Question Time

A while ago I asked for a few questions from my patient public regarding my eBooks, the idea being that I can put the Q & A on my Smashwords site and also here. I did actually get a few questions but not as many as I’d have liked, so I made a couple up!

If anyone has any others that they forgot to send, I’ll answer them and update this blog post before I put them on the publisher’s site. Meanwhile, here is a reminder that there are two new eBooks out now. One is free, and I can see your short arms and deep pockets twitch as I type, the other costs dollars but not so many.

Books new

Now, on with the interview.

Why do you write?

I’ve written bird related stuff for many years, all in newsletters and annual reports or the odd article for magazines and I’ve enjoyed doing it. Writing it in a more formal format seemed the obvious thing to do once I had the time. The only problem is, once you go down that path, suddenly there is a lot more writing to do than you expected!

Do you only write about birds and wildlife?

At the moment yes, well sort of. My latest cash flea, ‘Park Life’, continues in the vein of the first book, ‘Going for Broke’, in that it contains short stories, true ones too, stories that are meant to entertain. I like comedy and can usually make people laugh once I get to know them, and so writing things from a humorous slant was always going to be part of the whole writing thing for me.

Any more books planned soon?

I had intended to take a break from the wildlife type books, but then and I went and started a short Cuba guide. I only write these free things to put them out there, mostly to help other birders, especially the ones who go it alone on vacations or locally. The birding travel industry is huge but also expensive and you really can have a good, self-guided trip, if you have the information.

eBooks then, why not printed?

Publishing eBooks is easy, printed takes a bit more effort and some financial investment and I, like all new writers, don’t have a publisher to do it for me and to bear the expense pending a return. There is also the ethical, ‘save the tree’ standpoint, most books are read once then get pulped, a waste of a tree. eBooks can also be cheap and I aim to offer a good read at a reasonable price.

Will you write a ‘serious’ bird or wildlife book?

I’m working on a book about Odonata, a simplified one, that limits the amount of anatomy you need to be able to name. Odes are an interest that is gaining momentum and my guide will focus on the person who has seen them but has no idea what they are. I’ll cover the common species in northeast North America and see where it goes. As an eBook, it is portable and will be of use in the field. I don’t think I have the gravitas to write a true bird ID book, there are plenty of great authors out there already although, come to think of it, there are some rubbish ones too!

What about other types of writing?

By that I assume you mean away from the whole wildlife scene? I’m writing my first novel, ‘War and Peas’. My editor, Sandra, has read the first 10,000 words, just to see whether I was going in the right direction, and now wants to know how it ends, so that will be my first novel. It will be followed as a novel, most likely, by ‘Drug Money’. I don’t want to say anything about that yet, but you can bet that some former colleagues from my time in the pharmaceutical industry will have influenced my thinking.

What else?

I may write an unauthorised ‘Birds of Nottinghamshire’, one free of the baggage handed on by previous generations. I may also do an annotated Quebec birds in English, it depends on time and where we move to, I may have other things to occupy me by then but winter is a great giver of indoor time!

Has the response to your eBooks surprised or disappointed you?

Both really. I never expected to make a living off writing and I never will. Writers who can live of their books are few and far between, you need a big one to get you established and visiting the sand pits might not cut it! I genuinely thought that there were more actual readers out there and that most would realise that the eReader and eBook is where we are going. I think the eBook sellers of big titles are ripping us all off as usual as they sell the electronic versions at as high a price as a hard-back sometimes.

My intention is to create a personal inventory and wait. As long as my eBooks remain fairly timeless and the publisher, Smashwords, solvent, then there will always be new eReader users in some format or other. As a writer, you have to be confident that your output will gain a following, and that the following will continue to want to read your stuff.

Fortunately the prices on my eBooks are very low, and so my very English ‘good value’ moral is never challenged.

Corny I know, but do you have a message for the readers?

Just a big thanks to you all for supporting me. If I write and you read it and like it, then I’m fulfilling an ambition. If I go in a wrong direction, or any new eBooks are rubbish, I hope someone would tell me.

So there we are, can you spot the made-up questions?

It’s snowing outside, again, so today might see the Cuba thing done, keep checking if you are interested.

Park Life out now

If you look right, you’ll see that I have updated the title above the Park Life cover, click on the cover and you can be quickly relieved of $2.99US in exchange for a good read that is not just about birds, although a lot of it is!

Below is Colwick Country Park, taken from west and east by a tall friend.

Colwick Park cp

Comments always welcome.

park life

Gamboa Guide

Morning everyone. Just before I get to publishing ‘Park Life’ here is another freebie for you.

New Gamboa cover small_edited-1

I haven’t put links in yet but it is now available for FREE download at http://Smashwords.com

Enjoy and please feel free to send comments, especially if I missed any typos.

A Bit of Migration at Last

For those interested, I expect to be publishing ‘Park Life’ at the weekend, it is at the final edit stage. Once it’s available, don’t worry about breaking the Internet like that Kim Lardarsian woman tried to (not sure of the spelling or even who she, or Kenny West, actually are!), I’m sure it will cope with demand.

Today was a different migration day, cooler than yesterday’s balmy sunshine and relaxed viz-mig session that left me looking a bit Lobster like, by that I mean red faced, not endowed with pincers! Over the past three days it has been a welcome change from the Brass Monkey neutering weather of this long winter and there has actually been some migration. I did a little update to the last post for the stuff seen 25th-March. Today it was a bit of a different mix.

At this time of year, first of the season birds start to come along quickly and so it was today, as I welcomed Northern Goshawk, Great Blue Heron, Snow Goose and Turkey Vulture onto the year list. Hawk migration continued but without eagle participation. At least four Rough-legged Hawks came through, two all dark birds and two pale birds, one fairly close as you can see from the photos. A female Northern Harrier came along and the much looked for Northern Goshawks finally deigned to show, albeit briefly.

A nice skein of Snow Geese, around 70 birds, pushed north, although I think they are going to be a bit disappointed with the lack of open water up there. Canada Geese were more circumspect, preferring just to wander about a bit, roughly 200 or so in total. Perhaps most unexpected was a Great Blue Heron carrying an ice fishing augur, not really, it would be too heavy but I’m sure you’d already worked that one out. Realistically it will need one though, as we have virtually nothing unfrozen, yet.

American Robins were on the move all morning and a lone Turkey Vulture was having a sniff around for breakfast before moving off. The rest of the fare was standard; three different Red-shouldered Hawks, steady numbers of Starlings and a few Red-tailed Hawks.

Suddenly, as winter drops away and despite the promise of -9°C on a couple of nights, spring and its returning birds is happening. I think it will take a few days before the real duck rush begins and I hope that the snow doesn’t evaporate away before it has the chance to upset the farmers by flooding local fields for a few days, they soon get over it.

Here are the Rough-leg shots, enjoy.

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The Meadowlark

It had been a hard winter, although winter was not a word familiar to the Meadowlark, it had no comprehension of words, just sounds. Angry sounds, attractive sounds, hungry sounds, panic sounds. Now it was time to leave, to go north, but Meadowlarks don’t really know what north is. The other Meadowlarks, the ones that are always here in the winter place are losing patience with the ones that are not and it was time to go north.

It wasn’t so far, although Meadowlarks have no real idea of distance, it was just from where it went in winter to where it went in summer. It was still cold, very cold, although Meadowlarks have no concept of hot or cold either, it was cold.

The summer place, the place where it was from was different every year, although Meadowlarks have no way of measuring a year, but it did change. Before, it was home, summer home, the summer place and it lived there, in the summer. Now summer was coming and it had to be there, in the summer place.

The Meadowlark had been taught about shapes, good shapes and bad shapes, and there were lots of bad shapes on the way but, being a Meadowlark it didn’t really know what a raptor was, apart from it being a bad shape, always a bad shape. In the summer place were good shapes, sometimes bad shapes but mostly good shapes, it was the summer place.

It was close now, everything looked familiar, the hills, the fields, the shapes, all looked like it looked every time it made its way to the summer place, mostly. This would be the fourth time it had gone to the summer place from the winter place. The winter place was smaller every year, less to find food and shelter, more Meadowlarks in less space, every year less.

The summer place, where is the summer place? There is the shape of the hills and the shape of the new hills and a new shape, a shape on the summer place, there is no more summer place, what to do, got to find another summer place but it’s late and the other Meadowlark will be looking too, what if they didn’t find each other, they always found each other at the summer place, always.

No summer place, no other Meadowlark, lots of other Meadowlarks but no summer place Meadowlark. What to do, where to go, think, although Meadowlarks have no concept of think as far as we know. No more Meadowlarks from the summer place, no more. Move, keep moving.

Bad shape, oh!

Please forgive me for this rather soppy little story but it was inspired by my finding that some urgent pizza place or something has been built on a meadow in Vaudreuil that has had Meadowlarks for the past 12 years. It was right on the Vaudreuil exit of the 40, to the north, and now it is gone and so too will the Meadowlarks. They can fly though and so can find another summer place, right? Wrong, because the other summer places are also going too, so there are not enough to go around. The winter place won’t be far behind either. Sometimes I wish I could apologise to the Meadowlarks on behalf of the humans and to explain why a Pizza Express is so urgently needed, although I’d have to lie, obviously.

Coverpics

This is known as blatant subliminal advertising!

I actually went out today. The first stop was Hungry Bay and it was cold. After a bit of wandering I ended up back at St-Lazare sand pits, it only makes sense, well to me it does. I did a hawk watch, not a long one but productive. At one point I had three Golden Eagles in the air together, two adults and a second year. I also saw my first Red-winged Blackbirds of the year and a Rough-legged Hawk, a welcome pits year tick.

It looks like we have turned a corner with the weather, well a bit, and we are seeing a steady shift away from the cold over the next few days, -17°C this morning for a while, and spring can finally get cracking.

Incidentally, I will get around the putting the Q & A thing I mentioned a few posts ago although it will be just a book plug post for those that have need of a picture fix. Thanks to those who sent ideas.

The photos for today are mostly Red-tailed Hawk. I did a collage thing because I was bored and I did an arty one as it flew past the Moon (relatively). The other shot is the Mother of all record shots, a Golden Eagle taken from St-Lazare sand pits as it soared over Nunavut.

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UPDATE 25th-March another three Golden Eagles plus first of the season Killdeer and Red-shouldered Hawk.

Wandering the web

The web is a great tool and contains just about everything you, as a birder, might need. In many ways it replaces your library although the joy of settling back in a comfortable chair, book in hand is not really replicated by being hunched over a flickering screen. I have a lot of regular sites I got to, browsing to see what the latest is or just admiring others folks’ handiwork.

While we bask in the dregs of winter, a phrase few will ever utter, I thought I’d post about a few of the sites I use and give you the heads up on stuff that might be useful to you. Some of the sites may already be well known to you, others you might be seeing for the first time.

Listing is something we all do, don’t lie! Getting good checklists off the web is not easy and, while not denigrating anyone’s efforts, there are some lauded sites offering checklists that you have to look at carefully, the lists I’ve used off one site have all been missing some common species.

In world terms I have an Excel list downloaded from the International Ornithologist’s Committee site. Their list is updated regularly and the additions carry instruction as to where to place the updates. They split and lump regularly too and you need to visit the site occasionally to keep you checklist up to date. The great thing about Excel is that you can have a column per country, state, province or whatever and I add regional lists to that mix, North America, South America, Europe etc. True it takes time to set up but, once it is up and running it is easy to maintain.

http://www.worldbirdnames.org/

I’ve mentioned the listing site Bubo before. If you use eBird then it will create a list as you enter your sightings, but what if you have no idea where and when you saw something but know you’ve seen it? Bubo is just the site and it is free. The format is simple, you register an account, just like everywhere on the  web these days, and then you set up your lists. The format is a simple complete list of the area you select and you do it by batch edit. The lists are in taxonomic order and you just go from page to page checking a box. Rarities do need a date and site but, if the bird is a true rarity you can probably come up with something.

http://www.bubo.org/

When it comes to bird photos, most of us are hopeless voyeurs. Don’t be embarrassed by that, it’s perfectly legal. One site I frequent regularly, even when Sandra is in the room, is Surfbirds. The site has galleries from Europe and North America, rare and scarce/common and there is a species search feature. They also carry trip reports and identification articles that are normally of a high standard. If you take the odd snap yourself, you can register (again) and upload your photos for the world to see.

They also do things like find a local birder and they have a discussion forum where up-to-date stuff is regularly posted.

http://surfbirds.com/

If you live in Quebec you will all know about the rare bird web site. It’s in French and sometimes has a curious preoccupation with hybrid ducks and geese but it is a good resource for provincial rarities. They always welcome photos and like to start each day with a different shot so, if you have a good snap, even if it is not a rare bird, send it along, it might get used.

http://quebecoiseaux.org/index.php?option=com_oiseauxrares&Itemid=133

As a devotee of birding in the tropics I enjoy reading about life there. One birder, Patrick O’Donnell, writes a regular blog about birding in Costa Rica and always pulls up something interesting, especially when it comes to poorly known birding lodges that would be good for a self-guided trip. Patrick updates every couple of weeks and, as one of the authors of the Costa Rica bird ID app, knows what he is talking about.

http://birdingcraft.com/wordpress/

Closer to home I enjoy reading blogs, especially when they contain a broad range of wildlife interest. One is authored by Josh Vandermeulen in Ontario and his writing about herps is especially interesting.

http://joshvandermeulen.blogspot.ca/

It is easy to become overloaded with links and so that is all I’m covering for now. The contents of each will keep you busy for a while, some you will no doubt like enough to make shortcuts to, enjoy.

And now a short update on our current plans. Our house in St-Lazare is on the market and we will move out of Quebec when it is sold.

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The plan is to move to the Yarmouth area in Nova Scotia and to see how things go. The move is precipitated by Sandra’s job finishing in April and there being little if anything available in her field in Quebec.

I will be continuing to blog, although accept that the Quebec based interest will no longer be there. At the moment the new blog is potentially called ‘Going Nova’ although that might change, especially if we end up in Zanzibar!

I am in the process of completing my latest eBook, ‘Park Life’, at the moment, 60,000 words or so plus lots of photos, illustrations and liberal amounts of irreverence. It recounts my life as a park warden with lots of little anecdotes and a fair bit about the wildlife, a snip at whatever low price I set! I’m also working on the ode book although uptake of that one will be limited.

And now the obligatory photo, one from the archives as the camera has not been pulled from the bag for a while now. That will change when winter slinks off, as we all hope it does soon.

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I’ve gone for a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. This one was just down the road near Kingston a few years ago – it would be nice to get one in Quebec before we go.

You know winter is ending when…

The roads are littered with dead, furry animals.

Yes it’s that time again. After the brutal winter the various indigenous animals are emerging from their hibernation, stretching, cleaning and in some species spectacularly ejecting their feces plug. Then they go looking for food and all they find is high-speed metal and not very forgiving metal at that. Skunks, Woodchucks and the odd Racoon are rapidly being splayed out on the local roads. Quite sad, you just have to hope that their feeble bodies made enough of a dent to annoy the drivers.

After a couple of fabulously mild days last it went  colder again, stymying the enthusiasm. Spring is here, even if it hasn’t officially started yet and the first Killdeer or Red-winged Blackbird can’t be long in coming. American Robins are building up although most are sensibly hanging around dung heaps until it is really hospitable everywhere.

My local forays have been very limited. The whole house selling thing has occupied a lot of time. On the upside we are now in the ‘board outside’ phase and my final Quebec blog post is formulating in my mind. I’m also in two minds as to whether this blog remains named as is, or I rename. The other option is a whole new blog, we’ll have to wait and see.

There was a nice article recently in the Montreal Gazette by Prof. David Bird, ex of Montreal but now living out west somewhere. If you missed it, here is the link: http://montrealgazette.com/news/local-news/a-birds-eye-view-of-montreal?fb_action_ids=10152607738407751&fb_action_types=og.comments

In the UK there is a situation developing which shows just how shallow the general populace is. Some time ago a national petition in favour of increased protection for the Hen Harrier – a species mercilessly destroyed by Gamekeepers despite it being illegal – attracted about 20,000 signatures. Now a graceless fool, who is essentially a motoring correspondent, has been suspended for yet another faux-pas and it gets 700,000+ signatures to reinstate him. Makes me glad I’m Canadian!

As the winter peters out I tend to look back and see what I was doing on the same day, March 18th, in 2007, 2009 and 2012 and the magic of a good notebook lets me relive each day.

2007 saw a big snow dump around March 17th, 8-10 inches my notebook says. I still went out, seeing both crossbill species on Chemin Scotch near Grenville.

2009 had tons of geese everywhere and the two spring black birds, Common Grackle and Red-winged Blackbird were ‘in’. We still had a couple of Snowy Owls but the Hawk Owl that wintered along Chemin Fief had gone.

2012 was obviously well past the thaw, I saw 24 species at St-Lazare sand pits, you’d be lucky to manage five at the moment! Also note the lack of another Hawk Owl, this time out Cookshire-Eaton way. Perhaps I need a psychiatrist to tell me why I twitched yet another Hawk Owl!

And March 17th 2015 – still winter.

I wonder whether the pied Red-winged Blackbird below will come back this year, same field, same bush these past three years.

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It seems that a few of you enjoyed my extract from `Park Life` in that last post, and I corrected the little typo, thanks. I expect to publish soon, you can be sure I`ll let you know when.