Monday, August 12, 2013

Photographs and Memories

I'm sure you've all heard the song, unless you're younger than me... in which case you might not even know who Jim Croce was. But the song has been playing in my head today as I think about Ohio.

I love Alabama, but Ohio is my home. Does that mean I want to move back? No. I've started a new journey here. In fact, I plan on moving down to Mobile next year. I fully intend on staying in Alabama. The birding here, while Ohio's is great, has actually helped me decide to stay for good.

But, I have been thinking about my old birding haunts. All I have left of them are photographs and memories. Killbuck Marsh, Killdeer Plains, Battelle Darby, Pickerington Ponds, Brown Family Environmental Center and the Kokosing Gap Trail, Mohican Valley Trail and the Bridge of Dreams, Knox Lake, and Kokosing Lake.... all of these places are now things of my past. 

Part of me is homesick, I think. Maybe for the birding, maybe for the people and family I left behind... moving to Alabama was a difficult decision. I don't normally tell my personal story publicly, but I haven't seen my two oldest daughters in two months now, as I prepare to save up for a place of my own. Currently, my three youngest children and I live with my sister. My two oldest are with my parents back in Ohio. I gave up practically everything I owned other than the clothes on our backs, one of my dogs, and my vehicle to move down here. I am rebuilding my life, my belongings, my family piece-by-piece. This is why I bird the way I do. It's the only thing, the only thing, that makes my situation bearable. It's the only thing, that keeps me from running back to Ohio.

Wow, so this birding blog is suddenly turning personal isn't it? I guess because I don't really talk about it, it builds up to the point that I need to put it somewhere...

Maybe you can relate to me. Maybe you can't. Maybe you feel sorry for me... but don't. I can assure you at times, I do that quite well on my own. But, like anything else in life... there's always light at the end of the tunnel, and nothing is ever hopeless.

I miss Ohio. I know I've said it before on this blog. I know it will take time to acclimate here. I need friends... common interest friends. I don't tend to run with the mommy crowd. I don't do play dates and playground get-togethers. I feel pretty socially awkward at times, because I've spent my last almost ten years as a stay-at-home-mom, with my only real socialization being interaction with my children. I'm short-fused, mostly because every ounce of patience I have is saved for my children. But still, I think I could make friends if given the opportunity. I think I'm fairly likable anyways!

This post is almost becoming one of those "About Me" type deals. Why am I posting this? Hmm... that's a good question. I think it brings some sort of depth to the blog. The majority of my audience doesn't know me personally... and when I just write about trips, sure you can see my passion and sense of humor, but do you really see who I am?

So, who am I?

I am first and foremost a mother of the five most amazing children:

 Aubrey is my oldest. She is smart, a free-thinker. She loves to dance and draw and talk about dinosaurs. She is an Aspie (Asperger's Syndrome), but don't let that define her. She is truly a one-of-a-kind child. Her goofy laugh could put a smile on most anyone's face.

Morgan is my second daughter. She is a polar opposite of Aubrey. She's my only brunette, which can get me a few odd stares when I have them all out in public together, as my family has dubbed my children "The Blonde Brigade +Morgan". She looks just like my dad, and is a friend to everyone. She loves meeting new people and telling them her life story. She sings, dances, dresses up like a princess... a true girly girl. But she also loves to go on hikes with me to learn about birds.

Charlotte is my third daughter. There is one word to describe her: Hilarious. She is so friendly, and so funny. She loves to tell "Knock-Knock" jokes, loves to cuddle with Rumor (our dog), loves to play, and loves birdwatching with mom. She might be my future birdwatcher of all of them. She LOVES trying to find the birds hiding in the trees and bushes.

Libby is my youngest daughter. Wow, how to describe her. Spirited is a word used commonly in the natural parenting community to describe children like her. She is constantly on-the-go. Never stops moving. She is also on the spectrum like her oldest sister, but doesn't have a definitive diagnosis. She can be challenging, frustrating, and difficult, but she is still amazing. Even though it's rare, sometimes, she will just want to cuddle and get hugs and kisses, and it melts my heart. Just like all of my children, she is truly one-of-a-kind.

And finally, there's Seth. My only son. Seth was a surprise child, and what a pleasant surprise he was! My easiest pregnancy, my calmest baby. Yeah, that's all gone by the wayside! Once he started walking at nine months, forget about it! He's inquisitive, social, and very talkative. He's always climbing, and diving off of things, and yelling at the dogs ("Bad girl!"). He loves to eat (what growing boy doesn't?), and also often times tags along on birding outings with mom, riding on my back in my Boba carrier.

I truly adore all of my children. While they've made my life tons more challenging, they've also made it tons more rewarding. There is nothing quite like birding with young kids in tow, showing them your passion, and hoping it leads them to their own things to be passionate about. (Even if it's not birding!)

Enough with the proud mom braggery... I guess I can tell you a little bit about me.

I was born in 1983 in Columbus, Ohio. I am a twin (fraternal though... we couldn't look more different if we tried!), with two older brothers. I grew up in the city, of course, and learned to be tough from an early age. Mostly because my two older brothers taught me to be. As long as I can remember, I loved birds. My first bird book was the Reader's Digest Birds of North America. I memorized every single bird in the book. By age six, my parents said I could name any bird that we came across with 100% accuracy. My fondest memories as a child were going to Blacklick Woods Metro Park and walking the trails and watching the birds at the feeders behind the nature center. Once I was in high school, though, birding fell by the wayside. Then, shortly after high school came a marriage and children, and it wasn't until recently (this year actually), that I once again became active on the forums and met someone who really inspired me to start doing what I'd always loved once again. (I am forever grateful to you for that, by the way!)

I have traveled to each coast. Once at 19 years of age, traveling to Los Angeles from Mount Vernon, Ohio with my best friend, Denise. I have lived in Kentucky (Louisville), Missouri (Kansas City and Saint Joseph), Ohio (Columbus, Mt. Vernon, Howard, and Fredericktown), and now Alabama (Huntsville). I like to believe I am fairly well-traveled for my age, though there are definitely more places I want to see (and bird at!).

I love to sing, which includes karaoke with my sister. Not to toot my own horn, but we tear it up! I also draw... mostly animals (almost all my clients were dog owners). I used to help a professional AKC handler show Cane Corsos, and I have owned dogs all of my life. My current dog is a Bouvier Des Flandres named Rumor.

So, to sum it up. I love my kids, birding, dogs, singing, and drawing. In that order.

Is there anything else you'd like to know about me? Feel free to ask!

And of course, until next time....
Happy birding (and life!) to all of you!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

At the beach....

Six in the morning, after a seven hour drive (counting all the stops)... I cross the 193 bridge into my final destination for the day: Dauphin Island, Alabama.

The first turn I make, I am welcomed by this guy right here... lifer #254: Laughing Gull.

Not even a minute on the island, and I've already found a lifer. I had great feelings about this day. I knew the seven hour drive was going to be worth it!

I pull out my phone, with barely a 3G signal (yes, I need to upgrade) and open up my email to read the emails I received in response to my Listserv post looking for spots to bird. The airport was one mentioned, and also Pelican Island. I would seek help finding Pelican Island later in the day, but part of me just wanted to follow the Alabama Coastal Birding Trails signs to see what I could find. This early in the morning though, most of what I saw were Mourning Doves, Eurasian Collared-Doves (lifer #255), two Common Ground-Doves (lifer #256), and European Starlings.

First, I headed west on the island. This took me through a strip of residential homes, where I spotted a turtle in the middle of the road. He was taking his time, and even though there wasn't heavy traffic, I could never live with myself if I didn't help him along. So I pulled over on a side-street, ran over and picked him up, with passing cars staring at me probably wondering why I was bothering to help a turtle.

Godspeed, little Three-toed Box Turtle!

I ventured back out to Bienville Boulevard, heading west. Passing the elementary school, the road narrows a bit, to two lanes. On either side are homes on stilts and white sandy beaches. It was like something out of a movie. This girl from the midwest has only seen the ocean twice, while driving. Once was on a road trip to Los Angeles with one of my closest friends, and the other time, crossing the bay bridge to reach the eastern shore of Maryland. But I'd never set foot on a beach or really marvelled at the ocean for any length of time. The white sands against the morning sky was breathtaking. I started searching for a parking area, and eventually found one about a mile down the road. I parked, took off my sandals, and walked out to the beach, camera in tow.

Laughing Gulls were everywhere. All different plumage stages. I completely understand where the name comes from! They may very well be the hyena of the bird world. I was able to snap a couple photos of them, and they were more than willing to oblige to close up shots, obviously used to human interaction.

If you haven't felt the sand beneath your feet, and in between your toes, you certainly have no idea what you are missing. I sat on the beach, looking out over the water, gulls flying all around. I look to my right and notice lifer #257 darting to the waves, and running back as they approach. Hello, Mr. Sanderling!

To my right, two Great Blue Herons scuffled over a fish. One walked right up next to me. If I wanted to, I could've reached out and touched him! This is a far cry from Heron behavior up north. Up here, I am lucky to get within thirty feet of a Heron! Normally, once they spot me, they take off! I snapped a few photos of these two, a smile on my face. Already, three lifers, and nothing in the world could ruin my day. It was cathartic.

I decided to explore more of the island. I wanted to stop by the visitor's center for a map, to figure out where Pelican Island was since it was my one spot I wanted to stop by before leaving. Unfortunately the center was closed until ten, but I noticed this young Blue Jay sitting on the fence so I decided, why not take a photo?

Next, I decided to find the airport. Luckily, there are plenty of signs around Dauphin Island to direct you wherever you need to go, and the Airport was close to the west end and the visitor's center. At first, I pulled in and it didn't look like much. There's a short road leading in, saltwater marsh on either side... and there's a small parking area. You pretty much have to bird from the road or the parking lot, as there's no kind of walking trails or access to the marsh. This early in the morning though, it was dead, and I only saw one lone Great Egret fishing. A little disappointed, I left to check out other parts of the island. I headed out east towards the ferry to see what I might find.

Out here, I drove along the shore, where plenty of folks were out fishing. This is where I got lifers #258 and 259: Willet and Mottled Duck. My photos are very poor though, so I won't bother posting them here, as I have many more Willet photos from later in the day.

I still had no idea where Pelican Island was at this point, so I stopped in the Bait Shop and asked the owner. He seemed clueless as to what I was talking about, so a little disappointed I left and walked out on the pier next to the parking area.

Out in the tree sat a lone Osprey. I looked out across the water, saw lifer #260 flying low: Brown Pelican! (I would see many more throughout the day, but no great photos) Then, another bird flew in. At first, I dismissed it as a Willet and almost didn't take a second look, since it was flying in to the rocks where a Willet was standing. Glad I took a second look though, because it was a Whimbrel! Not a lifer, but definitely a bird I love seeing. I'd only found one other, up in Ohio at Killbuck Marsh Wildlife Area earlier in the spring. This time, I got a much better look.

Next, I head out to Cedar Point Pier, at the beginning of the 193 bridge across from the island. This is where I would find lifers #261,#262, and #263: Ruddy Turnstone, Gull-billed Tern, and Boat-tailed Grackle. It cost to go out on the pier, so I got back in my car and decided to head back to the island.

I headed back to the airport, hoping that since an hour had passed, I'd see something new. Boy, I was right. As I drove in, lifer #264 darted across the road in front of me. I pulled ahead, parked my car, and got out to try to find him as I heard him calling in the tall grass. I turn my back and notice him dart across the road again. Exacerbated, I decide to wait, but this time... when I turned my back, I kept my head slightly turned so I could catch him out of the corner of my eye. Sure enough, as soon as I turned... he took back off across the road and I got this photo of him:

Clapper Rail

Once I snapped off a few photos, I look to my left and see lifer #265 take off... Tricolored Heron!

I hung around for a little while longer, but didn't really see anything else of interest or significance, so I headed east on the island.

While on this end of the island, I ran into two birders, and proceeded to pull over and ask them about Pelican Island. They told me exactly where to go, I shared with them my Clapper Rail sighting, and they told me where to find an American Bittern. I thanked them and went on my way.

Pelican Island.... the one place I'd been searching the past three hours for.. I couldn't wait to get there! The one bird I wanted to find the most was supposed to hang around on Pelican Island, so I won't lie and say I wasn't super-excited to get there and see if I'd find him.

I arrived at the west end of the island (I'd been driving right past Pelican Island all morning and didn't even realize it!), paid to park, and proceeded to walk to the pier. Once up there, I had good views out over P.I. I noticed a pool with two Tricolored Herons, a man "fishing" for crabs, and wait... was that... could it be?

Lifer #266- Reddish Egret!!!

I was on cloud nine!! I hadn't even actually stepped foot onto Pelican Island yet... still up on the pier, and I found the one bird I didn't want to leave without seeing. Looking around, I caught a Gray Kingbird (lifer #267) in flight, but no IDable photo, and a couple Seaside Sparrows (lifer #268) flittering about in the long grass... I was antsy to get down to the actual beach though. I wanted closer shots of that Reddish Egret!

Finally, I'm off the pier!

The pier

Can I live here forever? Seriously! The smell of the ocean air, the white sandy beaches.... I've never been anywhere so beautiful in my life.

Unfortunately, by the time I got down to the marshy pool, the Reddish Egret had flown off. However, two very aggressive and noisy Willets decided to make their disapproval of my presence known.

Walking further down the island is where the lifers really started to roll in: 

#269-Piping Plover
#270-Sandwich Tern
#271-Black Tern
#272-Royal Tern
#273-Black Skimmer
#274-Least Tern
#275-Forster's Tern

Beach o'birds!

Royal Tern in flight

By this time, I was exhausted. Other than some Short-billed Dowitchers, Willets, and Sanderlings... the walk back was rather uneventful. My legs and feet ached, and I was ready to go home, even if I didn't find any Oystercatchers!

Walking back on the pier.

I was certainly not looking forward to the six to seven hour drive home. I had one last surprise as I left Dauphin Island: A Brown Pelican paced my car as I was driving the 193 bridge. I was able to get this blind shot: 

I already miss the ocean, and the birds. I plan on making a trip back down in the near future, especially after talking to someone on the Listserv who spotted the Oystercatchers and other species of Plover that I still need for my list. 

My end of the year goal is 300 lifers. Think I can do it?

Until next time...
Happy birding to all of you!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

They're Back!

Who's back?

Shorebirds are back!

Today was beautiful. Mid-80s this morning, with a slight breeze. Humidity was moderate and tolerable. Sun was shining. Just a perfect morning to head out to Blackwell Swamp over at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge.

I was on the search for ONE thing though: Shorebirds. And boy, did I find them!

The thing about Blackwell Swamp is you drive through woods practically the entire way to the actual swamp. The swamp is in a clearing, but still in the woods. Normally, there are tons of herons and egrets at the swamp, but this morning it was eerily silent. One Great Blue Heron fished in the distance.


So, I drove on. Once you get past the swamp area, and through the trees, there starts to be cropland to the right side of the road. On the left is the Tennessee River. Now, I chose here because of these croplands. Most are nothing but mudflats, and with the rain we had, I expected some water to be laying in the fields.

My expectations were correct.

But what took my breath away wasn't shorebirds, it was the sheer number of Great and Snowy Egrets. 108 Great Egrets, 15 Snowy Egrets, and at least one immature Little Blue Heron. They coated the farmland, every which way you looked, an Egret was standing or flying. It was amazing. I don't think many people would argue against the beauty and majesty of these birds.

Finally, we get to visible mudflats (crops were blocking the ones in the distance), and I kept my eye out in the puddles for movement. The first few mudflats were void of any shorebirds... but once we rounded the first bend past the creek that shoots off the river....

Dozens. All over. Killdeer, Greater Yellowlegs, Lesser Yellowlegs, Pectoral, and Least Sandpipers scattered in the flats. I decided to try to hike through the soybean field, careful not to harm any of the plants (especially since you're technically not supposed to walk in the crop fields.... oops!). This helped get IDable photos, though they're nothing I would share with you here.

This is my eBird checklist (50 species in 2 hours on the first of August? I'll take it!):

Still on the hunt for Avocets, which were recently reported at Wheeler. Maybe I will check in next week and see what other birds will show up. Tonight, I leave for my long-awaited trip to Dauphin Island. Check back in the next couple of days for my report!

Until next time....
Happy birding to all of you!