Monthly Archives: August 2014

BIG DAY

There’s no other way to title this post, beloved birders. Yesterday was a HUGE day here at Birds and Words. I extracted my first bird from a mist net! Well, I had help, of course, from the great Bronwyn, who is an extracting wiz at the banding station, but I did it! Actually, I participated in the extraction of not one but TWO cedar waxwings!

Adult male Cedar waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum). Photo from the TTPBRS.

Adult male Cedar waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum). Photo from the TTPBRS.

I started volunteering at the banding station last spring, and for the longest time believed that I would eternally be content just scribing. Now don’t get me wrong — I still LOVE scribing. For some reason there’s little I find more thrilling than writing down, internalizing and memorizing four-letter Alpha Codes of birds (for obvious reasons RWBL is a personal fave, with KILL for killdeer and VEER for veery currently tied for second place). Should be stultifying as an activity, but it’s riveting. The scriber’s seat is also the best seat in the house (aka: banding station) for getting a close-up view of every bird banded and participating (or, in my case, actively observing) in the sexing/aging debate which often involves reaching for the Pyle banding bible and intoning sage advice from the tome that would probably lull any normal person into a full-in slumber, but for some reason makes me smile. Because I now know what primaries and secondaries are, and could even point out a leucistic tail feather on a killdear if you so asked. And it’s the knowing that I find entirely intoxicating.

But yesterday, something happened. Suddenly, after months of shadowing and watching other talented and dextrous volunteers extract birds, I took a deep breath and decided that it was high time I took the plunge and attempted an extraction. In all honesty, I was terrified. Scared that I’d mess up, that I’d get the bird totally tangled, that I’d hurt the bird, that my clumsiness would prevail and I’d make a total mess of the situation. And then before I could talk myself out of it, I said that maybe perhaps one day I’d like to try an extraction, and then before I could hide and back away from the situation, Bronwyn asked if I wanted to try a Cedar Waxwing and there I was, hands in the net, working under her careful instruction, untangling the glorious cedar waxwing from the net, placing his legs delicately in photographer’s grip, extracting one wing and then the next, easing his head out of the netting, and before I could even freak out it was done, the bird was safely in the bag. And then…the first Cedar Waxwing was followed by a second! I’m still not sure whose heart was racing faster — mine or the bird’s!

That’s right, dearest birdiest of readers, yesterday I half-extracted two birds! A BIG DAY indeed. Perhaps the biggest, birdiest, most wonderful day yet.

Returning

Dearest Birdiest of Readers! The problem with developing this bird-fixation is that one inadvertently ends up buying–and NOT REGRETTING–t-shirts of this ilk:

puffint

I kid you not. This tshirt was purchased at the magnificent Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary in Ladner, BC (about a 45-minute drive from Vancouver) on our travels in early July. I had originally picked out a tame shirt with a minuscule warbler in the left-corner, but my dear husband assured me that when acquiring items for my avian garderobe, I should just go whole-hog. And so I did. Puffins on an acid-wash background. Shirts like this shouldn’t exist, but it’s also kind of marvellous that they do, and kind of extraordinary that I now walk around clad in breeding puffins.

Tshirts aside, the Reifel Bird Sanctuary regaled us with stellar looks at Great Blue Herons, juvenile Wood Ducks, Sandhill Cranes and even a Canada Goose who imprinted himself on us and refused to let us out of his sight. We named him Jack and thankfully he decided not to hop into our car on the way home.

After a quick trip to Vancouver, we boarded Yukon-bound plane and landed in paradise –aka Whitehorse– two hours later. Suffice it to say that we’re now scheming of ways to “divide our time” between Toronto and Whitehorse. The mountains, pristine lakes, glorious poplars, extraordinary German rye bread, and expansive wild landscape took our breath away. And the coffee. The land of the midnight sun produces some of the finest coffee we’ve ever tasted. (We flew home with a mere 7 pounds of coffee beans in our luggage; we’re now down to three and wishing that we had In more birdy news, I saw my first Mountain Bluebird in the Yukon Wildlife Preserve and screamed in awe at the bird’s electric blue plumage.

Photo from here. The

Photo from here. The Mountain Bluebird was completely and absolutely this bluest of blues.

The day before the Mountain Bluebird sighting, we found ourselves in the town of Haines Junction (population 800) amidst the smallest, quaintest Canada Day Parade I’ve ever seen.

All highways in Haines Junction were closed for the parade. Note the Mounties and the Rangers marching in front. Our b&b owners suggested we get there in advance. "You blink and it's over," they said.

All highways in Haines Junction were closed for the parade. Note the Mounties and the Rangers marching in front. Our b&b owners suggested we get there in advance. “You blink and it’s over,” they said. They were not wrong.

Shortly after the parade we hiked around Lake Kathleen in Kluane National Park, and the lake officially wins for best, most stunning, cleanest, clearest, world’s most magnificent body of water. I also ID’d about 20 Yellow-rumped warblers in the vicinity. I’m also slightly mortified to admit that every time we encountered another human on the trail, I accosted them to find out whether they had run into a bear that day. Not my proudest moments, but I seriously feared for my survival (no hiding that I’m a city girl, alas!). Everybody graciously humored my frantic inquiries and assured me that I was not about to be eaten by a bear. Nerve wracking, but worth it!

Kathleen Lake, Kluane National Park. The photo doesn't even begin to do the place justice. No bears were seen.

Kathleen Lake, Kluane National Park. The photo doesn’t even begin to do the place justice. Not pictured above: the author of Birds and Words is shaking frantically, terrified of a confrontation with a bear. While the author busied herself freaking out about said bear, the voracious mosquitos of the Yukon descended upon said author and feasted mightily. Author and husband later invested in state-of-the-art bug spray and a peculiar & overpriced mosquito fan which turned out to be a ridiculous gimmick for tourists.

And…things have been rather ho-hum since returning from the Wild North. But a good kind of summery ho-hum. The shore birds are starting to grace Southern Ontario with their presence, the banding station recently reopened and I held a Cedar Waxwing in my hand and resumed scribing in earnest. And such is life: ho-hum punctuated by sublime greatness. I suppose I wouldn’t want it any other way.