Sunday, December 31, 2017

2017, du og jeg var skuffede over hinanden

And that's before wind chill...
Bird of the year! Black-backed Woodpecker Picoides arcticus, Mont-Tremblant, July 31, 2017
American Woodcock Scolopax minor, Mount-Royal Cemetery, May 2, 2017
Gray Jay Perisoreus canadensis, Fôret Montmorency, February 26, 2017
Black-billed Cuckoo Coccyzus erythropthalmus, Mount-Royal Cemetery, June 29, 2017
Wood Thrush Hylocichla mustelina, Mont-Saint-Bruno, July 12, 2017
Saltmarsh Sparrow Ammodramus caudacutus, Sandy Neck, Cape Cod, June 19, 2017
  I was planning to get out and do a bird-sweep through the cemeteries today, to keep in line with a self-imposed New Year’s birding tradition I’ve stumbled into over the past few years ( Do something twice and it’s a tradition, innit. In light of the snot-freezingly, Tauntaun-slashingly frigid arctic air mass that has gripped the area with its mailed fist - I’m out. Personally, I could layer up and weather through it, but I’m not keen to subject my optics to a -30 torture test, just to check a box.
  2017 - what a year. It was the fastest year ever, and also the longest. Normally I’d say “I want that year back,” but eff that. Good riddance. There were some birding highlights though, which I will use to reassure myself that the year wasn’t a complete write-off. I got to really know not only the Mount-Royal Cemetery, but also the Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Cemetery. That less sexy of the two cemeteries gets overlooked by birders, but has some great little scraps of habitats tucked away. One of the year's biggest cemetery surprises was probably the American Woodcock I spotted there in the spring (and the ones glimpsed in fall!). Another recent cemetery highlight was crossing paths with some Red Crossbills in November. As was the case during my first experience with the species, I failed to capture an image, heh heh.
  I got a much better feel for the wood-warblers in the cemeteries, in both spring and fall plumages. I also saw my first Black-billed Cuckoos there, and figured out where they hung out all summer - even saw a juvenile, woo-hoo.
  I was lucky enough to go on some memorable birding trips, notably several with the McGill Students' Birding Club down in southwestern Québec, and also a trip up to Fôret Montmorency near Québec City, with its rock star Gray Jays and Boreal Chickadees.
  A July trip north of Montreal revealed a long-sought-after Black-backed Woodpecker – my bird of the year. My first Wood Thrush since the 80s was also a welcome summer sight, on a mountain south of the island. I picked up more long-awaited species on trip to Cape Cod in June, with Saltmarsh Sparrows standing out in my mind. Speaking at the Congrès QuébecOiseaux in October was also a real hoot.
  Where will 2018 lead? Well, if the coin-toss comes up in favour of continued human life on Earth (instead of thorough nuclear armageddon), then I’ll get outta Dodge. Wherever I end up, I’ll be carrying on with my wacky birding scribblings, and hopefully some more of it will get published. And I'll try to get out birding a few times.
  Be nice to one another.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Chicka-peas, and other seasonal randoms

Dan and I birding in the Mount-Royal Cemetery in the 80's - I'm bringing saggy red sweatpants back in 2018
A goofy duck I sewed and glued together in kindergarten - still tops the tree
A wacky little clip-on lens of last resort for record shots when caught without optics.. It's a little fiddly, and not an actual 'zoom' lens, but it seems like it could be better than nothing. We'll see how it performs in the field...
  When I saw this Chicka-peas ornament at a PQSPB bird fair in the 1980s, I knew it was the coolest thing I’d ever seen in my young life. Many decades on, it is sadly still the coolest thing I own.
  Dan and I volunteered as ‘floaters’ for a couple of these 80s-era bird fairs, which were held at Westmount High. As floaters, we mostly scrambled around bringing people coffee, if I’m remembering things correctly.
  We were eventually given one specific, all-important job – standing outside a room where some bird expert was giving a slide-show/speech. Under NO circumstances were we to let anyone in after the start time. We stood there for a while feeling badass because we’d been given a legit task, when a couple of people walked up. We squeaked “Hey you can’t go in there, it’s closed,” but they pushed right past us without acknowledgement and walked in, to a chorus of tisks. We resolved to be tougher, but after it happened again a few minutes later, we abandoned our post, grabbed a bunch of free doughnuts, and meekly ate them in an empty classroom until the heat died down, heads hung low.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Glædelig julfugle!

...and a new year jam-packed with birds, and free of willful ignorance.

Monday, December 18, 2017

The stupendous case of the human guard dog

Sweet flash setting, bro
  Last year on December 17th, Dan and I took part in a frigid ‘Christmas Bird Count.’ I couldn’t devote an entire day to this year’s event, but thought I should get out for an hour on its anniversary, just to knock the dust off the ol’ binoculars. I went over to the tree-lined grounds of a nearby school, which we surveyed as part of last year’s protocol. It was super cold, but there were a few dog-walkers and even some cross-country skiers out enjoying the weekend.
  I was working my way through a small wooded area adjacent to a condo parking lot on the other side of a chain-link fence when I spotted a White-breasted Nuthatch with a crown stripe that was greyer than I’d encountered in recent memory. I whipped out my Sibley to double-check how grey the females are meant to be.
  “Hey! You! Who are you? You're not allowed to be in there!”
  I turned and saw a short stocky fellow getting out of his BMW SUV about 30 feet away, stabbing his finger at me. He seemed quite angry.
  Always one to build bridges between birders and non-birding individuals, I flashed on my best fake diplomatic smile, and explained why I was there. ‘There’ was on the school grounds, not on the condo property, but 30 feet away, through a fence, mind you.
  “Hello! I’m watching birds, sir. There’s a nice nuthatch up there.” I showed him my binoculars, pointed up at the nuthatch, and even held up my field guide.
  “OH YEAH? I DON’T BELIEVE YOU!” He was absolutely screeching.
  It’s not like I was pointing my optics towards him or the condos - as a rule of thumb, I never aim my bins or camera at homes or businesses.
  “No it’s true, sir, there’s a nuthatch up there. I’m here watching birds. Have a nice day,” I gave him the last of my smiles, and kept on walking.
  At this point he took out his phone and started taking pictures of me.
  Spittle was actually frothing from his lips and speckling his sweater.
  “Why are you taking pictures of me?” I asked calmly, in spite of my raising hackles. Clearly the guy was under the sway of drifts of cocaine, and/or in the midst of a serious psychotic break.
  “I’M GONNA SHOW THESE TO THE COPS! OH YEAHHH! I GOT YOUUU!” His voice was raised in pitch and cracking up, like an over-stimulated teenager.
  I was done trying to reason with the little fellow. In a true Crocodile Dundee “That’s not a knoife!” episode, I swung up my big 400mm lens and took some pictures of him, in the spirit of the moment.
  In spite of his zeal for photography, he didn’t appreciate when I reciprocated the gesture, and his shaking hands snapped up to his face like he was on an episode of To Catch a Predator. I approached the fence and told him I’d wait there with him if he wanted to call the cops so we could all discuss birdwatching, but he lurched away, holding up his hands to prevent me from photographing his face. It sounded like he was speaking in tongues. He squealed: “Bllllaaarghhh! Imgonnacc-c-calltheCOPPPSS!!” all the way back into the building.
  I honestly feel sorry for him. Something must have gone horribly wrong in his life for him to end up snarling and snapping at folks through a fence like a neglected Chihuahua. Take a chill pill, duuuude!
  I carried on birding the rest of the grounds at my own pace for another 45 minutes. No police showed up. If he actually called them, I imagine his panicked conversation with 911 operators was a classic ("Um...sir? Did you just say nuthatch?"). Some people.
  This interaction was an apt example of the level of discourse in 2017. Can’t folks just talk to one another? Does anyone use their brains anymore? Fuck you, 2017.