The journey…

“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.

Nothing else.

(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.”  

~Howard Thurman

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.

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Screen Shot 2017-06-21 at 11.32.58 PMMost 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.

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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…

Grateful. ❤

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!

Patti and I, post-field trip at the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival, Titusville, FL, January 2017

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

—> Bingo

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


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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?

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Love, Nancy xoxo



Home isn’t a place…

Good morning, Maine.

Home isn’t a place….it’s a feeling.

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.

Me, quite content after having a great look at the Horned Grebe pictured above in Seal Cove
Acadia Birding Festival Keynote Speakers, Luke Seitz, Pete Dunne, & me

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!

Festival Director, Becky Marvil, me and Toni Evans

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!

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Me with amazing fellow guides and dear friends, Erin and Lena!

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

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.  😉 )IMG_0916

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. ❤

More soon, xoxo,  Nancy