Catching up…

Hi everyone!

Since my return from Texas, I’ve been playing catch up around here. There’s still lots to do for the final weeks of Mom’s Big Year, but the day-to-day mommy/family/work duties have been my priority these past two weeks.

What’s been on the menu?…Parent-teacher conferences, end of the season soccer parties and games, laundry, homework projects, wisdom tooth removal for our teen, last day bird banding at the lab for the season, updating grades for my students, prepping for Thanksgiving, basketball tournaments, and planning the next big MBY trip.  Oh and a quick Snow Bunting chase.. bringing me to #498 for Mom’s Big Year!

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Just before the calculus parent-teacher conference.. and yes we came OUT of the conference with smiles too! :-) 
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Nancy with fellow soccer mom, and dear friend, Susan, and her adorable Sandy
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Basketball tourney today!
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Soccer dinner last weekend

 

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Snow Bunting success!, North Point State Park, 11/20/2016, Photo courtesy of Anthony VanSchoor
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Heading out to get the family pics taken last Sat
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Holiday groceries
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Pre-turkey workout, while the turkey was in the oven!
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All done!

 

I still need to blog about the second half of my Texas trip.. But I could not let another day go by on this Thanksgiving weekend without posting how grateful I am.

Those of you who know me, know that I make a practice of gratitude as part of my daily living. But this year I am particularly grateful for so many things and for every one of you as a part of my Mom’s Big Year journey.

The “village” of support has been overwhelming and moves me to tears when I pause for a moment and soak it all in. I am thankful for each of you in my “village” and the role you have played to make this journey such a successful one. And it’s not over yet!

But I am particularly thankful for my husband. As I’ve said before, this Big Year has TRULY been a love story. Paul has given me a gift that no one else on this planet could give me… and for that, I am forever grateful.

Here’s Paul, 2 am on Monday night after we woke up to the classic beeping of the dying smoke detector. He went outside to the shed to get a ladder to climb up to the ceiling in our bedroom to change the battery.  Not a word of complaining out of him.

Not one.

I am thankful.❤

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Last night the clean laundry was piled high on my bed. Paul was away visiting his parents and I was SOOO beat from all the holiday prep.  I crawled under the covers and fell fast asleep UNDER the pile of laundry!  Too funny!

And the pile was still there this morning.

Could someone please send the ‘laundry fairy’.:-)

Thanks!

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Finer than frog hair!

Wednesday, 11/2/2016

Well, it’s been an AMAZING few days in the Rio Grande Valley and I still have a few more days of hard-core birding left!

I am beyond thrilled with the birds I’ve ticked here so far. I have my “Texas A-team” with me and the plan is to leave No. Bird. Unseen.  And with this crew, we’re actually gonna make that happen!

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Mom’s Big Year – Team Texas:  Gabriel, David and Martin… Day 1 – Salineno
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Seedeater hunting- Nancy, Martin, David and Gabriel

Meet Team Texas:

  • Gabriel Lugo– fellow Wildside Nature Tours guide, came ALL the way from Puerto Rico, just to lend a hand. NO bird slips by Gabriel.. that’s for SURE. Gabriel chauffeured the team the entire week for hours on end..from Amazon Kingfisher to Aplomado Falcon to Northern Jacana and back, several times!
  • David Stekoll–  Uncle David has joined me once again to ‘tear up’ Texas for Mom’s Big Year. I’m SO super thankful to have another serious birder in the family!  He’s the BEST!  And fortunately, he’s still talking to this Yankee after driving across Texas for Mom’s Big Year(Austin to Big Bend and back) with me for 7 days in May. Lol!  We got 86 birds on that trip… It was EPIC!
  • Martin Hagne– reigns from the Texas Hill Country and has been an indispensable part of several Mom’s Big Year adventures.  He knows the ‘ins and outs’ of Texas birding and birds – especially the entire Rio Grande Valley- like the palm of his hand! Martin joined the Mom’s Big Year – Arizona edition in August and has so kindly spent hours helping to plan the Mom’s Big Year itinerary.
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Nancy, Martin & Gabriel (taking the pic) setting the game plan for Wednesday

And very special thanks to Greg Miller this week -and beyond- for his constant support, guidance and for serving as a major resource to me throughout the entire year.  I certainly could not have done it all without him. Mom’s Big Year was actually his idea! A shout out to Raymond VanBuskirk for his updates on some local targets this week and to Rich Kostecke for re-finding the Amazon Kingfisher on Tuesday while we were there!

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Post Northern Jacana SMILES!

Our first day here we drove the 3.5 hours to Laredo to test our luck. We couldn’t pass up the opportunity to take a shot at the Amazon Kingfisher!  And…. WE GOT IT!

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Martin, David, Rich & Nancy a minute after seeing the Amazon Kingfisher- MEGACHECK!  Thank you, Rich!

This is only the 3rd time EVER that this bird has been seen in the US… so it’s considered a MEGA-rarity in ‘birding speak’.

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The star of the week-  Amazon Kingfisher.  Photo courtesy of Mary Gustafson

As if things couldn’t get any better, in just two days, I’ve added several new birds to my year list, including Sprague’s Pipit and Northern Jacana.

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Birding Estero Llana Grande (my FAVE spot in the Valley) for Vesper Sparrow and Groove-billed Ani- target birds

After lunch today, I was walking out of ‘Fat Daddy’s’ roadside restaurant near Estero Llana Grande and a frail-looking old-timer in a cowboy hat said a polite and chipper “Hello! How are you?!” as I exited. Basking in the successes of the day so far I responded, “FANTASTIC, how are you?!”

He enthusiastically replied, as only a Texan could,

“I’m finer than frog hair!”

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Well, the way this week has been going so far…That makes TWO of us!

Down to business…

 

Just arrived in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas today after a fantastic and VERY fruitful trip to San Diego.

I spent three full days birding, including a pelagic trip out of Mission Bay.  Southern California exceeded my expectations for sure! I ticked 46 new species and brought my total to 475 for Mom’s Big Year!

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SoCal Pelagic!
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Burrowing owl
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Olaf and Nancy- Big Year fusion!
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Point Loma

 

Very special thanks to Steve Ritt for providing me an unbelievable amount of help and expertise to make this such an ‘over-the-top’ successful trip! And thanks to Paul Lehman for meeting up and for providing additional useful info regarding my target birds.

Stay tuned!!

I’ve got the 500 mark on the horizon.

Look out Texas!

I’m here…

and I’m READY!

xoxo, Nancy

Switching Gears

You may recall that I headed to Cape May on my last MBY trip  just over a month ago.  I’ve been doing the mom/work thing big time ever since. I took a break in the action to chase a Vesper’s Sparrow a few times and to bird our local landfill.  Before I switch gears back into full-time birding mode, I thought I’d share a few pics that give you a glimpse of the “mom/work” side of Mom’s Big Year from these last few weeks.

Just landed in San Diego Friday! Three full days of birding ahead including a pelagic! Then it’s down to the Rio Grande Valley of TX for a boatload of birding, friends and hopefully BIRDS!

Stay tuned,

Nancy

Did you say TEST ?!?

 

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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!

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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!

Wow!

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 .

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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.

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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!

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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!

Priceless.

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…

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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!

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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…

ALL. BY. MY. SELF!

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. 

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

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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!!!???!!

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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.

Unbelievable.

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

AMAZING!

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.

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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

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