Monthly Archives: June 2013

On Strangeness and Love

Fellow Avian Enthusiasts! Something about last night and this morning felt off. I wasn’t sure what exactly until I realized that this is the first Saturday since January that I haven’t had to set my alarm for an obscenely early hour. This is my first Saturday since January without birds.

That's me holding a Cedar Waxwing at the Tommy Thompson Park Bird Research Station, looking deliriously happy. ME AND A CEDAR WAXWING!

That’s me holding a Cedar Waxwing at the Tommy Thompson Park Bird Research Station, looking deliriously happy. ME AND A CEDAR WAXWING! Perhaps the slickest and best coiffed among all avian species, the Cedar Waxwing clearly has a thing or two to teach me about style.

Strange is the only word I have in my arsenal to describe the feeling. It’s almost a physiological strangeness. Like my body should be elsewhere, outdoors — no matter the weather — in the company of my sexy Zeiss binoculars, looking up into the canopies of trees until my neck can stand it no longer, hazarding (usually wrong) guesses about what I’m seeing. Home on a Saturday morning is no longer the norm for me, and it’s amazing how quickly my body has committed that to memory and it’s almost like my body — not my mind — is the one craving a more familiar experience. How is it that birding has now displaced home as the familiar Saturday experience, or rather, how is it that birding has become home?

It’s not that I particularly relished the idea of setting my alarm clock for 4am while volunteering at the banding station; but somehow my body registered this as the new normal, and suddenly rising at 8, without an obnoxious alarm clock yelping at me, feels unnatural.

Oh well. You’ll be relieved to know that after a phenomenal cup of coffee — Nicaraguan Wood Thrush — from Birds and Beans, I felt somewhat rejuvenated and ready to tackle the day. It also helps that today is so entirely rainy and miserable that birding would have felt like a bit of a puzzling chore.

Nevertheless. How is it that certain things become a part of us — a physical part, a need, I think — and how is it that this happens unconsciously? I could not pinpoint the exact moment when I recognized that watching birds had become a need rather than a whim or a fancy or a curiosity, but I can tell you for certain that today, the first Saturday of the year when I’m not out birding, I feel a physical lack, an ache almost, an uneasieness, a longing for something I never even knew I could miss since I had no idea it had become a part of me.

Almost like falling in love. When you realize that being without the company of a particular person causes you physical anguish, or a sense of incompleteness. Not that you couldn’t function without — of course you could, we are more resilient than we know — but that you wouldn’t want to.

And so it is. This thing called birding has turned into this stranger thing called love.

On Blogging, a Hoopoe, Queen Elizabeth I, and a Dickcissel

Oh Beloved, yet Deserted Birdful Readers! I’m back. It’s been a curious winter/spring, in which I’ve spent perhaps an inordinate amount of time pondering the purpose of Birds and Words, wondering what to do with this birdy writing that I’m accumulating, questioning whether blogging is in fact the best way to write about birds, and well… I’ll be honest: I’ve spent too much time thinking about this blog, when really I just should have been writing posts about all the curious and fascinating birdiness going on in my life right now.

For those of you who are wondering, we did in fact make it to Europe’s largest wetland! In April, we traveled to Spain and braved Donana National Park in the 38 degree (celcius!) heat. The park didn’t disappoint — though my husband would have been happier had the promised Iberian Lynx made an appearance for him, as our tour guide had promised. But we won’t hold that against the wonderful people at Discovering Donana  who operate a first rate tour company. It’s not their fault the Lynx was busy breeding the day we were there; in fact, for an endangered species, one couldn’t wish for anything better. We did manage to see her footprints, however. For a full trip report, feel free to read my essay that’s up on Nature Travel Network’s new site. Let me just say that the flocks of Greater Flamingoes and Storks and Glossy Ibises exceeded all expectations. The brilliant European Bee-Eaters (Merops apiaster) looked like they were painting rainbows in the sky as they flew past.

And the Hoopoe (Upupa epops)! The extravagant bird is zebra-patterned from the back and has a face that is nothing short of regal, with a bold crown of feathers adorning her monochromatic fox-colored head.

Photo from here.

For some reason the Hoopoe reminded me of Queen Elizabeth I. Do you see the resemblance or is it just me?

Portrait by George Gower. Photo from here.

Portrait by George Gower. Image from here.

In any event, the trip was lovely, every single bird I saw was a lifer, and I believe I uttered “oh my goodness this is so incredible” so many times that my husband stopped reacting. I also bought four stupendous pairs of shoes, and the trip was an overall success. The Alhambra was pretty great too. As were the van der Weydens in the Prado and even Titian’s puzzling painting where he seems to have OD’d on both pudgy babies and angels all at once. Titian — what were you thinking?

In other birdy news, I wrote my first book review for Birding. The book was fabulous, and I’m thrilled to have my review up on ABA’s site.

Perhaps the most exciting part of this spring involved the hours I spent volunteering at the Tommy Thompson Park Bird Research Station. It’s a banding station in downtown Toronto (!) in a park at the foot of Leslie Street that is actually a man-made structure built in the 50s to be used as a breakwater for harbor expansion (which, alas, never happened!) and has turned into a dumping zone for debris from development sites. I can’t seem to write about TTPBRS without resorting to superlatives. Here are some highlights: holding a cedar waxwing in my hand and seeing its red waxy tips up-close, watching the sun rise over Toronto every Saturday morning at 5am-ish, seeing my first yellow-billed cuckoo, helping a Yellow Warbler fix its hair before letting it fly off, seeing the red patch on an Eastern Kingbird’s head, falling in love with the Magnolia Warbler all over again, and learning a grand total of four bird calls (have I mentioned that birding is all about process?!). I’ll likely be back at TTBRS for fall migration!

This past Saturday, I discovered a new bird: the perplexingly named Dickcissel (Spiza americana). We traveled north of Toronto, to Luther Marsh, and met up with two Dickcissels singing to one another, displaying the fetching black V outlined in sparkling yellow on their necks, feeding in the cedars, no doubt enjoying a peaceful Saturday brunch. They were in good company: several Bobolink, Song and Savannah Sparrows, Eastern Kingbirds fluttered around nearby. We even saw a Sandhill Crane flying low over our heads; not quite as exciting as a Flamingo in flight, but a brilliant enough sighting in Southern Ontario. After marveling at the Dickcissels (and repeating the name at least a hundred times; I couldn’t help myself. I then looked up the etymology and it appears Mr. Dickcissel is named after his own song, though I couldn’t catch the onomatopaeic reference…), I saw my first Indigo Bunting of the season and spotted my first Orchard Oriole! As usual, a perfect birding day in spite of my horrendous allergic reaction to every single grass north of Toronto.

The Dickcissel! Photo from here.

The Dickcissel! Photo from here.

So, birdy readers — it looks like I’m back. It appears that blogging is sort of like birding: the more you do it, the better you get and the more comfortable it feels. I suppose I knew that, but it never hurts to be reminded.