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!
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…
ALL. BY. MY. SELF!
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.
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!!!???!!
Erik, Hawk Counter extraordinaire
Nancy & Erik
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…
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.
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, I’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. 🙂
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!)
Pre-ice cream selfie
Dawn on the Pitt St. Causeway
Pitt St. Causeway
One of three college visits for our oldest
Beach boyz – Folly Beach
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.
One afternoon, while perusing the downtown Charleston shopping district, I ran across this book.
I 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!
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..?
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.
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
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.
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.
Francis Scott Key Bridge
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.
It’s nota 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.)
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!)
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.
Checking lobster pots during our puffin cruise
Our lunch spot on the last day, Prospect Harbor
Tide Pool fun!
Corea NWR – Black spruce bog
Chris & Erin
Wild strawberry picking (and eating!) in the bog
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.
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!
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!
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!
Black bear in Western Howard County, 6/26
Black bear in Western Howard County, 6/26
Black bear in Western Howard County, 6/26
(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 BIGopportunity 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… 🙂
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.
It 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.
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! 🙂
The 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.
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.
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.
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.
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! 🙂
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***
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! :
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 Jewett