Sherry Bixler once spent three days sleeping on a wooden platform in Panama eating nothing but plantains, all to peer at birds through her binoculars. Birding has taken Bixler to Africa (eight times!), Bali, New Guinea, Southeast Asia, and even Antarctica, but it was a long-billed curlew spotted on Padre Island in Texas that ignited her passion for birding.
“I know for most people I talk to or help with birding, normally, when they get serious, it’s because they saw one particular bird,” she said. “When I saw that bird, I didn’t even know there was a bird with a bill like that! It really caught my attention.”
Plenty of amazing, unusual, and even rare birds can be found here in the Highland Lakes, Bixler said. Some of her favorite spots to bird are Inks Dam National Fish Hatchery, Haley-Nelson Park in Burnet, and Johnson Park in Marble Falls. The Burnet park is home to great horned owls, while the Marble Falls park provides a plethora of water fowl to identify and catalog.
A rare sighting of a least grebe recently occurred in Johnson Park. Common in tropical wetlands, least grebes are usually — and rarely — only seen in the United States in far South Texas.
COVID-19 restrictions have kept Bixler from spreading her love of birding. Before the pandemic, she regularly took beginning birders with her on excursions or surveys on ranches and at the fish hatchery. For now, she encourages anyone interested to step into their backyard or nearby park to see what they can spot on their own.
“I went out with a bird book to the (Balcones Canyonlands National) Wildlife Refuge every Saturday and learned it on my own,” she said. “You can do that, too.”