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.

Three Birds Blue

So fellow travelers,  last week a run of unseasonably warm weather had me out on the birding trails well ahead of season.

 I recognized the chirrup of a song I usually do not hear until Spring has sent Winter well on its way. Looking up I spotted three bluebirds sitting on a wire, taking in the afternoon sun.

Bluebirds, in  February

And not just, one but  three!

A rhythmic dance of words emerged as I took mental pictures to help me sketch later on:

Three birds blue

On a wire

Puffed up chests

Sunlight bathed

Hawk cries high

Sudden flight

Farewell friends

Spring still sleeps

Snow must melt

I will wait

Your return~~~

Winter is back in full force now. Lake Effect snow rushing in ahead of a roaring cold front with  64 mph. Brrrrrr. I’m hoping my three friends are hunkered down in a safe spot til this storm passes. Seeking sanctuary. A sign of the times.

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

Road of Omission

So fellow travelers, a zen moment of awareness from yesterday’s trek in spring weather.

 It’s late February

Here in Upstate NY, if spring weather shows up in March, we consider it early. 

Spring weather in February is well, it’s just so unnatural, frankly it’s unnerving.

Then again these days what isn’t?

Don’t get me wrong. This birdacious seeker of sanctuary is deeply grateful to be walking paths usually buried in several feet of snow and hearing red wing blackbirds not due to return for a couple of weeks.

Signs of a changing world.

Not a comfortable thought.

Then again these days what is ?

Here’s the haiku which emerged as I walked the path processing recent interactions.

It’s safe and smooth this

Road of omission a straight

Line to the desert

Often more meaning is present in what’s not said than in what is.

Walk gently on the path my friends for kindness matters.

Hidden Blessings

So fellow travelers, a bit of Light and Winter Wonder found on a late afternoon.

 

Distant Light glistens

Hidden fairy pond revealed

Secret cache of joy

I discovered this gem on a walk last week before endless steel grey clouds locked the skies in dreary monotones. It was one of those days when bone chilling cold tries to snatch the air back out of your lungs as you breathe but brilliant sunshine bids you take the risk. Blinding snow crunched under foot like broken glass as I walked this trail lost in somber thoughts about the changes the coming year might bring. A solitary chickadee called from an distant barren tree.  Clarion notes which sang a reminder that “There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.”*

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

* Hamlet Act 2 Scene 2~  I don’t quote The Bard often, but when I do it’s because we are analyzing Shakespeare in an English class one of my students is in. The line seemed a fitting reminder as inauguration day approaches

Sanctuary Song

So fellow travelers, today we celebrate Thanksgiving a holiday dedicated to my two favorite things in life: family and food.

This morning I took our dog out for a good long walk before heading on the road to dinner at my brother’s house. He’s set an essential rule this year :  “Please leave all politics at the door.” It says something about the challenges of current times that he even felt a need to do so, yet I am grateful he did. We all need to relax and enjoy being together, to be in a space where the most divisive questions are  “red or white with dinner ?”  and  “apple or pumpkin for dessert?”

For the record the answer to the latter question is simply “Yes, please.”

Delilah and I walked down a neighborhood street where the two feet of lake effect snow which fell a few days ago has buried the election signs left standing either in victory or defiance.

 For once I am grateful for the early snowfall.

As that thought rattled around my weary brain cells, I caught the sound of distant bird calls. Rounding a corner we came across a row of trees filled with birds. As I stopped to take in the welcome chatter I recognized a song among the passing migrants I had not heard for several weeks.

Scanning the bare branches towering above us I realized the songs were coming from a small Chinaberry tree right in front of us where a small flock of robins had paused for breakfast.

Chinaberry buffet for migrant robins.

I stood silent, eyes closed, breathing in the clear cold air, letting the sweet, harmonious “cheeriup, cheeriup, cheerio” fill my soul with the hope of spring and joys of summer. I stood  a long time, embedding this sacred moment into the roots of my existence.
Tears ran down my face in a river of deep cleansing gratitude.

Gratitude for awareness

Gratitude for the healing powers of nature

Gratitude for family near and far, here and in Spirit

Gratitude for the gift of being alive.

“Fly fast and free feathered friends,” I whispered before moving on, “If it’s not too much a burden, please carry our prayers for hope, strength and solidarity to the Heart of God.”

One solidarity robin flew out from the tree, swooped overhead then circled back to settle again in the branches. I’ll take that as an affirmation for hope.

Blessings of gratitude go with you all, fellow travelers. Walk gently on the path and may adventure find you ready.

Treasure Hunt Hidden Talents

So fellow travelers, it is said the first shall be last. Truth at least for the initial post I wrote while in Portland a few weeks ago. It required me to recognize the depth of change  and emotion I had not processed over the past year before I could put words to virtual paper.

The main reason we went to Portland in 2014 was to see Favorite Oldest Daughter and Favored Son In Law, who had moved there earlier that year. From the moment I landed at PDX the city caught me off guard, drawing me in with it’s quirky charm, relaxed vibe and phenomenal food experiences (one does not eat meals in Portland, one has edible experiences, at least I do)

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The patio at the Tin Shed, which after Portland’s food courts, is my favorite place to eat

When we returned the next year, I was fully prepared to find the charm  was just first time visit magic. Again, the I  was delightfully surprised. By the end of our second trip, my husband and I were set on the idea of relocating to the area when we retire a few years down the road. So this year, with both daughters now living in Portland it was the experiences I shared with my family that became my focus.

One Saturday while my husband went to the rock climbing gym with our older daughter ThaiRockclimbingEdit                                                                              Favorite Oldest Daughter rock climbing in Thailand

I went to a bird sketching workshop at the Portland Audubon Nature Center with our younger daughter. She found the class shortly after she moved to Portland and it sounded like a perfect fit for Team Loonatics.  I hit several art store sales to stock up on the supplies we would need, making sure to hand carry the essentials in case our checked luggage wandered off to a random destination (it didn’t, but I know better than to take chances with anything I absolutely need to have when I arrive on a long trip.)

Jude Siegel, the artistleading the workshop, was a vivacious and skilled instructor.  She lead our small, diverse group through several basic drawing exercises, designed to teach us to really see what we would be sketching.  She worked on shapes, proportions, perspective and then moved onto color mixing. We worked with watercolors, a medium I have always found challenging yet her tips and demonstrations gave even novice artists the confidence to dive in and start creating.

During our lunch break, my daughter and I found a shady bench outside where we sat to eat and talk about her new plans for college. Last spring she transferred to Portland State University’s Honors Degree program after finding the curriculum at TUJ did not offer enough to hold her interest.  It had been a tough for her to leave Japan. She still talks about how much she misses living there and had looked into other colleges in Tokyo hoping to find a course of study she was interested in. Listening to her perspective, I had to notice how much she had grown and matured in just one year.

We spent several more hours, working away at our new found skills.

sketchbooks

At the end of the workshop each participant shared their work and Jude asked us to talk about what we had learned. Her one caveat was we not speak negatively of our artwork in anyway. Each person spoke honestly of the challenges and everyone’s experience of the process was slightly different.  Yet we all came away with a feeling of success and everyone expressed a desire to continue working with what we had learned.

It was the time spent, learning something new, just two birders stretching our creative wings that I will treasure and remember every time I take out my little paint set and work on a new painting.

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

 

 

Mother’s Day: Postscript

So fellow travelers, after a simple Mother’s Day post,  I signed off to enjoy my day with Favorite Youngest Daughter.

Later that evening, I scrolled through an abundance of posts on Instagram and Facebook from various friends and relations enjoying scrumptious brunches, festive dinners, day trips to other cities.

I smiled.

I smiled because I was able to celebrate my day in a different manner which filled my heart with joy.

After a round of phone calls to wish the Moms in my life a happy day, Favorite Youngest Daughter and I hit the road to scout for birds.

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Birding on Mother’s Day became a new tradition a few years ago when a marching band event conflicted with our local Audubon Birdathon.

The OAS Birdathon is a twenty-four hour challenge held on the third Saturday of May, during which teams go afield in a designated geographic territory to identify by sight or sound as many different species as possible. It doesn’t matter how many bluebirds we find, once we’ve identified one bluebird, that species is checked off the list and we move on.

For my first birdathon adventure, over ten years ago,  I was graciously given a chance to tag along with an experienced birder. I had a four wheel drive vehicle and I was not afraid to use it, so I was an asset regardless of my lack of birding experience. I returned home with so many stories of crazy encounters my daughter said “Mom, that sounds like fun. Can I go next year?”

So in 2006, Team Loonatics made their Birdathon debut with a goal of finding fifty species, an ambitious total for novice birders. Inspite of windy, chilly weather, absolutely awful conditions for birding, we managed to make our goal with a few extra species for good measure.  When we returned home after fifteen hours, tired and chilled to the bone my then nine year old daughter said “That was great. Can we go again next year?”

So for eight consecutive years, on the third Saturday of May we headed out in search of birds to tally up, increasing our goal a bit each year. Each year, right around the first week in May, Favorite Youngest Daughter would ask if we were doing the Birdathon again.

Damn right we are, because I was not about to pass up something my kid was willing to do with me year after year, even through some difficult teenage growing pains. And when the band competition threw us off our schedule, we were both disappointed until we came up with the idea of going out on Mother’s Day. It’s been fun even though it had a different feeling without the competitive tallies.

With my daughter now home from her college adventure in Tokyo, Team Loonatics will be back afield again this season. Our species goal is up to one hundred and we have been out scouting locations and listening to bird call apps to get ready. Her gift of spending both Mother’s Day and Birdathon  with me makes me twice blessed this year.

It’s a blessing I will hold fast and safe in my heart. A few days after we complete this year’s Birdathon she spreads her own wings, heading for the West Coast to take on the next leg of her college journey.

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Great Egret at Fair Haven State Park, May 2008  Photo by Emma Rahalski

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