Two steps forward…

It had all the elements of a great family trip. There were college visits for my oldest, days at beach, golf outings, tennis matches, chats with locals, shrimp and grits, cooking in, eating out and plenty of ice cream runs. Last week we took a family vacation to Charleston, South Carolina. It wasn’t strictly a birding trip, but I, of course, had to squeeze in at least a few good-sized dollops of birding. (My chat with some local watermen while out in the field one morning is worth a post all its own, so stay tuned!)  

Now, you may recall that I am trying to nip my issues with bridge/driving anxiety during my Big Year and I am using birding in my attempt to do so.  Well, this entire week I had Charleston’s beautiful Ravenel bridge staring me in the face. I honestly didn’t give it much thought.. but I’ll admit my mind did occasionally wander to images of the day I would sit in the driver’s seat while making my way over that bridge.

Charleston’s Ravenel Bridge

One afternoon, while perusing the downtown Charleston shopping district, I ran across this book.

IMG_9623I am not lying to you when I say I picked it up and put it down 10 times. I was trying to decide whether I wanted to stop right there and read the whole thing in one sitting or put it down and never ever pick it up again.

I figured Mom’s Big Year is already more than half over and it was time to add a whole new dimension to this Big Year thing!  Gull-billed tern, Sandwich tern and Least Bittern were all seen in the last couple weeks at the Pitt St. Causeway on the OTHER side of the Ravenel Bridge.. so the choice was clear…THIS was my ticket.. These target birds were my carrot to get me over that bridge.

Well, by golly, without giving it much thought, I just buckled down and DID it! I took the helm and sailed my way right over that bridge with my hubby in tow! And we missed our target birds, so I did it AGAIN the next morning at sunrise.. Out and back. ALL. BY. MY. SELF!  I could hardly believe it.  Now, it wasn’t without anxiety, but it was a feeling I hadn’t ever felt before.  I was getting better, I just KNEW it. Eleven years I had been avoiding bridges like this one and I did it!  Two days in a row!  I didn’t care one little bit that I missed my target birds those days (ok, maybe I cared a teeny bit), but birds aside, I drove over that bridge!

Birding with my honey on the OTHER side of the bridge! (Note the bridge photo-bombing us in the background)
Tri-colored Heron – Pitt St. Causeway, Mt. Pleasant, SC

After eleven years, the whole experience was less climactic in the actual moment than I expected.  I dropped the family off at the beach in the afternoon, so I could chase a Wilson’s Plover that had been seen recently a few minutes away. Then suddenly, the magnitude of what I had just accomplished finally hit me. As my youngest closed the car door behind him and ran out to the beach, I started to cry.  Mom’s Big Year had yet, once again, gotten bigger… and this time it wasn’t about the birds.

Now, Saturday was travel day back to Maryland and with my newly found ora of confidence I decided to take the wheel and give Rt. 95 a whirl as we made our way home.

How did that go, you ask..?

NOT well.

In complete contrast to my masterful driving the day before, I felt like I was on a roller coaster spinning out of control and dizziness and panic started to show their nasty countenances. My legs and arms started getting numb, and my lips tingly.. After 30 minutes of attempting to power through my driving anxieties like my counselor had taught me, I decided that for everyone’s safety, it was time to pull over.

The tears this time weren’t the happy tears I had cried the day before.  They were tears of frustration and feelings of failure as I hung my head and pounded the steering wheel. I thought my issues were over and that I had entered a completely new era. The reality was there plain and simple… I had not.

Fortunately, my kids and husband quickly reminded me of how far I had come in just a few days and clamored with words of support and comfort from the back seat.

Two steps forward, one step back… These seas are going to be tougher to navigate than I could ever have imagined.

I recall when I first started the Big Year, my very wise and dear friend, Marcia reminded me that I can’t eat the elephant all in one bite.

She was 100% right.



Beyond birds

I was back birding on my home turf today and while I love love love traveling, it really felt great to be back!  I still have a few relatively easy birds to tick in Maryland and today I added #364 to the list, Least Tern.  The trip this morning would not have been possible without local birding friend, Anthony, to do the drive up north of Baltimore with me. Anthony’s quite impressive and has gone from beginning to advanced birder in the blink of an eye. He has the kindest of hearts and is one AMAZING photographer too! Check out his Flickr site here: Anthony VanSchoor’s Flickr page

Anthony in action this morning- having a chat with a Common Yellowthroat
Swan Creek, near Baltimore, MD
With only one target today, the birding this morning was pretty laid back.  And that combined with Anthony’s easy-going, confident and super-supportive attitude allowed me the space to revisit some of the parts of Mom’s Big Year that I had been pushing aside for quite a while now.  Those of you who have been following from the beginning know that I’m ALLLL about the birds, but you also know that Mom’s Big Year is about more than simply the birds.  It’s also a year focused on personal growth and reflection….some of which, frankly, scares me more than I care to admit.

Jenny, Diana, and Kristy Collentine holding my baby daughter Laura, Summer 2001
After losing three dear family members in a tragic accident, I’m working through post-traumatic stress that’s manifested itself in the form of bridge/tunnel/highway driving anxiety. (More details on my blog homepage: Why a Mom’s Big Year? )That reality for me gets in the way of my birding and in the way of my everyday life at times. And it’s so very frustrating for someone who enjoys skiing black diamonds,  rock climbing and repelling, scuba diving down to 100 feet, swimming with hungry sharks, cuddling with snakes, and is even willing to let tarantula walk on my face. All of the above… NO problem! I’ve tried a variety of methods to address my anxiety through therapy and desensitization and have stared that monster straight in the face.  I’m currently using the mindfulness, peace and clarity that I find in birding as a tool to help me make progress.. but I honestly still have a long way to go. Today’s low-key birding gave me a chance to consider how far I’ve come and also the amount of healing I have ahead of me.

I am indebted and extremely grateful to Anthony as well as to birder friends, Joe, Jeff, Howard, Kurt, Kevin H, Karen, Chuck, Kevin L., Gabriel, Adrian, Erin, Chris, Bill and so many others who have so kindly driven me places to go birding that I currently can’t drive to quite yet. A special note of thanks to Uncle David who drove me across the entire state of Texas!  I look forward to the day when I can return the favor to all of my wonderful and supportive friends and family! 

“All in time.” said Anthony, who is clearly wise beyond his years. As we drove over the Key Bridge near Baltimore this morning, he said with conviction, “You’re going to be driving this bridge all. day. long. with no problem. I know it.”

I’ve heard those same exact words from different folks a whole bunch of times.

But for some reason today, I actually believed it.








Puffin pie!

Atlantic Puffin, July 1, 2016 –  Photo courtesy of Chris West

Now, don’t worry..

It’s not a pie made of puffins.. It’s a homemade blueberry pie to celebrate our puffin sightings in Maine on Friday. (Some of you may know, for many birders it’s a tradition to celebrate seeing a new ‘life bird’ or ‘lifer’ they’ve never seen before with a slice of pie or other scrumptious dessert.)

Homemade Puffin (blueberry) Pie! – Courtesy of Erin & Chris

My dear and incredibly wonderful friends Erin & Chris made the pie from scratch last night- (crust and all!) They did it after a FULL day of bushwhacking, driving and birding. I am indebted to both of them for their generous hospitality during my time in Maine. Erin’s a biologist with Acadia National Park and gave us a full behind-the-scenes look at the research going on there. Super cool for me! (And special thanks to Chris for sharing some of his pics for the blog!)

Erin’s a Biologist with Acadia National Park 

During my visit, we ticked 12 new species for Mom’s Big Year and had a BLAST doing it! This was a long weekend filled with scrumptious lobster rolls, beautiful black spruce bogs, wild strawberry picking (and eating!), lobster catching, jigsaw puzzles, blueberry pie making, new birds, tide pool ecology, and boat trips. And all the while we sang at the top of our lungs en route to our next destination.


Bass Harbor Light, Mt. Dessert Island – Photo courtesy of Chris West
Black-throated Green Warbler – Photo Courtesy of Chris West 

How did we fit it all in, you ask?

I have NO idea…. but these two 20-somethings always make me feel like I’m 20-something again and we somehow squeeze every single precious moment out of the days we’re together.

Nancy, Erin and Chris in search of puffins!

We had a close call on Friday as our Bar Harbor puffin/whale watch boat trip was cancelled due to conditions at sea.  We had to think and act FAST and by some miracle boogied 2.5 hours south just in time to catch another similar boat trip out of Portland.  Unfortunately, we missed several of my target seabirds for Mom’s Big Year.. but that’s nothing that a little blueberry pie can’t fix. 😛

My last night in Acadia, we celebrated with the delicious pasties, blueberry soda, and blueberry pie. Erin is from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  The pasties are a meat or veggie-filled pastry specialty from the U.P. she brought frozen on dry-ice from home.  Boy, did I feel special!

Pasties for dinner – a specialty from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan

I’m on the train to Boston now and I’m SO sad leave my dear friends and that big bed of spaghnum moss in the boreal forest behind me. But I’m excited to get home to Paul and the kiddos and exchange stories of our weekend adventures.

Mom’s Big Year has some more trips in the works and stuff happening close to home.. Please tune in again soon for details as they evolve!

Erin sent the last slice of blueberry pie home with me. My mouth is watering just thinking about it! So, if you don’t mind, I’m going to dive into it right now. Yummo!

Nancy lovin’ Maine!