On the Cusp

Beloved Birders,

I wasn’t going to write a wrap-up post to 2018 because in some ways it felt like nothing had happened. And then I went through the year, month by month, and found myself smiling. It’s been a good year and though there are no tangible achievements, nothing glaringly exciting that happened, everything about it has made me smile.

The year began and ended with Snowy Owl sightings — all of them in urban Toronto parks, which brings me so much joy. The fact that I live in a city that I can make wild, just by visiting the right places. I extracted more birds from mist nets than ever in my life, and though the process still terrifies me and though I still have to radio for help, I’m slowly becoming more confident. I also came face-to-face with an American Woodcock, which has been a dream of mine since I started birding eight years ago. (Has it really been that long? Am I turning into one of those middle-aged women who occasionally mutters where has the time gone and then feels mildly ashamed, as if she’s turning into her mother.)

This was the year I finally stopped saying “I’d love to visit Wyoming one day” and actually flew to Laramie, WY, and then drove two hours south to Saratoga and spent a few glorious weeks at Brush Creek Foundation for the Arts, where I made good headway on my book, hung out with Mountain Bluebirds every day, and chased sunsets every evening. I came home with a pair of cowboy boots and an unexpected interest in taxidermy. (Stay tuned.)

This was also the year I stopped saying “I wish I could celebrate US Thanksgiving again” and finally booked a trip to NYC/NJ and ate the turkey of my dreams with my best friends in their new house in Hopewell, NJ and saw Eastern Bluebirds on their property. But shortly before eating that turkey of my dreams, I spent an afternoon at the American Museum of Natural History and was so entranced by all the animal bones that I nearly absconded with a Woolly Mammoth skeleton. This unexpected interest in extinct species stems partly form the research that went into an article I wrote for The Walrus about de-extinction and the Passenger Pigeon. I also finally saw Frank Chapman’s bird dioramas and could have spent all day in those rooms.

On the birding front, I saw my first Tufted Duck shortly before getting a haircut that gave me a tuft of my own, alas, and made me resemble said duck for about 4 months. Thankfully hair grows. I also saw 150K Northern Gannets in Quebec this summer, on Ile Bonaventure, which took my breath away. Later, in Denmark, I saw hundreds of Common Eider looking just the way they do in my field guide, in their tuxedo plumage. I also watched my husband befriend a Barnacle Goose in the park outside our airbnb in Copenhagen and while I sat nearby and nearly overdosed on pickled herring.

This was my first year of mostly-solo birding, and I’ve done ok. I’m getting a handle on waterfowl, including females, and recognize more ducks by shape; warblers–even fall warblers–no longer feel like mysterious terrain, so the next step will likely be raptors or shorebirds or gulls. It’s slow-going, I’ve accepted the fact that I’m a lifelong beginner, and I still find it absolutely riveting.

The year also included meeting my new nephew, who was born in mid-October, and many hours spent entertaining his older brother with duplo-building sessions and impromptu dance parties. Speaking of dance, I’m still enthralled with ballet and continue to learn how to move through space. My tendu is a bit more disciplined and my port-de-bras occasionally approximates grace. My pirouettes are still lopsided, but I attack them with gusto. Once my glasses even flew off. May this be the energy with which I approach 2019.

Happy New Year! May 2019 bring more joy and adventure.

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