Marybeth Lima Talks About Birding

Early spring is a great time for birding—many birds in Louisiana, as well as in other states, are out in full force. Marybeth Lima, avid birder and author of the forthcoming Adventures of a Louisiana Birder, talks about some good books for those interested in getting into this fun sport.

Louisiana’s highway 82, a great spot for spotting some of Louisiana’s coastal birds. Photo courtesy Marybeth Lima.

It is April, high tide for birding in south Louisiana. At this time of year, one of my favorite places to bird is on state highways in rural Louisiana, where traffic is only occasional and you can hear a car coming long before you see it. Here, anything can happen in April. 

A highway is a human intrusion, a palpable, pseudo-permanent stamp which reminds me of the precarious balance between human and environment. This balance, often and unfortunately, tips toward human at the expense of the rest of the ecosystem. Even so, I tend to think of a road as a strip of human invitation, not only to me, but to everything that might happen upon it.

I once stood on a state highway with the impending sunset lighting up the marsh grass as a black rail repeatedly sounded off its full, three-note call, a vocal testament that this elusive, near threatened species has more than a toehold in the southwestern corner of the state.

A male lark bunting. Source.

On another spring day, James Holmes, Jr., located a male lark bunting standing on the edge of Highway 82; I was in the first group of birders he found after he raced down the highway to find others to share with. Although this Louisiana rarity was gone some eight minutes after James spotted it, for that instant, captured by photograph, the black bird with white wing patches danced with the black asphalt and white fog line, maybe saying thank you to solid ground.

A highway to me signifies exploration; both are themes in my new book Adventures of a Louisiana Birder: One Year, Two Wings, 300 Species. I wrote this book over the course of five years and was inspired by many birders and writers along the way.

Mark Obmascik’s The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature, and Fowl Obsession, is the book that, more than any other, facilitated my transformation from casual to serious birder. This tale of the adventures and experiences of three men trying to break the North American birding record for the most species seen in a year fired my own interest in seeing new species and visiting new places far beyond my local parks.

A Birder’s Guide to Louisiana, the book by Richard Gibbons, Roger Breedlove, and Charles Lyon, provided detailed, immensely helpful information on where to bird in the state, how to get there, and what to expect. My use of this book has been so frequent that I have bent the cover, oiled the pages, and deposited enough DNA that the book probably knows my identity. This book provides insight into John James Audubon’s attachment to what he deemed “magnificent Louisiana!” Whether you endeavor to explore Louisiana’s coastal zone, piney woods, bottomland hardwood forests, lakes, or Mississippi River battures and levees, this guide can take you there.

Louisiana is an amazing place to bird in all seasons, especially in the spring. Even after almost 20 years as a birder, this place and its roadways still take my breath away.

Professor of biological and agricultural engineering at Louisiana State University, Marybeth Lima is author of Building Playgrounds, Engaging Communities: Creating Safe and Happy Places for Children and coauthor of Play On! Evidence-based Playground Activities and Service-Learning: Engineering in Your Community. Her book, Adventures of a Louisiana Birder, is due out from LSU Press in May 2019.

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