Tag Archives: Greg Miller

A Big Day with big, renewing results

prothonotary warbler, warblers

Male Prothonotary Warbler at Magee Marsh. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

By Bruce Stambaugh

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.

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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.

(Click on the photos to enlarge them)

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?

Lakeside sunset, sunset

Lakeside sunset. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015


© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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Ohio Society of Bluebirds conference sets attendance record

thirstybluebirdsbybrucestambaugh

Eastern Bluebirds frequented a backyard water feature during a cold spell in Ohio.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Marcella Hawkins of Glenmont, Ohio has a passion for Eastern Bluebirds. That passion became productively evident Feb. 23 at the Ohio Society of Bluebirds (OSB) annual conference in Wooster, Ohio. Hawkins is the executive director of OSB.

From the record number of people who attended the conference held Feb. 23, Hawkins is not alone. More than 300 bluebird enthusiasts participated in the all day event, held at the Shisler Conference Center on the campus of the Ohio Agricultural and Research Development Center.

doorprizesbybrucestambaugh

Adrienne Hopson-Gaston of Mansfield, Ohio surveyed the door prizes available at the Ohio Bluebird Society conference.

The day was filled with exhibits, vendors, speakers and presentations, with only a few breaks. Experts and amateurs alike shared their research and experiences regarding some aspect of bluebirds, their predators and habitats.

Darlene Sillick, a conservationist and birder from Powell, Ohio, related her years of experiences with the Ohio Wildlife Center with owls. She explained that owls could turn their head 270 degrees because they have 14 vertebrate, twice the number of humans.

Sillick said owls depend on their keen sense of hearing and large eyes to track prey. She shared that it is the force of the owl’s talons that kills its prey.

Sillick introduced Matthew Wiese of Dublin, Ohio. Wiese, 17, did a nest box project on Safari Golf Club for his Eagle Scout badge. Wiese said he put in a total of 319 volunteer hours in planning, mapping and checking the numerous bluebird boxes he installed. He also learned to band the hatchlings in several of the boxes.

jasonmartinbybrucestambaugh

Jason Martin, head of Cornell’s Nest Watch project, answered questions from participants.

Roger Downer of Wooster, a retired entomologist from the OARDC, gave a presentation on moths. He said the important connection between moths and bluebirds are the caterpillars that serve as a food source for the bluebirds. Those that survive become moths, which other birds also use as food.

Chuck Jakubchak of Strongsville, Ohio gave a pep rally style presentation about how birds know when to migrate. In the case of Eastern Bluebirds, he proposed three scenarios. He said studies show that some bluebirds migrate to the southeastern states with habitat similar to what they have in Ohio. Others only partially migrate, going to warmer but closer states where they compete for food with non-migrating birds.

leucisticredtailedhawkbybrucestambaugh

Volunteers at the Medina Raptor Center displayed several species of injured birds at the conference, including this leucistic Red-tailed Hawk.

Jakubchak said the bluebirds seen in Ohio during the winter are non-migrating.

“They stay put, perhaps because they have had a successful breeding history,” he said. “But we really don’t know for sure, other than the fact that they choose to stay.”

Jason Martin of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, N.Y., spoke on the importance of documenting Eastern Bluebirds by monitoring their nesting boxes. He invited participants to join his project, Nest Watch, by keeping track of what is happening inside the nesting boxes.

“Inside the boxes,” Martin said, “is where the action is.” The Nest Watch project began in 1960 and has progressed to online reporting of nesting activity from around the country.

gregmillerbybrucestambaugh

Noted birder Greg Miller from Sugarcreek, Ohio gave an autograph to Trevor Zook of Mansfield, Ohio.

Greg Miller of Sugarcreek, Ohio closed out the session with a spellbinding account of his Big Year experience. He especially focused on the time he spent as the bird consultant on the set of the movie, The Big Year. He told personal accounts of meeting the movie producers and stars, including Jack Black, who played Miller in the movie.

Allen and Nina Bower of Britton, Mich., received OBS’s Blue Feather Award for their effort in spreading the importance of proper nest boxes for Eastern Bluebirds. The group’s Wildlife Conservation Award went to Charlie Zepp of Dublin. Zepp has built more than 6,000 bluebird boxes with wood he gathered from refuge bins at construction sites.

After announcing several winners of donated raffle prizes, Hawkins thanked the volunteers and sponsors of the conference, which was free of charge for those who had preregistered.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

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Greg Miller is a nice guy

By Bruce Stambaugh

Greg Miller is a nice guy. Anyone who even remotely knows Greg would easily agree with that statement.

Greg Miller by Bruce Stambaugh

Greg Miller


Though raised just a mile south of where my wife and I have lived for 32 years near Berlin, Ohio, I really never got to know him until recently. Greg had long grown up and started his own adult life before we moved here. His mother continues to live in the same house, and still meticulously adorns her property annually with a wide assortment of lovely flowers.

Others have known Greg much longer and better than I have. But just from the few conversations that I have had with him, I can attest that Greg is the kind of guy everyone would welcome as a friend.

I had heard of Greg well before I got to know him. He was one of three birders about whom Mark Obmascik wrote his 2004 book “The Big Year.” When Hollywood turned the book into a big screen movie of the same name, Greg was ecstatic, and rightly so. Not everyone has a book written or a movie made about a life accomplishment.

By his own description, Greg is a computer programming geek by trade and an avid and expert birder by desire. Greg transformed that hobby into nearly an obsession when he spent much of 1998 doing a Big Year. A Big Year is when a birder observes or hears as many North American bird species as possible.
Banner at Lakeside Ohio by Bruce Stambaugh
That year Greg surpassed the coveted 700 mark, as did two other men. The story of the extreme efforts of those three birders inspired both the book and the recently released movie.

Greg gave a touching keynote address at the Midwest Birding Symposium in Lakeside, Ohio in mid-September. He spoke to an audience of nearly 1,000 for an hour using no notes, speaking directly from his heart. Greg had the crowd spellbound relating his personal, touching story.

I was greatly moved when early in his talk Greg cited the influence of his kind parents, especially his father, in generating his interest in birding. Greg said he couldn’t remember seeing his first bird or getting his first pair of binoculars. Birding was simply a part of his heritage, thanks to the quiet, patient guidance of his late father, who himself was a man of integrity.

Kevin Cook and Greg Miller by Bruce Stambaugh

Kevin Cook and Greg Miller at the Midwest Birding Symposium held at Lakeside, Ohio in September.


Greg told the crowd how his father taught him to see the bird, and then lift his binoculars to his eyes to observe the bird’s details and to verify the species. Years later, Greg showed movie star Jack Black, who played Greg in the movie, the same birding technique.

Greg served as the birding consultant for the movie. He spent three weeks on-site with the crew. Greg couldn’t get over that the cast and crew were as enamored with him as he was in awe of them.

Greg is not perfect. He would be the first to tell you that. Greg has encountered and endured some of life’s pitfalls, like the rest of us humans. Now, however, he is basking in the glow of notoriety, racing to speaking engagements all across the country as if he were chasing after the rarest of birds.

Good for him. Through it all, Greg has remained Greg. He has not lost the sense of whom he is nor how he got to be where he is. That alone speaks volumes of just how nice a guy Greg Miller really is.

Julie Zickefoose by Bruce Stambaugh

Author and illustrator Julie Zickefoose greeted some of her admirers at the Midwest Birding Symposium at Lakeside, Ohio in September.

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