Birding in Corpus Christi

Photograph of Connie Hagar Bird Watching

Connie Hagar and friend admire a white pelican on the Texas Coast in Rockport. (Kay McCracken Papers, Collection -, Box -. Special Collections and Archives, Mary and Jeff Bell Library, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.)

By Robyn Lippel

The Texas coast, specifically around the Corpus Christi and Rockport area, is home to a hidden gem that tourists and locals may be unaware of. Birds of all kinds migrate through the Texas coast during the summer and winter seasons along with times in-between. Birding has become a success because of the abundant bird life we have in Corpus Christi and the surrounding areas. Birding, also referred to as bird watching, is the observation of birds in their natural habitats as a recreational activity. Hundreds of birds come through the coast, which is why Corpus Christi is a prime location for bird watching. There are many clubs and groups that dedicate themselves to watching and protecting birds across the nation. The National Audubon Society, one of those groups, has a chapter in Corpus Christi, the Coastal Bend Audubon Society. Birding is prime in Corpus Christi, and has been a force around the world due to the Audubon movement and continues to be prominent with tourists and professional bird watchers.

In the 1880’s, a conservation movement began amongst growing gender reforms. George Bird Grinnell founded the Audubon Society in 1886 as a way to help preserve the bird population from being used for fashion purposes, specifically hats.[1] The society was named after John James Audubon, whose family taught and helped Grinnell’s love for birds grow. The Audubon movement began with the founding of the Audubon Society after a massive decline of birds became apparent. In the 1880’s, putting real birds on hats became a new popular fashion, and Grinnell hoped that bringing woman into the Audubon movement would help convince other woman to stop wearing hats adorned with real birds. Grinnell was convinced that “women were key to the project of stopping the hat trade.”[2] The Audubon Magazine was then created and published a year after the founding of the Audubon Society. The magazine only lasted two years before being shut down due to the magazine being nonessential to the Audubon movement.[3] Throughout the 1890’s the Audubon Society grew more chapters in more states by prominent women. The Audubon movement brought together people from all over the U.S. to protect and fight for birds. We can thank the Audubon Society for the birds we have in Corpus Christi. You can now find Audubon chapters all over the U.S., including Corpus Christi.

One of the most prominent bird watchers of the Corpus Christi birding community was Connie Hagar. Hagar was born and raised in Corsicana, Texas, and after visiting Rockport multiple times she became infatuated with the bird life there. Hagar found a passion in watching birds and studying their habits, breeding, and migration patterns. She said to her husband, Jack Hagar, after contemplating the subject of moving to Rockport: “‘I want to study birds. Is there any reason why we should not move there?’”[4] They then moved to Rockport in January of 1935, and Connie began doing what she loved.[5] Hagar talked to clubs and schools about Texas birds, hoping to spread the word around about them and the art of birding.[6] Hagar was also a part of the Audubon Society. People from all over the country called to Hagar to learn about birds, because everyone knew she was the best. Hagar died in 1973, but left a strong legacy in Rockport and Corpus Christi.

Different seasons call for different birds down on the coast. There are summer and winter birds, which are birds who come to stay during those specific seasons for living or breeding purposes. Resident birds stay all year while migrant birds may stay briefly in an area before moving on.[7] In the Rockport area, specifically Goose Island State State Park, many bird species have been spotted by amateur and professional bird watchers along with tourists. Grebes, Herons, American Vultures, Ptarmigans, Doves, Owls, Larks, and Wrens are some of the common resident birds in the area.[8] Swans, Geese, Ducks, select Plovers and Shorebirds, Kinglets and Thrushes, Pipits, Waxwings, Sparrows and Warblers are all winter season birds.[9] To the normal eye, one may not be able to tell the difference between a Laughing Gull or a Franklin’s Gull, or the difference between the Bonaparte’s Gull or the Herring Gull, but an experienced bird watcher would be able to tell the difference immediately.[10]  Goose Island State Park is not the only spot where you can find multiple species of birds. Rockport, Ingleside, Aransas Pass and Corpus Christi are all prime bird real estate. Most state parks have tour guides that take tourists out to see the coastal birds.

Next time you visit Corpus Christi or the Texas Gulf Coast, lookout for any passing birds you may encounter. All the birds who fly through are protected by the Audubon Society after years of conservation efforts and research. The art of birding has spread across the country due to the Audubon Society, bird watchers like Connie Hagar, and the birds that call the United States their home.

[1] Merchant, Carolyn, and George Bird Grinnell., Spare the Birds!: George Bird Grinnell and the First Audubon Society. 22.

[2] Merchant, Carolyn, and George Bird Grinnell., Spare the Birds!: George Bird Grinnell and the First Audubon Society. 22.

[3] Merchant, Carolyn, and George Bird Grinnell., Spare the Birds!: George Bird Grinnell and the First Audubon Society. 36.

[4] McCracken, Karen Harden., Connie Hagar: The Life History of a Texas Birdwatcher. 46.

[5] McCracken, Karen Harden., Connie Hagar: The Life History of a Texas Birdwatcher. 47.

[6] McCracken, Karen Harden., Connie Hagar: The Life History of a Texas Birdwatcher. 85.

[7] Hilde, Kaigler., Birds of Goose Island State Recreation Area: A Field Checklist. 3.

[8] Hilde, Kaigler., Birds of Goose Island State Recreation Area: A Field Checklist.5-11.

[9] Hilde, Kaigler., Birds of Goose Island State Recreation Area: A Field Checklist. 6-14.

[10] Hilde, Kaigler., Birds of Goose Island State Recreation Area: A Field Checklist.8-9.

 

Bibliography

Kaigler, Hilde. Birds of Goose Island State Recreation Area: A Field Checklist. Austin, Tex:  Resource Management Section, Texas Parks & Wildlife Dept. 1987.

McCracken, Karen Harden. Birding South Texas. Sinton, Tex: Welder Wildlife Foundation. 1989.

McCracken, Karen Harden. Connie Hagar: The Life History of a Texas Birdwatcher. College Station: Texas A & M University Press. 1986.

Merchant, Carolyn, and George Bird Grinnell. Spare the Birds!: George Bird Grinnell and the First Audubon Society. 2016.

Wauer, Roland H. Naturally--- South Texas: Nature Notes From the Coastal Bend. Austin: University of Texas Press. 2001

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