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Finally, something new to talk about!

July 23, 2012

Back in May, I intended to update this blog at month’s end.   My apologies to my few followers of the blog for taking so long.  A few days before the end of May, Al reported to me to be at 103 (way ta go Al!), though he was not confident that he would break his year total of 109 for 2011!!   I was stuck at 73 after May 27th, and far short of my goal of 80 species  by June 1.  Here is what happened.

May and June are extremely busy months for me, birding for pleasure, birding obligations, bird research contracts, and my bird conservation work at Nature Canada (not to mention what seems like endless 6 to 10 hours drives across Ontario).  Everything seems to peak over these two months, meaning reduced sleeping hours – chronic tiredness, and no time to update the blog.  However, waking to the call notes of a stunning male Rose-breasted Grosbeak and the magical notes of a Wood Thrush on May 5, that for some odd reason, frequented our neighbourhood for a few days, or being literally ‘called out’ onto the balcony by a loud clucks of a hovering Peregrine Falcon on May 9 (no matter how hard I try, I just cannot explain that one), and feasting on brief glimpses of colourful warblers working the small branches and foliage of the Ash and Maples along the fringe of Gatineau Park as my upper body hung out of the window on the east side of the house, were all delightful moments and highlights.   May 11, which was”International Migratory Bird Day,” was particularly good for Warblers – 7 species observed from the house, including 3 new species plus a striking Scarlet Tanager.   The “budworm” warblers (those that specialize in eating Spruce budworm on their breeding grounds in the vast Canadian boreal forest – including Bay-breasted (May 8), Cape May (May 15),  and Blackpoll warblers( May 22), all spent a few days foraging the tree tops around our place, often singing their high-pitched songs intermittently between feeding forays.  The last new species to add in May was a Yellow Warbler on the 27th.

After the 27th, a depressing period of almost two months followed without a new species of bird, and not for lack of effort.   OK, I’ve really cut back on those 5 am moments on the balcony since about June 10.  More than once, my wife asked me how long ‘it’ was going to last – and eventually the idea of more sleep and a more pleasant awakening won over stumbling out of bed, groggy-eyed, after 4 or 5 hours of sleep to watch and listen to the city wake up to the songs of House Sparrows, Robins, Cardinals, Chickadees and Goldfinches.  So, on the 20th of July, when a Purple Martin from the colony about a kilometre from our apartment finally drifted to within earshot, a new species was added, the spell was broken, and I can post again!

The Purple Martin is a special bird for me, and one that I was expecting about now.  Let me explain.  Each of the six years that I have lived on Boucherville, I have been aware of a colony of Martins near the Ottawa River, between here and the Champlain bridge.   I noticed this colony on my semi-regular runs along the bike path that runs parallel to the river all  the way to the Aylmer marina on Lac Deschenes.  Purple Martins arrive in early May, and nest in large apartment-like houses.  The largest of the swallows in North America, the Purple Martin has declined perilously in Ontario and Quebec, perhaps by over 90% in the past 40 years.  Hearing and seeing them in the spring is enough to put a big smile on my face.  I have noticed that each year, the birds follow a similar pattern.  They feed over the river and otherwise stay fairly close to their home over the months of May, June and much of July.  Then something happens, the young are out feeding, and they gradually drift further and further from their house, eventually working their way into the airspace above our place.  It is always in the third or fourth week of July that this happens, and this year was no exception.

Here is what else is special about this bird for me.    Purple Martins migrate from southern Canada and the eastern United States to Brazil.  Even better for me is that they go all the way to Sao Paulo state where my wife is from.  In fact, there are even patterns of Martins in the cobblestone sidewalks of Campinas, the city where Cris was living when we met.   The Brazilian (portuguese) name for Purple Martin is Andorinha azul – a beautiful name.  Apparently some villages and towns in Sao Paulo State celebrate the return of the Andorinhas each year from the distant north.

When Cris and I flew from Campo Grande in Mato Groso do sul, to Campinas at the end of our honeymoon in Brazil, the flight attendants were friendly and funny, and the entire flight experience seemed vaguely familiar.  Before arriving in Campinas, I mentioned this to her, and she showed me a story in the on-board magazine of the company founder that she had read.  The name seemed familiar, Clive Beddoe – ah, of course, he was a founder of Westjet.  Yes, that was it, the flight reminded me of a Westjet flight.  I liked that!  His influence had worked its way into this small Brazilian airline!  However, the big surprise that brought tears to my eyes happened when we “deplaned’ as they say now-a-days.   We did this on the runway in Campinas, and for some reason, before walking away from the plane, we looked at it and saw that the plane had a name. . .  “Andorinha azul”   This put the icing on the cake for a perfect honeymoon between a Canadian man and Brazilian woman whose cities are connected by an amazing bird, the Purple Martin.

Cris in front of “Andorinha azul”

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