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Birding in the Highland Lakes: Novice Maria Whitsett waxes poetic

Highland Lakes birder Maria Whitsett

Maria Whitsett of Marble Falls on a birding excursion in the city’s Johnson Park, one of the favorite spots for members of the Highland Lakes Birding and Wildflower Society. Staff photo by Daniel Clifton

A notice in The Picayune about a raptor release turned Maria Whitsett of Marble Falls into a beginning birder. Sponsored by the Highland Lakes Birding and Wildflower Society, the release was on the Vanishing Texas River Cruise on Lake Buchanan. 

“It was priceless, and it was right here in the Highland Lakes,” she said. 

Only two years into her birding hobby, Whitsett is still a relative newcomer to the sport. She took up birding in retirement because she was looking for something to do outdoors. Local birding excursions led by the society perfectly fit the bill. 

“These incredibly skilled birders lead us out on walks around the parks, and they could see things so much faster than the rest of us,” she said. “I got to see my first great horned owls at Haley-Nelson Park (in Burnet).” 

Rufous hummingbird
Rufous hummingbird: The males are bright orange, the females greener. It is known for chasing away other hummingbirds, even when migrating. iStock image

Whitsett has her own superpower when it comes to birding. 

“I can hear birds sometimes that others can’t,” she said. “I don’t necessarily know what they are, but I can orient the sound and find them.” 

She considers herself a student of nature and birds the most interesting part of her favorite subject. 

“Birds are so beautiful to look at — they are such a marvel to see,” she said. “To me, they are expressive; they have personalities. They do things that are amazing, and they are all around us.”

The accessibility of birds in the Highland Lakes makes the hobby even more exciting. Since birding, she has spotted a vermilion flycatcher and rufous hummingbirds in her backyard, the smaller bird “glowing like a bright new copper penny.” 

Vermilion flycatcher
Vermilion flycatcher: Will sit still for long periods of time watching for flying insects, which it catches in midair with a quick sally. It usually returns to the same perch afterward. iStock image

Her description of the vermilion flycatcher is just as poetic.

“You couldn’t miss that intense orangey red,” she said. “I liken it to the end of a hot poker heated up in a fireplace, that glowing orange red.”

One of her favorite locations for birding is Inks Dam National Fish Hatchery, which provides food and water to attract more birds. 

“The last time we went to the fish hatchery, the hummingbirds were migrating,” Whitsett said. “They were flying inside the bird blind. I had a hummingbird five inches from my face. It was a phenomenal experience.”