Autumn brings with it beautiful crisp weather and a magnificent change in the colour of the landscape, making it ideal for long walks in the park, or even just down particularly leafy streets. It also brings with it the seasonal migration of many kinds of birds and the trees and skies are teeming with all manner of species that we don’t see any other time of the year.

If, like me, you are an avid participant of the genteel pursuit of bird watching, fall is a time of year that compares to no other. I had the good fortune of being able to spend the entire day in the park yesterday watching my fine flying feathered chums. Here is a log of all the marvelous things I saw.

7:45am: The sun is just beginning to crest the horizon. Its delicate glow is penetrating, slowly dispersing the low hanging wisps of mist that gently swirl about the dew speckled grass, and, with the compassionate ache of a wearied mother tenderly slipping a blade between the ribs of her mortally ill child to spare him the horror of painful dilapidation, it stabs its warmth into the hanging chill of the pre-dawn murk.

Fuck this, it’s too early. The birds will still be there later. I’m going to sleep a bit longer.

9:21am: The sun is bright, and a cool gentle breeze is my companion. The park is starting to bustle with activity. There are tights-clad joggers, alone, in pairs, in groups. There are couples walking their dogs and children playing carefree in the leaves. I see at least one other bird watcher. He’s staked out in some bushes not far down the path from me. Though he seems less than equipped, wearing sneakers and a dark hoodie, with no discernible binoculars or bird checklist. But it’s not my place to judge the level of other bird watchers’ professionalism, and it’s nice to see another birder taking advantage of this perfect day!

Of course, it’s not the human activity I’m here to observe. And the park is alive with flaps and chirps. Besides the usual sparrows and robins, I’ve already spotted a Green Throated Thrush, a Hellman’s Dipping Piper, and three Grey Gorgecocks. It looks like it’ll be a good day!

10:56am: Wow, can’t believe my luck! I just caught sight of a male and female Spangled Heron doing their harvest dance! Not many people can say they’ve witnessed that!

I introduced myself to the other birder, in the hoodie. He seemed skittish and reluctant to talk to me. He said his name is Tom, but I practically had to force it out of him, and he wouldn’t ever look me in the eye. Haha, takes all kinds, I guess!

12:12pm: I can’t believe how great this day is going! It’s barely into the afternoon and I’ve already checked off so many birds on my list! I saw a flock of Stevie’s Crossbeaks and just now got a good long look at a Red Tipped Running Lark. And the whole time I was eating my lunch under a tree, I was treated to the beautiful song of a Smeckel’s Whistler in the branches above me.

I don’t think Tom is faring as well as me. In fact, I think this might be his first bird watching excursion. He’s scared off several rare birds as he’s skulked through the brush, as if he didn’t even notice them. And at one point he seemed totally oblivious to the Reticulated Mud Goose that was practically right in front of him. He seemed more concerned with a jogger who had stopped to tie her shoes. He was hunched over, and I don’t know what he was checking off in his list, but whatever it was it looked like he was doing it pretty vigorously. Maybe I should give him some pointers.

3:45pm: I think this is turning out to be the best day of birding I’ve ever had! I’ve waded with Marsh Hawks and heard the crying of an Orbison’s Blackbird and felt the spray of the Flaxen Ridged Sputterer. It’s a great day to be a birder. Well, at least it is for this birder. Tom’s luck seems to be getting worse. Last I saw him he was climbing up the riverbank, covered in mud. Must have taken a tumble. He might have hurt himself, too, because he looked to have a lot of blood on him. I would’ve offered him some help, but I’d just spotted a pair of Jameson’s Forktails and I didn’t want to spoil this great roll I was on.

7:20pm: It’s getting pretty dark now, and the park will be closing soon, but I’ve still got a bit of time to try to catch sight of a few nocturnal birds. I’m really hoping I’ll see a Diner’s Nighthawk. That would just be the icing on this already sweet day! I didn’t see Tom again for a while, and thought he’d given up, but just a few minutes ago I saw him by the fountain. It looked like he was trying to wash something.

9:35pm: Well, I must say that was a day that I won’t soon forget! I never could have imagined that I’d see as many species as I did! I can’t wait to tell everyone at the bird club about this at our next meeting. I bet they’ll be pretty jealous!

I can’t help but feel a little bad for my new friend Tom, though. It didn’t look like his day went so well. I have to admire his tenacity, though, he was still at it when I decided to call it a night. Just digging and digging this big hole in the ground. What a guy! Haha, that’s the most determined I’ve ever seen someone to spot a Silver Crested Burrowing Owl!


Photo by blmiers2 via Flickr

What do you say about killing another’s baby, replacing it with your own and forcing the parents to cancel out their genetic contribution to the world line in favor of your own. One side is obviously a bunch of dummies, and the other, vindictive jerks taking advantage of maternal niceties.

For all of you who go to nature as a refuge from the bustling world to relax in the soothing sounds of bird calls, think again. Some of those lovely chirpings are actually territorial calls from a troupe of avian terrorists set on taking over the bird world. Even some bird rehabilitators who receive this particular species smile in thanks at the well-wishers who bring them an injured specimen, only to snap their necks as soon as they leave. It wouldn’t be so bad if they had natural predators to keep them in line, but since they’re not from our neck of the woods, they literally get away with murder.

I’m talking about the European starling, of course; a sophisticated species who is slowly wiping out our own native birds. This attractive bird has shiny black, green and purple plumage overtones and a bright yellow to orange beak. Their foraging methods is one of the most advanced of the passerines (small birds that can perch on stuff). They stick their beaks into the ground and pry them open to look for food.

Sometimes, unpaired females will lay their eggs in other birds’ nests – what is called nest parasitism. Once hatched, their babies actually kick the original eggs out of the nest, and their adopted parents, who are now imprinted with their false young, raise them as their own. Wash, rinse, repeat.

They have become a real problem for native bird species in North and South America, New Zealand and Australia. They were first introduced in New York’s Central Park for aesthetic reasons because of a Shakespeare play that described the bird, and wanted a realistic reenactment of the period.

As National Geographic blogger Chad Cohen said, “The starling’s ability to mimic human speech earned the bird this cameo in Shakespeare’s Henry IV:

“The king forbade my tongue to speak of Mortimer. But I will find him when he is asleep, and in his ear I’ll holler ‘Mortimer!’ Nay I’ll have a starling shall be taught to speak nothing but Mortimer, and give it to him to keep his anger still in motion.”

It is the only mention of the starling in all of Shakespeare. Yet it was enough to inspire Eugene Schiffelin (an eccentric Shakespeare fanatic) to import 60 of the fruitful birds to the United States and release them one March day in New York’s Central Park. … there are now over 20 million starlings in the United States.”

In other words, the European starling is an invasive species that left behind its natural predators, allowing it to adapt and overtake local species. They overtake habitat, out breed and out eat the birds that were here first.

Helen Garland is an avian specialist who has worked at various airports using birds of prey to control other bird populations that might pose a risk to passengers. “They’re pains in my rear end, danger to every airline passenger and killer/competition for native bird species. Send them all back to Europe along with the house sparrow (which has displaced the native bluebird)!”

While starlings could be considered top jerks in the avian world, you gotta hand it to them for becoming such a success, especially in the urban environment. While many passerines have a specific insect or seed diet, starlings eat everything (poutine, seeds in other animal’s poop, maybe even the evil leftover fumes from shit Harper did), giving them an advantage when regular food sources run thin.

Survival of the fittest has never meant survival of the best.