Appreciating the (Very Very) Small Things

It may be a cliché, but taking time to appreciate the little things is therapeutic. And after my struggles of the past couple of weeks I seem to have regained the ability to see things more optimistically. Thank goodness. There’s nothing like a peek into the blackness to make you run screaming back toward the light, proclaiming gratitude for everything you see.

As I was mowing the yard this weekend I noticed some tiny yellow “weeds” in one area. I realized that I hadn’t played with my macro lens for a while, so I went back outside and took some close up pictures of them. As often happens with macro photos, I was amazed at what I saw. Just look at this — and it’s only about a tenth of an inch across!

This little flower is only about a tenth of an inch across.

This little flower is only about a tenth of an inch across. (I think it’s called Black Medic.)

I can’t count the number of times I’ve yanked these things out and tossed them away without a second thought. But just look at that. And here’s another tiny treasure from the yard — this is common clover, the kind the bees love:

Clover flower, maybe a half inch across

Clover flower, maybe a half inch across

And speaking of our yard, I’ve begun to see our two acres in a new light as well. After our frustrations with the neighborhood came to a head recently, we started browsing the real estate listings for a larger property to cushion us from further construction (aka “progress”). In addition to looking for more acreage, our search was limited by the usual things: commuting distance, budget, type of road (no more dirt roads for us). We found a few promising listings and did preliminary drive-bys to check out the neighborhoods.  Boy, I had forgotten how a real estate ad can “forget” to mention the downside of each property. There’s some very creative marketing going on out there, believe me.

Certified Wildlife Habitat sign for our yard (605x800)All of which served to remind me that, even considering all the things we don’t like about our neighborhood and our road, we’ve got a pretty rare treasure here. Two acres of woods in the middle of a crowded and busy suburb, with lots of wildlife and plenty of privacy. Sure, it’s easy to get frustrated and complain about all the negatives. But I’m attempting to have more gratitude for the positives. And it seems that the closer I look, the more positives I can find.

You know that saying that “what you focus on expands”? If you’re always thinking “I hate this place,” your subconscious mind will work overtime finding more reasons for you to hate it. Believe me, been there, done that. But just today I proved that it works the same way if you tell yourself, “I really love this special place.” Your mind suddenly starts showing you why it’s special. Like this:

Two inch-long tiny toad

Two inch-long toad, another little thing.

And this, a not-so-tiny thing:

Fawn eating my flowers

And this:

House Wren

And this:

Northern Flickers in early breeding season

And this tiny feather:

Feather macro

Every time I try to write about gratitude I feel like people will read it and think, “Yeah, yeah, gratitude journals, mindfulness, count your blessings, whatever, life still stinks.” It’s true that life can be very difficult, but I’m learning how my mind has the power to control how I feel about some of those things that upset me and how I respond to them. And using my mind for gratitude instead of complaining seems like a no-brainer to me.

And did you know that you can instantly lift your mood just by smiling? Whether you’re with other people or alone, try it now and see for yourself. It really works. And it works even better if you look in the mirror when you do it. You’re welcome. :)

Thornton Wilder quote on my photo

Posted in Happiness and Gratitude | Tagged , , , , , | 17 Comments

Turning Inward

As I feared would happen, my latest “Extrovert Episode” ended abruptly and I found myself needing to step back from the world a bit. Well, that’s actually an understatement. Last Friday I had a meltdown.

It’s been a long time since I’ve felt such deep sadness and been so irritable at the world that I couldn’t make it through a single day without some tears. I could feel it building up over the preceding week or so, as one thing after another upset me: possible U.S. involvement in Iraq (sigh…again?), a beloved pet with a health complication, never-ending noise in my neighborhood (construction as well as loud music at night), upsetting photos on social media of turtles killed by balloons and birds killed after window collisions, and about a half dozen other similar matters.  I didn’t have time to recover from one of these things before the next one was piled on top. I took my frustrations out on my husband, bickering with him about stupid things and hiding out in my office just so I didn’t have to talk to him. I’d tell him I was “writing” but was often playing chess against my computer because I just couldn’t focus on the writing.

Juvenile bluebird

Juvenile Eastern Bluebird on swingset

And because many of my friends hang out on Facebook (FB), I’d go there and dejectedly scroll through my newsfeed to see what everyone was up to. They all seemed to be having a great time chatting and sharing photos of their lives. And that made me mad too. “How can they all be so happy when I’m so miserable?” That’s when you know you’re in trouble — when you resent your friends for being happy. And one more mini-trauma finally broke the camel’s back, so to speak, and I was Done. I posted a brief message on FB:

Feeling so sad and overwhelmed lately, and FB certainly isn’t helping.This messed up world is just kicking my highly-sensitive self to the curb. I’m going to try to take a FB break for a week or so. I’ll be back when I can go at least a full day without having a meltdown about something.

And then I really started feeling pathetic. Over the next few days I did occasionally look at FB, but I didn’t engage with anyone there. Didn’t even click “like” when someone posted good news. I refused to participate in the world. I was just determined to hunker down and wallow in my despair.

My first time to find and recognize Goatsbeard, a very interesting wildflower

My first time to find and recognize Goatsbeard, a very interesting wildflower

After a couple days I got an email. My dear sweet friend Donna, to the rescue. We met last year in Ohio and bonded further on FB, due to our shared love of nature and our introvert personalities. We were blessed to see each other again (briefly) this May in Ohio, but then she went back to New Mexico and I came back to Michigan. In her email, Donna reached out to me with love and compassion, telling me she understood what I was going through and assuring me that things would be okay, eventually. I cried. But this time my tears were from happiness at being understood. And knowing that I wasn’t alone in my feelings about this overwhelming world.

And then, just today, I received a package from yet another very special friend. Getting a package is usually a predictable event resulting from an online order. But getting an unexpected package with the return address of a beloved friend, not knowing what’s inside? Now that’s what mail should be about! (Remember the good old days of handwritten letters? I miss those so much.) And inside this package was such goodness I cannot tell you. There were some gifts to cheer me up. And then there was the most heart-warming, soul-uplifting (and hand-written) letter I have ever received. I couldn’t even finish reading it without wiping away tears. It was loving. It was understanding. It was encouraging and hopeful. It was exactly what I needed to push me further along in my re-entry to the world.

Wandering Glider dragonfly

It’s one of the ironies of being an HSP: your sensitivity leads you to nature, you get emotionally-involved with the wildlife and the habitats, you’re willing to fight to protect them. And then, because of your sensitive nature, your heart gets broken again and again when you have to watch animals die or see beloved meadows torn up for housing subdivisions. It’s a rather cruel joke, when you think about it.

Don’t get me wrong, I do value my sensitive personality. It brings me a great deal of joy, allowing me to feel connected to the natural world in a way most people will never understand. We HSPs think deeply about things and make some important contributions to the world. But there’s a price to pay for feeling everything so intensely, and we have to learn how to recover from the inevitable pain. We have to be able to pull ourselves back out of the darkness.

My husband, willing to go birding with me even when I'm crabby

My husband, willing to go birding with me                         even when I’m crabby

Some of us turn to exercise or long walks in the woods, some of us read self-help books or get help from our friends, while others get professional therapy. Some of us do all of the above. My personal success formula seems to require a bit of comfort food (just a little, not overindulging), being religious about taking my daily Vitamin D (5000 I.U.s), and getting out in nature as often as possible. It’s a surprisingly simple recipe, especially for someone who took antidepressants for ten years, just because my doctor let me diagnose myself. (Don’t even get me started on that.)

So to sum up, I’ve seen the darkness but I’ve also seen some glimmers of light ahead. Just the fact that I’m able to write this is a good sign. Several days ago I didn’t trust myself to write anything because I was in such a negative place.  I’m so very glad that I’ve been able to bond with such caring people too, because they are the secret ingredient that I was missing for the first 50 years of my life. Having strong connections with people who understand me has been life-changing…and my life needed some changing, that’s for sure!


Posted in Depression, Ecotherapy, Happiness and Gratitude, Highly-Sensitive People (HSPs) | Tagged , , , | 14 Comments

Desperately Seeking Stillness

I discovered a wonderful new blog recently and I think many of you will enjoy it too. It’s called Quietkeepers and the tagline is “Practicing Stillness in a Busy World.” Because the quest for peace and mindfulness is near and dear to me, I subscribed and began reading the first few posts by writer Judy Roberts.

Copyright R.J. Thomas - used with permission

Copyright R.J. Thomas – used with permission

As often happens when I come across a like-minded person in the blog world, we ended up communicating by email. Judy and I quickly realized that we didn’t live far apart, so when I was in northern Ohio for a birding festival in early May we were able to meet for lunch to get acquainted. I felt an instant kinship with her and I think many of my readers will enjoy what she’s doing with her fledgling blog. This is from her “About” page where she talks about trying to live more quietly:

…this is no easy thing for those of us who are creatures of a culture of doing. It requires resistance and discipline, sometimes minute-by-minute.  To contribute to this effort, I hope to talk about such things as the prudent use of technology, the importance of order, coping with distractions, socializing and conversation, finding quiet spaces, making the home a quiet place, and living in harmony with nature.

The whole idea really appeals to me. But oh how I struggle.  With resistance and self-discipline. And with distractions — oh, those evil distractions.

Black-eyed Susan by Rebecca Thomas for my blog

Copyright R.J. Thomas – used with permission

You might think that as an HSP, I would already live a peaceful life. And I do aspire to that, but the loudness of the world intrudes quite often. And you might think I find it easy to resist technology too. But I find quite the opposite, that I turn to technology as a less-stressful way to interact with people. After all, it’s on my own time schedule (usually) and at my own pace, right? How harmful could that be? But the reality is that I often find myself losing track of time after checking in on social media each day because it’s so easy to get lured into clicking one link after another on the internet. You know what I’m talking about.

You may remember my recent article about becoming more extroverted and enjoying many new friendships in the birding world. Since those friendships mean so much to me, I might be a bit overeager in my newfound enthusiasm for keeping in touch via technology. But now I’ve got Judy’s gentle reminders in my head, prompting me to step away from the computer more often. And I’m also very glad I took that sketching workshop last month, because I find that drawing is a good way to sit quietly and let my mind wander. I encourage you to click over to Quietkeepers to see if it might be inspiring to you too.

Copyright R.J. Thomas - used with permission

Copyright R.J. Thomas – used with permission

Along the same lines, I read an article on the Utne Reader website the other day called “The Lost Art of Doing Nothing.” The author was bemoaning the fact that it’s now ‘normal’ in our culture to have your face glued to the screen of a computer, Kindle, or smartphone all the time. He said he tried to put his phone away and have a technology-free lunch, but he realized that without his smartphone he felt anxious and restless. He’d lost the ability to sit contentedly and just observe the world, something our brains need us to do:

Which brings me to my favorite argument for why we need to spend more time staring into space rather than into a screen: how else can we encourage the cutting-edge ideas, innovations, and solutions that only seem to pop into one’s mind when it’s disengaged from a specific task and allowed to wander? (Christian Willams, Utne Reader)

This seems to be what Eckhart Tolle meant when he wrote:

Not to be able to stop thinking is a dreadful affliction, but we don’t realize this because almost everyone is suffering from it, so it is considered normal. This incessant mental noise prevents you from finding that realm of inner stillness that is inseparable from Being. (from The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment)


A good friend recommended the books of Eckhart Tolle to me some time ago but, ironically, every time I sat down to read him I couldn’t quiet my mind enough to absorb the message he was trying to give me. That tells me that I’m in dire need of help in this area. I’m going to make another attempt now that this issue has been brought back into the forefront of my busy busy busy mind. I wonder if you all struggle with this as much as I do.

Bryce Canyon cliff

(Thanks to my talented photographer friend R.J. Thomas for permission to use her lovely flower photos in this article. Click the photos to go to her Flickr photostream.)

Posted in Ecotherapy, Happiness and Gratitude | Tagged , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Ecotherapy in Barry County

Just look at this and imagine breathing fresh air and hearing birds sing as the sun shines on your face —

Searching for Dickcissel
Searching for Dickcissel

Now that’s a good dose of nature therapy. Eric and I just spent a few days on the west side of the state at a Michigan Audubon event called “Cerulean Warbler Weekend” (CWW). It’s an annual festival celebrating this beautiful (and declining) warbler species.  In contrast to the very big Biggest Week in American Birding that we’ve attended for the past four years, CWW was small and intimate. We liked it very much — the people were friendly, the scenery was idyllic, and the birding was rewarding.

Field where we saw a distant Henslow's Sparrow through the scope

Field where we saw a distant Henslow’s Sparrow through the scope

The event was based at Michigan Audubon’s Otis Farm Bird Sanctuary, just outside of the small town of Hastings. One of our hikes was a tour around the sanctuary with the resident manager, Tom Funke. Tom’s passion for this property was evident as he explained how and why he had used specific management techniques in certain parts of the sanctuary to tweak the habitat for wildlife. He knew every type of tree, grass, and wildflower we saw, and patiently answered lots of questions from the enthusiastic birders on our hike. I was very impressed with him and the entire Otis Sanctuary. Otis Sanctuary - Cerulean Warbler Weekend (4) (800x479)

Me on the trail at Otis Farm

Me on the trail at Otis Farm

We also went on carpooling and bus field trips around Barry County, searching for warblers, flycatchers, and sparrows, among many other species. We had the extreme pleasure of being led by naturalist Greg Nelson on two of the trips. He took great pains to make sure everyone in the group got to see the birds they were most interested in, and it was clear that he knew this area and its birds very well. He had a very effective technique for teaching us to recognize the calls and songs of the various birds when the woods were just an overwhelming chorus of so many species at once. He’d have us stand quietly listening, and when he heard the target bird’s song, he’d raise his finger up in the air so we’d know that was the one we were trying to see. I really liked that method. Often on these group bird outings there are so many people talking to each other that it’s hard to hear the birds, so I appreciated those times when he asked everyone to stand quietly and listen together.

Blurry Dickcissel singing

Dickcissel singing

Thanks to Greg’s skill and knowledge, I added Acadian and Alder Flycatchers to my life list, as well as Yellow-throated Vireo. We saw Dickcissels, which I thought were new birds for me too, but when I got home and checked my list I saw they were already on it. Then I remembered that I’d added them when I heard them singing last year in a field near home. But since I’d never laid eyes on one of them, I’d considered them a “BVD bird” — better view desired. And I certainly got my “better view” of them this time, although my pictures don’t seem that great. I had perfect views of two singing Dickcissels through Greg’s spotting scope, on a roadside somewhere in Barry County.

Birders on the move!
Birders on the move!

Cerulean Blues book coverThe keynote speaker at this event was Katie Fallon, author of “Cerulean Blues: A Personal Search for a Vanishing Songbird.” I got a chance to chat with Katie before her first talk on Friday and asked her to sign my copy of her book, which she graciously did. Although I had almost finished reading her book, I still enjoyed hearing her talk about the problems being caused for this tiny warbler by the mountaintop mining practices in West Virginia and the rest of Appalachia. The bird isn’t officially listed as “endangered” yet, but it may well be on the path to that sad status very soon if we can’t find ways to re-create suitable habitat for it.

Kim and Katie looking for Ceruleans

Katie Fallon and me getting a bad case of “Warbler Neck”

I was thrilled when Katie joined our field trip the next morning to look for Ceruleans around Barry County. We carpooled to several locations and found the birds singing easily, but were unable to see them. These small birds spend their time at the very tops of the tree canopy, frustrating birders everywhere. But on our last stop of the morning, after explaining why it’s important not to overuse playback, Greg allowed someone to play the Cerulean song from their bird app. I was glad that he refrained from using playback of songs for most of the morning, trying to get us a view without disturbing the birds. But when he finally relented and agreed to do it once, that was the magic trick — the singing male suddenly zipped back and forth across the road over our heads, coming down a little bit lower in the trees to investigate the song of a “competing male.” I think the bird was still at least 30 feet above us when I snapped these photos. Thanks to Greg and Katie’s combined efforts, I got this life warbler that had eluded me for years. I think it was a life bird for several other people on  the trip because I had lots of requests for copies of my pics.  To make things simpler, I told them I would put the pics here on the blog so they could download them for their own memories of this exciting sighting.

Cerulean Warbler, June 7, 2014, Barry County, Michigan

Cerulean Warbler, June 7, 2014, Barry County, Michigan

The easiest way to know it's a Cerulean: that black necklace.

The easiest way to know it’s a Cerulean: that black necklace.

And something very inspiring happened while we were looking at the Dickcissels along that dusty road. Often when you’re in a rural location, you’ll be approached by passing motorists wanting to know what you’re all looking at. As we were lined up to the side of the road with several spotting scopes on tripods and a bunch of people with binoculars looking out into a seemingly empty field, a man in a pickup truck pulled up alongside and asked what we were doing. And this is where the enthusiasm of my fellow birders always delights me: You’d think we were small children, the way we all crowded around his truck excitedly telling him the name of the bird and encouraging him to get out and take a look at it. Even men in their 60s and 70s were urging him to come take a look. And wouldn’t you know, he was interested and got out of his truck to take a look through the spotting scope. He stepped back and asked the name of the bird again. Dickcissel? Yep. He looked again and looked up with a huge smile on his face and said something like, “Well, I’ll be darned.” And then one of the birders stepped up to him to show him the photo of the bird in a field guide. He spent another minute or two chatting with us about where we were all from and then another vehicle came along and he had to move his truck. But he thanked us and drove off smiling in wonderment that a beautiful bird like that was right here, in a field he usually didn’t even glance at. And that, my friends, is how you start winning people over to Team Conservation.  It’s all about the sharing — sharing the beauty of these birds and their songs, sharing our enthusiasm and love for them, and sharing the knowledge of how humans can unwittingly hurt their chances of survival. Once people have an awareness of the amazing birds that live among us, I think they’ll be more likely to help protect them. At least that’s how it happened to me.  :) Enjoy a few more pictures from this peaceful and educational weekend….

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Eric looking over the meadow at Otis Farm

Eric looking over the meadow at Otis Farm

Me with one of many snapping turtles we found on roads around the county

Me with one of many snapping turtles we found on roads around the county

Katie and me

Katie and me

Broad-winged Hawk - captive bird from rehab center

Broad-winged Hawk – captive bird from rehab center

Cerulean Warbler Weekend - Eric 024 (800x600) Dragonfly

Posted in Birds, Ecotherapy, Threats to Birds | Tagged , , , , | 15 Comments

Ah, Back in the Saddle Again

Well, I should say “Back in the Kayak Again.” I eagerly anticipate our maiden voyage each year, that day when we load our boats on top of the car and head out to one of our local lakes for some relaxation on the water. We took our first trip of 2014 last weekend and — surprisingly — managed to get out again this weekend. I was a bit disappointed last summer that we only got our kayaks wet two or three times, so we’re starting this year off with a renewed burst of enthusiasm.

Kayaking on Big Seven Lake

On Big Seven Lake

When we got our boats a few years ago I added a section in our “outdoor notebook” to record what we liked and didn’t like about each lake we visited. My entries go something like this:

Nice clean lake with interesting marshy coves to explore. No motorboats so very relaxing. Negatives: beach noise (in season) and few shady banks for breaks. Looks like it will be gorgeous in October too.

Sometimes I’ll add notes about the bird species we’ve seen there. These notes come in handy when we’re trying to decide where to go and all the lakes seem to run together in our minds.

One of our favorite smaller lakes is Lake Sixteen in Orion Oaks County Park. It’s only 90 acres, so we can easily explore the entire perimeter in a slow-paced morning. I think we might approach a kayak outing differently than people who aren’t birders though. When I see other people heading out on the lake, it seems they generally head straight for open water. We, on the other hand, tend to stay on the edges so we can scan the trees and shrubs for bird activity. This edge-exploration pattern also makes it easy to take breaks under the shade of overhanging trees when the sun starts to feel too hot.

View of Lake Sixteen from boat launch

View of Lake Sixteen from boat launch

So on our morning on Lake Sixteen we had the lake virtually to ourselves; I think we saw two other kayakers and one guy fishing in a rowboat. There were two pairs of nesting Mute Swans that we made sure to give a wide berth as we headed back into a small hidden cove. A couple years ago I’d seen my first Marsh Wren nests there, and I hoped to see another one. My wish came true a dozen times over as we were surrounded by the songs of the little birds. Over here, over there, behind you, there’s another one!

They can be very hard to see and even harder to photograph because they move so quickly in and out of the vegetation. But being down low in a kayak is a bit of an advantage because you can slowly drift closer as you watch for movement down inside the grasses. I managed to get this short video (47 seconds) showing one of them gathering fluff from a cattail and taking it into the nest. The first part of the video is a wide shot showing the nest on the right side of the screen. Then I zoom in on the bird so you can see him/her singing and plucking fluff from the cattail. You’ll hear quite a few other species of birds singing in this video, but the Marsh Wren is the one that sounds like a little sewing machine…you’ll know it when you hear it:

Yesterday’s outing was on Big Seven Lake at the aptly-named Seven Lakes State Park in Holly, Michigan. This lake is 175 acres, so it’s almost twice the size of Lake Sixteen. There’s a beach on this one though and sometimes it can detract from our enjoyment of the lake. But despite it being a beautiful day, there were only a handful of people at the beach.  When we launched around 9:30 there was nobody else on the lake, the sun was shining, and a light breeze was blowing. As soon as we hit the water I heard the very distinctive song of a Veery from the woods to our right. Here’s a link so you can hear what a Veery sounds like and see some photos. What a special way to start the day!

Kim taking photos in kayak by Eric (800x600)

Eric’s shot of me taking bird photos

After enjoying the Veery’s beautiful song for a few minutes we moved on. Very quickly we found catbirds, kingbirds, and lots of other lovely birds. Eric and I don’t stay together once we get out on a lake, so he went off to do his thing and I spent some time sitting in a cove listening to the various singing birds and trying to see as many as I could. I was thrilled to find a Willow Flycatcher, a bird I’ve only recently learned to identify from its songs and calls. Soon after that I spied a pretty male Rose-breasted Grosbeak and several Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers buzzing around near the water.

After a while I went to the far side of the lake and watched a muskrat swimming around and lots of huge carp splashing as they spawned in the shallow water at the edges of the lake. Then I heard a Red-tailed Hawk calling and looked up to see him soaring in big circles over the woods, with a very persistent Red-winged Blackbird repeatedly dive-bombing him. These photos show the size difference in the two birds — those blackbirds have no fear though. (I should say that I think this is an immature Red-tailed Hawk, but I’d love to be corrected if you know I’ve got it wrong.)Red-winged blackbird attacking RTHA v3 (800x732)

Red-winged Blackbird attacking RTHA (800x699)
Red-winged blackbird attacking RTHA (2) (800x739) Red-winged BL attacking RTHA v4 (800x725)

My best photo opportunity of the day happened just as I was getting ready to put my camera away and paddle back to the boat launch. A Great Blue Heron suddenly appeared around a bend and flew at eye-level beside me. I grabbed the camera and started shooting as he passed and went behind me. Considering that I didn’t have time to check my camera settings, I’m pretty happy with this one. The photo might not be perfect, but the memory of that special moment is!

Grace in motion!

Grace in motion!

Heading home after a day on the water

Heading home after a day on the water

Posted in Birds, Kayaking | Tagged , , , , | 11 Comments

Dare I Show You My Nature Drawings?

Sketching in the Wild by Kelly Riccetti (600x800)I guess I do dare, because that’s what I’m getting ready to do. In order to go through with this public display of my first sketching attempts, I’m repeating over and over in my head, “Silence your inner critic!” in the gentle voice of Kelly Riccetti. Kelly is the very patient and talented artist who taught me (and some other eager nature lovers) for a few hours on a rainy May day in northern Ohio during the Biggest Week in American Birding. We’d signed up for a course on field sketching and nature journaling and we got far more than we expected. As preparation for this course Kelly wrote and self-published an entire book, and gave it to us as part of our course materials.

She also gave us some drawing supplies and folding camp stools that we used in our class. We started our day at Pearson Metropark by setting up our little outdoor studio on the shore of a small pond. The first thing we drew was a landscKelly Riccetti teaching field journal sketching workshop (800x479)ape, to teach us about how to frame a view and dissect it into foreground, middle ground, and background. The view was lovely but I was very nervous, especially knowing that someone would be watching over my shoulder as I limped my way through a new skill. (That’s one of the stumbling blocks for HSPs, by the way. Even when we’re very good students, we often perform worse when we’re being observed.) But with her gentle encouragement and praise at our efforts, we all managed to get past that first assignment. And we had lots of fun doing it too.

Pond in the center, with an island on the left and a stone path on the right.

Pond in the center, with an island on the left and a stone path on the right. (Unfinished)

It was so funny because many of us were getting distracted by a singing Eastern Phoebe in the woods…this was the only time at the festival that we didn’t have our binoculars with us, and it felt very strange.

Next we moved to another location in the park and began learning to draw flowers. Our workbooks had lots of sample drawings and tips to help us, and we all dove right in this time.  Here are my first two flowers, with my attempts at shading to give them dimension. I really enjoyed this part.

Daisy sketch (2) (800x600)

After a lunch break we moved on to drawing birds. I had a feeling many of us had been waiting for this part — after all, we were at a birding festival and were all bird lovers! But birds are harder than flowers, that’s for sure. Kelly explained ways to draw two-second bird sketches as a way to warm up and train ourselves to begin to really see the birds. But after that we practiced on bird photos, learning to show different postures and how to place the eyes, beaks, and other parts properly. I was fascinated at how useful some of the drawing tools were too. The kneaded eraser is so much better than any other eraser I’ve ever used! And the little blending sticks (tortillons) make all the difference in the world in a sketch. I’m so glad she taught us to use those things!

Move over Charley Harper....haha, just kidding!

Move over Charley Harper….haha, just kidding!

This is an unfinished sketch of a Northern Cardinal. I was attempting to copy one of Kelly’s drawings from her book, but when she saw what I was doing she said my style reminded her of Charley Harper’s work.  I didn’t even know I had a style already, but you can put me in the same sentence with Mr. Harper any time!

And then there was this, my attempt to imitate her drawing of a junco. This one is probably more of her work than mine, as she used it to show me how to make it look more realistic. Very cool. (You can see in my notes more evidence that we were distracted by real birds during our workshop — the Black-bellied Whistling Ducks were an extremely rare species to see in northern Ohio and we were grateful that Kelly let us take time to go see them right in the middle of her class.)Junco sketch with help from Kelly (1) (800x600)

I’ve been home for about ten days now and hadn’t had time to practice until today. Kelly mentioned that she was going to revise her book (this is a first draft) and add a chapter on frogs, turtles, and snakes. I remembered that I’d shot a good photo of a garter snake a couple years ago on the beach at Tawas Point State Park (during another birding festival, of course), and I decided to see if I could sketch that photo. And I did! I know there are some problems with this sketch, but it’s my first attempt and it only took me about 45 minutes, so I’m pretty much in love with it.  By the way, since I have this birder’s compulsion to put a name on everything I see, I believe this is a Butler’s Garter Snake (Thamnophis butleri). There, that feels better.

Garter snake sketched from my photo.

Garter snake sketched from my photo.

A closer look — I didn’t know how to show the sand, so I just made dots all over the page:

Dots = sand!

Dots = sand!

My next step is to do some sketching from the real world instead of from photos. I’ll probably do more flowers or other things that don’t move as fast as birds, at least for now. But I’m pretty sure there will be some more bird sketches in my future too. How can I resist?

I highly recommend that  you jump over to Kelly’s blog, Red and the Peanut, and take a look around. You’ll see fabulous photos and maybe even be inspired to start your own field journal. I know you’re anxious to get to the art supply store, so I’ll leave you with a couple quotes from Kelly’s book:

“Field sketching is more about observation than it is about drawing….it’s also about connecting with nature, relaxing, preserving memories, and having fun! Sketching is a form of meditation, and the peace you derive from sitting still while you study and sketch even a simple leaf is a benefit you can take with you in your daily life.”

And this one:

“Being an amateur naturalist is more than just an avocation to fill up your spare time, it’s a way of life that makes living richer, deeper and more fun!”

I can vouch for that part already. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t think it’s ever too late to learn a new skill. Admittedly it’s harder to be “not good” at something as an adult student, but a great teacher can even make that part easier. Just remember to put a muzzle on your inner critic and go full steam ahead. You never know where you might end up, and that makes life exciting and fresh!

Posted in Biggest Week in American Birding, Creativity and Nature | Tagged , , , , , | 14 Comments


Baltimore Oriole on phragmite stem (800x800) w frame

Baltimore Oriole

What would you think if I told you I spent ten days at a birding festival and didn’t go birding? That’s not exactly what happened, but it sure felt like I did much less birdwatching this year at the Biggest Week in American Birding (“BW”). It wasn’t because of the less-than-perfect weather — cold and rain don’t stop birders. And it wasn’t because the birds didn’t show up — they most certainly did. I saw 136 different species, including 12 Life Birds (species I’d never seen before).

No, the surprising thing to my introverted self was that I turned into a social butterfly, seemingly overnight. This was my fourth year attending the festival and my second as a volunteer, and each year I’ve been absorbed further into what I can only refer to as a huge, loving “birder family.” Admittedly I don’t have much to compare it with, having not attended any other large birding festivals, but I can’t imagine that many other events this size could be as welcoming and embracing of everyone as the BW.

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks far out of their normal range in Florida. Exciting and rare life birds for me!

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks far out of their normal range of Florida. Exciting and rare life birds for me!

This year I was eager to reconnect with friends I’d made last year and to meet for the first time some I’d only known online. One friend issued an open invitation to hang out at her cottage on the shore of Lake Erie and I went out there twice to enjoy her wonderful cooking and hospitality. Another friend is a talented singer/songwriter and he entertained us so well our sides hurt from laughter. I made new friends of all ages, from the early 20s to about 70. We went birding together, we had long talks about all sorts of things, we ate pie to celebrate our life birds, and we hugged each other every day. I know there are people who don’t like to hug or be hugged, but I am not one of those people. I’m a hugger. And boy did I get my fill of great big bear hugs.

Magnolia Warbler singing

Magnolia Warbler singing

I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ve struggled my whole life with finding friends who really “get me.” I’ve never felt this type of acceptance and love from anyone I wasn’t genetically related to before. It’s new and wonderful — and a bit scary. A little voice in my head keeps trying to warn me that it won’t last, and that maybe it wasn’t really as real as I thought it was. Or maybe that I’ll go back in my shell and lose touch with them…I don’t know why I always feel a sense of doom when things are going well in my life.

Eastern Kingbird, a very charismatic flycatcher

Eastern Kingbird, a very charismatic flycatcher

All I know is that, this year at least, those beautiful birds took second place to the people. I’ve always felt that I’m on the outside of our society (or at least on the fringes), looking in at people who don’t understand me or share my outlook on life and the natural world. As it turns out, all these wonderful people were out there, and they see the world the same way I do. They understand how humans are connected to our environment and they work to preserve the habitats that we and the birds depend on. Many of them are scientists, researchers, and self-taught naturalists. They’re kind. They’re funny. They’re open-minded. They’re people I can respect and learn from. They’re my birding family. I wonder why it took me so long to find my tribe?

Scarlet Tanagers - the yellow one is the female

Scarlet Tanagers – the yellow one is the female

Since I got home I’ve been feeling a bit sad about having to say goodbye and see them all go their separate ways, back to their homes in New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. By the way, I’ve never been one that’s drawn to the southwestern desert part of our country before, but now I have a reason to want to visit. My friends who live in New Mexico really love it there, and I need to go see what it is they’re so passionate about.

This last picture is a Carolina Wren belting out his beautiful tune with all he’s got. I was reminded of it yesterday when I told the owner of our local Wild Birds Unlimited store about my surprise at my recent extrovert tendencies and she said matter-of-factly, “You’re singing more.” I love that image of myself as a bird singing just for the sheer joy of it, because life is good. I’ve said this many times but I need to repeat it: Birds and birders have changed my life. I don’t always like change, but this kind of change has been a long time coming and I’m loving every minute of my new outward-facing life. Thanks for letting me share it with you.

Carolina Wren singing - silhouette - great pic (800x571)

Posted in Biggest Week in American Birding, Birds, Happiness and Gratitude | Tagged , , , , , , | 10 Comments


Blackburnian Warbler

Blackburnian Warbler

This is just a quick note to let you know that I’m back home from the Biggest Week in American Birding now, after ten days of pure joy. I have so much to tell you but I need a few days to process my thoughts and photographs and get rested from all the excitement. While you’re waiting for that though, please click over to see the newest bird photos on my Flickr account. Enjoy!

Posted in Biggest Week in American Birding, Bird Migration, Birds | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Full-Frame Warbler Action on the Boardwalk!

I didn’t expect to be posting already on our first day at the Biggest Week in American Birding but we had such an extraordinary experience in only 90 minutes on the Magee Marsh boardwalk this afternoon that I just had to share with you. Mostly pictures, few words, because we have to be on a bus at 6:00 am tomorrow for an all-day field trip.

Since we only had a short time to bird this afternoon, we only managed to get halfway across the boardwalk before we had to turn back. But oh my gosh did we get a show! The warblers were coming down so close to us that I couldn’t even get pictures of them because my camera won’t focus that close.  For example, this Prothonotary Warbler was within arm’s reach of us for so long that I almost didn’t manage to get a picture of him, but when I did, just look at this beauty, filling the frame of the camera:

Prothonotary Warbler, only a couple feet away!

Prothonotary Warbler, only a couple feet away!

Most of my bird pictures have to be cropped down, but not that baby! Immediately after we saw him, we got good looks at this Ovenbird:



And then a moment later we bumped into Kim Kaufman giving a boardwalk tour to Jim Zehringer, Director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. Mr. Zehringer was so kind to me, asking questions and thanking me for my volunteer work on behalf of the festival. I really appreciated that, and after I got a good bear hug from Kim we moved on.

Next up was this stunning Black-and-white Warbler:

Black-and-white Warbler

Black-and-white Warbler

We saw quite a few Black-throated Green Warblers, and I got my first ever look at one of them from up on the observation tower, so I could see his gorgeous yellow-green back.

Black-throated Green Warbler

Black-throated Green Warbler

Black-throated Green Warbler seen from above -- isn't he gorgeous?

Black-throated Green Warbler seen from above — isn’t he gorgeous?

A very photogenic Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

A very photogenic Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

We’re in our room at the Maumee Bay Lodge now watching a beautiful sunset over Lake Erie, winding down from the excitement of the first day, eagerly looking forward to tomorrow. It’s going to rain on us but somehow knowing that these amazing birds are still here makes that all right.

Posted in Biggest Week in American Birding, Bird Migration, Birds | Tagged , , , , , | 16 Comments

Having an Extrovert Episode

Reaching hands and sun via Flickr by timove with frame and captionYes, you heard me right: Extrovert Episode. You’ve probably not heard that phrase before, because I just made it up. But if you’re an introvert, you’ll immediately understand what I mean by it. It’s meant to describe those times when we introverts become unusually outgoing and involved with other people. We all experience this — sometimes for a short time (a few hours) and sometimes for longer. I’m in the midst of one of the longest extrovert episodes I’ve ever had, and I find myself thinking about what prompted me to reach out to the world this time.

I think it’s because in the past couple of years I’ve developed relationships with a small group of really interesting people who accept me for who I am. Many of these friendships began as a result of this blog, and I’m so glad I nudged myself beyond my usual comfort zone to open up about my life. I’ve been able to help other highly-sensitive people learn about themselves and how to cope with our always-doing-something-busy-busy-busy society. I’ve also connected with other people who love birds and nature as much as I do. Both of these groups of people have enriched my life in various ways, and I’ve been surprised to see how much overlap there is between the two. Maybe that’s part of the reason I feel so fulfilled by these friendships, because I’m connecting more often on a deeper level with people who share my outlook on the world. One of the most basic human needs is to be understood and appreciated by others, and I’m extremely grateful that I’ve started feeling some of that, finally. Every single person who has taken the time to get to know the real me–and allow me to know them better–has helped give me courage to stay “out here” in the world.

Visitors' Guides to the BWIAB for the past three years. (I missed the first year.)

Visitors’ Guides to the BWIAB for the past three years.

In just a few days I’m off to Ohio for the Biggest Week in American Birding (BWIAB). I hope to do a few brief posts while I’m there, giving you a taste of the beautiful birds and the birder festivities as we celebrate the amazing spectacle of spring migration.  My husband will be there part of the time, but I’ll be there the entire length of the festival, from May 6-15. I hope I’m not overdoing it with too much enthusiasm — I might have to sleep for a week when I get home!

I’m not taking as many workshops as I have in past years, but I’m proud of myself for signing up for a Field Sketching workshop to learn how to enhance my nature journaling with simple drawings of birds, leaves, butterflies, and other pretties. Did you know that you learn better when you draw something? I’m curious to see if that will work for me. I’m a bit nervous about this workshop because I’ve never been able to draw a realistic depiction of anything before. I’m hoping I can keep myself from getting frustrated and just relax and do my best without worrying about what other people think of my drawings. Kelly Riccetti of Red and the Peanut will be our instructor. She’s a talented artist, as well as one of our blog team members for this year’s festival, and this will be my first time to meet her. Will I be brave enough to show you what I draw in that workshop? I wouldn’t count on it, but we’ll see. In the meantime, enjoy my little bird doodle.

Kim's Doodle Bird

Zentangle-inspired bird

Posted in Biggest Week in American Birding, Bird Migration, Drawing, Highly-Sensitive People (HSPs) | Tagged , , , , , , | 11 Comments