Gimpy girl goes birding

Deb Calhoun with her camera

A 2017 mid-Atlantic, physically accessible birding “Big Year”

by DEB CALHOUN, Frederick County, Maryland

Midsummer last year, I became determined to fight back against FSH muscular dystrophy. Most of my friends and family know I have FSHD. This isn’t a new diagnosis, and living fully with this disease has kept me determined and also sensitive to the challenges everyone faces throughout a lifetime. As my FSHD progressed rapidly the last few years, I allowed my world to become too small. I wanted to find ways of living a bit more boldly and pursuing (at least!) one more great passion.

I’ve been passionate about birds and birding since childhood. However, in recent years, birding has become an increasingly important part of my day and a constant source of great joy. Drawing inspiration from fellow birders, I decided to challenge myself to a 2017 mid-Atlantic, physically accessible birding ”Big Year.”

For those unfamiliar with the term, a birding “Big Year” is an informal competition birders have among themselves to see who can identify the most bird species in a specific geographic area in a calendar year.

My Big Year became a personal challenge. I wanted to make at least two birding trips per month outside of our family property—a tough challenge, since we have so many amazing birds right here at home! Of course, I wanted to see as many birds as possible. And as I set my goals for the year, I wondered if I could reach 100 different bird species.

I also wanted to make this Big Year about something bigger than me, so I set another goal of documenting physically accessible birding locations throughout the mid-Atlantic region, in the hopes that this information will benefit fellow birders (or anyone who loves the outdoors) who have some of the same physical challenges I do. Right now, whenever I am birding, I always have to have a cane or a walker for support, and sometimes a scooter.

I also wanted to raise awareness about FSHD and, for me—the most difficult goal—I wanted to seek donations for the FSH Society to fund ongoing research in the fight against this disease.

So far, I’ve found this experience amazing and am enjoying this challenge more than words can convey. In the first two months of the year alone, I completed six birding adventures and observed 104 different bird species. This achievement motivated me to set even more ambitious goals for the future!

I’ve joined a wonderful local birding club and have been encouraged by all the positive responses and support I’ve received for my goals. I’ve reached out to friends and family, those who have expressed any sort of interest in this journey I’m taking, or those who I just think love me enough to not be offended by my asking them to financially support a cause so personally important to me, and I’ve asked them to please donate to the FSH Society. I hope that part of my story will inspire them to support the Society.

If you’d like to follow along with my adventure, you can follow my blog at I can’t wait to see where this year takes me.


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