Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Meandering Along The Lakeshore

The iconic lighthouse in Manitowoc

I thought that I'd be in Arizona for the last part of my summer holiday. Then my Grandmother passed and the rest of my summer break was spent in Wisconsin with family. While most of us had plenty of time to grieve, it's my mother who has not had the time to sit down and process it all. She was in charge of the will and getting the funeral together.  As we discovered, even though Grandma set it all up beforehand, it was still quite a bit of work.  I learned a lot from my mom on this trip about funeral arrangements and understanding how to execute a will!

So while my mother was working with her siblings on the estate etc, my Dad began processing what her passing meant to him. "We're next," he said, referring to the last of their parent's dying. He has always had a morbid fascination with death.  Rarely does life ever play by our rules. Who says he's next?  But I can see his point as this was the first time that I actually felt "older". There's a quote that I've heard from over the years that follows my Dad's thoughts. "The only way children can come into their own is by the death of their parents."  And speaking of children, I was so glad to see all my nieces and nephews.  Their laughter and fun helped distract the adults from their own heavy thoughts.  

The night before, I couldn't sleep.  She wanted me and my brother to sing "Amazing Grace." I tossed and turned jotting down notes for what I needed to get done.  I knew that if I didn't do the song, I would have been upset with myself. She often mentioned during our visits that she wanted us both to sing for her one last time. The only reason I didn't want to do it was due to the tears. So I practiced in the car on the way to the funeral home over and over.  Each time I sang that damn song, I choked up.  But in the end, we did it and I hope she liked it:)

During the whole trip, her presence was felt. We'd ask a question like, "Who was Grandma's friend in Louisiana?  Wasn't it Denise something or other?" Then as if on cue, my Mom opened Grandma's desk drawer and found the note with Denise's name and address!  And this didn't happen just once.  It made us laugh because in life, she was always on top of things overseeing every single detail.  In death, she was still there making sure my Mom was on top of things:)

Red-eyed Vireo
Some people go to church.  I bird. That's where I find my peace of mind.  After the funeral, I stayed in Wisconsin instead of heading back to Arizona.  Why not?  My break ends in August and the weather in Wisconsin is lovely. Between helping the family, visiting family and spending more time with family, I've been able to do a little birding on the side.  

the car ferry of Manitowoc
I've been feeling tired lately of chasing birds.  And when it came time for birding, I made the decision to do the kind of birding I enjoy the most, grassland and lakeshore habitats.  There comes a point in a birder's life when the birding chases for hours in car come to an end.  I found a few rarities for the state but it wasn't because I chased the birds.  They just happened to be there. Other birders went to see my rarities and it felt nice that I could help out. I did a lot of habitat study this time for birds that theoretically could be found in Manitowoc County.  While I didn't find a rare Henslow's Sparrow, I was able to locate an Eastern Whip-poor-will 10 minutes away from my home!

Sandhill Cranes-an adult with the juvenile
I stopped at all my favorite local watering holes and collected the July data for Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary, Horicon Marsh, Collin's Marsh, Point Beach State Forest, the Lakeside hotspots known as the Manitowoc Impoundment and North Point in Sheboygan, and Washington Island up in Door County.  These would be normal hotspots for a Northeastern Wisconsin birder.  Horicon Marsh and Washington Island would be the extreme ranges for a Two Rivers or Manitowoc birder. 

Marsh Wren
The forests are full of mosquitoes and biting flies. I had zero interest in getting bit up.  After Liberia in Costa Rica, I said, "No más".  My legs are finally healing up and I don't want anymore scars on my legs:)

Pectoral Sandpiper
Last year in June, some of you may recall that I was here with Gordon for the warblers and cranes.  We did well and had fun.  Being back in July was interesting for me because it was the first time I birded during this time of year in Wisconsin.  Most birders are currently focused on the lakeshore and inland farmlands due to the beginning fall migration of shorebirds.  It was exciting to find lots of different peeps show up daily in the Manitowoc harbor.  We had Ruddy Turnstones, Willets, an American Avocet, and many of the sandpipers!  Hudsonian Godwits were also beginning to make their way down!

Misty Sheboygan from North Point
As mentioned before, birding is my spiritual connection to the world.  It helps sort out the emotions.  The fresh air makes everything better.  And birding in Wisconsin is one of the most relaxing things a person can do.  Plus the people here are the nicest. Just stay away from politics! We had complete strangers begin talking about the latest person to get fired at the White House while on our treks.  Birding is sacred and that's the last thing I want to hear while on a road trip.  I'll catch up with the news at night.  

One of the MANY Caspian Terns along the Northeastern Wisconsin shoreline
If we had cloudy rainy weather for the day, I'd take a quick run to the shoreline for shorebirds.  I don't think I was ever disappointed on those days. The rain brought in lots of fun birds.  When the next day came, those birds would be gone.  I had a discussion with Doc Sontag about the shorebirds.  He was shocked this year that the birds weren't staying as long as they had in the past.  A Willet came for a day but didn't spend a week like in years past. 

Cedar Waxwing
 Wisconsin is a wonderful place to bird. But it will be good to be back home soon.  I look forward to my work starting up again and guiding a weekend trek out to the grasslands with Tucson Audubon soon. 

a juvenile Black-capped Chickadee dries off after bathing in the marsh at Woodland Dunes
For now, I'm wrapping up my work here. As for this blog, I'm behind!  I'll be writing on several Wisconsin birding hotspots which will include Horicon Marsh and Washington Island.  I also have to finish up my last two posts on Costa Rica. For now, I'll close with some hobbit thoughts. 

My town is very much like the Shire.  There is a deep history in storytelling and understanding our family lines.  It's fascinating.  When my Grandma passed, she left behind her high school yearbooks.  There I sat paging through all the young faces from the class of '49. They look very much like our kids today in school.  They all had dreams just like my own students do. I always wonder if they would have changed anything in their lives had they known then what is known now.  And I wonder to myself, what my own legacy will be? What will yours be?  Until next time.....

My Grandparents graduated in the same class.  Later they married.  I wonder what they were thinking about at this stage in their lives. 


  1. So sorry about your Gran, She seems to have had a full live. I've enjoyed reading your post, and also your photos.
    All the very best, Gordon.
    ps. safe journys.

  2. Great post Chris. So sorry for the loss of your grandmother. My prayers go out to you and your family. It is great you were able to visit and spend time with your family. Great family photos and bird captures.

  3. You leave us with deep thoughts... I like your post, thks.

  4. So very sorry for your loss, Chris. I know this will be a truly difficult time for you to get through, and I will pray for your Comfort. How wonderful that you have such great memories of her.

  5. A nice memory post for your dear grandmother .. it's a hard time for everybody and I know what your mother is going through -- it is all that red tape and paperwork exactly at the time you don't want to deal with anything but processing your feelings. I hope she and your dad have an outlet that works for them like birding does for you. And you saw some beautiful ones. Take care -- safe travels as you journey back to Tucson.

  6. Sad about your gran Chris. Like we say over here with a cricket mataphor - she had a good innings - took lots of wickets, scored a good few runs and made the crowd happy. I do love your "Some people go to church. I bird." - Me too a tee.

    Any yes, politics and birding don't mix even though we like both in their own place.

  7. Hello Chris!:) I am so sorry for the loss of your grandmother. Whenever I feel closest to God, is when I'm closest to nature, so I understand your spiritual connection with nature, and birding in particular. It was lovely of you to sing "Amazing Grace". Bless you and your family at this difficult time, and thank you for sharing your grief, and your wonderful bird captures.


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