Monday, October 31, 2011

Ottawa hates me, it really hates me.

OK, I shouldn't complain but I've really not had the best luck with the city of Ottawa and surrounding areas. Birders out that way have been gifted with so many rare birds this year. I might have been able to get to 300 birds for my big year if I had lived out there. But as my friend Richard puts it, "Riss, if you lived out there, they'd be having a shit year and Cobourg would be full of rarities." What does all this mean? Well, it means I dipped on what might have been the rarest bird for my big year. And this bird isn't just your run of the mill jerk, it's a complete a-hole. It's there the day before I go, giving "excellent scope views" and "excellent scope views" the day after I leave. But on the day I go, nuthin'! The bird in question is a Razorbill. According to Kenn Kaufman (as posted on my Facebook page) its the closest living relative to the extinct Great Auk! Pretty cool.

Great Auk by Museum Wales.
Razorbill by U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service - Northeast Region.

You all kind of know my situation. Full-time job, twins, wife with a new store. So when something so rare shows up and I know I have to go get it, I do what any twitcher might do. Skip work, abandon my ever understanding wife and drive about 400kms to see it. I grabbed my cameraman Jon and friends Richard and Margaret (the latter two retired and able to more comfortably do these things) so we could film this trip for the film.

We get up before the sun to go because I need to be home at 7pm FOR SURE because Rachel has a class to attend. Should be no problem right, it's only a 3.5 hour drive, we see the bird and drive back. Theoretically it should really only take 9 hours in total. If I leave at 7,  that gives me 12 hours to complete a 9 hour trip. That's 3 hours of error time. Good situation right? Nope. We get there all excited to find this thing. We don't find it. We meet a local birder that can help us look in other places it's been seen. He joins our party and off we go. We check every possible spot. No bird. There were two other possible birds, Red Phalarope and Western Grebe. Neither of those show themselves either. Coincidentally, the Western Grebe starts showing nicely the day after we leave too.

Western Grebe by Mark L. Watson.

The day wasn't a total bust though. I did add Black Scoter to my year list and also I saw some Red-throated Loons. I saw them really quite close up too. Such a nice bird with their heads held high as they swim along. They look almost silvery on the water with so much white on them in their winter plumage. Then, just as we are going to go find a public washroom somewhere, a car drives up, rolls its window down and a man sticks his head out and says, "Possible Pom Jaeger. First parking lot west of the bridge between Ontario and Quebec." This was cool. It would be a lifer for me. So we hop in the car, abandoning the idea of a bathroom and I drive, possibly way too fast, to the spot. We get the wrong parking lot, twice. We know because there's no crowd of birders with their scopes all pointed in the same direction. We finally find the right spot. Lots of cars in the lot means we probably have it right.

Red-throated Loon by davidhofmann08.
Black Scoter by Rick Leche.

We get amazingly close views of the bird sitting on a rock. Now this is a sea bird. A pretty nasty hunter too (Jaeger means hunter in German). Non-birders would call it a brown seagull. You don't always see them just sitting on a rock. I also saw some birders that I met back in the spring at Point Pelee. This happens on a twitch. You just end up running into the same folks again and again. The group decided it was a Pomarine Jaeger. I got such great views with Richard's Carl Zeiss 60x scope. The details were really amazing. Sure it was brownish but the slight details were really subtle and beautiful. It had a silvery bill with a black, hooked tip. The texture on its body and wings were amazing. You could see every detail at this distance. Later that day, some folks that had lots of time and many photographs decided to change it to a Parasitic Jaeger. Something about the very thin bill and a few other details. The digi-scoped photos must have been pretty easy for a real expert to work from. It was pretty close to us.

Parasitic Jaeger by BruceLC.

We searched in vain for that Razorbill for the rest of our time there. To no avail. At 2:45, I knew I'd missed the bird. I had to be back by 7 and leaving by 3 gave me 4 hours to do a 3 hour drive. No problem right? Guess again. We hit this insane traffic jam just by Kingston. So many cars, so few lanes. We were at a complete standstill for at least 15 minutes at one point. The others in the car could feel me getting worried about my very important 7pm deadline. I got really worried when cars began to reverse back past us on the grass beside the highway. At a certain point it became clear I wouldn't make it home on time. So what does a grown man do in that situation? Call his mom of course. I called her and asked if she could drop over to the house at 6:45 to watch the kids until I got home so Rachel could go to her 7pm class. One thing about moms, they will never let you down. Well, mine won't anyway. After the traffic cleared, I drove at insane speeds. The kind you lose your license for if you get caught, dropped Richard and Margaret off and literally flew home as fast as my Subaru would take me. I got there at 7:10. Not bad but certainly not good. Rachel was very understanding again. She must be getting kind of tired of that. Only two months more of this shit left.

I hate this feeling. Traffic Jam by Wyscan.

Saturday Rachel was busy working so I had the opportunity to try and make birders out of my kids again without her meddling in my affairs. This time we would head to the spot I got hooked and I'd try and see what happened if I setup the same experience I had when I was young. IT WORKED. Shep was instantly addicted to feeding chickadees by hand. Dad was pretty proud. Georgia on the other hand tried it once and complained that the bird had bitten her. I explained that it just grabbed a seed from her hand. She went on to say that she wanted to leave immediately and that this would never happen again. Somewhere, Rachel must have been smiling. Georgia is her mother's daughter. Rachel doesn't dislike birds by any means but she isn't interested in them very much, other than maybe painting them. But she doesn't pay any attention to the proper colours. In her mind, a Winter Wren is nice but it'd be nicer if it were entirely peacock blue with yellow bars instead of brown on brown. So, that's just how she painted it. Anyway, after birding for a half hour, I took the kids to Baldwin St. Burger. When we left there for home, Shepard said to me, "Dad, can we go birdwatching again?" I was in birder-dad heaven for a half second. That was shattered by Georgia's blood-curdling scream. "NOOOOOOOOOOO, I DON'T LIKE BIRDWATCHING." I guess one outa' two ain't bad.

P.S. - I had a picture of this but for some reason my iPhone using iOS5 didn't save it anywhere. Guess we gotta' go out and try again next weekend...

Sunday, we had a little party for the kids. A combo Halloween and early birthday party. We decided to do the party early to separate it from Christmas. Also, last time we had a birthday near their Dec. 8th date, someone showed up and brought the nastiest puking flu with them. This ensured that at least one of my family was vomiting throughout the entire two weeks I had off for the holidays. Not so fun. If that happens again, it'll surely be out of our system by Christmas break. Fingers crossed.

Spooky Shep.

Understanding wife.

October 27, 2011 day list

Parasitic Jaeger
Red-throated Loon
Black Scoter

Paul Riss
Punk Rock Big Year

1 comment:

  1. Ottawa better get with it and be nicer to you! This must be such a crazy year for you and your family! I look forward to your film, Perhaps a book or whatever else comes out of your Punk Rock big year!