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

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Anthony in action this morning- having a chat with a Common Yellowthroat
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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.

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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!

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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.)

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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!)

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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.

 

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Bass Harbor Light, Mt. Dessert Island – Photo courtesy of Chris West
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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.

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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!

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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!

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Nancy lovin’ Maine!

Lemonade 2.0

Wow.

Last week was a doozie for many of us in Western Howard County, Maryland. And that may be an understatement.

At my house we started last Sunday with a visit from a rabid raccoon on our driveway. Tuesday, the tornado hit. (See my last post.) And now this Sunday, a black bear wandered through our yard!

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(Yes. You read that right. A black bear. IN. MY. YARD….. in Maryland.) This is not a typical sighting for our area….and thus VERY exciting for this nature girl! 🙂

I just can’t make this stuff up.

Well, after all the drama and devastation,  this week we’re finding plenty of silver linings…. or rather… They seem to be finding us. 🙂

Some of you who have been following along on the blog may recall a post entitled “Lemonade” that I published during “snowzilla” when I was stuck in Florida in January.  Well, this past week I was given my second BIG opportunity during Mom’s Big Year to exercise my lemonade approach to a not-going-as-planned situation.

 

My post-tornado heavy heart is much lighter and happier this week as I see our wonderful community (and beyond) coming together like never before. At any given time, neighbors, some who haven’t seen each other in months or years, can be seen outside trading their raccoon/tornado/bear stories, shaking their heads in sympathy, hugging, and even sharing laugh or two.

I can’t help but smile.

As for our home, we’re getting things back in place.  But it would have taken us years to do it ourselves. I have to give a shout out to Ben Wolff and his entire crew at Wolff Tree and Landscape (http://wolfftreeandlandscape.com/)  for their professional approach and for the highly-technical work they did to make our home safe for our family again. They went above and beyond and were somehow able to return our entire yard to a new post-storm beauty. As part of the cleanup, they removed 4,  150-foot tall trees that were hanging high and leaning OVER the top of our house. Eeeeek!  Amazing!  Ben even so kindly granted my request to cut some beautiful pieces for me from the fallen trees, so I could set up some unique ‘tree cookie’ tables in our yard. I’ve always wanted to do that, so needless to say, I’m a very happy camper. Thank you, Ben! 

 

Now, after 3 hours of sleep (you just knew that would happen in Mom’s Big Year, didn’t you? 😉 ) , I headed out on an early flight this morning to Boston en route to Bar Harbor to do some ‘guerrilla’ birding with dear friends, Erin and Chris, Thurs-Sat. Wish us luck!

Puffins are on the agenda and I’m just a TAD excited.

And you already know how I feel about combining dear friends and birds.. So this is gonna be GREAT!

When I return home, why don’t you join me in my backyard at my new ‘tree table’ for a nice, tall, cold glass of lemonade…  🙂 

Cheers!

 

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Photo credit: http://www.al.com

 

 

 

At that moment, I knew…

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It’s very sobering for me to write this post, as we are all still pretty shaken up about the whole thing. What happened this week was certainly not on the agenda for Mom’s Big Year nor on my ‘to-do’ list for this week, that’s for sure.

I’m a mom.  And many of you know, a very thankful one, often counting my blessings. Now, I’m more thankful than ever.  This week, I was given the gift of clarity, through an experience that reminded me of the fragility of life and of what really matters.

IMG_8137It happened in Howard County, Maryland Tuesday afternoon around 1:40pm and the National Weather Service later confirmed that the 500 yard path traveled right through my yard. See map below.

I was alerted to pick up my son from the nearby cub scout day camp early due to the impeding severe storms.. but we had NO idea what was in store for us.

I saw a deep dark curtain of charcoal blue hanging in the sky over the camp as I approached and my ‘mother bear’ instinct kicked in. At that moment, I KNEW I had to get to my 10 year old son. Like now.

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My view as I approached camp at 1:35pm. I had no idea at that time, the tornado had already touched down and was heading in this direction.

When I arrived in the parking area and raced out of my car, my feet slipped in the wet grass as I rushed from the vehicle. Once I got up some speed and bolted toward the camp building,  I was stopped dead in my tracks by the shouts of a camp official instructing me to ‘shelter in place’ in my car IMMEDIATELY. Our cars were parked about a 5 minute walk away from the campers. But at that moment, I knew .. no matter what..I needed to get to my son. If we were going to ‘shelter in place’ to brace for a tornado, he and I were going to do it together.

Now those of you who know me, know I’m a rule-follower.  But at this moment, rules meant nothing to me. Against the direction of the staff, I drove right up to that building and ran through the barricade of administration monitoring the doorway. The power was out, and I searched for my son in the sea of 900 children sitting orderly yet scared in the warehouse-type building.  Using my ‘mother bear’ superpowers, I navigated that huge, dark building, spotted my son, and within seconds was holding him in my arms, squeezing him so tight he squealed.  Scared, yet so very relieved to be in my arms, he sobbed.  I would have cried too, but I was pumped full of adrenaline. As the storm blew harder, I knew I had to make some quick decisions about what to do next.

Winds from the nearby tornado roared overhead and made the building shake. In my mind, I was plotting our escape from the lockdown, to get us far away from the ‘I’m certain it’s not tornado-proof’ aluminum structure. But there was no need to execute my getaway plan. Within 5 minutes, the skies began to brighten and we were released from lockdown. We sped out of there, anxious to get home to my daughter who had confined herself to the basement bathroom after getting the tornado warnings on her phone. She was alone and did everything exactly right. That’s my girl! We are so very proud of her! 🙂

tornado mapThe usual 7-minute drive home to my daughter took 2 hours due to flooding and trees and wires down. The roads were not even closed by police yet.. It all had just happened and looked like a war zone.

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scene en route trying to get home post storm
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trees sheared off near our home
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flooding just minutes from home prevented access to our community
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flooding close up
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Neighbors working together to open the only accessible road into our community
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150-200 foot trees toppled at a nearby manor house
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My view as I entered our street
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wires down the next day all over nearby roads
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trees hanging on wires over nearby roads, unreal!

The damage to our property is surreal.. The destruction is very localized and it’s truly amazing no one was injured or killed. Fortunately, our house is intact with some water damage in the basement. We have approximately 20, 150 foot trees that were sheared off or knocked down by the 80 mph winds.

These two photos below were taken in our backyard almost exactly 24 hours apart Monday-Tuesday of this week.

Here’s a photo tour of the damage in our yard.

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in the backyard
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view of our house from next door
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pulled up to house to find this
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about 20 of these on our lot
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lots of great memories here!
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backyard
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game over for this ball

Seeing the extent of the damage, we are counting our blessings. Every. Single. One.

I am so impressed and deeply indebted to the cub scout camp administrative staff for handing the whole situation so professionally; to my son’s exceptional den leaders this week, James & Alice Johnson, who treated the boys as their own, especially in such a scary situation: to the countless neighbors, friends and strangers, who have offered their assistance, support, calls and messages of encouragement and prayers; to those strangers-turned-friends who have hugged me on the side of the road; to my kids and hubby for being so brave and strong through this whole ordeal; as well as to our community leaders and local emergency management officials for navigating our county through this extreme weather event and its aftermath.  Everyone has worked together throughout this entire situation to keep each other safe and lift each other’s spirits.  My heart is full.

After dropping my little guy off at scout camp this morning, I’ll admit, I finally had a good cry. The adrenaline rush is over, and the reality of the massive scale of the clean up is starting to hit hard.

However, I just recalled the morning after it all happened. The beams of the sunrise radiated through my window, prying my eyelids open. I kicked off the covers and jumped out of bed. As I peeked up out the window at the beautiful light filtering through the forest in front of me, my heart sank as I looked down out at the devastation surrounding me. I gasped as I recalled the life changing events that I had somehow temporarily forgotten from the day before.

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I cracked open the window to catch a sense of the morning air and to soak in this new and strange world around me.  As I did, the “teacher-teacher-teacher” song of the Ovenbird rang out loud and clear nearby in the debris. The ‘”peet-zah!” call of the Acadian Flycatcher followed. And then I heard the melodic & beautiful “ee-o-lay” song of the Wood Thrush.

It was the same exact repertoire as the morning before this had all happened.

And at that moment, I knew…

everything was going to be alright.

 

 

 

 

Alpine & the Davis Mountains ~ Texas Day 5

Day 5 provided a fantastic opportunity to soak in breathtaking views high up in the Davis Mountains of West Texas and add some more birds to the list. As always, the pictures don’t do this place justice. You’ve just gotta GO!

We connected with our new friend, Bill Sain, in Alpine the night before, ran over to ‘The Post’ in Marathon for Elf Owl and then headed to the Davis Mountains first thing on Thursday. (A shout out to Martin Hagne for putting us in touch with him!) Special thanks to Bill as he SO very kindly set aside Wednesday night and all day Thursday for us.  We share LOTS of mutual friends in the birding world, but hadn’t had the opportunity to bird together until now.   Bill’s such a sweet and fascinating person. I’m certain it’s not our last birding adventure together! 🙂

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Bill and David, birding in the Davis Mountains
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Always FUN to run into fellow guides!  Simon and Emilie (left) with their tour from NC.
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My son might be disappointed fishing in this river 😛 , Madera Canyon
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Madera Canyon Trail
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Wild Turkey
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McDonald Observatory
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Impromptu tour of the inside of the Hobby-Eberly telescope from one of its mirror specialists
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The Hobby-Eberly Telescope

We missed a couple targets, but just enjoying our time high up in the picturesque Davis Mountains MORE than made up for that!

We even got an impromptu tour of the Hobby-Eberly Telescope from a telescope mirror specialist at the McDonald Observatory. (You KNOW that tour was a real treat for all of us, especially this science teacher!) The telescope is currently being updated to perform world-wide collaborative research on……….

****cue background Twilight Zone music now***

Dark Energy.

Yes, if you’re in the hard sciences.. It’s a thing. VERY cool!

Here are the new year birds we had in the Davis Mountains. # 350 is within reach! :

325 Say’s Phoebe – Sayornis saya
326 Cactus Wren – Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus
327 Curve-billed Thrasher – Toxostoma curvirostre
328 Cassin’s Kingbird – Tyrannus vociferans
329 Acorn Woodpecker – Melanerpes formicivorus
330 Hepatic Tanager – Piranga flava
331 Black-headed Grosbeak – Pheucticus melanocephalus
332 Western Wood-Pewee – Contopus sordidulus
333 Plumbeous Vireo – Vireo plumbeus
334 Western Bluebird – Sialia mexicana
335 Phainopepla – Phainopepla nitens

 

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The Saddle Club in Alpine, TX

We ended the day with a lovely dinner of tapas at The Saddle Club in Alpine with Bill’s wife, Marian and mother, Gwen. You can probably tell from the picture above, this Yankee just KNEW she was NOT in Maryland anymore! 🙂  Fun!

As I reflect on our day with Bill, this quote keeps coming to mind.

Yes’m, old friends is always best, ‘less you can catch a new one that’s fit to make an old one out of.  ~Sarah Orne JewettIMG_7093

Marian, Bill, Gwen and Nancy

 

Break in the birding

I’ll get back to the report on the Texas trip soon! But this weekend was reserved for some overdue family fun time.  While Mom’s Big Year includes a ton of birding (of course), it also includes a ton of “mommying”.  And this weekend it was all about the mommy stuff.  Continue reading