Words by Brandy Herr
Photography by Stevo Torres
Few animals embody the American spirit more than birds. Their ability to soar majestically through the air with the ultimate freedom is a constant source of inspiration. Found even in Ancient Greek mythology with the tale of Icarus, humans have longed for the gift of flight that only birds truly possess. You can find this dream everywhere in Americana. Our country has many symbols, from the national tree to the national flower. Yet it is the bald eagle, our national bird, that has reached iconic status, so much so that it is impossible to see even a picture of one without immediately thinking of America.
The Acton Nature Center has embraced America’s love for birds, a love that spans approximately 47 million birdwatchers, or birders, nationwide according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. For many years, they have hosted a monthly bird census and backyard bird counts. However, they decided to take it one step further.
The brainchild of the Rio Brazos Chapter of the Texas Master Naturalist Organization, the Acton Nature Center’s new bird blind celebrated its grand opening in February of 2016 after about a year and a half of planning. A fully enclosed room complete with chairs, an air conditioning unit, and a windowed wall overlooking a beautiful natural habitat, the bird blind allows bird enthusiasts to enjoy nature while retaining an air of comfort. It allows people to spend more time observing the birds when it would otherwise be too hot in the summer or too cold in the winter. In addition, the small building can be used as a classroom for introductory lessons or for more in-depth bird studies.
Dave and Wendy Moore, members of the Rio Brazos Chapter, were instrumental in volunteering to make the bird blind a reality. “We wanted a way to encourage people, especially young people, to spend more time with nature,” Dave explained. “And less time staring at their phones.”
The bird blind, now run by the Acton Nature Center, includes various feeders to attract a variety of birds, a serene water fixture, various plants and other foliage. The brush pile lining the area acts both as a blockade against people wandering into the enclosure and also as shelter for birds who may feel they need a place to hide.
For Dave and Wendy Moore, the study of birds has been a lifelong passion. His grandparents were avid birders. Her father was an ornithologist and a professor at the University of South Florida. Together, it was a match made in heaven. “We’ve been married for 41 years,” Dave said. “But we’ve been birding much longer than that.”
The hobby of birding, or the observation of birds in their natural habitat, appeals to a wide variety of people for an equally wide variety of reasons. When asked why people enjoyed birding, the Moores first echoed the sentiments of the American dream. Birders are attracted to the lore of birds and are fascinated by the ability to fly. “Birds are the epitome of the outdoors,” Dave said.
According to the Moores, people also enjoy observing birds because they can delight in their beautifully bright colors and melodious songs. Most birds tend to do well amongst humans, making them easier to observe as so many live in our backyard.
In fact, of the approximately 800 species of birds found in the United States, nearly 150 of them can be spotted at the Acton Nature Center. Texas is also one of the best birding states, boasting 600 species of birds alone. Year-round, it is not uncommon to see any number of birds in the Granbury area, such as cardinals, mockingbirds, Bewick’s wrens, Carolina wrens, house sparrows, roadrunners, great blue herons, turkey vultures, black vultures, red-tailed hawks, and Canada geese. These numbers are also an attraction for birders. At just 12,000 species of birds worldwide, they are much easier to learn and categorize than, for example, the millions of species of plants or insects. This allows them to challenge themselves, to try and learn and differentiate between as many different species as they can.
The hobby of birding is versatile and can be enjoyed by anyone. Wendy Moore likes that it takes her outdoors, yet she can also observe birds from the comfort of her kitchen window if she chooses. She also enjoys studying the behavior of birds, as there is a lot to birds’ behavior that humans often don’t notice, and you can sometimes identify the species of a bird simply by noting its actions.
While the Acton Nature Center is the best location for birding enthusiasts in Hood County, other spots throughout the North Texas region can be popular for observing a variety of species. Because the Acton Nature Center is not located on the water, birders might want to try other spots more adjacent to Lake Granbury for observing waterfowl. Dinosaur Valley State Park in Glen Rose is another excellent location for spotting birds and various wildlife. For a slightly longer drive, South Dallas is home to the Trinity River Audubon Center, a nature center located in the Great Trinity Forest.
Sewage treatment plants can also be hotspots for observing birds. Locations that contain large settling and purification ponds provide plenty of plants and a ready water supply for a great variety of bird species.
If you’re interested in bird watching, but you would prefer to do it from home, its possible to turn your own yard into a bird-friendly paradise. Any plants native to the area, especially those that are flowering or fruit-bearing, will attract birds. The Moores also recommend you find plants that will attract caterpillars as those are a good food source for birds, as well. Even birds that feed primarily on seed in adulthood will still feed caterpillars to their young. Supplement your landscape with hummingbird feeders and other bird feeders throughout the yard. The couple recommends black oil sunflower seeds to be used in the feeders, but any wild bird seed mix you find at feed supply stores will work as well.
For those just starting out in the birding field, Dave and Wendy Moore have a few suggestions to get the most out of your experience. Make sure to secure a good field guide to help you identify the species of birds. These can come either as a book or a mobile application. Using an app has its benefits as it can play birdsongs, allowing you to learn how to identify them through their unique call. You will also want to invest in a decent pair of binoculars that allow you to focus well from a distance. Wendy urges bird enthusiasts to join with other like-minded hobbyists to share in each others’ experiences. The Acton Nature Center organizes Bird Walks on the first Saturday of each month at 7:00 AM. These are open to everyone, from first-timers to advanced birders.
Though we may never be able to soar through the heavens, birding allows us to live vicariously through our feathered friends. From songs like Steve Miller’s “Fly Like an Eagle” to “Free Bird” by Lynyrd Skynyrd, the freedom embodied by birds has found its place forever in our lore and pop culture. During troubled times, either personal or from the world at large, when we wish we could escape, we need only to look to the birds to find our peace.