Monthly Archives: March 2011

Almost Spring

Nothing matches Spring Migration. Not only are the birds stunning, vibrant, in full breeding plumage, but there’s also a spring migration birding euphoria that sets in among birders. Part of the excitement and adrenalin rush can be attributed to 4-5 am risings (which, if you’re anything like me, is obscenely early), but one’s waking time notwithstanding spring birds are amazing. And remarkably short-lived. There’s something wonderfully ephemeral about the very concept of spring migration which only lasts for 4 or 5 weeks in May, and yet I’m never entirely sad when May is over, because I know that whatever I didn’t catch this time I’ll be able to see the following year. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced anything ephemeral and yet also eternally recurrent. Birds really are fascinating!

What I realized today, on one of my typical should-have-seen-but-didn’t-see days, on a day that was exciting in spite of the fact that nothing spectacular was seen and yet hundreds of kilometers were driven, is that almost-spring is just as thrilling as spring itself. We didn’t see much, but we saw many firsts of the season. My first Robin of 2011 (the bird, Turdus migratorius, not my dear friend the fabulous crime writer, whose second book, Death Plays Poker, is coming out in Fall 2011, for all you crime-fiction lovers out there), my first Killdeer, Grackle, Sandhill crane. Nothing new or particularly earth-shattering, but all new for this year. I recognized all the birds from last year, there was nothing new in them, and that alone made me come away with a sense of triumph. There is comfort in the recurrent and in the fact that I now know exactly what’s to come. I know that all these seemingly ordinary birds are actually harbingers of the extraordinary songbird fest that will begin in just five weeks. And that alone adds to their magic.

The piece-de-resistance today was a female Cardinal:

She certainly isn’t as triumphantly red as her male counterpart, but she caught my eye nonetheless. She was self assured and held her own with the grackles and juncos. I was filled with admiration for her and her reddish-pink coloring around her wings; I’ve long been trying to find that precise shade of lipstick… the quest continues. I even saw two swans flirting, somewhere near Long Point Provincial park — they were doing that thing Swans often do, where they lean their necks toward each other and (unintentionally?) the gesture looks like they’re making a heart. Very Valentines-day-esque, if you ask me. Oh, and one last thing: we even saw two Great Horned Owls.

Did I mention that almost-Spring is a perfect time?

The Wonder that is Crossley

Bibliophilic Birders! Who would have thought that I’d ever have strong opinions about a field guide? Who would have imagined that a mere year after I started birding (yes, this blog is now a year old, we’ll have to celebrate), I’d be at the stage where I count the days before the publication of a new field guide like it’s a novel I’ve been awaiting for months?

Yes, you guessed it! I finally got my hands on The Crossley ID Guide (Eastern Birds) and so far, apart from my stunning red boots, it’s been the highlight of this grizzly winter we’ve been having. I’m not put off by cold (even extreme cold doesn’t phase me); it’s the gray drabness that I cannot abide. Richard Crossley’s wondrous field guide sure got me out of my winter stupor! Should you want to read a fabulous, ornithologically-sound review of the book, which brings up a slew of criticisms I hadn’t even considered, check out the inimitable Rick Wright’s review on the ABA blog. But all possible criticisms aside, Crossley is a genius.

The field guide contains more than 10,000 of Crossley’s photographs (!) of Eastern birds of every type imaginable and in their natural environment. The effect is amazing, especially for a novice birder such as yours truly, since I often have a hard time imagining where a particular bird might hang out or what it would actually look like in flight rather than in the form of a hand drawing. It really is a revolutionary field guide (and not just revolutionary because the author himself says so!). But have no fear, this doesn’t mean that I’m giving up Sibley, just that the two work really well in tandem, I think. My only problem with Crossley is that the book is far too heavy and large to actually carry as a field guide. So, I’ll stick to Sibley in the field and Crossley once I return to the comfort of my home. I do wish it were a more portable volume, but perhaps that wasn’t Crossley’s design.

I love birding, but I also find it frustrating, because it’s now been a year, and I still can’t identify more than about 8 birds. To me, most of them look grayish-brown, especially if they’re of the hawk variety. Unless they happen to be warblers, in which case they fly by so quickly I can’t keep up with them and the overall effect is dizzying. Of course there are the show-stopping cardinals, tanagers and goldfinches, to whom I’m eternally grateful for their fearless display of color. I’m glad that Crossley’s magnum opus acknowledges my color-issues. No wonder birding is so challenging! There really IS a disproportionate number of grayish-brown birds! It wasn’t my imagination!

More than anything, the ID guide has gotten me excited about Spring which may or may not grace us with its presence one of these days.

And, my latest discovery (which I’ll only see if I travel to southern Florida) is the Smooth Billed Ani (Crotophaga ani). The bird looks fabulously prehistoric, and the streaked hair (ok, plumage) is something I’ll one day have the courage to emulate:

(Photo from here.) Crossley aptly refers to Smooth-billed Ani’s “weird honker of a bill.” I couldn’t have said it better myself and I have a feeling that Crossley and I are going to get along famously.

Hello March!

Here at Birds and Words, March is bringing nothing but excitement. First, the delightful, life-saving Red Boots (that was, technically, in February, but the pleasure of their company is only growing, as the days pass) and then, an unexpected Birdfully perfect gift:

Friends of ours moved into a new house and the previous owners left them a few items including this absolutely perfect (yet horrendously odd) beaded clip-on bird! I let out a squeal of delight when I saw the avian creature and our super-awesomely-generous friends immediately gave it to me as a gift! I’m not entirely sure how one can pull off wearing such a marvel, but I’ll definitely try. Alternatively, I suppose I could clip the bird onto one of our furnishings, but it doesn’t exactly match our color scheme, you see. So, right now, Ruby (yes, I’ve named her) is resting next to my computer as I type. My work space has just gotten brighter and happier!

By the way, if anybody can ID Ruby the red birdy creature, I promise a hearty reward (in the form of a thank you card which you wouldn’t want to miss!).

And in other delightful March news, I have an creative nonfiction essay about learning and forgetting Latin forthcoming in the Antioch Review! It should be published later this Spring. I’ll keep you posted.