Monday, December 31, 2007

Top Ten Nature Moments of 2007

I've spent a good bit of this day reading a series of Top Ten Nature Moments of 2007, and I've come to realize that it is with gratitude and a desire to share the joy of the great outdoors that the birding blogosphere has undertaken this vitally important task.

As an biology teacher, I know that natural awareness and environmental responsibility is taught in the classroom, but the teachings simply do not take hold without awe inspiring, first hand encounters with the natural world and all of its beauty. We who long for our next day out of doors have developed a heartfelt gratitude for the gift of Nature. It is from the core of this "gratitude within" that we are called into action to educate others, and to protect, defend, and preserve our biosphere.

What first appears to be a self-indulgent episode in blogging, in reality is a testimony to the power of Nature to transform lives and to instill, as Rachel Carson coined, "a sense of wonder" in all of us.

It has been a remarkable year outdoors for me. So, it is only fitting that I join the ranks of those of you out in the birding blogosphere. I admire and respect all of you for your knowledge and perspectives into the avian world we all love to share. So, I am honored to join you with my Top Ten Nature Moments of 2007, starting with #10. Several of these "moments" extended into several days that run together in birding bliss in my mind.
10. Fellows Lake Birding: In September, I observed the subtle difference between Chipping Sparrows and my lifer Clay-colored Sparrow at Fellows Lake during a GOAS field trip. In November, I had 12 Common Loons in one morning. There is recent activity in the Bald Eagle nest there, and it is where my Northern Shrike was discovered. Last, but surely not least, it is the main piece of the pie in my section of the Springfield Christmas Bird Count circle, where I learned that "every bird counts."

9. During my summer school class called Missouri Wildlife and Habitats, I watched as 18 junior high students marveled in the acrobatic aerial maneuvers of Cliff Swallows, who have built their mud nests under the new Finley River bridge in Ozark along the brand new Riverwalk Trail. This experiential course is designed to instill a thirst for outdoor knowledge and an appreciation for nature within these young people. Needless to say, there isn't any homework, and the syllabus depends upon whatever Nature has to offer us on any given day. It's pure friluftsliv. Thanks to the city of Ozark for recognizing the value of our river to our young people and to our growing community.

8. For the second half of the year, I discovered a new birding friend. Many days after he returned from Alaska, Marvin and I could be found on the roads of Missouri searching for birds and retelling wildlife stories from our youths. His Iowa childhood days shared much with my Kansas childhood days of discovering and developing an admiration for the natural world around us. From Painted Buntings to Short-eared Owls, we've shared great memories of Missouri birds. The day we discovered the Northern Shrike, we knew we were quite a team.

7. On the day after Christmas, I gathered up some friends to fulfill a promise. Our search for LeConte's Sparrow proved successful. It was a lifer for my son Nathan. We headed out into the Missouri prairie on the same day and added Cackling Goose and Brewer's Blackbird to his life list.

6. December 8: After a wonderful, up close and personal view of a Bald Eagle at Fellows Lake, my friend Marvin and I rounded a corner to discover a Northern Shrike in southwest Missouri! His photography skills paid off, as an undeniable image of the bird was discovered among his many shots. Sure takes the pressure off of the documentation process. Nothing like a casual winter visitor falling into your lap!

5. The weekend of May 5 and 6. After a late frost destroyed the budding deciduous canopy, a weather system created fall out conditions, and the end of the work week coincided with the remarkable weather creating a perfect storm of spring migrants that fell out of the sky and into the understory. Saturday I alone saw 21 species of warblers, and one of those species was a pair of lifer Bay-breasted Warblers! On the next day, I led a GOAS field trip that uncovered 19 warbler species and unheard of numbers: 13 Philadelphia Vireos, 14 Blackburnian Warblers, 15 Cerulean Warblers, 14 Chestnut-sided Warblers, the list went on....

4. The day that Martha, Danielle, Nathan, and I went to Wrightsville Beach, where I picked up my lifer Northern Gannet, Black Scoter, Red Knot, and my favorite, 2 Piping Plovers. It's a banner day when you're on the beach with three of the most important people in your life and life birds abound!

3. The five day clean up trip that my wife Martha, Nathan, and I took to south Texas on a "Mission" to fill in the gaps in our south Texas list. From Falcon Dam to South Padre Island, all three of us scoured the scrub forest and wetlands for new lifers, and relished in the sight of our colorful, avian border friends from previous years.

It culminated on the beach at South Padre Island, where we met our daughter Laura. As I said above, it's a banner day when you're on the beach with three of the most important people in your life and life birds abound! I ended the trip with 8 lifers, Nathan with 10!

2. Eleven days of Costa Rican birding! 258 species for me, at least 225 of which were life birds. The lists of my birding companions, Nathan and his friend Nolan were considerably larger. I cannot think of a better way to spend time with my son, total and mutual immersion in our shared obsession of chasing birds around the globe. I've dreamed of going to Costa Rica since the early days of my teaching career 25-30 years ago when my classes and I participated in fund raising events to raise money to protect rain forests there. I was so impressed that much of that "school children money" was used to buy land in or near national parks and reserves in Costa Rica. The images of our trip are many, varied, and I continue to process it all. I just cannot distill the whole experience yet. I cannot thank Matt Gasner enough. He is a Purdue graduate student and the grandson of our local friends Mel and Dorothy Fretham. His kindness and guidance in creating one of the most memorable days of my life will always be treasured. This much I know: While in Costa Rica, I continually felt a sense of awe and amazement at the depth and breadth of this ecological wonder we call the rain forest. Thanks to Maura Lout and sister Meghan for their enthusiasm. Thanks to Maura for these photos. Being around these five young environmental activists made me realize that we are passing a legacy of environmental stewardship to able bodies and quick minds. The whole experience renewed my hope for the future of green spaces.

1. My #1 birding moment for 2007 caught me way off guard. Nathan and his wife Danielle journeyed from North Carolina to spend the holidays with us. It seems my son and his wife had been doing a bit of Christmas shopping. I was clueless when I opened their present. It so effectively summed up this extraordinary year of birding for me, perhaps capturing the essence of it all. For a moment, I was caught up in a wave of emotion. The present? It was the Charley Harper poster of Monteverde flora and fauna. Harper's sharp, clean lines and color, and his creative celebration of the VIBs of Costa Rica brought it all back to me. It just doesn't get any better.

Wishing you all many life birds and many life birding relationships in the coming year! Cheers!


N8 said...

Greg, Danielle here. Loved reading your top 10 nature moments. Thanks for including me. Here's to many, many more great nature moments in 2008!

Greg said...

Truth be known, we love spending time with you, and many of the moments mentioned just could not have happened without your participation and support.
Here's to a joyous and fulfilling 2008, and to all of us spending many more great moments together!

N8 said...

I find it interesting that I'm wearing the exact same t-shirt in every one of those photos taken over a period of 8 months.

I need a new shirt apparently.

Greg said...

There are some really cool UNC blue T-shirts at the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center. You should pick one up!