Birds Before Bennington

So fellow travelers, this weekend’s road trip planned so many weeks ago evolved into something much more than expected.

As I prepared for the concert road trip, birding reports of returning migrants long delayed by April’s record setting cold began showing up in my messages. Even though I did not register to bird for this year’s Birdathon event, I could feel the compelling pull of the annual challenge we had risen to for so many years. On our last Birdathon Favorite Youngest Daughter and I finally broke the 100 species mark. Last year, even flying solo, I tallied a respectable total count of 73 species and I only birded for seven hours in a half dozen favorite locations, about half the time and distance we would cover as a team.

Calculating the time I would need to get to the concert, I set my alarm for first light, tossed my birding notes and checklist in the front passenger seat (next to the bin which holds my binoculars and travel copy of All About Birds) and finished packing my car.

When that alarm went off Saturday morning I hit snooze and rolled over. Half an hour later the punctuated calls of our resident yard robins and cardinals roused me from a surrealistic dream clearly scripted from the nerve wracking events at work the day before. I had slept through three replays of that snoozed alarm. Damn.

Grateful my husband had thoughtfully set up the coffeemaker the night before, despite the stress induced foul mood I had been in, I hit brew now, threw on hiking boots, packed a cooler with water, snacks and fruit and, after glancing at the forecast for both home and my afternoon destination, grabbed a rain jacket. Even after sleeping through that alarm, I managed to head out so early, our dog did not wake up to follow me downstairs. Travel mug filled with warm life restoring java, I paused in my driveway to listen~

Robin
Cardinal
House Sparrow
Goldfinch
Mourning Dove
House Finch
Red-bellied woodpecker
Blue jay                                                                                                                                                      Crow
Chipping sparrow
and of course our newest tenant “Chester” the House Wren

Eleven birds and I hadn’t even left my driveway.

As I drove up our road a great blue heron sailed high overhead. Always a welcome sighting, I had been told decades ago this graceful flier was one of my totem spirit guides. Driving across the bridge in the village I spied a pair of ospreys fishing for breakfast among the cormorants. But dark clouds moving in from the west threatened to shut down the opportunities to catch early morning activity and calls, so rather than stop to watch as I sometimes do on my way to work, I drove on to my next location where I hoped migrating warblers would be sheltered.

By the time rain arrived I had managed to log thirty-eight species in about two hours. I checked two more hot spots but found only a few persistent residents whose species I had already tallied braving the intensifying rains.

It was time to head East for songs of a different nature. (to be continued)

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

Verdi in the Woods

So fellow travelers, cool overcast conditions have not dampened the enthusiasm of songbirds this morning.

Sipping tea at the kitchen table of a favorite AirBnB I’m focused on the serenade echoing from the woods behind the cottage. It’s a glorious chorus of melodic phrases, punctuated by bright chirps and an occasional bass riff by a woodpecker somewhere deep in the forest.

Morning serenade
Woodland concert wakens me
Friendship sings again

This weekend’s road trip was set in motion when I received word of a choral concert which included three friends from our creative group. It was an opportunity not to be missed and well worth the seven hour round trip drive, which of course gave me the perfect reason to stay over at this favorite spot.

The only hitch in this plan was the schedule conflict of the concert date falling on the same weekend as the annual Birdathon marathon, an event I have participated in for twelve years, nine of them with Favorite Youngest Daughter.

Still this performance led by Maestro Cailin Marcel Manson would include a mulitude of choral and orchestral musicians taking on Verdi’s sweeping Requiem. It promised to be as rare as any of the unusual sightings popping up in my local birding reports (which so far this season have included an Avocet, a White pelican and a Western meadowlark.)

I reserved my ticket, booked my overnight accommodations and marked my calendar. Little did I know how crucial this respite would prove. (To be continued)

a little watercolor sketch of one of my morning greeters.

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

Spirit of 60 Road Trip Part Six: Signs

“Keep your eyes on the stars and your feet on the ground.”  Theodore Roosevelt

So fellow travelers, in the process of writing about the time I spent at Sagamore Hill I struggled to find words which would convey my feeling of reverence without being trite or glorifying beyond reason a man I greatly admired.

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The Roosevelt family motto over the porch doorway.  It literally translates as “Who plants preserves” which could be interpreted in many ways; to me it speaks both to the responsibility of  tending to as well as leaving a legacy by what one creates

Theodore Roosevelt was as flawed a human being as any of us. What sets him apart from many significant icons of history is his open recognition of his own shortcomings, something he wrote and spoke of candidly particularly in his letters to his family. In everything he imparted to his children, he was acutely aware of his own need to improve. Impatient, mercurial, and stubborn, his hawkish military policies, voracious desire to hunt, manipulation of the press and bellicose attacks on political enemies stand in sharp contrast to the leader whose missions championed the common citizen, family values, wildlife conservation and a desire to promote peace through understanding.

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Walking along the boardwalk leading back to the trail from the shore I thought about why coming to Theodore’s home had meant so much to me. To see the one place on earth which TR loved more than any, the haven his restless spirit called home, was to be within the energy which fueled his soul. Perhaps I hoped to be blessed even fractionally by what I found; certainly I was deeply moved by the unique vibrancy and living presence I sensed, something I do not often feel when traveling to historic sites. For me, TR embodies the struggle to reconcile who we are at our worst and who we strive to be at our best. He embraced life with its heartache and challenges. He heard and responded to the call to serve others beyond his own interests.

 

True greatness lies less in who we are and more in how what we impact others. To live with the integrity to be oneself yet still think and act beyond that self for greater good is to live an honorable life.

Just as I came up off the beach, a large white egret flew over the boardwalk and into the tall grasses at the edge of the wetlands, a breathtaking moment that stopped time.

Eyes to the skies,  feet on the ground. One of my favorite of his mottos.

The majestic bird moved too fast for me to get a photo, but it didn’t matter. I knew what I had seen and I gratefully accepted it as a sign of adventures to come.

So many National Parks are waiting.  Ride on TR, I’m on my way.

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Great Egret photo taken by my then nine year old daughter at Fair Haven State Park. NY  an image of another breath taking, timeless moment on one of our annual birding treks

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

Spirit of 60 Road Trip Part One: an Inauspicious Beginning

So fellow travelers, a few weeks ago I embarked on a road trip, a pilgrimage of sorts to an historic site I’ve wanted to visit for many years. As an added bonus I happened to obtain advance sale tickets to a special event at the New York Botanical Garden, so the timing of the trip was built around that fortuitous find.

20170713_191811editSneak preview of adventures to come

As the time for departure approached I found myself feeling a kind of heaviness about the trip which I am unaccustomed to.  It took a few long quiet meditations by our little fish pond to realize I had started to imbue the trip with monumental expectations. Like those heavy ornate frames one sees around famous paintings in museums, gilded mantles which almost overpower the masterpieces they contain, I was framing the trip with the aura of my 60th solar return which would arrive at the end of the journey. As I noted on the eve of my birthday, I rarely made much of my advancing age before, yet approaching this milestone felt different. I questioned every aspect of this trip as if it had to provide some kind of deep insights worthy of this life marker.

“What if you just head out and let the adventure happen?  Be open to the experience as it unfolds, like you do when you’re hiking or birding.”  In other words, I told myself, stop over thinking everything.

So I packed, charged my camera battery, stocked up on water and snacks, filled the gas tank and headed out early enough to, hopefully, beat New York City’s rush hour traffic at the other end of the first leg.

Then as I drove up the ramp onto the highway which runs through Syracuse, a tiny little bird flew across the road directly in front of my car.

I slowed down and swerved a bit to the right but with traffic so close behind me there was nothing more I could do. I felt a dull thud and, even worse, in my side view mirror saw a tiny feathered ball tumbling towards the edge of the road.

It was heartbreaking.

I gasped, tears blurred my vision. I pounded my steering wheel.

NO! NO! NO!

As I merged into the traffic traveling at highway speed, my mind spun in a thousand directions.

Did the bird suffer?  I hoped it had died instantly but I thought I saw it trying to hop around after it landed. Oh God. This was a very bad start. How could I possibly drive over 700 miles after this? I need to turn around.

Turn around and do what? Go look for the bird?

Even if I found it how would I get to it?

If I managed to get to it, what would I do? Hold it while it died as traffic raced by?

Then what? I can’t take it with me; I would drive home to bury it.

After that do I stay home or leave again on this obviously doomed expedition?

Because I have caused an innocent creature suffering.

NO! NO! NO!

Why hadn’t I left five minutes earlier or later so this didn’t happen.

Or would it have happened no matter what?

Ok the exit to loop back is coming up. Got to make a decision.

Except this tractor trailer is making the decision for me since it won’t let me off in time.

Dammit.

I kept driving, tears rolling down my cheeks. I knew this was an unavoidable incident but that did not make my heart feel any better. If this was a harbinger of the experiences this trip had to offer I was not sure I was willing to continue. I could not get the thought of the little bird’s suffering out of my head. Slowly as I drove on, letting thoughts flow with the tears, a ripple of responses began to echo in my consciousness.

Suffering is inevitable, it is part of life.

But suffering, like all aspects of life, is not permanent.

Suffering, ours or that of another, is a call for compassion.

Compassion recognizes there is no line between the suffering of others and ourselves.

The bird’s suffering is mine too.

The pattern follows a line of thinking based in Buddhist teachings intended to shift the habitual focus our minds have developed over centuries of negative thinking. Even after many years of practice I still have to remind myself to apply what I have learned but what matters is the moment of awareness, the call to become mindful of what I am experiencing so I can work through the process.

All this mental drama may seem melodramatic in relation to a not uncommon death of a small bird. That is certainly the kind of judgment such thinking would have evoked if I voiced such thoughts as a child. I am the master of my own perceptions now; the lives of even the tiniest of creatures have value. It is a belief of great importance to me, one I have tried to pass on to my own daughters, a tenant I am soul-bound to respect.

Gradually my perspective shifted from remorse and self-directed anger to acceptance and sadness. I could not change the death of this little bird by being angry with myself for my part in its final moments of suffering. I could continue to berate myself and let the pall of death infuse the remainder of my journey or I could choose to find reflections of suffering calling for my attention, look mindfully at the sources of this suffering, and then seek ways to offer kindness and compassion to others and myself as a way to honor the bird’s spirit.

lost bird

I pictured the bird in the moments before it dove down from the shrubs, imagining it’s spirit soaring high even as the tiny body tumbled across the road from the impact of my car.  I ran this image over and over until my tears stopped. As I drove on, a red tailed hawk swooped up from a roadside tree, circled a few times over my car soaring higher into brightening skies. A moment of zen I gladly accepted as a sign I was on course and headed where I needed to be. to be continued

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

Photo note:  the bird pictured is a very distant  cell phone shot taken last spring, obviously not from the recent roadside encounter described.

 

 

 

 

Zen Moment: Woodpecker’s Haiku

So fellow travelers, I’ve just returned from a week of camping with a good friend at one of the wonderful State Parks we are blessed to have here in Upstate New York.

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Round Lake Trail at Green Lakes State Park

Lots of rain meant plenty of time to write, so I can promise a series of posts about my recent #Spiritof60 road trip will be coming up.  Between rain storms, there were some good opportunities to get out on the trails.  Cooler temps kept bugs at a minimum although the grey skies and flat light made for poor photo conditions. Still the sun put in an appearance bright and early on the last day and the birds responded with great enthusiasm as if to make up for so many hours of precipitation induced silence. From the glorious morning wake-up call of a pileated woodpecker and feathered friends came this grateful haiku

Drumbeats at sunrise
Songbirds join in harmony
Trails call rise and hike

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Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

 

 

 

 

Zen moment : Morning with a Wren

So fellow travelers, sitting by the pond enjoying my morning coffee, I hear a little wren has discovered the house we put up last week. 

New wren house in morning sunlight. The tenant stayed hidden in the shrubs while singing.

 

It may seem late in the season for adding a birdhouse yet I must take advantage of my husband’s assistance when he’s available. Good weather usually finds him out on a golf course or in the garage restoring a classic car.  For him the yard is something to mow and weed whack. Still, I am blessed he recognizes it as my sanctuary and I’m honestly  grateful for his efforts when I need them.

Our pond for example, where I spend so many moments gleaning peace, was a birthday gift built one hot summer, eight years ago.True it came at the urging of Favorite Youngest Daughter, but it would not have been accomplished without his hard work. 

Listening to our newest yard tenant’s joyful bursts of song I am reminded of the importance of simple joy.

Trilling proud and loud

Inspired morning wren song

Seek joy live each day

Finding joy in each day, living the moments with simple gratitude. Lessons to carry with me forward on the journey.

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

Birds of a Feather

Who would attempt to fly with the tiny wings of a sparrow when the mighty power of an eagle has been given him?” A Course In Miracles

So fellow travelers this quote popped up in my morning feed today.

My immediate response was ” Me!  I would! ” and while I understand the quote’s intended spiritual lesson is we deny too much the power we have within us, I know my response comes from a place of truth.

Osprey in flight Fair Haven Sate Park May 2017

 

Of course I marvel at the amazing grace and power of raptors, watching in awe whenever I am blessed with a sighting. Who wouldn’t want to soar above the trees and spiral gracefully upwards on thermal drafts? I’ve had dreams of flying like that. Yet the honest truth is I relate more in spirit with the little song birds who chirrup as they dash about the forest underbrush, diving down to snatch a cool drink from a brook, darting up into the air to snag a juicy treat, then dodging into a secret sanctuary among the leaves.  Tucked safely away I would feel free to sing the song in my heart without fear of reprisal.

The admonition is clear. You have been given tremendous power. Why hide it within a smaller self?  I contemplated this yesterday afternoon as I sat in my favorite chair by our little pond taking in the birds enjoying the feeders I had just refilled. Chickadees, finches, cardinals, juncos and grackles hopped back and forth between the trees, feeders and the ground gathering the seeds with great gusto. Occasionally one would hop daringly onto the rocks by the pond and, eyeing me with utmost caution, dip their little bills into the waterfall for a quick drink before dashing back into the trees.

In my current quest to come to peace with what is I find myself eyeing reality with the same caution as my little visitors. I have never been one to give in easily to situations which do not feel right and I am not about to start now.  The philosophical and spiritual foundations of  who I am have been built from hard won battles with both personal and global negativity. Maybe this grants me the wingspan and power of an eagle but if I am honest with myself, those wings do not suit me. I am simply more comfortable flying about on smaller, more agile wings.

A flash of color

A song sung true from the heart

Tiny feathered warriors

Guide me on my path

Tree Swallow Sterling Nature Center May 2017

Who’s to say power can’t be tucked into those little feathered wings ?

 

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

Editors note: The poem is a flipped haiku format using 5/7/7/5 rhythm



Solitary Loonacy: One Bird at a Time

So fellow travelers, the preliminary tally results from last weekend’s birding marathon just came out.

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While my final tally of 73 species is not in the top ten on the team list, I felt a little swell of pride seeing my tally listed higher than several teams of seasoned birders. Not a bad showing for my first solo “flight,” given the challenges of being afield without my longtime Birdathon teammate aka Favorite Younger Daughter.

Little did I know how sparsely scattered those tallied sightings would be. Our basic strategy has always been to hit known hotspots as early as possible giving us the option to track unusual sightings at locations in between throughout the day.

Those hot spots were unusually quiet, missing many of the songbirds that pass through during migration season.  In most of these spots I would find more memories than birds.

Sterling Nature Center Heron Rookery where Team Loonatics scored our first owl sighting last year.

So I spent a lot of time scouting side trails and second guessing possible back up locations. Some sightings of more common species I probably missed because I could not simultaneously drive and watch along the roadside. There’s where that second pair of eyes has always been a crucial part of our teamwork.

Perhaps more than any individual sighting my most significant discovery on this solo quest was the joy embedded in the process we had laid down in our years as a Mother-Daughter birding team. My fellow Loonatic may have been several thousand miles away yet her spirit echoed in every favorite moment of this solo run.

Hidden in plain sight

One bird’s song gives voice to love

Echoes in my heart

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Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

 

Solitary Loonacy: First Solo Flight

So fellow travelers, a year ago I posted a photo and poem about a  heartfelt moment during an annual birding expedition with Favorite Youngest Daughter. This weekend I returned to that spot and captured this image.

It was my first stop on this year’s Birdathon challenge, an annual event I joined for the first time in 2005. ( it’s background is in a previous post too) . As excellent a spot as Potter Road Marsh can be for birding, I had a more personal reason for starting my day’s adventure there. Like the mist on the water that morning a year ago, emotions embedded in the moment I had captured drifted through my consciousness as I prepared for this year’s expedition.

For the first time in ten years I would be flying solo. I had no illusions of breaking our tally record of one hundred and one species without my Team Loonatics partner, Favorite Youngest Daughter, whose expert ear for both pitch and cadence and accurate note taking skills were a major contribution to our final tallies. Still I had strong hopes of being able to find most of the species I could confidently identify independently and I wanted to fuel my “can do” attittude by starting the 24 hour challenge at the spot where inspiration had left a powerful memory.

Windows wide open inspite of the chilly morning temperatures, I drove towards the marsh, counting every song I heard along the way.  By the time I reached the trailhead just fifteen minutes from my house I had tallied nine common birds which I carefully marked on the checklist. Bear in mind first light was just emerging through cracks in the night sky, so I was finding birds only by calls

Stepping out of my car, I heard the sweet melodic song of a wood thrush, so loud and clear, I knew it had to be close to the trail head.  Binoculars in one hand, I moved along the trail as soundlessly as possible. Just a few steps past the trailhead I found the bird sitting in plain sight on a tree branch a few feet above me, so close I never had to raise my binoculars, I had such a clear view. Clear that is until sudden tears blurred my vision, ambushed by a memory from one of our first birdathon trips when a wood thrush had hopped out of the brush and onto a trail right in front of us. My daughter and I instantly froze in place and watched as the bird tilted its head as if looking quizically at these odd big shapes in the path. It hopped a few more steps then flew up into a tree and sang it’s signature flute like melody loud and clear before retreating deeper in the woods.

Left speechless, it had taken me a few breaths to answer my then ten year old daughter’s question of what bird that had been. Inspite of finding wood thrushes many times before, an actual sighting had always eluded me.  I remember, as a new birder taking a guided walk at a local nature center where everyone in the group I was with was able to spot a wood thrush in the trees. Everyone, but me that is, as the elusive songster kept zipping from branch to branch hidden behind leaves as I frantically focused and refocused my binoculars to get a clear view.  This “heard clearly, almost but not quite saw it,” moment was repeated for several years over many auditory encounters until that first full view on our second Birdathon adventure. The wonderful memory of that shared moment rose as clear as the notes filling the morning air and I whispered just as I had ten years ago “wood thrush, it’s really and truly a wood thrush.”

WoodThrush

Wood Thrush song spectrogram from Birds of North Ameirca Online; music from Oiseaux Exotiques © 1959 Universal Edition (London) Ltd., London/UE 13008. Photo by Janet Heintz via Birdshare.

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

Zen moment : Fish Dinner

So fellow travelers, a coffee break between work and an afternoon meeting brought an exhilarating sighting. One moment with the power to clear the mind of a tough day’s debris and give rise to these words ~

Sharp winds blow clouds race

Black and white wings fold and dive

Today’s meal is fish

The river behind the donut shop in town is a favored hunting ground for a variety of birds including cormorants, hawks, osprey and on some occasions even bald eagles.

 

One moment of awe instilled by a bird of prey simply following instinct miraculously reset every cell in my stress infused brain.

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

Photo note: a few days later i returned to the site with my canon T3dslr. The images are not great but they are as close as I could get even with my telephoto lens.