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.