Saturday, December 8, 2012


Giving thanks

With these posts so infrequent nowadays, I hope you are still out there listening. I need to take some time to thank a few people. 73 of you to be exact. Well, that doesn't count the all the folks that couldn't help financially but did share the shit out of my funding link. But those 73 people together donated over $4600. That coupled with a few private donors/investors got us near our goal. And for that I say thanks.

But there's more to be thankful for. Last week my entire family was sick as dogs. After a few days of it it just felt like we were living in that show the Walking Dead. Hiding out and looking as terrible as we all felt. I write this on the commuter train my first day back into the city. At least I'm nice and healthy and looking forward to working on more than cleaning up vomit from the cracks of 120 year-old pine floors. Not an easy task.

Another huge reason I'm thankful is that we have landed a dedicated editor for PRBY. He couldn't be more perfect for this film. He knows nothing about birding (yet) but, like me, is always very eager to dig in to a new subject and come out of it knowing more about a fascinating sub-culture. He has lots of tattoos, and he loves heavy music. In fact, we went and saw GWAR together last Saturday. His name is Kyle McNair and he is super talented. He works for a company I've done some of my best advertising work with; School Editing in Toronto.

DevilDriver pit.

GWAR blood.

About the only thing I want now is to go and see some friggin' birds. It's been a really long year with relatively few days spent birding. I promised Rach and DDB that they'd get the lion's share of my time in 2012. I hope next year, with the kids turning five, that there will be a bit more balance to the birding/non-birding time in 2013.

Paul Riss
Punk Rock Big Year

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

I'll stop begging soon, I promise.

Remember in 2011 when you'd be able to read a post about a twitch I did? Remember when I used to birdwatch with my kids? Remember when all I asked for was ten minutes of your time each week? Remember when I did my best to write some funny shit for you about what its like to attempt a big year with twin 3-year-olds and a busy career in advertising? Remember when I started to feel down about not getting enough birds and you guys made me feel better about it?

Well, those days are gone. Now all you hear from me is, "Can I have 10 bucks? Or $10, 000 if you have it lying around? ", "Hey, tell your friends about me.", "Please introduce me to your friends so I can pat them down for a couple bucks." I post on your favourite Facebook sites, blogs, your pages even, constantly begging for a few dollars. And to top it off, you don't even know if you'll see anything at the end of it. 

Re-read that paragraph. I'm basically the shittiest friend you've ever had. I'm not exactly sure where I'm going with this post so bare with me. This last week has been a real bugger for me. Work dumped a job on me that required lots of attention exactly on the 2 weeks I was supposed to meet my editor and start this process, effectively eating up all my time so I can't move on and start so you actually get something for your generous donations. Then, both my kids get the flu so neither my wife nor I sleep right for about 7 days.

This kind of shit breaks a couple down. No sleep + puking kids + extra hours at work + a guy trying to make a film = parents that fight. We are pretty good though, Rachel and I. We get through stuff and really, this ain't even that bad, as terrible goes. But I think I see a light at the end of the tunnel. Please tell me there's a light out there where most people live. That place where you don't try and make a movie on your free time with your own cash (and cash you can get from complete strangers and friends). I sure hope that place is out there. The place where this film is done and I can stop begging you all for a few dollars every time we cross paths (virtually or otherwise). Because honestly, I'm sick of begging for money.

I was a bit depressed when I started writing this but now, not so much. Why? Well, if I'm to be completely honest, it's because I wrote this on the GO Train and we just arrived in Toronto. Upon standing up to get off the train, I realized that my pants have been unzipped the entire morning so far. I wonder if it's related to the fact that nobody is sitting next to me. Sigh.

Paul Riss
Punk Rock Big Year

P.S. - Can I have 10 dollars?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

PRBY poster

PRBY poster that many of you will get as a perk for donating to the film.
If you want it, head over here.
Design by Russell Gibbs. Please share it around.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Trailer

It's been a lot of work for a few great people but it's finally done. This makes the whole thing feel a bit more real. Please share this with everyone you know and attach a link to the funding page. There's still 16 days for you or someone you know to get involved.

Punk Rock Big Year
Paul Riss

Thursday, November 1, 2012


Check out the indieGOGO campaign to raise funds for the post-production of the Punk Rock Big Year documentary. Share this link with everyone please. The perks are amazing.

There's only 23 days left to donate and get some of those awesome perks.

Paul Riss
Punk Rock Big Year

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

It's been a while. Here's why.

It has been a while since my last posting. I've been working on this with my kick-ass producer MP!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Meat and Music

Summer is coming to an end. The year of no birding is closing. I hope to get out a bit more in 2013. The kids will be a bit older next year. Maybe they'll even want to go birding with me. Or at least one of them. I promised Rachel after last years Big Year I'd spend all my free time with the family. But next year? Family? What family? I'm joking dear.

This weekend was fair weekend in Orono. It's kind of a big deal where we live. Saturday was a bit of a bust what with all the rain. It was pretty much the saddest Orono fall fair parade I've ever seen. But that wasn't the point of my day. Mine started just before 5 am. Not for birds this time though, for meat. We were having some folks over for dinner and I was smoking pork. Ten pounds of pork shoulder bone in takes pretty much a whole day to cook. As it was cooking from 5am still took till 7pm to get up to temperature. As my buddy Shane says, "It ain't time, it's temp."


The shittiest float of the parade.

Helicopter rides.

G in her pink truck.

People arrived about 6, food started about 7. And since most of my friends are musicians, so did the music start. And it didn't really stop until everyone left about midnight. The floors in the house were stomped, tromped and hammered on as if it were a live show at a good pub. It really doesn't get better than good friends, good music and good food. The kids were loving it, dancing like fools until some of them passed out on the floor. Here's a couple of videos of how it went. We plan on this being a monthly thing. Kind of like a Sunday dinner that we all remember from when we were kids but a whole lot louder.

Punk Rock Big Year
Paul Riss 

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Be careful what you ask for.

Note. This is a crazy long post but try and stick with it. It really captures the type of day I had...
All Thick-billed Kingbird images were taken by and belong to David Beadle; a very good birder here in Ontario.

I haven't written anything in a while. That's obvious to you that might be regular readers. Why? I guess you could say my life has been less than exciting the last month or so. It's not been bad, just nothing standing out that I had to write about. We've had some great success in our vegetable garden. There's been some really nice birds around the yard. There's been work. That last one is the one that has kind of crushed me lately. But hey, I've been at it for years and understand it ain't all roses. Some cool projects have just begun and things at work are starting to be more fun. Suffice to say, there's been little to write about. Sitting on the deck drinking our morning bird-friendly Birds and Beans coffee, I remarked to Rachel that I had not written a blog post in a while and wished something interesting might happen so I could have some subject matter. Well, as the title of this post exclaims, be careful what you wish for.

Wednesday, August 29th, 2012 started out as normal as any other day that promised not to inspire a blog post. I got up, showered, drank some coffee and hung with my kids until I had to leave for work. I hop in my truck, leave, get to the train station and for some stupid reason, I miss my train by about 3 seconds. I actually stood a foot from the door as it closed and I watched it pull away. The next one was just arriving. It's only a 25 minute difference to my arrival time so not the biggest deal as I don't have any 9:30 am meetings. I sit on the train. I turn on my iPhone and check email. Nothing special. For reasons I can't explain, I open the ONTbirds app to check for any cool sightings. Not that it's going to matter, I'm on the train to go to work.

As the sightings come in, there's the usual stuff for this time of year. Then, there's a post by Mark Ansell on behalf of Bill Gilmour and Doug McRae. It says, and I quote,

"Reporting for Bill Gilmour and Doug McRae. Tonight at 7:10 a Thick-billed Kingbird is being seen just east of the bridge at the Calf Pasture just where the first cottage begins on along Bayshore Drive.


This of course catches my interest. To be completely honest, at first I'm not sure exactly how rare this is. I open my Sibley App. "Holy F**k,!" I think about work, the meetings I have scheduled (there are a few) and all the expectations for me that day. Then, I promptly step off the train and head back to my truck. As I walk to my truck, I call my boss' cell phone. The conversation goes like this:

Hey Todd.
Hey, everything OK (it's quite early after all).
Ya, but I can't come to work today.
(longish pause) What species is it?
Thick-billed Kingbird.
How rare?
Rarest I will have seen for Ontario, ever. Only been in Canada one other time just about the same year I was born, and I totally dipped on that one in '72 because it was in BC and I was only 1yr-old (my boss knows some of our lingo).
See you Thursday?
For sure, and I'm reachable all day on my phone and email.
Good luck.
(another pause) Paul.
You're a nerd.

I speed home to grab my bins and scope and realize the truck is nearly out of gas. Not wanting to take the time to stop, I fire up the Duster and take off. However fast 80 miles is in kilometers, that's how fast I drove there. I arrived and saw the bird from the car. Thick-billed Kingbird is a great Duster list bird indeed. I park a little ways away from the other cars as when I start up to leave I don't want to spook the bird. The Duster isn't super quiet and to be known as the dick that scared this bird away after seeing it might mean I'd have to hand in my bird-nerd glasses (bins). The bird was awesome, showing very well, hawking for big fat bugs, using that bill just as it was intended. Most birders I knew were there. Josh, Mark, Jeremy and so many others. Even a crew of three people I'd assume to be about 17-19 showed up. That was nice to see as they were just as eager as the veterans on hand to tick this thing. I stayed around and watched it for a couple hours and then left for home.

On the way home, the stereo in the Duster made a strange sound. It wasn't on, nor was the face of the deck even attached. That seems odd but not crazy as the car was indeed running so electrical current was moving around normally. Remember this. It's significant.

I went home, did a few work related things and then cleaned up some shit in the yard. It was about dinner time when my aunt suggested we all go to meet my mom and dad at a nearby fish restaurant. Great idea, top off the Duster driven twitch with a Grouper filet. We eat and it's good. Then my phone rings. It's a friend that says he has an injured Northern Goshawk. My first thought is how the hell did he get it into a box without severe injury to himself, being that I would imagine they are rather ornery birds. He's on- route to my house and thought I was a good person to call. We go home only to discover its actually an Osprey. Wow, this is crazy. As I'm outside calling around to find someone we notice a light flickering inside the Duster. Odd for sure as the keys are in my pocket and it ain't firefly season anymore so that's definitely not a firefly trapped in the car. I wander over to the passenger door and see a fire burning in there. Ya, you read that right, a fire burning inside my 1974 Duster.

Hot ride. Like, on fire kind of hot.

I tell Rachel and she does the equivalent to Kermit the frog, all arms wailing in the air. I ask for sand which despite her flailing she promptly and amazingly brings me without spilling an ounce. I ask for a wet towel too. I send my dad, who happens to wander by at that exact moment, to grab me my drill and a Phillips head bit. I throw sand onto the fire, it almost goes out but not quite. Rachel is back with the wet towel, I blow out the rest of the fire and throw the towel on it. Its out now for sure. I lift the towel, stand up and we all look amazed at what just happened. Colin quietly says, in Colin's way, "It's burning again." I throw the towel on it and Rachel seems to magically produce another bucket of dirt from behind her back but it's out again. I use the drill to remove the deck and cut the wires.

The phone is ringing inside. It's someone Colin called about the Osprey. We now have a place to take it. I decide I'm going to take the car, yes the car that was just on fire, to my mechanics place and unhook the battery and leave it in their parking lot not near anything in case it burns to charred dust(er) in the night. It does not. The fire started because of bad wiring from the stereo. Not the original stereo which is still in the dashboard but an aftermarket Blaupunkt deck that was mounted under the glovebox when I bought the car. The funny part is that I have not really even used that stereo. It's the only one hooked up but, and I know I sound like an eight year old kid right now, it's a muscle car. It sound so cool that I never listen to music when I drive it. I like to listen to the powerful engine make its powerful noise. It's the kind of noise mostly only boys know how to make with their mouth from playing cars at a young age. It's super male and childish but I don't care, if you've ever driven in it, it sounds cool. Sorry, it just does. It's not great on gas and that's not the best for our planet but think about it this way; I don't drive it very often and when I bought it, I kind of considered it recycling. That car had been 'recycled' five times. Zero carbon foot print on its construction vs. buying five new cars. And did I mention it sounds really cool.

Anyway, it's at the mechanics now and I'll get the wiring fixed so it doesn't happen again. The Osprey is doing well and hopefully it's going to get released someday pretty soon. This post is sorely missing something cute like a picture of my kids so here's the fix for that. This is a joey that was at the vet sleeping in a home-made pouch until it is older. It's mom had passed away at a zoo of old age and the vet was keeping this one alive and well by looking after it personally. So darn cute was the noise it made.

So, how's that for a blog post? I leave you with this. If that Thick-billed Kingbird had not arrived the night before in Presqu' ile Park, I'd have never been home early enough to go to The Fisherman for dinner and wouldn't have been home when Colin called about finding an injured Osprey and I wouldn't have been standing next to my car (where I get a better cell signal than in my home) when it started ablaze. It was not that cars day to die. Had none of that happened, I may have lost my muscle car and possibly my house had the wind blown the fire two feet to the tree that would ultimately connect the fire to my home. So that Mega rare bird saved my house and car. Fancy that.

Punk Rock Big Year
Paul Riss

Friday, July 27, 2012

Sandhill Cranes never looked so good.

The highway north-west of Sudbury.

It was holiday time this past week. The family and I headed up to Rachel's parents place on Manitoulin Island. There's always lots of birds there and her dad Tim is a bird lover so he has nest boxes and feeders set up. He gets lots in his yard. Surrounding the garden we get all our vegetables from are nesting Eastern Bluebirds in boxes he built. There are tonnes of American Redstarts, Common Yellowthroats, Chipping Sparrows and so many more. I had really nice views of a pair of Pileated  Woodpeckers from the deck of the hunt camp off in the woods the other side of the 100 acres Wednesday morning.

Swing bridge at Little Current.

The best sightings were some Sandhill Cranes. They are always on the island when we go there. Mostly with young but not this pair. There was nothing special about these two birds other than their usual awesomeness. The big thing was that Rach was getting some much needed afternoon shut-eye and I was birding with the twins. This time was different. They are 4 and a half now and though that doesn't seem so much older than four. When your talking about physical dexterity and binocular use specifically, 4 vs. 4.5 is the difference between fumbling idiot and normal human.

Rainbow Trout I caught.

With their new found ability to locate birds with bins, came a renewed interest, at least for Shep, in birds. 
I was super excited when I had him look through and said, "See the big hay stack? (Yes.) Ok, move down until you see the green grass. (I see it.) Now move left just a bit. It was beyond cool when he screamed, "I see it!" His excitement was too genuine to be shitting me, plus he's 4.5 yrs. old and isn't a great bullshitter yet.

Georgia spots the Cranes.

Then I said, "Ok, tell me what colours you see."
"Red... and brown."
"What's red?" I asked.
"On his head." replied Shep.
"And it's body?", I questioned.
"Brown?" he said, unsure.
Then the coolest question of all. "What is it dad?"
"Well, let's remember what it looked like and we can look on my phone." I said.

Shep gets them too.

We had decided it was a Sandhill Crane. Later that evening, we drew a picture of it together. For shits and giggles we added the bluebirds we had been seeing and he also wanted to add the yellow one that flew past. American Goldfinch was what our field-guide told us. The next morning, Georgia drew a crane too.

Shep's Sandhill Crane with blue lightening bolt.
Georgia's Sandhill Crane with flowers.

So awesome.

Punk Rock Big Year
Paul Riss 

Monday, July 16, 2012

An hour, 15 common species, a memory that lasts forever.

I'll be brief. And I'll try not to cry.

Sunday was a great day this weekend. Why? I went birding, but I didn't just go birding. I went birding with my dad. We don't get so much time to do that anymore. I'm pretty busy, he's pretty busy and there's just less time to do that. The kids and Rachel went to a friends birthday party. I needed to run some errands and decided a one hour walk at a nearby spot would be nice. I texted my dad and he said, "Sure, let's go."

We went to a place nearby that has some fields, forest and also a pretty big pond. We figured it'd have the most diverse stuff nearby. I don't care what we saw, it was in the going not in the finding. We found some good birds. We had some nice Common Yellowthroats, three Caspian Terns (one was banded and I'd guess that was a loud affair), Great Blue Herons, Cedar Waxwings, American Goldfinches, Song, Chipping and Grasshopper Sparrows, one flycatcher that never vocalized so I can't say what it was and several other species.

Probably most memorable for me were a pair of Belted Kingfishers just sitting on a leafless branch. They seemed to be doing exactly what we were. Just spending quality time together. It was hot and I guess they got their fill of fish before the heat clamped on full boar. There were a few reeds leaning to and fro in the slightest breeze between us and them. We watched them for a long time and dad remarked that this sure would make a nice photo. I agreed, but I wasn't talking about the birds.

Dad and I out birding last fall.

Dad and I. Not birding.

Punk Rock Big Year
Paul Riss

Friday, July 13, 2012

Shep gets fixed.

This was a tough Monday. Shep has been sick since December and we finally got a chance to get his shit fixed up. This is a very routine thing and really not anything to worry about but for Rachel and I it was it was hard because Shep would be put under general anesthetic for the first time. Shit I'm 41 and have never been put under. I don't even have a reference point for it. Not to mention how a 4-year old might feel about it.

He was plenty excited to get his 'nose fixed' as we called it for the last while. Clearly he had no idea what was to be involved in it. The other day he was playing the game Operation. He pulled plastic bones out of the body over and over. Let's be honest. His dexterity level at four makes him particularly shitty at the game. He closed the box and asked, "What does this say?" pointing to the games name "Operation.", I said. He promptly freaked out screaming over and over, "Don't take my bones!"

Pre-op. Excited! Excited! (Anybody get that reference?)

After calming him down and promising they wouldn't be doing to him what he'd been playing for the last twenty minutes, we moved on to something else. I was a good dad and never told him that in fact they'd drug him, shove a tube down his throat to keep him breathing and then reach into his mouth, around and up into the back of his nose, scrape off his adenoids, flush them out his nostrils and then burn the wounds to stop the blood flow. Good dad.

Still pre-op. Getting closer and what looks like more nervous.

The operation was a success as they probably all are for this procedure and took maybe fifteen minutes. It was the 'coming to' that really threw him off. I was put in a rocking chair and told to wait a moment. A second later I heard him screaming like a madman. It was pretty nuts really. They brought him over on a stretcher. His body looked so small on it. He was just coming out of the anesthetic and was completely disoriented. His eyes were slow reacting to seeing me. Not sure he even did see me. He looked around slowly but somehow furiously. I held him and tried to comfort him. He was losing his shit and I was just singing a song Rach and I always sing him when he's very upset. In a few moments he was able to focus and he clung onto me like a scared monkey in a NatGeo documentary. I felt like a real dad just then; my son needing me so completely. It's usually mom. But today it was my turn.

Post-op. Not as happy. So vulnerable.

We spent another three hours in recovery just trying to get him to drink juice and eat a popsicle. Instead, he slept. Then we went home and Rach had to pop out. She took Georgia so it was just me and Shep again. We watched some X-Men and cuddled on the couch. I really felt a lot of love for him. His dependency was really a great feeling. It hasn't been like that since he was an infant. They are getting so independent. But the love I felt was really very intense. And I think that we don't always feel that way for a reason. If we always felt that open-raw-nerve-crazy-in-love feeling all the time, I think we'd die from over exposure to such a powerful feeling.

Sleeping off the pain.

Still asleep an hour later. This picture destroys me.

Punk Rock Big Year
Paul Riss 

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Is this even a birding blog anymore?

It’s easy to see how the year after a birding big year might play out. For some, you’d do just about the same thing as the year before. Chase rare birds you need for your Ontario list, go birding in all your regular spots every weekend and take a few trips to super hot spots during migration. But if you deserted your family and all your major responsibilities for a measly 234 birds like I did, you don’t do any of those things the following year. Instead you do what you didn’t the previous year. You work hard at your job, you spend as much time with the family as you can and you do almost all of your birding by ear in the back yard (or wherever you happen to be). Here’s some of the shit I have done this year that isn't birding (but really, I was birding by ear every moment of these things too).

Expanded my vegetable garden:

Kid's sandbox so they can play nearby while I tend the garden.

The two expansions for this year.

The garden.

Our Broccoli.

Shep watering his beans after soccer practice.

Built a deck:

Bradleyboy scraping things level.


Raking 10 yards of limestone makes for sore stomach muscles.

Limestone levelled (Duster in the background).

Day one of the build (Yes, Shep has pants on in the window).

Day two of the build (stairs are a real pain in the ass to make).

Two monkeys enjoying the barn-beam step to the kitchen.

Day three of the build.

Live edge railing/drink bar.

Kind of done. Table I fixed with old barn wood.

Another live-edged railing.

The smoker we bought. Yum.

Buried my dog that died:

Sweet Lucy's last day lounging in the sun.

Lucy's special spot in our garden.

Went to a music festival with my family:

Stage design by my wife Rachel. BoneDevil live.

Beautiful Georgia.
Shep rocking to The Charming Ruins.

Shep punching himself in the head. So punk.

Made a crazy Subaru commercial:
Please share this video with everyone you know. 
It’s all about the number of Youtube views these days!

So that’s what I’ve been up to. I see many of my birding friends, the older retired ones and the younger ones without twins are birding like mad. I’m insanely jealous. Jeremy and Mark have blown past my big year number easily. Josh is likely going to beat the Ontario record this year. I’m sure he is looking at that Magnificent Frigatebird that just showed up as I type this. Maybe next year I can get out birding more. If my plans (yes, secret plans) come to fruition, there’ll be much more birding next year.

I leave you with this message.


Paul Riss
Punk Rock Big Year