How two eager, but weak, birdwatchers fared at “The Biggest Week in American Birding”

We admit it: we love to watch birds.  We also admit that we are not good at the whole thing. For us, the hardest birds to identify have always been warblers. So, what better challenge than to head for the Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, the “Warbler Capital of the World”?  We had high expectations that this might be a turning point in our birding skills.

Many birds (including warblers) migrate north in the spring from as far away as South America.  One of the flight pathways they follow takes them through this marshy area on the shore of western Lake Erie in Ohio.

We, too, landed at the Magee Marsh Wildlife Area’s boardwalk, surrounded by an unimaginable number of birds calling around us and everywhere we looked.  There were also more birdwatchers than we’d ever seen in one place before.

What could be an easier way to find a rare bird? Just watch where the photographers aimed their cameras.

Everyone seemed incredibly helpful in pointing out where to look for interesting birds and identifying them for us.  Even with coaching from other birdwatchers, it took us about 10 minutes of searching with binoculars to finally see a perfectly camouflaghed whip-poor-will sleeping on a fallen log in the brush.

The Virginia rail is an elusive bird, and we have heard its call but not seen it in many years of looking.  Photographers lined up when a Virginia rail was spotted. This was our opportunity!

We crouched down on the boardwalk and snapped a few photos with our small cameras underneath the photographers’ long telephoto lenses.  Not a great photo but such a memorable sighting!

This was another first: a white-throated sparrow.

We looked for more birds while on a guided walk at nearby Maumee Bay State Park.  That boardwalk took us over the swamp waters, an interesting bird habitat.

One wet day we walked in outlying areas and saw two new birds for us – the eastern towhee and rose-breasted grosbeak

What a surprise to stroll down a path and come upon a totem with an eagle at the top.  Of the many eagles we saw that week, this was the only carved one.

We had signed up for field trips, workshops, and special events over our five-day stay at “The Biggest Week in American Birding Festival.”  By the end of our stay, we had seen well over 100 species of birds and of those, 17 were warbler species.

The black-throated blue warbler was a new bird for us and straddled a tree trunk just a few feet away giving us ample time to take this photo.

After bird watching for well over 40 years, we learned some new ways to look at birds that should greatly improve our identification skills.  Of course, if identifying warblers still turns out to be difficult, we can always head back to the annual “Biggest Week in American Birding” festival and get those experienced, helpful birdwatchers to tell us what we’re looking at.

 

May 2019

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April is a great month to travel

Years ago, a small group of our friends gathered and planned international trips with a particular goal in mind: spending the days hiking and eating well every evening.   When it came time to determine when to travel, we decided to take our trips when the daytime temperatures were ideal for walking, which we determined to be between 62-70 degrees F (17-21 degrees C).   It turned out to be a good idea.

When we planned our many years of constant travel – we continued with the notion of traveling in a comfortable temperature range as much as possible.  Every potential destination was charted for annual averages for high and low temperatures each month as well as how many days and how much rainfall were average each month.  We circled the top three months that were ideal times to visit each destination.

You might wonder where we chose for our travel in April these past years…

The pleasantest of Aprils was spent on our month-long stay in Florence, Italy in 2018.

One day we went up to Fiesole for lunch and this was the view back to Florence.  What a lovely sight!

In April 2017, we visited Arizona to watch birds.  We heard there had been a recent rare sighting of the tufted flycatcher, a bird whose range is Mexico down through northwestern South America.  We took off in search of the bird on a mountain where it had been last seen.

After reaching the spot we searched for a half hour and there, on a nearby branch, was the very bird!

We’ll never forget the earthquake in coastal Ecuador in April 2016.  The town where we were headed had just been destroyed.

After quick research, we booked a month-long stay in Cuenca, Ecuador – a fabulous place to visit and where we learned all about Panama hats.

We spent most of April 2015 visiting our grandchildren and their parents in California.

We went to school performances, sewed a pioneer outfit, painted furniture, and visited a little nature center with and for our grandchildren.

We made it almost halfway around the world in April 2014 to Tasmania.   (Where is it?  Tasmania is an island off the southeast coast of Australia.)

Friends, Gretchen and Phil, drove us up to Freycinet National Park, and we all hiked to Hazzards Bay.

The American southwest desert is one of the nicest places to be in April – so in 2013 we again traveled to Arizona – this time to Tucson.

We love both cactus and rocks.

We wanted to go to Cappadocia and finally made it there in April 2012.

The fairy chimneys, rock houses and formations were spectacular.  We even took a hot air balloon ride.

Consider traveling to places you want to go when the temperature is just right and the rainfall is manageable. If you’re planning a trip, we can tell you from experience that Italy, Arizona, Ecuador, California, Tasmania, and Cappadocia are all wonderful and worthwhile destinations in April.

 

April 2019

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Two ways to do a road trip

We took our first road trip when we were in our 20’s, and we knew then just how to do it.  We played loud music as we drove great distances.  We rarely stopped.  The point seemed to be centered on us, in our car, driving down the highway, escaping where we’d been, and driving for the sole purpose of driving.  When we did our first road trip, we aimed west and gave little thought to the route because we didn’t want to be too “committed”.  Every time we stopped, we looked around and thought whatever was down the road would certainly be more interesting than this, so we hopped in the car and continued driving.

Many years ago we rented a convertible to do the famous drive south from San Francisco along the Pacific Coast.

I’m guessing lots of people still do road trips just like that.  Over the years we continued to take road trips, and the more time we spent on the road, the more changes we made to the usual scenario.  We got older and learned from our experiences…or maybe we just decided it was awfully nice to get out of the car once in awhile.

Photo taken on a drive to Big Bend National Park, Texas.

The point was no longer to see how many miles we could go on the trip or in a day.  Instead it was to enjoy the landscape, to stop to see the sights up close and satisfy our curiosity.

Here’s what we saw on a scenic drive from Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas to Bisbee, Arizona.

We discovered that we had a lot of questions and sought out the answers.  That takes time, so we slowed down.

We drove to Chico Hot Springs – near Pray, Montana – and took a walk up into the hills.

We saw sights – close up – impossible to see from inside the car.  Look at this amazing fuzzy tongue penstamen  (Penstemon eriantherus).

 

Slowing down is a traveling style worth considering.

 

 

April 2019

 

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Taking our interests on the road

When we started traveling we were determined to spend every minute we could experiencing our destination.  Imagine yourself in the rice paddies of China, or visiting the great art museums in Italy.  It seems absurd to think of taking time away from sightseeing, and, yet, as our travel time stretched out from months to years on the road, we realized the joy of spending time each day on a personal project or two.

Some interests turned out to be the perfect complement for a traveling life, like finding wildflowers  and…

writing (Beth in ‎Guangxi, China)…

reading (Joe on a train in Vietnam)…

photography (in Marrakech, Morocco)…

and watching birds (a lilac-breasted roller in Tanzania).

Bringing along books on a trip is ever so much easier now.  We remember a long ago trip of 3-months when we packed more volumes than (we thought) we could possibly read.  How did we run out of books after 2 months? We found ourselves in the smallest of villages in the Italian Alps. Our desperate search for books in English ended in a little tobacco store with a choice of about 12 books.  We were thrilled to have found them!  We carefully chose 3 books, also suitable for our teenagers, who were also running short.  We devised a system of monitored, timed reading sessions.  When time was up, the book had to be handed on to the next reader. It was painful to have to pass the book on as the suspense built.  How much easier it is now to download books on to our devices and no matter where we are, we have books – and magazines – to read online. It seems like a miracle if you travel and love to read.

Cliff and Ruth, our New Zealand traveling companions in Laos and Cambodia last year, told us they loved playing Scrabble on their devices while on the road.   We downloaded the Scrabble app and before long, it was a passion.  It may be one of the best ways ever to pass time in an airport!

We read about the wellness benefits of meditation for years, but how DO you get started while traveling?  The simple act of meditation seemed a mystery until a free app, Insight Timer, made it easy to get started.

Long before our seven-month trip in South America, we started studying Spanish online with Duolingo.

When we arrived in Ecuador, we took classes during our stay in Cuenca with the ever-interesting Sol, whose stories motivated us to learn Spanish to follow along.

We learned to speak so we could ask her questions and learn more (about her life and what was happening around us).  Since we left South America, Joe has continued to study Spanish every day.

Beth finds hand-sewing a relaxing and creative pursuit. On our road trip we had space in the car for a shoebox converted into a sewing box.  Beth discovered small scraps of fabric dating back to 1875-1900 at an antique shop in Maine.  She designed a small quilted throw of squares.

A piece of the scrap fabric is in the upper right corner of each square.  The background was light grey-blue cotton, purchased as we passed through New Jersey.

When the quilt was finished, Beth used some of the remaining small scraps to sew some little songbirds. We’ll carve wood that we found on the beach in Florida to make little beaks for the songbirds and fashion wire legs for them, too.

Pursuing our interests while we travelled added a new and rewarding dimension to our life on the road.

 

March 2019

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Car camping our way

We started tent camping many, many years ago with equipment that we’re not even sure they still make.  It seemed that, as soon as we learned how to camp, we quickly devised a style of our own.

We loved the great outdoors, and camping allowed us to spend time in places we would never have visited otherwise.  We’ve camped in many U.S. states and Canadian Provinces.

We enjoyed camping in iconic Big Bend National Park in Texas….

…and Bahia Honda in the Florida Keys.

We’ve huddled in our tent as snow fell, and we’ve camped in the stifling heat of the desert.  Over many years, our three children were along for the adventure in their own little tent.  Those were the days!

We always tent camped from a small car, and there was never enough room for all that bulky equipment. We gave away the clunky 2-burner stove many years ago.

Who needed a big ice chest? We downsized to a little cooler for a cross-country camping trip five years ago, but got rid of that on our latest trip.  (Photo: Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas)

The Coleman lantern was always too bright in a wilderness setting so we gave it away as well.  And as for our tent now, it’s very basic and sleeps 2-people.  The interior is large enough to fit our sleeping bags with a few inches to spare for our next day’s clothing.

We guess our current 3-season sleeping bags are about 30 years old.  They still work just fine along with ¾-length mats for comfort.  In the evening we read in the tent on our devices and use a hanging solar lantern to provide additional light when needed.

We use a one-burner stove and still have a little set of camping pots and pans that we purchased many decades ago.  A few carefully stocked grocery bags contain items for easy-to-prepare camping meals that don’t need refrigeration.

This past year we camped in very high heat with unrelenting sun exposure. We noticed most other campers had a tarp for shade.  We quickly purchased our own tarp to hang over either our tent or the picnic table. What a difference it made!

All of our camping equipment fits into the hatchback of our basic Toyota Prius C.

With each passing year more and more “campers” are in larger vehicles and huge RVs, living inside those, with all the conveniences of home.  (Photo: Collier Seminole State Park, FL)

We prefer to pitch our tent in a scenic wilderness.  We try to stay for many days rather than one-night stops along a highway.  (Photo of our tent, taken a short distance away from the RV at Collier Seminole State Park, FL)

We make time for exploring, enjoy living outdoors (except a few places we stayed where mosquitoes drove us back inside), and enjoy sleeping under the stars.

 

March 2019

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Rescued by friends

We had been camping in our little tent at Myakka River State Park in Florida – far from wifi and weather reports.

We drove over to visit friends who were staying in nearby Sarasota, Florida.   “I’ve already made the bed. Did you know it’s going to start raining later today and not stop until sometime tomorrow?  You can stay here tonight,” our friend Ethel said, surprising us with news that we campers would soon be in the rain.  Who knew the weather was taking a turn for the worse?

We quickly weighed our options.  Hanging out in our tent in the pouring rain isn’t really our idea of fun, so we quickly thanked our friends and settled in for an overnight stay.  Oh, we are so grateful for good friends like Ethel and Warren.

One day’s stay led to two.  We all donned rain jackets and went for a walk at the scenic Rothenbach Park, somewhat protected by the tree canopy.  It stopped raining soon after we started our walk.

By the time we went back to our campsite at Myakka two days later, our dirty, distressed looking tent was just starting to dry out. The site looked rather pitiful.  We thought back to Ethel and Warren’s generous hospitality, all of us chatting till late in the evening, and the wonderful dinner served – topped off with chocolate covered strawberries.  They had saved us from a few, very miserable, rainy days in style and comfort.

The sun appeared the next morning – just in time to pack up and check out of the campsite. We drove to the Gulf coast for a reunion with Beth’s high school classmate, Ginny.

Ginny and husband Mike invited us to stay for a few days in their beachside condo.

We had not seen each other in 50+ years. Would we even recognize each other, let alone have anything in common?  The minute we saw each other, it was clear this would be a lovely reunion of old friends.

The view from their screened porch overlooking the harbor.

Ginny knew we’d enjoy walking on Caspersen Beach to search for shark’s teeth fossils.  She found a few and graciously gave them to us so we wouldn’t leave empty-handed.

Beth and Ginny have known each other for over half a century, and we have known Warren and Ethel for almost that long.  These lovely old friends turned 4 days of our Florida visit into a memorable event!

 

February 2019

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You’re headed for the beach, warm sun, and waves

No matter where you are and no matter what you are doing, you can imagine yourself transported to the beach.  The sun is so wonderfully warm on your skin.  Take off your shoes and let the hot sand ooze up between your toes with each step. All you hear are the rhythmic ocean waves and the occasional birds calling. Beach colors are luscious and joyful – and ever changing. The blue seawater fades to greens in the distance, and there’s a touch of grey-brown color in the surf mixed with frothy, bubbly white water.  But wait an hour and the color tones will take on a new look as the sun moves through the sky.

Imagine a gleaming white ibis walking close by, giving you a nonchalant glance with one blue eye.

It’s hard to concentrate on the birds, or the waves racing towards your feet, when you are constantly interrupted by spotting so many interesting shells.  How to find the perfect ones?

Alongside you, three white ibises race through the surf.

They stopped in unison when they found what they were looking for.

Another bird, a ring-billed gull, chooses to ignore you – but since you are so close, you stop to admire the few dark head feathers and the sturdy yellow legs.

Have you ever seen such amazing legs?  You take time to notice the little details like the “knobby” knees and webbed feet with little claws.

We hope you’ve enjoyed your brief but relaxing time at the beach.

 

February 2019

 

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