Category Archives: Nature

A special Fearless Lady Byrd Adventure!

Black-capped Chickadee by Shutterstock

Virtue is a white robe only women get to wear…

Everything in this bird tour has gone awry: Lady Byrd wakes up too late, because the tour guide forgot to arrange the calls. In a foul mood, she has to get to the site herself. Then, her path crosses that of a pregnant birder in the throes of an abusive relationship, and cornered into a hard choice only women have to face.
What can an expert birder can do to lift this fog of sadness?

A spirited and hopeful story with the energetic Lady Byrd !


Chicks and Chickadees
A Fearless Lady Byrd Adventure

by Michèle Laframboise

1

See meeee!

The fluted call woke me from my heavy sleep. That chant was as familiar as my living room couch, coming from the tiny throat of a black-capped chickadee. The rest of the year, that small quick bird emitted a short chip, or a gleeful nasal, ha-han-han-haan, more reminiscent of a duck quack. They were the life of the party in any forest; hanging a lump of fat in a net is a sure way to invite them to any backyard.

But, as the snow melted, the perky chickadees’ thoughts turned away from food. They started singing that soft whistle.

See meee!

The bird was enjoying the morning; I wasn’t. At all.

A budding headache reminded me how foolish I had been to accept that glass of wine yesterday evening, even the light white brand that complemented the meal served at the hotel hosting our birding group. One blond lady was endlessly raving about her 150 mm cam, but I lost most of her words.

I pushed off the big fluffy down hotel coverlet from the bed, striking with my feet like I would a nighttime aggressor.

(I am lucky to never have experienced the event, but my niece had.)

(She did OK and sent the stupid horny student to the hospital. Nevertheless, I take extra precautions.)

I balanced myself to sit on the edge of the bed, my feet hanging inches from the floor. Extra-high hotel bed. A tingling feeling of something wrong nagged at me. Not the headache.

Then my eyes fell on the digital clock on the lacquered nightstand.

Ten past six. AM.

Holy Moly!

I was supposed to get up at five-thirty, eat a small collation and board the minibus that would take me and a dozen others to a secluded spot where a famed warbler had been last observed.

That warbler was that kind of elusive brownish bird, easier to hear than see. Its off-key colors made them the opposite of the chickadees: not only difficult to see, but a challenge at identifying.

Birders woke very early to get to the field at dawn. I winced. By now, the tour bus would have left with the rest of the group.

On my precedent birding tours, the organizers usually managed the morning calls so everyone was woken around the same hour, generally 5h00 or 5h30 AM.

I hadn’t met the Sully Bird Tours manager yet, only the athletic brown-haired girl, a Lucy Something (I should have remembered her name but the flight had left me slightly zombified) who greeted me at the airport and lifted my bags without breaking stride. She had driven me to this three-star hotel, where I later met the birding party, but the Sully of Sully’s tour had been apparently busy elsewhere.

If the manager was around her age, maybe he had left a Facebook message, Twitter notification or I don’t-know-what-tech alert to the tour members, not thinking that some tour members could be old enough to be his mother. Or grand mother, if he was that young.

I felt a surge of wrath towards this Ronald Sully. A competent birding tour manager would have made sure all members were up and seated before taking off.  Especially when said members had paid north of one thousand dollars for one week-end, all-inclusive package.

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A Lady Byrd Story

An owl perching
image from Canva.com

Superb Owl Day

For the first time, fearless Amanda Byrd must mind her turbulent grand-niece while on a special birding excursion, on the day of the SuperBowl.

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Our sharp-eyed guide pointed silently towards one of the husky, snow-powdered spruce branches. There, its mottled cream and caramel-brown plumage almost invisible against the tree background, its pale heart-shaped face marked with the dark marbles of its eyes, was a discreet nocturnal bird doing its best to avoid the sharp daylight.  

You rarely got to see a Barred owl from such a close distance, in a cold February afternoon, a meager dozen feet from the trail our small gaggle of birders was following. I didn’t even need my 8×42 Bushnell binoculars to take in its 22-inch long body from head to tail. I felt I could just stretch an arm to brush the fine down on its roundish head.

Well, not that I would do such an impolite gesture in front of my small niece. But my sister’s first grandchild had no such qualms herself.

“Hooo, hooo!” Mona said, her bright red mittens cupped in front of her mask, her brown eyes full of glee.

The owl’s neck moved like a tank turret to investigate the disturbance, one abyssally-dark eye blinking under a fluffy cream eyelid.

Most owls had gaudy-colored irises, orange or gold, framing round pupils; Barred owls had obsidian eyes, like black glass, the irises indistinct. Owl’s eyes were not slitted like cats’ to minimize incoming light, so the nocturnal bird protected its sensitive retinas.

Its downy eyelids, lowered at half-mast, gave him a perpetual air of either wisdom or sleepy annoyance.

Some owls’ tufted feathers reached out in points, like the Great horned owl, but this owl’s tapered along the round head.

When the owl’s head moved, Mona hooted happily.

“He looks like caramel ice cream with nuts!”

Count on children in the dead of winter to talk about ice cream, I thought, shivering.

The bird’s colors rather reminded me of an ill-fitting wool pull one of my own “aunties” had knitted for me (forgetting that teenage years were also growing up years) with a pattern of creamy whites and spatter of light brown stitches, at odds with the gaudy colors the sixties era favored.

I wore it for a time, to please my aunt, and as a camouflage to observe birds, Eventually, the mites found it. My mother unraveled the pull and knitted a warm scarf with it. Now that scarf, decades later, I wore in my winter bird watching, those muted hues being less aggressive.

I breathed in the cold air through the scarf and my thin face mask. The low temperatures prevented me from getting the scents of pine and fresh snow, but the odor of old wool impregnated with my mom’s patience remained present. I wore a heavier daypack with a thermos and collation.

But at least, it was a rewarding activity to go birding on the ‘Superb-Owl’ Sunday, as birders called this day. The name had been coined by a passionate birder in the 90s, and since then, many bird-lovers found out, in cities and woods alike, how quiet that peculiar Sunday was. The usual troves of weekend hikers also dried out on that day.

At this moment, my nephew, along with half the United States population, was lounging on his living room couch watching football players as colored as birds disputing a spectacular waste of money. (I’m told the commercial spots alone cost several millions.)

Meaning that, on Superbowl day, our small group of dedicated birders had the huge park near Albany, NY – and all its birds– to ourselves.

Including our own elusive, superb owls.

“Hoo, hoo!”

That is, if one of us did not scare said birds away with her bubbling enthusiasm.

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