Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Dog days of birding

Everyone knows the dog days of summer. Late August, early September. The same lazy, somewhat uneventful days exist in birding too. Spring is over, many birds have completely passed over southern Ontario and moved on to the boreal forest to raise a family. The ones that nest here, and there are a lot of them, are not looking as beautiful as when they first arrived. The massive efforts involved in avian child rearing have started to take it's toll on them. They look a bit tired. This might be my wife's favorite time of year. The weather is nice, and I don't generally disappear each Saturday and Sunday for half or all of the day to chase birds. Even the fishing slows down as streams get lower and trout head back to the lake. Then, I become family Paul. The kind of guy that goes shopping for trees and digs holes to plant them in, moves dirt from one spot to another, makes beds for his twins and generally spends time at home. Birder Paul fades into the background.

Every once in a while he emerges though. Especially when a rare or interesting bird shows up on the list servers I subscribe to. The thing about the rarities is that I NEED them to grow the number on my big year. Certain birds are guaranteed and that's the bulk of them. But it's these unusual instances that really help the number climb beyond what just about any decent birder might hope to achieve. Let's face it, getting to 211 hasn't been all that hard. Soon, the shorebirds will start heading south. It seems to be the best time to get them. I have quite a few but definitely need to be sharp in August to get the easier ones.
A few rarities are popping up this year. Most notably the Willow Ptarmigan. It was within 15 minutes of my house. It seems Ottawa, our nation's capital hates me though. If you remember, a couple weeks ago I drove myself and the twins out to the Ottawa area to see a White-faced Ibis. Seems that bird had some weekend plans of it's own. It was seen the morning I left to go to it, disappeared for the entire time I was there and showed up again the day after I got back home. Then, a few days later a Western Meadowlark shows up a few kilometers from the Ibis spot. There were more than a few hints thrown at Rachel about me going back out there but none of them garnered much more than a very serious face and the terrifying sentence, "Go and see it, if it's what you think is the right thing to do." Anyone who's married knows that it would have been the exact opposite of the right thing to do. So instead, I keep reading about how easily it is seen and that it is loudly calling so that one can be sure it is a Western and not our Eastern variety. It's awfully difficult to tell the difference if they don't vocalize. The birds look virtually identical. But genetics and a song would say otherwise.

Western Meadowlark by NDomer73.

Eastern Meadowlark by kenschneiderusa.

I've seen Western Meadowlarks. Lots of them. I often find myself in Calgary shooting pictures of Subaru vehicles for ads. It's a great place to go birding. I just love the differences between our birds here and theirs there. I can't explain why it's cooler to see a Red-shafted Flicker over a yellow, a Red-breasted Sapsucker over a Yellow-bellied, it just is. Grass is always greener I guess. But here's the thing, Western Meadowlark is a lifer for my Ontario list. Am I going to push the issue with Rachel? No. Life has taught me that some things you need, others you only want. And let's face it, if I don't see it, nobody's gonna die. All that's going to happen is that I'm gonna get one less tick which translates to one less tattoo this year. Watch, when I get to the end of the year and I'm one bird off 300, I'll curse my lazy cowardice self for not stomping and crying and even begging to go see that bird.

Subaru photo by Chris Gordaneer. All rights reserved.

Subaru photo by Chris Gordaneer. All rights reserved.

So for now, I'll make some deposits at the bank of Rachel. Here's hoping they increase in value when the northbound birds I missed in the spring are heading through to hit the tropics again for the winter. And if I'm lucky, that Western Meadowlark will still be kicking around the next time we visit my sister in Ottawa.

Punk Rock Big Year
Paul Riss

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