Did you say TEST ?!?


Here’s my favorite poster I hung on the classroom wall during my first year of teaching, 1993

Well, it’s exam season in the Environmental Science class I teach.. But this round, the students aren’t the only ones being “tested.”

I’ve been wanting to tell you my MOST exciting news about my recent excursion to Cape May for the pelagic trip!  I’m sorry to leave you hanging for so long. I’m sure many of you understand what I’ve been doing since my last post… I’ve been doing the ‘mom thing’ and the ‘work thing’.  Next post about that coming soon. And sooner this time.. I promise!

I cannot tell you how much the texts, prayers, messages, calls, and emails of support have meant to me as I attempted this challenge and as I navigate through this year.  I truly believe that the deep level of support I feel from all of you is a critical part of the healing I’m experiencing on this multifaceted ‘Big Year’ journey.

I headed back to Cape May September 17th for the rescheduled pelagic trip with See Life Paulagics out of Wildwood Crest, NJ. With a handful of exciting target birds as my carrot, this time I decided to drive a bit out of my way to attempt… <insert drum roll here>  the Chesapeake Bay Bridge… AND…the Delaware Memorial Bridge before ducking my way down to Cape May.

Now, time is short and it’s getting late, so I’ll cut to the chase….

I passed my BIGGEST test of Mom’s Big Year so far….. and I did so with flying colors!

My view just after crossing the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. I stopped dancing and clicking my heels just long enough to take this picture🙂

How did I do it?

My original plan was to bring a birding buddy and ask them to drive me over the bridges and highways (I had been avoiding) to get me to Cape May. But, much to my alarm, there was only ONE spot left on the pelagic when I signed up and I had to make a huge split- second decision. The one open spot was mine for the taking and would be gone in the blink of an eye. So, sweaty palms and all, I took a deep breath and went ahead and booked the reservation. As my palms got sweatier, my anxiety level increased and I started getting short of breath on the phone while reading my credit card numbers aloud to finalize the reservation. My next question was no surprise to me.. I asked about last minute cancellations and refunds.

I was looking for my exit… just in case I chickened out.

But, at that particular moment I resolved that I was not going to let my driving/bridge anxiety keep me away from the birds I wanted to see SO very much!

So, when the time came and I actually approached the bridge, I had my eye on the prize. I played my favorite music, put in bird song practice CD’s, donned my new ‘good luck’ ring, gnawed on some gummy bears and just. did. it! I crossed the Bay Bridge without any issue and a short time later, did the same over the Delaware Memorial Bridge!


And that was just the beginning. The weekend was chock full of rewards, that’s for sure!

Within a couple hours of arriving in the Cape May area, I ticked piping plover (#418) at Stone Harbor, NJ .

Piping Plover #418, Stone Harbor Point, NJ

The overnight pelagic trip was amazing. Several folks commented that I was very brave to do an overnight trip as my first pelagic. It was ‘camping style’… so you boarded at 10:30 pm, found a spot on the deck, laid out your sleeping bag and supplies/food for the next 20 hours and “slept” until they started chumming around 4:30 am. I was super excited about the trip, but with everything I have going, I fell asleep within about a minute of my head hitting the pillow. The trip in short was awesome! I ticked 11 new species for the year and made several new and awesome birder friends to boot!

The highlight of the trip for me was Black-capped Petrel.


Here’s the list:

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Special thanks to See Life Paulagics for one amazing overnight trip! The full moon, awesome birds, excellent guides, and really cool marine mammals made it particularly memorable!


And special thanks to Bill and Karen for hosting me again in Cape May for a second weekend in a row! As if that wasn’t enough to make it the perfect weekend….two more dear friends, Tom and Connie Halliwell, happened to be in Cape May, visiting from northern NJ for a butterfly field trip. They stopped by on their way out of town to say hello.  It’s always a treat to see them, as Tom gets full credit for getting me hooked on birding back in 1986!

Tom & Connie Halliwell and me

As I headed out to start my trip home, it was raining cats and dogs! Many of you know that is not enough to keep me from making one final visit to the Meadows before leaving town.

Just before the rain got really heavy and as I pulled into the lot at the Meadows, I ran into Pete Dunne.  To those of you in the birding world, Pete needs no introduction..  When I was knee-high to a grasshopper and a budding environmentalist, Pete helped me pull together testimony for a public hearing in my attempt to save last tract of untouched forest in my hometown in northern NJ.  To see him this morning and thank him for his support and inspiration was simply ‘icing on the cake’ to what proved to be an *unbelievable* weekend for me!

A weekend with wonderful people and amazing birds in my *favorite* place…And all this, after facing some of my demons HEAD ON!


Definitely THE highlight of Mom’s Big Year for me.

Here’s my song (see below) that gives you a slice of how I’m feeling at this incredible and pivotal moment in my Big Year journey.

More soon,

Lots to do now as I leave for San Diego on Thursday!

— xoxo, Nancy

On Top of the World – click here to play

“I’ve had the highest mountains, I’ve had the deepest rivers
You can have it all but life keeps moving

I take it in but don’t look down

‘Cause I’m on top of the world, ‘ay
I’m on top of the world, ‘ay
Waiting on this for a while now
Paying my dues to the dirt
I’ve been waiting to smile, ‘ay
Been holding it in for a while, ‘ay
Take you with me if I can
Been dreaming of this since a child
I’m on top of the world

I’ve tried to cut these corners
Try to take the easy way out
I kept on falling short of something

I coulda gave up then but
Then again I couldn’t have ’cause
I’ve traveled all this way for something

I take it in but don’t look down

‘Cause I’m on top of the world, ‘ay
I’m on top of the world, ‘ay
Waiting on this for a while now
Paying my dues to the dirt
I’ve been waiting to smile, ‘ay
Been holding it in for a while, ‘ay
Take you with me if I can
Been dreaming of this since a child
I’m on top of the world”

~On Top of the World, Imagine Dragons


Ready or not…


I’m trying this again. Last weekend’s pelagic is rescheduled for tonight and the conditions have all the makings of a great trip!

I’m heading to Cape May this morning, even though the simple thought of it makes my palms sweat, my heart race, and the hair on the back of my neck raise up. This week my driving anxiety ebbed and flowed… Some days much less comfortable than I expected after such great success last weekend.

That said, I’m still riding the wave and I’ve decided to try a route today that takes me over my biggest challenge yet on the Big Year bucket list-

the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.

My carrot?

I need to add Piping Plover and pelagic birds to my year list.

And I’m determined to drive myself right over that stinkin’ bridge to get them.

The caveat?

I’m scared to death. 

Good thoughts welcome!❤

The good, the bad, and the amazing!

One. happy. girl. in her absolute favorite place!

Time is short this week, but I’ve been itching to share this post with you all! Thank you for the calls, messages and emails inquiring about how my trip to Cape May panned out.

Here’s the scoop… Bad news first..

I found myself 9 minutes outside of Cape May mid-day last Saturday and received a call from long-time friend, Bill Boyle, informing me that the Sat-Sun pelagic trip (the main reason I had done the trip) had been postponed due to high seas.😦

<<Insert crying-like-a-baby sounds here>>

So,  I may have traveled 4+ hours to get there prior to hearing this…

BUT the really good news is that I drove to Cape May…


Those of you who have been following along know.. That’s a HUGE check for the MBY bucket list!

There unfortunately were not any birds I needed to chase for Mom’s Big Year in the area.. BUT I was thrilled that I had the chance to spend some time in my *favorite* place with some of my *favorite* people.

And the ‘always a treat’ flight of migrants didn’t happen the one morning I was there.. But special thanks to Vince Elia for being so very sweet to come out to meet me to go birding, even when there weren’t any birds! Depite the quiet morning, we all *beamed* ear-to-ear, as we were simply happy to be out birding Higbee together once again. 

Dear friends, Bill Boyle, Karen Thompson and Vince Elia
Above: Birding Higbee Beach, Below: Karen & Nancy in the Meadows

Special thanks to my dear friends, Karen Thompson and Bill Boyle for always serving as the most gracious hosts during my visits to Cape May.  It’s such a treat to catch up with them and hear about all of their latest birding/nature travel adventures!

Here’s a cooperative Northern Waterthrush we enjoyed for a bit in The Meadows.


I just can’t even begin to tell you how TICKLED I was to reconnect with all the great folks from Cape May. Some of my friends there have been fixtures in the community for decades, while others are new on the scene. I even got to meet up with a local birding friend from Maryland, Kurt Schwarz, who kindly joined me to chase a salt marsh sparrow. Alas, no sparrow this time.. but smiles and laughter nonetheless.

It was super fun for me to get to spend time with Brett Ewald and Erik Bruhnke on Saturday.  I knew both of them from different chapters in my life, and they both have relocated to Cape May!  And to have us all meeting up in Cape May at the same time…

Well, that’s simply MAGIC to me!

Based on the concert of big smiles in this picture below…

can you see how much each of us simply loves Cape May to pieces!!!???!!

Nancy with Brett Ewald (Left), the new Program Director for Cape May Bird Observatory (CMBO)  and Erik Bruhnke, CMBO’s 2017 Hawk Counter


I cannot close this post without telling you about the traveling part of my trip TO and FROM Cape May. I mentioned in my last post the large amount of anxiety I was feeling about doing the drive for this trip.  The major highways, the bridges, the Saturday traffic… all not sitting well with me. At all..

How did it go, you ask?

Well, I was feeling some stress about the highways on the way there, so I took back roads to the Delaware Memorial Bridge.  And then, when I got to the bridge…. I sailed my way over like it was NOTHING.

After 11 years, it was an anticlimactic pile of nothing.


I floated through the rest of the trip, without issue.  And the trip home was even easier for me than the way over.


How did that happen?

I have absolutely NO idea, my friends.  It just DID!

I’ll admit, during the last hour of my trip home, I sobbed like I haven’t sobbed in a very long time.  The enormity of the transformation that had happened during my trip this weekend had finally hit me.

And this is the incredible scene I was treated to just minutes before I arrived back home.


Can I do it again this weekend for the rescheduled pelagic trip?

I have NO idea!  I know this journey of healing is not over. I have felt the gnarly tendrils of anxiety creeping back as I’ve been driving highways near home this week.

BUT I do have a feeling there’s nothing…

Absolutely nothing…

that can keep this girl away from Cape May.🙂

Special thanks to all of my dear family and friends who are carrying me through this amazing Big Year journey of birds, travel, self-discovery and healing.  It’s not over yet and I’m certain there’s still some incredible adventures ahead. I am grateful to every one of you for following along and can truly feel the unconditional support of all my friends and family, old and new, near and far.

Special thanks to my dear and most wonderful husband, Paul. (It’s good he’s sleeping now.. because he’d never let me post this about him if he saw it…He’s so humble.) Many of you have heard me say he’s a living saint, who has made me realize this Big Year story is about SO much more than the birds.  It’s truly a love story. A story about a love of birds, friends, travel, family, and an incredibly deep love between a husband and a wife. It’s a story in which a husband loves his wife so very much, that he has made a huge sacrifice in giving his wife a gift that no one else on the planet could ever give her….

the gift of a Big Year.

Here’s a link to a song below that seems fitting for how I’m feeling about you all.

xoxo, Nancy❤

You Raise Me Up- Josh Groban

When I am down, and, oh, my soul, so weary
When troubles come, and my heart burdened be
Then, I am still and wait here in the silence
Until you come and sit awhile with me
You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains
You raise me up to walk on stormy seas
I am strong when I am on your shoulders
You raise me up to more than I can be






Take it from where you’re at…


We had a super holiday weekend playing, playing, playing on the water in Southern Maryland and reconnecting with dear family. We took time to share memories of my father, who passed away on Labor Day in 2002.  My dad loved water sports (sailing, boating, waterskiing), so all of the super fun times on the water this weekend were a great way to remember him!

My Dad

Then, Tuesday, it was ‘off to the races’ as it was the first week where my banding lab job overlapped with my university teaching job as well as the school year for my three kiddos.  Believe it or not, all went great! So far so good!

I’m beyond grateful to my mentor, Danny Bystrak, for tapping me for the banding lab position.

Danny Bystrak and I at the banding station

And we had a Connecticut Warbler while banding this morning!

Connecticut Warbler

Now that everything’s hitting me at once..I went from ‘smooth sailing’ to ‘rough seas’ in less than 24 hours. I’m feeling the heat with all the things I need to get done before I even think about packing for a trip to Cape May this weekend. Everything I said I’d do for friends, school, work, the kiddos and hubby… all needed to be done..like yesterday. And, oh yes. .I’m thinking creatively as I start to pack for Saturday’s Pelagic trip where I’ll be sleeping on the top deck of a boat to wake in the morning out at sea amongst the seabirds (new ones for Mom’s Big Year!). Yup.. all that packing/planning still needs to happen too!

Cape May is at the top of my list when it comes to Mom’s Big Year destinations. It’s such a very special and sentimental place to me. But the thought of driving to Cape May and over the Delaware Memorial bridge stops all my happy thoughts right in their tracks and my hands are now breaking out into a cold sweat because of this. 


Delaware Memorial Bridge

In the flurry of it all, I talked with my mom on the phone, looking for some consoling words as I explained the crazy nature of this week and the drive ahead of me on Saturday.  She reminded me of something my dad always said…

“Just take it from where you’re at…”

Well, I started my day today at the banding lab with this…

American Redstart

and ended the day in my yard with this…

Monarch larva

So, if I “take it from where I’m at”..

…”where I’m at” doesn’t seem like such a bad place to be🙂

I am grateful.❤




Ducks in a row

I’m back from Southeastern Arizona and my head is spinning. I’ve been so busy playing catch-up, I have not yet had the time to digest the depth of this incredible trip.  The desert…the night sky….the canyons….the birds….the scenery… the fun times with friends…. Continue reading