Monthly Archives: September 2017

A New Chapter

Beloved Birders,

Along with back-to-school frenzy, and other September madness, it’s also Birthday Month here at Birds and Words Headquarters, and I have no shame in admitting that we love to celebrate milestones large and small with gusto. I’m partially resorting to the royal “we” here, but I’ve done a decent job training Mr. Birds and Words, and now he too exhibits signs of celebratory cheer in September, even in the midst of his horrible ragweed allergies.

In any event, I’ve purchased a Folding Bicycle! Yes, it’s a new chapter. I’ve long wanted a bike, and seeing Lynne Freeman (OFO President, no less) riding her folding bicycle on a regular basis made me start drooling over portable bikes. You see, I live in semi-suburbia, and biking anywhere is near impossible because of a highly useful monstrosity called the 401 highway. The highway itself isn’t to blame, but the urban infrastructure surrounding the highway isn’t exactly bicycle friendly. But let’s be brutally honest: even if it were super friendly, I’m not exactly a pro at hills and would probably die on the climb between York Mills and Melrose, so bicycle commuting wasn’t exactly ever in the cards.

But the thought of having a little bike that I could pop in the trunk of my car and ride around near the lake has always enticed me. I’m excited about this new chapter in my life, and excited to become a biking birder! I’ll keep you posted re: progress.

In the spirit of new chapters, I continue to extract birds at the banding station. Had to radio for help twice this morning, but I managed a handful this morning, including a Wilson’s warbler, a Chestnut-sided, and the drabbest looking Blackburnian you’ve ever laid eyes on. But I had no problem IDing it, and that made it one of the loveliest blackburnians I’ve ever seen. Beauty really is in the eye of the beholder.

Of course, there are daily, hourly setbacks: I mistook the light streaking on a Myrtle warbler for a Blackpoll, and later mistook a Cape May for a Western Palm and a Myrtle. Not a great day for Cape Mays, but granted this one was a young female, and so un-Cape May-looking that it’s no wonder I couldn’t place her. I’m heartened by these mistakes though — more and more I know what to look for, and understand why I’m making certain errors.

I think birding might be the single best antidote to smugness. The minute you think you KNOW something for certain, you’ll realize that you really don’t know much of anything at all. And I think of Leo Tolstoy and his refrain about how we can’t know history for certain, and the second we think we do, something happens to thwart our expectations. Come to think of it, I would have loved to take Tolstoy out birding (even though he probably would have much preferred going on a hunt, and knowing him, he would have hunted in the most environmentally-conscious way possible; too bad he didn’t think too highly of higher education for women, but that’s another story).

Anyhow, if you see someone on a folding bike while trying to maneuver her binoculars, it’s probably me. If you see that same person lying next to or atop of her bike, tangled in her binoculars, nose deep in a field guide, it’s likely me as well. Whichever state you find me in, if you see me please say hello! We can talk birds and words and I promise I’ll be happy to see you.

And we’re off…

Beloved birders,

Suddenly that’s how it feels. And we’re off…where to exactly, I couldn’t tell you, but it’s fall, and with it comes a surge of momentum.

I didn’t blog much in the summer because, sadly, I didn’t bird much either and for me the two go hand in hand. There was a Tricolored Heron sighting at Tommy Thompson Park in late July, the weekend before we left for BC, and seeing that bird may well have been the highlight of the first half of my summer. I’m still not sure how it meandered into Ontario, thousands of kilometers from its usual stomping grounds in Louisiana, but a welcome addition to our surroundings it was. The bird lingered for about a week, which meant that every single birder in the GTA and further afield had time to make their way over to the park. The day I saw the heron, he was in fine company, flanked by short billed dowitchers, among other fabulous shore birds, and gargantuan-looking mute swans Great Egret flew overhead. I stuck around for nearly an hour — there were so many generous people with fine, fine scopes — and couldn’t get enough of his regal burgundy coloring.

And then we went to BC, I fell in love with Stellar’s Jays, returned to Toronto, I had an intense work-project, and somehow it’s now September. The evenings cooled, the mornings are brisk, I’m in my element.

I’m also back at the bird banding station at TTPBRS, and I’ve already extracted more birds from mist nets during these last two weeks than I have in my entire life combined. It appears that my adult ballet classes are giving me a crash course in bravery and unabashed desire to try new things even when I can’t quite do them to my liking. Yet. It may well be that I’ll never have the dextrous agility to untangle birds gracefully, but I’m forcing myself to do it, and lo and behold, I’m improving. I still have to radio for help with every fifth bird or so, but I’m gaining confidence handling the birds. I do still feel that it’s such an honor and a privilege to hold a bird in my hand, to see the molting feathers on a warbler, to feel the bird’s heartbeat. It’s not only the bird’s fragility that I sense intimately, but also its resilience. Holding a diminutive warbler or kinglet in the hand reminds me of the extraordinarily perilous journeys the birds undertake. Whether they feel the stress or not, I do not know, but their demeanor is unflappable, courageous, oftentimes majestic. They’ve taught me more about resilience and bravery than they could possibly know.

Yesterday I held two Semipalmated Sandpipers — one in each hand — and took them outside to release them by the water. I doubt either one of them will ever remember spending two minutes in my hands, cupped in bander’s grip, trying to wrestle free, but I can still feel them, their silky plumage and elongated bills, eyes blinking feverishly, before I flung them up into the air to let them go. I watched them fly away, weaving haphazard patterns in the air, so eager to be free of me. And just like that, like magic, they were off.