Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Birding on Borrowed Time

With all the craziness of life I let the reading of this book slide a lot unfortunately. But before leaving Toronto, I finally did complete it!

Birding on Borrowed time is about the life of Pheobe Snetsinger who turned from being a stay at home mother, to hard-core extreme birder.  She saw over 8,000 of the world's 10,000 birds only beginning to count at the age of 34.  Although the book was completed after Pheobe's death, the majority of it was indeed written by her about all her various adventures.

I found the beginning of the book to be wonderful. The description of her seeing and identifying her first bird....
" the first thing I really saw through those binoculars was a fiery-orange male blackburnian warbler that nearly knocked me Over with astonishment - and quite simply hooked me forever" page 18. 
...really reminded me of the first time I got hooked onto birding. I had always liked birds, but never really understood the whole "birding thing".  I remember being out on a Breeding Bird Survey and heard this crazy and awesome sound, which my coworker ID'd as an Upland Sandpiper.  It was so cool that I then wanted to find it and see what it looked like...and well. That's the first sign of becoming hooked.

 Pheobe, like me, found questions about absolutely everything and learnt to look at life through a different set of glasses.  The following quote really struck me as I read it as I realized that many times I do view everything from a human perspective and standard and well, for somethings you just need to step back and be amazed:

" I observed those flimsy and seemingly precarious stick nests in the top of dead trees, attended by the gangly (great blue heron) adults. "How can they ever get food Ito those fuzzy chicks without stabbing them to death with their bills!?" Watching those creatures do what they had been doing successfully for millions of years, without any help from us, finally let me learn not to judge everything by human standards. Page 19" 

Unfortunately, as the book progressed I did get a little more tired of all the lists...it took a while to finish.  Many of the pages i scanned over as they were just list after list and place after place. However, her descriptions of how she lists and records, as well as her counting ethics, was fascinating and I have started a full list myself!  Once in a while she would go in greater detail about a location she was visiting and it made me really interested to go there...other times it was just a blip on the page.

There were many, many, things that I admired about this amazing woman. Not only did she push on with hope after being diagnosed multiple times with cancer, survive a rape while on a birding trip, but she was also brilliant and competitive defying many odds. She also passed on this love of the outdoors and birding to her children who went on to work in the environmental field.  There were some things that I did question however, for example, to the point that this hobby and obsession became too much of an obsession. For example she noted in the book that at one point her husband had considered divorce as she was never around or that she missed her own daughters wedding because she had already planned a birding trip somewhere.  

In her final trip she unfortunately died during a bus crash, but it was exactly how she wanted, with binoculars in hand.  Overall, I thought it was a really lovely book to read and would suggest it!   

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

A Snowy tale...

Well! I have officially moved out of Toronto and now that I have a little more time on my hands, I can finally catch up from a few posts that I have been wanting to write!

On my second last day of work a few co-workers and I wanted to take a second stab at heading to Downsview Park in search for the Snowy Owl.  I had received an alert the night before notifying me that it had been seen again by someone on Tuesday, which means that there is a pretty large chance that it would still be in the area. We got all excited and our hopes up (again!) and set out on our lunch break.

We first arrived and walked into the wooded area.  Unfortunately we didn't spend a lot of time actually looking around for the Short-eared Owl that was also spotted there, but went straight for where the Snowy "should be".  One little bird caught my attention almost immediately and it turned out to be a very friendly Mockingbird!  I had never seen it THAT close up before but it looked almost identical to the one on the front of my Peterson ID book, so I was able to ID it almost immediately.

Northern Mockingbird
We met a lady on the paths who had been looking for the Snow Buntings but was not having any luck finding them.  She ended up tagging along behind us when we told her that we were there looking for the snowy owl.  We continued to walk towards a "hill".  The bird-alert noted that it was seen on top of a hill, but looking around, there were at least 4 hills and we only had about a half hour!

We took a shot and walked towards the largest, and BOY were we lucky!  We saw a flash of something on the top of the hill and our binos would only show something dark. The photo below shows the tiny little dark bump that we actually saw...nothing right!?   Well we kept our eyes on it and suddenly it turned around and exposed it's very white face.

Owl on top of the hill
 We ran off in a flash towards the other side of the hill to try and get a better look at it.  When we came around the corner we were slightly worried as we couldn't see it anywhere on the hill, when we looked in front of us, and there it was!!  Perched right on top of a lamp post!  What a BEAUTY.  From what little I know about age/sex of owls I would say this is a young female. But could also be a young male.

Snowy Owl on Lamp
All my coworkers got a great look at this "little" one and we were all so excited as this was a lifer for all 4 of us.  Supposedly I, in particular, turn into a giddy little 12 year old girl when I saw it for the first time!  We continued on our photo spree from a pretty good distance and eventually she took off.  Later on our walk back to the car we found it perched on top of one of the lighting displays!  We unfortunately needed to hurry off, but what a great lunch break that had been!

Perched on a Christmas Display.

After work I was picked up by my boyfriend. He had also been wanting to see one of these Snowy Owls everyone is reporting, so since I had seen it that day and knew it was there, we decided to go take a quick look before it was too dark.  We spotted the Snowy on a different hill then before, but it was just as astonishing seeing it a second time.  And I do believe this must be the first time a photo has ever been taken of a snowy owl on top of a juggling, dancing, purple dragon!
Snowy admiring the dragon's talent
As it got darker we made our way back to the car and saw a flash in the fields right by the parking lot, thinking (and excited) that maybe the snowy followed us so I could get a field shot of it.  I looked in my binos and spotted a smaller, brownish owl.  The area near the tips were lighter, and the underside was very light.  It was flying fast over the fields almost like a harrier, or butterfly would.  There was only one thing it could be...a Short-eared Owl!  The second one I've ever seen and one had had been reported here earlier this week.  Unfortunately, it was too dark to get a photo of it, but still just as exciting!


The Snowy invasion is still on throughout much of the area so hopefully will be seeing more this season!!

Hope everyone has a "Snowy" Christmas! 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Snowy Skunked, Kestrel Plus!

Well!  I am finally back at it!  It has been...to say the least, a VERY busy past few weeks. I have unfortunately not been able to do much birding, rather none at all.  It's been really hard to keep perky with all these reports of Snowy Owls flying around Toronto and not being able to get out to see them!

Today a few co-workers and I decided that we would take out lunch and go on a hunt. There has been one recently spotted at Downsview Park the past few weeks and we wanted to try and see it!  We got to the Park right around the lunch-hour and walked everywhere.  No sign of it.  There at least 6 Red-tailed hawks taking advantage of the high wings today and soaring around.

We then drove a little around the buildings in this urban park and still didn't spot it.  So, we had gotten skunked as our lunch-time was soon to be over.  Luckily, we did manage to spot one of my favourite birds. A male American Kestrel!  This little guy was rather skittish and flew the moment I left the car. Luckily I was able to snap two quick photos of it before he took of too far away to get to in the little time we had left!

Here's the two photos which turned out. And a double here to hoping I can get out during my last week in Toronto and spot me a Snowy!