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Bird Lady of Rockport brought world's attention to Texas

'She established Rockport as the birding capital of Texas.'

Famous birder Connie Hagar, here with Patch, had a soft spot for dogs, too. (Photo courtesy of Aransas County Public Library)

I want to make a confession,” announced the esteemed naturalist Roy Bedichek to the diminutive queen of Texas birdwatchers, Connie Hagar, one crisp October day in 1945. According to author Karen McCracken in her book Connie Hagar: The Life History of a Texas Birdwatcher, Bedichek went on to explain that he had heard of her many “wonderful discoveries” from colleagues in Austin and the Rio Grande Valley, and had come to Rockport to prove her “a faker.” But after an intense day of fieldwork that included his first sightings of Mexican grebes and piping plovers, Hagar had earned Bedichek’s respect.

“That happened over and over as professional ornithologists came from far and near to investigate the incredible sightings she reported,” says Janie Ellis, a birding enthusiast and certified interpretive guide in Rockport. “She established Rockport as the birding capital of Texas.”

McCracken credits Connie Hagar with identifying more than 500 species around Aransas Bay. Hagar added 20 new species to Texas’ avifauna list and reported several species of migratory birds thought to be extinct.  In the 1940s, she became the first to document the migratory patterns of hummingbirds along the Texas coast.

In fall of 1962, the National Audubon Society held its annual convention in Corpus Christi to ensure that Hagar, who was recently widowed and beginning to show signs of frailty, could attend and receive a special award of appreciation.

“Ornithologist and conservationist,” read Audubon President Carl W. Buchheister from the engraved plaque. “ … You opened our eyes to that great miracle of the natural world, the migration of birds. You enriched our knowledge by patient, open-minded, and courageous observation and reporting of the facts … You stood so straight among the wind-bent trees of your coast that you saw what others before failed to see.”

Connie, who died in Corpus Christi in 1973, was buried in the Rockport Cemetery, her grave overlooking one of her favorite birding sites. The former location of her Rockport Cottages is now home to the Connie Hagar Cottage Sanctuary, a 6½-acre preserve where oak-motte and coastal-grass habitats attract year-round and migrating birds. 

—Gene Fowler

Rockport’s For the Birds (And You)

Birders love the Rockport area year round, but especially so during spring and fall migrations. For species lists and details about birding destinations in the area, including the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, the Connie Hagar Wildlife Sanctuary, and the Connie Hagar Cottage Sanctuary, contact the Rockport-Fulton Area Chamber of Commerce; 800/242-0071.

The chamber can also provide information about September’s Hummer/Bird Cele-bration, an annual event that features field trips to birding spots, lectures, and seminars on nature-related topics, as well as the much-anticipated arrival of whooping cranes in late October or early November. The cranes, which stand nearly five feet tall, spend the winter at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge; you can see them from an observation platform at the refuge, or take a boat trip to see them closer up.

—Lori Moffatt

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