I come from a long line of hunters on my Dad’s side of the family.
If hunting was genetic, I would know all the game seasons, keep my licenses current, my guns cleaned, and have multiple mounted animal heads on my walls. But, as far as I know there is no hunting gene. I don’t have any hunting licenses and never did. I have no hunting guns and I only have a vague idea of when deer season is. My grandfather Johnnie loved to go off on hunting trips in various parts of Texas depending on what he was hunting. Sometimes my grandma Mary would go and sometimes my brother would go. When I was about 11, I went on one trip down to Pearsall, Texas. My grandparents gave me a chance to try shooting a shotgun. I was not prepared for the kick and was reduced to tears by the jolt and surprise of it. That was my first and my last hunting trip. I would rather observe and wonder at animals of all sorts and don’t have it in me to kill them.
So, I never became a hunter, and contrary to rumor, I was not named Betty after my grandfather Johnnie’s hunting dog “Betty.”
I did eat some of the game they brought home. We almost always had something wild in the freezer. My favorite was quail. I didn’t like the venison and I didn’t like duck or dove.
I think about hunting doves a lot these days because of the White winged doves that tend to dominate our backyard feeders.
These birds are easy to identify by their large size and the distinctive white edges to the wings. If you look just a bit closer you will see how handsome they can be with beautiful blue skin around the eyes and bright pink legs and feet.
White winged doves have moved from south Texas to much farther north. When I was a kid we never saw them here in Austin. Now they are everywhere and seem to have pushed away most of the smaller Mourning and Inca doves. According to a year 2000 Spring Breeding Survey there were 264,000 White winged doves here in Travis County! That was almost 20 years ago and I imagine there are more now, many of them in my backyard at times. It is believed that changing south Texas agriculture, loss of habitat, and hunting pressure have all contributed to the birds moving north.*
In Spring there are almost always blooms of color in our yard, especially in certain areas where I see my late mother’s magic. 20 years ago my mother dug up some spiderwort plants in her yard and brought them to me for our new garden. As I planted them I had no idea if they would survive, let alone reproduce. I also had no idea how special this simple motherly housewarming gift really was. Each February since then the purple spiderwort flowers bloom. By late March they have taken over large sections of the backyard. I wake up in the morning and look out the window at a small sea of purple heads on green stalks.
Spiderworts are in the family Commelinaceae and the genus Tradescantia. They are native to North America but the genus was named after John Tradescantia, a 17th century naturalist and gardener to King Charles the 1st of England. Someone in North America sent some spiderwort seeds to Tradescantia in England. The plants are still grown in English gardens. I can imagine a member of the royal family admiring the spiderworts in their gardens 300 years ago.
My mother died in 2010. I still miss her every day. But, I don’t feel sad when I see the spiderworts. Instead, I smile and see her reborn in each lovely purple flower.
I am a birder. There is almost nothing I enjoy more than heading to a local park (or my backyard) to see what might be flitting about. But, I didn’t come by this love of birds naturally. Oh, I enjoyed helping my grandmother fill her bird feeders with cracked corn and she taught me what a cardinal was. But, I really just wanted to watch the squirrels. I was a mammal person. I loved spotting deer in fields during drives in the Texas hill country. I was thrilled when I first saw a fox cross the road. It wasn’t until I was a volunteer with a local wildlife rescue group that I began to appreciate birds. More baby birds and injured birds came into our care than mammals. I started to learn to identify birds and learned about their needs and behavior. It was seeing them close up that made all the difference.
This time of year one of my favorite birds to look for is the Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum). I will hear their sweet high pitched notes above and look up and see a flock of up to several dozen birds land in a tree. At a distance they may just be dark silhouettes with a crest on their heads and they don’t look particularly interesting. If the light is good and the binoculars handy, their beauty is revealed. Against a blue sky they are magnificent looking with a black face mask, red wing tips, and a bright yellow tail tip.
Cedar Waxwing in Burr Oak (photo by Betty McCreary)
I wonder what or who else in the world I might learn to appreciate by looking a little closer?