Soaring at 70: Reflections by Shelia Hargis

In this monthly feature, our members and friends have been invited to reflect on and celebrate Travis Audubon’s 70 years.


Our scout team out trying to determine where the birds were going to roost for the summer, 2017.

As I thought about my favorite memories of Travis Audubon in preparation for writing this article, so many wonderful memories flooded my mind. Some have to do with how Travis Audubon members such as Jean Martin and Lawrence Buford took me under their wings in my fledgling birder days and taught me how to identify birds and how to contribute to our understanding of birds by participating in Christmas Bird Counts. I still LOVE CBCs! Some have to do with how Travis Audubon offered me so many opportunities to take on various leadership roles. My first role was as a member of the Education Committee. I seriously only joined the committee because my friend Roxie Rochat asked me to, and I wanted a heads up on upcoming classes so I could sign up as soon as a class was posted. Then came my time as Education Committee chair followed by my time as a Board member. My time on the Board and especially my time as President working with Valerie Staats, our new Executive Director at the time, to transition us from a volunteer organization to one with professional staff, offered me so many learning opportunities and so many rewards. There were a few challenges thrown in there too, but I feel so fortunate to have had the chance to learn on the job and to contribute to Travis Audubon!

Our Austin Chronicle Critics Picks award banner along with more of our amazing volunteers, 2014.

It’s hard to pick THE highlight of my time with Travis Audubon, but not surprisingly, I think it is likely being involved with the creation of the Purple Martin Parties. I am so grateful that Julia and Andy Balinsky were persistent – they invited me to join them at the roost many times before I actually made the trip “up north” to see it. Of course, I was blown away and immediately fell in love with the birds and the spectacle. I still remember our first Purple Martin Party at Highland Mall when so many people from the surrounding neighborhood came out and told us how they had lived in the area for 30 years and never knew this spectacle was happening. And throughout the years, we’ve had people tell us how the martins were “better than the bats!”

Our long-time volunteer, Denise, educating the next generation of birders/conservationists, 2019.

I wasn’t there in the early days of Travis Audubon, but we’ve grown in so many ways during the time I’ve been involved. I can’t wait to see what the next 70 years look like! Be sure to join us for a Purple Martin Party this summer—our first one is this Saturday, the 16th!

Our professionally produced educational banners and our amazing staff, 2019. We’ve come a long way!

Feature image above: Valerie Staats and Shelia Hargis at Baker Sanctuary after a fun and successful open house in the early 2000s. (Shelia says, “Wow! Look how young we look!”)