Monthly Archives: September 2010

Birds and Pie

Yesterday was the kind of autumn day one lives for. Do you remember how bitterly I had lamented, after nearly single-handedly consuming a delicious pie in Prince Edward County, that I was having a hard time finding equivalent pie-perfection in Toronto? Well, Pickle Me This came to the rescue and baked a fantastic apple pie and invited me over, along with Nathalie, who brought a stunning assortment of cheeses. A decadent afternoon that included pie, cheese, wine and talk of books and writing. What could be better? It’s also amazing to find that there’s actually a community of bloggers! I mean, usually it’s just me, thinking about something birdy, my fabulous readers absorbing my birdy nerddom, my Tilley Hat looking on, somewhat amused, and a gazillion spammers eavesdropping on the whole conversation. But actually meeting the folks who read you is exciting. And, to top off the afternoon, Nathalie wore a T-shirt of birds on wires. (Bird lovers among you, I will admit that my afternoon yesterday was infinitely more wordy than birdy, but that’s ok too, right?)

(Don’t owls have the best expressions? Pensive, yet sly. My second choice for a name, after Blackburnian warbler would be Great Horned Owl [GHW, to make things easier]. What was my mother thinking when she named me Julia??)

Birds and Words will be on hiatus for the next week. We’re taking our binoculars West! Red rocks, desert, and a huge salt lake. I shall return one year older, but such is life. See you soon!

Vivaldi’s Goldfinch!

It now seems that whenever I get in my car and turn on the radio, I’m exposed to more bird music. This time, thankfully, it had nothing to do with elevator-esque pseudo-classical monstrosities. It turns out that Antonio Vivaldi (yes, Mr. 4 Seasons himself) had a soft spot for the Goldfinch (Spinus tristis)! Incidentally, between you and me, the Goldfinch is one of the 7 birds I can safely, and definitively identify. It’s quite thrilling, really. I also learned a new word in Italian — Il Gardellino, which means, as you may have guessed, Goldfinch. Do have a listen to his Flute Concerto (and the graphics are particularly fetching, if you ask me).


First Day of Fall

Summer 2010 is now officially in the past. To celebrate the first day of autumn, I’m pasting in a picture of a shore bird I recently discovered — the Sanderling (Calidris alba).

The greatest thing about being a beginning birder is that every bird feels like a fabulous discovery. I had this terrible fear that bird watching would be completely boring and that I’d be stuck behind my binoculars for hours on end. It turns out, I’m riveted by specimens such as the Sanderling. I can’t help but wonder what they’re thinking about as they tiptoe along the shore. I’d love to tell them that today is the first day of my favorite season, that hot and humid summer is blissfully behind us, that I’m learning a new Beethoven Sonata, and that tomorrow I’m going to eat an incredibly delicious pie, baked by Pickle Me This.

Philistine birder

I was recently told that real birders don’t use the word seagull. Apparently, the only people who refer to gulls as seagulls are readers, and not birders. In other words, when I falsely identified a Ring Billed Gull (Larus delawarensis) as a Seagull, I was exhibiting true signs of my identity as a philistine birder. I guess I’ll chalk it up to another birding misdemeanor.

Here he is in all his glory. I might now start referring to Chekhov’s Seagull as the Ring-Billed Gull. Infinitely more precise that way, don’t you think?

We’re currently in the throes of fall migration, which is a wonderful thing, except for the tiny detail that the warblers all look exactly the same. And I’m hardly kidding when I say exactly the same. Yellow belly, olive/greenish brown back, a few black stripes here and there: there you go — that could describe any one of over 20 different species. Have a look at this bird blog for a fall warbler ID quiz, if you don’t believe me! (If you’re into screech owls, you’ll want to become a diligent reader of the blog I just mentioned; the author wrote his PhD dissertation on screech owls.)

I did get a great look at the Magnolia Warbler out at Hanlan’s Point on Toronto Island.

The magnolia warbler (Dendroica magnolia) was perfect. It chirped, it eyed me from above, and, most importantly, it sat still for about 4 seconds, which was long enough for me to get a good look at it. The problem with warblers for a beginning somewhat birder is their speed and the fact that they blend in with the foliage. Warblers move around so quickly, I swear they must have ADD. And in mid-September, things are compounded by the fact that it’s also Monarch Butterfly migration season! Almost every time I thought I saw a warbler, it was actually a monarch.

My most humbling experience this weekend was when I thought I was looking at a bright red bird, a unique fall warbler that wasn’t yellowish brown and…it turned out to be a ripe apple on a tree!

Guest Author Post: ROBIN SPANO on Birds!

Please welcome Birds and Words’ first Guest Author Blog Post, by crime writer Robin Spano.She joins us as part of her virtual book tour. Her novel, Dead Politician Society (ECW Press), hit bookstores (and, etc) on September 1.

Robin Spano grew up in Toronto, studied physics in New Brunswick, and dropped out to explore North America on her motorcycle. She met her husband while working as a waitress and helped him run his Toronto pool room until they moved to Vancouver. She writes full time, plotting murder and living vicariously through her undercover protagonist.

Ever since I’ve developed a thing for birds, I’ve been envious of Robin’s name. She has the love of birds inscribed in her very name! I can only imagine how richly birdful my life would be if my mother had named me Blackburnian Warbler, for instance, instead of plain old Julia. Anyhow, I was thrilled to learn that Robin Spano also has an intimate relationship with birds! And….a bonus: if you comment on this post, Robin will answer!


Birds: My Forgotten Acknowledgments

My writing life has lots of birds in it. Some birds inspire me and others get under my skin. Both are useful: we need inspiration to write, and we also need conflict. I am grateful to the following birds, which I forgot to include in my acknowledgments at the end of Dead Politician Society:

Bald Eagles: They glide through the sky and they look like pure freedom. There are a couple who hang out in a nearby tree, and others who nest on Shady Island, in the river across the street. I would like to thank bald eagles for making me feel, metaphorically, like I can fly, and do anything I want in life.

Herons: Wow, do they creep me out. They’re so ugly, but it’s a majestic kind of ugly, and I can’t stop staring at them. I like it when they dive down for a fish, because then I can’t see them for a few seconds while they’re underwater, and it breaks that creepy trance. I would like to thank herons for keeping me in touch with the magic of the truly ugly.

Swans: Swans send tremors of fear through me. When I’m rollerblading into Steveston, there is often a swan or two hanging out with the ducks beside the road. I go very, very slowly (I don’t want to alarm them) and I give them as wide a berth as possible. I’m very afraid that they will bite me, though no swan ever has. I would like to thank swans for keeping fear alive in me, an important emotion when you’re writing crime fiction.

Ducks: Adorable. The way they walk, the way they’re whores for food. They’re just so cute. Thanks, ducks, for keeping my heart light to write lighthearted fiction.

Chicken: Most nights I eat fish for dinner. Sometimes I have steak. But there is the odd time when I feel like something in between. I would like to thank chicken, particularly free-range, hormone free, for being that in-between meat.

Geese: It took me a long time to realize these were geese, because they’re white, so I thought they were gulls. Every year, they gather in the farmer’s field outside my window, preparing for migration. They’re not too bright, because they practice for weeks before they get it right. They’re loud and repetitive; they are probably the biggest disturbance in my quiet writing life. But I work though their loud squawking anyway, and I would like to thank these odd white geese for helping me with both patience and perseverance.

Gulls: Nobody likes gulls. I feel bad for gulls for this reason. Not bad enough to like them, but bad enough to thank gulls for making me feel empathy, probably the single most important resource in a writer’s emotional repertoire.

If you would like to chat more about birds, words, or dead politicians, come on down to the book launch for Dead Politician Society. It’s tomorrow evening—Wednesday, September 15th, 6:30-8:30p.m., at Nicholas Hoare Books in Toronto. Julia and I will both be there, and we would love to meet you, if only to find out who is reading Julia’s snazzy non-birder’s bird blog. No birds or politicians will die at this event.