Monthly Archives: January 2016


Dearest Birders,

I see birds everywhere I go. Even sometimes while I’m driving, which is unnerving, especially if I know it’s a hawk but couldn’t get a good enough look at the tail/plumage/shape of the wings to hazard an ID. So it should come as absolutely no surprise that when I went to see the Turner exhibit at the AGO a few days ago, I found myself face to face with a mallard. Fully expecting to ooh-and-aah at vistas of Venice and stormy seas, I hadn’t exactly prepared myself for Turner-the-quintessential-waterfowl-painter. And yet, it turns out that Turner and the Mallard have quite the connection. Here’s the painting — see if you can spot the Mallard in question.

Peace - Burial at Sea exhibited 1842 Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851 Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856

Peace – Burial at Sea exhibited 1842 Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851 Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856

Can you see the duck flying from right to left in the lower third of the painting? The story behind Burial at Sea is that a good friend of his, David Wilkie, died of typhus near Gibraltar and had to be buried at sea. Well it turns out that Turner’s middle name was MALLORD and that inserting a mallard into his painting was a way for him to be present at his friend’s burial at sea, perhaps as a final gesture of farewell. I had no idea that Turner had such an appetite for puns, but there you have it. Mallard/Mallord. I will never think of a mallard in the same way again.

Last night I went to hear Wagner’s SIEGFRIED for the first time. I never fought I’d say this, but by the end of the opera I could have listened to Brunnhilde and Siegfried sing for another hour beyond the five I’d already heard. I was initially disappointed that I had decided to forego a birding trip to Petroglyphs park (crossbills!) in favour of 5 hours of Wagner, but once the opera got going, I could think of nothing else but swords, helmets, gold, dragons, heroes, sleeping beauties, walkyries and more! And then, somewhere near the end of Act 2, seemingly out of nowhere, a WARBLER appears to speak wise, prophetic words to Siegfried! It turns out I hadn’t missed birding after all!

There’s no escaping birds these days, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

First Birds

Beloved birders,

I posted a new year’s greeting a few days ago, but if I’m really honest, the new year actually began yesterday with my first bird sightings of 2016. There were common mergansers and Bonaparte gulls and common goldeneye (which I misidentified as bufflehead — a bit too hasty and a bit overly confident in my desire to ID quickly), a few gorgeous horned larks running amok in the fields. I was happy just to be out, looking, observing the world on a cold Saturday morning that did not feel nearly cold enough for this time of year. We were an hour north of Toronto and the creeks hadn’t yet frozen over, patches of grass still poked through snow. It felt more like late March than January, only without the beginnings of frenetic bird activity.

And then, just as I was feeling depressed about the climate and the destabilizing warmth of the winter we’re having, we happened upon a female Snowy Owl sitting atop a little post. We hopped out of the car and watched her flaunt her fabulous neck-rotations for about twenty minutes. She posed agreeably for the folks taking photos, and suddenly everything felt right in the world and I no felt depressed about matters meteorological and climatological and simply marvelled. And isn’t that the place of true be inning — the act of marvelling at the beauty of nature that just is. Happy new year, again. May it be a year of seeing deeply, with greater attention and — I’ll just go ahead and say it — awe.

Photo by Corey Cameron.

Photo by Corey Cameron.

Happy New Year!

Beloved Birders,

A few quick words to welcome the new year. I’ve been pondering new year’s resolutions and seem unable to come up with anything concrete beyond a simple More! More! More! More of the same, please.

I’m still very much (and forever will be) a beginner birder, but there are intimations of progress, glimpses, here and there, unexpected correct identifications, moments of recognition. I’ve been birding for just over five years, and it’s starting to show (not just in my home decor and stationary-collection), and for that I’m grateful. I’m also grateful for all the strange and wonderful connections birding has brought me, and for the way it has made the most exciting and positive intrusion into my writing life. Who would have thought, five years ago, that I’d have so much to say about the intersection of birds and words, of birding and seeing, of birding and being, and, most importantly, of birding and exquisite hairdos.

2015 was great in many ways, a bit trying in others, but here are some highlights: I met my nephew, August, on the day of his birth; I am slowly learning to extract birds from mist nets and not to let terror overwhelm me; I watched my husband hold a saw-whet owl for the first time; I completed a great foggy & soggy & wonderful birdathon; I wrangled & wrestled with dozen Czerny studies and emerged victorious; I continue to play badminton badly, and refuse to quit; I taught exciting, challenging courses to the later-life-learning crowd about the avant-garde art movements, Russian music, Anna Karenina, Brothers Karamazov, Middlemarch, Tolstoy & Dostoevsky, creative writing; I ate waffles in a cowshed cafe in Akureyri; I spent my birthday in Fallingwater; I watched Star Wars on New Year’s Eve and found that I’m still (perhaps disturbingly) attracted to Chewbacca. And the list goes on.

For 2016 I’m hoping for simple things: more words (written and read; more novels, less social-media-related reading), more music, and, of course, more birds.