Monday, March 28, 2011

Trapped Under Ice

I titled this post after an old Metallica song. This must be said; Metallica used to be so effing cool. Then, Cliff Burton died in a bus accident and they were never quite the same. His last album was Master of Puppets. Coincidence? And as much as I like Jason Newstead, Cliff was the shit. And I'll bet he was rolling in his grave at the idea of the film, Some Kind of Monster. Most photos of him had a middle finger up at the camera. He wore his Jean jacket buttoned up all the way to the top. Everything about him said, "Go fuck yourself." Check out Cliff playing bass like no other. I can't find images of him that I'd be allowed to use so click the link below to see him.

Cliff Burton.

His sentiment is exactly how I feel about this cold weather. Go! Go far away. It was a pretty bird free weekend for me. My wife, Rachel, took a much deserved weekend away to visit some friends in our old neighbourhood. She also spent some time at her sisters (Jenna also had twins recently). Im happy to report that all is well with Hanna and Harlow. So this weekend, it was just me and the kids and well-below 0 Celsius temperatures. Like -10 one morning. It was supposed to be spring. To boot it was really windy so even taking the kids to the park didn't last long.

I did manage to sneak out and try for a single White-fronted Goose in Oshawa Second Marsh (no, i never left the kids alone, my niece sat with them). No luck on that one. I may well have just not been able to find it though. The lighting wasn't great and it was typically nestled into a group of about 2000 Canada Geese. I scanned them for an hour to no avail. I did however see Albert, another birder, and as we talked about the report of some Cackling Geese, he got on them. I looked through his scope and then was able to locate them in mine. It's always cool to see the comparisons of very similar birds one next to the other. I got lots of time to compare them to the adjacent Canada Geese. Short neck, stubby bill. There were about 4 of them.
Cackling Goose with Canada Geese by Dendroica cerulea.
Canada Goose and Cackling for comparison by dobak
During some 'quiet time' in the afternoon, I managed to get some design work done that was due. Quiet time is this new thing my wife started where the kids go up to play in their room. It feels like a Caribbean holiday every day (twins can be a tad tiring). I made a couple posters for my friend, Bradleyboy Mac Arthur's upcoming shows. If any of you out there need some design work done, I'm happy to offer my services. I work on a sliding scale. If the cause is great and there's creative freedom involved, I've been known to work for free. Like this logo for They have no design budget but I believe in what they are doing.

So, with temps so low, the kids and I felt a bit like we were trapped under ice.
Here's the song. This was something I listened to a million times in high school. And still enjoy today. Metallica will probably sue me for this. Even though its just a fan saying how much they love their work.

March 26th, 2011 day list
Cackling Goose

Paul Riss
Punk Rock Big Year

Monday, March 21, 2011

Busy, busy, busy.

If you are looking for the bird art auction, please click here.

My backyard. No leaves, but no snow either!
Spring usually is busy for birders. But this wasn't exactly the kind of busy I was looking for. The twins are keeping me busy. Warmer weather means I have to start tackling some shit around the house I've been putting off. And then there's work. I try not to work weekends but sometimes a couple projects land on my desk simultaneously that need lots of attention. Naturally, this only ever happens when I have plans. And usually it's worse when it's birding plans.

This weekend was no different. There's 2 substantial things I'm working on in the advertising world. Neither of which I'm at liberty to talk about. Nor should I even if I were allowed. Quite frankly, what I find to be an interesting advertising problem is generally as fun as watching paint dry to non-advertising folks. Everyone likes the funny commercial when it's done but let me tell you, it's almost always a long, hard and sometimes ridiculous road to get to those funny thirty seconds.

Enough about my job. Suffice it to say I had a bunch of work to do this weekend that I'd rather not have done on the weekend. What I did Saturday was great fun. Well, to a non-birder, it might seem like a dreadful way to spend a Saturday. Waking well before the sun. Driving through the dark morning to a parking lot in the middle of nowhere. Waiting there in the cold for another car to show up, only to drive another 3 hours. And when you stop driving, you wander aimlessly around in the fridgid temperatures looking at hoards of Canada Geese way off in corn fields trying to see one that doesn't have a black neck. Only to tick a little box next to the words 'White-fronted Goose.' And this outcome was  if everything went according to plan. I don't know what's wrong with you, it sounds fun to me.

White-Fronted Goose by Alan Vernon
Unfortunately, things didn't go entirely that way. Oh, all the boring shit up front did. The freezing temperatures were right on schedule, as always. The thing that went wrong was that we never found the Goose in question. Actually, we never found the field with a throng of Geese in it to scour. At least the drive was filled with good company. Margaret Bain, Richard Pope and a person new to me, Andrew Don (Bananaram on flickr). All three make me look like a shit birder. But at least they are nice about it. They are all very advanced birders and I learn a lot just being around them. I almost certainly would have written off the Golden Eagle as a Turkey Vulture or Red-tailed Hawk. The latter being a gross mis judgment in distance. But they were there. So I got myself a Golden Eagle for the year list. That can be a tricky one in Ontario. Thanks Andrew. Or Richard. I'll let them hack that one out.

Up close Golden Eagle by Just Chaos
(More like how I saw it) Golden Eagle by OCParks_CA

We missed another great bird that would have been a lifer. Eastern Screech Owl. I know, I know. I should really have that one by my age but it just eludes me. I've chased them in years past but to no avail. The Tundra swans were in the hundreds that day. A week previous, they were in the thousands. But really, this year, all I needed was one. Tick. Ring-necked Ducks were new for the year. Had them in January in BC. Now I had them in Ontario. We got quite a few Turkey Vultures and we even got Rusty Blackbirds. I love them, with their bright eyes and patches of rusty feathers. We tried for a Spotted Towhee but never got it. There was however a Black-capped Chickadee that had streaks of grey 'hair' throughout it's cap. He looked like he was going gray. If anyone can explain that one, I'd really like to know more about it. There were lots of other good birds that day too.
Eastern Screech Owl by Seabamirum. The one we were after usually hangs out in nest boxes.

Ring-necked Ducks by Bananaram. (This is the actual ones I saw)

Rusty Blackbird by Bananaram. (This is the actual one I saw)

Song Sparrow by Bananaram. (This is  the actual one I saw)
Tundra Swans by ingridtaylar
After about 14 hours away from the house, i went up to Peterborough to see my buddy Bradleyboy play a show at The Pig's Ear. I got a little drunk, ate some pizza and slept poorly. All in all a good day. And then there's Sunday. I took my kids early to the park. In Orono, we have an amazing park with significantly fewer syringes and condoms lying about than our old hood in Toronto. It even has a trout stream running through it. The kids were playing around in the skateboard park area when I heard a familiar sound. My wife knew that she was going to have to watch both kids by the look on my face. My attention was immediately elsewhere. Namely up. I heard it again only this time it was off in the distance on the other side of the park. I scanned the trees feverishly. I wanted this bird. Not that I wouldn't get one this year but there's something about this bird. It called again and I was able to tell it was from the tree right in front of me. Then it popped up into the open and sat there, in all it's woodpeckery glory. The king of woodpeckers in Ontario. Well, for me anyway. It was a Piliated Woodpecker. A great bird. 17 inches long, black with white stripes on it's neck. A big red crest. And one hell of a loud call when they are that close by.
Poster I designed for Bradleyboy's show.

Piliated Woodpecker by Monica R.

A pretty  good weekend birding and some nice family time. Even though I had to work a fair bit Sunday night, it's not so bad. Oh who am I kidding, working at all on a Sunday sucks. After 9pm really blows. I don't care what your job is. Well, ok, maybe a birding guide might have fun owling on a Sunday night. But no ad guy ever liked working Sunday night.

March 18, 2011 day list.
Turkey Vulture

March 19, 2011 day list.
Tundra swan
Ring-necked Duck
Green-winged Teal
Golden Eagle
Rusty Blackbird
Sandhill Crane
Winter Wren
Lesser Scaup
Great Blue Heron

March 20, 2011 day list.
Piliated Woodpecker

Paul Riss
Punk Rock Big Year

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Spring Migration

It's almost upon us here in Southern Ontario. And I need to make a few trips to really rack up the birds. To help pay for those motels, I'll need a little coin. But I certainy wouldn't want to ask my followers for money. I will, however, ask my followers to participate in a little online auction. What's up for grabs? Only the incredible limited edition art you see below. Created by the beautiful and talented Rachel Riordan (my wife). I'm putting these beautiful drawings up for grabs. The bidding starts at $40 CDN. I will close the auction April 1st. Email your bid (please include the name of the one you want) to The highest bid wins the art. Delivery is included.

Art inforation:
This art piece is not framed. It looks great framed or hung on a ribbon with clothespins.
Archival print of a pen and ink drawing which has been digitally colored.
Printed on a beautifully textured Velvet fine art paper (100% cotton rag, acid free) with vibrant smudge and fade resistant inks.
Limited edition of 40, each print is signed and numbered.
Image size approx. 11 x 14,
paper size is 13 x 19.




Thanks for the support

Paul Riss
Punk Rock Big Year

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Working late

So I'm up later than I should be. Have had more beer than I should on a school night. Short post. Need to get to bed. I just spent the evening with a close friend Bradley Mac Arthur. He's a one-man-band that happens to be making some music for Punk Rock Big Year. Go listen to his music. Buy it. You won't be disappointed. Here are some images that have been pulled from the teaser trailer for Punk Rock Big Year. Click them to see hi res versions. Good night.

Paul Riss
Punk Rock Big Year

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Never mind the Waxwings. Here's the Red-wings.

Ok. That's a bullshit title. I just did it because of a great punk album. I spent Saturday not birding at all but hanging with the family. I had so much fun, I almost forgot I was doing a Big Year. My Aunt Pat even came over to sit with the twins so Rachel and I could go out for dinner and a movie. We ate at a cool spot in Peterborough (just 20 min. north of Orono). It was a French Quarter New Orleans place. Good ribs, good beer. Then, we walked to the theatre and watched The Adjustment Bureau. Good movie. I really liked the idea behind it. Maybe you need to feel like you're losing something to make you fight to have it. And there was an amazing lack of CGI. The effect used was so simple, very nicely done.

But, this blog isn't about food or movies, its birds this is all about. Sure enough, my iPhone dings on our way out of the theatre. It was Margaret Bain. Her note explained she had a line on some Bohemian Waxwings (BOWA). Just what I needed to hear. I had planned to go birding Sunday morning but the only real lead I had was on some Ross' Geese that were seen a few days earlier. I decided to take the shorter trip and find the BOWAs that Margaret said were nearby. The Ross' Geese were not reported for a couple days and it was a way further drive to them. Losing an hour last night didn't make it any easier to get rolling this morning. Listening to The Jesus Lizard's Gladiator helped.

I arrived at the house where the BOWAs were seen the day before. They weren't in the tree out front. Though I had permission to go around the back and look, it always feels strange. Wandering into a person's back yard. A person you have never met. A person who's not even home. But who's husband is home, sleeping off a long night shift while some Mohawked stranger wanders about the yard, peeking into every corner looking for a bird. I did hear them. The birds that is. The BOWAs I so desperately wanted even just a glimpse of. I got sort of excited. I had searched for these many times before. Uselessly searched, that is. I have never, in all my life, seen a BOWA. I stumbled around, looking quite stupid I'm sure, in the deep snow in the back yard. Then the calls stopped. A small flock of birds darted out from two properties away. Much to my dismay, they went in the opposite direction. My heart sank. I think that was them but I never got a good enough look. They could have been Starlings for all I knew.

I got in my truck and drove around the concessions a bit looking for them. No luck. I stopped at one area that was just nice to look at. There was a stream bursting at the seams. The water rushing like mad under the culvert in the road. I turned off the truck. I sat, quietly listening to the rushing water. I started to daydream about fishing, my other outdoor activity, and how in just about 60 days, I could hit the stream near Orono and bring home a nice Brown Trout for dinner. Fry it in butter with some fresh herbs from my own garden. That sounded nice. Then the quiet dream was interrupted by a sound. Not the most beautiful of sounds, as far as bird songs are concerned. But It was sublime. I looked up in a tree and saw, at very close range (not unusual for this bird) a Red-Winged Blackbird. Looking pretty dashing with his deep velvety black feathers, and those super-red shoulder patches, lined with pale yellow. He was a sight to behold. A common sight (for half the year), but pretty amazing all the same. I listened to him for a while, knowing Spring was here, and then slowly drove on. I went back to the house and wandered the yard one last time. No Waxwings, but I did see a pair of Common Grackles in the tree where the Waxwings were just 24 hours ago. I didn't get my target but got two new species anyway. Not a terrible 2 hour trip. Though I can't wait for those Spring days when you get 12 warbler species in two hours. You know the days, going home with a day list of 50-70. C'mon Spring.

Red-Winged Blackbird by kevincole

Common Grackle by qmnonic

March 13th, 2011 day list
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle

Paul Riss
Punk Rock Big Year

Monday, March 7, 2011

A bird-less weekend

I had a birdless weekend. Sadly, there was no birding to be done. Nothing too special around that I needed. No time to get it even if there was. And it rained for about 24 hours straight this weekend. Then, after that, it got very cold and everything froze right up. So I spent all my time with the family, trying to do something my dad did for me so very long ago.
Shepard Thrasher Riss
Georgia Wren Riss
Kids on the front deck.

I took my kids to dance class. Now, my father never took me to dance class that I'm aware of but who knows. I barely remember the last ten minutes, never mind the last 30 years. What my dad DID do was take me to a conservation area with an old pair of binoculars to see a few birds. I really have no recollection of how it went leading up to the moment I became insanely obsessed by birds. I don't remember standing in the woods with my hand held out, waiting. I don't remember the type of seeds in the palm of my hand. I don't remember what time of year it was or what time of day it was. I don't even remember what car we drove there. What I do remember with intensity, is exactly how heavy (or rather not heavy) a Black-capped Chickadee was. How it's impossibly small silver-grey legs looked, and how the tiny claws at the ends of it's toes felt on the palm of my hand. I still love this feeling 30 years later.
Black-capped Chickadee by mybulldog

Chestnut-backed Chickadees in Stanley Park, Van. BC
See, I still love that.

I wish I was able to see my face at that moment. I bet dad remembers my expression. If there's one thing you tend to remember, its when your child is ecstatic about something you did for them. This was the moment for me. Every birder has it. The bird that changes every moment of your life moving forward. For Kenn Kaufman, it was a Western Kingbird, for Phoebe Snetsinger, it was a Blackburnian Warbler. For me, it was an extremely common and rather plain looking Black-capped Chickadee. I'm sure you non-birders are reading this and thinking, "OK, so the Paul I thought I knew is a complete nut-job. Like, more than I had originally suspected." But seriously, it changed the way I looked at the world. I never saw the sky or a tree or even a car the same way again. That last one might sound a little out of place. The sky, a tree, they both often contain birds, but a car? What does that have to do with birds? Everything. Cars were no longer an object of desire for me like most young teens. They were a way to get to birds. New birds. Birds I never even knew existed.

Western Kingbird by goingslo.
Blackburnian Warbler by dobak.

Things were amazing, I was a young artist that found a new subject to paint. And I always said I'd never paint one unless I saw it first. So to paint one I liked in the Golden Field-guide my dad bought for me, I'd have to find it first. That took things to a slightly different level. Now I'd have to go looking for them, learn where they hid out, hunt them down. I certainly never saw it as twitching or anything, just that I needed to find it to paint it. And of course, I'd need to keep track of the ones I saw so I knew what I could and couldn't paint. That's where listing started to come in. I guess I became a birder not because I knew other birders and learned how to be one. It was much more organic than that. It happened out of necessity. Actually, it was almost an accident.

As I got older, and started listening to music that wasn't my mom's, things started to get more interesting. I wasn't drawn to anything I heard on the radio. I was much more interested in punk and metal. Like most teenagers, I wanted to get my driver's license. Though the reasons were not like anybody else I knew (It was already very clear to me I wasn't ever going to be the cool kid at school, not even a car would help that). I wanted it so I could drive around and look for birds I hadn't seen before. I could go places I heard of where bluebirds or owls might be seen. I started doing something I still do to this day. On the drive to a twitch, there's inevitably heavy music played at loud levels.

Being an artist, I was also interested in tattoos. But I wasn't sure what I'd get, if I ever did. Then one day I got a small tat on my left forearm. After that, I was kind of hooked. It was the chickadee of tattoos. I started designing and getting tattoos regularly. Just like with birding, it went from a small thing to something much bigger. When I decided it was time to get a full sleeve tattoo, I knew it'd be birds. The birth of our twins told me what birds it would be (I named my children Thrasher & Wren). I was always fascinated by the way John James Audubon painted birds. They had such dynamic body shapes and his compositions were amazing. So I had my artist, Pete, combine Audubon's Brown Thrasher and Marsh Wren pieces on my right arm. I'm still working on those.
Bird tattoos.

Combine all those things and what do you get? A Punk Rock Birder. Throw in a love of reading bird books (Kingbird Highway), and a love of watching documentary films and you have the recipe for Punk Rock Big Year, A Painful Obsession. It's a delicate combination of zero social life in high school, a love of being outdoors and a healthy dose of guitar shredding thrown in for good measure. And if anyone is wondering, the kids quite enjoyed dance class, but secretly, I'm hoping that they get the same birding bug I have. I'll try the very same tactic my dad did. I can picture them standing in the woods now, surrounded by chickadees, feeling a lot like me 30 years ago.
Off to find a flock of hungry Chickadees.

Punk Rock Big Year
Paul Riss

P.S. - Even if you aren't a birder, I suggest reading Kingbird Highway. It's a pretty amazing story that has inspired me to do my Punk Rock Big Year. If you think I'm crazy, you should read what he did. I don't plan on finding out what cat food is the most palatable.