Our Story

by Anders Gyllenhaal

This is the mysterious bird that turned out, most likely, to be a Mourning Warbler.

We just couldn’t figure out the small, yellow and gray bird that stared out from a series of photos taken in southern Nova Scotia. We knew it was a warbler, but Beverly scoured the Internet and all of her birding guides without finding a match. I went back and looked through dozes of shots I had taken that day without any luck.

Finally Beverly emailed the photo to a birding expert and friend in Maryland to ask for help. This was indeed a tricky one, he said, because the bird was almost certainly a juvenile who’d yet to come into its full colors and markings. Eventually we narrowed it down to a Mourning Warbler, but since many young warblers look a lot alike, we’re still not absolutely sure.

Beverly and I take somewhat different approaches to birding. She can spend an hour creeping through the woods, pausing to scan for birds camouflaged among the branches. I like to charge ahead to see what’s around the next corner.

As the photographer, I try to keep moving and hope to come upon birds by surprise. I’m happiest when I can catch a bird in flight, taking off or landing to show the magnificent science of flying. I’m comfortable with guesses as to what we’re seeing — and then move on to the next question.

But Beverly is exacting and studious. She is gradually teaching herself to identify species from afar and listens to birdsong recordings to learn the complex calls. Like with the Mourning Warbler, she won’t give up until she’s figured out what we’ve seen.

Both of us were journalists for many years. Beverly was a reporter and edited The Miami Herald’s food section. She launched syndicated columns on parenting and then on cooking family meals. This turned into the Desperation Dinners franchise, including weekly columns, a series of cookbooks and a national website.

I began as a reporter and photographer at newspapers in Pennsylvania, Virginia and New Jersey before switching to editing — eventually running newsrooms in Raleigh, Minneapolis and Miami. My last assignment was the top editorial position for McClatchy, a network of newspapers from California to the Carolinas. All of this led to years of writing, reporting and photography that helped lead us to this website.

When we retired, we got the chance to combine our love of the outdoors and camping with our fascination for birding. We started traveling, first in a small Casita trailer, and then in the Airstream you see in the background. This lets us stay out for long stretches when the birding is good. And even when it isn’t, you might find us sitting by the campfire with books and a glass of wine. Quite often, a banjo is involved.

It might be our years in journalism that push us to look for the broader story and that got us thinking about the layers of lessons we’ve encountered over the past few years.

These lessons go far beyond simply identifying the birds we see. As birders, we’re still in the learning stages. But we’re constantly wondering why and how the birds do what they do and why we’re so compelled to seek them out despite foul weather, empty skies or the possibility of seeing a snake. (Beverly is absolutely terrified of snakes.)

We hope our stories, questions and discoveries will be of interest to you as well. We’d love to hear your thoughts and observations about learning from the birds. There’s a message form below to send us your thoughts — or please leave comments on any of the posts and pages.

Thank you for spending time with Flying Lessons.us.

Anders and Beverly

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