2011-03-24 / Island Life

Birdwatching - it’s good for the soul


Editor’s note: Lynn Steakley, an amateur birding enthusiast, was an educator in Austin for 28 years teaching elementary school and specializing in the gifted and talented curriculum. “I spent the better part of each 24- hour day living, breathing and loving my students. I like to help and be a positive part of a community,” she said. When their youngest received her master’s degree from Stanford University, Steakley and her husband Steve bought a sailboat, and for the last eight years or so have been on the water and around various wetlands. Their boat went through Hurricane Ike, which reinforced to them the importance of the wetlands and dunes. They are residents of Port Aransas where part of their time is spent at their condo and the other part on their sailboat. She has exchanged her former community for a birding community. “In my opinion, birds are a lot like humans, and there are lessons to be learned from them. Birding is like yoga, which I also like. Both require focus to be successful, and both are peaceful. In other words, birding is good for the soul. My goal is to start a conversation around birding with you where we share our experiences,” she said.

The South Jetty welcomes Steakley’s birding column this week. It will appear irregularly.

I spied what I would call a winter hold-up bird at the Joan and Scott Holt Paradise Pond Birding Center. It was a blue-headed vireo, which is a migratory bird with gender equality.

Let me explain two things. One, winter seems to be lingering in some parts of the U.S. The red-wing black birds in the northern parts of America winter in the central and southern states. And two, several Winter Texans say that they, too, will leave Port Aransas soon because this most common bird’s return to its northern breeding grounds marks the end of winter for the northern states.

There are a few winter holdup birds at Paradise Pond. So stop by Paradise this week to sneak a peek at the blue-headed vireo. This bird is a mid-elevation bird with a grayish head and distinct white-eye ring, which gives the appearance of spectacles. I suspect the female blue-heads are at Paradise at this time. The male blue-head migrates first, and should arrive at their breeding grounds by mid-April. His first task is to claim and defend territory for a proper arrival of the female. The next task is to show he is worthy of family chores. He builds a practice nest to prove he is a worthy mate. If he is successful with his courtship duties, then the pair builds a nest for breeding. Should we call this male bird “progressive?” I think I will check on this bird more often, and imagine that my husband is home doing household chores to please me.

While visiting the pond, look for these migrating birds: the northern parula and the black and white warbler. You can always tell when there is a cool bird in the area because the “funny-hat people” are huddled up, and personal space is not an issue. What is of importance is that you see the bird and share the bird.

The day I spotted the parula at Paradise, the people gravitated to station three. Others entered the pond asking, “Where is the parula?”

The bird books were out, and the hunt was on for the return of this colorful bird that likes to flit his stuff. “Ah-ha!” The bird returned. The crowd is quiet, with binoculars cocked. This is when body language is dominant, and a thumbs-up is a sign of thanks.

My husband Steve and I became birders after a several visits to the pond and the Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center. We were hooked after we spotted a least bittern. Luckily, some birding veterans took us under their “scope” for guidance. Now, it is my turn to share. I found I could combine my past skills as a gifted and talented teacher with these active avian friends who remind me of my past students. Birds are creative and great problem solvers as they make their way across this “birdy small town.”

It is officially spring, so you can bet I will be out in the field with my other birder cohorts enjoying a smaller part of our world in a quiet way.

To report bird sightings or share stories, e-mail lynn. steakley6@gmail.com.

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