Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Working remotely (Bird 235-238)

So I did this big year in 2011. To make it more difficult, I also filmed it all to try making a documentary about birding/birders. You know all that. What you don't know is what it cost me? Financially, it wasn't the cheapest thing to do. I'm in debt now. Let's hope I can recoup some costs when the film is done (read: please buy a DVD even if it sucks worse that The Big Year did). It also nearly cost me my marriage. I'm not trying to be all dramatic but things were tough around the house. Doing a big year is nothing if not selfish. It takes time and money away from the things that actually matter, your family. Will I do another big year? Not while I'm married to Rachel.

One thing that didn't really get affected was my job. Sure it made it so I couldn't take all the trips I wanted but all I do for a living is think. And that can be done anywhere. Even in Algonquin Park, looking at birds I failed to get last year, some lifers even. That's how I spent last Tuesday, working remotely from Algonquin Park while looking for a few winter birds I should have had last year. I got them, all but two target birds we wanted. All the while trying to figure out how to get Americans to paint their living room. Here's the latest commercial I did for Subaru Canada.

I hadn't been birding for a full month. I hadn't missed it much either. The word 'Bird' by the end of last year had become, in the words of Rachel's sister, a four letter word in our house. I focused on Rachel and the kids. I did take great pleasure in watching the few birds I was getting to my feeders in the back yard but I hadn't looked through my bins in a full 31 days. But like herpes, the urge to go and bird always comes back. There is no cure. It's my methamphetamine. The feeling of seeing a new bird is indescribable. So, off I went looking for some new ones, three hours north of where I live. And how could I take a trip without Richard Pope and Margaret Bain?

We got into Algonquin Park about 10:30 am. We stopped first at the visitor center. They have feeders there that are very reliable for certain things. We saw many Blue Jays and much to my delight, about 50 Evening Grosbeaks. These are birds you don't see except in winter where we live and often not at all some winters without going north a few hours. There were both Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers, a few Black-capped Chickadees and one single Red-breasted Nuthatch. But I had all these birds last year. I needed more. While here I also used their wireless to watch an edit of a commercial I'm currently working on post production for.

Evening Grosbeak by Rob R Robinson.

Then we headed to the Spruce Bog Trail. There we got some Gray Jays (not a tattoo I'll be getting) and both White-winged and Red Crossbills. Also birds I won't have the pleasure of tattooing onto me. So now I had 3 new species that would have put me to 237 had I been able to do this trip last year. Next we headed off to Opeongo Road. It's too long to walk so we tried another way. We opened all 4 windows and the sunroof (despite some snow mixed with a very light freezing rain), crept along at a snails pace and listened intently. Whenever we heard chickadees, we'd stop and I'd whistle them in. Boreal Chickadees are known to hang at the edge of Black-capped Chickadee flocks. None the first time, only Black-capped Chickadees. Then we came across what we figure was the same flock of Evening Grosbeaks we saw at the center. Other birds started to show up. We got out and listened, scattered some seed for the very insistent Black-capped Chickadees. I even fed a Gray Jay in my hand (super cool). Then, I heard it, what sounded like a Black-capped Chickadee with a ball-gag in its mouth. I was very excited to hear this noise. Not because I have a fetish for Black-capped Chickadees sporting ball-gags but because I knew it meant a lifer was very near. We looked, examining every chickadee very closely. Then, there it was, keeping to the edge of the flock, a Boreal Chickadee. I easily got it in my bins. There was the hit I needed. A life bird. Went 41 years not seeing one. That was over now, the void filled. After seeing the Carolina Chickadee with Kenn Kaufman this past year, I had now seen all the chickadees available in North America (except the Mexican one that might show up in the south). This was especially good for me as the Black-capped Chickadee is my spark bird and it was nice to have all it's cousins ticked too.

Boreal Chickadee by Firstmac.
Gray Jay by quinet.

We drove on and got to the end of the road. Then, we turned around to head back driving faster now as we needed to go get two more birds before dusk. As we drives saw three birds flying. They had long tails, something Richard and margaret told me to watch for. We stopped, glassed them when they landed and all of a sudden I had another lifer. Pine Grosbeaks. We had hoped for but didn't expect them. I also had an idea for my paint client so I stopped to type it into my iPhone. I'm sure when Richard sees me doing this while birding, he must think I'm nuts.

Pine Grosbeak by ru_24_real.

After that we raced back to the Spruce Bog to try for Black-backed Woodpecker and Spruce Grouse. Never got them but heard another Boreal Chickadee. Then it was back on the highway and home. I had left the house at 6:15 am and finally got home about 8:30 pm. Rachel was out roller skating and my mom was watching the kids. I read some books to them, tucked them in and started working again on flushing out some of the ideas I had had that day for work. You have to feel lucky when Algonquin Park is your office for a day, your co-workers being life birds.

Paul Riss
punk Rock Big Year


  1. Wow~sorry that your Big Year cost you so much. I hope you can recoup some of it when your dvd comes out. I will share a link or two to help you out.
    Sounds like a great day of birding.. Nice shots too!
    Bird when you can!

  2. Thanks dAwN. every trip i did and so on, i had to spend for myself and my cameraman. so hotels were extra, food, car rentals, camera rentals. BUT, all those people gave SO much to the film. i don't begrudge a single cent spent on the crew. they were all amazing and most times, they borrowed equipment. i hope this post didn't come across as complaining. just tried to make a point about big years/documentary films in general.

    it's not so bad. i'm still healthy and have the best friends/family a guy could ever ask for.

  3. Nice article, keep posting more.

    Luxury Resort in Jim Corbett Park