"Two years ago I got a second cancer diagnosis, and it's something that we're not gonna fix. I was told basically to get my affairs in order, and spend time with people I like and enjoy, doing things that I enjoy doing.
I quit my job. And I've been spending time with my family and friends, and I've been birding everywhere. Last year I went to both ends of the world. I did Antarctica, and the Arctic in one year. I went to Alaska, and Brazil, and the Tortugas, Arizona... So I'm just birding like crazy!
My doctor said don't be a slave to your chemo. He said travel, and enjoy yourself. Birding has been a thing that I just really wanted to do."
What advice would you share to new birders or a young birder?
Savor the moment. Instead of seeing something and dashing to the next thing, just stick with it. Stay with it. Soak it in and take it all in and not waste an opportunity by being in a hurry to move on to the next thing. Watch it, listen to it, feel it, smell it, and see it... savor it.
Several days ago I learned a group of birders would be coming over by boat to Little Saint Simons on a Georgia Ornithological Society (GOS) field trip. To me, this is the Big Year equivalent to a rare bird showing up right in your own backyard! Living on an island has made it quite challenging to interview and photograph birders on a regular basis. So to say I was excited for this group to arrive was an understatement!
On the morning of their arrival, I was working a breakfast shift in the kitchen. This meant I had to serve breakfast to the guests, clear tables and wash dishes, followed by setting tables and preparing the dining room for lunch. Thankfully, my kitchen team helped streamline the jobs and I flew out the door right on time. In a flurry of fleece layers and binocular straps, I jumped onto a bike and pedaled down the sandy single track road towards the beach. It’s not very difficult to catch up with two trucks full of birders, due to the frequent stops made along the road. When I hopped into the bed of a truck with my bike, I was embraced by smiles and enthusiasm by all participants, who seemed genuinely interested in hearing about my journey. I enjoyed sharing the beaches, wetlands, and forests I’ve been so fortunate to bird recently with birders from all over Georgia. The morning passed quickly with sightings of thousands of shorebirds on Sancho Panza beach, including several Long-billed Curlews, and a close fly-by of a Northern Gannet. I gave some short digiscoping tutorials using Phone Skope, which made viewing distant birds through the scope much easier for some participants.
Later on we came across a juvenile Red-tailed hawk, who was soaked to the bone and unable to fly. It probably had eyes larger than its stomach and went after something too large in the water- perhaps a moorhen. The whole group got great looks at the saturated bird, and I stayed behind with several folks to explain my experience with wild Red-tails as falconry birds. Throughout the day I visited with several people, whose enthusiasm for learning and birding excited me and reminded me just how awesome a community of birders can be. This group from Georgia was full of unique and fascinating people each with their own story. I connected with Krista’s story immediately, taking what life has dealt you and just going birding, and letting the rest work itself out. I want to bird with her again this year, and will go out of my way to try and make that happen if circumstances allow it in the future!
The cold weather and wind blew the hours away, and soon it was afternoon. The groups retreated to the lodge to warm up by the fire, eat cookies, and share birding stories. I wrapped up my interviews with several different participants and was thrilled I was able to connect with several great people throughout the day. I found myself again parting ways with people I meet, wishing that I could spend more time talking and listening to them. Birds really do bring people together. When I jumped into a truck full of strangers this morning, I had no idea I’d wave goodbye to a boat full of new friends. Thank you all for a lovely day!