Whenever I visit Lakeside, OH, rightly dubbed the Chautauqua on Lake Erie, I head to the dock if there is at all a chance of a decent sunset. Recently, this sparkling scene greeted me. Though I couldn’t coax a boat to sail into view, the shimmering oranges that glistened off of the rippling water caught my eye.
Even in my semi-retirement, I’m a busy person. Keeping active and involved in the community has been a priority and passion my entire life.
That lifestyle takes a personal toll, however. From time to time, I need to recharge my body, mind, and spirit. I step away from my daily routine and spend some time just enjoying life.
I have found that immersing myself into nature is the salve that soothes the soul. I love the outdoors and all the beauty that she offers.
A Big Day does that for me. In the birding world, a Big Day is an entire day devoted to nothing more than counting all the species of birds that you can identify by sight or sound.
Folks do Big Days in groups that cover a given territory. Or they are done by simply staying put in one spot and counting all creatures avian seen or heard. That is appropriately called a Big Sit.
My Big Day, however, wasn’t either one of those. Instead, with the warbler migration in full swing, I knew the various locations I wanted to visit in northwest Ohio to view the returning and transient birds.
Traveling alone to different birding hot spots allowed me to go at my own pace, and to absorb fully all that I experienced.
Spring birding near Lake Erie means dressing for all seasons. I was glad I had.
The steady, stiff northeast wind off of the lake brought out the winter duds in most birders on the boardwalk at Magee Marsh, my first destination. Being bundled up didn’t deter either the active bird observations or the usual universal geniality of most birders.
The boardwalk was packed with birders young, old and in between from around the world. Warblers and other birds flitted everywhere.
Even though I had gone by myself, I clearly wasn’t alone. Among the hundreds of birders at Magee, I only knew one, my friend and expert birder, Greg Miller, of ‘The Big Year” fame. The rest weren’t strangers though, helping me to locate and identify 23 warbler species. Their kindness meant more than the day’s species numbers.
Later, when I drove the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge road and then hurried to see some other rare birds, I found the same excited congeniality. Sullen grumpiness isn’t part of birding ethics. Beautiful birds and friendly birders cohabited.
With the day quickly waning, I headed east to the Marblehead Peninsula. I wanted to enhance my day with a brief visit to the Lakeside Daisy Nature Preserve to view the flowers in their prime. Though the day was mostly cloudy and cool, the little buttery daisies warmed my soul with their lusciousness.
After a quick supper, I hustled to my favorite spot in Ohio, Marblehead Lighthouse. The setting sun cast long shadows of trees onto the historic white lighthouse. Its red top, where the beacon blinked for sailors, was bathed in creamy, warm light.
A handful of other photographers celebrated with me. I can’t speak for them. But with each click of the camera’s shutter, my soul felt lighter, cleansed, fulfilled.
I hurried to nearby Lakeside to watch the sunset’s golden evolution. The day was complete.
Such are the positive consequences of observing, listening, contemplating, reflecting and sharing with humankind amid the earthly creation for which we all are charged to preserve. My Big Day finished bigger than I could have ever imagined.
Joy abounded all around in regeneration. Isn’t that the real reason for spring?
Magee Marsh has a well-maintained boardwalk for birders to observe up close the many beautiful birds that flit around. The boardwalk meanders through the various favorable habitats, woods, marsh, water. At times, the walkway is packed. People clump up to get a view of a showy or rare species, with birders helping birders to find the bird. That’s just how birders are. Well, most of them at least.
When I came upon this photographer aiming his huge camera at something, I had to take his photo. He was the only person I saw all day that totally blocked the boardwalk. This individual wore all the right clothes and used the best photography equipment.
He clearly only had one thing in mind, and courtesy wasn’t one of them. His camouflage outfit and camera said it all. He was there to shoot photos of birds. He seemed totally oblivious to the fact that thousands of others wanted to do the same and were unable to pass the way he was set up. Also, the boardwalk rules, both written and understood, clearly state, “No tripods.”
I’m glad this photographer was the exception, not the rule at Magee Marsh. “Camouflaged” is my Photo of the Week.
Friends. Food. Memories. That’s a recipe to remember.
Some of my favorite memories come from sitting around a dinner table and sharing a meal with friends. With the passage of time, more often than not these are folks we seldom see on a regular basis for a multitude of reasons.
The excuses responsible for the separation are many and varied. A change of jobs, retirement, relocating, even a misunderstanding are just some of the possibilities.
Funny, isn’t it, how food enables meaningful conversation, neutralizes differences and bonds folks together. That’s true, of course, as long as I’m not cooking.
Food flavors the conversational flow. Perhaps it’s the other way around. The intentionality of reconnecting is easier if food is the centerpiece.
The type of meal is insignificant. It could be at a fancy restaurant, or someone’s home or a relaxing picnic. The setting and type don’t necessarily dictate the buoyant demeanor that prevails. The results are the same.
My late father was notorious for instigating such gatherings. He called it the “annual Frith picnic.” Frith was my mother’s maiden name, and anyone directly and remotely connected to the Frith family of my mother and her two sisters was invited.
Grandma Frith, the mother of the three daughters, was always the queen of the feast. Us grandkids revered her. Her homemade pies had nothing to do with that of course.
Dad kept the reunion going as long as he could. We usually met at his company-owned park, along with hundreds of other employees and their families.
We played card games, softball, volleyball and miniature golf. Mostly though, we grouped in semi-circles or sat at picnic tables quizzing one another. As the grandkids grew, they began to have children of their own.
Attendance and menu offerings expanded, and then lessened as family cells grew and spread across the country like the measles. I miss those get-togethers. I remember the intensity of the conversations though not the specifics. Shoot, I can’t remember what I had for lunch, and lunch was an hour ago.
I recall other smorgasbords as well.
I find sitting at the same table with people you once hired, shared offices, played on the same softball team or attended church with priceless. Between bites of seasoned casseroles and homemade desserts, we sit around like old grandparents and compare notes about our greatest blessings, our grandchildren. We do so because we are old grandparents, well most of us.
Stories long forgotten are retold as if they happened yesterday. We laugh to the point of tears. Quiet reflections often follow the expressive outpourings, sure signs that those times will never return nor be repeated. That may be for the best.
If heads turn our way in public settings, they are accompanied by understanding smiles without knowing the context or details. The other patrons acknowledge the genuine fellowship with polite nods.
I especially love extended opportunities where the conversing spontaneously spills out long past the clearing of the supper table. Raucous rounds of dominoes or card games ensue. They are new memories freshly made.
I find it even more delicious if newcomers slide into the circle of friends. They ask clarifying questions that generate new information, more laughter, a rainbow of language, and new friends.
In such situations, I have learned another necessary ingredient that spices the relational recipe. Silent listening is the honey that sweetens the relationships and keeps me asking for seconds.
The Marblehead Lighthouse, Marblehead, OH is one of my favorite places to linger. Winter, summer, spring or fall, it doesn’t matter. I love to linger on the lighthouse grounds, enjoying the view, the passing boats, the birds, and the folks I meet there. Most of all, however, I just like to sit on the hard limestone outcroppings and look at the lighthouse. Last evening, I visited my old friend after a day of birding along the Lake Erie shore in northwest OH.
I arrived at the lighthouse near sunset. As soon as I drove into the nearly empty parking lot, my face lit up. As the sun neared the western horizon, it broke through a layer of clouds. A soothing golden light magnificently illuminated the top of the lighthouse. I thought it rather poetic that the natural light bathed the source of the artificial beacon that the historic lighthouse would soon produce.
Like children dreaming of Old St. Nick on Christmas Eve, this is the time of year birders have yearned for, longed for, relished.
For hardcore birders, spring migration is a Christmas morning that spans several weeks from mid-March to mid-May. Avid birders are especially on the alert now to find the many species they seek, and some they couldn’t even imagine.
When a rarity shows up like the Rock Wren did last spring, it’s a birding bonanza. The Rock Wren became a rock star. For several days, the bird from America’s southwest was a magnet, attracting folks from far and wide to Holmes County.
Such birds are the exception. The spring migratory norm is to view birds that either return here to nest or to catch a glimpse of those that are just passing through. Depending on the weather, the transients might stay a day or two, or just make a short pit stop to rest and refuel.
The challenge is to be at the right place at the right time to see and hear the birds.
For me, I’m just as happy to note the return of my backyard birds. The Chimney Swifts rattled the fireplace doors as they swooped into our chimney the evening of April 18, the same date as last year.
How do I know? Like most birders, I keep a list of when I see a species for the first time each year. In the birding world, that’s known as the FOY, first of year. For instance, the Red-headed Woodpecker was a day later than last year, arriving April 21.
Today’s birders use social networking sources to track the movement and appearance of the various species. That gives the flocks of birders a heads up on finding and photographing particular birds.
We are fortunate in Ohio to have one of the best locations in the country to observe and hear a wide variety of transitory and returning birds, especially warblers. This time of year both birds and birders pack Magee Marsh Wildlife Area.
A conservation group, the Black Swamp Bird Observatory, located at the entrance to Magee Marsh in northwest Ohio, sponsors “America’s Biggest Week in Birding.” In fact, it’s going on right now.
These folks welcome thousands of birders, amateur to professional, in hosting this attractive annual festival. Magee Marsh, a state park, is billed as “the warbler capital of the world.” Having been there on many occasions, I can attest to that.
Birders from around the world converge on Magee Marsh just to watch the warblers and shorebirds come and go. It’s not unusual to observe 20 or more kinds of warblers in just a few hours. Magee Marsh and the surrounding acreage are protected habitat that ensures safe harbor for migrating and nesting birds of all sizes, colors and species.
My first visit to Magee Marsh years ago was indeed like Christmas. A few steps onto the wooden boardwalk and I spotted a variety of colorful warblers decked out in their impressive breeding plumage. The brightly colored little birds looked like Christmas tree ornaments perched on low-hanging tree branches.