Friday, June 5, 2015

Senior Birding at The Biggest Week in American Birding

[Note: This is part of my imagined "eBook" about the Biggest Week. My last post recalled and linked some previous blog post memories I summarized for y'all (Hey! Check out the links!). I think possibly the "book" might be mostly for me, but I know some of y'all enjoy sharing our senior citizen adventures. Thanks for looking!  

I hope as I keep on going with this "book" it records the later years that Judy and I experienced in one special place in our lives.  Yes, we do lots of other stuff as well, but our Ohio trip in spring is now our "main adventure" annually.  It is so cool that the many manifestations of the internet allow me to record and share our lives! I truly wish my parents had had, and had used,  this opportunity so I would know something about their lives beyond what I saw day to day as they raised me! 
And ... I truly hope my son and grandkids will appreciate at least learning a tad about my life and perhaps become inspired to blog themselves! And, I hope that Judy's kids will also enjoy knowing a side of her that they never have yet shared! Such is another blessing of the internet for both of us and our descendants!

So first I just gotta put up one pic from the 2015 Biggest Week now to get your attention, but the real message is in the words that follow! Be assured that this year's birdie pics and more "rambles" will appear as I continue working on my "book"...

These are three of the five fox "kids" born at the den just behind the restrooms by the Windows on Wildlife  at Pearson Metropark this year. Yep! We love all wildlife and these were SO special!!! Easy access and how amazing!!! They do this every year, I think! We did see some kids last year as well! And we were able to share it with our friend Kristina who came over from Port Clinton to meet us there! SO great!!!


OK, here is the "story"/"ramble"/"chapter":

So weird how "life" works!

I started this post about senior birding prior to the Biggest Week in American Birding in May this year (2015). My hips had been acting up again, and I was just feeling "old".  Well, I am 70, so guess it goes with the territory! Much better than the alternative!  :)

Shortly after making the draft post, I went downstairs and fell totally backward in the kitchen! Boom! Hit head and had a minor concussion! Life changes SO fast!!!

Anyway, after a visit to ER and a CT scan, and a follow up a few days later, I was able to get down to the Biggest Week. Lesson here: If in ER and with Medicare and supplemental insurance, the CT scan is covered by insurance right then - albeit with a long wait ... The follow up requested by my doc (to see possible changes in the discovered brain "artifact")  before I traveled only took fifteen minutes to get in and get out, but took three days for approval! And this with Medicare ... but with the BCBS-N supplemental insurance driving the delay... So, we lost a few days, but still made it! Missed a few great events, but still had a great time! I add some 2015 pics here for the "book chapter" and will share most 2015 memories as separate posts.

SO ... here starts again what I started and never posted. It is just that more pertinent as I was quite slowed down in Ohio this year. Much of it is now past tense, but the info is still useful! It includes the former words in  my post (hate to "waste" typed words because I do not know how to type) - to which I have added many more words and especially pics tonight. I started off with an anecdote about getting around as an older person. Maybe just because I wanted to share a few really cool pics? Actually, no. It was about the minor struggle just getting out and about on some days. Yes, I know everyone feels this sometimes, but it really IS harder as you age. Then I move on to the seniors at Biggest Week story.

OK.   I thought I would put up some comments about birding The Biggest Week in American Birding as a senior citizen.

I think it will help some seniors with more limited mobility, but suspect it will also help others (and just not seniors!) who are down-right tired after a few days or many hours of birding!

Many people would just not understand if you told them that birding was hard work, but if you have ever stood for hours with things hanging around your neck like binocs and cameras, you will understand! It is like back when I was fishing bass tournaments. I would come home exhausted! "Why are you tired? You were just fishing." Well, if you have ever ridden inches above a turmoiled lake at 60 mph, then stood up on a rocking platform and flailed the water incessantly for eight hours you might understand! 

Similarly (albeit not so taxing) birding. After a few hours of walking - or even standing- while constantly twisting your neck into contortions that you would never try at the gym, then you know! Darn birdies just do not sit and pose!!! 

And I note I am not talking all seniors here. Many seniors with the active outdoors lifestyle can hike rings around  "city folk"! But I guess I am speaking as one who sat in cubicles for a few decades and last winter had been cooped up during one of the coldest winters in the Midwest.

On Wednesday the last week of April, Judy and I went to a free Senior Day at the Detroit Zoo. Twice a year the zoo offers free days for seniors. Great stuff!  Free parking, free tram rides, and other stuff. We had only gone in the fall before. It is a tad better in the fall - shortly after the kids are back in school - because the train is running and is free. This means you can walk one way to the end of the zoo, and get a free ride back to the parking lot. Especially important when the weather is hot! (Hint: Just do not wait until near the end of the day to get in line - it might take an hour or more!)

But my main goal this spring was to see the nesting Black-crowned Night Herons (BCNH)  near the Arctic Cafe. I had been reading about these birds for a few years on the Michigan Birding listserv, but by fall they are (of course)  gone. These are "local birds" and count in eBird. I counted 78 BCNH  birds and I am sure I missed any more hunkered down on nests in the rookery. Totally amazing sight! A few trees were involved, and we watched mostly nest building, but with only cameras, I am not sure what else might have been happening!

Anyway, point here is that we walked darn near the length of the zoo to get to my selected destination! I felt it the next day. Yes, the walk back was hard, and I needed to rest, but the many available benches with zoo critter views made it just fine.

Three great photo ops made it well worth the time for the day! Besides the time spent at the BCNH rookery, we found a spot with a lovely male peacock showing his wares for "anybird" interested! He flashed at a female and chased the male and female mallards out of the way! The mallards scooted, but not too bothered, and the lady peacock just kinda ignored him. Well, he tried! It was the first time Judy ever saw a full display - complete with the shaking and rustling! Wonderful!!

Black-crowned Night Heron at Detroit Zoo - converted to black and white

Black-crowned Night Heron at Detroit Zoo - "red-eye special"
Male Peacock at zoo. I never saw the "fancy hat" before!
Looks like a painting!

Anyway, back to the message in the title ...

In my "younger days" on the west coast (my 20s/ 30s), I hiked the Sierras: Yosemite; Kings Canyon; the site of the oldest living trees - the Bristlecone Pines - and more! And I DID see the oldest Bristlecone: "Methuselah"! (And no, I would not tell the exact tree to you even if I remembered exactly where!) A tree over 4000 years old!!! Double the age of Jesus Christ! Oh, the stories that tree could tell!!!

Indeed, I treasure my "old days"!!! But now I find that I am quite old as well! Yes, I am now in my "old days"!  No, not even approaching any age records, but  really slowing down and feeling it.

Somewhere in more recent years, I met some (actually many!) special people after I had become a birder following decades of being secluded in a cubicle during my later working years. While enjoying, but still figuring out social media, I asked a new friend Dawn Simons Fine if she might consider me as a blogger (so what is a blogger? Me, now - I guess!)  for the Biggest Week. Amazingly, she said yes! I barely knew about blogging, but did have some computer skills so felt confident. (Actually it does not take many skills to blog! Ask me how if you want to start sharing your memories with family and friends.)

So, now I blog.

And so ,.. again back to the title story (y'all know I "ramble"). I am posting a few thoughts about how accessible the Biggest Week is for seniors.

1) Access is the main thing for me. And, I am not talking access due to permits or any of that. I am talking access to easily get to where I can enjoy birds! I am thinking about my hips that could use a "tuneup"!  I cannot walk as far as I used to (by a long shot!). I have never visited any sites in northwest Ohio that required special permits. Cool! (Not sure about their state parks, but everything else is fair free game!)

Is it flat? Well most of the sites are! Not too much elevation change around any place in the Midwest, but especially near this area at lake level. The Magee Marsh boardwalk is flat. Also the boardwalk at Maumee Bay Nature Center (across the parking lot from the Convention Center where conference registration and events happen). These examples are perfect - as are so many more like in the Metroparks and near other centers like Ottawa NWR and the Magee Sportsman Center.  But even the "unimproved" (I use quotes because they are not paved - but really they are greatly improved...) trails in the area are mowed, well-maintained and mostly flat! 
Maumee Bay Nature Center boardwalk

Maumee Bay Nature Center boardwalk

How far do I have to walk?  I really feel this one in my hips! Really not very far! I offer several examples.

1A(1)  Near entrance at Magee Marsh!  Will I see many birds without going far down the boardwalk? Indeed! Lots! (I am not sure if a majority of interesting species for your life list, but experience tells  me a huge number!) Over the last couple of years, we have picked up several warbler species not seen on the rest of the boardwalk, and a special thrush or two; and most notably the Prothonotary Warbler posing so greatly the last couple of years (probably the most photographed bird there ever!)! And a "lifer pic" of a Scarlet Tanager!
Prothonotary Warbler near entrance to Magee boardwalk

Scarlet Tanager near entrance to Magee boardwalk!
1A(2) Window birding! When Judy and I get really tired, we sometimes just go sit at the "Windows on Wildlife" at Pearson Metro Park. It is a short walk from the parking lot, has restrooms (yes, another consideration for me) and the feeders there draw in great birds. We have seen many "lifers" there! Including Indigo Buntings! (Judy calls these her "blue birds" because they are really blue!) There is a convenient ledge for writing notes and holding your gear.
Our friend Kristina Smith and me at the window at Pearson MP
1A(3) Car birding! You do not even have to get very far out of your car! We especially like Metzger Marsh (near Magee) and the auto tour at Ottawa NWR (open every day during the Biggest Week (and normally on  weekends).  Keep the binocs on your dash! Keep your camera handy! Wonderful chances at new birds. And darn  near anywhere else in the area you can happen upon the many Bald Eagles that nest around there! And, muddy fields offer interesting shorebirds! Birders will tell you ... Last year  we got lifer Golden Plovers in a farm field that birders at Metzger told us about!
Here is a pic from the Ottawa Auto Tour I took last year of Great Horned Owl kids! 

Camo Great Horned Owl kids on the Ottawa NWR Auto Tour.
1A(4) Chair birding! We have seen many birders in folding chairs (yes, bring some!) just sitting at the edge of the forest near Magee Marsh watching for  birds! Get out of your car and set up right there! Yes, it is great for eating lunch, and a great way just to get off your feet relax any time. And there is always a chance to see a "lifer"!!! This year we also encountered a birder with another great idea. Take a lightweight folding chair on the boardwalk. Just sit and observe! The birds are always moving, so just sit and wait! We have also seen the kind of "walkers" that have built-in seats. Great idea!
Yep! I gotta do that!
There are benches along the boardwalk,  but this idea lets one sit anywhere!
Maybe with straps to make it a backpack? Cool!

1A(5) Ladder birding! And speaking about just sitting around looking for birds, I offer  that a charity "Big Sit" happens one day each year during the Biggest Week. Hey this guy (Tom Bartlett) sits atop a ladder all day just peering onto the forest and skies near the entrance to the Magee Boardwalk and recording all the birds he sees! Last year we were there as a flock of White Pelicans flew over midday! He recorded these as his 100th species for the day! 100 species! Imagine! Just sitting! And he was not done yet.  Indeed! You do not have to work those aging hips too far!!! Hey if Tom can sit atop a ladder and get over 100 birds, y'all can certainly get a lifer or two from your chairs! You can see he has quite a following!

2) Is it wheelchair accessible? Most if not all of the birding sites are wheelchair accessible! And all allow electric "scooters" as well!  Including BSBO, the Sportsman Center at Magee Marsh, the Nature Center by the BWIAB Headquarters at Maumee Bay Convention Center, the Windows on Wildlife at Pearson Metropark  and the Magee Marsh Boardwalk! Birders are extremely respectful of all with disabilities! Be sure you get your close special parking nearby if you have a handicapped sticker. From my experience, everyone is much more respectful of the handicapped parking here than (for example) in your local supermarket! And, birders and law enforcement are especially diligent about enforcement!
Magee boardwalk. Plenty of respect and opportunities for all!

"Mayor Bob" on Magee Boardwalk
If you see this guy, hang around him awhile. He knows everything about the Boardwalk!!!
We learned on our first trip there that the locals call him "Mister Mayor" We greet and honor him with this title
as we meet him every year. He likes being recognized. Great birder!

3) "Facilities". My bladder is not what it used to be ... and yes, I think about these things!

During the Biggest Week,you will find many "porta-potties" at Magee Marsh including several larger ones with handrails inside, and at the end of the road at Metzger Marsh. Both places have handicapped accessible (the big ones). They also have hand-sanitizers inside. For the water-available flush ones, I suggest Ottawa  NWR which has the best facilities (and also Dyson hand-dryers - these are SO great  I just really enjoy on new better inventions !)  and also the Magee Sportsmen Center.

3) Famous birders. This event draws famous birders from all over the world!!! You will encounter amazing birders from all over the world!!! Besides the local birders (like my friends and heroes Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman) you might meet many of your Facebook birding friends! I find this one of the most rewarding and special aspects of the festival! And be sure to talk to the "Yellow-hats" (the volunteer guides)!!! These people are experts on birds from around the world! They volunteer to guide at The Biggest Week! They generally offer guided trips in their part of the world, but really do know birds from everywhere!!! I will be doing another post about the birders we meet there! But I put up one special pic of an encounter at the entrance to the Magee boardwalk now. Judy and I had met Richard Crossley at Cranefest in Michigan last year. It was unplanned and so great to meet him again as he was leaving the boardwalk on his "birder's holiday" at Magee!

And bring your birding guides to be signed!!! I have books signed at the Biggest Week by Kenn Kaufman, Richard Crossley, David Sibley and more. This year I had Don and Lilian Stokes autograph a few books for me. If you do not have the books, usually you can pick them up at BSBO (and if you join BSBO, you get a 10% discount!). Here is a pic of the "locals" (happy to say they are also my friends!) who had just published a new book only a few days before. It will certainly be another best seller for the Kaufman Field Guides!
L2R: Jeff Sayre, Kim Kaufman, Kenn Kaufman - authors of the new guidebook on Nature in the Midwest
(With me as a "photobomb" while they were signing my books)
And ,.. again back to the title story (y'all know I "ramble"). I am posting a few thoughts about how accessible the Biggest Week is for seniors.

4) Photographs. As amazing as it sounds, you can really get great pics with just  a "point and shoot"! Even with a cell phone camera!!! These poor birdies have in some cases flown for thousands of miles and they are starving! Most have many more miles to go and they are just pausing before they cross a big lake! They went south to find food during our winters, and they now are coming north to do the other birdie thing. 
Sex! Yes, sex! Hey, what's it all about besides food and sex? :) And, indeed,  what matters? First personal survival! Survive! Eat! Then survival of the species! Have sex! 
Sounds great until you figure out the costs to the species just trying to survive ...  Just imagine if you had to go thousands of miles to find food in a better "store" during the winter. And, then you had to go back thousands of miles to find food again and have sex!!! Amazing - totally amazing! - how this all happens so that birdie life goes on!!! They do it! 
And yes, you will be "up close and personal" with hungry horny migrating birds!!! With digital photography, just shoot lots of pics and I will guarantee you will have captured memories of a lifetime!!!

I just put two pics here now to illustrate that you do not have to go to far to get a very special bird.  I have a "ton" more pics to use for more blog posts, but wanted to drop an example! This one was maybe 100 yards from entrance at Maumee NC Boardwalk! SX50 "point and shoot" camera. 
Eastern Screech Owl - red phase
"Owl be looking at you..."
Maumee Boardwalk - flat travel and fairly close to entrance
Here is another from that special place I told you about - not far from the entrance to the Magee Boardwalk.
Bay-breasted Warbler posing nicely.

5) I want to meet you there! And is another thing. You get a chance to meet ME! Indeed, my ego said to put this in the post, But, I just gotta tell you that it means a whole lot to me when someone walks up to me while I am out birding and asks "Are you Dr. Bob"?! It happens and I love it!!! It means even so much more when wife Judy is by my side. She is always amazed! Yes, less now than before because it has happened many times and I now know so many birders, but she still records every encounter in her diary! Hey! You really want to make her/our day? When you see me birding with any pretty lady at my side, just walk up and ask her "Are you Judy Setzer?" Heck, even if not Judy at that moment, I know she and Judy both will understand ...  :) And, of course, I will certainly love it!!! Here is a pic of my lovely wife for reference.  
Lovely wife Judy sporting annual Magee Marsh buttons on her hat.
Be sure to say "Hi"!
And a reference pic of me taking "Flat Stanley" to the boardwalk in 2014. I hope global Flat Stanley is still recognizable to parents! A great international communication starter for school kids!
Flat Stanley visits Magee Marsh wearing his BSBO "Birds Rule" t-shirt. 
And ... I need to add many thanks to lovely Judy (my wife and "biographer") who shoots lots of people shots as we bird together and deserves credit for many pics herein. It sure adds to the story, Judy! Thanks!