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

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.

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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Yet Another Freebie

Yes, more eBook waffle – I just published a new, free eBook called ‘Fifty Seven Varieties of Bird’. The book is a collection of 57 species, all by photographed me and with my often eccentric comments appended.

Here is an Excerpt:

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13 – In any selection of photos, owls are always going to be popular. Day-roosting birds are often very inactive but this Northern Saw-Whet had other plans. Sat at about eight feet from the ground and totally ignoring a procession of admirers, this bird clung with determination to its lunch, possibly a Deer Mouse. At some point that suited it, snack-attack time came upon it and it prepared itself by making a little room. For a while it looked like it was sitting on a sharp spike as its face contorted, before over the period of a couple of minutes, it coughed up a large pellet composed of previously enjoyed rodents and whatever else it had caught. Then, it stuck its mouse in its beak and proceeded to swallow it head-first. In a few gulps it had gone the way that many had previously, and the owl settled back for a nap after its sudden burst of exercise. This bird was at Boucherville, QC, in January, 2007.

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You can get the FREE eBook from this link https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/519060

My recently published eBook, ’My Patch is now available in the iTunes store and from Kobo at https://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/my-patch

eReaders and stuff

This is a bit of a rambling post with photos at the end, feel free to wander off if you get bored, I won’t be offended.

What prompted this post, apart from taking advantage of the air time to promote my new eBook ‘My Patch’, now available at $1.99US, is to chat a bit about how best to read the things. People sit and read, or exercise and read, some drive and read but tend to end up in the median facing the wrong way so we’ll rule them out of any intelligent conversation. Many people read in bed and like to do so in comfort. They are usually over 22 years old, have had their fussy out of sex by then, ok, 23 then but come on, nobody is a machine! So what is available to facilitate that reading urge?

Not many people want to take a full-sized pc to bed so they can read an eBook. Some might take their laptop or tablet, but neither are that comfy to read on and an illuminated screen of that nature is not a restful sight before slumber, therefore reading in bed needs to be carefully thought about.  The ideal way to read any eBook is on a dedicated eReader and, at around $80.00 they are not bad vaslue.

Here is a link to the Kobo ones: https://www.kobo.com/devices#ereaders I chose these because Sandra has one and I can comment directly. I also have a Kobo, it’s a Vox and, while it is an adequate reader, it wants to do too many things such as tell you what you have read – is it me or is this pointless? Looking at their web site, they don’t seem to sell them anymore, which is a good thing because they were expensive, hyperactive junk. The screen on my Vox recently cracked and, while the words of the books I’m reading are not falling out, the crack is off-putting and my next reader will be a real one.

Sandra’s e-Reader is the Kobo touch and she loves it. Before this she got through three Sony e-Readers (The Sony Die-soon was the model I think),they are now no longer available (except at a dump near you!). Her little eReader folds like a book, the pages turn with a swipe or click of a button and they download wirelessly, just what you want really.

Back to my latest eBook ‘My Patch’ and here is another (and last) snippet to tempt you and, if you are tempted, just click on the cover on the side bar to go to the web site. For details of how to download to Kindles and the like, there is info on the eBooks page tab at the top. A lot of Kindle owners think that they can only buy from Amazon, this is not the case, Smashwords offer Kindle friendly versions of all their eBooks.

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The pain and ramifications of missing a patch tick:

You have watched your patch almost daily throughout May for the past ten years. One day you are told by your partner that the – whatever – needs fixing in your house, and that you have to shop for the parts NOW. As you negotiate the slow weekend traffic, it starts to rain, the start of some unsettled weather now arriving on a cool front after days of high pressure. In the DIY store parking lot you see a Blackpoll Warbler in the only tree to survive the erratic driving of the locals; a good sign for migration, bad news for you.

Your birding friend Dan has also noted the change in the weather and, as you browse the confusing aisles of the DIY store while the hailer goes on and on about customer service 6000, he is heading towards the scrubby edge of your shared patch. Within moments of arriving, Dan has started seeing birds and soon delights in letting you know via joyful texts to your phone.

While you patiently wait for the beeping monstrosity of a forklift to get out of the aisle, Dan is picking his way through a fall-out of migrant warblers when he hears a scratchy, chattering song from the scrub. He suspects that he knows the singer, cues up the iPod and attracts it into view, a fine Yellow-breasted Chat. Having had a good view, Dan texts you (again!) and tells you that it is there, exactly where it is and how well it is showing.

The chat is a provincial rarity, Quebec gets one most years but that is about it. Dan also knows that, because of your shared obsession, the skulking chat is a site first – therefore neither you nor anyone else have never seen one there, it is a patch tick for everyone. Dan now has it, you most certainly do not. You have read and re-read the text and have begun to perspire, despite the store air conditioning being set so low that it attracts complaints from the Inuit.

As you pick up the pace around the store you are wondering why every shelf that has the bit you so desperately need is empty, and why the weekend staff, who are obviously not applying customer care anywhere, have no idea what you are talking about. Eventually a grey-top shows up, makes the familiar sucking through the teeth noise, so beloved of people in the home repair field and leads you to a row full of stuff that will do the job but that is in an aisle labelled ‘Timber’.

You get home and do the repair, then get a barrage of texts asking where you are and telling you that the bird was still showing well until five minutes ago, but then got harder to find when the sun came out and the weather cleared, good luck when you finally get there!

You dash down to your patch, arm on the window playing it cool although you actually start playing the chat’s songs and calls on the iPod (loud) about three stop signs before the parking lot and you have all of the car windows open, just in case. You quick-march to the spot, then walk slowly around – playing the sounds of the chat and everything else that you can think of that might attract it or at least make it move, even Colima Pygmy-Owl, you never know. When you have tripped over the same tree root three times in five minutes because it’s now become too dark to see, you finally admit that it has gone and you’ve missed it.

You get home, struggling to hide your obvious despair and your partner commits the cardinal (Northern) sin and says “it’s only a bird”. Six months later you are living in Dan’s basement with a divorce on the horizon. Your now ex is dating the grey-top from the DIY and you are eating unhealthy microwave meals for one while sitting in your underwear, needle in hand as you try to move your pants’ button out another inch.

I have a couple of other writing projects on the go. One is a dragonfly guide, there is the cover, I’ll try to complete it before the first ode flies.

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Now to some recent birds. Yesterday and today I’ve been out looking for Grey Partridges around St-Clet. They can be elusive at the best of times but in soft, fluffy snow you have to hope that you are near enough to see a head appear. Snowy Owls are there in number though, 12 yesterday after 75% coverage, seven today after 35%. I only found Snow Buntings on Montee Chenier but around 250 so a nice flock.

Incidentally, I’ve been to Hudson a few times to try to snap Bohemian Waxwings again but the flock seems to have wandered off, or I’ve just not found them.

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These two Snowy Owls are sat on roofs which have areas without snow. The owls, sensible creatures that they are, only sit on the snow covered bits.

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I’ve not had any feedback from those who have bought ‘My Patch’ yet, if I do get printable comments I’ll air them here.

An no sooner do I make this aside that I get the following, unsolicited comment plus some advice re holding an eReader. Many thanks Richard and Jean:

Richard Gregson:  Somewhat plaintively (wink emoticon) Mark writes at the end that “I’ve not had any feedback from those who have bought ‘My Patch’ yet, if I do get printable comments I’ll air them here.” So, I laid out my $1.99, grossly inflated by the exchange rate to $2.57 in real money, and had a good read. What it says is all set out in Mark’s enjoyably, shall we say idiosyncratic, style and tells it the way it is as far as patch birding goes. Doesn’t pull many punches doesn’t our MD. A topic that is not so generously covered elsewhere. Anyway, I made it to the last page without any effort and I would say that anyone who thinks birding is half-way worth doing will enjoy the book …. even at the exchange-rate inflated price. A jolly good read … go and buy a copy before the store runs out of electrons and they have to order some more. (PS: iPads, better than plain vanilla e-readers – you can do your emails at the same time as reading your book.)

Jean Gregson: Mark refers to comfortable ways of holding e-readers – this works for me: http://thebookseat.com

Fresh off the Digital Press

It’s taken me a bit longer than expected, what with all the to-do we’ve had recently, but my latest e-effort ‘My Patch’ is now available at the stunningly low price of $1.99US.

My Patch is all about the joys of local patch birding, with a fair sprinkling of insults for various sections of society including HR ‘professionals’. At 53,450 words it is not quite War and Peas, (not to be confused with a more serious book, basically about the Mushy Pea franchise dispute and the pitch battles it produced in Mablethorpe in 1972) but it is a reasonable length and should keep the reader occupied for minutes. As a treat, here is an extract from the book about birding types. It is only the first couple of definitions, you’ll need to read the book to see the rest.

Birding Types

As birders we are extremely judgmental. We decide whether ‘so and so’ saw something they claimed. We do this all of the time, perhaps not (always) publically, but we do it. We also categorize birders, we pigeonhole them based on our impression of their capabilities. Is this wrong? No! What we have to accept is that there are varying levels of birder and varying types of birder competency; to explain.

The level of a birder’s capability is very straightforward to assess, and almost entirely linked to experience. I say ‘almost’, because there are some stellar individuals out there who hit the ground running and have not slowed down since, but they are the absolute exception.

If someone has claimed a Connecticut Warbler on your patch and neither you nor anyone else saw it, then you dismiss it straight away and look for similar species to satisfy your disappointment at missing ‘whatever’ it was. You later find out that the finder spent three seasons in Alberta mapping the things for their breeding bird atlas and suddenly your sympathy species, Nashville Warbler perhaps, looks a little silly. You now place the finder in a higher bracket of birder because of their experience; then you find out that they have only had five entries in eBird all year, so back to the dummies they go!

Cruel, yes, but fair, I think you’ll find.

The rating of other birders is inevitable, it always has been, so now I’m putting in print what everyone thinks, because on your patch, this stuff matters. Here they are then, set out in no particular order as, in the real world, it doesn’t actually matter either.

People that feed the birds, but who only have a casual interest in what species are visiting their feeders. They like to look out of their windows at the birds but most don’t own bins or, if they do, they are the ones with things like ‘zoom’ in the title, or blessed with color-coated lenses, often puce. From time to time they will claim something; if your patch has homes with feeders included, be prepared for that. Here is a helpful tip for resolving those sticky situations. Feeder owner: “I had what I think was a Dickcissel at the feeders this morning”, patch watcher thinks “goldfinch”, but doesn’t want to put the feeder folk off so you talk around the bushes a bit, asking leading questions just to make sure that it wasn’t, indeed, a Dickcissel. Satisfied that you are right, you make sure you plant enough doubt in the ‘finder’s’ mind about the rarity of the claim as to prevent the claim going any further.

These people probably make up the vast majority of birders but, in our world, are not actually birders in the real sense.  But if we are categorizing birders they have to be included, even if only to have someone at the bottom of the avian tree, you could even call them the roots!

Ornithologists – people whose ID skills tend to be improved by their subject lying prone on a bench top (and lacking a pulse, the bird that is). We (all birders) get called ornithologists by the ignorantii, also known as the Press; clearly, we are not. Many ornithologists are quite affable people but, as much of their adult lives have been spent in close proximity to preserving chemicals, they can be a bit vague at times. I’ve met a few Ornithologists in my time and I’d say some were not true field birders at all. Obviously, ornithologists must rank higher than feeder watchers, if only because they keep us entertained with their fantasy taxonomic orders and splits and lumps that we all so enjoy.

Here is a link that goes straight to Smashwords, I’ll add a link to the sidebar when I get a minute.

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/517251

my patch final

Cathartic? Not really

There was a Brown Creeper in the garden the other day, only my second for the yard list. It was the day’s highlight really, the snow, always so much heavier out our way, has made getting around the pits no joy. That, and the cold, strong and biting wind meant that for the past few visits I have resorted to hawk watching from a sheltered spot. The results were a big zero but, never mind, it can’t always be wow.

In around 1980 I took out a subscription to the British Birds magazine (BB), a monthly periodical with something for everyone. Over the years the collection has grown, until I had every issue from 1951 through 2009, when I finally saw sense and let it lapse. Each magazine is still worth a read, even if only to remember how the birding was then. Now that we are preparing the way for a move, I decided that I needed to do some radical cleaning, starting with BB.

I kept the rarity reports and I kept the odd issue that I might want as reference but otherwise the lot are in the recycle bin. It was hard to do, dipping in to various notes and articles I enjoyed the first time around. The Chalice Petrel was one of the gripping yarns, an all dark petrel seen on a pelagic off Cornwall, the identification never quite resolved as far as I remember. Then there were many notes on cloaca pecking by Eurasian Coots, I might not miss that one quite so much, even though my old friend Steve Boot was the author.

In the clean sweep went a number of bird books too, things that seemed a good idea at the time but now just shelf-hoggers. As we move inexorably towards the digital book, more will follow no doubt but it will again be hard to perform the task. I think I got the book and periodical count to just below the thousand so I’m quite pleased.

With the arrival of the snow I was also pondering on what winter might bring, especially where my fading ABA year list is concerned. I’m still missing Bohemian Waxwing but hopeful. Over the years they have been fairly common, especially in the Hudson area, and the finch report for this winter suggested that some will come, I’ll just have to keep checking those berry bushes.

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Less likely is an arrival of Great Grey Owls. It was only two years ago that we were graced by a decent eruption, in theory there will be three to five more years to wait. One of the birds below was local to St-Lazare, we found it on the Hudson CBC. I suppose I could get lucky and see all six of the regular eastern owls that I’m missing before the end of the year, but recently the willingness of finders to share has reached rock-bottom, thanks to disrespectful behaviour by people who could do better.

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My start of year target was 500 in the ABA region, I’m 477 now and won’t be too disappointed if I declare on 480, a nice round figure.

One last thing. Some years ago I damaged the thread on my Nikon ED 50mm travel scope. I was a bit careless while climbing a tower in Ecuador and the helicoil, a spring-steel, hardened insert that goes in the plate the allows you to mount the scope to a tripod, pulled partially out. I did a running repair then, once home, I used No More Nails to do a better repair, gluing the plate to the tripod head snap-plate. After changing tripods recently I wanted to buy a new plate for the scope, held in with four screw, so I contacted Nikon service.

I have three Nikon birding products, two spotting scopes and some binoculars for a combined cost of about $3,000CAD. In August of this year I asked Nikon, through their convoluted customer service system, to sell me the part so I could effect the repair. I also told them that I would not be sending the scope anywhere for such a trifling little task that I could do myself in minutes.

The first reply, an automated response, advised me that it would take 24-48 hours to respond. TEN days later I was told that I needed to send more information, viz, my land address. I did this and heard nothing. I went back to their web site and asked again three weeks ago, still nothing. I’ll try again because I’m willing to believe that things do get missed, if not quite lost in the post, but I am more than a little unimpressed with Nikon here. When I contacted Swarovski about their new eyecups on the Swarovision bins just after I bought them, they sent me a little gift package by return including new eyecups. I like my Nikon scopes, optically they are excellent, but you don’t need to be a market researcher to know where I will look if I ever need to consider a replacement, do you?