Interview with Sharon Richardson

Travis Audubon Member Sarah Ruiz recently interviewed Wells Branch birder Sharon Richardson for Signal Smoke. Sharon volunteers for Travis Audubon, regularly leads bird walks in her neighborhood, and has been a key part of creating the Wells Branch Nature Viewing Station.

Sarah Ruiz: How long have you been involved with the Travis Audubon Society?
Sharon Richardson: I think it’s probably been since about 2010.

Sarah: How did you get involved with the organization?
Sharon: I had been looking at the Travis Audubon website for some time, but hadn’t gotten involved with the organization. Then I saw a sparrow coming to my backyard that I couldn’t easily identify. I saw that a sparrow class was available at Travis Audubon, and I lucked out and happened to get into the class, and that launched me into wanting to learn more about birds, take more classes, and involve myself further in central Texas birding.

Sarah: How did you get into birding? Was it something you picked up as an adult, or were you interested in it throughout your life?
Sharon: I started to get interested in birding casually about thirty years ago. I had two little kids at the time; now I have three. We would go camping a lot as a family, and I would try to take binoculars with me and notice birds. But with small children, it can be tough to go birding — my kids would scare all the birds off!

My brother has also been a huge influence on me. He’s a birder; he lives in Michigan. He came to visit Texas, and we went hiking at Wild Basin. At one point, he looked up and said, “Oh, cedar waxwings!” I looked at him and said, “How did you know that?” And he said, “I’m an Eagle Scout. I know everything.”

I bought a field guide after that because I thought, “What else am I missing? I’m missing something in nature, and I’m curious.” I started to get more interested in birding then.

Sarah: What inspired you to start leading bird walks at Wells Branch? Why is Wells Branch a great place to go birding?
Sharon: I had seen a posting on our neighborhood Google group for someone I had met, Wanda Holcomb. Now we’re really good friends. She had asked about birds she was seeing, and she wrote, “Hey, if anyone wants to sit on my back porch this Saturday and look at birds, come on over,” and I thought, “Oh my gosh! Someone else at Wells Branch who’s interested in birds beside me!”

So I went over, and we struck up a friendship/partnership. I encouraged her to take the Intro to Birding class at Travis Audubon, and she really fell in love with the bird blind at Pedernales Falls State Park and wanted to do something like that in our neighborhood. So we worked with the landscaper in our neighborhood, who let us put in a small area off a trail with a pond; and we planted some native plants, most of which were donated by the Native Plant Society of Texas. Wanda thought we should get more people in the neighborhood involved, and I offered to do a monthly bird walk. Wanda said we should add it to the Travis Audubon calendar. At first I wanted to keep it local, but it’s worked out great. Now we have local people and Travis Audubon members from all over participating.

I really didn’t do a lot of birding in my neighborhood before that. I didn’t think there were that many birds of interest. But as I found out, that was wrong! It’s a birding hotspot, on and off. Along our trail system at the park, there’s a nice variety of trees, and at certain times of the year, it’s easy to see some migrants. Now I’m excited that there are good opportunities to bird close to home.

Sarah: What are some of the most interesting birds you’ve seen since you created the Nature Viewing Station?
Sharon: Last spring, I was sitting at the station and saw several different warblers and an American Redstart. I also got a lifer bird for me: an ovenbird, which had been my nemesis bird. I was excited that it was right in our neighborhood!

Sarah: What is your bucket bird?
Sharon: Well, this is my year to really find out! I’m taking an owl trip with a friend to Montana this spring, and I hope to see a great gray owl. But I have lots of other owls I haven’t been able to see that I’m sure we’ll find.

Sarah: Is there anything else you’d like to share with our Signal Smoke readers?
Sharon: I have another volunteer project: going out twice a year to the Lost Pines Boy Scout Ranch and teaching a bird study for merit badges. We always are looking for volunteers to help with that. Dan Callaway, another Travis Audubon member, has gone out and helped me, and we would love for anybody else who’s interested in volunteering to teach youth about birding to join us!