By John Bloomfield
I need to plant my feet on the ground to know my place in this world.
I came to Texas early this year by way of the South Carolina Lowcountry by way of central New Jersey, where I was born. I have watched birds with intensity in each of these states, and have made a few unscientific observations along the way, which I will unapologetically share below.
Chief among those observations is that when you see the same species in a different state, it’s almost like seeing that bird for the first time. The experience can be both exhilarating and disorienting, until you relax and let the things you’ve learned about birds break through the confusion.
So many sparrows in Texas! Up north we know your Savannah Sparrows and White-crowned Sparrows (and Song and Swamp and many others) but some of your Savannahs are darker and I had to learn to distinguish them from Lincoln’s Sparrows, a rarity where I come from. Those bubble-gum pink legs on the Savannah ultimately leave no mistake.
Harris’s Sparrows and Black-throated Sparrows have been a delight. Already in Texas (thanks to Hornsby Bend) I have developed much more close-up experience with waterfowl and learned to sharpen my ID skills. Instead of sheep I am counting Northern Shovelers at night!
Your richly colored western Red-tailed Hawks almost made me think these might be an altogether different species than the hawks I saw back east. But the piercing call and stocky prowess leave no doubt about who this is.
To acclimate myself and learn to connect Texas birds with their habitats, I enrolled in Travis Audubon’s Master Birder class of 2021. In weekly Zooms, our class got an expert grounding in ornithology from Dr. Peter English, Texas habitats from Bill Reiner, local bird families from Jane Tillman and Eric Stager, and the gospel of bird conversation from Chuck Sexton.
Unfortunately we have not been able to put our newly honed skills to the test on field trips and volunteer assignments, but that day will come once COVID-19 starts to recede into the rear-view. In the meantime, look out for a Master Birder 2021 team in this year’s Birdathon!
I have learned from great teachers that to know birds you need to know their habitats. Beyond my local hotspots in Hays County, I have been focusing on Hornsby Bend, the prairie grasses of Commons Ford and the rocky wilderness of Reimers Ranch. In late March I visited the Balcones Canyonlands NWR for the first time since 2016. There I saw a Golden-cheeked Warbler singing in the same spot where I saw it five years ago at the end of a Hill Country birding trip.
Later that afternoon I spent time enjoying the birdsong at Baker Sanctuary. Travis Audubon is fortunate to have had visionaries like Chell Baker and many others dedicated to protecting this woodland oasis in the face of relentless growth.
What’s ahead? Bolivar in springtime, a trip out west to Big Bend, and a chance to visit many of the 200 or so counties in Texas I have yet to see.
Zugunruhe overwhelms me. With my feet more firmly on the ground, I am ready to welcome old avian friends and many new ones I have yet to see.
A new resident of Texas, John has a long history with Audubon, having served on the board of New Jersey Audubon and Audubon South Carolina in addition to a term as president of Hilton Head (S.C.) Audubon. He is looking forward to sharing his passion for birds and the places they need in his newly adopted state.