Flipping through some of my files earlier this month, I came across a piece I wrote for a newspaper almost 12 years ago. The following letter appeared on the Opinion page of the December 24, 2005 edition of The Sun Chronicle (Attleboro, MA):
Discover the mysteries just outside your door
To the editor:
After graduating from college last year, I couldn't tell you the difference between a white or red oak. I had no idea what birds lived near my home, aside from the "seagulls" and "pigeons" (which I now know as ring-billed gulls and rocks doves). And I didn't know there were wild turkeys and coyotes living nearby.
In those days I considered myself an environmentalist. I knew about toxins and teratogens. I knew that "recycled" computers were often dumped on Asian countries where they poisoned the land and people.
I knew about (and lobbied to help address) the realities of environmental racism in poor neighborhoods.
Yet, my knowledge was hardly complete.
I can't speak for your schooling experience, but mine was lacking in the local. It's taken me a year to learn some of the most basic knowledge about the non-human communities around me -- knowledge that should be (and not long ago was) common sense.
Now I can identify most native trees, I can recognize a dozen birds by their song alone, and I pay attention to the tracks and signs left by elusive animals.
Since graduating, I find studying nature to be my most meaningful pastime. Every day I notice something different, uncover a new mystery in my backyard.
Flipping through field guides (or, better yet, spending time with a naturalist) and walking in a forest or along a stream should be part of every child's upbringing.
If we desire to live responsibly on the earth, we must start by knowing and appreciating the little part we can see.
Parents especially must provide these opportunities for their children, for the generations to come.
I've decided to modify my blog posting schedule for the remainder of spring in order to focus my efforts on birding, foraging, and teaching birding and foraging. I'll continue to publish my weekly Nature Notes, but don't expect regular posts on Wednesdays and Fridays until mid-June.
Almost 6 months ago, I launched my Patreon campaign and asked readers to pledge financial contributions to support my walks, workshops, and blogging efforts. Since then, a group of generous supporters have given a total of $296!
If you haven't pledged an amount on Patreon, please consider committing even $1 a month. All patrons receive access to bonus nature quizzes, and contributors of $3 or more per month are eligible for additional rewards in the form of handmade photo cards.
...consume a diversity of wild foods by focusing on a different plant, seaweed, shellfish, insect, mushroom, or mammal, each week of the year.
...hike 10+ miles along the Appalachian Trail in Maine.
...and continue to publish my weekly Nature Notes, but on Mondays (instead of Wednesdays), and with a new format; each post will feature one photo (and perhaps an audio clip), three phenology notes, my wild edible of the week report (see above goal), moon challenge updates (when applicable), and finally a nature challenge of the week (for you, the reader).
2012 was my first year of birds, but 2016 was my first birding Big Year. I've shared some stories from my year already (see Marble's story, Feisty's story, and my Aroostook goose chase posts for starters), and I likely have enough bird tales to assemble a small book, but for today I'd like to share my annotated 2016 Maine Big Year Bird List. Every species on this list was seen (not just heard) at least once.
* Life Bird
♦ Only at Stakeout (rarity found by someone else), location noted
◊ Originally at Stakeout, but later observed a number of times at various locations
¤ Assisted by birding companion, not at Stakeout
† Only seen during off-shore boat trip, often with help of other birders/guides
∴ Originally spotted by another bird
Loons and Grebes [7 species]
Pacific Loon ♦ -- Ocean Ave., Biddeford Pool Common Loon
Western Grebe*♦ -- Simpson's Point, Brunswick
Shearwaters, Storm-Petrels and Tropicbirds [6 species]
Great Shearwater †
Manx Shearwater ¤
Red-billed Tropicbird*♦† -- Seal Island NWR
Gannets and Cormorants [3 species]
Bitterns, Heron and Allies [12 species]
American Bittern Great Blue Heron
Little Egret ◊
Little Blue Heron
Cattle Egret ♦ -- Crocker Rd., Pittston
Green Heron Black-crowned Night-Heron
White-faced Ibis ♦ -- Capisic Pond, Portland
____________________________ Grand Total [305 species]
Some notable misses included Canvasback, Tricolored Heron, Hudsonian Godwit, Little Gull, Forster's Tern, Dovekie, Thick-billed Murre, Red-headed Woodpecker (seen in MA), Western Kingbird (seen in NH), and Common Redpoll. Also, I observed Northern Fulmar, Leach's Storm-Petrel, and Red Phalarope on a boat trip out of Maine, but I was technically in Canadian waters when I saw them, so they didn't make the official state list.
So many people (eBirders, birdwatchers, and non-birders alike) and so many birds (residents, migrants, and vagrants alike) contributed to my big year, and to all of them I say: Thank you!