Monday, October 30, 2017

Subho, Werewolf Birdwatcher

  Boo. Here's a link to my first published story, Subho, Werewolf Birdwatcher, about a birder in Korea who wakes up to discover images of rare birds on his memory card that he has no recollection of taking. OooooOOOOOoooooh! During the submission process, one editor got back and told me she absolutely hated the ending, whereas another thought it was killer (the truth hopefully sits near the centre of that lovely Venn diagram). That's publishing, eh.
  The spooky birding tales I've been cranking out are admittedly silly, in the style of (but no way near the quality of) the throwaway one-offs of the original Twilight Zone series. The world needs silly supernatural stories about birding, I would argue. Maybe I'll even get some more published, as I very slowly learn how to not suck.

(To read my other published birding tales, click on this handy clickety-click and scroll down:

My voice sounds like that?!

I rode the scooter
  Way back in the summer, someone suggested I give a talk at the Congrès QuébecOiseaux 2017. I shrugged and filled out the application, which, to my shock, was accepted.
  For those whose French is rustier than mine, I first gave a little breakdown on what it's like to live and bird in South Korea, followed by an explanation of the work Birds Korea does, and some of the conservation challenges, both large and small, that are faced by Korean birds and their habitats. I ended off with the tragi-comic tale of the time I was fed an endangered bird in the guise of fried chicken, and ended off with a little "It's gloomy but there's still a bit of time and hope left" spiel. 
  I fudged on a question at the end, when asked about the percentage of birds in Korea that are migratory - I answered 75%, when that number is closer to 87%. I had actually re-read that exact figure in the Birds Korea Status of Birds the night before, but the lack of sleep and an overload of French clouded my brain and made that fact unretrievable at the moment. Close enough though, eh.
  The rest of the day was a pleasant one, as Dan and I got to check out speeches in all four rooms (conservation, observation, photography, and research), and it was great to network with other bird-minded folks throughout the day. It was a tightly-run ship, all in all.
  Tim Edelsten and Robin Newlin were awesome for letting me use images of grim Korean habitat destruction and the bird species it impacts, and a thank you as well to Nial Moores for letting me use data/graphs/photos produced by Birds Korea. I couldn't have written the speech without Catherine Dion's expert French help, and wouldn't have made it to Victoriaville is Dan hadn't schlepped me there in his trusty Prius.
  But yeah, there's no way my voice is so nasal and insipid in real life. Must have been a problem with the mic. Heh, and I just noticed a lovely tick where I'm pawing at my face throughout. In my defence, it was pretty damn nerve-wracking giving a speech like this in a language that my brain clings onto with its fingernails.

Watch the speech here (I swear there were more than two people there...):

Thursday, October 26, 2017


Black-capped Chickadee Poecile atricapillus

Song Sparrow Melospiza melodia
American Tree Sparrow Spizella arborea
Brown Creeper Certhia americana

  It was spitting rain all morning, but we’re not made of sugar, innit. ‘Twas nice to see an American Tree Sparrow, if only briefly.
  On my way out, I spotted a drunk Black-capped Chickadee bobbing its head and clinging onto a seed (berry?). I briefly thought its bill was stuck shut, but at one point it grabbed the seed with its feet and took a few pecks at it, before re-beaking it. The poor lil' bastid was having trouble flying, and was way too confiding. Its sober buddy was hanging out nearby, perhaps waiting to act as designated flyer. At first I suspected fermented yew berries were the culprit, but I ate like five handfuls and I feel fine.

Mount-Royal Cemetery, (Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Cemetery), October 26, 2017
Cooper’s Hawk-2
Ring-billed Gull-(9 near Decelles)
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker-(1)
Downy Woodpecker-2 (1)
Hairy Woodpecker-4 (2)
Blue Jay-1 (1 muttering half-ass sapsucker and nuthatch calls to itself)
American Crow-7 (2)
Black-capped Chickadee-20+ (10+)
Brown Creeper-2 (1)
White-breasted Nuthatch-4 (2)
Winter Wren-6 (2)
Golden-crowned Kinglet-12+ (10+)
Ruby-crowned Kinglet-8+ (6+)
Hermit Thrush-3
Magnolia Warbler-(1 still in the same area as yesterday)
Northern Cardinal-7 (1)
America Tree Sparrow-1 just up the hill from the cannons – it briefly skulked down low with White-throated Sparrows, before shooting high up into the treetops
Song Sparrow-1 by the stream near the north entrance
Fox Sparrow-(1 in the north woods)
White-throated Sparrow-20+ (12+)
Dark-eyed Junco-50+ (30+)
American Goldfinch-2 (1)
Pine Siskin-7 flyby, and a group of about 20 shimmering much higher overhead was possibly this species
Finch sp.-several birds overhead, husky of form and voice – couldn’t place the call, although Pine Grosbeak sounds like a good match - although it's much more likely they were just Purple Finches and I was too dumb to ID them...

Wednesday, October 25, 2017


Magnolia Warbler Setophaga magnolia
Yellow-rumped Warbler Setophaga coronata
Winter Wren Troglodytes hiemalis
Winter Wren Troglodytes hiemalis
  Less birdy today, but still unseasonably hot and humid. Will these tail-end-of-the-bell-curve warblers never cease? Loads of Winter Wrens out and about.

Mount-Royal Cemetery, (Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Cemetery), October 25, 2017 Merlin-2 cruising over Mountain View
Wilson’s Snipe-1 possible on Mountain View – a WS-sized and shaped bird flushed low and fast, didn’t get great looks
Ring-billed Gull-(1 near Decelles)
Downy Woodpecker-2 (1)
Hairy Woodpecker-1
Blue Jay-1

American Crow-35+ (6)
Common Raven-1 heard
Black-capped Chickadee-20+ (10+)
Brown Creeper-(1 near Decelles)
White-breasted Nuthatch-2 (1)
Winter Wren-13, well dispersed in every corner of MRC, (2)
Golden-crowned Kinglet-7 (10)
Ruby-crowned Kinglet-12+ (5)
Hermit Thrush-3
American Robin-(9 vizzed - first I've seen in a while)
Magnolia Warbler-(1 skulked in a small bush near Decelles before vanishing, apparently using real magic)
Yellow-rumped Warbler-1 in A4
Northern Cardinal-6 (2)
Chipping Sparrow-(1)
White-throated Sparrow-45+ (25+)
Dark-eyed Junco-60+ (50+)
American Goldfinch-(3)

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Tricks and treats

Cape May Warbler Setophaga tigrina
Cape May Warbler Setophaga tigrina
Savannah Sparrow Passerculus sandwichensis

  On a Sunday that felt far too hot for late October, the cemeteries held some surprise avian treats on a 4.5 hour stroll today, and a couple of tricky ID challenges to boot. Tricks and treats, see what I did there?
The northern edge of the NDN Cemetery was once again a hotspot, with a quiet area of forest edge choked with Dark-eyed Juncos. I took a seat and picked through the roiling flock for about 20 minutes, and smaller numbers of interesting sparrows started to show themselves. The best was a cracking Savannah Sparrow - a gorgeous, confiding individual.
  I bumped into George Levtchouk as I crossed into the MRC, and we watched a steady stream of Hermit Thrushes moving through Mountain View, and compared notes.
  Best of the day was a Cape May Warbler – October 22 feels quite late for this species. With flashes of a yellowy rump, we first thought it was a Yellow-rumped Warbler, which would have been a more likely suspect this late into fall. It took us a few minutes to game out the ID for the bird, which luckily showed well.
  Later on I topped up my mental loot-bag with a Tennessee Warbler, another species that seems a tad late. At first I thought it was a wren or something, as it was skulking silently in dense scrub. Tricky. But also treaty.

Mount-Royal Cemetery, (Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Cemetery), October 22, 2017
Turkey Vulture-3 soaring over N2 
Cooper’s Hawk-1 
Merlin-1 or 2 
Peregrine Falcon-(1 at UdeM)
Ring-billed Gull-(2) 
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker-1 juv. male on Mountain View
Downy Woodpecker-3 (2)
Hairy Woodpecker-2 (2) 
Pileated Woodpecker-1 or 2 heard 
Eastern Phoebe-2 in B3 
Blue-headed Vireo-1
Blue Jay-(1 heard)
American Crow-15+ (7)
Common Raven-1 heard
Black-capped Chickadee-20+ (12) 
Brown Creeper-(1)
White-breasted Nuthatch-5 (2)
Red-breasted Nuthatch-2 in their 'spot' in E5
Winter Wren-3 (1)
Golden-crowned Kinglet-8+ (20+ in the pines near Decelles)
Ruby-crowned Kinglet-20+ (5+) 
Eastern Bluebird-2 (2)
Hermit Thrush-20+, with at least a dozen together on Mountain View, others scattered, (6)
Tennessee Warbler-1 skulking in section I, on the south side, seen briefly but well 
Cape May Warbler-1 approachable individual in a yew tree in F7/L4 area 
Northern Cardinal-4 getting after wild grapes in L2, (2)
Chipping Sparrow-3 (4) 
Savannah Sparrow-(1 confiding bird on the northern edge of NDN) 
Song Sparrow-1 (5)
Fox Sparrow-3 in the woods just north of Mountain View, 1 in section I, (2-3 in the NDN north woods) 
White-crowned Sparrow-(1 1st winter with a large Junco flock)
White-throated Sparrow-25+ (15+ on the north edge of NDN)
Dark-eyed Junco-120+ (80+, with most found on the northern edge of NDN) 
American Goldfinch-3+ (5)
Pine Siskin-9 in a flyby
House Finch-1 probable heard north of Mountain View

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Birds, books, and other crazy plans

  Birds, therefore I am. Last year I held my chin in my fingers and gazed up at the sky wistfully, thinking “Wouldn’t it be cool if I could get paid...for birds?” 
  Accordingly, I began making crazy moves left and right, starting with volunteering at the TCBO last fall as a first step towards getting hands-on experience with bird research on a field station.
  I also wrote a Korean birding memoir of sorts for most of last year. It'll come out one day, but it turns out it’s a challenge finding an agent when your writing CV reads “I has blog.” So I meekly followed the sage of advice of Stephen King (read On Writing today), among others, who hammer home the necessity of having a few published short stories under your belt before you start shopping yourself to agents.
  The product of my resulting endeavours is a dubious collection of a dozen short stories about birding. These birding stories, however, aren’t your average birder-meets-bird tales. Rather, these are silly, X-Files/Twilight Zone-style episodes about birding – some straight-up ghost and goblin stories. About birding. (Looks sheepishly at the floor...)
  I sold my first such short story last week, which felt pretty damn good after months of solid rejection. The story is titled Subho, Werewolf Birder, and recounts the fantastic tale of a birder who wakes up to find a series of images of staggeringly rare birds on his camera's memory card...which he has no recollection of taking. It will be featured in the Halloween edition of an American literary mag - I’ll put up a link when it becomes available. Dreadfully silly stuff.
  Another iron in the fire was the Cornell Lab of Ornithology Online Bird Biology course I enrolled in last year. I finally completed it last month, after working on it in fits and starts since the spring. It’s a serious course with a serious book, and I found myself having to re-read every paragraph twice when it came to some of the more science-y chapters. That being said, I ‘got something’ out of every chapter, with regular No way! moments along the way. Overall it was highly rewarding, and I’d say go for it, if you’re a birder looking to head to the next level when it comes to understanding those little dinosaurs in the trees.
  Last week, a well-known Scandinavian ornithologist and writer of incredible field guides asked to use one of my pictures in a new photographic handbook to Western Palearctic that’s coming out next year. So that was also pretty cool.
  Lastly, if you happen to find yourself in Victoriaville on October 28th, come on down to the Congrès QuébecOiseaux 2017 (click 'Horaire des conférences' to see the program). I’ll be giving a 25-minute presentation on the ups and downs of being a foreign birder in Korea, with an emphasis on the conservation battles being waged there. Oh, it’ll be in French, with Q&A after, so that oughta be...entertaining! Who the hell knows what any of this will amount to. If I’m honest with myself, most likely a big steaming pile of nothing. But a man can daydream, innit. And that brings this soliloquy of self-reassurance to a close. Birds!
  Oh yeah, I almost moved back to Korea this month.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Raccoon Rescue Report

NOT BLOOD, relax...(strawberry smoothie stuff)
Godspeed, you silly Northern Raccoon Procyon lotor
  Felt wintry today, on a morning that made me glad I had packed along two options for gloves, like a massive nerd. The birdwinds that blew out of the northwest last night brought with them a charming little band of Golden-crowned Kinglets, that surrounded me on a trail like I was a Disney princess. In the same woods, along the north edge of NDN, were several uber-skulky Fox SparrowsAlso fresh in from a’north were butt-loads of Dark-eyed Juncos – absolute arse-loads, I tells ya.
  On Pine Hill Side, as I was heading back towards home, I was brought back twice by some odd skittering and trilling sounds I couldn’t place - had me scratching my head and looking up towards the empty trees. I was about to leave for good when I happened to look into a barrel to check if there were any mosquito larvae left. I was startled to look into a pair of sad eyes, set in the soaked furball that was a Northern Raccoon. Disturbingly, it seemed to be sitting in a half-foot of bloody water, with bloody paw prints staining the sides of the barrel just short of the rim. I gave the hapless critter a visual once-over, looking for obvious wounds, but after a minute I realized that the barrel wasn’t painted in gore, but rather delicious strawberry flavouring of some kind. There was a raft of Tim Horton’s flotsam in the barrel, including several plastic smoothie cups – I’m guessing that’s what lured the masked scavenger into its predicament.
  I slowly spilled the barrel over, and the sodden raccoon at my feet looked up at me with the most ‘human’ of looks I’ve seen from an animal in some time - him all same man (read Dersu!). After sitting in a daze for a few seconds, it shuffled off, looking decidedly cold and sluggish, but otherwise okay.

Mount-Royal Cemetery, (Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Cemetery), October 17, 2017
Peregrine Falcon-(1 at UdeM)
Ring-billed Gull-(3)
Downy Woodpecker-3 (1)
Hairy Woodpecker-1
American Crow-20+ (5)
Common Raven-(2)
Black-capped Chickadee-18+ (5+)
White-breasted Nuthatch-4 (1)
Red-breasted Nuthatch-2
Winter Wren-4 (1)
Golden-crowned Kinglet-4 (15+ in the woods on NDN’s north edge)
Ruby-crowned Kinglet-25+ (4)
Hermit Thrush-5 (2)
Yellow-rumped Warbler-(1 near Decelles, hanging with the ‘dees)
Northern Cardinal-3 (1)
Chipping Sparrow-30+ (5+)
Fox Sparrow-6 in the woods just north of Mountain View, (3 in the NDN north woods)
White-throated Sparrow-30+ (4)
Dark-eyed Junco- 275+,with decent-sized flocks in most woods and forest edges - a single flock of 155+ seen at Mountain View, another with 100+ birds on Pine Hill Side, and groups of 12+ scattered, (20+)

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Warbler wane

Winter Wren Troglodytes hiemalis
Yellow-rumped Warbler Setophaga coronata
American Crow Corvus brachyrhynchos
  The radar looked dead last night, but I stopped by the 'teries anyway, for a three-hour bimble in the wet grass. Pretty quiet morning, was disappointed to see that the Fox Sparrows had already moved through.

Mount-Royal Cemetery, (Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Cemetery), October 14, 2017
Cooper’s Hawk-1 mobbed by crows
Ring-billed Gull-(5)
Downy Woodpecker-3
Hairy Woodpecker-1
Blue Jay-1 heard
American Crow-40+ (6)
Black-capped Chickadee-12+ (8+)
White-breasted Nuthatch-2 (1)
Red-breasted Nuthatch-3
Winter Wren-5 (3)
Golden-crowned Kinglet-3
Ruby-crowned Kinglet-24+ (12+)
Eastern Bluebird-4
Swainson’s Thrush-1 well observed in Oak Ridge
Hermit Thrush-5
Yellow-rumped Warbler-8 (1)
Northern Cardinal-2
Chipping Sparrow-10 (5)
White-throated Sparrow-20+ (12+)
Dark-eyed Junco-75+ (45+)

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Fleet Fu@#*n' Foxes

Fox Sparrow Passerella iliaca...yes, almost, one more second, turn that head...yes that's it, hop into that spot of sun...focus tightening...just press the button...
...aaaand it's gone. F@*kin' hate birds.
Hairy Woodpecker Picoides villosus getting in there
juvenile male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Sphyrapicus varius
Nashville Warbler Leiothlypis ruficapilla

Current energy levels
  A relaxed four-hour early-morning saunter east, starting at Decelles. I happily crossed paths with a spurt of Fox Sparrows moving through the small woods along the north edge of NDN. I spent a rewarding, if frustrating, half-hour sitting still and observing these large, ruddy creepers as they fossicked through the leaf litter. They are expert at posing for great pictures, and then fucking off at the last minute. 
  Rolling carpets of Dark-eyed Juncos arrived in the night (if the radars are to be trusted) – they were everywhere, muddying the waters when it came to trying to pick out other small birds. Some species were notable in their absence (Northern Flicker, Swainson’s Thrush, Gray Catbird), and numbers of Chipping and White-throated Sparrows are tailing off. 
  Believe it or not, I ran into another American Woodcock – my fourth for the cemetery, with most encounters occurring in the same area (G7, G3, G4, Oak Ridge area). It first flushed from atop the bluffy bit east of the cannons, from about ten feet away. I bumbled down after it, and as I scanned bushes it flushed again (must have been sitting out in the bloody open!) from a bit farther, and headed towards the NDN fence. It made the distinctive wing trill both times, and I got decent views the second time - chubby, peachy belly and down-angled bill.

Mount-Royal Cemetery, (Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Cemetery), October 11, 2017
Canada Goose-47 counted, many others heard
Turkey Vulture-1
Cooper’s Hawk-2 battling with crows
Merlin-(2 dueling near the U de M football field)
Peregrine Falcon-(1 at U de M)
American Woodcock-1 flushed from the bluffs at G7, down into G3, then again towards Oak Ridge/NDN fence
Ring-billed Gull-(9)
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker-1 juvenile male
Downy Woodpecker-2
Hairy Woodpecker-2
Eastern Phoebe-(1)
Blue Jay-2 (1)
American Crow-45+ (8)
Common Raven-2
Black-capped Chickadee-12+ (8+)
Brown Creeper-1
White-breasted Nuthatch-2
Red-breasted Nuthatch-6+ in E5
Winter Wren-2 (2)
Golden-crowned Kinglet-1
Ruby-crowned Kinglet-12+ (10+)
Eastern Bluebird-4+ in L2, (2)
Hermit Thrush-5 (1)
Nashville Warbler-1 on Pine Hill Side
Yellow-rumped Warbler-9+ mostly in the southern edge, (1)
Northern Cardinal-2
Chipping Sparrow-12 (5)
Song Sparrow-2
Fox Sparrow-4 on Mountain View, (13 well seen, well counted)
White-throated Sparrow-12+ (5)
Dark-eyed Junco-175+ (95+)

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

October's birds

Winter Wren Troglodytes hiemalis
Blue-headed Vireo Vireo solitarius
  Went for a lazy wander through the cemeteries with Dan, in an effort to get him on a Winter Wren – he ended up getting on a few, mostly in the woods on the northern edge of Mountain View.
  On the way out, a large wader flew straight at the windscreen of Dan’s car, blooping inches over the car at the last second. Based on the bulky size, colour, and clumsy flight, it couldn’t have been anything other than an American Woodcock. Crazy! The odd sighting occurred quite close to the bushy area where I spotted the first of two American Woodcocks on May 2nd:

Mount-Royal Cemetery, (Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Cemetery), October 1, 2017
Turkey Vulture-4
Cooper’s Hawk-3
American Woodcock-1 flyover on the road between A4 and L6
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker-1
Downy Woodpecker-2
Hairy Woodpecker-2
Northern Flicker-4
Blue-headed Vireo-(1)
Blue Jay-2
American Crow-12+
Common Raven-1 heard
Black-capped Chickadee-12+ (15+)
Brown Creeper-1
Red-breasted Nuthatch-1
Winter Wren-4-5
Golden-crowned Kinglet-10+ (4)
Ruby-crowned Kinglet-12+ (8+)
Swainson’s Thrush-1
Hermit Thrush-1
Grey Catbird-1 heard on Pine Hill Side
Tennessee Warbler-(1)
Northern Parula-1 at Mountain View
Black-throated Blue Warbler-2-3 at the northern edge of Mountain View
Yellow-rumped Warbler-4
Northern Cardinal-3
Chipping Sparrow-20+ (10+)
White-throated Sparrow-50+ (30+)
Dark-eyed Junco-45+ (20+)

Orange-crowned Warbler Vermivora celata
Orange-crowned Warbler Vermivora celata
Eastern Bluebird Sialia sialis hounded by Chipping Sparrows Spizella passerina 
European Common Blue Polyommatus icarus
Found someone's art project or geocache or whatever
  Birds were thin on the ground, tail-end of the bell curve. Winter Wrens were notably numerous, while warblers were few and far between. The Orange-crowned Warbler was a nice surprise, mixed in with kinglets in a high bush. 
  As has been the case for several weeks, I witnessed Eastern Bluebirds being harried by masses of Chipping Sparrows. It doesn’t seem like aggressive mobbing (no noisy mobbing calls), so much as ‘extreme worship’. I watched a group of sparrows silently surround a bluebird in a tree, moving ever closer, until finally the bluebird flew off, closely followed by the dozen or so sparrows. Do the sparrows see the bluebirds as ‘super-parents’ that will protect and feed them? When I first witnessed the behaviour a few weeks ago, it felt like young sparrows were begging for food from adult bluebirds, but since then I’ve seen many variations on the theme, with adult sparrows following juvenile bluebirds around.

Mount-Royal Cemetery, (Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Cemetery), October 3, 2017
Canada Goose-some heard overhead
Turkey Vulture-2
Sharp-shinned Hawk-1 (1)
Cooper’s Hawk-1
Ring-billed Gull-9 (5)
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker-1
Downy Woodpecker-2 (2)
Hairy Woodpecker-2 (1)
Northern Flicker-4+
Blue Jay-1 heard
American Crow-17
Common Raven-(2)
Black-capped Chickadee-12+ (8+)
Red-breasted Nuthatch-1
Winter Wren-9+ scattered throughout both forest edges and isolated bushes, (2)
Golden-crowned Kinglet-3 (2)
Ruby-crowned Kinglet-15+ (10+)
Eastern Bluebird-2 (2)
Swainson’s Thrush-2 (1)
Hermit Thrush-2 (2)
Tennessee Warbler-1 on the northern edge of Mountain View
Nashville Warbler-1 near the Tennessee Warbler
Orange-crowned Warbler-1 in the very south of L5
Yellow-rumped Warbler-9 (3)
Northern Cardinal-2 (1)
Chipping Sparrow-25+ (15+)
Song Sparrow-1 at the top of Mountain View
White-throated Sparrow-25+ (12)
Dark-eyed Junco-30+ (20+)
American Goldfinch-(1 heard near Decelles entrance)