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I’ve been working on a book about sourdough for some time. Lee’s sourdoughs or sourdough flapjacks were my first exposure to made-in-our-house sourdough. The recipe below is the one Lee uses and is one of about 20 in Sourdough Man’s Memoir, which I expect to publish this year.
Lee got this recipe from Marty Murie, an old family friend and the first female graduate of the University of Alaska. Well, more accurately, he got a recipe from her and has made some changes to it over the years.

Lee’s Flapjacks or Sourdoughs

About right for two hungry people
Night Before Ingredients: in Your Crock of Starter
1¼ cups
1 cup
flour (white, whole wheat, cracked wheat, oatmeal or a mixture)

Night Before Directions:
Add the flour and water to the ½ cup (or more) starter in the crock and mix well. It should be at least as soupy as fresh-cooked oatmeal–adjust the amount of water or flour if necessary.

Day of Cooking Ingredients:
¼ cup
½ tsp
¼ to ⅓ cup
1 to 2 Tablespoons
egg (or ¼ cup egg beaters)
baking soda. (Lee says less soda makes the flapjacks more tangy.)
fresh or dried fruit or nuts (optional)
oil or shortening of some type. Lee thinks the best taste comes from sausage or bacon fat.

Day of Cooking Directions:
1. Put at most 90% of the delicious vinegary slime from your crock into a mixing bowl. Leave at least 10% in the crock on the counter for up to about five days, or put in the refrigerator for up to about a fortnight, or in the freezer if it won’t be used for weeks. Lee keeps a small amount frozen in case the starter in the crock goes bad.
2. If you wish, you can add fruit or nuts to the batter in your mixing bowl or to the flapjacks after you put the batter on the griddle.
3. Mix thoroughly and let stand about 10 minutes.
4. Cook on a medium-hot griddle, frying pan or a hot waffle iron. For true flapjacks, flip by tossing the pancake into the air and catching it with the griddle.

Griggs of Katmai

Well, my blogging resolve is not as good as it should be. But I have been working on non-blog writing, so another book is on-line. This memoir/adventure story, Griggs of Katmai, will be free for a month or so on Well I thought it would be available there, but due to errors in formatting the many graphics, it is not yet available except from the author.

In 1912 the largest volcanic eruption of the 20th Century blew the hell out of the Katmai region of southwest Alaska. In fact, if you measure eruption by amount of lava, ash and such ejected, this eruption was the largest of the last few millennia, so massive it affected weather in Africa and South Asia. Griggs of Katmai is the story of the discovery of the volcano, Novarupta, and the exploration of the region. Because of advances in aviation during World War I, there would never again be true exploration because “explorers” from then on would have aerial photographs, maps, or at least detailed reports from plane flights over any region they ventured into. There may be other examples, but Griggs’ and Shaklelton’s expeditions may well have been the last two most-significant explorations done with no maps.

Remains of one of the thousands of fumeroles in the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes.

Erosion by the River Lethe shows the depth of the lava flow. This is more than five miles from the source.

Robert Fiske Griggs led the exploration, up the delta of the Katmai River, about 25 miles of quicksand and un-crossable rivers, to see the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes. He and his two companions were the first to see the Valley. Really the first! The land in the Valley had only been created in 1912.

Ruth Griggs Higbie, Griggs’ oldest child, wrote a biography of her father and the story of that 1916 expedition. After her death Ruth’s youngest son, James H. Higbie, added material from a 1997 family trip to the Valley written by several of Griggs’ great-grandchildren. In 2020 I edited much of this material and added a dozen pages of notes, explaining terminology, Alaska, and the history of the time. (I have visited the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes five times and spent about three weeks in it. I also lived in Interior Alaska for five years, regularly attended the staff meetings of the Alaska Volcano Observatory, and took the International Volcanological Field Trip to Katmai, a class offered through the University of Alaska Fairbanks.)

Novel Now Available


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Well, after years of frustration and politics-induced writer’s block, I hope to start writing regularly again. I apologize to those who felt abandoned, but the sometimes hateful and violent social climate made me feel like I couldn’t write anything nice. I guess I believe in Thumper’s Law, “If you can’t say nothin’ nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.”
And, probably to start off on the worst possible foot, I feel like this post is horribly commercial. I have just published a new science fiction novel, the second part of the trilogy that begins with Stringship Vandenberg []. At least for the next month or two, Return to Groombridge 1618 [] will be free. makes most authors’ works free for the first month and a half or so making it a great place for readers to inexpensively discover new authors. I hope you can catch it while it is free.

BJ Creighton novels

Agenda Ebola.  CDC scientist Gunn Shoreham rushes to contain an Ebola outbreak in the Mideast where it’s occurring as various countries accuse each other of bioterrorism.
ebook: 978-1-63348-005-6 []
paper: 978-0-69252-291-2;

Stringship Vandenberg.  Horse Cooke captains a stringship to Groomby, where he discovers the first extra-terrestrial intelligence and returns to severe tax problems. This novel Describes Horse Cooke’s 25th Century World so others can write about it.

Return to Groombridge 1618.  Set in 2585, Stringship Captain Horse Cooke Horse Cooke escapes the tax agents by going to Groomby where he helps with the Vandyville Colony’s defense and then arranges a détente between the humans, chewies and orcs by using volleyball diplomacy. This despite millennia of orc-chewie hostility. This hard science fiction novel follows Horse as he brings the chewian ambassador to Earth, where he is arrested by tax agents.

No Sanctuary.  Nebraska detective Bobby Lee searches for the murderer of a wealthy New Yorker while chasing the demons of her past and evading those of her present.
ebook: 978-1-63348-000-1
paper: 978-0-69251-960-8

Non-fiction works by Lee Higbie

How to Talk about Wines You Haven’t Yet Tasted, a beer drinkers guide to wine snobbery.
ebook: 978-0-692-61827-1
paper: 978-1-63348-016-2

A writer’s Reference, quotes, terminology and maxims for writers.
ebook: 978-0-692-61827-1
paper: 978-1-63348-017-9

Chats and Starlings


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Tractrac Chat

Tractrac on a Nara Melon plant in the Namib Desert

Easter bunny is humming tactac tactac as he lopes down the trail. New kiddies have been added to his route and he’s desperate. Looking right and left and up and down he spies a cup-shape glob of twigs and leaves under the bushes. He goes to collect its three red eggs for the kids one his route. But wait, these are not Easter Eggs, they are tractrac eggs. He jumps away, hopping high so any nearby predators will follow him and not find the eggs.

Tree full of weaver-bird nests in Nairobi National Park, Kenya

Swing in Cape Town we thought was inspired by the weaver-bird nests. Communal weaver-birds build nest complexes this big.

The eggs’ father, a tractrac chat bird loudly chatters his “tactac” cry in defense of his nest and territory. His lifetime mate is foraging from the ground for butterflies, bees, wasps, ants or locusts. The prey is captured in short flights but this time the “meal” took too long to secure.

European robin we saw on Inis Mór, Galway Bay, Ireland. The settlers who named our robin must have been quite homesick to think it looked like this.

As you noticed, the bird was named for its song. So be careful of sounds you make, or you may earn a new name.

When we were in Namibia, we learned that the tractrac is in the same family as the robin. What we didn’t realize is the guide meant the European robin, not the American robin. This tractrac also showed us how tame African animals are—it landed on Lee’s outstretched hand.

Red-winged Starlings

Red-winged Starlings on Table Mountain, South Africa.

Bugs in your car radiator grill? Look for red-winged starlings—they could help remove the insects. The birds are omnivores and forage in the canopy or on the ground eating seeds, berries and beetles. They sip nectar from plants like aloe and also like fruit: figs, dates (date palm fruit), wild olives, and especially commercial fruits such as apples, grapes and citrus. Farmers do not appreciate their orchard raids. But, like oxpeckers, red-winged starlings remove insects from mammals.

Female Red-winged Starling on a street light in Cape Town.

The red-winged starlings scavenge on carrion and human food scraps. It can be a pest in their wide habitat areas of raiding orchards and attacking humans who are too close to the nests. Their messy nests are built of straw and twigs with a mud bottom on rock or building ledges. In the spring females lay 2 to 4 blue eggs in their untidy nests.

The males are glossy black with reddish outer flight feathers and a long tapered tail. The hens are similar except for a dull gray head, nape and upper chest. All have red irides [yes that is the plural of “iris” part of eyes, one of the more ridiculous English plurals] and black bills. Juveniles are less glossy with dark irides. Their song is a melodic whistle, who-tuleoo weeo but the contact call is cher-leeeoo.

These shiny black birds may take nestlings and adults of some bird species. Predators of the red-winged starling include some falcons, eagles, owls, crows and harrier hawks.

Malagasy Kingfishers and Red Fody


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Pygmy Kingfisher

Pygmy kingfishers are rather sedentary. They sit on a branch, watch and wait until food is sighted then . . . zoom a nose-dive to hit their lunch, which might be a frog, reptile, gecko, insect or crab. If the catch is not crushed in the killer beak, the pygmy kingfisher will whack it on a branch until it is dead.

The pygmies do not rely on water to harbor the food. Their habitat is all parts of Malagasy island except the hot dry south and southwest. Birds pairs or mates will build a long tube nest inside a sandy soil bank or renovate a ground termite nest for protection against lemurs. It fits one bird at a time. The female will lay four to six eggs. The parents take turns brooding. There may be several broods a year.

Migratory flights take place at night when numbers of deaths occur by colliding with buildings. The pygmy kingfishers are very secretive but a high-pitch insect sound of “tsip-tsip” may be used during flight. Little scientific research is available. Lemurs love kingfisher eggs.

Malagasy Kingfisher

Waiting for lunch.

The natural habitat is usually subtropical or tropical mangrove regions which include rivers, streams, lakes, swamps, estuaries and also paddy fields. This kingfisher is one of two kingfishers in Madagascar. Both sexes look alike and have a shrill, earsplitting “seek”, repeated during flight and a piercing shrill “treeeeee” on take-off.

Madagascar has 258 bird species and more unique genera than any other African country. Five endemic families of birds are found in Madagascar (a reason some Malagasies call Madagascar the 8th continent, more than an island).

For all Denver Bronco football fans this bird is for you electric blue and orange feathers, with some white neck feathers underneath, red feet and a long black beak.

Madagascar Fody

Red Fody in Tana [Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar].

The Madagascar fodies, or red fodies, red cardinal fodies, or common fodies, are common in Madagascar. They are in the large family of weaver birds.

The red fody male stakes out territory and proceeds to weave long strands of grasses and rootlets into a globular-shape nest with a side entrance, porch and short tube. It takes about eight days to construct. Sounds fancy to me. If no female chooses the male as a lifetime mate the nest will be abandoned. The male courtship call is a loud “seer” and the female’s is a short “tsip.” The everyday call of the red fody is a high-pitched, trilling “trrr tree tree”.

The male is the colorful one, of course: bright red with black markings. The females and young are tan and brown giving then a plain sparrow look.

Such a beautiful bird.

The birds feed on insects and seeds, especially grass seeds. Fruit, nectar and household scraps are on the edibles list. Rice growers regard Red fody as a pest. Bird lovers enjoy the color, song and weaving skills of these elegant beauties.

Guineafowl and Mynas


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Helmeted Guineafowl

Helmeted Guineafowl at Kirstenboch Gardens, Cape Town.

The helmeted guineafowl is the best known of the nine guineafowls. These birds live in small flocks and do well in populated areas. The Helmeted guineafowl is the track and field athlete of the feathered world, excelling at walking and running. The birds can cause traffic problems as they wander beside roads.

They love ticks, including warthog ticks and the carriers of Lyme disease. Guineafowl, the most distinctive birds in Kirstenbosh Gardens in Capetown, have strong claws and scratch in loose soil for food. They seldom uproot growing plants because they are searching for arthropods.

A small flock of guineafowl.

However, by human standards, the females are bad mothers and neighbors. The bad mother thing—they often abandon their nests that contains from six to twelve creamy white eggs. The “keets” or baby birds are colored to match their surrounds and have rapid growth that enables them to flutter to low branches two weeks old. So there Mom. HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY. Bad neighbors?—when disturbed guineafowl emit a loud and annoying, raucous kek- ek-ek kaaaaa and eerrrrk.

Common Myna (or mynah)

Common myna on a South African beach

The yellow eye patch gives this guy an apt mean and evil look, fitting for an invasive species from central and southern Asia. With up to three nestings per season, these aggressive invaders out-compete some indigenous birds. They even attack the young birds and eat eggs.

Myna on a Durban beach.

How did this unwelcome avian get to South Africa? This species originated from captive birds that escaped in Durban in the early 1900’s and is considered a serious threat to biodiversity. What would be the story if told by the myna.
“Why hate me. My special shaped beak and manipulating tongue allows me to mimic sounds and voices. So I can talk. Hey, can you fly?”

Ruddy Turnstones and Black-winged Stilts


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Ruddy Turnstones many ways to Capture Food

Ruddy Turnstone prancing on the mud flat at Walvis Bay, Namibia

No bird’s name fits better than the Ruddy turnstone’s. This bird lives on rocky shores and mud-flats with stones all around and it often flips over stones to get at prey hiding underneath. Hence it’s name.

The black, stout, slightly up-turned bill is perfect for manipulating the varied diet including carrion, eggs, and plant material but it feeds mainly on insects, crustaceans, mollusks and worms. They will eat eggs in undefended or unattended nests by puncturing with their beaks and eating the contents. In addition to turning over stones, they

  1. Route—flick, bulldoze and peck piles of seaweed to expose hidden gastropods or crustaceans

  2. Dig—peck holes in the mud to expose sand hoppers and seaweed flies

  3. Probe—stick about a quarter of its bill into the sand for snails and periwinkles

  4. Hammer—crack open shells using the bill as a hammer and extracting the animal by pecking and probing

  5. Surface peck—short pecks for the prey just below the surface

These Black-tailed Godwits are in the same family as the ruddy turnstone.

There is some evidence that Ruddy turnstones vary these feeding behaviors depending on individual choice, sex and even social status with respect to other turnstones. They rarely wade in waters more than a few inches deep but keep to areas where surf deposits are prevelant.

When stressed they fly low over the water calling “kit-it-it-it or ‘chidda-chidda-chidda’.

Ruddy turnstones breed in the Arctic regions and winter near the equator. Usually they lay four eggs and the young leave the nest soon after hatching. The chicks are able to feed themselves but the male parent usually protects them. They fledge after 19-21 days.

Ruddy turnstones are one of the longest lived waders with average lifespan of 9 years.

Long live the Ruddy turnstones and all their food procuring skills.

Black-winged Stilt

Black-winged Stilt in the shallow waters of Walvis Bay

The elegant black and white plumage of the black-winged stilt is set off by its pink legs. This bird evolved for pond-edge life with its long legs and long thin black beak. Stilts get their food from the sand and water in marshes, shallow lakes and ponds. The nesting sites are found on bare ground near water, frequently with avocets nearby. The stilts are flock birds and can be noisy, with their bird-bark-like-call, which is used when critters encroach on their space, especially during nesting season.

The long legs demand skillful navigation, the knees fold backwards, the opposite of your knees and mine, this allows the bird to tuck her large feet comfortably under her body. When landing a stilt holds her legs stiff and her wings out horizontally. She moves her legss forward at the last second for a running or hopping stop.

Some researchers have never seen the black-winged stilts drink water, but they all agree enough moisture is obtained from food in wet areas.

Next time you’re feeling uncomfortable in a rain storm just remember the black-winged stilt, lift up those knees and keep on wading.

Damara Tern & Chestnut-banded Plover


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Damara Tern

Damara Terns at Walvis Bay

The Damara tern is a very small, curious, fast flying bird that breeds in one of the harshest places on earth, where the icy Benguela Current meets the flowing sand of the Namib Desert (they also breed on south to Table Bay, South Africa). A newly discovered breeding area beyond Rocky Point, backs right up to the Cunene River, which forms the eastern part of the border between Namibia and Angola. The bird lays one egg in a scrape in the ground. Nests are also on salt pans and gravel plains where temperatures can reach 50° C or 86° F and wind moves loose sand and gravel at speeds up to 80 km/hour or 50m/hour. To add to the problem there is the worry of predators like jackals, rodents, crows, kestrels, gulls, and even beetles and chameleons eating their egg or chick. If not eaten, the chicks may be trampled by quad-bikes, motocross, bikes, off-road vehicles, horses and pedestrians strolling around in the dune area. Only a third of all chicks survive to fledgling.

Damara Tern flight at Walvis Bay

In breeding season both Damaras have black caps. The non-breeding birds have white forehead and mottled gray crowns.

Damara terns have a slightly down-turned black bills and pale gray back. From a distance the Damara appears almost white. Its high pitched ‘tsit-tit’ is repeated several times, sometimes with a ‘tit-tit’. They feed on small fish and an occasional squid, mostly in bays and estuaries.

After twenty years of banding terns and monitoring the breeding colonies, it is clear that they are valued both by the population and the businesses. Humans are protecting these special, unique, endemic birds and are optimistic about their long term survival.

Way to go Namibians!

Chestnut-banded Plover

Chestnut -banded Plover, Walvis Bay, Namibia

I am a chestnut-banded plover, the rarest of the small plovers in South Africa. You probably are amazed that I am a wading bird because I’m only five inches or 13 centimeters tall. I am a quiet bird but sometimes say a short soft “pit” or “pidup, pidup,” but only early in the morning.

Chestnut -banded Plover, Walvis Bay, Namibia, showing the salt-covered ground

We time our breeding with the rains, which means with the availability of plenty of food for our chicks. When we pair up for breeding, we defend our territory. Most of the time we love large communities. My diet is mostly insect larvae and small crustaceans. Watch for me along the shores of salty waters. You humans have figured out that we move when our wetlands habitat dries up. Some of you humans say my family is migratory but you don’t all agree on that point.

Skuas & Crested Terns


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Skuas are the hyenas or jackals of the bird world. The South Polar Skuas prefer to nest near penguin colonies so they can feed their babies penguin eggs and chicks. And you thought The Grinch was mean. Like The Grinch, Skuas have given their name to nasty people. A birder friend tells me “The Big Year’s” antagonist has SKUA for his license plate. At least I doubt he eats p

Pair of Skuas on the Atlantic Coast of Walvis Bay, Namibia.

enguins. And, if that’s not enough, the genus name, Stercorarius, means “shitty,” derived from the mistaken belief that they ate other birds guano. Actually, they chase and steal other birds food, often causing the victim to regurgitate. Still pretty crappy behavior.

As befits the hyena of the avian world, South polar skuas, though small among skuas, are large birds, more than 20 inches long and weighing more than two pounds (60+ cm long and 1⅛ Kg weight). But, in the interest of not damaging your device, don’t throw darts at or punch the image on your screen.

As I should have been saying all along, if you see errors in our identifications, ple

Crested terns

Seabirds breeding on roofs of buildings. . . come on that sounds ridiculous but the Crested terns and Hartlaubs gulls (see previous post) in South Africa have adapted this lifestyle. They also use artificial islands in the salt pans, sewage plants, and other buildings. The crested terns also make nests in a shallow dips open land. They often have stones and cuttlefish bones with their one or two blackish streaked eggs. Both parents incubate the eggs and care for the chicks.

The parent terns do not recognize their own eggs or newly hatched chicks. But by two days old, they know their own babies. The young terns fledge after 38 days but don’t leave the colony until four months old. Gotta hide from those mean, old Skuas.

Prior to mating the male establishes a small area in the colony and pecks any males who try to enter. But the female passes through and reacts to the males aggression so he can tell she’s a she. He initiates pairing by display, head raising and bowing and repeats this often during nesting. The chocolate and flowers of Crested tern courtship is fish. A male tern flies around with a fish in its beak, calling loudly, the partner may also fly but then they settle and the gift is exchanged.

Terns feed mostly at sea by diving or by dipping from the surface and they swallow it mid-air. Especially at night fishing trawlers provide a large larder. Sea bird eyes usually have more strongly colored carotenoid pigment, a red oil, than land birds that have no need to see into water.

ase let us know so they can be corrected.

Cape Cormorant & Hartlaub’s Gull


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Cape Cormorant and two Damara terns more on them soon).

Cape Cormorant or Cape Shag

Here I am dressed in black, not making a sound, cause I’ve no voice. If it were breeding season I’d have a purplish tinge and maybe a few white plumes on my neck, head and rear end. My gular or throat skin would be bright orangey yellow. The region by my eyes and bill are feathered, unusual for a cormorant.

Cape shag (if you prefer that name to “cormorant”) drying its wings.

My wings are each about 10” long and need a lot of drying so I sit around looking like I’m ready to flap and fly. [pic one on post] Yes, I have preen glands that secrete feather waterproofing but diving gets me awfully wet so I spend much time drying. My diet is fish: mostly sardines, anchovies and sand eels so my super market is the water.

We build seaweed and stick nests and our females lay two or three chalky white eggs. Our colonies are usually so dense we are within pecking distance of our neighbors. [single cormo in the sand]

Black-backed Jackal, an apex predator in coastal Namibia.

Cape Cormorant on Namibian beach.

We worry most about black-backed jackals that come after us while we roost. Great cormorants, white pelicans, kelp gulls, and rogue cape fur seals prey on our nestlings. We are an endangered species mostly because of an outbreak of avian cholera, oil, discarded fishing gear, and marine debris. Recently, the oiling risk has decreased as better fish offloading methods have been developed. Yes, we are susceptible to human disturbance so pass the word to your friends, “Please do not annoy us. Thank you.”

Hartlaub’s Gull

I am a Hartlaub’s gull. If you’re stand in Walvis Bay, Namibia, and look at the rocky offshore islands, you should be able to see untidy plant stem structures. These are our nests and we put them on rocky ground or in reeds. We are small, mainly white gulls with gray back and upper-wings, shiny black wingtips, and deep red legs and bill. We get along fine with most of you humans, but at times we are so tame you call us “pests.”

We may lay as many as 3 eggs between March and June. We have to guard our nests against mongooses, mole snakes and the big, bad African sacred ibis (see Apr 27 post).

We scavenge at dumps and feed on scraps, almost anything you leave around. We also love snails, moths, grasshoppers, beetles, ants and fruit. Sometimes a large group of us will feed in deep waters or behind boats. Following trawlers allows us to find plenty of anchovies, flying insects, sardines, cuttlefish, limpet, lobster, crab and mussels. But we never venture far from land. We hartlaubs are highly gregarious in winter, when feeding or roosting our raucous crow-like kaaarrh draws frequent complaints from some of our urban neighbors.