towhee (heard but not seen)
  • Northern Waterthrush
  • European Starling
  • Common  Yellowthroat
  • Black-capped Chickadee
  • White-breasted Nuthatch
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It Looked Like Spring, But It Felt Like Summer

Spent about an hour at Crabtree Nature Center at lunchtime. It was 83º and sunny and felt like summer. In other words, it was too hot.

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The birds hadn’t gotten the message yet. I saw a few early migrants mixed in with the usual suspects.

  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Tree Swallow
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Sandhill Crane
  • American Robin
  • Brown-headed Cowbird
  • Black-capped Chickadee
  • White-breasted Nuthatch
  • Canada Goose
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • European Starling
  • Blue-winged Teal

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  • Great Egret
  • Wood Duck
  • Mallard
  • Common Grackle
  • Song Sparrow
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Northern Flicker (heard but not seen)
  • American Crow (heard but not seen)
  • Field Sparrow (heard but not seen)
  • Blue Jay

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  • Turkey Vulture
  • Mourning Dove
  • Hairy Woodpecker
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Bufflehead
  • Ring-necked Duck
  • Eastern Phoebe (heard but not seen)

I also found this skull of what I’m guessing is a Woodchuck or a Muskrat.

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Red Chair Visits Bartlesville, Oklahoma — Part Four

Another post from Olive Swan

Tired of Phillips and Woolaroc? Too bad! Phillips built this town, so there’s still lots more to go. But today we’ll take a little detour into town to Oklahoma Wesleyan University. On the grounds stands La Quinta Mansion, built for oilman H.V. Foster, “the richest man west of the Mississippi.” (back in the 20s and 30s, that is.) According to the stories, his wife preferred living at their ranch, and after their deaths, the house made its way through several owners until becoming the admin building of Oklahoma Wesleyan.

These assorted photos show the La Quinta mansion and even some of the university buildings that are fashioned after the mansion.

The front sign of Oklahoma Wesleyan University.

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The other half of the OKWU sign.

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Parts of the OKWU campus, the buildings are modeled after the Hacienda-style La Quinta Mansion.

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La Quinta Mansion, H.V. Foster’s city home circa 1930. Tours of the house are held every so often.

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The front door of La Quinta Mansion on the grounds of OKWU. Currently, the mansion serves as the admin building of Oklahoma Wesleyan University.

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As I mentioned a few days ago, Phillips 66 built this town, and Conoco-Phillips and Phillips 66 buildings and their parking lots take up most of the downtown city blocks. There are a few unique entrances to the buildings, built, no doubt, during the oil boom of the early 19th century.

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