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


  1. This is pretty-scratch that-very awesome. Thick-billed Kingbird is a sweet sighting anywhere in the U.S., so in Canada is must really nock a bird nerd's socks off. Add on that it saved your muscle car!? This story should probably be immortalized in a series of tattoos.

    Thanks for posting Paul.

  2. Thank you for such a verbose but funny blog...nice to know birders can have a sense of humour:)

  3. This post just made my day. Sharing from afar your love of birds. And muscle cars. And Presqu'ile Park's nature areas. And, well, the way karma sometimes just puts it's arm around you as opposed to just always kicking our asses. Awesome. Deb

  4. Thanks Big Red (Deb). Ya, Karma was on my side. That car would've been gone from the world had I not been outside to get better cell reception. HA! come to think of it, that's the first time a telecommunication giant's bad service did anything good for me.

  5. You have a really awesome boss; I hope you know that.

  6. Indeed I do know that. He's not only a great boss, but a friend as well. We kind of go way back.