For a second day in a row I was sitting in my car at the parking lot of the Whitemud Creek waiting for sun dawn. At -10 C it was a “mild” morning compared to the previous day when the temperature was a bone chilling -20 C. At this time of the year, the first rays of the sun break the forested horizon around 10 AM. I was set, however, on beating the crowds and score some early birds. Around 8:30 the pale twilight was sufficient, and as a faint pink glow was emerging along the tree distant tops, I headed out. I made sure I brought a spare camera battery and a set of Little Hotties hand warmers, both which had saved my bacon the previous day.
Just as expected, I had the trails all to myself. Despite the midwinter temperature the air was full of bird song and calls. As always, the Black-capped Chickadees were feisty and energetic and the Nuthatches were calling left and right. A half dozen cawing Ravens soared overhead. The previous day I had scored a Great Horned Owl and a flock of Pine Grosbeaks. Today the highlight were the three Pileated Woodpeckers that were making a racket dismantling snags with impressive efficiency. All in all it was a lovely morning, and by the time I made my way back to the parking lot the throngs of runners and dog walkers had started to arrive.
After a long birding hiatus the indoor isolation of these crazy times finally caught up with me. On a whim, I took a few hours off in the afternoon and headed down to the Whitemud Creek, for the first time in seven months.
The usual suspects greeted me along the trail – Black-capped Chickadees, Nuthatches, Magpies and Red Squirrels. But as luck would have it there was something else in store on this day. Further along the trail, high up in a tree, I was able to discern three plump shadow hoping around on the bare branches. With the bright sky as backdrop it was tricky to make out any identifying characteristics, but it was soon evident that this was a new one. While I was ogling the suspects two other birders arrived. They too were stumped by the unidentified flying objects. I always though it would take more than a wee bit of courage for birders to admit to each other that they have no clue what bird they are looking at. But here we were, the three of us staring at these three plump silhouettes and all we were able to agree on was what it could not be. To small for waxwings or robins, too large and plump to be red polls or any other common finch. After going back and forth one of us managed to find a possible match using Merlin…, Pine Grosbeaks. It immediately dawn on me – here I am birding for the first time in seven months and I spot a lifer. More specifically #167. Later on as I was looking at my stats in eBird I realized that the previous lifer was on December 15 (one year and one day ago) at the same spot, along Whitemud Creek (a Black-backed Woodpecker).
Perhaps by coincident or perhaps through some sort of subconscious decision today, December 16, also turned out to be the two year anniversary of me starting birding. Exactly two years ago I brought my newly acquired Nikon Monarchs to my first birdingouting to the Beaver Hills Bird Observatory. It was a snowy and cold day, just like today. That was 185 checklists and 167 species ago. That day I racked up my first eight lifers.
Was the Pine Grosbeak’s auspicious timing a sign that it is time to pickup the binocular and camera again and head back into the green? Is it a sign that the time is ripe to get back to this blog. Maybe. The world has changed in the past seven months. I used to always looked forward to and plan grand trips to far-off destination, binoculars and camera in hand, hunting for new birds. These days, working from home and limiting even local outing, travel is out of the question and all these plans and dreams seem out of reach. The first big trip I did as a birder was to Chile and Argentina. The birds of southern South America blew me away (and this part of the continent is not even know for its bird diversity) and before I even returned to Canadian soil, the next trip to South America was already confirmed. We would have arrived in Chile this week…, of-course none of that happened and who knows when we can dare to dream about trips like that again.
I leave you with a snapshot from a rainy and grey day in Southern Chile. Its the day we managed to finally track down the glorious Torrent Duck. Yes, it was rainy, grey, one of us was suffering from Montezuma’s Revenge and the Torrent Ducks were tiny specks in the far distance…, yet it was one of the birding highlights of the trip. I can wait returning to the land of the Torrent Duck.