Rockport Birding : A Rich History


Texas is a very fortunate state when it comes to the avian action! As they say, everything is big in Texas. Our great State offers just about every ecology type found on earth except the rain forest. West meets the East with a centerline roughly running from Dallas-Ft. Worth, Waco, Austin, San Antonio, Brownsville. North meets South too with the Great Plains rolling into the Mexican Plains. The Gulf of Mexico lines Texas for about 367 miles with a grand total of 3,300 miles of shoreline along bays, islands and river inlets. All this and more creates an important bird area for the United States.

Famed naturalist, ornithologist and artist, Roger Tory Peterson, called Texas, “The No.1 Bird State.” Now that is really something and by most accounts still the case today. Of the roughly 950 species of birds in the United States, around 800 of these call Texas home or migrate through the State! That is near 85 percent of all species are found in our great state at some point in the seasonal cycle. Beyond the varied ecologies, the big draw is the Central Flyway. This flyway is one of the primary interstates for the birds moving from as far north as the Arctic Circle to Águila Islet of the Diego Ramirez Islands in Chile to the south. The flyways of the Americas could be a topic by themselves. Just know that with what is known of the birds and migratory paths, the road through Texas is key!

In my research prior to relocating to the Coastal Bend, found records related to birds back to 1851 from South Texas. More specific references to the birds in this area were reported near the end of the 19th century. As best I can find, the first real study of the avian life in the Coastal Bend was published by G.G. Williams in 1936 with his periodical, Gulf Coast Migrant. It is said that with the publications of this time, word of the richest bird area in the USA was finally being broadcast! The bounty of bird species found in South Texas and the Coastal Bend were the content of legend. The ornithological interest of the area exploded in the 1940’s and continues today.

All experts in the world of birds and the science of ornithology agree that there was one, small framed non-scientist woman in Rockport who did more to substantiate the area’s reputation than any. The imprint she made upon the Coastal Bend is large. She was doubted and laughed at by the top bird science minds of her day initially too. She held steadfast to her observations and records. In fact, she invited the academia from back east to come to Rockport and see for themselves. Each quickly became a believer in the scope of nature’s spectacle that took place in Aransas County! The rest is history as they say.

Martha Conger Hagar (1886-1973) was this woman that did all to bring Rockport and the Coastal Bend into the spotlight. Conger Hagar, known by all as Connie, provided 40 years of almost daily, year-around records about bird life. She was a tireless speaker and volunteer for Mother Nature during her 40 years in Rockport. This delicate, small, proper woman of an age gone by, spent countless hours in the field observing birds and their behavior. She documented most all in her “Nature Journal.” So much can be said of this gentle and kind soul. In fact, she is cited in many writings and the subject of an excellent biography published in 1986. Her life was dedicated the avian biology of the Coastal Bend and the Rockport area. Her reputation shook academia and spread all over the world.

I have read and highly-recommend her biography, “The Life History of a Texas Birdwatcher,” by Karen Harden McCracken. The book is an amazing story of birds, nature and the sleepy coastal fishing village which was Rockport, Texas. For a birder and nature-lover myself, her story is as inspiring as it gets. Her life in Rockport was a game-changer for Texas ornithology, South Texas and especially the Coastal Bend. In fact, it is specifically the reading of Connie’s biography that convinced me to relocate to Rockport on the Texas Gulf Coast.

Today there are many books published about the birds of the Coastal Bend. Thousands come to Rockport, Corpus Christi and other points along this stretch of the Texas Coast to experience nature’s spectacle of birds. The eco-tourism impact to the area from birding is respectable. The commitment to habitat preservation for birds and other wildlife by the government entities and other organizations is impressive. All of this a direct impact created by the rich birding history of the Coastal Bend and most importantly, Connie Hagar. Her imprint upon the Rockport area is undeniable. Her contribution to understanding of migratory patterns and species is epic.

All from the little bird lady of Rockport, a non- scientist, nature lover!