Tag Archives: flicker

The Perfect No-Shrike Day

Beloved birders!

Some days just work, even when you wake up and the weather network says -11 degrees Celsius, and you put on an extra sweater and head out anyway. On your way you notice that it’s 6:45 am and it’s light out, and for a minute you fear you’ve read the time wrong, but no. It seems that the light has snuck back, miraculously.

Before you know it you’re standing in Lasalle Marina, staring at a Wood duck, wondering how nature created such a thing. It dawns on you that you first saw a wood duck in this very place three (or was it four?) years ago. You’ve seen other wood ducks since, and they’re all marvellous, but the Lasalle Marina wood ducks hold a special place in your heart. There’s something about site fidelity — not just the birds’ but your own as well; you’re an incorrigible creature of habit. Waterfowl abounds here: canvasback, redheads, common goldeneye, red-breasted mergansers, and a lone American coot. You even see a pair of overexcited mallards engaging in some early spring canoodling. Your feet are freezing, but you know there’s a Carolina wren singing somewhere in the thickets and you won’t stop until you see it. It turns out the repeated triplets — some say it sounds like teakettle or Germany — are sung by a stunning pair of cinnamon-colored beauties with light polka dots on the wings with a gorgeous cream-colored eye-stripe. They spent their time ducking in and out of the thickets, hopping from branch to branch. Nearby, a brown creeper makes his way up a tree-trunk, and by this point you can no longer feel your feet.

You cash in your free coffee win at Tim Horton’s (you could have won a Honda civic, but you already have a car, so what would you do with two when your husband can’t even drive? A free coffee turns out to be better than a car), eat a few timbits and off you go to Hamilton/Burlington, where you catch a glimpse of an Eastern screech owl in a cemetery, and then head up the mountain where you’re rewarded with gorgeous views of an American kestrel, killdeer, a northern mockingbird and a completely unexpected northern flicker. There were other highlights of the day, including a Peregrine falcon hanging out in its usual place on the lift bridge, a white-winged scoter, a yellow-rumped warbler and a possible eastern meadowlark.

Mind you, the day wasn’t all perfect: we saw numerous leaf-birds and branch-birds and twig-birds. At one point someone mistook the meadowlark for a rough-legged hawk. The northern shrike we chased all morning had other plans today and was nowhere to be found. And yet even in its imperfection — warts and all — there’s nowhere else I would have rather been instead.

And throughout the day, the most comforting soundtrack accompanied us: the song of a red-winged blackbird. It’s my spark bird — this raspy yelp (I think it’s an anapest) that has now become synonymous with spring.

A Chicken, a Flicker, Roger Tory Peterson & Me

Beloved Birders,

I must left you all hanging yesterday when I told you that I bought a painting of a chicken, and forgot to share it with you. Hope you didn’t lose sleep over it. In any event, here is the Chicken, painted by the lovely Dawn Stofer of Denman Island. You’ll be happy to know that when I purchased said bantam chicken, I was very appropriately clad in my chicken T-shirt purchased at Shelburne Farms in Vermont. Serendipity? Or maybe the chicken stars were aligned that day. In any event, here is the masterpiece which makes me very very happy:

Bantam series 18, by Dawn Stofer

Bantam series 18, by Dawn Stofer. Embarrassingly terrible photography by yours truly. 

Chickens aside, I just learned that today is the birthday of Roger Tory Peterson, bird god extraordinaire. He would have been 108 today. I think of the great RTP every time I see a Northern Flicker because I know that was his favorite bird, and it happens to be mine too (or one of my 20 favorites). I’m enamored of the way the flicker wears his cacophonous polka-dotted & striped plumage with confidence; would that I had such assurance in my choice of dress. Seriously — a woodpecker trapped in a fashionista’s body.

But what I marvel at most is that Peterson — the man who had traveled the world and seen the most exotic species imaginable — still loved the common, ubiquitous flicker best. It’s the loveliest way of reminding me that the greatest, most exciting natural world is the one right outside our window and that there’s never an excuse not to pay attention. Thanks for the reminder, RTP, and happiest of birthdays. You enriched the world of birds (and, by extension, my world, too) immeasurably.

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.

 

Blogworthy

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.