On Making Missteaks

Blue-winged Teal male nice reflection - Viera Wetlands - Melbourne FL - 2014-01-27 IMG_4019

Blue-winged Teal male nice reflection – Viera Wetlands – Melbourne FL – 2014-01-27 photo by Greg Miller

Some Upcoming Events

High Plains Snow Goose Festival Feb 20, 2014 Lamar, CO
Beckham Bird Club Annual Dinner Mar 11, 2014 Louisville, KY
Big O Birding Festival Mar 13, 2014 LaBelle, FL
Nature Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival Mar 20-23, 2014 Spring Hill, FL
Road Trip from Ohio to Arizona
watch for updates on my Facebook page!
Apr 11-23, 2014 OH to AZ
Verde Valley Birding and Wildlife Festival Apr 24-27, 2014 Cottonwood, AZ
Biggest Week in American Birding May 6-15, 2014 Oregon, OH
Acadia Birding Festival May 29-Jun 1, 2014 Bar Harbor, ME
Ecuador: Northern Andes and Amazon with Greg Miller
registration closes April 10!
Aug 8-23, 2014 Quito, Ecuador

Aack!  I am at a hawk watch and I just misidentified a Red-tailed Hawk as a Red-shouldered Hawk.  Oh, my!  I just pointed out a Lesser Yellowlegs and it called and it was really a Greater Yellowlegs.  Sigh.  I just posted a picture of a bird that I identified as a Song Sparrow but really it was a Savannah Sparrow.

How frustrating!  Making mistakes in front of other birders makes you feel foolish, embarrassed, and very self-conscious.  But how can you avoid birding mistakes?  Just give up trying?  Let someone else call out the birds?  Don’t lead any more bird walks?  Just stay silent every time you are with a group?  Stop birding altogether?  Hopefully you haven’t considered quitting. Continue reading

Two Years After The Big Year Movie

Two years ago last month (October) the movie, The Big Year, was released. I personally have seen the movie 24 times since then. Of course I really liked the movie. I am biased though. I got to proofread the script and I got to be on the movie set as a Bird Consultant. What a surreal experience! It still seems like a dream. Like it never truly happened. A Hollywood movie with A-List stars (Jack Black, Steve Martin, and Owen Wilson) was the last thing I would have expected from my Big Year in 1998. So many things had to happen to make this a reality. I often wondered “Why me?” Most folks reserve that for bad experiences. But I soon realized it really wasn't about me. It was waaay bigger! What is it? There is a new wave of popularity in birding. And I am privileged to be riding along with this one! And I can't help believing that we are only beginning to scratch the surface of what is about to be! I am full of hope for our future!

Recently someone asked me how many times I've spoken. Great question. I was curious myself. My friend, Erica Rusk, compiled a list of all the places I've been in the last two years. She has been keeping my calendar for me these last two years. Thank you, Erica! Here is a map I put together with Erica's list and a website called Batchgeo.

Thank you everyone! It has been wonderful traveling all over America (and Canada, too) talking about a contest I didn't win and signing books I didn't write!


View After The Big Year Movie in a full screen map


Letter To Dad 2013-11-22

Green Jay on arch - Bentsen Rio Grande SP - near McAllen TX - 2012-12-06

Green Jay on arch – Bentsen Rio Grande SP – near McAllen TX – 2012-12-06 photo by Greg Miller

Dear Dad,

A whole lot of people remember JFK on this date.  He was a leader that inspired many people to reach beyond themselves and do great things.  But a few folks will remember you.  Like me, they valued your friendship and respected your character.  And it was you that helped me gain the confidence to believe that I could do anything.  JFK I did not know.  But I did know you.  You were my father, my birding mentor, and my friend.  And for that, I am glad.

I lost you on this day 13 years ago, November 22, 2000. I had just moved back to Columbus, OH and got a job there so I could be closer to you during your final days. Little did I know that those final days would only be 2 weeks. <sigh> Your physical presence here on this planet is sorely missed. Much has happened since then. Continue reading

What motivates you?

Chilly Cape May Warbler during Biggest Week in American Birding - Magee Marsh - May 2013     photo by Greg Miller

Chilly Cape May Warbler during Biggest Week in American Birding – Magee Marsh – May 2013 photo by Greg Miller

When it comes to motivation there are many factors.  But which factors are the ones that motivate us to action?  Many things inspire us and make us feel good or positive but often we just talk about those things and not much happens.

So how does a dream become a reality?  How do you make anything happen?  How does anything get done?  Wanna achieve something great?  What are you doing today that counts?  Great questions.

Wanna know one of the most serious motivations that got me to actually do a Big Year?  Oh, sure I had already daydreamed about a big year–trying to see as many birds as I could in one calendar year.  For me there were several factors that added up to the point where I heard a story–a story that helped put me over the edge.  I will share it here.

In the late 1990s I remember talking to my cousin and birding friend, Kent Miller.  He related a story about people he knew.  I may not get the details quite right, but I hope you do not miss the point.  Because it is the meaning of the story that caught my heart and helped motivate me to action.

Kent told me the story of an older married couple.  They were birders.  They loved to go birding together.  But they took no big birding trips anywhere.  Instead they saved up for a glorious retirement together.  They dreamed of traveling to many places and birding together when they had the time during retirement.  And they saved their money.  They worked hard for many years and stored their money for a grand retirement of years birding together.  It is a great dream!

Then retirement finally came!  They started taking those birding trips together.  The trips they’d dreamed all their lives of doing.  And the birding was fun, of course.  But it came no where close to meeting their expectations.  Declining health was one of those unanticipated things.  They found they couldn’t hear the birds as well as they had hoped.  And their eyes were not as sharp.  And they just could not get around as easily as they had expected.  To top it all off, their money did not go as far as they had imagined.  In short, the very life they had dreamed of for so many years was a disappointment.

That story hit me with such great clarity.  Enjoy what you have while you can!  Oh, I am not saying you should not save up for retirement–because you should!  What I am saying is that we should acknowledge that we are not invincible.  We don’t know what tomorrow holds.  We cannot predict the future.  Sure you should save up for retirement.  It will take a lot of money when you get there–if you get there.  Balance what you save with learning to enjoy what you have right now.

Live your life with no regrets.  When you get to the end of your life and you look back on the life you lived, do you wish you would have done this or that?  I dare say one of those things you probably would not say is “I wish I would have spent more time at the office”.

Can you see with your eyes?  Be thankful.  Can you hear with your ears?  Be glad for that.  Can you walk with your legs and feet.  Be happy.  There are those that don’t have what you have.  Focus more on what you have now than the things you do not have.  Every day I am happy to wake up and have another day to live.

Today I will be happy to see and hear whatever birds are near me.  It truly is one of the most simple joys of life.

The birds are not worried about the stock market.  They don’t read the newspapers.  They are not laden with the cares that we take upon ourselves.  I heard a Northern Cardinal sing this morning.  And I was inside.  The windows and door were closed.  It was loud.  And it made me happy.  If I didn’t know any better, I’d say Mr. Cardinal just came over to Greg’s house and sang a song to make him happy, too!

Are you feeling ordinary?  You don’t feel important?  Is today boring to you?  You are in a good place.  Everyone faces their own ordinary, unimportant feelings.

Know this: Life is not made up of super humans running around in capes and doing super human deeds.  It is about ordinary people doing extraordinary things with their lives.

Happy New Year (belated)

Happy New Year! (this is just my way of acknowledging those of you on a linear time-space continuum thingie).  Haha!  Whaaaaat??!?  Yes.  Well.  It is also my excuse for being, oh, say, 12 days late coming into the New Year.  What can I say?

First off [getting down to business—kind of] think back through your life, year-by-year. (and yes, it’s OK to use the venerable linear timescale we call a calendar).  Can you pick a year and say, “Hey!  That was the best year of my life!”  What year was that?  Why was it so special?  What did you do (or what happened to you) that made it so grand?  How much control over that year did you have?  Were you responsible [at least in part] for the best year of your life?

Now let’s get to the second step. (See?  We are moving quickly now!  Haha!  Look out 12 days gone by!)  Now that you have picked out the best year of your life, think on this:  What would it take to make 2012 better than that year?  Uh-oh.  I can hear some of you thinking loudly here—and you are already ahead of me—you see where I am going with this!

Yesssssssssssssss!  Step 3.  Here’s what I want: For all of you to have 2012 be the new best year of your life!  It can happen.  Many of you have probably already made some New Year’s resolutions.  Have you broken any yet?  How does that make you feel?  Are you seeing new successes or does 2012 feel like any other mediocre year?  Any good plan has to have a way to measure your success along the way for you to get from point A to point B.  If you cannot measure it, you will never succeed.  Why?  How can you tell when you’ve achieved your goal if you can’t measure it along the way?  How do you know you got there?

Four paragraphs, Greg, and you haven’t even mentioned birding once yet!  Hang on to your hats friends.  You’ve gotten this far.  Besides, it’s only been since…wait…when was my last blog on birding?  Yeah.  Some time before Thanksgiving last year.  In this day and age, that might as well be the Jurassic Period.  I have not been out birding much at all since that time.  I came back from New Mexico and got sick.  Both ears clogged up so badly I had a hard time hearing human conversation.  It was bad enough that I missed a Christmas party or two just because it was so embarrassing to not hear well enough to hold a conversation without having the other person repetitively repeating the same thing over and over again. (now there’s a piece of grammar!)  Ahhaa.  Thankfully, over the last couple days I’ve seen some improvement in the hearing.

Back to our blog…how did I get so sidetracked?  What birding goals do you have for the year?  I hope they are fun ones!  Are you going to a conference you’ve never gone to but have always wondered what it was like?  Are you going birding in a new area that you are curious about?  Are you going to log your sightings (shameless plug for ebird!)?  How about something to promote birding?  Are you taking out someone new to birding?  Are you going to mentor a birder?  Are you going to introduce someone completely new to birding?  Are you going to join/support a birding or conservation club or organization this year?  How long are you going to put off doing things you’ve always wanted to do?  Maybe this is your year! (it sure should be!)

And finally, my blog-reading friends, the DVD for the movie, The Big Year, is due out on January 31, 2012.  Netflix & Redbox—you’ll have to wait for the streaming version until February 28, 2012.  You should read Laura Erickson’s fine review of the DVD, too, on the American Birding Association’s blog here.

Who’s The Best Birder In The World?

One of the statements set forth in the movie, The Big Year, is that the best birder in the world is the winner of the contest called The Big Year.  To me, this is as funny as the character, Brad Harris, having a limit of just one cookie–or as egregious an error as one of the many birds that are blatantly out of place in the movie.

Now I am speaking for myself.  I cannot speak for other birders.  First of all, best birder in the world should give you a big clue.  The world?  You mean the whole, entire planet?  ahaha!  Yeah, right.  The Big Year characters are doing an ABA (American Birding Association) big year–which includes the Lower 48 States, all of Canada, and Alaska.  So a person could easily win this big year without knowing a single African species, or Australian species, or…well…you get the picture.

Well, how about best birder in North America then?  This is a better question.  At least it addresses the geography better.  So what is the “best birder”?  What does that really mean?  Does the size of one’s list make that birder a “better” birder?  Nope.  I know lots of birders who just don’t get a chance to travel much, but they know their own smaller geographical area very well and have outstanding birding skills.  So does their smaller list make them a lesser birder?  No.  I don’t believe that. Continue reading

Topping off the week with…dessert!

Amish Peanut Butter Sundae photo: Greg Miller

Oh, man!  Yummy-licious!  What??!!!??  This is not a bird!  Sigh.  This is not a great diet either.  Hmm.  So why all the food lately?  Something deeper?  Ha!  You read my mind.  How did you do that?  Yeah.  I am doing some evaluation on future plans.  And waiting not-so-very-patiently on movie news.  And, well, I don’t seem to be very indecisive when it comes to food.  That sundae was sweet enough to shrivel your teeth on impact.  I can hear Dr. Phil’s voice in my mind now “It’s not the food you’re eating–it’s what’s eating you.”  Yeah.  Yeah.  Yeah.  But I just might be eating this good food anyways.  Don’t take away my excuse!

Continue reading

Winning. Duh.

The house where I grew up--looking North

Pretty cool view looking North from my boyhood home, eh?  When that field was less manicured it used to be home to several pairs of Bobolinks and Eastern Meadowlarks and Savannah Sparrows.  Meadowlarks are still there, but Bobolinks are less common now.  And that little pond has been a temporary hangout for some fascinating birds including Snow Goose, White-fronted Goose, and even Ross’s Goose.  One time a Bonaparte’s Gull dropped in and circled the pond a few times on it’s way North.  But I digress.  See?  I am already distracted.  I’ll start over again then.

Nooo.  This is not a blog about Charlie Sheen.  Haha!  But it *IS* about winning.  But what is winning?  Really.  Winning is pretty easy when we talk about sports.  Or is it?  In sports many folks measure winning by a score.  For football or baseball, for instance, the higher score “wins” and the lower score “loses”.  In golf, the lowest score wins and all the other other higher scores lose.  But really, that only represents a single game.  So if you win a tennis match, does that make you a “winner”?  What if you already lost 58 matches?  Are you still a winner?  Well yes, you did win–a match.  A single match.  But a winner? Continue reading

A Little Introspection

rhododendron with Boyd School House 2011-05-29

This is a rhododendron at mom’s house in Ohio.  It is where I grew up.  The building in the background is the old Boyd School House.  It’s a one-room schoolhouse that is no longer in operation.  My grandfather taught here for many years.  The woods behind it is my “home woods”.  It’s where I spent a lot of time birding as a boy.

Continue reading

10 Years and Still Kickin It!

10 years?  Yes 10 years ago this weekend–Memorial Day Weekend, 2001 was a life-changing experience for me.  I had struggled all month with rather unique symptoms.  In early May I thought I had flu and an ear infection.  After going to the doctor and getting some antibiotic, the ear infection was gone, but the symptoms got weird and the overall effect was odd and disconcerting to me.  I still had cold/flu-like symptoms.  But now my muscles seemed weaker.  I had shortness of breath walking on level ground for only 30 feet.  I battled general fatigue no matter how long I slept.  I had serious night sweats where I would wake up completely soaked from head-to-foot.  And fevers and chills continued to worsen.  Lastly, I experienced unexplained weight loss the last week of May.  I lost 8 pounds without dieting at all or exercising.

I did have a tick bite from late April that had left a mark under my left arm.  I feared that I had contracted lyme disease.  I didn’t understand what was going on but I certainly knew that something was truly wrong with my body.  Early during the third week of May I went back in to see the doctor.  I had some blood work done.  A week later I got a call from my doctor requesting that I return for a redo on my blood work.  He mentioned that my platelets seemed low and wanted to do the tests again to make sure.  My symptoms had gotten worse, too.  I was struggling mentally to keep the fear at bay.  The not knowing part was hard to handle.

Just two days after my last blood test–Friday, May 25, 2001–I got a call from my doctor.  At work.  He called me at work.  Have you ever had your doctor call you at your job?  It struck me immediately that this was of the kind of importance that is not of the pleasant kind.  My fear juices clicked in.  I was wired.  Then the doctor gave me these instructions:

“You need to leave work and go to the hospital.  Check into ER.  They will be expecting you.”

It’s Friday afternoon on a holiday weekend.  My mind is racing.  I need to have something to help me understand what is going on.

“So what were the results of my blood numbers?  Why do I need to go to ER?”

“The first test showed that your platelet count was at 39–very low.  Now your platelets are at 27.”  (I found out later that normal platelet counts run in the range of 150-400).

But what did all this mean?  What did platelets have to do with anything?  And why did he call me at work?  This all sounded a bit fishy to me.  Something wasn’t right and I didn’t know what.

I did a quick Google search before I left work.  I found three things associated with low platelet numbers: 1) aids, 2) hepatitis, and 3)  leukemia.  I ignored them all.  I didn’t have any of those I thought.  I left work in a haze.  I was numb in my head.  I felt incredibly weak.  I had symptoms I didn’t understand.  And now I’m going to ER and I’m not sure why.

I drove directly to the hospital and parked.  With great difficulty I walked into the emergency room and told the folks at the desk what my doctor had said.  I waited for 2 hours before I got to see anyone.  A nurse drew some blood from me again for hospital blood tests.  Then I went to a room to wait on a doctor.  After another hour a doctor entered the room and asked more questions.  Then he left again.

By now they had me laying on a table in the room.  I was staring up at the ceiling with an empty gaze.  My mind was whirring at a million thoughts per hour.  I was wondering why all the fuss?  I just wanted to go home and enjoy the weekend.  How hard could it be to fix platelets?  Platelets, after all, are just a part of the blood, right?  Couldn’t I just get a transfusion or something and go on my merry way?  And if I did have lyme disease then there wasn’t much they could do anyway I thought.

But my thoughtful musings were interrupted by something.  It was almost like a voice inside of me.  Actually, it was a thought.  But it seemed to be clear and prominent.  It seemed out of place.  You will live and not die.  Hmm.  Interesting I thought.  Where did that come from?  And why now?  Lyme disease is ugly but the risk of dying from it is not so great.  I didn’t know much about low platelets but I didn’t think it would be deadly.  I was more in the mindset of getting a quick fix and getting out of this place.

But the clear thought stuck inside of me.  As a Christian, I recognized it as part of a verse in the Bible.  But I didn’t know the reference off hand.  (later I had plenty of time to look it up–see Psalms 118:17) It wouldn’t go away though.  Again and again it rolled over inside of my head.  You will live and not die.  I wanted to believe it was nothing.  Why should death or dying even be a part of my thinking right now.  I was just frustrated at all the time this was taking.  Can I please just get out of the hospital?

Finally the doctor returned with some hospital workers.  I was going to be transferred to the 7th floor.  I was getting a room.  At the hospital.  And during a holiday weekend.  Rats.  The doctor had little to say other than my platelets were low.  But this I already knew.  Duh.  What were these doctors really saying?  Was this some kind of doctor-speak that I am supposed to understand somehow?

When they rolled me into my room I found some of my family there from 100 miles away.  I had kept them abreast of my health concerns.  Their faces were covered with the kind of cares that weigh heavily on one’s soul.  The hospital workers left and we all waited again for more news.  But we already knew part of the bad news.  The 7th floor at Riverside Hospital in Columbus is the Oncology Floor.  Yeah.  Cancer floor.

Cancer?  I was totally unprepared for this.  Cancer?  My mind was racing so fast that everything was now a blur.  My head actually felt empty of anything that made sense.  I was shocked beyond belief.

Finally, another doctor walks in.  He’s a hematologist.  His specialty is blood.  To this day, I have never met a doctor who’s been more honest or forthright than this man.

“I think you have leukemia.  Your platelets are very low.  Your symptoms seem to match.  And from the initial slides of blood I looked at, I think I found some cancer in your blood.  We are going to run more tests over the next few days.  You are probably going to need to have chemotherapy as soon as possible.  You will probably lose all of your hair…”

My mind checked out.  Exit–stage left.  It just couldn’t handle anymore.  The family was there for the news, too.  There were tears in their eyes.  I could see they were visibly shaken.  So was I.

But where do I go from here?  What do I do now?  My mind was totally weirded out.  But a small part of me was strangely calm.  Where was that coming from?  Calm?  Really?  Yes.  Really.

I can’t really explain it.  It is sort of like putting on a jacket when it’s cold outside.  You immediately feel more comfortable because the coat protects you from the chills of the wind and cold.  Only this was like putting on a coat for my emotions.  That comfort settled me enough to collect myself.  If a person can feel prayers, I can say I think I actually felt them at that moment.

I was poked with needles more than at any other time in my life that weekend.  Both arms were riddled with punctures wounds to the point of black and blue marks on both arms–just from drawing blood.  And test after test was performed.  And the diagnosis?  It was leukemia.  Specifically, ALL–Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia.  It’s the kind that usually gets little kids.  It’s a truly insidious disease that gets into the marrow of the bones and creates mutant cancer cells that prey on the body’s own cells.  And many kids do survive.  People my age?  Well, the statistics were not so good.  I was given a 50% chance of living beyond 5 years.

I was worried about my mom.  She had just lost her husband of 44 years just six months before.  Now the news did not sound good for her eldest son either.  But she is a very strong woman.  Her courage is of hero proportions.  And she is generous and caring, too.   Over the course of the next 14 months of chemo (cycles of 2 weeks of hospital stay–then 2 weeks at home in isolation to recover) she came to visit me every weekend.  Thanks to my loyal brother Ned for driving the 200-mile trip–every single weekend without fail.  They brought me food.  They brought news.  But most of all, they were just there to support me.  I felt loved beyond what anyone could imagine.

Over the course of that first year-and-a-half I was in the hospital over 100 days.  The chemotherapy for the blood was very difficult.  I was on a Hyper-CVAD treatment plan that put me on two different types of cycles during my treatment.  On one cycle I got a drug (methotrexate) that actually stops DNA production.  This is to reduce the risk of any cancer returning and spreading quickly through the body again.  But this is the treatment I found hardest to endure.  It weakened me to a ridiculous point that at one time, I had to press my hospital help button.  I was too weak to feed myself and had to have a nurse feed me.  How embarrassing!  Anyone who knows me knows that I am fiercely independent.  I really like to do things myself.  I like my freedoms.

And during this time I birded.  But this birding was more therapy than it was normal birding.  I have had a number of times in my life that birding has been both therapy to my soul and a distraction for my mind.

Hardly anything in life is worse than self pity.  It offers a person an allure of immediate gratification–an immediate sympathy for one’s self.  But it only seems to magnify the worst of human emotions–the kind that bring yourself down, and others, too.  In the end it fixes nothing.  It only promotes a subtle negativity in the guise of self help.  It is something that I have learned to avoid like a plague.  Run away!  Do whatever it takes to keep the tentacles of self pity from encompassing your mind!

Birding helps me do just that–be distracted.  Shoot.  I can get so totally into birding that some might look at it as an autistic quality.  I shall call it focus.   haha.  But really–it is a good thing to have something that grabs your attention with such gusto.  I use birding for distraction–and therapy, too.  It keeps my mind occupied.  And during the chemo years between 2001 and 2003,  two birders helped me immensely.  They were Dan Sanders and Doreene Linzell.  They transported me back and forth to the hospital for chemo or tests.  They took me birding.  In short, they made my recovery days a whole lot easier to bear.  Thank you Dan and Doreene!

Although my immune system will probably never be as healthy as it was pre-chemo days, I certainly cannot complain.  This weekend represents 10 years now since my cancer diagnosis.  It is much easier these days to be happy and thankful than ever.  It takes just two things for me to have a happy day.  Want to know them?  haha.  I am going to tell you anyway!

1) I wake up and see that I am still alive

2) I am not in a hospital

Yep.  That is all it takes to make Greg a happy camper nowadays.  I am so grateful for all the prayers and support I had during those trying days from many, many people.  And I am thankful to God for each day that I have to live.  Now I’m going to go outside, plant some hot peppers, eat some BBQ, and celebrate my 10 years of living.  I am wishing all you a happy holiday.  I hope you all have an opportunity to spend some quality time with your loved ones.  You never know how long anyone has to live.  You should enjoy them everyday.  And do something fun for yourself, too!