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From the Pen of Carter P. Smith

She was a bird of rare plumage herself — a pioneering amateur ornithologist with a probing eye, irrepressible spirit and wit and an unassailable record of birds passing by and passing through. When it came to the avian world, nothing escaped her keen eyes and ears, not the migrating shorebirds, the wintering waterfowl or the flitting songbirds.

She was, after all, the noted “Bird Lady of Rockport,” or as some christened her, the “First Lady of Texas Ornithology.” For nearly 40 years, Connie Hagar prowled the marshes, mottes, prairies, thickets and shorelines of Aransas County and surrounding coastal environs, dutifully documenting the rich array of birds that called that stretch of Texas home.

Along the way, she blazed many a trail. Her gender and lack of formal biological training caused many a scientist to prematurely dismiss her journal submissions and avian sightings as little more than the ditherings of an overzealous dilettante. They quickly learned otherwise.

Oberholser, Kincaid, Peterson and other giants of ornithology eventually all made their way to Rockport to learn from the self-taught naturalist. She didn’t disappoint. With her encyclopedic memory, meticulous data sets and artesian well of information about the region’s resident and migratory bird populations, she more than convinced the skeptical scientists that she knew ample of what she spoke and wrote.

As Sheryl Smith-Rodgers chronicles in this month’s piece on the “First Lady of Texas Birders,” Connie Hagar is nothing short of a legend in coastal birding circles. Although gone from this world for 40 years, Hagar left a lasting impression on both the ornithological record and the coastal community that she called home.

Thankfully, her memory is preserved in two Rockport-area nature preserves bearing her name. And her spirit and love of birds live on in the form of the Great Texas Birding Classic, a monthlong event billed as the world’s biggest, longest and wildest bird-watching tournament. Proceeds from the annual event go to support a variety of worthwhile bird conservation projects across the state.

The Birding Classic, now in its 17th year, runs from mid-April through mid-May. Over the years, the event has evolved from a coastal-only tournament to a statewide one. It also offers multiple tournament categories with something for everyone, irrespective of age, experience or mobility. There’s the Big Sit and the Big Day for the ultra-competitive among us. There are categories designed to promote competition among birders at different state park sites and between the different ecological regions of the state. And, in recognition of the burgeoning population of visually impaired outdoor enthusiasts who bird by sound, there’s the unique Outta Sight category. Find out more at www.birdingclassic.org.

April and May are great months to get outside and enjoy the best of Texas’ birds. Even if you missed the deadline for the Birding Classic, opportunities abound for great birding across the state. Find events in the spring/summer birding calendar at www.tpwmagazine.com/archive/2014/may/birdcalendar.
Thanks for caring about our wild things and wild places. They need you now more than ever.

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