Sunday, February 28, 2016

Some Composers Were Just Sorta.....Weird

This is a post that's been playing around in my head for some time now, mainly because I keep finding out new information and, as a side effect, the number of composers I initially wanted to look at has expanded.  There's the old stereotype of your "classical" composer as a starched-collared  wearing killjoy, conducting music in a grand hall full of other starch-collared wearing killjoys.....and God help you if you fidgeted in your seat or clapped between movements.   I've always found this picture amusing particularly when you start to take a look at the private lives of some of these composers.  There's the old cliche about there being a fine line between genius and insanity.  I don't know about that but what I have come to discover is that some of these composers (even some of the more well-known ones) were just a bit odd.

1.  Eric Satie...was a late 19th-early 20th century French composer who was a known eccentric.  He only ate food that was white, carried a hammer with him at all times for self defence and even founded his own Church - the Metropolitan Church of Art of Jesus the Conductor (seriously).  He owned 12 identical grey suits and would wear the same suit continually until it wore out, whereupon he'd change in to his next grey suit.  Apparently, he had a great tailor and got a lot of mileage out of those suits since he still had 6 left when he died.  Upon his death, his flat was discovered to contain over 100 umbrellas and 84 handkerchiefs and a number of letters that he had written to himself.

2.  Carlo Gesualdo...a 17th century Italian nobleman, lute-player......and murderer.  That's about the best one can say about his personal life.  He murdered his first wife after she had an affair with a cross-dressing duke.  His second wife accused a couple of Carlo's lovers of being involved in witchcraft whereupon they were then put on trial.  One of them confessed, albeit under torture, that she had tricked Gesualdo into drinking her menstrual blood.  (I swear I'm not making this up).  Apparently all the extra-marital hanky-panky finally got to Gesualdo as he later claimed he was afflicted by hordes of demons that would only leave him alone if a group of young men violently beat him three times a day.  It's believed that one of these masochistic trysts was ultimately responsible for his death.

3.  Richard Wagner...perhaps one of the better-known ones on this list.  As if being an ardent anti-Semite and a favourite of Hitler didn't make him notorious enough, Wagner suffered from skin lesions throughout his life and sought to cure them by giving himself enemas.  There were also rumours (based on some of his private correspondence) that he had an interest in cross-dressing. Some letters request lacy flourishes and feminine touches to his clothing.   To gain inspiration for his opera 'Parsifal' (a favourite of Hitler's), he surrounded himself with rose-scented cushions and bathed in perfume.  When he died he was rumoured to have been wearing a pink dressing gown.

4. Jean Sibelius...a 19th/20th century Finnish composer wrote a piano concerto and a violin concerto that are staples of the classical repertoire.  In his private life though, he was a bit a jerk who drove his wife into a sanitarium before becoming unstable himself.  (As an aside, he had a love of Wagner, but without all the pink frilly stuff).  Once into his 40's, Sibelius developed a passion for dining on champagne and lobster (but wouldn't we all?) and began to smoke and drink excessively.  So excessively in fact, that he had to undergo surgery to remove a cancerous tumour from his throat.  While he did sober up, he fell back into drink again and did a Britney Spears by shaving his head.  His alcoholism afflicted him such that from about 1926 until his death in 1957 he almost entirely gave up up composition.  He tore up and burned the manuscript of his 8th symphony, claiming that after his 7th, he didn't feel he could write a better one.

5.  Anton Brucker...a 19th century Austrian composer, who was another Hitler favourite, by the way.  Anton suffered from an obsession with counting things.  He would keep lists of how many "Hail Marys" he recited every night and feverishly poured over his own symphonies to ensure that every single bar conformed with his own hidden numerical pattern.  He also is said to have had an obsession with teenage girls which is rather creepy.  Bruckner was also present when the graves of Beethoven and Schubert were dug up and moved to another cemetery.  During both occasions, he grabbed the skulls of each composer and only let go when said skulls were pried from his hands.

6.  Arnold Schoenberg...was another early 20th century German composer credited as one of the first practitioners of 12-tone music.  Luckily for him, an octave only contains 12 semi-tones because Schoenberg suffered from triskaidekaphobia, the irrational fear of the number 13.    When he realized that one of the title of his opera "Moses and Aaron" had 13 letters, he changed the name of the opera slightly to "Moses and Aron".  He was also born on September 13.  He died on a Friday the 13th, aged 76 (7+6=13).

7.  Robert Schumann...was one of the great 19th-century German composers known especially for his piano works.  Not only did Robert love the piano, he also seems to have liked young girls.  (And while the historian part of me tells me that for the time this wasn't as creepy as it might seem today, I can't help but get a little weirded out by it.)  When he was 24, Robert became involved with the 16-year-old daughter of a noblemen....but after discovering she was illegitimate, he dumped her.    The following year, he became to become romantically involved with his 15-year-old piano student, Clara Wieck.  Clara's father, who was actually one of Robert's early piano teachers forbid the two to have anything to do with each other but after a great deal of animosity and court proceedings, the couple eventually wed the day before Clara's 21st birthday.  A device Robert devised to strengthen the fingers of his right hand eventually damaged it to the point where he had to give up his concert career.    Towards the end of this life, Schumann became increasingly melancholic and jumped off a bridge in to the Rhine.  After being rescued he spent the rest of his days in an asylum.

8.  Bedrich Smetana...a 19th-century Czech composer I'm actually quite fond of so I don't want to bash him too much.  He's probably the tamest one on the list.  (Side note...I was able to visit his grave as well the church were his funeral was held during a trip to Prague).  Smetana went deaf by the time he was 50.  The last two years of his life were marred by bouts of insomnia, hallucinations and loss of speech.  His behaviour became increasingly erratic and even violent at times, once greatly disturbing his friends at a private reception.

9.  Alexander Scriabin...a late 19th/early 20th century Russian composer, of whose piano music (like Sibelius, Schoenberg, Schumann, and Smetana) I've played a little growing up.  Some of his harmonies are just bizarre.  Scriabin was heavy in to mysticism and was prone to synesthesia (where you associate a certain color for every tone of the musical scale.)  He wrote a symphonic work which featured a "color organ".  This piece was rarely performed, even during his own lifetime.  Scriabin later died of septicaemia from an infected pimple on his lip and so many people attended his funeral that tickets had to be sold.

10.  Frantisek Kotzwara...a Czech composer about whom I have to admit I know more about how he died than anything he actually composed.  Yes, this would be the X-rated entry on the list if ever there was one.   As the story goes, during a 1791 trip to London Frantisek took on the services of a "lady of the night", shall we say.  He paid her 2 shillings and asked her to cut off his manhood.  When she refused he tied one end of a rope around a doorknob and the other end around his neck and proceeded to have intercourse with her, after which he died of strangulation.  The prostitute, while charged with his murder, was later found not guilty by the court and Kotzwara went on to collect his Darwin Award.

And this was just the short list.  I didn't include Grieg, who kept a porcelain frog in his pocket and rubbed it, believing it would bring him good luck or Salieri who went insane and raved about having murdered Mozart.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Lougheed House: An Alberta Treasure

One place I was really interested in seeing while I was in Calgary was Lougheed House.  Given that it was Sunday, I didn't expect it to be open but I figured that at least I would get a few photos and enjoy some decent temperatures while I waited to check in to my hotel.   As it turned out, it was open and I ended up spending well over an hour there.

A provincial and national historic site, this residence, which celebrates its 125th anniversary this year, is a true gem.  Built in 1891, by Senator Laughed James Alexander Lougheed (grandfather to later Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed)it is the only structure of its kind in Western Canada.  It's sandstone construction (like that of many of the historic structures that grace 8th Avenue) owes itself to the Calgary Fire of 1886.) Wood was out, sandstone was in.  Growing up in southern Ontario, with its stone and brick heritage buildings in places like Cobourg, Picton, Port Hope, Kingston and Brockville, I was struck by how it reminded a little of what one might see parts of Ontario.

Loved the stone work, loved the hand-carved wood, loved the traces of the original wall paper that were discovered.  If I gush anymore, I'll enter a state of incoherence.  There is a little restaurant there, I should add.  Having loaded up on coffee after my bus trip, I wasn't particularly hungry, though the smells from the kitchen created a very pleasant atmosphere in which to explore this lovely property.

A chance conversation with one of the ladies at the front desk led to them giving me a rough map of some of the other historic buildings in Calgary's city centre which has me looking forward to another trip to do some more exploring.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Living the Childhood Dream

After a great night in Edmonton, I was once again up early Saturday morning for a shorter trip down to Calgary.  This concert had been on my radar for a couple of months.  It featured a piece I have been wanting to see performed live for almost as long as I can remember.  Not only that but it was to be performed by Canadian pianist Angela Hewitt, whose Bach interpretations I absolutely adore.  I was pretty much prepared to crawl there on broken glass if I had to.

The piece that had me prepared to undertake this Herculean task was the Robert Schumann Piano Concerto, easily one of my all-time favourite works.  Angela Hewitt was just brilliant and I had to step outside during the intermission to stop myself from shaking.  It's quite an experience to have a piece of music move you like that.  My inner 10-year-old emerged at times and I was surprised that the elderly matrons seated on either side of me didn't admonish me to sit still in my seat.

Anyhow, after I had calmed down for the second half of the evening, the CPO ended the evening with Brahms' 2nd Symphony.  The orchestra will be performing all four of the Brahms' symphonies this season and unfortunately this is the only one I will be able to see.   It's been awhile since I've heard a lot of Brahm's.  Having been a pianist, I tend to think of him in terms of his piano output and smaller works but as a orchestra writer, Brahms truly was the heir to Beethoven.  His writing for winds was just lovely and having dabbled with french horn in high school, I really appreciated his writing for that instrument in particular as well as some of the oboe parts.  Maestro Minczuk's handling of the piece was superb, from the tempo, the balance, the phrasing and the shaping of the harmonies.  Here was a man who knew the piece inside out and backwards and showed a master's touch in its performance.  That final movement was breath-taking.  What more can I really say?

The evening's concert also included a rarely heard work by a female composer, Clara Schumann, 3 Romances for Violin and Orchestra with the CPO's concertmaster, Diana Cohen as soloist.  Clara Schumann was rather accomplished for her time as a composer and pianist in an era when this was rarely, if ever, encouraged.  Certainly she did a commendable job at promoting and performing the music of her husband, Robert Schumann but in an age dominated almost exclusively by men, she can certainly hold her own.

Downtown Calgary looking east along 9th Avenue.

I stayed that evening in the Hotel Palliser, a Calgary landmark and sister hotel of the Hotel MacDonald from the night before.   (Interesting side note....the Palliser and the MacDonald are not only the oldest hotels in either respective city but were also the first two places to be granted liquor licences after Alberta ended Prohibition.)  It was a challenge to get a decent photo given the tight quarters (Calgary's downtown seems to have a fetish with office towers) so this was the best I could manage.  While the MacDonald's foyer sported some nice wood features, the Palliser was replete with some wonderful marble columns and I regret not having taken any photos of the interior.  My room didn't quite have the view that I did in Edmonton, but nonetheless, the room was very nice and I slept like a log after two very long and eventful days.

Another shot of the Palisser along with the Calgary Tower along 9th Avenue.

....that tower....again.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Friday Night at the Symphony

Normally getting on a bus for me at an early hour means heading off to work but this weekend was a welcome exception to the rule as I took in a couple of symphony concerts in Edmonton and Calgary.  Initially I wasn't expecting to see Friday's performance of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra.  I had planned to see the Calgary Philharmonic the following evening and for whatever reason had it in my head that Edmonton's concert fell on the same evening leaving me to choose between the two.  Since Calgary was featuring Canadian pianist Angela Hewitt in a work I've been longing to see performed live since I was in my early teens (more on that in my next post), I chose the Calgary date.

When I re-visited the ESO website a few days later to check on future concerts, I discovered that Saturday's concert would also be held on the Friday, meaning that I now had the option of attending both Edmonton AND Calgary.  It did involve a lot of travel in a short span of time as I left for Edmonton Friday, left early Saturday to Calgary for that performance and then returned home Sunday.  But of course it was well worth it.

I did experience one moment of angst on the trip down as the bus had some sort of issue with an air hose that delayed us for the better part of an hour in Grassland.    I had dark thoughts of getting out and walking as I had had this trip planned for close to a month but in the month we made it to Edmonton.  The delay did produce one positive though as it ate in to the time I had wait before I could check in to my hotel.  I was still a bit early in any event and spent some time ensconced in the Confederation Lounge at the Hotel MacDonald reading my book and sipping a pretty nice Cabernet Franc.

I was hoping for a photo from the other side of the hotel overlooking the river valley but I wasn't too keen on dodging cars on Jasper Avenue.  In any event, I'm glad I treated myself to a night at the "Mac".

Not only was it a very short distance to the concert venue but it had a wonderful old-world charm it and the view from my room wasn't too bad either.

I absolutely love historic buildings and as I was to discover, this lovely old hotel was just the appetizer.

Friday's concert with the ESO featured pianist Stewart Goodyear in Saint-Saens Piano Concerto no. 5, "The Egyptian" and Mendelssohn's Symphony no. 3 "The Scottish".  I have to confess I'm not that familiar with either of these works.  I'm better acquainted with Mendelssohn's Symphony no.4 "The Italian" from my student days but both works were well done as far as my limited exposure to them could tell.  In contrast to the last guest conductor in Edmonton last month who I thought rather reserved in his conductor, Friday evening's conductor was rather more histrionic, almost to the point of distraction at times.  All in all, however, a very nice evening and not too bad of a seat choice either.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Great Backyard Bird Count 2016 Edition

After a 4 year hiatus, I was able to participate more fully in this year's Great Backyard Bird Count which I touched on in a couple of previous posts and which wrapped up this past Monday.  Fortunately this year I was off for most of it, hitting six locations in over the course of the 4 days.  The home front, MacDonald Island, The Snye, Birchwood Trail, the river valley and even Suncor base plant proved to be some pretty good spots.  I worked the last day but was able to do a count throughout the day on my down time.  Suncor isn't exactly a place where you'll get good variety but it is good for getting impressive numbers of ravens if you're keen on ratcheting up your numbers.

I find the event quite useful for two main reasons, aside from the obvious benefit of getting out into the great outdoors for a bit.  It allows me to get a sense of what species in our area people are seeing and also gives me ideas of where to explore in other parts of both Alberta and British Columbia.  I ended up seeing 12 species which was slightly better than what I hoped.  I was pretty confident starting out that I would see around 10 without too much effort which is about par for me for this time of year.    There were 26 species reported for Fort McMurray and area so I almost reached the halfway point.  Most of the ones I didn't see were species of owls ptarmigan and grouse which I'd have a better chance of seeing outside city limits.

I probably could have hit 15 species but no gray jays,  hairy woodpeckers, or northern flickers crossed my path.  Still, I won't complain as I did spot boreal chickadees and a couple three-toed woodpeckers which are rather hit and miss on my year lists.    Evening grosbeaks have also been hit or miss.  I recorded a sighting of one single individual a few days prior to the count but none decided to grace my front yard trees during the weekend.  We also have white-winged crossbills and red-breasted nut-hatches which I still haven't seen yet inspire of living here almost 6 years.  But then again, if I saw everything there was to see right away, there would be no challenge.

Here, then, is the list of what I was able to see.  At the risk of indulging in self-aggrandizement, I did record the second highest number of species reported in the Fort McMurray area.

- Common Raven
- Black-capped Chickadee
- Pine Grosbeak
- Black-billed Magpie
- Boreal Chickadee
- Bohemian Waxwing
- Common Redpoll
- Hoary Redpoll
- American Three-toed Woodpecker
- House Sparrow
- Blue Jay
- Rock Pigeon

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Birchwood Trail in Winter

I hadn't really planned to get out today for day 3 of the Great Backyard Bird Count partly because I had to get a jump on doing a few things in order to head back to work tomorrow.  But given the mild weather we've been having lately, I couldn't help but take one more kick at the proverbially can.  At this point I've seen most of what I can reasonably expect to see here for the time of year, but you never know.

It's been some time before I walked the Birchwood Trail (a number of intertwining trails actually)  and I had never done it winter before.  I was also a little hesitant given there had been reports of a mountain lion spotted here late last week but given the number of people I saw out skiing or walking their dog, the increased activity helped put my mind at ease.

Almost all the trails are named after animals and I think I still have yet to see the entire system.

One of the handful of bridges crossing a very frozen Conn Creek.

While the human traffic may have frightened away any wildlife that may have wanted to use me for an afternoon snack, it did make bird watching more of a challenge.    While I heard plenty of chickadees and ravens I wasn't seeing much and I began to wonder if this would just end up being a pleasant mid-winter stroll.

It wasn't until I got around to a quieter section of trail that my luck changed.  I heard the sound of a woodpecker somewhere in the brush which actually took me a lot longer to locate than I had thought.  I probably stood along the trail for the better part of 10 minutes hoping against hope.   Patience is a virtue though and I persisted until I finally visually located him at the base of a tree several feet away.  Of course once I got my binoculars trained on him he darted around the back side of the tree and I had to wait a couple more minutes for him to come around the other side.  I was expecting to see a Hairy Woodpecker as it looked to be about the right size but rather than a red cap on its head, this one had a yellow one.  As it turned out I had just spotted my first three-toed woodpecker of the year, a welcome edition to my year list given that I didn't see one last year.  It was easily my most challenging woodpecker id in some time.  I forget how spoiled I am when I can see quite a few species with ease simply by looking out my kitchen window.   As if to make up for the trouble I soon spotted a second one a few minutes later, which I identified in a fraction of the time.

Yet another bridge to cross.

Another view of Conn Creek.  The ice looked like it was starting to soften up.

So the outing turned out much better than I thought it would.  I'm back to work tomorrow so unless some sort of owl or hawk comes along and lands on a scaffold I won't have anything more to add to my list for the bird count.  All in all a great weekend though and I'll do a wrap up of how my final results for the Great Backyard Bird Count went in the coming week.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Back to the Snye and MacDonald Island

Having exhausted the number of bird species I can reasonably expect to see around the house, I decided to expand my territory somewhat and do a little bird watching down around the Snye and MacDonald Island. It's actually been quite awhile since I had been there and while I have headed there for a little bird-watching in the past, its not something I've tried this time of year. It was a bit chilly and overcast but bearable and nothing like the cold that the eastern part of the country is getting hammered with at the moment so I really couldn't complain.

The Snye as seen from the causeway to MacDonald Island.

I wasn't really sure what I would see for birds given that it was rather gloomy and I didn't get out of the house until a bit later in the morning than I had hoped.  I was hopeful to see some woodpeckers or perhaps a blue jay but in terms of variety of species Lady Luck just wasn't with me today.

The one thing that I did get to see was Shell Place, the new sports field that was completed last summer.  While I had been down there while it was under construction this was the first time I had a chance to see the finished product.  It's actually quite a lot bigger than I thought it would be.  When I first came through Fort McMurray and walked through MacDonald Island a dozen years ago, many of the places I walked through to day were just wide open space.  It certainly looks a lot different from then or from even how I remembered it a year ago.  While I was hoping to get some more photos of it, shortly after taking these next two photos, my camera died (or rather, the batteries in the camera did).

I missed out on some decent shots of the river I was hoping to take but I made the best of my outing.  I took a trail down to the tip of the island near the confluence of the Athabasca and the Clearwater and had lots of space for myself.  After fretting over the camera, I soon forgot about it and enjoyed a rather nice walk.

As for my bird count, while I didn't get the variety of species I wanted, I made up for it somewhat in terms of numbers of individuals and I did see my first Rock Doves of the year.

1.  Common Raven - 42
2. Rock Dove - 6
3. Black-billed Magpie - 5
4. House Sparrow - 4
5. Black-capped Chickadee - 4

Thursday, February 11, 2016

A Little Winter Birding

A couple posts back I mentioned how February can be a bit of a black hole for me in terms of birding. A milder than usual winter and the arrival of some new binoculars however provided just the right amount of impetus to head outdoors.  I decided to check out a trail I usually only take once the snow melts.  Its actually been quite awhile since I'd walked it.  I wasn't sure what to expect, though the ground conditions were pretty decent.  And the lack of foliage provided a pretty decent view of the river valley.

I walked several hundred yards before I even saw anything.  The crunch of the snow under my boots loudly announced my presence.  Once I reached the lip of the valley I started stopping along the path to give a good listen in the hopes that I wouldn't spook any anything.  Eventually, this started to pay dividends.

I expected to see a couple species of woodpeckers but other than the ubiquitous raven and a couple of blue jays, the forest instead seemed to be alive with quite a few boreal chickadees and black-capped chickadees.  This little guy was pretty brave as he fluttered right by my head and even perched long enough to allow me a half-decent photo for once.

I ended up doing perhaps half the trail before turning back once it started to get a bit cold on the face. The binoculars work like a charm too, I should add....fairly light and easy to grip. A big change from the old clunky pair I had before. In any event I found I didn't need them all that much given that I had great sight lines and I saw species that I could readily identify as they are all pretty common for this time of year here. So all told 5 species sighted, 2 of which were first sightings for the year.

1. Common Raven
2. Black-billed Magpie
3. Blue Jay
4. Boreal Chickadee
5. Black-capped Chickadee

Friday, February 5, 2016

My Letter To David Yurdiga

I promised myself that I wouldn't get too caught up in politics this year on the blog but sometimes there are issues that are just too important.  It's difficult to ignore the reality that our region has been hit particularly hard in recent months after the price of oil tanked.  According to Statistics Canada, unemployment has risen 40% since January 2015.  And of course, being the political hot potato that it is, it didn't take long for the political talking heads to start tongue-wagging.  Everyone from the Prime Minister to the Premier to the Leader of the Provincial Opposition has been in the news as of late voicing concern, angst, possible solutions (for better or worse) or some way of mitigating the effects of this on our region.  One voice seems to be missing from the discourse however and this concerns me.  I read the news religiously after work and have yet to hear a word from our MP, David Yurdiga.

Rather than freak out on the guy on my blog or on Facebook, which, yes, I have done in the past of sorts.  I decided instead to send him an email.  I'm very interested to hear back from him and hold out hopes that he will actually respond (hey, I'm still an optimist).  Here's what I sent him.....

Dear Mr. Yurdiga,

I am contacting you as I have become increasingly concerned due to your apparent silence in the face of rising unemployment in the riding of Fort McMurray-Cold Lake.  According to Stats Canada, unemployment in our region has risen by an astonishing 40% since January 2015.  While I realize that no politician, political party or government can control the significant drop in the price of oil,  I am disappointed by the fact that you seem to have very little to say about the matter in terms of support for your constituents or an action plan of some fashion to cushion the effects of this downturn.

I follow many media sources and while our Prime Minister, Premier and Leader of the Provincial Opposition have all spoken on this matter, it would appear that your voice is missing from the discourse.    Why is that?  I've heard more from Brad Wall.  Why should I stand up for you on election day and vote for you when you don't seem very motivated to stand up and support those who put you in Parliament?  I do hope I'm wrong but at this point in time I really can't help feeling disappointment and the nagging impression that you really don't seem to care.  I realize that this is complex issue but your voice seems to be missing.  During the election campaign your campaign literature I received  consistently mentioned the importance of the economy and keeping Albertans working.  So what's changed?  Was it all just political rhetoric?  Speaking for a mere 8 minutes in Parliament  as you reportedly did during the last Parliament just doesn't cut it, especially on an issue of this level of importance.

Darcy Steele

Fort McMurray

I should add that while the letter seems to suggest that I voted for him, I didn't.  By my own admission, I've done a few stupid things in my life but voting for Yurdiga certainly wasn't one of them.  At any rate, I'm very interested to see if he will actually take the time to respond and what that response will be.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Black Hole

I ended 2015 with a pretty modest bird list and hope of surpassing that number for this year.  February tends to be a bit of a black hole for me since by mid-January I've tended to see all of the usual suspects that over-winter and that tend to frequent the bird feeders in my yard.  My list then tends to gather a bit of dust with very few additions until late-March or early April when either all the migrating species start to show up in the yard or the weather warms up and allows me to venture out a bit more.

Overall, we've had a pretty tame winter so perhaps this year the February "black hole" will be filled up a bit more.  I'm especially encouraged since my bird list is now up to a grand total of 11 (pretty much from just looking out my kitchen window here) and for the past three years it's taken in to early April before I hit 11 species.  Hopefully this will mean a banner year for me.  I'm aware of a few local birders who can hit around 200 species in a year and while I won't be giving their totals any serious competition, I do find it useful to peruse their lists online to get a sense of what can be seen here.  I have a few favourite spots around town and it helps to see what the possibilities are in terms of what I might see in the future.

One way I'm hoping to fix my little February black hole is to participate once again in this year's Great Backyard Bird Count.  It's something I've taken part in in the past but the last couple of years unfortunately saw me working for most of it.  This year I happily find myself on days off for the majority of it.

I've made it a goal though to do my best to get a few more species for my list and beat the February rut.  I'm on pace at the moment to see over 130 species which would put me over the moon if I did happen.  To get even close to that I'll really have to up my game as we head in to the Spring.  This past month was my best January in terms of species since I started keeping track about 4 or 5 years ago so I do have my work cut out for me.  But I do love that challenge.

Here is my birding list for January.  Nothing really earth-shattering, really, though the flocks of Canada Geese I saw down in Calgary were an early bonus since we won't see them here for a little while yet.

1.  Common Raven
2. Black-billed Magpie
3.  Downy Woodpecker
4. Pine Grosbeak
5. Common Redpoll
6. House Sparrow
7. Black-capped Chickadee
8. Bohemian Waxwing
9. Rock Dove
10. Canada Goose
11. Hoary Redpoll