Memorial to Joan Norek by Al Stokie

Joan Norek

Joan Norek

Hello Bird People,

A Requiem in the Middle Ages and Renaissance was a musical service, as in a Requiem Mass, in honor of someone who had died. Well no music here but just some words to accomplish the same thing, to honor Joan.

In spite of being the person who has passed on the messages from Joan’s family to the Illinois Birders Exchanging Thoughts (IBET) bird people I must admit that I did did know Joan as well or as long as Walter Marcisz and the Greene Valley Hawk Watch folks. It’s only been in the last two years that I had very many dealings with Joan.

Before that she was “that birder with two dogs” who found a lot of Sparrows at North Pond and reported them quickly on IBET and eBird. It was only at North Pond that I would run into her with both the friendly black dog and the more reserved white dog. She would sometimes email me for bird info but that was it. Then Joan asked if I knew where to look for Long-billed Dowitchers and how to ID them, not an easy task by the way. Some were being seen at FermiLab so I said I’d meet her there and check them out. So along with Bob Erickson I arrived at Fermi at the agreed on time only to find that not only had Joan arrived early but she had seen some dowitchers, walked right up to them for a better look, and flushed them to who knows where? Joan’s comment was that, “They’ll be right back,” but they did NOT come right back! In fact they did not come back at all. This was not a good first impression, but I had to admire her enthusiasm. Eventually we all saw Long-billed Dowitchers, but not that day.

And as to her level of enthusiasm, Joan loved to get her year list up to 300 species which required a lot of travel as did her breeding bird surveys in Putnam County and elsewhere. And Rhonda has mentioned Joan’s many visits to Southern Illinois for the Birding Blitz ad Chrstmas Bird Counts. Joan would drive anywhere by herself or with the dog or dogs and eventually even me. This last year she wanted to add to her year list by adding
species seen in Central Illinois so instead of bringing her remaining dog she brought Bob and I to help with IDs. We added many species for her in Havana and Chautauqua and had such a fine time we did the same trip again a few weeks later. Joan also joined our Gillson Park Lake Watch crew a couple of times which was new for her. The last time I saw Joan at a rare bird event was at Afton looking for the Harris’s Sparrow.

I did not know about Joan’s health issues, but I saw on eBird that her last species seen for 2016 was the Waukegan Purple Sandpiper. Later I learned from other birders who saw her there that Joan was not looking well. Then came the Mountain Bluebird in western Illinois and I was surprised to not only not see her while many were looking at it but I saw no mention of her even trying for it which was not like Joan at all. Also there were few if any eBird reports after the Purple Sandpiper. (But if Joan’s last “rare bird” sighting was that Sandpiper she had a fine “last bird”.)

I visited Joan three times at the nursing home by myself and with Karen Lund and Jeff Sanders. The only thing on her mind was getting out of that place and back home. I was glad to hear that she did get back home although only for a week before she ended up back in the hospital and then her last stop on the hospice floor.

Another birder friend at the Chicago Botanic Garden says that when a family member or a friend dies you may soon after receive a “gift” from them in the form of seeing a rare bird or the like. The morning Joan passed on I was on the way to birding when I saw and chased a license plate which turned out to be a Hawaii plate. The next day I saw nine White Winged Scoters. Probably a coincidence but, just in case, Thanks Joan!

On our two Central Illinois trips last year I learned that Joan would not pass a Casey’s gas station without going in to buy two glazed donuts. She’d eat one right away and save the other for later. So the next time I see a Casey’s I’ll do the same (at least one time) and maybe you should too.

You can blame the calories on Joan’s memory.

Al Stokie

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