Monthly Archives: October 2010

When all else fails, buy your 16th Bird Book!

I think that’s going to be my new mantra. My silence, these past couple of days, has been due, in large part, to disbelief. For those of you who are non-Toronto dwellers, I’m sure you’ve heard about our new Mayor. I’d link to him, but I shudder at the thought of him getting any more publicity. Ah well… this isn’t a political blog, and thankfully Rob Ford hasn’t said anything dismal about birding (I doubt he knows it exists; besides, the only words he seems to know are “tax cuts” and “gravy train”, which he tosses around without ever explaining exactly what he means, but I guess I’m asking too much of my mayor, aren’t I…).

So, what did I do to make myself feel better the day after election day? I went to Book City to browse their discount tables and found a fabulous book called Flights of Fancy by Peter Tate about birds in legends, myths and superstitions. And there it was, in all its hardcover glory!

It’s a beautiful little book, with plenty of birdful nuggets about all sorts of birds ranging from blackbirds to wrens and wrynecks. Here’s an example of a rather bizarre Transylvanian ritual I learned about involving none other than the Cockerel (conveniently named Gallus gallus in Latin). Apparently, cockerels are linked to childbirth and healing. The day a woman would leave her house for the first time after giving birth, a cockerel would be cut in half and nailed to her door. That way, the magic properties of the cockerel would be transferred to the woman and would speed up the recovery process after childbirth! Who knew? Oh, those cockerels…

It’s a delightful book, overall. I only wish that the illustrations were in color!

For those who need proof…

Just in case there are some readers out there who need material proof that I am indeed a Somewhat Birder and that I do indeed go out into the field and partake in this unexpectedly fascinating hobby:

Here I am in Algonquin park last Saturday looking for….probably a Boreal Chickadee that I never actually ended up seeing. The pose is one I strike often: I have a “naked-eye bird sighting” and then try to capture the bird with my binoculars. Some days are better than others. Often, by the time I’ve positioned my binoculars, the bird has flown away. Sometimes I catch it in flight. Sometimes all I see are leaves. Sometimes I mistake pine cones for birds. But every once in a while, I actually see what I’m told is “sitting right in front of me” and those are the moments worth all the waiting, all the not-seeing and all the extra sightings one never really asks for but learns to enjoy anyhow.

I got glasses in grade 9, and I remember wearing them for the first time. I tripped and nearly broke my ankle on the way home from the optometrist’s because I couldn’t stop looking at the trees all around me. It felt like I was seeing every single leaf in 3-D for the first time — the most stunning sensory overload I had ever experienced. I guess I knew that trees were there all along, but hadn’t expected them to be so alive! I remember that moment often when I’m out birding, staring up at trees through my binoculars, hoping to catch a glimpse of some evasive bird or other, and suddenly being thrown off guard by the texture and intricate design of leaves or branches.


First of all, dear Bird Enthusiasts, thank you for enlightening me and teaching me a new word! The big ceramic spoon upon which one rests dirty utensils while cooking is called a SPOON REST. How utterly logical! Now, on to more pressing matters…

On Saturday morning, I did what I never thought I’d be capable of. I set the alarm for 4:30 am in order to meet my stellar bird group at 5:15 and be at Algonquin park by 8:30! By the time we reached the park and I stood face to face with a Spruce Grouse (Falcipennis canadensis), I had totally forgotten what mental effort it took to set the alarm for 4:30.

Turns out this gorgeous grouse is also nicknamed “Fool’s Hen” or “Stupid Chicken” (in Alaska only). The bird is so convinced of its powers of camouflage that it stays still even when people approach it from 1 or 2 meters away! Ah well… poor spruce grouse. In any event, ours was splendid. I swear, I think we made eye contact. Next was the Grey Jay (Perisoreus canadensis), which I think I saw on my last trip to Algonquin, so I wasn’t nearly as excited. Everyone in my group proceeded to feed the Grey Jay since the birds are intrepid and will eat out of your hand. I held trail mix filled hand out for about five minutes, but then proceeded to quietly devour all the trail mix. (First, I started with the peanuts, then the raisins, and then just piled everything I could into my mouth.) Have you ever woken up at 4:30 am? Well, I was starving by 9:15 and in absolutely no mood to share my loot with a Grey Jay. Besides, their beaks were looking mighty sharp that day…

The highlight of my day was a Purple Finch (Carpodacus purpureus) sighting:

How nifty are those colors? In real life, the pink was even brighter and almost matched my new hot pink fall jacket! I’ve always wanted to see a pink bird. Apparently Roger Tory Peterson (I’m assuming he’s a hotshot in Bird Language; I’ll look him up pronto) called the purple finch a “sparrow dipped in raspberry juice.” I think it’s one of the most fashionable birds I’ve ever seen! Look at it, all decked out. I’d follow that purple finch just about anywhere!

Alas, we missed seeing any moose. Apparently October is a big mating month for moose, so I’m guessing they were fairly busy. Still, a slight disappointment. Ah well, a great day nevertheless.


My family doesn’t exactly get my bird interest. They find it quaint, they like the fact that I wear my Tilley Hat religiously, they’re entertained by the fact that I wake up early on weekends, they like that I like birds with cool hair, that I talk about flirtatious ravens and the hermaphrodite cocatrice, but that’s about it. And yet, every so often, my family surprises me. Yesterday, out of the blue, my 90 year old grandmother gave me the best handmade gift:

It’s a ceramic spoon to put on the stove to rest dirty utensils on while I’m cooking! (Is there a more “scientific” name for such genius kitchen tools?) And she drew a loon on it! I particularly like the baby loon following the adult loon, and the flowers and two-dimensional birdies in the background. She really went all out! Who knew that while she was laughing at me for doing birdy things these past couple of months my granny was working on this awesome work of bird art?! You’ll be happy to know that I’ve photographed the spoon resting on my favorite bedtime reading (and obscuring a slightly less favorite, yet necessary, bedtime tome — an Imperial Russian source book, compiled by Dmytryshyn; yes, I have lectures coming up…):

Way to go Grandma! What a perfect way to usher in Thanksgiving. Happy Canadian Turkey day everyone!