Monthly Archives: March 2016

In Memory of Bronwyn Dalziel (1991-2016)

This morning we opened the bird banding station at Tommy Thompson Park (TTPBRS) for spring season, and though I’ve been looking forward to this day for the past month, it was bittersweet.

Beloved birders, this is a post that I have put off writing for the past three days. It’s a post I never imagined I would write. It’s a post I hate having to write. Because writing this means acknowledging that my friend Bronwyn Dalziel, bird bander extraordinaire, passionate ornithologist, inspired educator, tireless volunteer, lively and good humored young woman, forever-curious scientist, preternaturally patient bird-extracting-mentor, is no longer. And the reality of it hasn’t quite sunk in.

Bronwyn Dalziel (1991-2016). In her natural element and at her happiest -- with birds in her hands.

Bronwyn Dalziel (1991-2016). In her natural element and at her happiest — with birds in her hands. Bronwyn died as the result of an automobile accident on March 27th.

The last time I saw Bronwyn was at the Toronto Ornithological Club meeting two weeks ago. All we could talk about was how excited we were for the beginning of spring banding season, how we couldn’t wait to see the warblers again. And now I wish more than anything that at some point during that conversation I had just stopped, given her a big hug and thanked her.

Bronwyn helped me extract my first bird from a mist net in August 2014. She found a gorgeous Cedar Waxwing that was just barely tangled and easy to pluck out from the net, and encouraged me to try my first extraction. Make no mistake, beloved birders, I am no banding station whiz-kid; I’m a midlife learner — slow, clumsy, and largely petrified of most living creatures. Bronwyn knew this — I had been volunteering for close to two years before I even attempted an extraction! — and gently suggested that perhaps I might want to give this bird a go. I remember shaking, terrified that I would hurt the bird or get myself tangled in the net or somehow end up eaten by the bird (I didn’t grow up with animals and I have a overactive, slightly hypochondriacal imagination), and I remember Bronwyn’s incredible patience and herculean empathy for the slightly deranged middle-aged woman that I must have resembled. And yet she never once mocked or judged my fears (or questioned the fact that I came to the banding station weekly, diligently, and solely to scribe — a job most people find completely boring). Instead, she slowly walked me through the bird-extraction process and before I could back out of the whole enterprise, I had somehow miraculously extracted a gorgeous, silky cedar waxwing!

I miss Bronwyn’s quirky sense of humor and the conversations we had about Shakespearean tragedies on our way to check nets. I miss hearing her rattle off Japanese verb forms or regale me with stories about her latest manga reading or fanfiction stories she was writing. I miss Bronwyn’s photo album full of grackles (only she could craft a narrative arc out of an album with 200+ grackle photos). I miss Bronwyn’s infectious enthusiasm about all things bird-related. I miss listening to her educate people who walked into the banding station on a weekend. I miss her teaching; so much of what I know about birds came directly from her. I miss her endless encouragement and her smile, every time I told her about yet another bird that I had managed to extract.

This morning was particularly eerie because Bronwyn’s presence was everywhere in the banding station. Her handwriting was on the whiteboard, her notes & lists were in the drawers, her walking stick by the door. I kept expecting her to walk through the door with stories of grackles, or data transcription or her master’s thesis project or the latest writing project she was working on.

I wish so much this blog post didn’t have to exist.

Thank you, dear Bronwyn. You are greatly missed.

“One Bird Knows the Hour of My Death”

Beloved birders,

In 2008 I spent a month in paradise. Well it wasn’t that simple. I applied and was rejected and applied again and was rejected again and finally, miraculously, got accepted to the MacDowell Colony where I spent the month of May in 2008. It feels so long ago now and I’m not quite sure I’d recognize the person I was then. It was a strange time. I was between careers, unsure of what to do next, living in a new place that was actually an old place–my hometown– but I had been gone so long it might as well have been entirely new, and everything felt unsettled. Actually, everything was unsettled. Exactly one year later I would see my first red-winged blackbird and the world would crack open for me, filled with possibility. But I didn’t know that then.

And the first person I met in May 2008 was Jerry Carniglia, a fantastic visual artists whose paintings astonished me with their playfulness and broad brush-strokes. I was so nervous about being at MacDowell — I hadn’t yet published anything, felt intimidated by both life and art — and Jerry immediately put me at ease. Within minutes we were talking about ekphrasis, Paul Klee, sprezzatura, and how fortunate we felt to be in New Hampshire, how lucky we felt for the present moment. We met every evening for dinner, and I never tired of his hilarious jokes and stories. Actually, we met almost every day before dinner for our daily workout, which was either group yoga, a Navy Seals workout or a bizarre fitness dvd. I’ll never forget Jerry’s story about his sergeant in the Navy who insisted that they stand “butts to nuts” in line. I remember Jerry’s laughter, and his warmth, and his amazingly optimistic outlook on life, and his devotion to his art.

That’s how I remember Jerry — entirely in love with life and the present moment. Jerry, you are missed. How I wish we could have talked about birds —

xx

One Bird Knows the Hour of My Death” Jerry Carniglia (1946-2015)

When You Know

Beloved birders!

Last weekend I heard my first red-winged blackbird calling! Spring is definitely in the air now (although this winter it seemed to make a weekly appearance). Lots of birdy excitement including a fabulous (immature) Histrionicus histrionics (Harlequin duck!) sighting last week and a fabulous, long-awaited long-eared owl. I also managed to confuse a horned lark with a killdeer, but we won’t dwell too much on that. The thing is I was fast asleep in the car and when I woke up everyone was staring at horned larks, but I must have been dreaming of a killdeer because I took one look at the horned lark and announced “OMG you guys, there’s a really funny looking killdeer in the field!” I promise never to again hazard IDs when I’m fresh from slumber. But so it goes.

This morning a friend invited me to a literary event in early May and for the first time ever I responded by saying that unfortunately I couldn’t make plans for any weekends in May due to migratory fever. My own migratory fever! That’s it — I’ve officially blocked off May as bird-month, and I’m really excited about it. It feels good to admit this to people and come out and say it: I’m obsessed with birds and want nothing more than to devote the month of May to finding warblers and visiting the  chiropractor to soothe my warbler neck!

I guess this marks the exact moment when I know I’ve crossed that birdiest of thresholds and there’s no turning back!