Monthly Archives: December 2015

Toward Light!

Beloved Birders,

As of tomorrow morning, we will be moving toward light. The darkest day of the year will be behind us, and we will inch toward spring ever so gently, but insistently. And note that I’m saying Spring rather than Summer, because my world seems to have shifted about 45 degrees ever since I started birding, and it’s Spring and Fall I now tend toward.

The darkening days of November and early December usually drain me entirely, but this year it’s been a little different. I’ve started going on morning walks, and I time my return home with the beginnings of a sunrise. For some reason attending to the rising sun daily has been a positive ritual and I haven’t minded the dark early evenings quite so much. And with the sun (or just a lighter shade of grey, depending on the day), I walk home past a congregation of chattering dark-eyed juncos every morning. The combination of light and frenetic excitement of juncos preparing for their day has somehow made things slightly more palatable.

And yet, I’m so very much ready for the return of light, and birds. But in the meanwhile, I will continue to enjoy the morning sunrise and I will continue to attempt interpretations of the vociferous juncos. Once the light returns for real and the spring migrants start appearing, the juncos will be no longer in these parts. Isn’t it amazing how there’s always a tradeoff in natural cycles?

So perhaps for now I will enjoy exactly what I have: the dark, the juncos, and an occasionally startling sunrise. And, more specifically, right now: wonderful meals with friends and family, celebrations, getting to know a brand new nephew whose spectacularly long fingers surely suggest he’ll be a talented birder, and an unexpectedly great new haircut (fingers crossed that I’ll figure out how to use my new rounded brush and will be able to “style” it myself; really I just wish I could borrow the coiffure of a Cedar Waxwing).

A cedar waxwing glamor shot. Would that I had his haircut! Photo from here.

A cedar waxwing glamor shot. Would that my locks looked as stellar as his! Photo from here.

Birding in the Dark

Beloved Birders!

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to go out birding at 6:30 am in December when it’s still pitch black outside? Let me summarize the experience for you: you will see nothing, and it will still count as one of the awesome birding moments of your life. Your fingers will freeze, you’ll barely be able to see the path, a branch with dried up leaves will freak you out when you nearly trip over it, and though you’re ostensibly out looking for birds, you’ll spend most of your time looking up at the sky, marvelling at the stars that you can so rarely see in the city. And while you’re looking up, suddenly you’ll notice a bluish line across the horizon, and without knowing exactly what you’re looking at, you’ll watch the line swell and lighten and transform into a yellowish, orangish pattern, crisscrossed with cloud, and you’ll stare at all of this before you realize you’re watching the sunrise. You’ll walk next to pine trees where you once saw long-eared owls, and though you miss them this time, you can’t take your eyes off the ephemeral pinkish spots now dotting the sky, because you know –from your morning walks–how short-lived these morning colours happen to be.

And just as you’re acclimating to the light, you hear the first chip notes, likely sparrows or juncos waking up, and slowly the lonely notes turn into a chorus and the cardinals join them, louder and louder, as if an alarm clock had just woken them up. And though you cannot see a single bird, just hearing them against the glowing morning light is enough. On your way out of the park, your bird guide spots a hungry Red-tailed hawk perched atop a pine, hovering over the field, eagerly awaiting his first food of the day.

Sunrise at Colonel Samuel Smith Park. Ours was initially brighter, and then duller, and then morphed into grey, but you get the idea. Image from here.

Sunrise at Colonel Samuel Smith Park. Ours was initially brighter, and then duller, and then morphed into grey, but you get the idea. Image from here.

By the time we reached Colonel Samuel Smith Park (aka: Kipling Spit), it was already morning, and we witnessed the brilliant sunrise transform into muted winter pastels, and then, slowly, into a uniform grey, as these winter days often do. We saw American wigeon, hooded & red-breasted mergansers, red-necked grebe, gadwall, scaup, bufflehead and a few other duck species. Our count for the day barely crossed the double digit line, but that didn’t make it any less fabulous. Never before has the sound of early-morning sparrow & junco chip notes against a backdrop of lightening sky brought me so much joy.

A Nephew and a Mountain Bluebird

Beloved birders,

On Friday afternoon, I met my nephew for the first time. He resembled a fascinating pterodactyl at birth, but I fell in love with him the minute I saw him: a perfect wrinkled creature with long fingers and impressively-sized feet. To me (and to his adoring parents!) he seemed a baby like no other. Still no name, but I can’t wait to get to know him.

And then, as if that wasn’t enough excitement for a single 24-hour period, I went out on Saturday morning and saw a (female) mountain bluebird! The last time I saw a mountain bluebird was in Yukon, in early July 2014, and I couldn’t take my eyes of the glistening electric-blue bird. In any event, the bird has absolutely no business being in Southern Ontario — probably at least 2000 km out of its usual range (don’t quote me on that one — I’m just judging by the map on the Cornell Lab website and doing a little guestimation). She appeared in an open field and hopped about from post to post, completely unperturbed by photographers. In fact, she put on a little show for us, which thrilled us to no end. I kept hoping she would flutter about and fan her feathers, so I could get a look at the electric blue hiding in her wings. And here she is — the great photo is by Barbara Canney.

MtBluebirdBarbCanneyHallsRdDec5th2015There was something miraculous, completely out of the ordinary to the whole weekend: a nephew and a mountain bluebird. We relished the appearance of both of them. Not all birding days can be this thrilling, of course. And that’s probably a good thing because I came home on Saturday night completely exhausted from all of the stunning events. I mean how many times will I get to say that I met my nephew for the first time and saw a Mountain Bluebird in Ontario within hours of each other?