Yellow-billed Cuckoo


Before I start, I wish to welcome all of the new readers that have subscribed to my blog in the past several months.  One of them, in particular, caught my interest.  Duane Sugarbaker, of my hometown of Muskegon, Michigan recognized my former street address there at 913 Fleming Avenue on this image inserted in my last post.  He well should have, as he lived at 901 of the same street.L1000216-band-card He and I and my brothers were childhood friends back in the ’40s.  Talk about a small world.  I haven’t seen him in around 65 years.  Duane, tell all the guys from our sandlot baseball team, hello. 🙂

This blog now has 1,472 subscribed readers, plus hundreds more who haven’t subscribed, in 150 countries.  It has received, since the beginning about four years ago, 111,295 hits.  Rats, I was going to give a prize for the 110,124th hit, but it got away from me.  Sorry about that. 🙂

Okay, now about today’s birding.  Ann and I decided to see if there were any birds about at Spring Creek and Middle Concho Parks.  We spent about two hours, and only saw 17 different species.  So much for the mid-summer doldrums.  Here is one photo of a Black Vulture wandering around in the grass.

Black Vulture

Black Vulture

However, one of the highlights was spotting a Yellow-billed Cuckoo.  They usually keep themselves hidden.  This one did so, partially, but I was unable to get a decent shot.  So I will show these images from my archives.  I don’t think I ever blogged about them, anyway.  If I did it was probably several years ago.

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

They perch pretty much upright on the branch, usually with their bill pointing upward.  Their white breast stands out when you are looking for them in the trees.

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

I don’t usually publish photos with birds and their tail cut off, but it didn’t hurt the composition in this photo, I don’t think.

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

I hope you enjoyed the photos and the narrative.  Click on any image to see an enlargement.

Coming this weekend, Part III of my on-going Yakkety-Sax Man epic.  If you haven’t done so check out Part I and Part II.

Also, I have now sold nearly 100 copies of my book “Birds, Beasts and Buttes”.  They are still available from my Blurb publisher on the right side of this page.

Yakkety-Sax Man – Part II: The Big Band Era


After writing Part I, I was over-whelmed by the comments that asked that I continue my story.  I deeply appreciate that you readers are so interested in my past.  Before I continue, I wish to make one disclaimer.  During all of my 50+year career, the only thing I ever smoked was regular cigarettes, the only thing I drank was beer or whiskey, and I never took anything worse than prescription pills or aspirin.  As you will find out as I go along, I was in an environment to ruin my life, but I stayed in control of my faculties, including fighting girls off with my saxophone.  I have remained faithful only to my wife, Ann.L1000216-band-card

Now with that out of the way, let’s continue.

I was beginning the part in my life when I enjoying playing in the big bands.  The Morrie Bectel Orchestra was one of the best in western Michigan.  We were made up of some of the best young musicians from the schools in Muskegon.  We had four saxes, three trumpets, three trombones, bass, piano, and drums.  Morrie, the leader, was the drummer.  I was also the vocalist.  The girls didn’t swoon, but they giggled a bit.  Ma, if you could hear me now.

We had some interesting bookings around the state, but mostly around Muskegon.  During the summer we played weekly concerts near the Lake Michigan beach, performing on a flat-bed trailer.  That was the only time that my parents ever heard me play professionally.

But we played one gig that was right out of the movie, “Snake Pit”.

In Traverse City, Michigan, there was a state asylum for the mentally ill.  The local musician’s union, Local 252, would take some bookings and mete them out to various bands.  So, of course, one night our number came up and we made the 150 mile trip, expenses paid by the union.

The venue was a large building that I surmised was probably a gym type facility.  There were three-tiered bleachers on each side of the room.  The male patients sat on one side and the ladies sat on the other side.  When the music started, both sides rushed at each other.  It gave new meaning to the words “musical chairs”.  A few were left standing without a partner and had to go back and sit down.

During the evening, one little lady, came up to the bandstand with a piece of paper in her hand.  She looked around furtively, and slid the note over under my chair.  She ran off, I picked up the note.  It said “Please tell mother that I am alright”.

harry-jamesAnother venue that we enjoyed was the Fruitport Pavilion at Fruitport, Michigan.  It was a regular stop for bands like Count Basie, Woody Herman, the Dorsey brothers, and Harry James and all of the other big bands of the era.  The day Harry James wedded Betty Grable he was booked at the Pavilion.  We were off that night and we, the other guys in our band, hurried out to see if we could get a glimpse of his new wife.  Alas, he left her in the hotel in Chicago, 200 miles away, where he would be headed after the gig.

Anyway, when the well known big bands were not booked there, we often got hired to play in their stead.  We drew the same large crowds.  It is quite a rush to play in a big band, be one of the featured musicians, and get up during a song to do a solo.  Quite an ego trip.

During those years, I also had my own band, Bob Zeller and his Orchestra.  Very aptly named, don’t you think?  I able to book jobs when I wasn’t playing with the other bands.

One of my peresonal quirks was that I was a very shy introvert, probably because I was bullied and teased when I was younger, but that is another story.  When on stage with the sax in my hand I was someone else, reveling in the applause and admiration of the crowd.  During a break, though, I couldn’t bring myself to leave the bandstand and mingle with the audience.  I would go by myself, out the back door, and have a cigarette or just be alone.

Getting kicked out of the high school band, as I told the story in Part I, devastated me.  Music was my life, and I no longer had an interest in staying in school.  So I dropped out.  I was in the eleventh grade.  (I eventually got my high school diploma in later years.)

I went to work as a draftsman for the Brunswick-Balke-Collendar Company, makers of  bowling alleys, pool tables, and other sporting goods. I had studied drafting in high school and was pretty adept at it.  It was while I was working there, that one day my brother, Jim, talked me into visiting the local U.S. Air Force recruiter during lunch hour.  The next day, I was on a bus heading to Detroit, to get my enlistment physical.  I never returned home, as I was accepted on the spot.  Jim was rejected because of kidney problems, and he headed back home while I was being sworn in, then boarding a train for Sampson AFB in New York, for my basic training.

A/2c Bob Zeller

A/2c Bob Zeller

As it turned out, on my third day of training, we were double-timing back to the barracks, when we were hit by a surprise thunder-storm.  I got soaked, got pneumonia, and spent  a month in the base hospital.  I got out. had a relapse and spend another month and a half or so in the infirmary again.  In all, it took me nearly five months to do eleven weeks of basic training.  The good news was that my hair grew out and I looked like a veteran when my training was over.  I also was able to have my sax shipped to me during that time.

When I was not in the hospital I was afforded special privileges after it was noticed that I was pretty much talented.  I was able to play at certain base functions, even getting off base occasionally.  All with the approval of my superiors.  But not without me paying for it in other ways.  One night I came back late from one of those gigs, and found my cot folded up, my mattress and bedding rolled up and stuck in the rafters.  I heard muffled giggles as I struggled in the dark to get my stuff back together.  No lights, or risk bringing the brass to see what was going on.

So much for my days in boot camp.  From there I was assigned to Stead AFB, Reno, Nevada, the home of the Air Force Survival School at that time.  A beginning of great stories to tell about my my Air Force exploits.

To comment, click on the little “cloud” at the top of this post, or on “leave a reply” at the bottom of this page.

I will continue this epic when I publish Part III in about a week or so.  Watch for it.  Again, to read Part I if you haven’t already, click here.

A time to be thankful


Then

A friend of mine asked me a couple of days ago, “Do you have your Christmas shopping done yet?”  I replied, “I sure do, and tomorrow I am going to shop for my wife.”  A little humor there, but in reality I am thankful for my wife, Ann.  She has put up with a lot of stuff from me in our 52 years of marriage.

It all started those 52 years ago, of course.   I am going to relate this story because I was inspired by this story http://threestatesplusone.blogspot.com/2010/11/some-things-to-be-grateful-for.html.  It was written by my friend, Toby, up there in Maine.  His story is about how he met his then wife-t0-be on line.  A great read.  Just click on that link, then come back and catch the rest of my story.

My story is similar except it was done the old-fashioned way, i.e. thru the United States Postal Service.  Now how can that be, you may ask.  Well, it all started 52 years ago, as I said before.

I was 23, and in the Air Force stationed at Ardmore AFB, Oklahoma.  I was dating a few local girls off and on, plus writing to a few girls.  Ann, age 19, had moved to Muskegon, Michigan,  from Beulah, Michigan.  Beulah is 150 miles north of Muskegon, and famous for the annual Smelt run in the creek that runs through town.  You can dip the Smelt out of the creek by the bucket full, literally.  I know, because I”ve done it.

Anyway, the reason for her moving to my hometown of Muskegon, was to go to business school there.  With a stroke of luck, for me, anyway, was that she rented a room on the second floor of my grandma’s house.  Now, my 80 year old grandma wished to be a match-maker, so she wrote me that I should write to this cute girl that was living upstairs.   She may also have said that she had great legs, but I don’t remember that for sure.  🙂

I dropped her a line.  It must have been a great line because she answered me immediately.  Curious, I guess.  That was on March 21, 1958.  I answered her, she answered me, I answered her, etc., etc.  I think that within a month or less, we were writing everyday.  I had dropped dating the local girls and destroyed my mailing list.  Well, we really got to know each other through these daily letters.  About two months later,and I don’t remember this important date, but I wrote and asked her to marry me.  Five days later I got the answer.  “Bob, I don’t know how to tell you this”…………(Uh Oh, what’s this)……..”but I’d be honored to be your wife”.

Oh, my God, what do I do now??  🙂

I thought I had better call her so we could talk and set a date.  This was going to be really something, because I had never talked to her in person, nor of course, had I ever seen her.  She had previously sent me two pictures, (Yes, she did have great legs).  I sent her a bunch of me, ‘cuz I wanted for her to see what she was getting into.

Problem.  My grandma didn’t have a phone.  Ann didn’t have a car.  I called my Dad, asked him to go pick up Ann, bring him home, and I would call back later.  Talk about awkward.  My folks had one phone and it sat on a litle stand right next to my Dad’s favorite armchair. 

Now, before I called, I went over the calendar so I could check out when I would be getting paid, etc., so I could afford to come home to get married.  I had decided that August 18, 1958 would be a good date.  I would get paid on Friday morning, then I could take a Greyhoud bus and meet her at the bus station on Saturday.

So I made the call.  She thought that the plan was great.  That way, people wouldn’t think we were rushing into it.  Yeah, right…..  She said that she would line up the church, the preacher, etc., and every thing that goes with a wedding.

So during tht two and a half months interim, we just wrote more letters.  At one point I though I would try to fly home one weekend.  It would be a tight schedule, and I would probably be able to just meet for an hour or two before I would try to fly back.  My plan was to hitch-hike to Tinker AFB, in Oklahoma City and get a free hop on a cargo plane to maybe Detroit, then get a bus to Muskegon, then turn around and do it all in reverse.

I called my Dad to tell him to go tell her that I was coming.  I hitch-hiked to Oklahoma City.  But alas, a huge thundrstorm came in, grounding all flights.  I couldn’t fly out.  So I called Dad and told him the news, and he had to go tell Ann.  She was understandably devastated.  I was pretty disappointed my self.

We never did talk again on the phone.  So on Saturday August 16, at 2:00 PM I met my lovely wife-to-be for the first time.  It was like we had known each other for years.  There never was any doubts about what we were doing.  The wedding rehearsal was at 4:00 PM.  We were married on Monday night August 18.  My Dad led Ann down the aisle.

There is more.  I didn’t have enough money for a bus ticket back for her.  I had expected to get a bit cash for wedding presents.  But not.  I had an old alto saxophone that I had left with my parents, so I took it to a local music store and managed to get enough money for her ticket.  We packed all of her belongings into seven suitcases and put them on the bus and shipped them as luggage.

Before I had left Ardmore OK, I had put a deposit on a little garage apartment, and bought a week’s supplies of groceries.  The day after we got back, Ann got a Civil Service job at the air base.  A day after that, our landlord’s son said he would sell his 1953 cream-puff Buick Roadmaster, and he financed it for us. 

So you can say that the the Lord was definitely looking after us.  And he has been looking over us ever since.  Sometimes I say to myself, why me?  I am not anything special, I never did anything special, but I am blessed with a great wife, great friends, great health for my age, a good  sense of humor, and enough money to pay the bills.

Now

So I am continually thankful.