Monthly Archives: September 2011

Fall Warbler Neck

It finally happened, dear Birders! I experienced Warbler neck in September! That’s what happens when you stand in a wooded area, tilt your head back as far as it will go and point your binoculars straight up toward the tops of pine trees (and other trees I haven’t yet learned to distinguish, I mean I’m hardly a tree watcher after all…) and watch fall warblers dart in and out of foliage and then stop for as millisecond, which is about enough time for me to totally misidentify the bird. In the end, I did catch a good glimpse of a Blackpoll Warbler (Dendroica striata) and a Yellow Rumped Warbler. I’d post pictures, but they’re all uniformly greenish-greyish-yellowish with stripes here and there, and there’s really nothing all that thrilling about them except for the fact that they’re Warblers, and that’s attractive in and of itself. There’s a delightful challenge to looking at and IDing (even if totally unsuccessfully) warblers. They’re tiny, spectacularly twitchy, nervous little things that never stay in one place for more than a few seconds. And then they’re off. It’s magic.

I did get a great look at a Palm Warbler (Dendroica palmarum) half way between Hamilton and Long Point. We stopped at a colossal Sewage Lagoon, and there he was, fluttering about in a tree, doing his quintessential tail-wagging motion! It wasn’t particularly difficult to see the Palm Warbler because there were about 8 of him, doing the exact same thing. (That’s my kind of bird — when he appears in multiple incarnations at once. It’s a gift for the somewhat-beginning-enthusiastic-yet-skill-less-birder.) The tail-wagging was intensely satisfying for all parties concerned. (here’s an image from this great site.)

Tail-wagging aside, the other avian excitement was my first sighting of a Long-Billed Dowitcher (Limnodromus scolopaceus), which was well worth the drive into Burlington. (I was initially skeptical about everything that has to do with Burlington when I thought all we were going to see were Solitary Sandpipers, not that they weren’t thrilling, but just that it was a long day, and my interest in look-alike Sandpipers was starting to wear thin.) But the Dowitcher, let me tell you, is a thing of wonder! When he eats, he moves his head and body in a sewing machine motion! He really does! It was quite the sight to behold, and thankfully, he performed his “eating routine” without stopping for a single beat. (Image from here)

All in all, a splendid fall day that also included a Wilson’s Snipe, Pectoral Sandpipers, dozens of other warblers I couldn’t catch, Killdeer, and Cormorants (which I mistook for Great Blue Herons, don’t ask me how — it was the end of the day, Burlington was getting to me, what can I say), and many many other great things.

On a slightly different (but no less majestic) note, it’s Birthday Season here at Birds and Words, and we’re celebrating to be best of our abilities. We’ll be turning a year older this week, but such is life. In anticipation of the Big Day, I couldn’t resist getting the niftiest Red purse made out of seatbelts! Happy September!

Not exactly a Bird Watching bag, but pretty close!

Bird Miscellanea

If you live in Canada and aren’t aware of the existence of Canadian Bookshelf, edited by the brilliant Kerry Clare, you ought to be. You’ll be glad to know that today’s feature called Put a Bird on It is a superb compilation of some of the greatest bird-book covers this country has to offer. Not all of the books are specifically about birds, but all of them are inspired by things avian. In any event, the stream of covers is both artistically stunning and also gave me a few new titles to add to my growing Avian Bookshelf.

I’ve been wanting to link to the Porlandia video of Put a Bird on it for a while now, so here it is! Thanks, Canadian Bookshelf, for reminding me of it!

The more I go out birding and think and read about birds, the more I find myself wanting to put birds on things too! I’ve already admitted to starting up a bird stationary collection (the thank you card fanatic in me always needs at least a dozen different cards at my fingertips; lately most of them are bird-oriented), I recently stopped myself from purchasing matching bird mugs for my husband and myself, I own bird stuffed animals (alas), I regularly overdose on Peeps (because what could be more gastronomically pleasing than consuming a pink, yellow, green or purple marshmallow chick?) when Easter rolls around and sometimes before, I have a bird calendar, and I have no idea where this will all lead me.

Here are them peeps! So yes, I fear that I am turning into one of those people who puts birds on things!

Since we’re on the topic of birds and books, I’ve just finished reading Ellen Litman’s superb linked-story collection The Last Chicken in America. Don’t pick up this book expecting an exploration of the avian world. Instead, Litman brilliantly portrays lives of people living in a Russian immigrant enclave in Pittsburgh. Many of the stories are filtered through the lens of Masha, a college-age emigre from Moscow, struggling to make sense of her new surroundings, immigrant expectations and an idea of what constitutes an American life. The book is, at times, laugh out loud funny, and then veers into a tragic sense of loss. It’s about people trying to fit in but not knowing how exactly. I can’t wait to read more of her work!

Something to look forward to!

Mark your calendars: On October 13, The Big Year will hit theaters near you! Hard to imagine Jack Black, Steve Martin and Owen Wilson as uber-Birders, but there you have it. (Then again, if I’ve taken to calling myself a somewhat birder, it just goes to show you that anybody can be a birder.) Have a peek at the trailer:


Incremental Progress

Birdful Readers! I have exciting uplifting news for you! While I am still very much a novice birder, unable to recognize and identify most things that come my way (what I lack in skill, I usually make up for in enthusiasm, which is something, isn’t it?), and still can’t tell the infinite number of vastly different sparrows apart, I am noticing specs of progress. The other day, for instance, I received a bird trip report from my group leader and I was stunned to realize that I could read it through without finding myself entirely lost! Usually, I stumble through trip reports looking for familiar words like “LUNCH”, “Break” or geographical markers I recognize. The birds themselves all typically blend into one. This time, however, I had mental images of most of the birds in the report: sandpipers, yellowlegs (greater, lesser, you name it — I’m down with the yellowlegs!), sanderlings, plovers — it was making sense to me! (Not an entirely whole world of sense, but a partially glimpsed, yet basically understood kind of sense.)

And the funny thing is that I haven’t been trying. I mean, that’s not entirely true. I’ve been showing up to outings, looking the birds up in Crossley or Sibley, keeping a running list of birds in my notebook (red, Moleskin, what can I say, bourgeois values are taking over my formerly-bohemian sensibilities, oh is it age?), along with any defining traits I can remember. I’ve been reading various Ornithological primers (and usually falling asleep mid-chapter, alas) and any Bird Memoirs/biographies I can get my hands on. (Highlights in that realm have been Phoebe Snetsinger’s Birding on Borrowed Time and Olivia Gentile’s biography of Phoebe Snetsinger Life List.) I’ve also been buying birdy objects, mainly in the form of calendars, bird friendly coffee (Birds and Beans is by far the best in town!), note cards (excusable, since I’m a thank you card-writing addict) and post cards, but sometimes stuffed animals and mugs, which is not something I should admit in public, I realize.

Mainly, though, I’ve been showing up. And it’s amazing how much that counts for. In much the same way, I show up to write every morning, and practice piano most days of the week, and, somehow, things happen and they move forward. The Chopin nocturne I’ve been learning suddenly sounds like music, I can play through the Beethoven sonata without stopping. I’m used to measuring things in terms of monumental events, but it’s good to learn to measure incremental progress and appreciate it.

This morning on my walk, I saw a Goldfinch (one of the commonest of birds), identified it, tried to keep track of it as it flew from tree to tree.

I walked home smiling. Progress has been made.

And on that note, I’m giving a reading at the Eden Mills Fringe on September 18th! So if you’re in the area, stop on by.