COVID-19 kills Birding Events

This past week, the Presque Isle Audubon Society canceled their annual Festival of Birds, scheduled for May 8-10. Today, the other shoe dropped, with the Black Swamp Bird Observatory canceling the Biggest Week in American Birding, scheduled for May 8-17. This all follows my last post (here) about other cancellations, and all in all it’s shaping up to be a forgettable year, for birding at least.

As I have stated in the past, this year was to be my very first in celebrating the Biggest Week; now I’ll have to wait for next year to experience that, but I will be seeing warblers for certain this spring. I have alternate plans for my spring birding, to be enjoyed with various comrades-in-arms, and I still look forward to ticking Golden-winged, Blue-winged and perhaps a Kirtland’s Warbler. Speaking of Kirtland’s, as of right now, Michigan Audubon advises that their nesting site tours are still a go for start on May 23rd. I am hopeful to attend this, likely in early June.

As of now, I am also scuttling my June trip to Maine; I have no idea how things will arc over the next several weeks, and I don’t want to get caught up in COVID casualties. I am now seriously considering a trip to Ecuador in 2021 with a private touring group.

I’ve managed to tick three first-of-year birds thus far this week: Common Loon, Bonaparte’s Gull, and Osprey. Hoping to possibly add an Eastern Phoebe and maybe some sandpipers later in the week. That’s about it for now, as I hunker down in place. Bird on!

Birding, depression and COVID-19

Time to be truthful: I suffer from major depressive disorder, I won’t go into specifics other than to say just that. It is estimated that 16.2 million Americans suffer like I do. Think of that for a minute… 16.2 million. That’s about 5% of the total American population as of 2018. And, this is just major depressive disorder, not taking into account other emotional health maladies like bipolar, postpartum or persistent depressive disorder for example.

There are numerous ways to treat depression, among them medication, which I take daily. But medication does not do the trick entirely, and finding the right combinations for individuals is still so much a crap shoot. Neuropsychology is still a budding science, an imperfect science, and this country severely lacks appropriate numbers of psychologists to treat all of those affected. Try to get an appointment, and prepare to wait several months or pay cash. Many cannot surmount the barrier to entry to see a proper psychiatrist to get any meds, let alone effective ones. Many suffer in silence without medical treatment at all.

Another way to treat depression is through changing personal behaviors by way of what is called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT for short. CBT teaches real-world coping skills to handle the day’s traumatic events, including altering the thought process and also physical processes. It includes things like diet and exercise, and daily routines. This is what I have tried to practice since my last partial hospitalization in 2015. I’ve ridden the emotional roller-coaster most of that time, and my keeping busy, keeping focused, is the best solution.

Last year, I decided to fully retire and tried to start my own business again, this time as a firearms instructor… I know, I know. It didn’t work out, and I spent the entire summer and fall, from June through November, couch-surfing and playing video games. I got back into more consistent counseling and joined a couple of therapy groups, which helped, but not so much.

Tonight, as I write this, I can say that I am both happy and glad to be alive. I can say with certainty that for the first time in my life, I don’t want to die. And what did that? Birding. Getting off my ass, out into the fields, and chasing birds. What is the most important treatment of my depression is also my rediscovered passion. And now, with the outbreak of COVID-19 and some advocating for strict house “arrest,” my very well-being, along with 16.2+ million others, is severely threatened.

I cannot stay indoors and not get into the wild. Many are of similar vein. We need to feel the rush of cold air on our faces, dirt beneath our feet, binoculars in hand or whatnot, chasing birds that we know and love. I, we, cannot sit on a couch all day long, in the house all day long… it threatens our very existence, perhaps even more so than the virus. Getting out and about is central to my handling my depression, which is with me each and every day. It never goes away, but is rather mitigated to some degree through activity. Activity I cannot, will not, surrender. Unless, of course, you’d rather have me die a different death.

And that is why, for me, i choose to adhere to Governor DeWine’s order; to get my outdoor exercise and fresh air and birds. He has stated that he wants people to visit parks, to be outdoors in natural surroundings, but also to be using social distancing, something that birding at Magee Boardwalk probably cannot provide unless in the middle of January, but being at Summit Lake or Mentor Lagoons on any give weekday can.

This is why I bridle at the suggestion, by others, that we fully quarantine ourselves, not going outside at all. I, and others, need to be out. And, if I am getting into my car in my garage, am not getting out anywhere except at a sanctuary or other natural environ, well then who am I harming? No one else. Telling people with major depression to stay indoors at all costs is just another death sentence for many, and I am going to be curious what the statistics will show following the pandemic. Demise by suicide and not by pandemic – there will be casualties, collateral damage. For us, it’s all just as dangerous. Please take that into consideration when pushing an agenda that, for many, does more harm than good. When thinking of people, please think of all people. There is more at play than just COVID-19 for many of us, there are no totally right answers, just as there are no absolutes.

For further consideration, please read this article. Thank your for listening. With consideration for all, we shall get through this, and be stronger because of it.

A Big Year…

Eastern Meadowlark, Chagrin River Park, 03/18/20

Well, this COVID-19 situation really sucks the life out of things, pun intended. We are now in the midst of parks being closed entirely to visitors, not just their nature centers and programs. Birding programs and festivals are being canceled left and right – the Shreve Spring Migration Sensation and most recently, the Ohio Ornithological Society’s Warblers and Wildflowers at Shawnee State Park are the latest victims. I’m waiting for the next shoe to drop – The Biggest Week and The Presque Isle Festival. If/when that occurs, that kills my festival plans entirely for the year. I am planning a trip to Maine in late June, and wonder if that will happen or not. I fully understand the reasoning behind these drastic measures, but that doesn’t mean I have to be happy with them. 😉 If all the parks close, there will be no birding at all.

So in light of the 2020 spring migration basically being canceled, I’m now looking forward to 2021, and am announcing here that next year, I will be pursuing an eBird Big Year in Ohio. What is a Big Year? It’s an exercise to see how many individual species you can observe in a particular geographic region in a year, in this instance the State of Ohio. And I’ll be using eBird to record my sightings, hence an eBird Big Year.

Currently, the top two birders in Ohio have 144 individual species each on their lists. I currently have 104, and tomorrow when the new rankings come out, I should be ranked as tied for 66th. For perspective, as of 2018 there are 433 individual species recorded in the State, and as of today, 175 species have been recorded for the year. Even the top tier birders don’t have all the recorded species yet – geographic location plays a huge part, as does simple luck and being in the right place at the right time.

So why am I going to do this? Simple. Because I can. Because I would welcome some competition in a hobby I am passionate about. And because I want to rebuild my life list. I’m not doing it for ego – I will never be a “leet” birder, nor do I want to. I love to study the birds and their behaviors – all birds, Robins even – and I respect others too much to be an asshat birding, and I can’t stand those that are. I want to help others with this great hobby and to share the knowledge of finding unusual birds.

So that’s my announcement for today. Let’s get through this crisis, be safe, stay isolated, stay sane… go out and see some birds!

Birding Essentials: Map Book

If you are like me, there are numerous places that you like to frequent for birding. Almost all refuges, parks, nature centers and wildlife areas have maps these days. They are very helpful, displaying parking, trails, ponds/dikes, access points, off-limit areas, even restroom facilities.

No doubt you’ve printed a few. Anytime I bird a new spot, I check to see if there’s a map available, and I print out a copy. one thing that I’ve learned, early on, is to save these maps for future use. So I created my very own ‘Map Book.’

It’s a very simple book, consisting of a three-ring binder, plastic protective pages, and all of the maps and diagrams you would possibly desire. Anytime you wish to bird a particular hotspot, all you need to do is to remove that page from the book, and you’re set. you can even modify pages to show specific spots on the map where birds are likely, or other personal notes for your use.

I find it helpful to keep them organized by general region, for example Magee marsh with Ottawa NWR, or Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area with Funk Bottoms and Killbuck Marsh. It all depends on your personal preference.

Once I’ve put the Map Book together, I keep it in my car in the trunk, along with other birding essentials, which we’ll explore here over time.

Put together your own Map Book, it’s a great help and will assist you with remembering where all those great birds are! Plus, you’re not wasting paper in the process!

Best bird I’ve managed so far…

Female Painted Bunting

I was fortunate enough to view this little cutie at the home of a very generous Amish couple in north-central Ohio. They were kind enough to open their home to all us birders who came to venerate at their feeders, hoping for a glimpse of this beauty feeding among the corn. They had a guest book, and apparently I was #135 to sign, this being early last week!

She has been hanging out at their feeders now for a few weeks, and many people have been able to make the trip and observe her. The day I got there, I got lucky. Other birders were already there, having waited for over an hour, and the bird was out. My arrival unfortunately spooked her from the feeders, but less than 15 minutes later, there she was! Though not a male, the female Painted Bunting is beautiful nonetheless.

I got him!

I’ve been chasing a few rares here in Ohio recently. I’ve been fortunate enough to score a Prairie Falcon on my third trip to Weston, and a Northern Shrike also on my third trip to Sandy Ridge. I caught a Brant on my first trip to Friendship Lake. But my biggest bird thus far I finally caught yesterday… the ever elusive – for me – Snowy Owl!

I was hanging at home yesterday, early afternoon.. raining outside and generally a yucky, windy, wet day. A friend sends me a Messenger note… posted just several minutes earlier, someone had spotted a Snowy Owl at Cleveland’s Hopkins Airport. Do I go? Do I forget about it? I have already struck out four times in trying to see this, my favorite bird, including just this week at Burke Lakefront. I decide to go… no guts, no glory, right?

I quickly gathered my stuff, hopped in the car, gassed up and was on the way… at like 75mph up 77! “Please be there, please be there…” It was reported to be seen from the vantage of the 100th Bomber Group restaurant lot, so that’s where I headed. When I pulled in the lot, I’m thinking that this bird is not going to be here. There were a couple of other cars pointed in the right direction when I arrived, giving me hope. I then pulled up to park in front overlooking the highway, and started searching when, to my surprise, I spotted a white blob in the field by a taxiway.

Snowy Owl (yes, he’s there! #notaplasticbag) taken with my iPhone

Another person was there, camera in hand, and I gestured, “is that him?’ An affirmative response. I just couldn’t believe it! Finally, the Snowy. The last time I had seen a Snowy Owl was around 1975 I believe, the year everyone was going nuts over a little gull in Newburyport, the Ross Gull. My father used to take me to Parker River NWR, which I called Plum Island, and it was there that I first glimpsed the Snowy Owl through another birder’s scope (interestingly, along with a Tufted Duck). it’s been my favorite bird ever since.

I spent about 30 minutes observing the Snowy yesterday, as best I could with a 10×42 bin. It was just so great to see a Snowy again. I am wondering if this is the same bird that has been seen at Burke Lakefront? They have a tendency to favor airports, which could be a health hazard… I am hopeful that once I get a spotting scope, I can see them again…

Chasing birds…

Or what I believe is called to “twitch..”.

Last Wednesday found me out in Weston, Ohio, southwest of Bowling Green and Toledo, in search of three possible regional rares; a Prairie Falcon, a Snowy Owl, and Eurasian Collared Doves. I had created a nifty sight chart based on recorded observations of all three species before I headed out early in the morning. On the ground in Weston, I spent four hours driving around the field grids, but came up empty on all three rarities I had wanted to see, I didn’t even see a single dove anywhere, Eurasian or otherwise. I did manage to see several Merlins, a Red-Tailed Hawk, a huge Bald Eagle just sitting in a field, but that was about it. Needless to say, I was very disappointed, especially when I discovered that three others had observed the falcon. The Snowy, come to find out, had flown due south to the town of Wood, where he was observed right alongside the road.

This morning, I went chasing another bird, a female Harlequin Duck that had been heavily observed at the Rocky River Park. Heading up there this morning, I first stopped at Lake Rockwell, and finally saw some Hooded Mergansers, an immature Eagle, some Scaup, and a ton of Canada Geese, of which I am almost certain there was a Cackling Goose hiding – they are actively avoiding me. I honestly really need a spotting scope, and hoping that something comes in for me this month, I have my eye on a Zeiss Harpia 95. That’ll certainly up my game!

Arriving at Rocky River, there were a few people already there. I climbed up a small bluff overlooking the stormy Lake Erie, and met David, a birder from Columbus who, it turns out, was also looking for the Prairie Falcon on Wednesday and also came up short. He asked if I were there for the Harlequin, and pointed the way. Score! What a beautiful little grey bird, bobbing about in the heavy turbulent waters of the lake, not too far offshore. IO was able to observer for several minutes, before she drifted to the west behind the rocks and out of sight. But at least I got to see her!

So I’m currently running about 50-50 on my bird chases. I am thinking of giving the falcon another try this week… we’ll see. I’m also wanting to work on my 2020 list, so I’ll be hitting up some of the hotspots in Ohio and Pennsylvania.. can you say Presque Isle? Thinking ahead, May is going to be SO busy! I cannot wait!

Birding in Ohio

About three weeks ago, I started getting back into my birding with vigor. So far, my travels have taken me to Mosquito Lake, Cleveland Lakefront Park, Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, Rocky River, Fairport Harbor and Mentor Marsh. I have seen many things, the majority of which are birds that I have observed previously, but still spectacular.

I think one of the most amazing sightings I’ve had so far is observing a Pileated Woodpecker at Mentor Marsh. Such an amazingly beautiful bird, that big red plume and massive white patches on his wings. I spent several minutes watching him work a tree. Did you know that one “pile-drive” by a Pileated Woodpecker equates to a force equal to your crashing your head against a brick wall at 16 MPH? And yet they do it all day long in search of carpenter ants.

Northern Saw-Whet Owl

I’ve also had the good fortune of seeing two owls: a Northern Saw-Whet Owl at Cleveland Lakefront, and an Eastern Screech Owl at Ottawa.

Welcome to my birder blog

I was a pretty big birder in my mid-teens and early twenties. I used to spend my summers at Ocean Park, Maine, which is where I got my start in birding. My grandmother took me to the Scarborough Marsh Nature Center one day, and we climbed the small observation tower. A gentleman was there, looking through his spotting scope at some birds and he asked if I would like to take a look. The very first bird that I saw was a Little Blue Heron, and I will always cherish that event. It was the beginning of my serious birding adventures. I was hooked.

While a teen, one of the only things that my father did for me was to take me birding to the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge in Massachusetts. We spent several weekends going there in the winter, and the one day I will not forget is observing a Tufted Duck and a Snowy Owl out in the marshland, again with the help of other birders using spotting scopes. Parker River, which I called Plum Island, was always my favorite place to bird, but funnily, I didn’t do any birding there in the summertime – that was for Maine. We also visited Marblehead and Newburyport, and one weekend tried to chase down a rare Ross’ Gull sighting in 1975, but never saw it. I do remember all the birders who flocked (pun intended) to Newburyport however!

In the summers of 1976-77, I became very involved in birding in Ocean Park. My two primary birding mentors were Ms. Genevieve Webb and Ms. Edith Stephenson. Both were year-round residents of Ocean Park, and both were big birders. Ms. Stephenson actually had a marsh in her backyard, where one could observe Glossy Ibises, Snowy Egrets, Great Blue Herons, Green Herons, and other birds. We used to go birding very early in the mornings to Scarborough Marsh and to Biddeford Pool. That summer, we also published the very first “Birds of Ocean Park, Maine” list, and I also founded the Ocean Park Bird Club, which would be short-lived. Additionally, I found myself leading bird walks… at 15.

In my twenties, most of my birding was at Long Island’s Montauk Point, running trails by the lighthouse and also Oyster Pond. I spent summers there, observing Tanagers, Avocets, Oystercatchers, and numerous sandpipers and plovers. Winters would be spent observing all the various sea ducks, loons and grebes. I also managed to make it to Cape May, New Jersey for the fall migration one year, which was spectacular.

So now, after all those years, I am getting back in to birding. I am retired, and I can truly enjoy it, and chase the birds where they may be. Now, I’m concentrating on birding in Ohio, and am ambitiously exploring all that Ohio has to offer for birds. and looking forward to my first spring migration at Magee Marsh. Join me on the ride…