A Big Year of Small Encounters #1: The Subway Pigeon

(Cross-posted from my iNaturalist journal)

Last week a former co-worker dropped by the Arboretum and, just before he was about to leave, mentioned that one of his plans for 2019 was to do a personal “Big Year”, trying to see as many different bird species as he can in the province of Ontario in a single year.

“I was thinking you should do it, too.”

He said it so casually, like challenging me to entirely shift my relationship with birds was no big thing. Because while there are many birders who generate incredibly detailed lists and records, I am most definitely not one of them. I’m more interested in the experience of being around birds, and of observing birds as individuals. But so far I've been pretty terrible at keeping records, even though I happily promote eBird and iNaturalist to anyone who will listen.

After giving it a little thought, I've decided taking on the challenge of a Big Year isn't a bad idea at all. It should help motivate me to make more citizen science entries and help me with my own 2019 plan to get back to learning new things about birds (I've gotten lazy in the past few years - perhaps I'll write more on that another day).

But still, just keeping a list didn't feel right for me. And since my own biggest plans for 2019 revolve around the environment, I have no desire to get into the type of Big Year effort that involves driving around chasing after OntBird rarity alerts (not that I have a car to do that with anyway). So I've come up with my own, slightly tweaked plan:

For 2019, I'm aiming for a Big Year of Small Encounters.

What that means is I will try to list as many species as I can but, as much as possible, I want to avoid just checking a box. I'd like to instead have some small moment or impression or observation or anecdote tied to an individual member of the species before I add it to my list. Basically, I don't want to just have SEEN a bird - I want to have truly focused on it. It means my list will build more slowly as I take my time with the locals, but that's a large part of the point - to spend a bit of time on birds I take for granted.

But all of that said, if I DO catch only a fleeting glimpse of an uncommon bird, it's absolutely still going in the final tally! And while I won't be taking any special car trips to add to the list, I'll keep my eyes open for more carbon-neutral opportunities to expand my birding range beyond my usual haunts.

And so without further ado:

#1: Rock dove (Columbia livia) - January 1st

One New Year's Day, Steve and I were on our way to see Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald when we encountered a fantastic beast of our own. We boarded a parked subway car at Kipling Station that sat with its doors open, waiting for more holiday-travelling souls to board. There was only one other person in our end of the car, until a new rider arrived with a flutter of wings. The pigeon wandered on and strutted around under each section of seats, presumably looking for dropped food. We watched with delight; the other human rider looked a little uncertain. Then the door chimes sounded and I wondered what the pigeon would do when the train started moving. The answer was not much; it stayed focused on its food hunt until we pulled into the next station.

The bird approached the door, but some oblivious humans failed at Transit Etiquette 101 and boarded before letting the other passenger exit. Insulting! But the pigeon still calmly slipped out before the door could close, and presumably went on to enjoy the rest of its day.

Tuesday January 8, 2019

Connect Online: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube | Wattpad | Goodreads | New Play Exchange

Joining the Litterati (sort of)

A few months ago I first tried out an app called Litterati, which encourages people to not only clean up litter, but to photograph it, tag it, and place it on a map as citizen science, so that those who are trying to combat litter at its source have information on what kind of garbage is showing up where.

The app also tracks your total count of what you've cleaned up so you can compare yourself to others and even create your own club for a little friendly competition and added motivation.

I love the idea of the app, but it and my tablet are not getting along when it comes to mapping. That's part of why I stopped using it when I initially downloaded it in the summer. I decided recently to give it another go, but the problem persists. For example, this pair of balloons was tumbling around behind the Humber College residence buildings, but when I uploaded the photo it placed them on the other side of campus beside a major intersection (and it's a big campus).

I assume the problem is with my tablet (which qualifies as old in the world of tech) and I can't find a way to edit the placement of the litter on the map. For now, I've discovered that if I leave my GPS off, the litter gets added to my tally without appearing on the map at all. That means I can still keep track of how much litter I've picked up with my personal counter, but I won't be able to contribute to the citizen science portion of the project.

It's far from ideal, as adding to our local knowledge of litter sources is what drew me to the app in the first place, but for now I'll settle for challenging myself to help to clean it up. If I ever join the 2000s and get a smartphone, I assume the mapping will go a lot smoother.

Outside of my technological failings, I do hope that someday Litterati has the resources to take a page from iNaturalist and add a more robust web presence where you can log into your account on the site, add notes about your adventures, connect with other local Litterati, plan public clean-ups, etc. I've sent them an email - we'll see what the future brings.

Want to get in on the action? Litterati is available in both the Apple App store and on Google Play.

- Thursday December 6, 2018

Connect Online: Facebook | TwitterInstagram |YouTube | Wattpad | Goodreads 

Why I (Should) Still Write - A Note to Self

I haven’t been writing much lately. Nothing creative, at least. I have been writing more tweets than usual, and posting more in Facebook groups. Plus there was that one out-of-character Facebook rant for friends and family to enjoy. There have been extensive comments on proposed government policies, and corresponding emails to politicians. And I have some business and media types still on my to-email list. So I guess there have been a lot of words, just not a lot of stories.

It’s hard to focus on making things up when so much real life is disappearing.

My recent words have been about caribou, coyotes, and cormorants. November, once reserved for the dug-in flurry of fiction writing that is Nanowrimo, has instead been filled with public meetings and private missives sent to friends who I both hope and fear are feeling the same way I am.

How do you take time to make art when the world is in ecological crisis?
How do you live your normal life?
And should you even try?

I’m lucky, at least, that my day job at a public garden/conservation area/nature education centre feels like it matters more than ever. So that part’s easy...ish. But I find it hard to motivate myself to write anything outside the scope of my new personal ABC’s - Animals, Biodiversity, Climate. And even getting those words out is hard, because the storm of bad news is relentless, and it’s so easy to lose hours and days and weekends just reading and worrying and wondering how best to help and then reading some more, letting time we don’t have slip away.

A graphic of lined paper with a pencil writing the words Animals, Biodiversity, Climate

My favourite writing quote of all time is from E.B. White:

“All that I ever hope to say in books is that I love the world.”

So I will keep writing - the policy comments and the plays, the pamphlets and the poems. Because we need to fight, but we also need more people to love the world.

I think that might be our only hope.


Hello, welcome (back), thanks for reading. As the title suggests, this post is mainly to keep myself on track. If it connects with something you’ve been thinking or feeling of late, that’s great. But it is not meant to be a statement on how anyone else spends their time. If you are prolifically creating wild, wacky, wonderful things? Amazing. If you have walked away from your regular life to strike on the steps of your nation’s parliament? You are my hero. I suspect my most useful place is between those two, but then, it's a rather baffling time.

~ Monday November 26, 2018

Connect Online: Facebook | Twitter | InstagramYouTubeWattpad | Goodreads 

Camp NaNoWriMo - Wrap Up

Monday April 30, 2018

Well, with this round of Camp Nanowrimo heading into the final 17 hours I can safely say I will NOT be "winning" this time around, seeing as I would need to do 16 more hours of writing to meet my goal and I do have a job to go to shortly. I did, however, succeed in writing three new short plays this month, made great progress on two longer plays, and started two picture books. So it was still a pretty good run.

I actually made the decision not to finish yesterday, and was leaning towards that decision on Saturday. As soon as I looked at all the things I wanted to do with the past weekend and realized it was either do those things and write for a few hours or forget having a weekend at all and just write, I chose the more balanced approach.

When I was younger I surely would have surrendered my whole weekend to an online writing challenge, but as I stated in my project listing on the Camp Nanowrimo website:
The real goal is not the final tally though; if I get far behind and have to catch up at the end of the month I'll have missed the point. Rebuilding a daily writing habit is the goal.
Of course I got ahead of myself and chose a goal based on writing every day AND writing for another few hours on every day out of the month that I wasn't at work. So I set a target of 46 hours of writing in April. My count currently sits at 30, but will go up by an hour or two before the end of the day. I didn't write every day, but I did write more days than not. More importantly, I figured out a few things I will try out in the coming month to keep the train rolling:

Writing in the Mornings

This whole month I was trying to put aside an hour to write when I got home from work in the evenings, but sometimes when I got home I was worn out, or frustrated, or distracted by the excitement of a work project. Also, I got home at different times and had different evening commitments, making it hard to feel like a habit was forming.

And yet I have a daily habit that I formed much by accident - morning Sodoku. After getting into doing the puzzles in the paper last year, I was given a Page a Day Sodoku calendar and a Sodoku book for Christmas and have done one every morning for all of 2018. The original idea was to do them on the bus during my commute, but that backed up to during my morning coffee, whether or not I was going to work.

So as of this morning, I'm switching to morning writing. One hour in the Sodoku slot, and the puzzle can come after. Of course I may choose to write longer on days that I'm home or write again in the evenings, but I'm going to try starting my day with writing, before other things can crowd in and get on my mind.

Taking Seinfeld Digital

I mentioned in my Camp Nano Halfway Point blog post that I was interested in Jerry Seinfeld's idea of putting a big red X through the calendar on every day that you wrote (in his case, new jokes) so that you would get a nice visual chain going that you didn't want to break. The problem I ran into is that our only wall calendar is "The Little World of Liz Climo" and I like the look of it so much that I actually didn't like putting big red Xs on it, so the satisfaction I was supposed to get from seeing them was marred.

My next thought was to go by another calendar just for that purpose, but just last night it occurred to me that perhaps digital is the way to go. I threw together a red X writing tally page for myself in Google Docs, and set it to open up every time I launch chrome:

I've also gone with Deep Work author Cal Newport's suggestion to tally how much time you spend focused on your most important task, so instead of just one X for writing at all it's an X for every hour. I'll see this every time I want to go online, so if I've somehow missed my morning writing hour I'll have a big reminder of that pop-up in my face before I can get to my email or social media or anywhere else on the web.

Back to Camp?

So with those tweaks, a plan to rearrange our creative space, and new on-the-go projects to get finished, I'm heading into May with the continuing goal to write every day, and more. Camp Nanowrimo takes place again in July; I'll decide closer to the date if I want to do it again. If all goes well that would be with a project-based goal, since I'll hopefully have this regular-writing habit locked in by then.

Did you go to Camp Nanowrimo? If so, how'd it go? Or what writing habits work for you?