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,


The good, the bad, and the amazing!

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…


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. 

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

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.


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!!!???!!

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.


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


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.


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






Best laid plans

Many of you already know that Mom’s Big Year has become bigger than I ever expected in more ways than I ever expected.  But, I’d have to say that this week takes the cake. My Big Year just grew exponentially in some completely new directions.

Big announcement here!

Tomorrow I start a brand. new. job! I’ve been tapped to serve as a biologist for the North America Bird Banding Laboratory at Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, Maryland. Wow!  Not just one, but two jobs literally fell out of the sky into my lap this year. You can probably guess that they were not part of the Big Year plans. But both jobs were too good to pass up. So, Mom’s Big Year is still going strong (and I’m still committed to traveling as much as possible and seeing as many birds as possible before the clock strikes midnight on Dec 31…) with just a few new twists along the way. I’ll still be teaching at University of Maryland in the fall and will be working 3 days at the banding lab and two days at UMBC.

I’m super excited about starting at the lab tomorrow! I’ll be working with several of my mentors in the field of avian research and I know I’m going to learn a TON. I’m ready for that. I am thrilled, honored, and humbled to be working at a place with such a rich history in wildlife research. You can read more Patuxent’s history here. Read more  Did you know that Rachel Carson used Patuxent’s research to develop almost all of the content of her revolutionary book, Silent Spring?

Wow. Just wow.

I’ve been an at-home mom since I left my career as a science teacher and biologist 16 years ago.  So, as you can imagine, this is a huge change for my family and me.  This week, as I prepare the household for my completely new schedule, I’ve TOTALLY been ‘nesting’. (How appropriate!)  I’ve lost count of the number of trips I’ve taken to the store. I’ve been grocery shopping, back-to-school shopping, cleaning, cooking, freezing make-ahead meals and trying to spend as much time as possible with the hubby and kiddos.  I’ve stocked up on so many staples, you’d think a blizzard was on its way to central Maryland!

I’m not sure anything can prepare you for a change like this.. But I wasn’t going to take any chances and bought plenty of chocolate to help me wade through any unanticipated stress. However, IMG_9756I’m not sure how long the chocolate will last around this house as the kids have found all my hiding places!!

But my family can certainly rest assured…

I’ve bought enough toilet paper to last us through March. 🙂



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!