Hawks, falcons, and vultures… oh my!

Hawks, falcons, and vultures… oh my!

“Paying attention to birds, being mindful of them, is being mindful of Life itself. We seldom think of it this clearly, but sometimes, unexpectedly, we are overtaken by a sense of wonder and gratitude. Surely it is the encounter with a force much larger than ourselves that moves us.”

(G. Gibson, The Bedside book of Birds: an Avian Miscellany)


With gratitude for the support, encouragement, and companionship I’ve received throughout the year on this wonderful birding journey, and wishing you many blessings as we enter into this holiday season.

Deb xoxo










These are days you’ll remember…

These are days you’ll remember…

And as you feel it, you’ll know it’s true, that you, are blessed and lucky.
It’s true, that you, are touched by something that will grow and bloom

–Natalie Merchant

When I look back on this year, August will be remembered as the month of adventures.

August began with a weekend trip to Garrett County, Maryland for an overnight stay in an accessible yurt (!!) with a return visit to New Germany State Park. If you haven’t yet discovered New Germany State Park, I highly recommend it. A lovely setting, great birds and trails, and camping opportunities (including an accessible cabin!), yet a comforting and easier pace to things.

New bird sightings included a Hermit Thrush, Black-throated Green Warbler, and a Blue-Headed Vireo, however my favorite bird discovery from that weekend remains the Common Raven who began calling in early morning, and showed up repeatedly throughout the morning.



Two weekends later I set off on an adventure that, in the weeks leading up to the trip, was equal parts thrilling and terrifying.

Here’s back story: the day I returned home from Chesapeake Beach (that I wrote about a few posts ago), I checked my email and learned of an opportunity to join an overnight pelagic (Definition: of, relating to, or living or occurring in the open sea) out of Lewes, Delaware.  I knew I wanted to experience a pelagic birding trip this year, however I hadn’t yet found an opportunity. I sent off a text to my brother, who nearly immediately responded to count him in; he would keep me steady and on my feet throughout the weekend and help in any other way he was able. I then emailed Paul and Anita of See Life Paulagics (www.paulagics.com) to say I was interested, however had some questions. My phone rang a few minutes later, and even after I described my physical limitations Paul encouraged me to be bold and give it a try. So without much time to think (or over-think, which is perhaps a good thing), I was signed up for an 18-hour overnight pelagic birding trip. Oh my! The questions and doubts didn’t set in until maybe mid-day the following day. Looking back now, I’m so glad I joined this trip. It was an amazing experience!

This was sunrise Sunday morning, 100+ miles from shore, in deep Maryland waters beyond the continental shelf.


I took only a few pictures during the entire trip, since I quickly learned trying to focus on relatively small moving birds, while on a moving and rocking boat, while also trying to stay upright requires advanced skills 🙂

Here are a few storm-petrels. Notice how they “walk” or “dance” on the surface of the water.




I stayed out on the deck as much as possible, from the time we left the dock until we returned. There was only a sliver of waning moon visible Saturday night, and about midnight, when most of the lights were turned off, the night sky was indescribably beautiful. Add to that the thrill that we couldn’t see in front of us, and therefore couldn’t brace for those briefly airborne moments after hitting a wave (lol!!), it was a fun night. 🙂


Deb Keeping Watch_cropped

Here is my brother, David. I’ve just about run out of words to express my gratitude… I couldn’t have done this, and so many other recent adventures, without him.


And friend Kathy, who as president of the Frederick Bird Club offered a warm welcome to the club at the start of the year, and who has continued to offer encouragement to meet my goals for the year and even more importantly to keep active, involved, and enjoying life this year and beyond.


Paul and Anita, as well as the leaders and crew of See Life Pelagics were all great. Extra thanks go to Kelvin though, who didn’t give me time to fret about how I was going to climb the stairs (without a railing) to the boat. Instead, before I had even completed my first sentence of concern, he had me up the stairs and boarding the boat. I know I’m repeating myself, however the kindness of strangers leaves me so grateful.


And one week after the pelagic, I traveled to Cape May – joining New Hampshire and Maryland family members for more birding adventures.



One of my hopes for the trip was for good, long looks at a Least Tern. And each day I was lucky to enjoy those good long looks at several Least, Black, Caspian, Royal, Forster’s and Common terns in different habitats and displaying different behaviors, including diving for food.

tern diving








On a moving boat again, so not fully focused. The striking colors of this American Oystercatcher were too wonderful to leave out of the post just due to lack of focus…


And a Tricolored Heron I had made several previous (unsuccessful, Maryland) attempts to see


While I later had opportunities to clearly view Clapper Rails out at the water’s edge, there is something exciting about the first glimpse…




I happen to love sparrows, so I was thrilled to see three new sparrows – a Seaside Sparrow, a Saltmarsh Sparrow, and this Lark Sparrow – during my days in Cape May.

lark sparrow

The Pied-billed Grebe holds a special place in my heart, and I always love discovering them in new locations. It feels like meeting up with the relative of a familiar friend


It is hard to describe the feeling of hundreds of swallows flying overhead, sometimes close enough to feel the air move from their wing beats.




Out of focus and difficult to see, I know, however a summary of my time in Cape May wouldn’t be complete without mention of this Northern Bobwhite and his “bob-white” calls from the edge of the parking lot at The Point.


Along with many Monarch butterflies, we discovered this Viceroy – a Monarch mimic


And while part of this adventure was about enjoying Cape May birds, a more important part was spending time with family…




We went Birding By Boat on the Osprey (http://www.ospreycruise.com) with Captain Bob, twice!



We also spent time with a guide from the Cape May Bird Observatory (www.njaudubon.org/SectionCapeMayBirdObservatory/CMBOHome.aspx). Since we were all new to Cape May birding spots, as well as a good number of the shorebirds and migrant birds observed, it was a great help to have a knowledgable guide to get us started. Our guide happened to be a Cape May native and a highly respected birder and naturalist. Thankfully he was also patient and eager to help us learn. Many thanks to Jessica and Tom from the CMBO for coordinating this wonderful opportunity.

Screen Shot 2017-09-08 at 7.01.30 PM

A final factor that really pulled together our successful trip was finding a lovely house to rent that (1) could accommodate a group (2) with easy access to birding locations and (3) be physically accessible. By complete luck, we found the perfect house (www.capemayrentals.com/properties/258-6th-avenue). Located five minutes to the Meadows, seven minutes to Higbee WMA, and three minutes to the local organic market, we couldn’t have asked for a more convenient location. And with ramp access and a curbless shower on the main floor, the house offered the accessibility needed.  Many thanks Kathleen, for offering your welcoming and accessible home!


Whew! Those adventures brought August to a close. September started right up with a birding trip and a bike ride, however I’ll save those updates for next time.

For now I want to end by sharing how exciting it is to hear your bird discoveries. I’m touched when I hear that something I’ve written or shared has sparked an interest for you. And I’m humbled to learn that something I’ve done or am trying to do has encouraged you to pursue a passion or source of joy. And although I’m not comfortable in the role of accessibility advocate, it seems I’ve raised awareness of access and limitations, as well as opportunities and abilities, simply out of necessity as I find my way through this year. So if something I’ve done or shared leads to a greater awareness, that’s good too. 🙂

And I really will end with a special highlight of my week in Cape May. The picture below was taken on September 1st from the Hawk Watch platform – the first day of this year’s Cape May Hawk Watch. While looking out at this view, I had the opportunity to hear reflections and memories shared of the first hawk watch experience, 41 years prior. I also had the privilege of hearing someone else speak of birds as a reason to get well and keep moving forward. The simple joy of watching the birds at my yard feeders became my motivation to live more fully, and to not give up when facing the challenges of muscular dystrophy. It meant a lot to hear someone else speak of birds in this way.


With love and kindness,

I ride…

I ride…

when i wake to the heat of morning
galloping down the highway of my life
something hopeful rises in me
rises and runs me out into the road
… and i ride

adapted from Lucille Clifton, Hag Riding


Where to begin this post? No words feel right this week. Today, musician Kris Delmhorst wrote “our country seems to be in the midst of a desperate fight for its very soul” — and her words resonated deeply. Although I keep political references out of my posts, I feel I’m on respectful ground to share I’ve been fighting to keep from despair much of the past year. The topics of conversation, and the lack of respect and civility that grab much of our attention these days, have regularly led me to disconnect from the news and social media. For me, it has been tough to find the appropriate and responsible balance – between staying connected, remaining involved, working on even a small level to bring about change and the desire to disconnect out of feeling overwhelmed. And yet ultimately I come back to that sense of responsibility and my belief that all of the blessings I’ve received throughout my life require me to stay engaged and find ways – even small ways – of ensuring those blessings are shared by individuals of all backgrounds, races, religions, orientations, and abilities.

One of my teachers from Loyola, Fr. Kevin Gillespie, often shared the words “where there is story, there is hope.” Some stories are too painful to tell, and some stories aren’t ready to be told. Yet when we are ready, and once we begin to tell our stories, we open ourselves to the possibility for healing. This was most often discussed at a personal level, and yet these last several days I’ve continued to wonder where we will create possibilities for healing in our country.


I have only a few birding updates –



An all-electric bike arrived last week, from Outrider USA in Fletcher, NC. I first discovered the Outrider team and the idea of the Horizon bike in 2014. And by chance, I had the opportunity to bid on one of these bikes offered through auction by the FSH Society in April of this year. This bike will certainly help me live boldly this year. When the time is right, I’ll share more about my adventures with this bike and how it might take me to less-accessible birding locations.

My birding the last few weeks has been filled with discoveries as well as disappointments and frustrations as I’ve encountered a greater number of trips and locations that are not accessible. And yet, I keep finding the silver linings… here are a few pictures from recent outings:






And here are a few pictures from home — the busy hummingbirds, a sun/dust bathing young Brown Thrasher, a Mourning Dove waiting for a turn at the favorite dust bath spot, and a Carolina Wren who visits the back deck daily for a bath, several songs, and to check out each of the planters for a tasty morsel…








Finally, while at Kennedy Krieger/Johns Hopkins last Friday I discovered the labyrinth within the healing garden. What a wonderful surprise! This labyrinth appeared to be in the shape of a question mark, which has served as a reminder to “live everything. Live the questions now…” (Rainer Maria Rilke)

With hope and blessings…


Catching up after a summer lull…

Catching up after a summer lull…

It has been a while since I’ve posted… perhaps just a summer lull, however I’ve felt I’ve been out of words. I’m now past the mid-way point of this ‘big year’, and when I slow down and think about what I’m doing these days, I truly have no words. Only feelings of deep, deep gratitude and joy.

It was last summer, just about this time, when I began feeling that stirring from within urging me to get back out and live more fully. And I’m now doing that. In addition to enjoying daily time with the birds at home, I’m out birding several days each week.

One recent highlight was a drive to Chesapeake Beach in Calvert County, MD to look for Terns and Cormorants. This was the most adventurous I’ve been with the new van and scooter… and here is one view from the end of a dock. I only hesitated a moment, wondering whether I’d have enough room/skill to back up or turn around. One boat owner, a proud Naval Academy parent, noticed my brief hesitation and quietly said “you’ve got room…”


Here are a few pictures from that trip:











I’ve also been out regularly in neighboring Montgomery County, MD.

Here are a few pictures from both the Oaks Landfill (yes, I have now done an often joked about birding thing and visited an old landfill to see birds) and the Blue Mash trail around the perimeter of the landfill. I was particularly grateful for the opportunity to join Montgomery Bird club members during the Oaks Landfill trip, as there were great birds to see and friendly birders meet. In the weeks since this trip, I’ve continued to feel hopeful that something good, a wildlife sanctuary, has been created over the landfill, yet also sad thinking of all the resources we humans use and discard, most often leaving only our remainders for wildlife.











And lastly, here are a few pictures from Little Bennett Regional Park, just around the corner from home, yet full of new discoveries for me this year.



The picture below is of a Louisiana Waterthrush, the most recent new bird I’ve spotted for the year, #165.


One of my hopes for the year that I hadn’t often spoken about was my hope to see an owl in the wild. I hear both Barred and Eastern Screech Owls regularly at home, however I had never seen an owl in the wild.

This past Thursday afternoon, a large bird flying through the trees at Little Bennett caught my eye. The moment I realized what I just spotted was an owl (!!!), and that same moment I realized that Barred Owl had spotted me, was one of the most exciting birding experiences I’ve ever had.


I want to bring this post to a close by acknowledging the kindness of strangers. I still surprise myself, that I can become so focused on birding and being back out enjoying activities I thought were no longer accessible to me, that I can forget to feel self-conscious about being out with a walker or moving around on a scooter.

Some days I don’t want to put on my brave face, and go out into the world as an individual with wounds and weaknesses exposed. Yet somehow I just get moving and do it, and then find it really is ok.

As I’m learning to do this, as I’m finding my way, the kindness of strangers means so much. That quiet “you’ve got room” from the dock; a hiker making eye contact rather than looking away; a fellow birder pausing to ask what I’ve spotted or to offer guidance on where I might look or listen next; a trip leader encouraging me to be brave and set off on an adventure. And my dearest, bravest friends who come along on this journey. I am grateful. xoxo



Where we live

Is no place to lose your wings

So love, love,



Gratitude… and Hawk Banding

Gratitude… and Hawk Banding

My heart is full of love and gratitude. Thank you for taking time out of your Tuesday and giving FSH Muscular Dystrophy some of your attention. Thank you for checking out my blog posts, and liking, commenting, and sharing posts on Facebook. Thank you for taking time to offer a smile to a stranger 🙂 And, thank you for continuing to join me on this journey…

Last Tuesday’s post received more than 400 views from 22 countries. Wow.

One of my goals for the year was to raise awareness of FSH Muscular Dystrophy. Together, on Tuesday, we made tremendous progress towards meeting that goal. Together, we will #CureFSHD.

And now back to those bird pictures I promised…

A week ago Saturday I had the opportunity to observe hawk banding at three Coopers Hawk nests. This experience will remain one of the highlights of my birding year.

Here are a few facts I learned:

Why band: bird banding is an “indispensable technique for studying the movement, survival and behavior of birds”*(1)

Timing: timing is everything, and for these little ones there was a small window of opportunity for banding. If the hawks were too young, as they were in one of the three nests, they were too young to band. And perhaps just a week later, hawks at the other two nests might have been too old to band due to risk of early fledging.

What about the parents: One myth to address is that banding will cause the parents to abandon their offspring. This just isn’t so. In fact, parents most often promptly return to feed their little ones – sometimes even before the bander returns to the ground! During my day of observing the banding, perhaps the most impressive demonstration of this was watching the first nest, as mama hawk kept a close eye on what was going on, circling and flying between the row of trees surrounding the nest and another nearby tree. Shortly after the banding was finished, she returned to the nest and was observed feeding her little ones.

The importance of reporting: “The value of banding data is only fully realized when banded birds are recovered and band numbers reported to the Bird Banding Laboratory”*(2)

To learn more about bird banding, please visit… *(1) https://www.pwrc.usgs.gov/BBl/homepage/aboutbanding.cfm or *(2) https://www.fws.gov/birds/surveys-and-data/bird-banding.php

For information about reporting a found banded bird, please visit https://www.fws.gov/birds/surveys-and-data/bird-banding/reporting-banded-birds.php or https://www.pwrc.usgs.gov/bbl/bblretrv/index.cfm

Here are several of my favorite pictures from the day…




A little one, curious about who is arriving at the nest (60+ feet up in a tree!)…


that same little one attempting to look fierce…







I received many requests this week for an update on my progress for the year. I’m pleased to share I enjoyed great views and lots of songs from several Dickcissel this week, bird species #150 of 2017. 🙂




With gratitude,
Deb xoxo

World FSHD Day, Tuesday, June 20th #WorldFSHDday

World FSHD Day, Tuesday, June 20th #WorldFSHDday

No, not a bird… however I have some amazing bird pictures from the weekend that I will post very soon.

For now, I want to join with others in raising awareness of FSH Muscular Dystrophy on #WorldFSHDday

To learn more about FSH Muscular Dystrophy, as well as why I am holding an orange slice, please visit https://www.fshsociety.org/

And above all else, please practice random acts of smiling on Tuesday, June 20th. Goodness knows our world needs these reminders of kindness and connection. 

Most individuals with FSHD lose the ability to smile… including me. So on Tuesday, June 20th, please offer an extra smile to a stranger on my behalf…

With kindness and blessings,
Deb xoxo


Feeling very blessed to have this wonderful, supportive family…


and even more love and support from a special aunt… I’m feeling so loved and blessed xoxo


Mamas and little ones…

Mamas and little ones…

Instructions for living a life:

Pay Attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.

Mary Oliver, in Sometimes

The last couple of weeks have been filled with little ones fledging, and the mothers who care for them.

I have been completely astonished, captivated really, by this little Downy Woodpecker who has been a constant visitor to the bubbling (water) rock and the suet feeders. I was concerned at first, because she was spending so much carefree time out in the open (oh the hawks!!), and her first several attempts to reach the suet feeder resulted in slides down the pole much like a fireman. Yet her Mama has been ever attentive, and has been carefully feeding this little one, who now looks confident in flight and seems to eat her weight in suet each day.

Have I mentioned the birds have been going through two suet cakes each day!!?? 😉

I should add that although I refer to this little one as ‘she’, I’m really not sure about that. Juvenile Downies have a red cap, and ‘her’ cap is significantly less red and begins further back then another recently fledged little one, so I’ve come to think of this fledgling as a ‘she’.

Here is the one who visits for long periods each day:




and with her Mama

and now, one week later, confidently flying from a nearby tree


although I do wish she would select one of the already dead trees, rather than one of the healthy ones, to practice her woodpecker skills 🙂


For comparison, here is Papa with another fledgling


There have been other youngsters as well, including this Northern Cardinal with a great hairdo…DSCN9296


And a Mama Wood Duck with her little ones…



This past week also included a return visit to northern Frederick County for more looks at the Red-Headed Woodpeckers. They are so beautiful to see!



And lastly, as an oh so proud mama, I’m sending birthday wishes to another (no-longer-so) little one. It seems like just yesterday you fledged and found your wings. I love you with all my heart, my dear one. xoxo

andrei 1