Field Notes from an Unintentional Birder: A Memoir

Field Notes from an Unintentional Birder: A Memoir

by Julia Zarankin


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A writer discovers an unexpected passion for birding, along with a new understanding of the world and her own place in it.

When Julia Zarankin saw her first red-winged blackbird at the age of thirty-five, she didn’t expect that it would change her life. Recently divorced and auditioning hobbies during a stressful career transition, she stumbled on birdwatching, initially out of curiosity for the strange breed of humans who wear multi-pocketed vests, carry spotting scopes and discuss the finer points of optics with disturbing fervor. What she never could have predicted was that she would become one of them. Not only would she come to identify proudly as a birder, but birding would ultimately lead her to find love, uncover a new language and lay down her roots.

Field Notes from an Unintentional Birder tells the story of finding meaning in midlife through birds. The book follows the peregrinations of a narrator who learns more from birds than she ever anticipated, as she begins to realize that she herself is a migratory species: born in the former Soviet Union, growing up in Vancouver and Toronto, studying and working in the United States and living in Paris. Coming from a Russian immigrant family of concert pianists who believed that the outdoors were for “other people,” Julia Zarankin recounts the challenges and joys of unexpectedly discovering one’s wild side and finding one’s tribe in the unlikeliest of places.

Zarankin’s thoughtful and witty anecdotes illuminate the joyful experience of a new discovery and the surprising pleasure to be found while standing still on the edge of a lake at six a.m. In addition to confirmed nature enthusiasts, this book will appeal to readers of literary memoir, offering keen insight on what it takes to find one’s place in the world.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781771622486
Publisher: Douglas and McIntyre (2013) Ltd.
Publication date: 10/13/2020
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 46,834
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Julia Zarankin is a writer and self-proclaimed birdsplainer with a particular fondness for sewage lagoons. Her writing has appeared in The Walrus, Orion Magazine, Threepenny Review, Antioch Review, Birding Magazine, Maisonneuve, The New Quarterly, Ontario Nature and The Globe and Mail. Zarankin’s essays are also featured in several anthologies. She won the Eden Mills Writers’ Festival nonfiction prize and has been first runner-up for PRISM International’s nonfiction prize, a finalist for the TNQ Edna Staebler Personal Essay Contest and twice longlisted for the CBC Nonfiction Prize. Her birding/life aspirations: “To sport the hairdo of a Cedar Waxwing, acquire the wardrobe of a Northern Flicker and develop the confidence of a Ross’s Goose.” She lives in Toronto, ON.

Table of Contents

Interior Decorating 9

A Semi-Retired Hen 12

Spark Bird 18

The Wrong Kind of Science 24

And Then What? 32

Deerkill and Other Beginnings 38

Intraspecific Variability 49

The Migratory Urge 57


The Glamour of Birding 79

Hope 86

Life Lessons 91

Nemesis Birds 100

Bravery School 106

The Wanderer 116

The Big Hummingbird 125

Not Even a Rock Pigeon 133

Zen Birder 143

The More You See, the More You Want to See 150

The Little Bee-Eater and the Steppe Buzzard 154

Snowy Owl 160

What's Your Favourite Bird? 171

Headache 176

My Wild Side 184

A Mistake Won't Kill You 198

The Twitch 206

Celebrity Bird 212

Birdsplainer in Training 218

For the Nuances of Waterfowl 225

Going Solo 232

The Tufted Wood Thrush 239

Coda: My Birding CV 247

Acknowledgements 250

Birding Resources 254

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