Monthly Archives: May 2016

The Bird I’m Looking At

Beloved birders,

My favorite question, when I meet other birders, is to ask them about their favorite bird. I know it’s an annoying question, but I’m always so curious! It’s also a question that I myself hate answering, because the answer changes almost every day.

My spark bird — the one that started this whole obsession — is the ubiquitous red-winged blackbird, whose shrill call and scarlet epaulets still thrill me every time I see it fly. The bird is common and reminds me of the necessity of admiring even the most habitual birds.

Another bird I can’t help but worship is the Northern Flicker, mainly for its cacophonous plumage patterns; the bird is a living fashion statement. And then there are the warblers: I adore the black-and-white warbler best because it’s the first one I remember seeing, but I also love the hooded warbler for his daring balaclava look. In fact, I think I love all the warblers — even in the fall! — for their unexpected bursts of color. I’ll never forget the first time I saw a blackburnian warbler’s fiery orange neck or the palm warbler’s unexpected rufous crown or the Canada warbler’s slightly gaudy necklace that the bird wears with nothing but pride. And then there’s the unexpected classy look of the black-throated blue warbler, that dispels all fashion advice I had once heard about never wearing navy blue and black together; the black-throated blue assures me that there could not be more faulty advice! I love the prothonotary warbler mainly for its lemony yellow that lights up everything in its midst, but I won’t tell a lie: I also love the prothonotary because I live in Southern Ontario and the bird happens to be endangered and rare in these parts, and seeing the warbler is always AN OCCASION.

I’m slowly starting to see the wisdom in not having in a favorite. Or rather, in admitting that my favorite bird is the one I’m looking at. This weekend I spent a few hours birding with my husband at Ashbridges bay. Since it was just us, we didn’t hit double-digit warbler numbers, but the birds I saw and ID’d on my own thrilled me to no end. I couldn’t take my eyes off the gorgeous Cape May warbler, with its orange-chestnut cheeks and bright yellow breast — almost like a make-up job gone terribly awry — and here the getup spelled nothing but elegance. Next up was the Nashville warbler, which I usually find borderline dull, but yesterday I finally saw the red in its crown. And the Yellow-rumped warblers — common as they are this time of year — made me smile. My husband spotted the bird that turned out to be the Blackburnian and we watched it show off its shimmering colors for us. And even the drab-ish warbling vireo grabbed my attention, with its carefully etched white eye-stripe, and its insistent call.

Warbling vireo. Not the flashiest of warblers, that's for sure, but what a thrill to know its song and recognize it by sound.

Warbling vireo. Not the flashiest of warblers, that’s for sure, but what a thrill to know its song and recognize it by sound. Check out that impressive eyebrow action, too. Image from here

There weren’t large numbers this weekend, but it didn’t matter. I’ll have time to see the other warblers. I think this migration season I’m going to take it a bit slower. After all, it’s all about the bird I’m looking at.



Beloved Birders,

It’s been a somewhat slow start to May migratory madness and the only warblers I’ve laid eyes on so far are the palm and yellow-rumped, but today’s rain will bring extraordinary fall-out conditions for the coming week. Now wouldn’t that be blog-worthy?

In the absence of any such spectacular sightings, I still had a great morning of birding yesterday in Whitby and Oshawa. We saw a gorgeous canvasback, two extremely odd looking, likely young trumpeter swans with long auburn necks and heads, blue-winged teal, lovely flyover great blue herons. White-throated sparrows congregated everywhere, along with a few song sparrows and a lone white-crowned sparrow. Juncos and pine warblers sang their virtually indistinguishable songs (I couldn’t have told you there were both juncos and pine warblers in one tree; that blog-worthy piece of info came from a local song-expert in the neighborhood). Downy woodpeckers fluttered about and I could almost detect their undulating flight pattern. A lone red-bellied woodpecker hammered away at a branch, his red nape illuminated by the morning sun. I even managed to ID a chipping sparrow for the first time. At Cranberry marsh we saw a large collection of waterfowl floating about lazily, as if they too felt sluggish in the sudden onset of Spring: a northern shoveler, ring-necked ducks, red-breasted mergansers, bufflehead, scaup, and a few others I can’t recall. But the last day of May was surprisingly warbler-less. I kept wanting to hear a yellow warbler because it’s a song I could recognize anywhere, but it wasn’t meant to be.

Instead, I was regaled by the sight of two copulating northern flickers. A brief moment of passion — or biological necessity — and off they went and sat on separate branches.

Northern flicker. My favorite bird (today). It turns out I'm in good company because the flicker was Roger Tory Peterson's favorite bird as well. The ones we saw were rather feisty.

Northern flicker (Colaptes auratus). My favorite bird (today). It turns out I’m in good company because the flicker was Roger Tory Peterson’s favorite bird as well. The ones we saw were rather feisty.

Blogworthy? I’m not so sure. But it was a wonderful day regardless. Sometimes blogworthy just means living the day-to-day and enjoying whatever it is your binoculars happen to land upon.

In other birdy wordy news, I have a book review up on the ABA website.