New Year’s introspection

snow in the meadow

I planned to take a leisurely hike this afternoon, perhaps over to the 100-acre woods, but was thwarted by the weather, which was gray and drizzly all day. I did still go out, but it was just a quick stroll to the back of the property and back. My tolerance for being wet runs about even with that of a cat, and it’s only either great discipline or guilt that drives me outside in the rain. It’s too bad about the rain, which meant not only did I leave my camera in the house but also there wasn’t much to photograph, because the mild temperature this afternoon probably would have encouraged some interesting insects or other observations. Oh well. In lieu of that, I’m revisiting the lists I made last year.

I was quite ambitious in my New Year’s undertaking last year, writing an epic ten top-10 lists on 2009 observations and 2010 goals. It took me two days to complete, and quite a lot of brainpower, a surprising amount for what really didn’t require very much research. I’m afraid I’m not going to go to that depth this year.

I led with a list of my first 10 species of birds observed last year, on January 1. I made the same list again this year. Both years the majority of my observations have been made at our feeders, so it’s not much of a surprise that the lists look very similar…

1. Black-capped Chickadee
2. Downy Woodpecker
3. White-breasted Nuthatch
4. Northern Cardinal
5. Dark-eyed Junco
6. Hairy Woodpecker
7. American Goldfinch
8. Blue Jay
9. American Tree Sparrow
10. European Starling

1. Black-capped Chickadee (surprise!)
2. Red-breasted Nuthatch
3. Blue Jay
4. American Tree Sparrow
5. White-breasted Nuthatch
6. Downy Woodpecker
7. Dark-eyed Junco
8. American Goldfinch
9. Hairy Woodpecker
10. Common Raven

Last year I saw a cardinal and a starling in my first ten; this year I’ve thus far seen neither, but I have, instead, seen Red-breasted Nuthatch and raven (not the dog, though her too). These lists have little meaning beyond simple curiosity, a fun game to play on New Year’s Day, and this will likely be the extent of my listing for the year (any attempts I make to keep a list usually fall quickly by the wayside). But that’s okay.

Of my targets that I laid out for 2010, I met surprisingly few of them. I only made it to two of my ten target destinations; I saw just three of ten target bird species, two non-bird targets, and one moth target; and I met only two of the goals I set for myself for the year. So really, there isn’t much need to do up new lists – I could just repeat last year’s!

Of course, my biggest achievement last year was the submission of the manuscript for the field guide to moths. We’re still working on it, and will be involved with it for a while yet, but the largest body of effort is completed. I’m looking forward to watching it come together. I also have a few other projects on the go that I hope will come to fruition, with a bit of luck and/or perseverance. It should be a fun year!

I hope 2011 looks equally promising for all of you!


Ten for ’10

Snow on New Year's Day

There’s something about the turn of the calendar, the rolling over of a digit (or in this year’s case, two), that inspires people to make lists and set goals. It’s at this time of year that we’re all at our most introspective and reminiscent as we look back on the year that was and make resolutions on how we’re going to better the year ahead. It’s an arbitrary date to have picked – why not choose our birthdays, when we officially mark the passage of another year from the anniversary of our birth? Or, why are we inclined to do so on only one day? Perhaps it’s too weighty to look back, or ahead, on a regular basis, it’s easier to coast along in the present. Likewise, we need some prompting to make resolutions. “They” recommend, to smokers and others trying to kick a bad habit, to pick a quit date that becomes the start of your new life plan. I guess January 1 is our quit date. Or, in my case, January 2.

In the spirit of things, I thought I would do ten lists of ten things, both looking at the year that’s passed and the year to come, and share them here. The first list is a common one for birders, and is shared here pictorially: the first 10 species of birds observed in 2010, in order of appearance (with two camera-shy individuals). For many people, this list is heavily biased toward feeder birds, and mine is no exception.

New Year's Black-capped Chickadee

Another common birder list is to select your 10 best/favourite species seen in the preceding year. In 2009, my favourite species and/or encounters (in no particular order) are:

1. Broad-winged Hawk – we captured and banded one this summer at our Rock Ridge MAPS site, it’s the first individual I’ve seen of this species at any angle that wasn’t directly underneath.
2. Red-eyed Vireo – the week before we left the lake house, a female started building a nest in the maple tree less than ten feet from the living room window.
3. Whip-poor-will – I didn’t blog about this one; while leaving Rock Ridge after a set-up day at the start of the season we encountered a female with two adorable downy chicks.
4. Hoary Redpoll – in February we had a couple of lovely pale males come visit our feeders at the lake house.
5. Pileated Woodpecker – any encounter with these guys is memorable, but particularly watching one work on building a nest deep in the woods.
6. Rose-breasted Grosbeak – we caught and banded a funky yellow-breasted individual at our Maplewood Bog MAPS site.
7. Cooper’s Hawk – an immature did a low fly-by as I was standing out in the field one day.
8. Ruffed Grouse – I saw so many this year! At both houses. It was rare to see one back where I grew up, but out here they seem fairly ubiquitous.
9. Great Crested Flycatcher – I didn’t blog about this one, either; one morning at Maplewood Bog I spent an enchanting ten minutes watching a flycatcher sally from branch to branch above my head in the clearing I was sitting in.
10. Northern Cardinal – I couldn’t leave this one off the list. The only cardinal since moving to the new house, and only the third I’ve seen since leaving Toronto.

New Year's Downy Woodpecker

And every birder has a list of species they would really like to see in the coming year. I’ve already seen many of these, but I’d like to see them again. I’m not hard-core enough to go chase birds I want, I’d rather just encounter them as I’m hiking or doing other things.

1. Evening Grosbeak – they supposedly breed in the area; I haven’t seen one in years.
2. Cerulean Warbler – it would be nice to band one, or at least get a good look at a male in a tree; I’ve only seen his underside.
3. Whip-poor-will – these guys are always neat to see, but equally cool to hear at night.
4. Great Gray Owl / Snowy Owl – I lump these together ’cause they’re both winter owls that I don’t see much (or hardly at all, in the case of the Great Grays).
5. Sandhill Crane – even if it’s just hearing a flock fly over, they have such musical calls.
6. Brant – supposedly eastern Ontario is along their Atlantic flyway and they’re occasionally spotted around here. I had one flock fly overhead while I was outside one day at the lake house, but that’s been my only encounter to date.
7. Grasshopper Sparrow – though they occur in our area, our fields are probably too brushy and/or small to support them, but I can hope…
8. Blackburnian Warbler – a hemlock specialist, and we’ve got lots of hemlock in the 100-acre woods that I’m hoping they might be attracted to this summer.
9. Prairie Warbler – there are a couple of small colonies down in Frontenac Prov. Park, we might be lucky enough to get a dispersing bird at one of the MAPS sites.
10. Hoatzin – assuming the trip with Kolibri Expeditions to Peru is a go, of course.

New Year's White-breasted Nuthatch

What’s a year in review without a list of ten notable milestones or events?

1. We moved into our new and current home at the exact middle of the year, July 1.
2. Frontenac Bird Studies (me as a volunteer, Dan at the helm) got off and running in its first year of fieldwork.
3. At some point in the fall I added my 500th species of moth to my mothing life-list. No, don’t know what it was specifically; I make a lot of ID’s after-the-fact.
4. I was invited (and accepted) to join the Nature Blog Network team, which was a great honour to me.
5. I was also invited (and hope) to join Kolibri Expeditions on a trip to Peru, also a great honour to be included on the invitee list.
6. I participated in an organic Community Shared Agriculture farm plan for the first time – delicious!
7. I decided to try my hand at fiction and participated in National Novel Writing Month; just before Christmas I actually completed the novel. It needs a bit of work… but hey, it’s done.
8. Also in November our household adopted a new member. He’s doing much better now than when he arrived (nearly double in weight). We’re still trying to settle on a name that fits.
9. I developed a taste for tomatoes and lettuce. This was notable for me. Prior to this year I never ate salads, and picked out tomatoes from my food, a holdover from childhood aversions. I attribute this change to the basketfuls of food we’d get from the CSA. All that lettuce – guess I’d better learn to like it! And hey… it’s not as bad as my childhood memories were telling me it was…
10. I got not one, but two flat tires within the span of a month, the first ones I’ve had happen since high school. Pulled over without a cell phone. Fortunately, I’m a woman and I needed only look distressed and had kind older gentlemen pull over to help me out within minutes. There are definitely perks to being female.

New Year's Northern Cardinal

The mirror to the above list, of course, is ten goals for the coming year. I have lots of goals every year, but I rarely make them all.

1. Complete the manuscript for the moth field guide and submit it by our August deadline. This is my number one biggest goal for this year. Fortunately, it’s a concrete one and should therefore be easy to meet.
2. Add a stable income. This will likely require taking a job, sadly. I love the freelance lifestyle, but have had trouble in sustaining cash flow, which is stressful.
3. I would like to develop a better familiarity with vascular plants, starting with wildflowers, of which I really only know the common stuff.
4. I also want to try beating branches for beetles, something I tried once or twice last spring, but got distracted at around the peak time they’d be out.
5. I’m hoping to grow a lot of our own produce this year. I enjoyed the CSA, but it’s too far to be practical from here, sadly. Fortunately, I love to garden.
6. Also, I’d like to try to make more of our food at home, rather than buying pre-packaged stuff. Things like breads, snacks, granola bars.
7. Read more. I used to read lots, but as my interests have expanded and I’ve taken on more responsibilities (and yes, the blog is a big time drain), reading has fallen by the wayside a bit. But there are so many good books I’d like to get to. Even just making fifteen or twenty minutes a day to sit down with a book.
8. Explore more. We tend to live near places I’d like to get around to visiting sometime, but it seems I never do, putting it off for another weekend.
9. I would like to try to improve my overall fitness level. I’m pretty sure I won’t meet this goal. I get too distracted when I’m out hiking, pausing all the time to look at things, for it to be good exercise for me.
10. Peru! Fingers crossed.

There’s an awful lot of “do more” on this list without much “do less”. And they’re not making any more hours to the day. I’ll need to buckle down on my procrastination habit, I think.

New Year's Dark-eyed Junco

Speaking of exploring more, here are ten places I’d really like to get out to this year.

1. Purdon Conservation Area – in particular, their spring orchid festival to see the 16,000 Showy Lady’s Slippers that bloom along the boardwalk.
2. Kiwi Gardens – a perennial nursery and sculpture garden rolled into one.
3. Perth Wildlife Reserve – a 257 ha (660 acre) natural area on the outskirts of town. No dogs allowed, sorry Raven.
4. Perth Autumn Studio Tour – local artists and artisans open their studios for visitors to see some of their work and where it all happens. I intended to go last year, but got busy with Thanksgiving stuff.
5. Murphy’s Point Provincial Park – aside from the natural aspect, it also includes tours of a restored mica mine, and historical ruins of a sawmill and other buildings.
6. Canoe the Tay River – named after the River Tay that runs through Perth in Scotland. We’re not that far, and it would be an easy afternoon outing to launch the canoe from the bridge crossing. It’s 95km long; we probably don’t need to do all of that.
7. Hike some of the OQR rail trail – it runs from the back of our property west as far as Sharbot Lake, some 25 km away, and then joins up with the Trans Canada Trail. It seems to traverse some interesting Shield country, from what I can tell off the satellite images.
8. The Art of Being Green festival – I originally thought this was an art festival, but it’s actually a green living festival. We missed it last year, but it would be interesting to visit this year.
9. North Frontenac crown land – we made a short trip up there in the fall, but I’d really like to go back at some point in spring or summer.
10. Wheelers Pancake House – this place is well-advertised, with signs for it as much as 40 km (25 mi) away in Westport. Having seen so many signs, I feel intrigued enough to check it out. They make their own maple syrup, so it might be interesting to go in the spring when they’re doing that.

New Year's Hairy Woodpecker

Returning to nature observation, here are my top ten non-bird targets for this year.

1. Fisher – they’re (relatively) common around here because of a successful reintroduction program. Dan thought he might have seen one last month disappearing down our driveway.
2. Snowshoe Hare – I’ve seen lots and lots of cottontails, but only the most fleeting glimpse of a white rabbit disappearing into the underbrush this fall.
3. Moose – might need to get lucky here, but they do occur around the wet areas of the Shield, including a small group in Frontenac Prov Park. The only one I’ve ever seen was at the side of the highway in BC, observed while zipping along at 100 km/h.
4. Native orchids – many to choose from, but especially the lady’s slippers and particularly the Ram’s Head Lady’s Slipper.
5. Female Fall Cankerworm (moth) – this is one of several species where the female moths are flightless and have no wings.
6. Monarch chrysalis – never observed this before, but if the population here is a bit better this year than it was last, perhaps I’ll have a chance.
7. Slime mould – particularly one that’s fruiting. They’re weird pseudo-sentient fungi!
8. Salamander migration – I’ve been wanting to observe this at spring melt for a few years, but my timing always seems to be off (and/or my enthusiasm to go out in the rain on a mild-but-still-cold night is flagging by that point).
9. Five-lined Skink – Ontario’s only lizard species; Dan observed one of these at one of our MAPS sites last year.
10. Northern lights – a bit of a long-shot, as I don’t know if we’re far enough north to have much chance of observing them. Possibly 2012, which is supposedly the peak of their 11-year cycle. But it’s nice and dark here, and we’ve got a great northern sightline over the fields.

American Goldfinches
(These are actually from last winter; this year's bird snuck off while I was getting my camera and hasn't returned.)

It doesn’t seem fair to give birds all the limelight when I have just as strong an interest in moths. Here are my ten hoped-for species for this year (with links to their page with images):

1. Carpenterworm moths – subfamily Cossinae; I found one wing of one at the lake house, left behind after a bird tidied up the outside of my trap in the early dawn hours, but that’s been all.
2. Scarce InfantLeucobrephos brephoides; I found a couple of these along our road in the spring at the last house, I’d be pleased to find them again here.
3. Twilight MothLycia rachelae; a rare dusk-flying early-spring moth first recorded in Ontario from near Ottawa
4. Spotted ApatelodesApatelodes torrefacta; adopts an interesting abdomen-raised posture at rest.
5. New England Buck MothHemileuca lucina; a flashy, fuzzy, localized species of wet or boggy areas, recorded from Ontario only from the Ottawa valley. I should try running my trap at the back of the fields near our little bog.
6. Cecropia MothHyalophora cecropia; one of the most common of the silk moths, and I’ve never seen one.
7. Cinnabar MothTyria jacobaeae; such a bright and striking species.
8. Great Tiger MothArctia caja; another brightly-patterned species, also largeish.
9. Beautiful EuteliaEutelia pulcherrima; another moth that adopts an interesting shape/posture at rest, and has lovely markings too. It’s in the Quebec guide but not sure if it actually occurs in our area.
10. Marsh Fern MothFagitana littera; a specialist of bogs and fens, rare and localized as a result. Might get it with the New England Buck Moth. :)

New Year's Blue Jay

And here are ten moth species I was most pleased to catch in 2009 (links are to my own photos on Flickr), for either their appearance or their uncommonness:

1. Pink-barred Sallow
2. Chosen Sallow
3. Chain-dotted Geometer
4. Shurtleff’s Slug Moth
5. Pink-shaded Fern Moth
6. The Joker, brown morph
7. Luna Moth
8. Io Moth
9. American Swordgrass
10. Nessus Sphinx – a brief glimpse as it visited Raven’s poop looking for minerals/nutrients

New Year's American Tree Sparrow

Finally, one last list. Ten things I realized while making these lists.

1. Thinking of five things is easy. Thinking of ten things is hard.
2. Writing down five lists takes a long time. Writing down ten takes a lot longer (this was supposed to be a Jan 1 post).
3. January 2009 was a long time ago.
4. Moving in the summer puts a funny little hiccup in the middle of your year.
5. Photo archives are a valuable remembrance aid.
6. So are reference guides on the bookshelf.
7. I really haven’t seen all that many rare or unusual bird species over the last year.
8. I’ve seen a number of uncommon/rare moth species, but saying “Scarce Infant” doesn’t have nearly the same impact as “Cerulean Warbler”.
9. There are a lot of relatively common things that I’ve somehow managed not to see yet.
10. There are a lot of uncommon things I’d like to see but can’t really expect to without making a concerted effort to travel/search for them.

Snow on New Year's Day

Bird species #10 of 2010 was a European Starling at our feeder who didn’t stick around to have his photo taken. It showed up this morning. It was not even on my radar for a potential #10, since we hadn’t seen one in the area since the fall, and never at the feeders. Starlings usually clear out of rural areas for the winter, heading in to town or perhaps areas farther south. I was expecting perhaps Purple Finch, Red-breasted Nuthatch, crow or raven, but have yet to see or hear any of these.