A recent land gift to Little Traverse Conservancy, a land trust in northern Michigan, was given in honor of an extraordinary woman. The new Sally Stebbins Nature Preserve includes 30 acres of land nestled between the two ski resorts northeast of Harbor Springs. The rolling hardwood forest along Highland Pike Drive preserves the scenic views near the entrance to Boyne Highlands. A multitude of seasonal and migratory wildlife uses the land as habitat year round. The following words written by her husband, Kenyon Stebbins, offer a tribute to a woman who emulated love, grace, and appreciation for the natural world in all that she did.
Sally Stebbins was “never not birding.” She was happiest when she was in the outdoors, and she loved to share her extensive knowledge of nature, and especially birds. Sally’s enthusiasm for sharing her passion with others was infectious, and her fascination with the natural world was contagious. She is now happily soaring with the birds everywhere.
Sally loved wild birds and all the places they could be found: She managed to see 734 bird species in North America, and nearly 2,000 worldwide. But despite her global adventures, she was most appreciative of the birds in her “local patch”: She tallied 136 bird species in her small yard near Harbor Springs, Michigan. In keeping with her preference for simple pleasures, she loved her black-capped chickadees every bit as much as the more exotic birds of the world. If you are quiet, and listen carefully, you’ll quite likely hear these feathered friends on the Sally Stebbins Nature Preserve. That would make Sally very happy, indeed.
Sally Ann Hiddinga Stebbins (1951-2015) was born and raised in Holland, Michigan, and was proud of her Dutch heritage. After we met at Michigan State University in 1983, she quickly indoctrinated me into her world of birding. Together we reinvigorated the Mountaineer Audubon chapter while living in Morgantown, West Virginia, for 16 years, where Sally led early morning bird walks at West Virginia University’s Core Arboretum every April and May.
Upon moving back to Michigan in 2001, Sally’s love of sharing the wonders of nature with others inspired her to create the position of Field Trip Coordinator for the Petoskey Regional Audubon Society. She served PRAS tirelessly for a dozen years, sharing her infectious love of nature with several thousand folks on hundreds of different outings, which she always considered “treasure hunts.”
Sally was a voracious reader, a great music lover, and was blessed with an insatiable curiosity about all things in nature. Her love of the outdoors led her to many corners of the Earth, including Antarctica (twice); Australia; Attu Island, Alaska (twice); and the Amazon and the Andes of South America. I was able to join her on most of these expeditions, as well as others to Gambell, Alaska; Costa Rica; Panama; the Galapagos Islands; Mexico (seven times); a 10-week car-camping trip to Alaska; a summer-long driving trip to Honduras; and a three-month sabbatical in Ecuador, Peru, Chile and Argentina. She also enjoyed reaching the highest points in 43 different states, with Oregon’s Mt. Hood the one that challenged (and thus satisfied) her the most.
She was never happier than when she was in the field. We especially loved experiencing her birthday “dawn chorus” together every May 23, getting situated outdoors before dawn, and appreciating the various bird species as they vocalized, one after another as darkness gave way to daylight, a truly magical phenomenon.
Sally’s sweet personality, sparkling smile, quiet humility, and infectious sense of wonder are dearly missed by those who knew her, but her spirit lives on in all the bird songs that brings joy to those who listen with their heart.
For more information on the Sally Stebbins Nature Preserve, visit the Little Traverse Conservancy website at http://landtrust.org/wordpress. This story was originally published in the organization’s summer 2016 newsletter. See http://landtrust.org/wordpress/publications for the full newsletter.
About the Author
Out There With the Birds is the official blog of Bird Watcher's Digest, featuring engaging content, commentary, and creativity from some exciting new voices. New posts appear several times a week, so please check back often!