May 16 – Global Big Day – Part 2 of 2

Dowdell’s Knob, a favorite place of President FDR for hosting cookouts and picnics

After walking my 3 Schnoodles along the back loop of F. D. Roosevelt State Park and recording 15 species of birds singing from trees, flitting from post to post and diving for food in the grasses and shrubs, I resumed my Global Big Day bird count at the top of Dowdell’s Knob on Pine Mountain in Georgia overlooking the valley below. The dense fog was beginning to lift, making it possible to see more of what I was hearing. I was thinking of my friends who were also out participating in this event – Fran Haley from North Carolina, who was out looking for eagles at a dam with her husband on her birdday birthday, and my colleague Dawn Lanca-Potter and her son Grayson, who were out observing in Pike and Upson Counties in Georgia.

After completing my eBird Essentials course and researching the local hotspots for bird activity, I chose Georgia’s largest state park, F. D. Roosevelt State Park just outside Warm Springs, for my birding adventure. I was excited to live these opportunistic moments observing the plethora of species in this biodiverse area in close proximity to Callaway Gardens. My mother, who had been a lover of birds her entire life, was close – I could feel her spirit in the breeze, her presence in the harmonious, sweetly chirping birdsong.

I had no idea that she would make her presence more even powerfully known in such an unquestionable way.

But that’s exactly what happened.

Male and Female Summer Tanagers on pine branch overlooking Pine Mountain Valley

In 2008, I’d applied for a teacher scholarship to spend a week learning alongside scientists in the field at the Jones Ecological Research Center near Albany, Georgia. Four courses had been offered, and we could pick two of the following: wildlife, aquatics, forestry, and plants. I chose wildlife and plants and completed both of these sessions the first year. I returned the second summer to complete the other two. As part of the grant that funded our teacher scholarships, we received copies of Janisse Ray’s Ecology of a Cracker Childhood, a memoir about the author’s days growing up in poverty in Baxley, Georgia and learning all aspects of the Long Leaf Pine ecosystem; and Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac, which is in my top three favorite books of all time. I savored these pages, and I return to them often still. They teach me a lot about plant and animal species – especially the rare and dwindling ones, like the Red-Cockaded Woodpecker and Bachman’s Sparrow.

I turned on my Merlin Bird ID to figure out which species were in the area, and I used the tone sensor to figure out where each bird was located in proximity to me. My strategy was to let Merlin’s unmistakable expertise lead, and then to photograph and audiorecord and count the species as I encountered them.

I’d complete a checklist in one spot and move on to the next, all along the mountain. I almost didn’t stop in one particular spot, because the motorcyclists were out on rides in large groups and had a substantial gathering in one of the overlooks as they took a lunch break; I was thinking the noise would deter any birds, but as the cyclists began to leave, I changed my mind and decided to do an observation in this spot.

I sat on this rock overlooking the valley to observe.

I sat on a rock and started the checklist. 12:54 p.m. I was hot and tired. I took a long swig of icy water and tapped into my buddy Merlin, who had already led me to Indigo Buntings, Summer Tanagers, Great Crested Flycatchers, and a long list of other birds not too difficult to spot once I knew they held presence in an area.

Northern Cardinal, Pine Warbler, Black-and-White Warbler, Eastern Towhee, Chipping Sparrow, Bachman’s Sparrow……

Bachman’s Sparrow!

No way. This one has to be a mistake, I thought. I watched the tone sensor. These are rare birds, far too shy and rare for a mountainside full of motorcyclists vroooming around.

I thought of Janisse Ray’s chapter on Bachman’s Sparrow. Bird-artist James Audubon discovered the sparrow in 1832 while exploring near Charleston, South Carolina, and named it for a Lutheran minister he had befriended on the street and with whom he was staying, John Bachman. Bachman’s Sparrow has declined since the 1930’s at a stunning rate. It is streaked buff-gray, with a shadowy bill and a long, dark-brown, rounded tail. It measures six inches from bill to tail tip, about the size of most sparrows, and has been called the stink-bird by quail hunters because its ground dwelling can throw off the dogs hot on the trail of a bevy of quail.

Sure enough, Bachman’s Sparrow appeared and continued to light up in yellow highlighting as I searched the trees and located a group of sparrows – and while I never could tell which sparrow was Bachman’s through the high-powered lens focused in the trees down the bank on the side of the mountain, I knew that at least one of these elusive birds was somewhere in that mix. Right there in that tree. Right near me, singing its cheery greeting, lighting up a few times on the app.

Bachman’s Sparrow in Merlin ID

On Global Big Day, that Bachman’s Sparrow was my mother reaching down from heaven for a tight hug on Mother’s Day weekend, letting me know she is watching over me, reminding me to be strong in my faith: many times, we can’t see something that we KNOW without a doubt is there surrounding us, and these things are forever real.

God, mothers in heaven, birds. Ever present, forever real.

With special thanks to Two Writing Teachers for giving writers space and opportunity to share our love of writing

14 Replies to “May 16 – Global Big Day – Part 2 of 2”

  1. So exciting, Kim, the gift of that Bachman’s sparrow! To me it represents survival as well as faith; the two are inextricably linked. Especially considering that this bird has been in decline. Yet birds are history’s great survivors – the last living dinosaurs. Does any other creature impart such joy, hope, and divine wonder? They are indeed spiritual messengers, with their unique gifts of flight and song, not to mention their profound contributions to ecology. I have now duly noted another book (Ecology of a Cracker Childhood; I got A Sand County Almanac last year per your recommendation). Being part of Team eBird with you added another layer of joy to the day. Here’s to the blessings of birds, words, life, love, and friends – “God, mothers in heaven, birds. All forever real” – oh yes; forever and ever.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Kim, I must get this app at once. I think I heard about it before but it’s now just registering. Love the stunning view you shared in your photograph. Birds are definitely blessings and you’ve captured the wonder of your adventure so well in this post. Happy birding!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What a glorious day! A glorious sighting! I love the ‘I’m with you still’ touch of our loved ones, how they appear with these beautiful wings…I believe very much in this, Kim. So glad that you had this treasure of an experience, so very dear. I love the Merlin app, and have been immersed in bird listening, bird loving. Thank you for sharing this slice today!


    1. Thank you, Maureen! I’m still checking out those hats you shared. One is on sale, and I’m thinking hard about it. Your post today gives “evidence” of your love of birds….. I loved every word!


  4. Kim, what a sweet post. I do see that the Schnoodles are quite cooperative when it comes to watching birds. I learned a lot about bird watching from your post. So much to learn and most of it I’ve never learned. This week I added another bird feeder to the back yard, so maybe I need to do some more learning. Thanks for sharing. I love “God, mothers in heaven, birds. Ever present, forever real.” Amen!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, Denise! It is amazing how even one additional birdfeeder brings more birds, even different species based on the feeder and the seeds. I’ll bet you have a wide variety of birds in the tropical warmth where you live. Birdwatching relieves stress, and I know you’ll enjoy watching them!


  5. Kim.
    I have a friend in Colorado who is quite the border and know you two would have a grand time birding together. My crazy eyes have been an impediment to birding, but technology has evolved to the point I can begin seeing and hearing birds. I wish we had some of the varieties from my childhood here in Idaho, but sadly, we do t. Your post and all these references to books reminds me how important it is to offer experiential experiences to our young writers, too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glenda, thanks for reading today! I would LOVE to go to Colorado and see some of the birds out there and watch with your friend! I’m glad your eyesight is improving. What’s interesting is that so many times, I can’t spot the birds for the dense forested areas, but with that Merlin app, I can tell which bird is in which direction and not have to see far. Sometimes I can spot them, but more often I have as much fun letting the app listen and tell me what all is nearby. You raise a great point to take advantage of this while traveling, since the bird varieties will change from state to state.

      Liked by 1 person

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