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