Monthly Archives: February 2019

Birding, Even When It’s Too Cold

Beloved Birders!

It was cool yesterday. Cold and damp and windy and icy and I nearly stayed home. Thank heavens my birding friend Martha is almost as crazy as I am, and when she said she was prepared to brave the ice, I couldn’t exactly cancel. And I’m so glad I didn’t.

There’s always a moment on cold days when I contemplate staying home. When I couldn’t be bothered to put on my long underwear, my extra pairs of woollen socks, and all the other winter accoutrements, and when I’d rather just sit in my recliner, reading and sipping my coffee. That moment of hesitation is often deadly. It’s the same moment of hesitation that I fight against every morning when I wake up to swim and it’s dark out and cold and the last thing I want to do is jump in the water and start swimming laps. But I do it anyway, and once I’m in the water, I wonder who that person was who had hesitated, so happy am I to be swimming back and forth and back again.

All that to say the world is always better (from my vantage point) after I’ve been birding. And so off I went. The paths in the park were covered in ice, the conditions were treacherous, but we walked slowly and our perseverance (or foolishness) paid off. We saw a Snowy Owl reclining on the marina, twisting her head this way and that. I saw my first House Finches of the month (not that I keep monthly lists), along with American Tree Sparrows, Northern Cardinals and several Downy Woodpeckers. We walked around the park reminiscing about spring and remembering which birds we had seen where: we paid tribute to the culvert where we’d had the Virginia Rail in April, and the pond where the Least Bittern posed for exquisite photos, and the tree where I saw my first Blackpoll warbler just mere seconds after expressing a desire to see one, and the path where I happened upon six American Woodcocks in one place, and the open area where the Sora hung out, and the bushes where the Nelson’s Sparrow had been seen. So much of birding is connected with specific memories of places (and trees), and suddenly it felt like the park was coming alive, my feet felt less cold and it seemed that spring wasn’t so far off after all.

And just when things couldn’t get any better, we saw a Long-eared Owl hiding out in a tree, watching us from his perfectly camouflaged perch, laughing silently to himself. I couldn’t tell you if he was really laughing or not, but it seemed like he must have been. After all, isn’t it ridiculous to watch birders looking up and down trees for a sign of you, staring right at you but not seeing you? On second thought, I’m pretty sure he couldn’t be doing anything but laughing. The things we humans will do, just to get a good look.

I did have to take a half-hour-long shower upon coming home to properly thaw. But the birding in the cold was so very worth it.

Raptors Galore

Beloved Birders,

Devoted readers of my blog might remember that eight years ago (!) I visited Amherst Island, Ontario for the first time. But that was before I knew how to dress for birding and, perhaps more significantly, before I had any interest in raptors. So what I remember most acutely from the day was freezing feet. The entire day took on the color of freezing feet, and if you’re not familiar with that particular hue in the crayola color box, it’s a morose grey with occasional pain flashes of the scarlet variety.

This year’s trip to Amherst was a vast improvement, not only because of my Sorel boots that apparently withstand temperatures down to -40 (but that is nonsense because it was only -7 and I was still a bit cold, but nothing extravagant). What made this trip infinitely more satisfying — apart from the fantastic company — was that I knew my raptors better. So when we saw dozens of Northern Harriers practically grazing out in the field and I saw the white spot on their rump, I knew exactly what I was looking at. And when a Northern Harrier scared off a group of 30 Common Redpolls, I couldn’t help by smile. I’d been trying to see redpolls all winter, and finally, here they were, so close they nearly invaded my personal space. I managed to find a few Bald Eagles, which thrilled me to now end, and winked at a gorgeous Red-bellied Woodpecker. I wanted to apologize to the Downy, whom I didn’t have time to properly acknowledge or appreciate, as he (actually it was most definitely a SHE) made an appearance just as I was fawning all over the red-bellied. I saw my first Rough-legged Hawks of the season, and watched a Red-tailed Hawk devour a vole in slow-motion. Voles pretty much littered the terrain. So much so that the Red-tailed Hawk looked a bit nonplussed about the whole enterprise and dug into the vole rather sluggishly. We also saw a total of five Snowy Owls and three Northern Saw-whets, most of whom were busy chilling or sleeping, or a blend of the two. I love how birds give not a hoot (pun intended) for us (unless we’re disturbing them) — it’s a comforting thought. Even walking on icy surface, terrified I’d fall, trip over my binoculars and break every bone in my body, for three hours didn’t detract from the spectacular day. And as if the birds weren’t great enough, the sun shone brilliantly from morning till evening. We ended the day with a magical ferry right back to shore, back to Millhaven, back to reality, where the ferry ploughed through the ice majestically, as the sun slowly set and the light turned from bright blue to sparkling pinkish-purplish to never-ending glowing indigo.