Super excited to return to the Rio Grande Valley today! A favorite hotspot for Mom’s Big Year, the Valley NEVER disappoints! I’m absolutely thrilled to return to Harlingen for the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival. https://www.rgvbf.org. If you haven’t experienced this incredible event, go ahead and put it on your calendar for next year!
I’ll be leading trips Thursday and Friday and will present “Mom’s Big Year” Saturday at 2pm, followed by a Big Year panel at 3:30pm. (If you’re in town, talks are FREE with your Kiskadee Pass.)
Looking forward to seeing many of you there and throughout the festival!
“When it’s over, I want to say: all my life I was a bride married to amazement. I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms… I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.” ~ Mary Oliver
This week marks one year since an unprecedented tornado tore right through our backyard. The feelings I experienced during the storm event reminded me without a spec of doubt what is truly important to me. As my life and the lives of my immediate family members passed before my eyes, everything else simply melted away from my mind. I realized in the end.. it was the journey with the people in my life~ the relationships, the experiences with them, and the connections between us all, that mattered.
Plain and simple as that.
(Check out my tornado blog post here: At that moment I knew… It went viral and was the most popular Mom’s Big Year post of 2016! I gather that people really like tornados or something. lol)
Reflecting on that surreal experience inspired me to write this blog post today, highlighting my gratitude and counting my blessings for some of the deep connections and special new friends that walked by my side during my Big Year.
On my recent trip to Maine, a friend asked me what it is that I miss most about the Big Year. I can be pretty indecisive, so much to my surprise, it took me only a split second to respond. “I miss the journey and meeting new friends like you along the way.” I answered with conviction.
During Mom’s Big Year I made every effort to grant myself the time, the space and the bandwidth to breathe in every single bird, AND to take time to appreciate every person and vista that crossed my path (unless I was running after a mega-rare bird 🙂 lol!)
And in doing all that.. I loved every. single. minute. of this journey!
I truly felt alive.
“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
I believe that every person crossing my path has something to teach me… and our meeting is not by accident. I honestly cannot recall a single plane trip during the Big Year where I did not learn the name of the person sitting next to me and some interesting information about them by the end of the flight.
Most recently, Don sat next to me on my flight back from Maine June 5th. He was eagerly returning from a 6-month deployment in the Middle East as a radio officer for the Army. He showed me pictures of the classic car he was going to buy when he returned to his home in upstate New York. We talked about the challenges of raising teens and the ins and outs of setting up radios and encrypted military communications. He was pleasantly surprised when he found out I was a licensed amateur radio operator and could hold my own as he described the technical parts of his job. I told him of my Big Year and why I had been visiting Maine. He told me about the birds he saw in Iraq. We talked the entire flight. Many folks could look at us and think that we had not a thing in common… but I guarantee we’d prove you wrong in a heartbeat.
The Mom’s Big Year journey contained many people, old friends and new, that played big and small parts in my travels and simply changed the course of my year for the better. They caused me to stop and take time to savor the journey in the midst of the planning and all the challenges of a Big Year. Several new friends I met in 2016 come to mind as I write this post and I cannot begin to list them all. (Many of you know who you are.) Like my steadfast old friends, these new friends made me a better person as a result of their wisdom, their unconditional support (for me and for my family) and their friendship…. Driving me to places when I could not drive myself, spending extra hours hiking miles to reach ‘just one more bird’ 🙂 , giving me little good luck charms to carry, and sending me encouraging messages to get me over that next bridge.
I am… in a word…
It’s my hope that I can give back even a fraction of the love and support that has been granted me on this journey.
I’d like to introduce you to just a couple of my special new friends I met during the course of the Big Year. They are beautiful to me inside and out and I count my lucky stars every day for having people like them (AND people like you) in my life!
This is the lovely Patti! I met Patti on one of my first local Mom’s Big Year trips. It was a Maryland ‘owl prowl’ and we had a blast! Her positive outlook and genuine love of our natural world and of learning caused us to hit it off right away! She’s a super sharp birder to boot! Read about our first time out in the field together here
Since that first day of birding together, I feel so very fortunate that Patti has become a dear friend and an awesome supporter of Mom’s Big Year. We had wonderful opportunities to bird together during the Big Year and also during the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival in Florida this January. I look forward to getting out in the field with her again soon and hopefully for many years to come!
Deb and I met through my Mom’s Big Year blog and I am soooo glad she reached out to me! She’s truly an inspiration! Deb lives with FSH Muscular Dystrophy and shared with me that Mom’s Big Year inspired her to stretch beyond her wildest dreams and to do her very own physically accessible mid-Atlantic Big Year! She’s in the midst of it right now and I am simply tickled to hear how well she’s doing with it! The picture of us here was taken just after my presentation to the Howard County Bird Club. Deb drove an HOUR each way at night to come see my talk and completely surprised me when she introduced herself and presented me with flowers and the sweetest of notes. I was utterly speechless and brought to tears! Deb started her blog that VERY night after hearing my talk! I encourage you to support Deb and follow along with her Big Year and check out her super-inspiring blog “Gimpy Girl Goes Birding” here—>Gimpy Girl Goes Birding
Kim is the most recent of my new friends to cross my path. After purchasing an organic farm in Pennsylvania on a whim earlier this year, she was nervous she had gotten in over her head. She shared with me that the Mom’s Big Year story empowered her and helped her to realize that she’s on the right path to success with her new endeavor. We met in person after my keynote at the Acadia Birding Festival and had another unexpected and whimsical meeting in the airport as we discovered we were on the same flight home. She then shared a more personal struggle and told me that the Mom’s Big Year story had inspired her to finally try to quit smoking once and for all. We exchanged contact info and she has committed to keeping me posted along the way. Good luck, Kim! We know it’s not going to be easy.. but we’re rooting for you and all know you can do this!!
I have learned that new friendships, deep connections, and relationships like these feed my soul. I am so thankful to every one of my friends for renewing my spirit and my passion for life during 2016 and beyond. These connections and inspiring and heart-warming stories borne out of Mom’s Big Year were honestly not something I ever anticipated. A bonus! I love that! ❤
In the end, my Mom’s Big Year bird species counts were good and actually much better than I ever guessed they would be. (Stay tuned for upcoming posts describing the cool ending to the Big Year with all the stats!)
But numbers are simply numbers, my friend..
When all is said and done, what is it that really matters?
Was it the sound sound of the Black-capped Chickadee?
the scent of the balsam fir?
the sight of the paper birch trees?
or the kindness of new friends and old that made Maine feel
Just. Like. Home to me? ❤
I was raised in Northern New Jersey where the familiar sound of the Black-capped Chickadee consistently rang out in the trees. We had a balsam fir pillow in our rec room and the scent chased you down and swirled into your head every single time you entered the space. My dad was from Michigan. He was no stranger to the Northern forests and planted a paper birch tree in our front yard. I clearly recall building my very first snowman with him in front of it.
I traveled to Maine earlier this month to serve as the keynote speaker for the Acadia Birding Festival. And to say that I was ‘over the moon excited’ about this opportunity is an understatement.
My fellow keynotes were Pete Dunne (one of my childhood birding heros) and Luke Seitz (an amazing young birder/professional guide)
From the start to the end of the festival everyone involved felt like family. Becky Marvil and her entire team of volunteers and guides is nothing short of *amazing*! I am indebted to Becky for tapping me for the festival and am truly honored to have played a part. She’s runs the event like clockwork and truly fosters a deep sense of place and community. I had heard that all was the case.. and I now know ~first-hand~ that every last bit of it is true. Special thanks to friends, Bruce and Toni Evans who looked out for me and made sure I had all the pieces in place to make it such a successful Mom’s Big Year presentation and festival for me!
I simply cannot WAIT until next year. I would pack the car now if I could! If you haven’t already~ I encourage you to check out the festival website and wonderful movie about it on its home page here: Acadia Birding Festival
I hope to see many of you there next year!
Those of you who have been following along know that I’ve been juggling working 3 days a week as a biologist at the North American Bird Banding Laboratory and 2 days a week teaching environmental science at University of Maryland. I simply love love love both jobs and wouldn’t trade either for the world.
Well, all that said, the semester snowballed this spring leaving little time for anything else and I have yet to blog about the exciting ending to Mom’s Big Year! Now things are calming down with school ending and only working 3 days a week.. so I’ll be playing catch up on the blog. BIG TIME! And I’m thrilled to have each of you following along.
Before going back to catch up.. I just couldn’t WAIT another day to blog about my trip up north to the festival!
Thanks to to all my fellow guides and festival participants for being such great team players and for making our excursions so much fun and educational for everyone! Each time I led a trip with any combination of these festival guides, I felt like we had the A-team for sure! These top-notch guides all worked hard to make the festival a super special experience for all!
The festival’s annual pelagic trip is a highlight for participants and guides alike!
On my last morning, I was fortunate to squeeze in some additional time birding with these lovely ladies!
And special thanks to Billy Helprin, Director of Somes-Meynell Wildlife Sanctuary, for giving us a tour highlighting the impressive work happening throughout his preserve. The Wildlife Sanctuary serves school groups, teachers and the general public ~ engaging them in a host of citizen science programs (including monitoring Common Loon nests and territories as well as Alewife migration at several locations.) FUN! I encourage you to check out all the things that Billy and the sanctuary’s summer employee, Alex Douwes are doing to protect, preserve and enhance the Somes-Meynell watershed. Click the link below to learn more about what makes this sanctuary on Mount Desert Island such a special place… Somes-Meynell Wildlife Sanctuary Facebook page
Alex Douwes & Billy Helprin
Billy explaining the fish ladders used by Alewives during migration
Mountains. Evergreens. Rocky shores. Water.
It is beauty. tranquility. power…
To me, Maine has all the things I love.
And in a place where all these things meet…
In my mind, that’s simply magic.
As I sat gazing a trance-like gaze along the shoreline on my last evening there, my eyes dulled to a blur. I felt like I had the wind knocked out of me. I felt big. I felt small… honored, humbled, filled, empty…… larger than life and smaller than a pea.. all at the same time. (This place reminds me so much of Alaska… but perhaps a non-steroidal version of Alaska, if you will. 😉 )
With all due respect to my friends and family down south… There’s no denying this girl is a Yankee through and through.
And the sights, sounds, and smells of Maine made me feel that I had finally come home. ❤
Well, here we are… several weeks into the New Year!
(2017?! what happened to 1996?? I clearly recall when that year seemed soooo far in the distant future.)
You haven’t heard from me in a while. I’ll admit, frankly, reentry back post-Mom’s Big Year life has been rough. Like coming off of a high. Last year was the best year of my life to date. So definitely tough to follow that. Many of you saw that glimmer in my eye as I always had another trip around the corner.
Since January 1st, I’ve been playing catch up in just about every aspect of my life and am a bit overwhelmed… Dishes, laundry, work, friendships, carpools, teaching, etc etc… catching up on everything except sleep. Adapting back to the way things were before the Big Year. These past few weeks have been a time for me to shift my attention back to matters at home and work. It’s truly been a joy to be back with the family!
Paul just suggested we take our Halloween decorations down. I guess it’s been a little busy. Lol! So, as you can tell, I’m still playing catch up.. but could not wait another day to update you!
I owe you some very cool posts that cover the final push of MBY! I head to Florida next week for the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival. I’m super excited to be leading trips for the festival again this year and to be presenting my first MBY talk! Check it out the festival website here: Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival And if you’re there, I’ll be at the Wildside Nature Tours booth, so please come by and say HI!
So, going back to start bringing you up to date…
The rest of my Texas trip in November was FANTASTIC!
We met up with friend, Scarlet Colley to take her magical pontoon boat trip for a shot at Wilson’s Plover. Anyone who has been on Scarlet’s boat knows that ‘magical’ is the only way to describe it. Scarlet talks with her dolphin friends that surround the boat. When I asked her how close they get to the dolphins, she told me, “We feed them our joy…We touch them with our hearts… And we swim with them in our dreams.”
Here are the highlights of my last days in Texas in pictures:
My next trip held a big change in temps for me!
MBY headed NORTH!
Check back soon for the last of the MBY adventures. The last weeks were full of surprises and some were ‘beyond birds!’
There’s SO much to share from these last few weeks, I don’t even know where to begin. It’s been a whirlwind of travel, final exams, family, friends and holidays. BIG fun!
After an amazing trip to the Rio Grande Valley in November, I stepped up the birding again in mid-December to finish the year strong. With the immeasurable help and support of family, colleagues, and friends at this crazy time of year, I felt so fortunate to squeeze in trips to Minnesota, Southern Maryland, Virginia, South Carolina and an unplanned trip to my childhood home in New Jersey… all before the ball dropped. I closed out 2016 with some very exciting hits, some tough misses, and a rather exciting finish to Mom’s Big Year!
Now, I’m getting back to reality.. unpacking my suitcase and starting the laundry. I just submitted semester grades this morning.. so, this month I’ll have more time to blog and recap on what I would consider to be the best year of my life so far! It was certainly a huge year of birds.. but as you all know, for me, it was much more than birds… It was a year chock-FULL of learning, growth, love, healing, travel, adventure, new friends, old friends and family.
I am grateful. I simply couldn’t ask for more.
Speaking of which…Here’s one of my favorite songs, by Sara Evans, I Could Not Ask for More. I’ve posted it before and I’m posting again as I love it so much. I sing it to my kids and hubby all the time. It really captures how I’m feeling right now about them, and you, and my entire support network for Mom’s Big Year.
“These are the moments
I know heaven must exist
And these are the moments
I know all I need is this
I’ve found all I’ve waited for, yeah
And I could not ask for more
I could not ask for more than this time together
I could not ask for more than this time with you
And every prayer has been answered
Every dream I’ve had’s come true
Yeah, right here in this moment
Is right where I’m meant to be
Here with you here with me”
These last few weeks I’ve been doing the mom/work thing.. This week alone has been filled with band/orchestra concerts (5 concerts in 7 nights!!!!!), basketball games, Girl & Boy Scout meetings, holiday parties, the usual grocery shopping/meal planning, school projects etc etc.
Because of all the crazy busy days and nights- I owe you blog posts from the second half of my fabulous foray through Texas and my success in ticking Short-eared Owl (#499!) a couple weeks ago here in Maryland. More on those soon… Perhaps I’ll get to write them after I send out LAST year’s Christmas cards I never sent. Lol!
All in a Mom’s Big Year, right?! 🙂
This weekend we had a dusting of snow….our first of the year! After church, Sunday, I headed over to Maryland’s Eastern shore to see if I could tick #500.
Spend almost 3 hours of driving and 3 hours searching for a reliable Northern Shrike.. but missed it.. It was nowhere to be found! Rats! Thanks to John and Meg Harris from the Howard County Bird Club for making the trek with me!
the conciliatory dark chocolate
dipped on the shrike- but still smiling
Now I sit in the airport for my final planned trip for Mom’s Big Year!
Took a moment to look up from my laptop and this is my view. It’s a beaUUUtiful start to what I’m CERTAIN will be an INCREDIBLE trip!
Can you guess where I’m heading?
Hint: I just bought some extra thermals yesterday!
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!
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.
I am thankful. ❤
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!
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!
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.
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!
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!
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’.
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.
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!”
Well, the way this week has been going so far…That makes TWO of us!
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!
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.
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!