Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Tesla's Pigeon

  Here's my latest published supernatural birdy story. I wrote it last summer, and it was actually the first 'flash fiction' (1,000 words or less) story I tried. You can find it here on page 22 (it's easier to read if you zoom in):

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

Tuesday, April 24, 2018


Swamp Sparrow Melospiza Georgiana
Swamp Sparrow Melospiza Georgiana
White-throated Sparrow Zonotrichia albicollis 
(Fried eggs always come to mind when I see a bright WTSP)
White-throated Sparrow Zonotrichia albicollis
Fox Sparrow Passerella iliaca
American Tree Sparrow Spizella arborea
American Tree Sparrow Spizella arborea
Chipping Sparrow Spizella passerina
Song Sparrow Melospiza melodia
Dark-eyed Junco Junco hyemalis with partial leucism
Ruby-crowned Kinglet Regulus calendula
Northern (yellow-shafted) Flicker Colaptes auratus
Robins and Flickers, out standing in their field
Hermit Thrush Catharus guttatus
Eastern Phoebe Sayornis phoebe
Groundhog Marmota monax
Mourning Cloak Nymphalis antiopa

  Last night’s nocturnal radar did not lie – they’re here! I hit the cemeteries hard with a solid 8:15 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. bimble, in lovely backsweat weather. My feet are thrashed to bits, but it was totally worth it.
  Large arrivals of Northern Flickers, Ruby and Golden-crowned Kinglets, American Robins, Chipping, White-throated and Song Sparrows, and Dark-eyed Juncos were evident. Smaller arrivals of Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, Eastern Phoebes, Hermit Thrushes, and hyper-skulky Fox Sparrows were also notable.
  In a classic birding head-slapper, I see that Jean-Sebastien Mayer got eight species of raptor (including two Golden Eagles...whaaaat?) that I somehow managed to miss, at the same time that I was there. I suppose that’s because I tend to keep my eyes in the weeds.
  That dubious technique actually paid off towards the end of my session, when I spotted a Swamp Sparrow skulking near the north entrance. It took a few seconds of flipping through the pages in my mental field guide before I realized what the dainty bird was. It zipped into a bush, and when it popped out on the other side, I tracked it for a minute, until I noticed that something was amiss. I was flummoxed to find that at some point during its five-second stay in the bush, it had magically morphed into a Song Sparrow. Hey presto! There's some kind of clever 'Worth two in the bush' parable gag here, but I'm too tired for all that.

Mount-Royal Cemetery, (Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Cemetery), April 24, 2018
Turkey Vulture-5
Peregrine Falcon-(1 on the tower)
Ring-billed Gull-3 (35+)
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker-2 (1)
Downy Woodpecker-3 (1)
Hairy Woodpecker-2 (2)
Northern Flicker-23 (50+, one group in a field in the northeast corner was 30 strong)
Pileated Woodpecker-1
Eastern Phoebe-2 (2)
American Crow-12 (7)
Black-capped Chickadee-10 (5)
Brown Creeper-3 (2)
White-breasted Nuthatch-1
Red-breasted Nuthatch-1
Winter Wren-1
Golden-crowned Kinglet-20+ (15+)
Ruby-crowned Kinglet-15 (20+)
Hermit Thrush-9 (5)
American Robin-20+ (45+ in the field mingling with Northern Flickers)
European Starling-1 (2)
Northern Cardinal-3 (2)
Chipping Sparrow-20+ (45+ including almost 30 mixed in with a large flock of Dark-eyed Juncos and White-throated Sparrows at the edge of a field)
American Tree Sparrow-3 spotted in different areas, all were: on the scrubby periphery, mingling with White-throated Sparrows, and foraging at the edge of melting snow drifts
Song Sparrow-15 (17+)
Swamp Sparrow-1 skulking near the feeder at the north entrance
Fox Sparrow-14 scattered in scrubby peripheries, (3)
White-throated Sparrow-40+ well-dispersed throughout, (40+ ditto)
Dark-eyed Junco-70+ (75+)
Red-winged Blackbird-(1 chattering from a treetop in the northeast corner of NDN)
Brown-headed Cowbird-(1 vizzing north near Decelles at 8:15 a.m., got long binocular looks in good light)
House Sparrow-(3 near Decelles)
American Goldfinch-9 (5)
Pine Siskin-9 to 20, I was very possibly seeing the same itinerant group in different spots
Purple Finch-1 female at the feeder
House Finch-1

Friday, April 13, 2018

Birds of Friday the 13th

Great Blue Heron Ardea herodias
Cooper’s Hawk Accipiter cooperii
American Robin Turdus migratorius
Hairy Woodpecker Picoides villosus with melanin deficiency
Hairy Woodpecker Picoides villosus with melanin deficiency
Hairy Woodpecker Picoides villosus with melanin deficiency
Beatboxing Groundhog Marmota monax
  Almost no machete killers were spotted on a 3.5 hour bimble from west to east. My everything is sore. The snow was mostly gone except in shady spots, although that could change with Sunday’s predicted blizzard/freezing rain. There was much lusty singing in the cemeteries today, most notably from Song Sparrows, Northern Cardinals, and packs of Dark-eyed Juncos. Lovely. 
  I was mildly surprised at the absence of Fox Sparrows or Eastern Phoebes - guess they’ll be here by mid-week, after the precipitation that’s blocking up the northern movement pushes on.
  In the northeast corner of NDN, I got good looks at a female Hairy Woodpecker with an interesting melanin deficiency that resulted in a washed-out look to its flight feathers, tail, and crown. 
  Several sleepy-looking Groundhogs were seen sunning themselves and feeding, with some looking decidedly gaunt. 
  Oh, and I saw a Woodcock.

Mount-Royal Cemetery, (Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Cemetery), April 13, 2018
Great Blue Heron-1 vizzing northeast
Turkey Vulture-5
Cooper’s Hawk-1 (1)
Peregrine Falcon-(1 on the tower)
American Woodcock-1 flushed from G4 to Oak Ridge, gave great binocular views
Ring-billed Gull-4 (35+)
Downy Woodpecker-2 (3)
Hairy Woodpecker-2 (3)
Northern Flicker-1
American Crow-10+ (6)
Black-capped Chickadee-11 (9)
White-breasted Nuthatch-2 (2)
Red-breasted Nuthatch-1
American Robin-25+ (12)
Northern Cardinal-5 (4)
Song Sparrow-10+ (10)
White-throated Sparrow-1 skulking on Pine Hill Side
Dark-eyed Junco-35+ (20)
American Goldfinch-4 (1)
House Finch-1

Sunday, April 8, 2018

April flurries, no worries

Hey! It's Dan!
Song Sparrow Melospiza melodia
American Goldfinch Spinus tristis
Shhh, I hears the wormses...
American Robin Turdus migratorius
  A lazy stroll around the cemeteries with Dan today, to knock the dust off our binos. My bird brain also had some dust on it, as it would seem I’ve forgotten most everything I once knew about birds and the varied sounds they produce. Happens every year. Nothing crazy was out, things should get moving in earnest in next couple of weeks.
  There was a mighty flock of American Robins rooting around in the melted mucky bits near the north entrance, feasting on worm-meat. Something about the insipid yellow shade of American Goldfinches irritates me for some reason. I guess I prefer the rich buttery tones of Old World buntings or something. My kingdom for the deep yellow of a warbler. I’m weird.
  For after-birding sustenance, we hit up the best spot for poutine in Montreal, a real hidden gem,  _redacted_.

Mount-Royal Cemetery, (Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Cemetery), April 8, 2018
Peregrine Falcon-(1 near the university – apparently the pair produced a second egg yesterday)
Downy Woodpecker-2 (2)
American Crow-8+ (8)
Black-capped Chickadee-15+ (4)
Brown Creeper-1
White-breasted Nuthatch-2 (2)
Red-breasted Nuthatch-3
American Robin-45+
Northern Cardinal-2 (2)
Song Sparrow-3 (1)
Dark-eyed Junco-10 (6)
American Goldfinch-3 (2)
House Finch-1 singing

Saturday, March 3, 2018

The War of the Buntings

Hey hey hey, I’ve had some more short stories published. Some are due out next month, but you can click the link below to read the latest, The War of the Buntings. It’s another in my series of “X-files birding tales” – yep, I’m creating a new genre ;) (page 105)

  The idea for this story came about in Suncheon in 2015, when I was nestled down in the deep reeds on a birding stakeout. After ten or so minutes of sitting, I became part of the landscape to the birds, and they surrounded and flowed around me. I watched a band of Vinous-throated Parrotbills get into a heated squabble with an equal number of Yellow-throated Buntings.
  It amused me to see such cute little birds displaying aggression, so to pass the time, I started narrating the battle in little cartoony Lemmiwinks voices: “I am Tsip-tsip-chee, the queen of these Parrotbills! You Buntings have stolen our lands for countless sun-cycles, and we will no longer sit by and let you subjugate us in our own land of Reed-ditch!” and so on.
  Anyway, I’m a big weirdo, and I thought so much of the idea that I scaled it up to a book I’ve been working on since mid-December. Almost done the first draft...weirdo, told you.

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

Friday, February 23, 2018

Cuba ocho – Cuban Tody

Cuban Tody Todus multicolor

An endemic Tody for each island...
Bond...J. Bond.
Irie to the max
  The Cuban Tody - what can you say about a bird like this? This teeny tiny shimmering gem of a species was my #1 target for the trip, and Viñales did not disappoint. We had several along the trails on both days, and I was shocked at how confiding they were. I had to back up a few times, as they were too close for my lens to focus. I spent many long, blissful minutes in the company of these truly charismatic birds, watching them forage at their own relaxed pace. Swoon.
  I missed out on some other Cuban targets, such as Bee Hummingbird, Cuban Trogon, and Yellow-headed Warbler, but you have to leave some birds on the table for next time, innit. I ended up picking up 30 lifers on the trip, with a good number of regional endemics mixed in there, so I had a blast.
  While perhaps a bit of misguided rationalization, I wear the Bee Hummingbird dip as a badge of honour. I didn’t have a tour guide to show me a reliable spot for the world's smallest species - the one pocked with constellations of tripod holes. Freestylin’! Yep, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
  Again, the week wasn’t designed as a birding trip, but I managed to insinuate quite a bit of birding into it: “Oh look, we’ve ended up right next to 
this Jardin Botánico, that’s weird. Wanna go in real quick? Huh huh? Wanna go in?”
  “¡Muchas gracias!” to my father for lending me his Bushnells, to Chris Lansdell for taking the time to give me the scoop on regional field guides and logistics (I had a good time sifting through the epic Cuba posts on his blog, which helped me get a feel for what would be around:, and especially Matt French, without whom the trip would literally not have happened for me. What is this, an awards ceremony?
  If you’re lucky enough to find yourself headed to the West Indies, I would forcefully recommend picking up Birds of the West Indies by Norman Arlott. A superlative field guide, and perfect for the birder who travels light. While it may not feature illustrations of juvenile or in-flight birds for most species, these strategic omissions end up being worth their weight in gold. The book is well-laid out, the descriptions clinically concise, the illustrations are clear and "modern" - and then there’s the size. It is slightly smaller than a DVD case, and light. This portability was very much welcomed, especially when you’re living out of a man purse for a week, heh heh. I also thought it was a neat bit of trivia to spot the inspiration for Ian Flemming’s famous spy in the “Further Reading” section.
  Oh wait, what’s this I see on page 96? More Todies you say? An endemic Tody on each large Caribbean island? Damn it, be right back.

Cuba siete – Prairie Warbler

Prairie Warbler Setophaga discolor

  Who knows when I'll see one of these tranquil beauts again. A real beaut! What a beaut.