Monthly Archives: May 2014

Coping with the Melancholy of May

Beloved Birders! You know that feeling you get when the moment you’ve been waiting for all year (MAY! Migration! Warblers!) has finally come and suddenly you glance over at the calendar and realize that you’re already more than half-way through and you’re unexpectedly overcome with total melancholy because this thing you’ve basically been living for, well, it’s rather short-lived in the end, and even though you’ve been savoring every moment, and marvelling at every warbler (Canada! Hooded! Black-and-white! Cerulean!), still, there remains the knowledge that not only is this moment not forever, but it’s frighteningly near its end. That’s where I’m at right now, having completed my first ever Birdathon (131 species!!). I will be writing about my trip to Point Pelee and Rondeau Provincial Park and a few sewage lagoons in between, have no fear! But the problem with doing something as intense as a birdathon is that one has to return to reality afterwards. And that’s when the melancholy gripped me.

So, I write this post as an antidote. Here are some pictures of our trip to Sedona & Tucson, Arizona, where the sky loomed large, the sun shone fiercely, I learned life lessons from an Acorn Woodpecker, I saw my first Gila Monster, fell in love with the Javelinas and confirmed my initial supposition that the Southwest just might be the most beautiful place on earth.

Bell Rock in Sedona. We walked around this gargantuan beauty of a rock & even tried climbing

Bell Rock in Sedona. We walked around this gargantuan beauty of a rock & even tried climbing it until I realized that I’m deathly afraid of heights. A bit of a rude awakening. I screamed, swore a few times, and made it safely back to firm ground. A Phainopepla was seen at the base of Bell Rock. 

These Javelinas came to visit us nightly at our B&B in Sedona. Where there's one javelina, there are likely about 15 more lurking. We bonded in the best possible way. They only bared their teeth once. Totally cooperative during the photo shoot, too!

These Javelinas came to visit us nightly at our B&B in Sedona. Where there’s one javelina, there are likely about 15 more lurking. We bonded in the best possible way. They only bared their teeth at me once. Totally cooperative during the photo shoot, too!

Cathedral Rock in Sedona.  Saw a Northern Harrier Hawk here and had another bad reaction to heights. Passers by may have seen a crazed woman in binoculars fiercely gripping a garbage can while her husband scrambled up the rocks. That might have been me.

Cathedral Rock in Sedona. Saw a Northern Harrier here and had another bad reaction to heights. Passers-by may have seen a crazed woman in binoculars fiercely gripping a garbage can while her husband scrambled up the rocks. That might have been me.

We visited Arizona when the cacti bloomed.

We visited Arizona when the cacti bloomed.

Enormous, 20-metre tall Saguaro cacti in the Sonoran desert in Tucson. Otherworldly and thankfully flat terrain in Saguaro National Park. Tons of lizards, a Gila Monster, and snakes, but it appears that reptiles don't freak me out as much as heights. I saw a Summer Tanager (which I misidentified as a Vermillion Flycatcher) behind one of these cacti.

Enormous, 20-metre tall Saguaro cacti in the Sonoran desert in Tucson. Otherworldly and thankfully flat terrain in Saguaro National Park. Tons of lizards, a Gila Monster, and snakes, but it appears that reptiles don’t freak me out as much as heights. I saw a Summer Tanager (which I misidentified as a Vermillion Flycatcher) behind one of these cacti.

Not all the cacti looked like pics you'd send home to mom & dad.

Not all the cacti looked like pics you’d send home to mom & dad. PG-rated Santa Catalina Mountains in the background. 

Next door to our B&B in Tucson, a family of Great Horned Owls have taken up residence. Here's the baby.

Next door to our B&B in Tucson, a family of Great Horned Owls have taken up residence. Here’s the baby. Incidentally, the Azure Gate Bed & Breakfast, where we spent 3 nights, might be the best B&B we’ve ever stayed at. Like, best in the universe! Highly recommend. 

You know what? It worked. Revisiting Arizona made me smile. The month of May is certainly ending, but I’m going to squeeze in as many birding days as I can into these last 10 days. Thanks for indulging my Arizona photo-essay and letting me wallow in tragically-soon-to-be-non-Mayness for just a bit.

 

Go Birding!

Well, we celebrated World Migratory Bird Day in style here at Birds and Words. The day got off an amazing start (4:30 am wakeup time notwithstanding) as soon as we arrived at Long Point. Within my first half hour at in the park, I came face to face with a Cerulean warbler (Setophaga cerulea) at eye level! Yes, dearest readers, that would be the CERULEAN that I’ve never seen before, the one that has been eluding me for the past five years, the one I’ve been dreaming about. And it happened when I least expected it. In fact, we arrived at Long Point in search of the Kirtland’s warbler — an incredibly rare bird that only lives in Michigan forests — which had been reported the previous day. Needless to say, a sighting of a Kirtland’s warbler didn’t work out for us — the bird must have had a full agenda and was on its way before we arrived.

photo (1)Immediately upon seeing the Cerulean, I treated myself to a tshirt at the Long Point Visitor’s centre. The exhortation on the tshirt felt appropriate for World Migratory Bird Day and for the month of May in general. I did exactly as the fashion item commanded (I’m fairly obedient that way), and the rewards were bountiful!

Initially, all I could see were Yellow warblers everywhere, and even though I heard people around me shouting “Magnolia! Black throated green! Canada! Orange crowned!” every time I pointed my binoculars at a moving dot in the trees, all I could successfully ID was a yellow warbler with dark orange streaks on its belly. And I began to fear that my world migratory bird day might be limited to a million yellow warbler sightings!

Things did indeed improve. I saw a Black-throated blue warbler for the first time ever, and was struck by the bird’s stark elegance. The Black-throated green delighted me once I figured out its name, and I couldn’t get enough of its black bib. Reacquainting myself with the Magnolia warbler felt like meeting up with an old friend: the familiar black dotted lines on its electric yellow belly, grey head, and gleaming white eyebrow. I got to know the Orange crowned and even the Bell’s vireo, whose appearance shocked all of us, but in both cases our acquaintance was fleeting and we decided to save real bonding for another time.

After a productive morning at Old Cut and in the park — and a short walk along the dunes, and a vigorous wave at the good people at Biggest Week in Magee Marsh, on the other side of Lake Erie — we headed for Backus Woods, where something miraculous happened. I found not one, but two Scarlet Tanagers! Three extraordinary concepts in one sentence — first, I actually found a bird; second, the bird in question was a Scarlet tanager, which I haven’t seen since 2010; third, lest I fear that I saw the bird by accident, I found a second one to confirm my initial diagnosis!

And just when I thought the day could get no better, we happened upon a phenomenal Hooded warbler darting about, low to the ground, in a mess of branches. The bird resembles an athlete sporting a balaclava. Here he is in full regalia:

Photo from here.

Photo from here.

There were others: Golden-crowned kinglet, shimmering Mountain Bluebird, Yellow-rumped warblers, Field sparrows (I think I finally have their bouncing ball song down!), and woodpeckers of various persuasions, including dozens of Pileated woodpecker holes, which I can now recognize, so they count for something!

A perfect, glorious day. So I’ll repeat what my new tshirt says: Go Birding! It doesn’t get much better than this.

 

WMBD 2014

Delightful birders! The time is upon us… What are you doing to celebrate World Migratory Bird Day tomorrow?

I’m not quite sure I understand this holiday, since I really believe that every day should be world migratory bird day, but then again, anything that promotes awareness about birds, migration and protecting nature is super worthwhile! So, I’m wishing you a wonderfully festive, birdy day tomorrow!

My own personal migratory bird festivities actually began last weekend when we drove out to Hamilton and I saw my first five warbler species of 2014! A yellow warbler, myrtle warbler, pine, palm, and a dapper looking black-and-white. We also headed out to Milton to locate the six (or was it eight?) Long-billed Dowichers (Limnodromus scolopaceus) and witness their deliriously frenetic back-and-forth bill motion — its no wonder their feeding process is referred to as “sewing machine”-like! I always think of my grandmother’s Singer sewing-machine and its restless pace whenever I see a Dowicher! Later in the day, we were once again teased by an American Bittern; we heard its toilet plunger-esque call but he was so well camouflaged among the reeds that he refused to be seen. And there were blue-gray gnatcatchers galore, and Downy, Hairy and Red-bellied woodpeckers, and a lone Northern Flicker.

And… very much ready for more! Let’s see what tomorrow brings!

Lessons from a Red-faced Warbler and an Acorn Woodpecker

Things have been quiet here at Birds and Words because we were in Arizona for a short vacation. We spent three days in Sedona and another three in Tucson and decided that the Southwest is officially our favorite place in the world. I could go on and on at length about the otherworldly red rock formations in Sedona, the hikes we took, the Javelinas (wild New World pigs!) we saw, the magnificently lush desert in Tucson, the Catalina mountains, the sunsets, the tremendous cacti, and perhaps I will tell you about all of that at some point once I upload and organize my photos, but returning home has meant jumping right back into life (remember the unpacked boxes? well, they didn’t miraculously disappear!) and it feels like I’ve been playing catch-up for the last week.

Nevertheless.

Ever since I started birding, I’ve been terrified of experiencing a moment of tedium, or if not exactly tedium, then an sense of frustration at being an eternal beginner. I feared that there would come a time when my beginner-birder-level would no longer yield endless surprise and joy, but would be a frustrating limitation and… well, what I feared most was that I would one day feel so deflated by my beginner-ness that I’d want to quit birding.

That was difficult to write. It’s hard to admit (pride perhaps?) that one contemplates quitting when things get frustrating.

It happened at the moment I least expected. We were on a beautiful hike near Sedona, at the bottom of Oak Creek Canyon, marvelling at the rusty color of the rock formations. I had just seen (and identified!) numerous Acorn Woodpeckers; I boldly gave my husband a mini-lecture (emphasis on the MINI) about their undulating flight pattern, and was feeling a teeny bit smug about flaunting my birdy knowledge. What I neglected to tell my husband was that I could hear a million warblers gurgling in our midst, but didn’t yet have the skill to ID any of them by song (or, frankly, the binocular-spotting skills to look at any of them for a significant length of time). When we ran into a birder couple, I immediately asked them if they had seen anything fabulous, to which they responded, nonchalantly, “a Red-faced Warbler up there” and pointed in the general direction of extraordinarily high pine trees.

The bird I didn't see. Red-faced warbler. Image from here.

The bird I didn’t see. Red-faced warbler. Image from here.

Even though a minute ago I had been blissfully happy, entirely unaware of the existence of Red-faced warblers, I suddenly turned into a maniacally, insatiably greedy hoarder of a birder. I wanted the warbler sighting and I wanted it *now*! The only problem was that I lacked the adequate birding skills to turn my crazed appetite into a realistic sighting. I surveyed the pines with my binoculars, running them through the tips of branches, craning my neck until it hurt and… nothing. I didn’t know the bird or its behavior or its song well enough to even begin to assess where it might be. And, on top of everything, we were running late and still had a four-hour drive to Tucson ahead of us.

On our walk back to the car, I contemplated throwing away my binoculars. I was done with birding. What use was another inept birder? If I couldn’t even see a Red-faced warbler, what was the point? The point of anything?

In my failure-induced stupor I made it back to the car, and was about to begin my meticulously prepared monologue aloud, in which I would thank my husband for the binoculars he had bought me two years ago, but that alas, the time had come to toss poor old Zeiss into a garbage bin, along with my new Birds of Arizona Field Guide because… and at that very minute, an Acorn Woodpecker whizzed by me, practically demanding that I attend to its gorgeous physique and fixate my attention on the crimson cap adorning its head.

And without thinking, I obeyed. Instead of throwing my binoculars on the ground in a fit of irrational rage (the prepared monologue had accompanying actions, too!), I picked them up, and followed the slick, tuxedoed Acorn woodpecker as it swept across my line of vision, into the sky, onto a tree, through the branches, behind the trunk, tap tap tap, over my head, and back again.

And that’s how it goes. I had missed the Red-faced warbler — catastrophically missed, but so what? Birding is all about seeing and not seeing. And it’s about perseverance, and patience, and refusing to give up.  “There will be another trip to Arizona, and another Red-faced warbler,” the woodpecker seemed to say, “but not if you quit.”

The woodpecker demanded I persist, and I obeyed.