Category Archives: Travels with the flock

Pieces of home

So Beth in NYC came for a visit this past weekend. She’d wanted a break from “the big city” and, so, came to Atlanta.

; )

This is closer to “city-living” than I’ve ever known, so her idea made me chuckle, just a little. I’d last about five minutes living in Manhattan. Anyway, I was happy to show her a couple favorite pieces of home…

We visited Arabia Mountain and checked in with the Elf Orpine… still not blooming! I haven’t decided what those little white flowers are, yet. Maybe Sandwort?

We checked in with the sunset… gorgeous!

We checked in with each other… we’re all doing okay!

We wandered around Oakland Cemetery

(where Beth had an unfortunate run-in with fire ants!)

and I got to observe a real photographer at work!

; )

I checked in with Spring… on its way!

We wandered downtown for rainy views of some very tall buildings…

(Beth, of course, was particularly bored by this part.)

We took against-the-rules photos of a sand mandala at Emory

And finished up at a favorite burger joint!

The weekend went too fast, but I was so glad to see her friendly face here.

: )

Life is old there

During some “off” time during the first day of the New River Birding and Nature Festival we wandered down a windy single-lane road to the long-forgotten railroad town of Thurmond, West Virginia.

You arrive in Thurmond by crossing the New River over a narrow bridge that doubles as a railroad bridge. It feels pretty old and rickety, but was perfectly safe. I held my breath most of the way across, just in case.

; )

A short walk from the railroad depot, lies Thurmond’s old downtown, built right along the railroad tracks. Several old buildings, including a bank with an impressive facade, make up the old downtown.

According to the 2000 census, Thurmond has 7 residents. Back in Thurmond’s heyday, more than 500 people lived here and the rail lines carried more than 97 thousand passengers a year, along with 3.5 million tons of freight (most of which was coal).

Making our way back to civilization, we found a small roadside waterfall that demanded a ritual toe-dunking.

: )


Late in the week at New River, Beth G. and I had separated ourselves for an hour or so from the “serious birders” in order to photograph the Glade Creek Mill at Babcock State Park. It’s a very pretty setting and deserved some time of its own.

So Beth set up her tripod and we scrambled around on the rocks in the middle of the creek for a perfect view of the mill… of course I was distracted the whole time by the fishermen who station themselves along the way. I’m always on the prowl for interesting strangers to photograph, but more often than not, my shyness gets in the way of asking for a photo.

So this guy approached us, once we had given up on photography and decided to go back to birding, to ask us what we were doing there that day and where we were from, etc.

We told him we were there to look at birds and his response was, “The birds are all dead.”


And he told us about, how, as a kid up at dawn, there used to be a deafening sound of song from birds. He doesn’t hear that anymore. Doesn’t hear birds singing, at all. So they’re all dead.


Mind you, his accent was pretty thick, so maybe I misheard him.

; )

In my devilishly charming sort of way I suggested that maybe his hearing was just going… that birds were still singing, but his ears were just too old to hear them, maybe.

; )

This was the moment when I asked for his photo. It’s one of my favorites.

This photo is #8 in my 100 strangers project. Find out more about the project and see pictures taken by other photographers at Flickr 100 Strangers or

The full report

The full report on the New River Birding and Nature Festival will have to wait a bit; for now there’s just these couple images… of perfect roadside wildflowers, of rivers rushing across bared toes, of ghost towns nestled in the mountains, weathered barns along the way, of impossible to photograph birds, memories of twisty country roads, lush hillsides and scenic saw mills, the laughter of an impossible-to-imagine mix of friends, graffiti as art and, finally, a hug between two beloved Flock-mates for the sake of a little bird colored blue like the spring sky.

The places we go back to

Photo by Nina

To some, the mention of West Virginia conjures images of moonshine, hillbillies and mountains leveled by coal companies. The string of small, almost threadbare towns one finds tucked into the hills in the southern part of the state only reinforces the reputation of the place as somewhat benighted.

Yet I keep wanting to go back.

There are no life birds for me there. As a birder, you can understand the equation necessary between limited travel funds and the possibility of life birds added to one’s list.

Birds are not really why I go.

There’s some other appeal in the homespun spirit of the New River Birding and Nature Festival that draws me back late each Spring. It’s run in such a way that it does end up feeling like summer camp for birders, as Bill Thompson says about it. It’s funny to me now to remember a similar feeling before I ever even went to this festival for the first time.

The field trip groups are kept wonderfully small; intimate, even, compared with most popular birding festivals. The trip leaders, besides being experts, are personable and enthusiastic and actually learn your name. Profits from the festival benefit local schools.

These are important things in my book.

This is the perfect festival for The Flock, too. They spread each of us out among the daily field trips – probably so that no one group will be subjected to the bunch of us together – and give us the chance to spend evenings together at dinner and the presentation. Then they secret us away for the night in a farmhouse in the middle of some marsh where no one can hear our silly antics.

; )

I’ve made lifelong friends there. I’ve seen gorgeous birds and beautiful sights shrouded in mist. There are hillsides drenched in wildflowers. There’s biscuits and strawberry jam at every breakfast. A porch swing and Susan.

Is there any wonder why I go back?

There’s still a couple openings for this year’s festival… join us! If not this year, do put it on your list for someday soon.

Cape May lineup

Are you in?

So far there’s just Susan, Delia and me.


That’s a very small Flock.

BT3 is speaking on Saturday night.

There’s the Hawkwatch and the Seawatch at Avalon.

Heck… there’s Sandy Hook on the way from the airport.

The Fall Weekend at Cape May isn’t anything like the New River Festival or Potholes and Prairies, but this isn’t West Virginia or North Dakota. What NJ might lack in charm or hospitality, it makes up for in birds.

; )

And high prices, I know.

Don’t let the registration fees dissuade you. Come for a day or an afternoon, even.

We’re making it more affordable this year by staying together in some ramshackle hotel and only paying for a day’s worth of programs. We’ll spend the rest of the weekend wandering on our own, making up bird ID’s and laughing together.

Sounds fun, no?

It’s Cape May… THE birding destination. You know it’s on your list for “someday”… why not make it this year?

The Flock would love to have you join us.

Side of the road

You wait in the car on the side of the road
Lemme go and stand awhile
I wanna know you’re there, but I wanna be alone
If only for a minute or two
I wanna see what it feels like to be without you

I wanna know the touch of my own skin
Against the sun, against the wind
If I stray away too far from you, don’t go and try to find me
It doesn’t mean I don’t love you, it doesn’t mean I won’t come back and stay beside you

It only means I need a little time
To follow that unbroken line
To a place where the wild things grow
To a place where I used to always go

If only for a minute or two
I wanna see what it feels like to be without you
I wanna know the touch of my own skin
Against the sun, against the wind.

A thousand miles there and back to spend a day with friends, old and new, gathered for the New River Birding and Nature Festival might seem crazy to some…

In fact, probably it was crazy to do, but the singing birds, the people, the chance to wander alone looking for wildflowers in those riotously rich West Virginia mountains … it’s all kinda irresistible to me.

– – – – – – – – – – –

Lyrics from “Side of the Road” by Lucinda Williams.

– – – – – – – – – – –


(1) Windflower (Anemone sp.) Among my favorite wildflowers, Anemones are heartbreakingly beautiful and delicate

(2) Showy Orchis (Orchis spectabilis) I dragged Jim McCormac out in the near dark yesterday to show me where to find this beauty

(3) A giddy me photographing blooming May-Apples

(4) May Apple flower (Podophyllum peltatum) The parasol-like foliage of May-Apples is cool enough, but the flowers are especially lovely; more so cause you have to lie with your face in the dirt to photograph them where they hide beneath the leaves


(5) Fire Pink (Silene virginica) So named not because of their color, obviously, but because of the scissor-like notches on the petals… thanks Susan!

Fire Pink and silly me photos by MevetS.