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Peter Black

Local Journalism Initiative reporter

It is one of the mysteries of nature why some birds migrate and others don’t. In some cases the answer is obvious. Hard to imagine a skinny blue heron surviving in the ice and snow; same for the hyperactive hummingbird. But why do sparrows and cardinals stay put while robins and juncos high-tail it south each fall?

The junco, one learns, is also known as the snowbird, and, one also learns, the little grey and white bird apparently inspired the term to describe human types who flock south for the winter, most commonly to Florida. Sorry, Anne Murray (whose new Christmas album was just released)!

Snowbirds, the Canadian human variety, are in a quandary these days. Whereas our feathered friends are exempt from border restrictions and can come and go as they please, such is not the case for the RV-helming, time-sharing folks from Farnham to Fermont seeking winter refuge in the Sunshine State.

Some are finding ways around the border barricade as the ban on non-essential road traffic threatens to stretch into the new year. Necessity, and the desperation for palms and surf, is the mother of invention, it seems.

We read of a Montreal-area company, for example, offering a clever, although perhaps dubiously legal, service to eager snowbirds willing to shell out a few greenbacks.

The company’s legally licenced commercial transport drivers will drive your RV across the border to Plattsburgh, N.Y. The RV owners then board a small plane at the Saint-Hubert airport that flies them to the Plattsburgh airport where, after going through a bunch of paperwork, they claim their vehicle. The hired RV drivers, meanwhile, hop back on the plane and return to Quebec.

As long as people stay less than 24 hours in any given state on their way to Florida, there’s no obligation to quarantine – or so we are told.

The cost of the service is $1,000 for the RV driver’s service, plus $500 per plane ticket (for a 15-minute flight).

Such a pricey ploy may be fine for some RV fans, but other snowbirds who normally drive south to their winter digs face a dilemma. According to the Canadian Snowbird Association, about 70 per cent of Quebecers who go south for the winter choose to drive their own cars. The other 30 per cent will fly, and some of those will pay a rather hefty fee to have their vehicle driven to Florida.

But flying these days, even with masks and other measures in place, is fraught with risk, and dramatically fewer of the usual migration of 250,000 Quebec snowbirds will take the risk. Those who do make it to Florida uninfected must then contend with a place that, as of this writing, is experiencing a frightening surge in COVID cases, as is the situation all across the United States.

So, assuming there’s a COVID chill on travel to sunnier climes this winter, what are the options for frustrated snowbirds? If only Canada had accepted the overtures of the Turks and Caicos Islands to be annexed and become the 11th province when we had the chance!

Given that snowbirds flee Canada because they loathe the long winter, and also that most of them are older and retired, it’s unlikely there’ll be a surge in vigorous outdoor activity on the home front such as skiing and snowshoeing. Walking the beach and a game of golf are generally more the right speed for a snowbird.

There’s always travel within Canada to more clement spots if you’re willing to fly. Some are suggesting balmy Victoria, B.C. as a comfortable place to escape the frozen east, with an average January temperature of 8 C compared to Florida’s 14 C. (We won’t mention the rain). What the quaint city may lack in early-bird dinner specials is more than compensated with tea rooms.

Realistically, it follows that many folks who normally head south at this time of year will end up hunkering down with the rest of us homebodies, grit their teeth, put on their masks and parkas, and hope a vaccine arrives before the real snowbirds head north again.

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