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Rock pigeons, mysterious sparrow vanishings and a new toque

Our birding columnist, Chris Blomme, is in a reflective mood as 2017 dawns
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Overcast with a chance of rain, only -3 Celsius outside and this is how 2017 arrives in our area. 

Rock pigeons are freely clustered around a slice of offered white bread just across the street from CBC as I walk by. Two European starlings; European, because they were introduced around the 1890s in New York’s Central Park, fly from an open window area in one of the downtown renovation projects. 

No doubt they have a warm temporary niche in one of the buildings at night and are leaving some gifts on the floor. 

I have to kill some time while waiting for an appointment so I walk by several regulars on the street and make my way into the downtown mall that use to be Sudbury’s sole mecca. Winter promises to be cold for bird watching and nothing beats a warm head like the colourful touques of wool made in Nepal. 

I decide to visit one of the more unique stores in the mall and check out his fine collection of hats and mitts. Entering the portal, I break a beam of hidden light and off goes a Christmas tune to announce an arrival. A very friendly and sincere greeting awaits from a gentleman sitting low behind a counter.

The New Year is a start of meeting new people and having new experiences. I casually ask the owner if Christmas was good to him and with a friendly response he says, “It was.” We get into a brief conversation about Buddha, Christ and other religions and how life can be good or bad, but to face these challenges, we can always think about others and how they may have had to cope with their individual and group challenges. 

Quiet a conversation while looking for a hat! We ended our chance meeting on a friendly note with the caveat that a positive outlook certainly helps the day go by.

As I leave the mall, the outside walkway and snow triggers some reminiscent thoughts about the time the mall was called Bonimart, and a time when Eaton’s was here. 

A bird we took for granted lived along the eaves of the upper parking lot and would use the Virginia creeper that used to attach itself to the walls of the adjacent buildings. House sparrows were introduced at the turn of the past century like the European starlings. They made their way across much of the country over the years and had been established in Greater Sudbury, numbering in the hundreds downtown.

Sudbury’s annual Christmas bird count says it all. In 1981, there were 1,361 house sparrows counted. In 1991, there were 162 counted. Ten years later in 2001, there were none found, and have not been seen since during the count. 

Their disappearance is a mystery, but habitat changes, insect availability and a possible disease are not ruled out. The species can still be found in other larger cities like Toronto.

It might be expressed as part of the yin and yang of wildlife. Some species do well, become established and last a long time in a given area, while other species come across an obstacle that alters their lifestyle. Sudbury is no different in offering these changes as time moves on. 

As for the hat, orange and white seems good this year.

Chris Blomme is an executive member of the Sudbury Ornithological Society and works with animals at Laurentian University. Have a question for Chris? Send it to editor@sudbury.com.



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