New eBook

Hi Folks – I though people stumbling across my old blog might be interested in knowing that I have a new eBook out, Cape Sable Island – A Birding Site Guide. It is available from my publisher Smashwords at https://smashwords.com and from iTunes, Barnes and Noble and Kobo, just search fro Mark Dennis and there you have it. Did I mention that it is free?newco3small

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Tick tock

Our last May in Quebec and we are now counting down to departure, meanwhile after some beautiful spring weather, April leaves us smiling again after the second lousy winter in a row is hoofed out. I’ve been buzzing around in between calling various people in Nova Scotia and finally getting the stars aligned, today we bought the house, the sold sign is up.

Our new place is on Cape Sable Island at the southern tip of Nova Scotia. Different birds, different habitats and, hopefully, a winter that knows its place! I’m already planning where to site the feeders, where to plant the fruit trees and bushes and how big the pond will be, exciting stuff. I’ve also chosen a new local patch, I’ll talk about that in another post and I’ll put a map up.

For visitors who are unaware (there must be some!), I’ve written a number of birding books, here are the covers, if you want to take a look click on the cover on the sidebar. Some are free, some are cheap. The free Cuba guide has proved to be popular, comments would be appreciated on anything I’ve written.

Book ad 

Birds have been arriving in the area and I’ve been airing the camera again. But first another shot of one of the Willets from our Nova Scotia trip, doing a bit of a wing-stretch.

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Locally I have a couple of Vesper Sparrows singing away each time I visit their bleak spot. It’s hard to know exactly why they pick the particular stretch of road they inhabit, especially when there seem to be many kilometers of identical bits of habitat, all vesper-less.

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My local Red-shouldered Hawks are back and seem to have taken the intrusion of more houses in their dwindling habitat in the stride, or wing beat I suppose. They often come over the deck, chased by the American Crows more often than not.

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It’s always nice to see the first butterflies and the earliest tends to be the Mourning Cloak, also known as Camberwell Beauty. This one just sat beside me taking advantage of a sunny spot, taking the rays.

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Nothing I did would persuade this Fox Sparrow to smile for the camera.

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At this time of year the wetlands are hosting a few Rusty Blackbirds, strutting about chucking leaves all over the place and snaffling bugs. This male wasn’t camera shy.

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Teasing us

The old blues song goes something like ‘I woke up this morning and it was snowing again’ or perhaps it would have said that if the song writer had lived in Montreal and not Nashville! After a couple of days and the teaser of spring migration, we were greeted by this:

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Prior to that we had seen lots of Canada Geese milling around looking for open water, Turkey Vultures cleaning up the defrosted road kill and even the first butterfly of the year, a Morning Cloak, Camberwell Beauty to those of you in Europe. In March I saw 58 species total, in the first two days of April it was 50, you can see the difference the migration urge and a shift in temperatures to a bit nearer zero can do.

St-Lazare sand pits have been my main focus, naturally, and the rewards have been tangible, not least the record breaking 17 Horned Larks that went over a couple of days ago. In nigh on twelve years of visiting I’d seen just three there previously. The larks were a prime example of being in the right place at the right time, they flew directly over the watch point, 200m either way and they could easily have been missed. They also illustrated the frustration of ageing ears (mine). Greg was with me and his young ears still pick up those high pitched calls at range, mine need them to be much closer to register.

At least the snow gives me time at the keyboard to finish up the little Cuba thing. Go get it if you want it, it’s FREE

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I had a couple of questions recently regarding actually reading an eBook and, although I’ve covered it before and there are details on the eReader page tab at the top, things move quickly so here’s an update.

I use a Kobo reader but it has all sorts of stuff that, if I wanted that junk, I would buy a true tablet. eReader sellers are still labouring under the belief that people want everything in one package when, more often, they want simplicity, take Windows 8. You can’t buy an IBM computer without it these days, don’t tell me Apple systems are better than IBM, they are not, they are just different. Windows 8 was obviously designed by an 18 year old, for 18 year olds, and I’m sure I’m not alone in wanting just a PC that does things simply and without messing about with apps, touch screens, and garbage for gaming and the like.

Microsoft would see a lot of interest in something like Windows 40, designed by more mature computer users and for using, not pratting around with. Base it on Windows ME, keep the useful bits but don’t let anyone with acne near the design. But I digress.

Richard recommended the Bluefire software for readers using devices, they also have a PC version now, so I downloaded it to take a look, link below if you want to try it, it is free.

http://www.bluefirereader.com/

My Kobo shows all eBooks well, Sandra has an iPad and that too is a good reader. I think that the iPad shows illustrations and photos as well as anything although her monochrome Kobo eReader, the Aura H2O is good too. The Bluefire reader on the PC is ok but not great, I find the illustrations bitty.

In a few years it will be difficult to get some books in printed form, we just need to stop the eBook sellers robbing us by charging top dollar for eBooks, I’m doing my bit!

 

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.

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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Snowy Duo

While out today I chanced across a couple of post-occupying Snowy Owls, both quite different looking facially. Odd that one was super alert and giving me the stare, while the other one was most languid to the point of insouciance. You’d expect big eyes to be the one that skipped but no, laid back showed no sign of impending activity then launched skywards in a flash, you just can’t tell sometimes.

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Yesterday I broke my Vaudreuil-Solanges rule and headed off to Hungry Bay. There is a substantial piece of open water there, most of which is visible. The jetty is under much snow and not really accessible so viewing is from the road to the parking lot. There were plenty of Common Mergansers and Common Goldeneyes, more Red-breasted Mergansers than I expected and a few Greater Scaup. Careful picking through the Common Goldeneye in range revealed an immature male Barrow’s Goldeneye. There was also a hybrid of some type but distant. I could only be sure of the part Common Goldeneye heritage really.

Next week looks like lark day and Red-winged Blackbird time, both significant March events that herald the start of spring. Lark day is pretty obvious if you drive out in open country anywhere. They litter the roadsides in small groups, waiting until their fields become viable for another bash at breeding before the tractor comes.

The Red-winged Blackbirds suddenly appear on bushes, again by the roadside, eager to stake their breeding claim. With luck the thaw will come in earnest the following week and the first transient wildfowl will be taking advantage of the wet fields until, again, the tractor comes. After the February we’ve just endured I’ll be more than happy to see the blackbirds back, even the feeder emptying grackles will be welcome for at least a week.

While filing recently used photos of Bohemian Waxwings I noticed that I’d got reasonable photos that allowed their ageing so I’m sticking them back up here.

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This is an adult male. Note the V shape of the mostly yellow primary borders, the large number of red waxy tips on the wings, the broad, clean yellow tail band and the well-defined, black throat patch

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These are of an immature female. Note the throat patch is diffused where it meets the upper chest. The tail band is rather thin and the reduced number of waxy tips. The primary edges are not V shaped and there is no yellow either. Just for your interest you understand.

And now an excerpt from one of the eBooks I’m working on, ‘Park Life’. After spending 15 years as a country park warden I have quite a few little tales of life on the park. This one involves a body of sorts and an idiot! For those of you who don’t know, Skegness is a seaside town (technically) on the east coast of the UK, think Hawkesbury-by-sea and you will get the picture.

Some odd things tend to pop up when you have 250 acres of park and the public are allowed a free run. One of the oddest was quite sad really, especially for the dead woman involved. Now that sounds a bit macabre but let me reassure you that she didn’t feel a thing at the stage when she reached us.

We had a message from one of the patrolling wardens that there was a body in the main trout lake. We got the odd body from time to time and so we prepared to do the necessary – contact the Police and secure the corpse until it could be taken away. Then the warden strolled into the Fishing Lodge and plonked a box on the table, “there she is” he said. The box was actually a casket containing the remains of a cremated lady and it had been bobbing about in the lake for some time, judging by the wear the wave action had exerted on it.

The scant details were passed to the Police and they investigated. The Lady of the Lake was placed on a shelf pending collection and we awaited the story. The Police managed to find the deceased’s husband and he showed up looking rather sheepish one afternoon, plastic shopping bag at the ready. It transpired that, before his lady wife had passed away, she’d expressed a wish to be buried or at least scattered, at sea. Not having the wherewithal to grant her wish, what with the sea being a good couple of hours drive away, he did the next best thing and chucked her in the lake.

Had he just emptied the casket then it might not have been quite so incongruous, but to toss the whole caboodle in was a bit unthinking and we may have mentioned this too him. He went on his way, loved one in the bag, and promising never to return with any other deceased relatives. He said that he intended to visit Skegness at some point soon, to complete the request and soothe her restless soul. We did point out that the sea rarely visits Skegness, even at high tide, but he was out the door sharpish and, for us, it was a case of casket closed.