Yesterday I saw a Dark-eyed Junco while I was walking my dog. It was the Slate-colored form, of course. No more candybox Juncos for me, nor Cassin’s Finches, nor Bohemian Waxwings, nor Black-billed Magpies, nor confiding Red-breasted Nuthatches alighting on me as I fill the feeder. No feeder at all, in fact, no American Goldfinch, no Song Sparrows even unless I go looking for them. And definitely no Northern Shrike blasting in out of nowhere to snatch one of the aforementioned.

Educational sign about American Dippers, Greenough Park

And definitely none of these.

It’s enough to make a person glum, especially when I see not one but two Northern Shrikes – an adult and a brownish youngster – turning up on the Dunrovin webcam in the past weeks. For some reason, this is the year that the masked butcherbirds have been around in my corners of Montana, with as many sightings for me in 2014 as in the rest of my life (including the other three years I lived in Montana) combined.

That said, my new fourth-floor balcony isn’t nothing. Besides the continual presence of the House Sparrows and European Starlings and the Rock Pigeons that some senior citizens on the next block insist on feeding until they constitute a terrifying swarm of musty-smelling avian thunder, I’ve put together something not unlike a yard list on my daily walks with Dublin. A Chipping Sparrow came up to see us once. A Ruby-crowned Kinglet and that aforementioned Junco have both appeared lower, in the street trees. We have American and Fish Crows, Ring-billed Gulls in abundance, Chimney Swifts in the distance, and once a Sharp-shinned Hawk, which is almost like a shrike in terms of the potential for havoc.

Philosophically, I refuse to bemoan my renewed urban existence. I’ve always held that we need to see cities as habitats and work to embrace and enhance them, if we are to have any chance at all of maintaining the human connection with nature. I can’t afford to mistake remoteness for value, no matter how cool that Great Gray Owl was, nor can I succumb to nostalgia when I can get on the N train and ride to Bryant Park at will.

But I’m not going to think of 2014 as the Year of the Horrifying Number of Pigeons, when I look back.

Written by Carrie
Carrie Laben, after years of writing and birding in New York, moved to Montana to pursue her two great passions more effectively. She recently graduated with an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from the University of Montana in Missoula. When she is not cranking out essays and speculative fiction stories, or wandering around on mountains failing to see the birds she is looking for, she is likely to be drinking one of the many fine local microbrews or attending a potluck with something from the local farmer’s market in hand. On Mondays from 3 to 3:30 Mountain Time you can find her answering questions about birds on live chat at