As a small girl I made a game of swatting bees flying around the honeysuckle vines that grew around our house in Longview, Texas.  This activity led me to my first discovery of birds. One day a hummingbird (a Ruby-throated hummingbird, I came to find out many years later) found its way into our screened porch and frantically tried to find its way out. We did not know about luring it out with a hummingbird feeder (did they even have hummingbird feeders in the early 70’s?) my two brothers and I decided to help the poor little bird.  We went in the house and got our sister’s Pier One giant heavyweight fishing net–remember the ones everyone was using to decorate their ceilings with plastic lobsters and other ocean-themed paraphernalia?  My brothers and I then with great effort, threw the net over the hummingbird–dropping the hapless bird and pinning it against the tile floor. Looking back I’m amazed we didn’t kill it.  We put it in a five gallon bucket and studied it for a short time before releasing it back among the honeysuckle.  I was 7. I also remember that my mother would point out buzzards and chicken hawks when we would go for long drives.  She even named one bird correctly–the Scissor-tail, though she left off the flycatcher part. That was my introduction to birds.

At 10 we moved to the Lower Rio Grande Valley.  I was still ignorant of nearly all natural history, especially birds. I even made fun of the birdwatcher kid in my neighborhood…sorry John.  One thing always puzzled me–what was that noise every spring that woke me from sound sleep?  I knew it was birds but I didn’t know to wonder what kind. One day our church friends took us to Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, a place I imagined that the government brought in for us because they thought we needed nature so badly in the otherwise denuded Valley. There, we fed popcorn to big chickenlike birds.  Chachalacas!  Who knew they existed? I didn’t connect Chachalacas with the loud calls in the mornings until many years later.

At 22 I decided I wanted to  become an earth mother and moved to Austin, Texas.  I lived for a month before I got word my mother’s cancer had come back and moved on to her liver.  That put a damper on my freewheeling, partying lifestyle. A few months later I moved back to Harlingen to be close to her again. I got my first apartment, where I started two life long interests–using natives in landscaping and becoming a birder.  The native landscaping was easy…I pulled all the tall non-native grasses-not knowing they were non-native–and left the pretty groundcover with the yellow flowers that had flourished underneath.  I called what I was doing landscaping on a budget.  Come to find out later the yellow flowers were horseherb Calyptocarpus vialis, a native plant. All I knew was the yard looked better with that cute little plant than with bare dirt.

The birding part, well, that was a bit more involved.  Having my new place all set and being a wannabe gourmet cook I invited my girlfriend over to have croissant sandwiches and homemade soup.  The table was set with knockoff Fiestaware dishes and the scrumptious lunch laid out, we began to enjoy the meal when I saw something amazing.  Outside in the most beautiful array of bright yellow flowers–I now know were Mexican Poinciana, Caesalpinia mexicana-sat a bright shining jewel.  A bird like none I had ever seen before.  It was five different colors: blue, green, yellow, red, and orange.  I was stupified.  Awestruck.  I set out that day to find someone who could tell me what the bird was.

In the days before the internet and not knowing I could go to the local library and check out a field guide, I set out to find a person with the knowledge I needed. Two weeks later at a wedding where I was hired to do  the bride’s hair I overheard a fellow talking about birds.  He was a bird painter.  He was able to tell me the bird I had seen was a painted bunting.    Well…Let’s just say after three months I was a full fledged birder and married to the bird painter.  It was a great ride. He gave me the moon and a son and my passion for birding–tropical birding at that.  He also introduced me to blue lizards.

That marriage is long over and now I have Jeff, my new husband and  birding companion.  This one is going to last forever.  This year is my 22nd year of birding.  I have had a charmed birding life.  Seeing my first whooping crane with Roger Tory Peterson and driving Dan Lane to see his first Botteri’s Sparrow as a young birder are among the many highlights.  So is being a founding member of the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival, the artist liaison there for 10 years, and the co-creator of the kids’ program and the native plant tours at the Festival.  I’m now looking to help build a new festival in Delaware.

I count as one of my biggest accomplishments bringing birding into the reach of kids.  Just helping kids to be aware that the flash out of the corner of one’s eye could be something wonderful. Helping them to know that the music of the forest has a bird or bug or frog behind it for them to discover–to think about what is around them. That is my biggest joy.  I give back to to the earth by helping others see its beauty.  My passion is a love for all things, good, bad and stinky.  I hope to share this passion with the world through these writings. That is my goal.

2 Responses to “Becoming elizabird”

  1. Hey Liz,

    Great pics on your website!!! Not sure if you remember me, graduated with you.

    Take care.

    Roland

  2. Robby said

    Elizabeth,
    Nice chameleon and cool blog! I also blog about nature that catches my fancy with an emphasis on snakes. My blog is http://www.snakeadventures.blogspot.com/
    Will you add this to your bloglist if you find this interesting?

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