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


  1. Good stuff on the redpolls. As for the Bohemians -- well, as the sign says, don't stop believin'.

  2. Thanks Kenn. I hear they're around again. Nothing like trying one more time... or ten more times.