January 11, 2019

A Big Year of Small Encounters 2 & 3: Reds in the Wind

After a casual challenge from a friend, I've decided to take on a Big Year challenge my way, and not check off a bird species just for seeing it, but rather only once I've taken my time and recorded an anecdote or observation abut an individual member of the species. I've already spotted many birds this year who haven't yet made the list - chickadees, crows, starlings, juncos, cardinals, downy woodpeckers, hairy woodpeckers, mallards, sparrows, gulls, geese and more - so I'm really going to have to pick up the pace by slowing down more often if I want a respectable count before the year is out!

#2: Red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) - Jan 3

I saw her long before I reached the Arboretum. It was a cold, still day but bright, so the large swooping figure stood out against the vibrant blue sky. She seemed too large at first to be a red-tailed hawk, but as I got closer and pulled out my pocket binoculars I could see the tell-tale-tail itself. As I stood in the cold just fifty metres from the front door of the Centre for Urban Ecology, I saw my second red-tail of 2019. He was smaller, and was spending a lot more time swooping and diving and showing off than she did. Getting courtship off to an earlier start? I can't be certain, but later that same day we saw two red-tails swooping and circling and diving far across the grounds, and they've been been spotted riding the wind around the Centre every day since.

#3: Red-bellied woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus) - Jan 10

I took the long way into work, passing by the bird feeders in the Humber Arboretum's Tranquility Bird Garden. From a distance, I saw a woodpecker that was the wrong size and shape for a downy or a hairy; I was "sure" it was (one of?) the red-bellied woodpecker(s) we see there from time to time, but it was backlit by the morning sun and I couldn't see any markings before it flew off towards the woodlands.

That didn't feel like enough to make this list, which was a disappointment. But the Arb was offering a free tour in the afternoon, and I tagged along in case any nice photo opportunities presented themselves. My co-worker decided to lead the walk past the bird garden and as we approached I heard a few cha chas that I don't hear everyday. The red-bellied was back, and while it worked its way up a nearby tree my co-worker told the story of an international student who was recently delighted by spotting a red-bellied as one of her first sights at the bird garden, and thought it a truly beautiful bird (to which we all agreed).

As he was talking, the red-bellied suddenly took to the air form the top of the tree it had been climbing, but it was caught by the strong wind and seemed to be thrown towards the woodlands for a moment before it took back control. The bird that recently swept a newcomer off her feet was just about swept off its wings!

Posted on January 11, 2019 03:54 by marilync marilync | 1 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

January 08, 2019

A Big Year of Small Encounters #1: The Subway Pigeon

Last week a former co-worker dropped by the Arboretum and, just before he was about to leave, mentioned that one of his plans for 2019 was to do a personal “Big Year”, trying to see as many different bird species as he can in the province of Ontario in a single year.

“I was thinking you should do it, too.”

He said it so casually, like challenging me to entirely shift my relationship with birds was no big thing. Because while there are many birders who generate incredibly detailed lists and records, I am most definitely not one of them. I’m more interested in the experience of being around birds, and of observing birds as individuals. But so far I've been pretty terrible at keeping records, even though I happily promote eBird and iNaturalist to anyone who will listen.

After giving it a little thought, I've decided taking on the challenge of a Big Year isn't a bad idea at all. It should help motivate me to make more citizen science entries and help me with my own 2019 plan to get back to learning new things about birds (I've gotten lazy in the past few years - perhaps I'll write more on that another day).

But still, just keeping a list didn't feel right for me. And since my own biggest plans for 2019 revolve around the environment, I have no desire to get into the type of Big Year effort that involves driving around chasing after OntBird rarity alerts (not that I have a car to do that with anyway). So I've come up with my own, slightly tweaked plan:

For 2019, I'm aiming for a Big Year of Small Encounters.

What that means is I will try to list as many species as I can but, as much as possible, I want to avoid just checking a box. I'd like to instead have some small moment or impression or observation or anecdote tied to an individual member of the species before I add it to my list. Basically, I don't want to just have SEEN a bird - I want to have truly focused on it. It means my list will build more slowly as I take my time with the locals, but that's a large part of the point - to spend a bit of time on birds I take for granted.

But all of that said, if I DO catch only a fleeting glimpse of an uncommon bird, it's absolutely still going in the final tally! And while I won't be taking any special car trips to add to the list, I'll keep my eyes open for more carbon-neutral opportunities to expand my birding range beyond my usual haunts.

And so without further ado:

#1: Rock dove (Columbia livia) - January 1st

One New Year's Day, my partner and I were on our way to see Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald when we encountered a fantastic beast of our own. We boarded a parked subway car at Kipling Station that sat with its doors open, waiting for more holiday-travelling souls to board. There was only one other person in our end of the car, until a new rider arrived with a flutter of wings. The pigeon wandered on and strutted around under each section of seats, presumably looking for dropped food. We watched with delight; the other human rider looked a little uncertain. Then the door chimes sounded and I wondered what the pigeon would do when the train started moving. The answer was not much; it stayed focused on its food hunt until we pulled into the next station.

The bird approached the door, but some oblivious humans failed at Transit Etiquette 101 and boarded before letting the other passenger exit. Insulting! But the pigeon still calmly slipped out before the door could close, and presumably went on to enjoy the rest of its day.

Posted on January 08, 2019 05:33 by marilync marilync | 1 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

August 18, 2018

Maybe iNaturalist is the Travelogue I'll Actually Use

For a long time now, I've been terrible at getting around to sharing photos. I love to take them, but when I go on the kind of trip or have the kind of adventure that many people my age would immediately plaster all over Facebook or Instagram, I tend to never get around to posting the photos. Instead I keep them tucked away on a hard drive as a visual diary to periodically revisit when I'm feeling nostalgic. But now iNaturalist seems poised to change that in its own way.

Last weekend we took a little jaunt to the Fergus Scottish Festival in Fergus, Ontario where I took many wonderful photos of pipe bands and caber-tossers and adorable children dancing the highland fling. A week later, those photos still sit tucked away in my digital vault. Perhaps I'll get around to sharing a few later this weekend, but my first instinct was to make sure that I got my iNaturalist updates in, posting the plants and animals I encountered in the nearby Elora Gorge.

Is it because I feel like there's more of a point to iNaturalist? Maybe, but I certainly believe there's value in sharing fun experiences with people you love, too. Is it because I'm personally more interested in learning the name of a spider than remembering the name of a bagpipe-based rock band*? This seems more likely. Maybe I'm just more motivated by seeing a "Research Grade" listing over a "Like".

Whatever the appeal, I'm already thinking about past trips and trying to remember how many photos I took that would be close enough and clear enough to record a natural encounter. I have a feeling there might be a lot, and maybe now I'll actually give them a life outside my hard drive.

*They were called the Red Hot Chili Pipers, which is actually quite easy to remember whether or not I post about them on Facebook.

Posted on August 18, 2018 22:15 by marilync marilync | 9 observations | 2 comments | Leave a comment