The Bird in my Heart

So fellow travelers, you know that expression about a bird in hand being worth two in the bush? Well, how many birds would one from the heart equate to?

Once a year, since 2006 on the third Saturday of May, I set out on a special birding adventure called Birdathon. Essentially, it’s a 24hr birding challenge and fundraiser for our local Audubon Society. I’ve written about it a few times and it is one of my favorite adventures of the year. It’s exhausting, exhilarating, frustrating and fascinating all at once. After all it’s no easy task to locate and identify as many different species within a set region in just one day. It’s even harder without my fellow “loonatic.” Missing Favorite Youngest Daughter’s trained ear for pitch and cadence I am often at a loss trying to identify a distant call, even with the aid of my arsenal of birding apps. Since our last run as Team Loonatics in 2016 I’ve been flying solo as it were and even when the weekend holds other commitments I feel the pull to head out because this event holds meaning much deeper than tally marks on a check list.

At every location there are threads which wove a bond between the spirit of this willful, fiercely independent child and my stubborn mother’s heart. The day is not about the numbers. It has evolved into a ritual of reconnection, so even when I’m standing by myself on a trail, listening intently, I am not alone. As my brain is pulling up the memory of things my daughter taught me about pitch and cadence, my heart feels the joy of precious moments shared.

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Distant songs echo

Love transcends time and distance

A mother’s heart heals

One day Team Loonatics will venture out again, perhaps for the Global Big Day at locations we’ve never charted before. Until then, I keep listening and living the lessons learned on the path of Motherhood .

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

Season’s Edge

So fellow travelers, this haiku showed up on a chilly walk the day before the vernal equinox.

Time frozen in waves

Thaw at season’s edge reveals

Sleeping memories

What looks like waves along the shore are actually frozen layers of water

Delilah and I have been walking the East Lakeshore Trail at Onondaga Lake Park, training for the upcoming 6legged5k event. We participate in this event most years as it’s a fund raiser for local dog rescues, including Helping Hounds. As Delilah is an HHDR alumni, it’s only fitting we put our best footandpaw forward to do our best.

To hit our stride on race day, we start training early in March by walking the trail a few times a week, gradually increasing our distance from one to three miles. At least that’s our goal, but some years the weather throws things off with either late season snowstorms (both April 2013 and 2016 had snowstorms the week before) or flooding which almost postponed the event two years ago.

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In 2017, lake levels came right up to the pavillion near the 5K trail

This year, March has been blustery with at least one day of heavy (8-10 inches) snow but the county parks crew has done a fantastic job of keeping the walking trail clear and we are on track to finish with a respectable time.

One side benefit to walking the East shore trail is catching a view of incoming migrants resting on the lake. The ice has not fully receded, so our seasonal visitors are clustered along the edge where open water meets the slowly receding ice shelf.

Those smaller dark specks in the distance are a variety of ducks

Delilah does not mind when I stop to scan the water with my binoculars. It gives her a chance to track the scents of a variety of critters, including foxes, opossum and an occasional mink often seen skirting the shoreline.

Soon those frozen waves will thaw and spotting the various waterbirds will become more challenging. One afternoon, there will come a warbling trill from the trees. I will turn my binoculars to catch a glimpse of migrating songbird and memories of so many grand adventures will break free as the icy grip of winter finally thaws.

 

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

Birds Doing New Things

While I head out to clear snow (yes it’s still snowing on and off in March- ah Spring in Upstate NY) from my own backyard birdfeeders to keep the early spring migrants well fueled against the return of Winter-like temperatures I thought my Fellow Travelers might enjoy a trip to a bird sanctuary in warmer climates. Sylvia’s blog keeps my birding dreams alive through our long cold season.

Tonji and Sylvia's Wildlife Refuge

Sometimes we see birds as predictable creatures of habit. They have favorite perches that they return to day after day. Their behavior becomes familiar and part of the flow of the day.

This has become a familiar early morning sight. 5 White Breasted Woodswallows perched on top of this Agoho tree.

Other times we get to witness entirely new behavior. I thought it was unusual to see a Philippine Bulbul perched on the round pen. They usually hide inside the trees. What was it doing?

This looks to me like a young Philippine Bulbul. Based on the sounds, I think there was a nest inside the aratiles and this bird is one of the young from the nest.

The Philippine Bulbul was carefully, drop by drop, picking up dew from the fence posts.

I’ve never seen other birds do that on the fence posts before.

Soon there was a second…

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Spring Ahead

So fellow travelers, Delilah and I just returned home from a quick walk.

It is a luxurious 58 ° , the air smells like spring and the sun managed to sneak in a brief but brilliant appearance before the incoming front from the west shrouded the golden light in deep grey storm clouds.

High over head, wave after wave of migrating geese called out as small lines merged again and again into ever larger formations. A distant chatter grew suddenly louder as a massive mixed flock of smaller birds filled the sky with hundreds of black specks. The sound was almost deafening but I stood absolutely still, mesmerized by the vibrant urgency of this annual push for survival. I have seen these migrating bird clouds before but always far above me on the trails. Today I was engulfed in the sight and sound of this tsunami of flight a few dozen feet overhead. Even Delilah seemed intrigued, sitting still on a patch of newly recovered grass by a not quite thawed snow pile. She looked at me, then up at the noisy intruders, scanning the trees where dozens of birds were landing for brief respites.

The wave seemed endless, although I am sure we stood and watched for only a few minutes before all but a few stragglers flew off towards the tree lined river nearby. Ears still ringing from the high pitched cacophony, I started walking towards home. As we picked our way around patches of snow along the edge of our yard, I heard bright and clear, for the first time this year, a familiar call.

Cackling V flies

Cloud of black specks darts and chirps

Robin sings at last

Yes, there in my neighbor’s chinaberry tree sat a robin calling out between pecking at dinner. Finally! The Vernal equinox does not occur until next week, but I will gratefully take this sign that spring is on it’s way.

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

Winter in Whiskey Hollow

So fellow travelers, the transition from Autumn to Winter has been grey, damp and chilly here in Central New York.

Slight differences in temperatures determine whether it’s raining or snowing . Thick mats of wet leaves create slick patches almost as treacherous as ice. The sun is obscured by dense clouds for days at a time; even the briefest of appearances is cause for celebration.

Quick look ! Do you see what we see?

Delilah and I spy the distant glow of sunshine far down the road we walk almost everyday in our neighborhood.

In the midst of gloom I received some heartening news; I’ve had to reset some hoped for plans lately, so I am going to hold this one close to my heart until it is more certain to unfold.

Meanwhile I opted for a mental health day, which initially included plans to finish Christmas shopping. This era of online purchases with direct recipient shipping is easier but lacks the personal touch which I try to bring to the gifts I give. There’s a simple joy in scouting craft shows and small shops to find the right something for each person on my list.

When the day dawned bright and clear I shifted gears to allow for a visit to a favorite birding spot.

Upon arriving , I remembered why it’s a not a frequent stop on my winter walking destinations. Early snow already covers the minimally maintained roadway; eventually it will become impassable until spring.

For now I was granted passage through and I drovecarefully along the winding road marveling at the transformation winter has made.

The little brook still babbles free and blissful it has not frozen over yet

Everything has become something new unto itself, familiar and yet not, a reflection of the path I am trying to navigate right now. I think I can see the way forward and yet, a sudden change leaves me on less certain footing.

Tracks in the snow leading to the little pond

Wrapped in the deep silence of these favorite woods blanketed in snow, lost in thought the bright chirping of a chickadee called me back.

High on a pine branch
One bird sits and sings alone
Joy cascades like snow

A simple, familiar reminder. Stop, look, listen.

What we seek is closer than we think.

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

The Crow Who Came to Dinner

So fellow travelers, our first day of events came to a close with a marvelous dinner and concert by the band at an open air venue by the beach.

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Sitting around the tables, hearing the stories of how people first found Switchfoot’s inspiring music, what song was their favorite and why, where they came from and how they came to be at this event – so many connections made, fans becoming friends and family.

Switchfoot is a faith based band with the rare ability to express their beliefs inclusively. They have been criticized by so-called christian groups for not being more outspoken in their music; in some areas of the country fundamentalist christian protestors demonstrate outside the venues when they perform. Jon usually goes over to talk with them, to engage in a dialogue about love, acceptance and being defined by the compassion (or the lack thereof) in our actions and how we live our lives.

People who know me, or who have been following my thinking out loud here know I am more likely to seek wisdom and grace on a hike than by sitting in a church pew. I am more a follower of the Way than the Word. As I reflected a few posts back, if I have to identify as a believer in something, I say I believe that Light and grace and healing are found on many paths and no one teaching has the answer for every person.

To be immersed in a faith based community for five days of close interactions and feel completely at home with being myself, with sharing our stories of struggles, losses and hopes, to feel accepted without judgment is a rare experience. No one proselytized, no one questioned my beliefs or tried to impose theirs. It is a measure of the genuinely accepting spirit these talented musicians and their support team truly embody.

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During the dinner, we had an unexpected visitor at our table, when a large black crow landed on one of our tablemates. The bird literally seemed to fall out of the sky and just crash onto her. Jessica screamed in panic because it turns out she is petrified of birds. While the people on that side of the table helped her, I turned my attention to the crow, which had taken shelter under our table. It appeared stressed and possibly injured, as it hopped around with one wing askew. We did our best to gently encourage the bird to move away from our terrified tablemate, eventually we were able to guide it towards open space where other people helped it reach some bushes near the trees. Reassuring Jessica that the bird had moved away from our table helped her calm down. She told us she has no idea why they scare her so much, there is no specific reason, no point of trauma to explain it; birds just scare her into a panic. Naturally this incident wasn’t helping to ease her fears. I watched with great concern for both Jessica and the crow, until that bird gradually got to higher trees where it sat vocalizing as if laughing at us.

Ah! zen moment!

A message of how the things we fear will find us and confront us and challenge us to face them.

When I saw Jessica the next day and checked in with her, she said she felt a little shaken still, but was ok. She even laughed a little at how, of all people, this bird had to land on the one dinner guest with an intense fear of birds. From the moment comes this haiku.

 

Fear is like a bird

Crash landing when least welcome

Taking flight when faced

 

 

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

Photos courtesy of Switchfoot Getaway staff.

Crow image from stock photos and sketched in photo editor.

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.