Monthly Archives: July 2011

Meteorological Discontent and a Pelican

Dedicated Birders, it’s hot in Toronto. So hot that I feel I’m about to wilt. I’m entering meteorological mayhem because all winter I was looking forward to spring because it was so hideously dark, all spring I was looking forward to Summer because spring in Toronto meant constant, interminable rain, and now, well, I can’t wait to be done with the summer heat. It’s become oppressive, muggy, and… I’ve lost my ability to handle weather with grace!

As for real birding, my group is on annual summer-hiatus, and I think the birds are too. I recently made eye contact with a Blue Jay, but that’s about it. It’s been too hot to see properly. So I’ve barely even been a somewhat-birder, let alone the genius birder I had hoped I would be in the process of becoming. Ah well. Summer is often about letting go of expectations, becoming a disciple of weather, and just letting things be.

But let me tell you about the stunning Great Pelican I saw in St. James’s Park in London a few weeks ago:Here he is — the Great pelican on Duck Island. The pelican’s pedigree is impressive: he descends from a flock of pelicans that was given to Charles II in 1664 by the Russian ambassador! We took some photos, I gave him a quick Russian test (which he could have done better, clearly the Russian ambassador didn’t spend much time imparting his linguistic prowess on the pelican’s ancestors), exchanged pleasantries and left. I could have spent the entire day communing with the waterfowl in St. James’s Park! But there were museums to be seen, book stores to be visited, neighborhoods to be explored, and my husband could only stand to oooh and ahhh over waterfowl for so long.

In other birdful news, I recently bought a bottle of Pelee Island Wine, based solely on the packaging:


I figured any wine that had a Prothonotary Warbler (Protonotaria citrea) on its label had to be worth trying! I’m not much of a wine connoisseur (which explains why I’m perfectly comfortable admitting that I choose wine based on the label; the birdier the better), but this one was fairly decent! The bird is deliciously yellow, with grey wings. I can’t wait to see one in the field, but in the meanwhile, I’ll have to enjoy the wine.

Ode to Summer Vegetables

I think I’m falling in love with summer vegetables. Helplessly. What started out as a crush last summer — the first time I subscribed to an organic foodshare with a Plan B Organics, a fabulous farm near Hamilton — has now turned into desperate love, the kind I shudder to think how I’ll be able to live without once the winter months hit. Last year, I even endured an eternity of spinach (5 weeks worth!) and survived! We had omelets, frittatas, spinach soup, spinach quiche, spinach salad, and my dreams were set against a spinach backdrop.

I’m the kind of person who easily gets into a vegetable rut when left to my own devices. I tend to resort to the same seven foods I’ve always eaten, even though I’m tired of them. Routine and familiarity sadly trump my desire to experiment and my fear of culinary failure.

Subscribing to an organic food share has changed the way I eat, and I love it for that very reason. I look forward to picking up my box of vegetables every Thursday afternoon, mainly because I have no idea what it will contain! It adds a level of spontaneity to my cooking that I never knew I craved! My meals now revolve solely around the veggies in my box. During the summer, I eat only what’s in season. I’ve discovered garlic scapes, kale, swiss chard, white radishes, yellow carrots and beets, freshly picked crispy green beans that taste absolutely nothing like grocery store waxy beans, salad greens of every persuasion, garlic so fragrant it’s almost sweet. It feels like I’m learning a new vegetable language with its own grammar of possibilities.

Where are the birds in all this? Well, I’m sure they enjoy flying over and dropping by for a snack on farms with non-toxic crops. See? It’s a bird-friendly way to farm.

Meanwhile

I’ve missed you, dear birdful readers! My husband and I took a trip to England and Iceland (we like to vacation in countries whose names rhyme, apparently) and while we were gone, something truly magical took place on this very blog! If you’d like to witness it for yourself, have a look at the comments on my last post about sparrows. There you will find two amazing, highly respected birders offering reading suggestions and weighing in on my ornithological development! I never thought my Avian Bildung was of interest to anybody! Wow — this is a true milestone in the life of a somewhat-birder!

Here is the highlight of my Icelandic bird sightings:


My husband and I saw Puffins (Fratercula arctica)! Thousands of them! We went on a puffin expedition (conveniently called the Puffin Express tour) off the coast of Reykjavik, to the islands of Lundey and Akurey and saw thousands of puffins twirling around their breeding island, fluttering above the water, flapping their wings wildly. Icelanders call puffins “little priests” because of their black collar-like coloring and the way they stand upright (the Latin name, fratercula, denotes this and means “little brother,” since the black and white plumage look like monastic robes). The little priests are fantastic creatures: they live an average of 20-30 years and are monogamous and the female only lays one egg per year! During breeding season, the male prepares two holes for his family: one for the nesting and the other which they use as a bathroom! How utterly civilized.

I couldn’t take my eyes of the Arctic Terns (not just because they were ubiquitous), especially when they showed off their amazing mid-air dance moves — the choreography was both rhythmically complex and aesthetically riveting!

(Photo from here.) I’ve decided I’d like to be an Arctic Tern (Sterna paradisaea) for a year. This bird *ONLY* lives in daylight! They summer in Iceland and winter in Antarctica! What a whole lot of traveling — roughly 40,000 km per year — for a 4 ounce (100 gram) bird! And I thought I had wanderlust…

And we saw Northern Fulmars, Oystercatchers and many other arctic species which I couldn’t identify and, to be honest, didn’t even try because I was entirely too busy falling in love with Iceland. I picked out the house I’d like to own (it turned out I have rather good taste, and were I to buy said house, Bjork would be my neighbor), the bakery I’d frequent, the coffee shop I couldn’t live without, the daily walk I’d take to the lighthouse, the thermal pool I’d swim in rain or shine, the amazing shoe store, and, of course, the brand new concert hall where I’d listen hear classical music to my heart’s content. Seriously, Reykjavik nearly gained a resident.

How is it possible to fall so deeply in love with a place I hardly know? It could have been the volcanoes, or the endless summer days, or the thermal pools, or the ocean walks, or the quiet, or the simple fact that we were on vacation, or the salmon and lamb, or the strange Icelandic alphabet that seems to possess a silent “r” and a letter for “dth”– ð — and “th” –þ– or the fact that Icelandic has thirty-two words for SNOW (because, as our tour guide told us, there are many different kinds of snow), but in any event I was smitten.

But it’s also great to be back home, and to know that we’ll be returning to Iceland before too long. (And yes, Iceland remains perfect in spite of the fact that its climate is too cold for my Tilley Hat!)