Tuesday, September 27, 2011

You gotta jump back in with both feet.

Note: this is a long post but much needs to be said.

I'm not sure if you've noticed or not by my postings but I'm a little tired of this Punk Rock Big Year project. In the beginning it was fun and I had high hopes for getting funding for the documentary, maybe a little corporate sponsorship to help pay for trips to see birds and so on while I plugged product that I already use and love (I'm not getting any so I won't bother telling you what brand of bins/scope I use). There was also the exciting prospect of seeing between 275 and 300 birds in a single year, many would be lifers as I've never chased birds like this before. This project would see my first ever trip to Point Pelee (8 days of nothing but birding). There was talk of meeting people like Graeme Gibson and Margaret Atwood (both avid birders). Things were moving along so well.

Then, summer happened, the birds flew right past me on their way north, taking much of the wind in my sails with them. I was halfway through my Big Year and there was no funding. To the contrary, there was (and still is) a maxed out credit card. I'm not too far off turning tricks downtown for a few extra dollars so I can go to Rainy River (a trip that I may in fact be too late for now). There was only 200 birds. And it's looking like I might only be able to get to 250 now (and that's with some effort). I felt as if I'd be sitting at 220 forever. The kids were heading off to their first year of school, my wife is opening a retail store downtown Orono, my partner (in advertising) and I decided to split after 8 years working together so work is busier than ever because I now need to find a new writer (a full-time job in itself). Suffice to say I was just plain tired of the bird chasing shit.

I almost gave up. I tweeted as much and was sent many messages from you folks that urged me to carry on. You all told me it was important that I didn't give up now and that you wanted to see me keep going. My wife, having given up a lot to let me do this, said she would be pretty unhappy to have given up a year of what she might want to do for nothing. So I did what she told me, and what you told me, I planned to jump back in with both feet, literally.

I emailed someone I never even knew in 2010, but whom I now consider to be a great friend and teacher. Richard Pope. He wrote a book about his big year. You should read it, it's funny, it's honest and if you are planning to do a big year in Ontario or anywhere, you need to read it. It's put together like a blueprint of how to do a successful big year. It talks about needing a plan and a support group. Richard being Richard, he sent me a message right away asking when was the soonest I could get out birding. There were a couple of shorebirds I needed that he knew we could find nearby. So off we went two days later.

And when I say I jumped right back in, that's exactly what I meant, though it was more like wading back in. After some running around in the city I needed to do, we met at Richard's home and headed off to Presqu'ile Provincial Park. It is one of the best places to see shorebirds in the fall in Ontario. Luckily it's only an hour from my house. Things were not looking great all day though. It was raining heavily the entire time I was in the city. And weather patterns always being the same here, I knew that by the time I got out to his place, it would be pouring there too. Feeling a bit dejected, Rachel and I started out of the city. While Rach slept, I fumed at the amount of traffic on the highway. It's one of the things I hate most in life, traffic. I called Richard  to let him know I'd be at least two hours late. He calmed me down and assured me we'd be fine. I helped Rachel pick up the kids from school and raced, and I mean raced (140km/hr at least) to Richard's place.

We got to the park, parked the car and walked out to the beach where these birds might be. There's a spit that reaches out into the lake and a small island not too far away from the main land. Richard said that I should bring a shitty pair of shoes. I wasn't totally sure why but I did what he had said. We saw a couple birds right off. One of which I needed, White-rumped Sandpiper. A second flock of shorebirds flew in and one of them was a standout bird from the pack. Process of elimination and our common observations made it an American Golden Plover. Then Richard started to take his boots and socks off. The rain had let up, thankfully, but it wasn't overly warm. He said I needed to do the same. Since I almost always do what richard says, I removed my boots and threw on my shoes. Then he said, "OK Risster, walk over to that island." there might be two or three new birds over there. I probably looked at him a bit funny, but like the good student, I walked in. The water was cold. Hell, Lake Ontario is cold in late June, and colder in late September. The depth was about up to my thighs until the first wave came. After that, I knew I'd be driving home in wet underwear.

On the island, we saw lots of dead gulls. It was a breeding colony and I guess lots die. We saw a few more birds but nothing new yet. I was starting to think this wet trip to the island wasn't going to get me another bird. Then, we saw some American Pipits, such a nice little bird. They flew around in the strong winds, almost looking like they were doing it just for fun. Then we came across another bird we had been hoping for, a Stilt Sandpiper. Around another corner were three Ruddy Turnstones. I was really enjoying being out birding again, filming some of it on my iPhone so it can be used in the movie (couldn't get a cameraman on such short notice),  and of course adding to my list.

Stilt Sandpiper by dominic sherony.
Ruddy Turnstone by davidhofmann08.
White-rumped Sandpiper by dominic sherony. 
American Golden Plover by lgooch.
American Pipit by THE Holy Hand Grenade!

I'm feeling a renewed energy for the project, I'm meeting my producer Friday to talk money. I'm still working on a zero budget but hoping for some relief of some kind. Though it's a one way street with the money on this thing, even my financial advisor is telling me not to give up hope. That's encouraging. I'm still under an enormous amount of stress at work and home but there's only a few more months to go this year. And it doesn't matter really what number I get to, as long as I have a good time doing it. Who else can say they made a documentary about themselves? Well, maybe lots of people but nobody I know, that's for sure. So I want to take this opportunity to thank my support group (of birders),  Richard, Margaret, Hugh, Dave, etc. To my cameramen, Jon, Jonathan, Derek, Chris, Jesse. And to all of you that follow this crazy thing. But most of all, my family, Rachel, Shepard and Georgia for putting up with this. Thanks.


  1. Glad to hear you had a good day out to give you the inspiration to keep going. You should put up a PayPal link or something like that so followers can donate if they'd like to.

  2. Keep the faith, brutha.

    Just a few months to go. Can't turn back now. Otherwise, all those tattoos will testify to "something that didn't quite work out" rather than "one of the craziest adventures of my life.".

  3. Hey Paul,

    Great to hear of your renewed energy for your project; must be really hard to keep motivated when other areas of your life are so busy. It takes real balls to pick yourself back up like you have. Your wader fest sounds awesome; Stilt Sandpiper.....wow! Anyway I hope you can find time for more ink soon! I'm behind you all the way bruvva :-)

    Tristan Reid aka Binocularface

  4. Oh please do not stop- I do enjoy your posts and your adventures. As a birder who is stuck downtown and rarely gets out- I get immense pleasure in knowing you are out seeing the birds that move me-

    In birding solidarity......

  5. Glad to read that you're sticking with it- sure, birding can be a drag (blogging too), but you've come a great distance already; 200+ species in a year is a worthy feat. Most people don't even know that many birds exist!

    Hang in- fall migration's just about to get interesting.

  6. Thanks for all the support you guys and gals. It really helps me to keep on going.