From Europe with Love

Dear Evan and Marin,

Right now this blog is not a part of your world, but someday you may find yourself reading through these posts to relive, or in some cases, learn about the adventures and memories we have shared through birding.  That’s one of the reasons why I write the blog.  If you stumble across this letter, I want you to know it’s a story for you, a story about your dad.  More important than the story are the lessons I have learned from the story and want to pass on to you.

This story began on a Friday, a normal school day. Or so I thought.  I had no idea that this day would hold a big surprise.  Now, surprises aren’t always good.  In fact, I’ve had many days with sad and terrible surprises.  But this day would hold one of the good surprises, the really good kind – the kind that deserves to be told.

Let’s start the story with my shoes.  For some reason I put on tennis shoes as I got ready for work.  I never do that.  I always wear dress shoes. I’m not sure why I put on tennis shoes exactly.  Maybe it’s because it was a Friday toward the end of the school year and I was just feeling lazy.  But in hind sight, it turned out to be the right choice.

As I was at work that day, I stole away a moment (or a couple) to check my email for any bird reports. Spring migration is a crazy time of year when anything can happen as far as birds go. It is the season of good surprises.  One of my email checks was a jaw-dropper: EURASIAN WIGEON in WINSTED.  The Eurasian Wigeon is a rare duck that visits North America and a beautiful duck at that.  Twice in the previous week this species had shown up in two different locations in Minnesota. But the distance was always just a little too great for the present circumstances, and the duck never hung on for more than a day.  Winsted, on the other hand, was only a 45 minute drive from work. That’s nothing.

My mind swirled with this news, making it hard to give my full concentration to my work. Instead I was thinking of every way possible to get to Willmar to pick you both up and get back to Winsted.  It was not something I could do after school because of our evening plans.  As the clock ticked, it was becoming more and more clear to me that I just didn’t have the extra hour it would take to pick you up.  I wrestled with this for quite awhile as the pull to go see the duck was getting stronger and the time was getting shorter.

Finally I decided to go for it.  I decided you had a lot more years to see this duck than I did.  After all, Randy has never even seen one, and he has seen the likes of a Vermilion Flycatcher, a Ruff, and a male Harlequin Duck all in our county.  He’s pretty much seen it all.  Not only did I know you had more time, but I also knew there would be a good chance to see one someday in Phoenix.

Making the decision to go still wasn’t easy.  It would mean leaving work early to – see a bird.  It was irrational.  But I work with good people who know my passion for this hobby and who helped me make it happen on short notice. With my “t”s crossed and “i”s dotted, I made some hasty sub plans to take off the last two periods of the day.  It felt strange to be grabbing my coat and heading out the classroom door while kids were coming in and peppering me with questions about where I was going.  By now the kids know I’m crazy when it comes to birds, and it’s all quite normal.  Birding has been great for connecting with students – they always want to know where I go, what I saw, or share a bird sighting they had.  I think, in general, people are fascinated by the passions of others.  It’s engaging and contagious.

Being a teacher I calmly walked down the hallways.  Once I hit that outer door, though, I sprinted for the car. The shoe decision had paid off. My already elevated heart-rate was now a full-on throbbing in my chest from the excitement and exercise.  It felt crazy. It felt exhilarating.  It felt like I was fully-alive.  As I drove I started to think about you guys.  I thought about how I hope you can find something that gives you this same feeling.  Whether that’s a job, a hobby, or people, I want you to feel excited for life and live it to its fullest.  It is way too short to not experience the thrill of living and doing what you love to do.  Find your passion and pursue it.

There really isn’t much to the rest of the story.  I made it to the site of the duck a little quicker than is legal and found other birders there already – other people living their passion on a moment’s notice, people who celebrate and cheer each other on over a common interest.IMG_7943


My heart did sink a bit when I was told an eagle flew over, flushing the ducks just minutes before I got there.  But with persistence, I refound the Eurasian Wigeon for the group and got to see it for the first time.  Evan, I know you were sad when you heard I saw this duck without you, but you didn’t miss much.  It was way out there.


Eurasian Wigeon


Cousins from different continents – Eurasian Wigeon and American Wigeon

I’m hoping that when you read this you will have both seen this beautiful duck for yourselves and at a much closer view.  I can’t wait for the day I get to properly photograph this amazing bird.

My story and lessons don’t just end with the wigeon.  This particular weekend will long stand out in my mind as one of the best, if not the best birding weekend I’ve ever had. (Remember that on Sunday of this same weekend Evan and I saw the Garganey in Wisconsin).  The very next morning (Saturday) I got up early before you were both awake to do some birding at the Atwater sewage ponds.  I can’t say I was looking for anything in particular, but I’ve had such success in finding good birds lately that I am addicted to the search.  It turns out that this particular morning would provide me with yet another incredible find – the Lesser Black-backed Gull, another bird that hails from Europe.


L-R: Two Ring-billed Gulls, two Bonaparte’s Gulls, and the Lesser Black-backed Gull

Not only was this a rare visitor, but none of the birding greats had ever found it in Kandiyohi County before – it was a first record!  Not even Randy, who sits on top with 290 species, or Ron who has been birding for over 50 years and has 285 county species has seen it here.  I am the only one. Sadly, this bird did not stick around for these guys to add to their lists.   So, here’s my lesson in this second story: there is room in this big world for you to leave your mark, to make a difference, or make a contribution.  You matter, and you can do great things despite what’s been done before or what others say.   I figured the birding records were all wrapped up by the big boys, yet I managed to make a small contribution to the history of birding in our area.

Lesser Black-backed Gull

Lesser Black-backed Gull

The final thing I want to leave you with is that all the excitement I had in these stories and all the fun I have birding pales in comparison to the joy and satisfaction I get from being your dad.  Having you guys has helped me realize a little more what it means to live life to the fullest.  And you are my greatest contributions to this world.  I love you, kids.


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