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Birding in the Highland Lakes: James Reimer studies birds on boughs and in books

James Reimer

A member of the Highland Lakes Birding and Wildflower Society, James Reimer of Marble Falls said his favorite local birds to spot are painted buntings and vermilion flycatchers. Staff photo by Daniel Clifton

On Oct. 8 each year, James Reimer looks up in the sky and sees the V shape of migrating geese flying over the ranch on which he lives south of Marble Falls. It’s his late father’s birthday and the annual signal that migration season is underway — time to get serious about birding.  

Although Reimer carries his binoculars and guidebooks with him  year-round, he said fall, winter, and spring are the best times to  bird in the Highland Lakes. Summer is just too hot for both people and birds. 

Painted bunting
Painted bunting: A secretive but common bird in the southeast, it is hard to spot as it lies low in dense cover. Listen for the distinctive bright warbling of the male to root them out.

On Doublehorn Ranch, where he lives with partner and fellow birder Robyn Richter, he has spotted some of his favorite birds: painted buntings and vermilion flycatchers. At Inks Dam National Fish Hatchery, one of his favorite places to go birding, he saw a black-and-white warbler. 

“That one really stood out in my mind,” he said when asked about his most memorable birding experience. “But, if you ask a real birder about their most special sighting, they’ll tell you it’s the last bird they’ve seen. They are all special.” 

Black-and-white warbler
Black-and-white warbler: Easy to spot and recognize because of its distinctive markings, it is a favorite of beginning birders. Feeds low and nests on the ground.

Although Reimer claims he’s an amateur at best, he is a devoted birder and researcher, diving into books on conservation and protection of birds.

“We have been losing so many species,” he said. “The statistics are grim on how many birds we have lost.” 

According to the National Audubon Society, North America has lost more than one in four birds in the past 50 years, which includes many backyard favorites not on the endangered species list.

Reimer’s own personal research points to climate change and loss of habitat, mainly through human interference. He noted, however, that people’s ideas about animals, including birds, have improved greatly over the years. 

“When I was 16 years old, a friend of the family told me he had shot a pileated woodpecker and asked if I wanted to see it,” Reimer said. “I said no. Now, people realize that we are all connected to birds. All things are connected. People did things back then they wouldn’t think of doing now.”

Pileated woodpeckers are the largest woodpeckers in the United States, almost the size of crows. After the extinction of its relative, the ivory-billed woodpecker, it is no longer legal to shoot them — at least with guns.

Birders still shoot — with cameras, of course — capturing images they can pore over later to compare the coloring, size, and distinctive markings that differentiate one type of bird from another.

“Birding is a lifetime vocation,” Reimer said. “It’s impossible to learn it all, and it never grows old.” 

suzanne@thepicayune.com

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