Saturday, February 26, 2011

Stop saying that name or I'll have to stab myself in the face!

The title of this post is a direct quote from my wife, the lovely and sometimes crass, Rachel Riordan. The name in question is Hoary Redpoll. I have to admit I never really thought about it until she said those words over a salami sandwich in our kitchen today, but it can sound a bit gross... Go ahead, say it out load, especially in an empty room all by yourself. Hoary Redpoll, along with Bohemian Waxwing, have been much talked about around my house as Winter begins its slow painful morph into Spring. The following is for Rachel. My apologies to everyone else for this.

Hoary Redpoll          Hoary Redpoll          Hoary Redpoll          Hoary Redpoll          Hoary Redpoll          Hoary Redpoll          Hoary Redpoll          Hoary Redpoll          Hoary Redpoll          Hoary Redpoll          Hoary Redpoll          Hoary Redpoll          Hoary Redpoll          Hoary Redpoll          Hoary Redpoll          Hoary Redpoll          Hoary Redpoll          Hoary Redpoll          Hoary Redpoll          Hoary Redpoll          Hoary Redpoll          Hoary Redpoll          Hoary Redpoll          Hoary Redpoll          Hoary Redpoll          Hoary Redpoll          Hoary Redpoll          Hoary Redpoll          Hoary Redpoll          Hoary Redpoll          Hoary Redpoll          Hoary Redpoll          Hoary Redpoll          Hoary Redpoll          Hoary Redpoll          Hoary Redpoll          Hoary Redpoll          Hoary Redpoll          Hoary Redpoll          Hoary Redpoll          Hoary Redpoll          Hoary Redpoll          Hoary Redpoll          Hoary Redpoll          Hoary Redpoll          Hoary Redpoll          Hoary Redpoll          Hoary Redpoll          Hoary Redpoll          Hoary Redpoll          Hoary Redpoll          Hoary Redpoll          Hoary Redpoll          Hoary Redpoll          Hoary Redpoll          Hoary Redpoll        

Hoary Redpoll! & Common Redpoll by dfaulder.
The Hoary is much lighter, a bit chunkier, with a slightly smaller bill and no streaking to speak of on the under-tail coverts.

Now, I've been chasing Redpolls (both Common and Hoary) around Ontario for about two months now.  No. Let me rephrase that. I've been chasing Redpoll reports around Ontario for about two months now. It goes pretty much like this:

I read a report online.
I run outside, get in my Subaru Forester* (if I'm lucky and it's on the weekend, I'm home).
I race down the highway (no tickets yet).
I get to the spot.
I see no Redpolls.

Each time I find myself sitting across from some stranger's house staring at nothing but an empty feeder, I think that I should just forget about Redpolls. Who needs them? They're not that important really. Let's face it, the less species I see, the less ink that gets painfully injected under my skin this year. So really, if I miss them, there's five more minutes less I need to spend listening to that buzzing noise (if you've ever had a tattoo, you know the sound).

If you read last weeks post, you already know I accidentally got my Common Redpoll last Monday. I have that sometimes crass wife of mine to thank. She found them and she's not even a birder. Well, I thought it very fitting that this weekend, I found the other species, the HOARY REDPOLL, at my very own feeder, in my very own yard, kind of by accident.

In the insane world that plays out inside my head, there's a finite number of Redpolls to see. When I'm at home, they're at other feeders spread across Ontario. When I'm at those other feeders, they've all migrated over to my yard. I can just see it, they know I'm out chasing them down so they come over to my house and have a big old Redpoll party out back. I picture them rolling around in slow motion in piles of Niger seed on the snow like Demi Moore in Indecent Proposal rolling in money on those white sheets. They are revelling in the fact that I'm away. The odd one or two might be making little Redpoll jokes about the whole thing. They might even have tiny Redpoll cameras in my car so they can all gather around a tiny Redpoll TV at the moment I raise my bins and see nothing, giggling at my failure. I bet they are even selling t-shirts on eBay. And the moment I pull in the driveway, they fly off, returning to the very feeders I just came from. Sometimes 50-100km away.

Now though, I don't care if I see another redpoll in 2011. I would like to, because I'll always take another look at a beautiful bird. But now I can tick it off in my official OFO checklist booklet and I can also add it to my North American list, my winter list, my backyard list and my life list (the one that covers every bird I've ever seen on all 4 continents I've been to). And it's just as important as the Spot-breasted Woodpecker from Argentina or the African Spoonbill but not as important as the Cape Batis or the Malachite Sunbird. Sorry Hoary, but that Batis and Sunbird were unforgettable little birds. Among my favorite anywhere.

Spot-breasted Woodpecker by barloventomagico.
African Spoonbill by yeliseev.
Malachite Sunbird by Lip Kee.

I was addicted to this little bird from South Africa.

Cape Batis by johanvrensburg

Rachel will get her way, I won't be saying much about Hoary Redpolls anymore this year. But she'll always and forever have to look at the Latin name of it because now I have to tattoo it on me. Acanthis hornemanni has a nicer ring to it, eh Rach?

February 26th, 2011 day list
Hoary Redpoll

Paul Riss
Punk Rock Big Year

*I worked on an ad for Subaru Forester.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Accipiter family rallies against me on Family Day weekend.

It's family day weekend in Canada. What's that? Its a made up holiday because we didn't have any long weekends in February. Probably conceived by some politician so he could gain a little favour. Maybe it worked, maybe not. Either way, I'm always happy to take an extra day off work. Whoever he/she is that thought it up, I doubt I like them any more now than before. I had two goals this weekend. Spend as much time with my family as possible and spend as much time birding as possible. Then I was reminded that my wife was off to the city for Saturday and Sunday. Ok. Spend as much time with my kids as possible. Spend as much time birding as possible.
Dinner Friday night telling my kids what I'm doing Saturday.

Saturday started off nicely. Waking up to the sound of the kids reading to each other (they're twins so they share a room). A perfect cup of coffee supplied by Birds and Beans. And a plan to go look for Bohemian Waxwings after dropping Rachel at the GO train in Oshawa. Did I mention that the temperature Thursday and Friday were a balmy plus 5 Celsius? Saturday however, was minus 12 Celsius when I woke up, and the wind was howling.

When I arrived in the area the waxwings in question were reported, it didn't look great. Frigid and blowing, drifting snow. Kind of like white out conditions on some farm roads. I bundled up anyway and got out of the car to find 'marker 27' where the birds were seen a day before. "25-30 of them", the report had said. But that area is a pretty big conservation park. They could be anywhere. I'll tell you where they weren't. They weren't anywhere I was. I wandered around until my fingers felt like, well, they didn't feel like anything because I couldn't feel them. I didn't see one single bird, of any kind. I pulled out my iPhone and my fingers still activated the touch screen so I figured there was a degree of life in at least two of my digits. I opened my Audubon app and played a chickadee song. WAY off in the distance, one replied. So there WERE birds here. Just not the ones I wanted.
Bohemian Waxwing by pbonenfant.

I headed back to my car feeling a bit pissed off that I didn't see anything. I had taken a few hours away from my other goal for family day weekend; to be with the kids. While driving home I decided to take a small concession road south. I came upon a farm house with several feeders out front. I stopped to take a look. There was a moment where I pictured the farmer in his house behind the curtains pointing a gun out at the guy with the Mohawk haircut standing outside his home looking at it with binoculars. To make it look worse, my scope is an old hunting scope my dad gave me. After no shots were fired, I figured I was safe. There was a lot of bird action; Black-capped Chickadees, European Starlings, Nuthatches, American Tree Sparrows. Nothing new for me though so I slowly drove on a bit and came to an odd clearing between two hedgerows. There were lots of little birds in the short trees at one side of the open area. I pulled up my bins and got a very brief glimpse of what might be a Common Redpoll. It popped up to a higher branch. I'd need to get out to get a better look. As soon as I did, a Sharp-shinned Hawk comes crashing in and takes a swipe at the group of birds. They scatter and I stand there watching them fly away. They don't come back. They just fly straight away from me. I watch as they disappear over the horizon. I had a Sharp-shinned for this year, so it pretty much ruined my day. I thought maybe I'd look at the hawk once close up. Just as I raise my bins, it flies away. Dick.
Imagine this staring at your house from the street Saturday morning.

I needed Common Redpoll. If you've been following me, you'll know I've been out looking for them in Kendal at least 5 times. Never having found them, I was especially excited to maybe get them after missing the Waxwings. Damn Accipiter striatus! After leaving there, I raced across the 8th concession to get out to the house before the sitter had to leave. The weather had become much worse. Highways were closed and I even came across an accident. The police were there and the two cars were demolished. I got to Kendal and pulled up to the feeders where Redpolls had so often been reported. A mixed flock of birds took flight the second I opened my window. Shit! I drove too close. There was nobody to blame but me this time, or so I thought. Then it showed itself, a Cooper's Hawk. C'mon, how is this even possible? Twice in one day? I wouldn't blame you if you thought I was lying, but it really happened. There are three hawks in the Accipiter family, stratus (Sharp-shinned), cooperii (Cooper's) and gentilis (Northern Goshawk). To be foiled by two of them in one day seems a bit impossible, but I swear, they were out to get me. The consolation prize here was that I needed Cooper's for the year so at least I got a tick with this one. And what a bird. It was a full plumaged adult. Spectacular slate grey above and red-barred below. Just perfect.
Sharp-shinned Hawk by dobak.
Cooper's Hawk by Shayne Kaye
The look in it's eye says it all, "No redpolls for you Paul! Not today."
Northern Goshawk by nickdryz
The biggest and most fierce of the Accipiter family.

I didn't bird Sunday at all as Rachel was in Toronto and I had the kids. We had a great time renting movies, eating home-made pizzas and playing dress-up. I was a witch. By Monday, Rachel was back and we were determined to do some family shit. We headed out for breakfast, then drove around in the country, stopping in various small towns along the way. In Cobourg, we went to a place I had birded before but mostly to take a walk in the woods by the lake. I heard a few birds but wasn't there for that. As Shep and I were drawing in the snow with a stick, Rachel casually mentioned some birds were in the tree above us. I looked and saw a group of what could be Redpolls. Year right. I took out my bins to have a closer look and sure enough, they were Common Redpolls. I couldn't believe it. I looked around furiously for a Northern Goshawk to ruin this moment but it never showed up, thankfully. I got some really great views of the redpolls. There were five of them in the tree right above me. What made this so much more special was that I was knocking off both my goals for the weekend at once. My kids were with me and my wife too. Add five Common Redpolls to the mix and you pretty much had a perfect Big Year Family Day Monday. To top it off, they were a lifer for me. That was one more winter bird down that I might not have found next December.
Common Redpoll by Tuchodi.

February 19th, 2011 day list
Cooper's Hawk

February 21st, 2011 day list
Common Redpoll

I'll leave you with a road sign I saw Saturday on the way home, after NOT seeing any Bohemian Waxwings.

Paul Riss
Punk Rock Big Year

Friday, February 18, 2011

Bohemian Waxwings. Yes or no?

Im going to try for some Bohemian Waxwings tomorrow morning.
Post a comment wishing me luck. Let's see if your well wishes can seal the birding deal.

Thanks in advance,
Paul Riss
Punk Rock Big Year

Monday, February 14, 2011

Birding in fits and starts

I am writing this post while riding the GO train to work. In my headphones is a song called Wasting Away by Nailbomb. Check the video here (Warning. It's not for everyone). The point is that winter is wasting away and I need some birds. This weekend was spent playing a bit of catch up looking for specific ones. I didn't have the time to do a full day trip what with installing the shower in our house, visiting Rachel's sister and her new-born twins, spending time with my twins and lastly, my tattoo artist, Pete Commanda was coming out to the house and staying the night. He wasn't tattooing me yet (That will be happening soon enough), he was there to work on Rachel's arm.

Pete tattooing Rachel.

As I said, winter is fast disappearing and I need to grab some birds before they head north again. My target birds were; The Barrow's Goldeneye and the Boreal Chickadee that had both eluded me twice so far at Presqu'ile Provincial Park; the Common Redpolls that are in Kendal daily, except those days when I'm there. I had also heard there were some Wild Turkeys just north of Kendal near The Dell Road. There were also a few other sightings that were getting pretty stale but I couldn't help but go looking for like the Bohemian Waxwings in Claremont and that pesky Harlequin Duck in Whitby Harbour.

Common Redpoll by Tuchodi
Bohemian Waxwing by pbonenfant

So, Friday started out with me taking Rachel to get her G1 driver's licence. She passed of course and even drove us home afterward. Way to go Rach. I told you it'd be easy. After a nice lunch with the kids, I called my friend Brad to see if he felt like taking a drive in the country looking for birds. Brad isn't a birder but he is a musician (Bradleyboy) and happens to be doing the soundtrack for this film. He agreed to go and see what the hell I'm actually doing. We made a quick trip to Kendal for the Redpolls and Wild Turkeys. I arrived in Kendal all hopeful. It just felt like a good birding day. In true form, the Redpolls were absent. We drove a bit north to another location they might be found. Again, no Redpolls at the feeder. Feeling a bit dejected, we turned around and stared back to Orono. As we drove up the hill, there were at least thirty Wild Turkeys scratching away at the snow in a field. I guess one out of two ain't bad.

Wild Turkey by Bobolink

After that we headed toward Orono as my kids would be waking from their nap and I wanted to get back. I had some important playing with trains to be done. The following morning, I was going to get that Barrow's and Boreal. Brad wanted to come along for the ride as he hadn't been out to Presqu'ile in some time. We arrived to find another birder looking for the Boreal Chickadee but he hadn't found it. I was still hopeful. He did mention that someone got the Barrow's recently. We got to the lighthouse and I started scanning the hundreds, if not thousands of ducks on the lake. I had heard that it was near the red bouy earlier. I looked there first. No Barrow's. I started to think I wouldn't get it again. Why was I even doing a Big Year? It just took any pleasure out of birding. I wasn't even having fun. And there were tonnes of great birds out there. Common Goldeneye, Long-tailed Ducks, Greater Scaup, Buffleheads, Redheads (these used to be a real favorite, a reason to love winter), Common and Red-breasted Mergansers. So many that I used to love so much that were nothing more than wallpaper now. I felt like a shitty birder.

Redhead by bamyers4az
Red-breasted Merganser (complete with punk haircut) by marlin harms

Then, all of a sudden, I saw it. A Barrow's Goldeneye. How could I have missed this bird? It stood out like a sore thumb. Nothing else looked like it out there. The markings were so obvious. That forehead, the dark feathers that extended down each side of the breast, the bigger white spot on it's face and the pattern where white and black meet on it's side. It really made the Common Goldeneyes look, well, common. I had seen these ducks up close when I was in Vancouver a month ago but surely this one was a more perfect specimen than those junkies out west. This one was special. This one was a tick. I loved birding again. Even the idea of doing a Big Year seemed cool. It made the lack of breakfast and hour-long drive to get there all worth while. Who needs Redpolls anyway? I guess I do but for a few brief moments, I didn't care if I ever saw a Redpoll. I got my Barrow's. Of course, I stopped in Kendal on the way home to try for the Redpolls once more. No Redpolls.

Barrow's Goldeneye by ingridtaylar
Common Goldeneye by marlin harms

Sunday I had to go and visit family. My sister-in-law had recently had twins. I guess it runs in the family. Coincidentally, there is a conservation area near their home. It was a good bet that the babies would sleep for most of our visit and I could slip out and try for a few birds. Before leaving town, I had to drop some cash off at Brad's so he and Dawson could go grab the bowling alley floor I bought from someone in Toronto. Standing outside their house I heard a Northern Cardinal. No big deal, I had ticked them on January 2nd. What was special about this bird is that he was signing his full song. Spring must be coming. Just as I was handing over the cash, a Sharp-shinned hawk flew over. Look out Mr. Cardinal. It was almost as if I just paid $240 for that hawk.

Sharp-shinned Hawk by dobak

As luck would have it, not only were the babies asleep, so was their mother. I headed out for a quick trip to see what I might find. There wasn't much there but I did get one tick. A beautiful pair of Northern Mockingbirds. They were flying around and eating berries together. Probably revelling in the plus 4 celsius temperatures. Then I headed back to Jenna's house to visit and she had made Beef Bourguignon (Jenn is an incredible cook). All-in-all, this was a good weekend for birds. Not a big list but I ticked a few good ones.

Northern Mockingbird by mikebaird

February 11th, 2011 day list
Wild Turkey

February 12th, 2011 day list
Barrow's Goldeneye

February 13th, 2011 day list
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Northern Mockingbird

Paul Riss
Punk Rock Big Year

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The owls will have to wait.

Evening Grosbeak by Putneypics

I had the chance to go to Amherst Island near Kingston, Ontario today and look for owls. It wasn't in the cards though as I had some commitments around the house. You see, we are finishing up some renovations and I had my electrician coming over to finish the lighting in the kitchen. You can see some of the reno stuff at my lovely wife's blog, The Stay Lucky.

Amherst Island is a full day thing. I just didn't want the others to feel rushed or anything. Maybe I'll go next weekend. That said, I didn't want to go another full week without adding anything to my Big Year list. I had a couple hours Saturday morning to see something. To find out what I might see in my area, I downloaded BirdsEye for my iPhone. It is the best app I've ever bought. It literally shows you exactly where you need to go to see a specific species. All you do is launch it, let it find your location via GPS and it tells you all the sightings that have been uploaded to eBird recently. Find one you need, tap that species and it shows you on a map how to get to the latest and closest sightings.

I launched BirdsEye and looked in my area for stuff I still need (tragically, that's a long list). It popped up a couple that were very close to my house. Evening Grosbeak and Common Redpoll. They were about 15 minutes away and sighted only yesterday. Just before leaving, I made this video.

After that, I headed out to find some birds. It was a beautiful sunny winter morning. I found the spot and within moments I had the Evening Grosbeaks. They were a bit off the beaten track at someone's backyard feeder. It was a life bird for me so an extra special sighting. There was a guy called Rob Lonsberry there taking some photos of the birds. Some of his photos can be seen here.

I missed the Redpolls. Rob had seen them earlier and took me right to the feeders where he'd seen them but they were now gone. I waited around for a while but, no Redpolls. Even after going back a couple times, they didn't show. My wife doesn't know it yet, but when we head to Peterborough tomorrow morning, we'll be swinging past those Redpoll feeders again.

This is way off topic but I thought it was kind of funny. Here's what my kids think of the new haircut.

February 5th, 2011 day list

Evening Grosbeak.

P.S. - Today would have been a good 2 hours of birding (I saw at least 20 species) but only one of them meant anything this year. I'm seeing how a Big Year can sometimes strip a bit of the enjoyment out of birding.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Punk Part - Part 2.

As promised. Here's right after the haircut.
Photography by Derek Shapton

Photography by Derek Shapton

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The punk part

It's been a little while since my last post. I've had a birthday since and have seen very few birds. It's not my fault. I went looking. It's just that they are not showing up where they are reported. I even went for a Harlequin Duck on my birthday (the actual day) and never got it (And I still don't have it). The birding gods are against me. Why? Who knows? Maybe they have read my blog and are asking, "Where's the Punk?"

Harlequin Duck by  Dendroica cerulea.

Well, the Punk is coming today. In the form of a haircut. There was a time when I sported a Mohawk haircut. True, it was in my younger years but I'm bringing it back for my Big Year. At lunch, I go to my barber to get the cut. His shop is the shit. It's called Crows Nest. He's a great guy and a great barber. It's awesome to see someone bringing back the mens barbershop. And he's doing it right. It's for dudes and with every cut, you get a Pabst Blue Ribbon. You can check out John's place on Facebook here. Like it. Love it. Go get a cut.

Crows Nest Website.

Here's a look at my hair as it is this morning.

Look for the after shots of my Mohawk later today.

Paul Riss
Punk Rock Big Year