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When we last Skyped, Gill complained about the latest storm to cross the pond and try to blow down her flat. The gales off the sea were horrific.  It just so happened (and I’m writing this blog ahead of time to be published in April) that the same day, we here in Southern Ontario were basking in sunshine and mild spring temperatures. It is this kind of weather that turns me into a stalker…a nice one, but a stalker nonetheless. I am stalking signs of spring.

It has been a relatively benign winter here and as I walk the neighborhood, I look for bulbs popping up, pussy willows in bloom, and of course, birds. I have certain critical dates marked on my calendar: Last robin cited in the autumn (Dec. 5), last time I heard a red-winged blackbird warble in the marshy area (Oct. 15). Now I’m looking for the first robin to return, the first flowers to bloom, the first chipmunks to race across my deck for The Pig’s delight.

I was rewarded last week (early March) with the sight of five robins clustered together on exposed grass. In the tree just above them was a flock of twittering cedar waxwings. I’ve seen sprouting bulbs, pussy willows and this morning I heard the unmistakeable warble of a blackbird from the area around the local dump. (It’s not that I’ve intentionally expanded my stalking to this unsavory spot, it’s just that the dump happens to be located near the pet store where I spent a fortune buying bird seed for my canaries for the time I’ll be gone. That was my weight-lifting done for the day! (They eat through a bag a week and with six bags plus Mrs. Beeton’s (the pink parakeet) food, I could barely lift the supply.) Strange, for all the seed they go through, they never gain weight! Humans should be so lucky.

The neighbours must wonder about my walking/stalking technique. I’ll power walk for a time, gazing from side to side as I look for birds, then stop and gaze for a few minutes into a tree. Or if I hear a familiar bird call, I’ll search in the trees until I discover it. Nothing strange at all about a woman gazing for five minutes into a tree…

I like taking The Pig on walks since she broadens my stalking boundaries. She stalks mostly rabbits — especially the ones that hide along perimeter fences, under prickly bushes, beneath huge evergreens. We both end up muddy and covered in burrs and I must say, although she’s a lovely and willing companion stalker, her technique leaves much to be desired. When she finds a rabbit, her tail starts wagging quickly and she howls. I guess she’s trying to scare it from its hiding place but it’s more likely to annoy the neighbours and prompt them to call 911. One has to be subtle when stalking but, being a beagle, The Pig hasn’t mastered the finer points of furtive stalking.

One always (if you’re me) has to be careful not to raise the ire of the local crows when stalking. There are a few in my yard — probably the same group that have been here for years. They didn’t like Poochie since she always barked at them when we were walking together and, having amazing memories, they look at me as if sussing out lunch when I now pass on my stalking duties. It makes no difference to them that I have a different dog, one that doesn’t bark. But I don’t want to piss them off!

I know Gill is going to laugh at my stalking habit but she’s not one to talk. When she’s home during the summer, she walks the trails looking for critters, birds, and anything generally interesting in the way of nature. Sometimes she stalks people but she finds the natural world more intriguing. When she was young, she was given a delightful book filled with watercolor prints of a little girl in a Holly Hobbie bonnet and pinafore dress that was entitled ‘The Casual Observer’. And that’s exactly what Gill is. The nut doesn’t fall far from the tree, I suppose. Or did I mean acorn? Perhaps a Freudian slip on my part! I’m an observer but not that casual. I dedicate myself to it — especially when it concerns the pending arrival of birds from their wintering grounds in the south. So I’ve marked my sightings on this year’s calendar. Let spring begin!

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