Again, for a day

It’s spring here in Toronto. The snow has been gone for weeks now, and what amazes me is how faraway winter now feels. As if I’ve forgotten how to be in winter now that spring has arrived. My boots feel enormous, my parka unwieldy, my scarves and hats unwittingly crowd me; it’s over, the weather patterns tell me. And I consent. My body has fully committed to spring.

And then my bird group decides to drive three hours north of the city, to spend the day in Algonquin park, in Boreal forest heartland, and suddenly we’re navigating snow squalls and it’s winter all over again, and I have to re-acclimatize to this season that I’ve almost entirely forgotten existed. This season that just was, a mere two weeks ago, and now feels like a distant memory. How we are all creatures of weather, it turns out.

We walked snow-covered paths, sometimes falling inwards, knee-deep, in search of a Boreal chickadee (Poecile hudsonicus) and found not one but two! The boreal resembles the ubiquitous Black-capped chickadee, but has a browner head and greyer face and its song feels more drawn out. Put differently, the Black-capped chickadee sings a Boreal chickadee song in double time with more staccato to it.

Here's the Boreal Chickadee. Photo by Daniel Arndt from here.

Here’s the Boreal Chickadee. Photo by Daniel Arndt from here

We continued along the paths desperate for a displaying Spruce grouse. The grouse must have laughed as he no doubt saw us meandering through the woods, freezing slightly, walking single file, positioning one foot cautiously inside the footstep in front of us, and then the next, so as not to collapse into snow. He must have chuckled as we searched for him so earnestly, in silence, so convinced we were that we’d find him.

It was not to be. But to reward us for our diligence, we got a Grey Jay unexpectedly, since most of them are nesting this time of year. And a beaver (in lieu of a moose) also brightened up the day. I’ve never seen Common redpolls with as brilliant a sliver of red–almost as if they had donned red Cardinals baseball caps. Illuminated by the sun, they looked radiant. We also got a merlin, lots of Turkey vultures, Hairy and Downy woodpeckers, a somewhat athletic red-breasted nuthatch, and a glistening, iridescent common grackle.

The morning began with spring, turned rapidly to winter for the better part of a day — I was underdressed, wore the wrong boots, forgot my long underwear — before reverting back to vernal climes. Strange, disorienting climactic shifts, but it felt invigorating to re-experience winter for a day. In all honesty, now that I’ve moved on to anticipating warblers, I didn’t realized how much I missed winter!

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