Picture Highlights From a Recovery Milestone Week in Birding

Kelley NunnRecovery Big Year

Kelley at the Redden State Forest Headquarters Tract Sign

As I sit down to write up this Recovery Big Year blog post, I feel stunned, shocked, and in complete awe of all that I accomplished this past week. To put the last seven days into perspective, exactly two years ago, I was homebound; too sick to walk, drive, work, socialize, or even get dressed without making myself so short of breath, dizzy, and discombobulated that I’d have to lie flat for hours. The happiness is almost unbearable. I feel so thankful for never giving up the fight, and for being so lucky to have these incredible experiences:

Life Birds (and Herps) at a Life Location: Redden State Forest

The week started off with a bang as we visited one of my top-priority new birding hotspots for 2016: Redden State Forest in the southern reaches of Delaware. We were lucky enough to get super awesome looks at both of my target lifers for this location: a handful of gorgeous Worm-eating Warblers (pictured above by Hank Davis), and a female Summer Tanager. Plus, as an unexpected bonus, I spotted a Cricket Frog hopping past, and scooped it up. Life herp!

Encountering Shorebird Feeding Frenzies Along the Delaware Bay

Scanning for Shorebirds at DuPont Nature Center in Mispillion Harbor, Delaware

Flagged Ruddy Turnstone Resighting Map

Flagged Ruddy Turnstone Resighting Map

On our way back up North from Redden, we stopped by a number of shorebird hotspots along the Delaware Bayshore: Slaughter Beach, Mispillion Harbor, and Port Mahon Road. This was my second year getting the chance to witness the amazing shorebird migration spectacle in Delaware, and the sheer mass of birds foraging on the Horseshoe Crab eggs never ceases to amaze me. It was great to get a chance to enjoy the habitats and species we worked so hard to raise funds for during the Delaware Bird-A-Thon.

We spotted a handful of flagged birds, which we reported to the banded birds website, including the Red Knot pictured above (K94). It was super awesome to get to see where these Ruddy Turnstones and Red Knots have been reported in the past! One Ruddy Turnstone had been reported in the Caribbean only 10 days earlier! So cool.

Incredible Shorebird Flyovers in my Backyard – Witnessing Migration in Action!

These shorebirds overwinter in the southern reaches of South America, then make their way up to the Delaware Bayshore to feed on Horseshoe Crab eggs before flying up to their arctic breeding grounds just a few days later. The whole process is nothing short of incredible. As the birds lift off from these foraging grounds on their way to Canada, there’s a tiny chance that we’ll be able to see them fly over in New Castle County, DE and Chester County, PA.

This past week, I was lucky enough to see a flock of ~280 Whimbrel plus another flock of 50 Black-bellied Plovers from my suburban back yard! I can’t get over how amazing it is to see these birds whipping past, flying by at over 45mph.

Mind-blowing Warbler Bonanza at Susquehanna State Park, Maryland

On Wednesday morning, I birded the famous warbler hotspot, Susquehanna State Park in Maryland, with two of my birding buddies: Mike Gardner and Josh Emm. We ended up hiking around for a couple of hours in 90 degree heat and oppressive humidity, but surprisingly, I was able to make it through ok!

One of the first birds we spotted was a lifer, singing Cerulean Warbler that brought me to life bird #9 for the year!! Plus, we spotted a singing Blackburnian Warbler, skulking Kentucky Warbler, and Prothonotary Warblers carrying food! Susquehanna is by far the warblieriest place I’ve ever been to.

Leading a Shorebird Migration Sky Watch Program at Middle Run, Delaware

This past Thursday evening, I was able to not just participate in, but lead a sky watching program at Middle Run Natural Area in Newark, Delaware! We were hoping to see flyover shorebirds like those I had witnessed flying over my back yard, and were absolutely blown away by how successful we were! In total, we saw several THOUSAND shorebirds, including at least seven different species! The evening made for one of the most exciting experiences in birding I’ve ever had.

Kayaking 5 Miles of the Brandywine River from Pennsylvania into Delaware!

And last by not least, Hannah and I finished off the week with a 5-mile kayaking trip down the Brandywine River. This was my first time traveling this particular section of the river, and I found it to be absolutely gorgeous and serene. Highlights were kayaking under the covered Smith’s Bridge, and Hannah catching a 5ft long Black Rat Snake!!

Looking Back on the Past Week

When I look back on all of the things I’ve been able to do in the past seven days, I’m blown away! Day by day, it didn’t seem like much, but when I see the highlights summarized here, I can’t believe all that I’ve been able to do. I stayed overnight in a swaying beach house on stilts, I went to my friend’s bachelorette party, I birded Redden State Forest, witnessed the shorebird spectacle in the Delaware Bayshore, led a sky watching program, hiked Susquehanna State Park in hot weather, and kayaked the Brandywine River.

That’s A LOT! And to think, I did it all while living with vestibular migraine and POTS (Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome). Not a single one of these adventures was easy— it took a ton of food preparation, staying on top of my medicines and supplements, being sure to eat and hydrate constantly, managing my energy levels, etc. etc. And it’s important to note: I felt symptomatic during nearly all of these experiences. But I did it. And that means the world to me.

If you’re struggling with either of these diagnoses, or any chronic illness, please please PLEASE don’t give up on the life you want to live. Don’t ever stop fighting. I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to give up– how hard it was to cope with the suffering I experienced. Two years later, being able to adventure outdoors and have these incredible experiences makes it all worthwhile.