INTERVIEWEES: Marjorie Adams (MA) and, occasionally, Red Adams (RA)
INTERVIEWER: David Todd (DT)
DATE: July 21, 1998
LOCATION: Austin, Texas
TRANSCRIBERS: Lacy Goldsmith and Robin Johnson
Note: numbers below refer to time codes for the audio tape copy of the interview.
DT: This is David Todd. It’s July 21st 1998. We’re here in Austin, Texas and have the good fortune to be here with Red Adams and his wife Marj Adams. And we’re going to spend most of the time visiting with Marj who has made a number of contributions often in tandem with her husband. But she’s well known for her work on Bird Column and for a film as well about the warbler. And I wanted to thank you for taking this time to talk about Texas conservation and hopefully that we dredge up some memories.
MA: Yeah but we’ll see what happens.
DT: Well thank you very much. I’d like to begin with a little bit about your education and upbringing. And I was wondering if you could tell me a little bit about your parents and early friends and how they might have helped you get an interest in conservation.
MA: Well you know you’re using the word conservation and back in those days I doubt that word ever passed anybody’s lips. It was not something that was in the public consciousness I don’t think. I never—I don’t—I doubt my parents ever used the word. And they were from a small town and used to living, you know, closer to nature than you do in the city. But my mother was an artist and a poet and a musician and she loved to paint the Texas landscapes. And so we would go out sometimes as a family and the kids trailing along and she would paint. And so we also had a relative, my father had an uncle, my great uncle who had a ranch out from—at Sisterdale which is out from—about
fifty miles from San Antonio I believe something like that, a little settlement in there. And we would go out there fairly often and I st—I would go out and stay a week or two in the summers when I was a kid and just prowl all over the whole place. It’s a wonder I didn’t get snake bitten. My—my great aunt had never had any children, she had no idea about how they might behave out by themselves and she—I—she just—I guess she thought that I would be all right. But it’s amazing, I went all over the hills out there.
DT: What would you see?
DT: What would you see out there?
MA: Oh I would have myself a stalk of the twisted leafy oak or something like that that I would break off to make me a staff. And then I’d have the two ranch dogs to go with me, and maybe that’s why I never got snake bitten. And I would find lizards and rabbits and, you know, walk along and find rocks I liked and pick flowers. I don’t know, I just like to get up—I’d cl—I’d like to climb up on high place. I always wanted to get up and—get up on top and look, you know, and that must be a human instinct everywhere. But that’s—my mother’s interest in nature I guess that’s one of the influences. But I always had a garden. I’d bring—from the time I was twelve years old, I can remember having a garden myself. And I don’t know how I got started or why, I just—I bring in wildflowers and whatever. I plant stuff. I get out and work in the yard with big old digging fork and
I’d have to stand on it with both feet and mother would say, Marj don’t do that, the neighbors will think I’m making you do it, you know. And so—but I—I—I loved all that stuff. I built meself—myself a tree house, I’d go climb up in the t—tree house after school. So I don’t know—but as far as conservation or the environment or trying to protect it, anything like that, that was just not thought of, it’s—it’s not there.
DT: Did you have any teachers that encouraged you?
MA: Oh I had a teacher that became my other mother and I kept up with her ‘till she died. And she was just the most dear person in the world and—but you know that—that—she taught English and she had no influence in that direction at all.
DT: Did you have any mentors or heroes that you might have read about?
MA: Well I—I can remember reading. We had not very many books in our house but we had the Book of Knowledge, old, old, old one. And I would read things about some of the outdoor activities. And then later I can remember reading Walden but as far as having anyone—any kind—it wasn’t like being in Girl Scouts, nothing like that, you know. This is long ago, you have to remember this is a long time ago.
DT: The golden age I’m sure. What sort of work did you do before you started writing?
MA: Well I started writing when I was twelve. And my first little story was published in a school paper and it was about a lion that was tamed in a circus. He thought he was a person. He had grown up, you know, from cubhood. He was not a really wild lion at all. And he got out of the—the train—the circus train had a wreck and he got out of the cage and was out in the countryside and he was wanting people to help him and every time he—ev—everybody was scared of him, you know, because they thought, oh he’s going to eat us up. But he was a nice tame lion if they’d just realize it. And I don’t remember how it ever ended but anyhow, that was my first story—my first published story was in the school paper.
DT: Well I hope it had a happy ending.
MA: Well we—we will hope so because that’s long gone.
DT: As you grew up did you write professionally?
MA: I just can’t—I guess my first—my first published story was in Austin American Statesman I guess but I—I can’t remember anything up—before that. But it’s about the old Reimers family here—here that owned Hamilton Pool and I wrote about grandma and grandpa Reimers who had been married I think it was seventy years, an extraordinary length of time. Red and I’ve been married sixty-five. And so—and so anyhow why I wrote that but Ruth Honeycutt who became Goddard lately—later was living on the ranch there and so she introduced me to the Reimers. And so I put her name on the story too, you know, as an author but I wrote it—I wrote it and it was in the American Statesman. And so that was my first one I guess. And I did—I wrote feature articles then here and there fo—everything from the cattle run and the ranch—let’s see sheep and goat and the—and the—the Houston Post and old Texas Parade, I don’t remember, little—little ole things, you know, way back there. And…
DT: About all sorts of topics or nature related things?
MA: Oh well yes I—I—I remember that I wrote—I wrote about the range riders that were hard to patrol the border, to keep the foot and mouth disease out of the country. And so I wrote about that and was—I offered it to the Saturday Evening Post and they turned it down and they immediately took and changed the locale to New Mexico and put one of their writers on it and they ran the story, that sort of thing.
MA: Yeah—but—and I did some photography. So I—I sold a big page—full page picture of a mocking bird—baby mocking bird to Look Magazine so that was a bird thing way back there. That—that bird thought I was its mama. I was on its way to—to the university one morning and here was this bird crawling out of the nest. And it was just—I picked it up, it was just there on the ground, not unhap—unhappy, you know, little baby bird so I picked it up. It was just covered with mites. Well I knew I—I couldn’t go with mites to (?) class, I couldn’t take him to class. So I just skipped class and came back and dropped him off at home and dusted him and—and raised him. And—and so he—I could take him outdoors and he would fly around in the yard and then I could call him and he’d come to me and I’d just bring him back in the house. So I had quite a little experience with that little bird. And I did sell a full-page story—picture about him where I fed him with a little tiny—one of those little tiny coffee spoons, you know. I—he—I could walk in the room and he’d just open his bill automatically, just you know, be like this and squawked that he was ready to be fed. So that’s one of my first bird experiences long, long ago but—and…
DT: And then later on you started writing the Bird World column in the mid ‘60s, is that right? What got you started on writing that column?
MA: Well I began to write an occasional column for the paper about birds just, you know, just offering it to them and—and then I got hooked on—on, you know, the thing was that Red and I upset our lives completely. I gave him a pair of binoculars and he gave me Roger Peterson’s new book, The Birds of Texas, came out in 1960. And suddenly we both just went crazy, I did especially on birds and I didn’t want to do anything but chase birds. I just—you could—I’ve seen a few cases like that where people get started with birds and they go nuts and I was one of them. I just—that’s all I wanted to do was chase birds.
DT: What was the appeal?
MA: They were just so gorgeous. You know, I was an art major and so I appreciated their design and their differences and adaptations in—in a way I guess that a scientist wouldn’t at all. I’d never had any science. I—I had one science class in my whole life which was in junior high school. I never looked inside a science building. I never had any science. So—but anyhow I was already writing and publishing. And so I decided that I would write a—a column about birds and, oh my, it was going to be the most glorious whole big new thing for the whole world. It wasn’t just going to be something for Marjorie Adams. I was going to write a column for all the papers in the country about, you know, for—about birds and—and I called it Bird World. And the—the really crazy thing about it is that I didn’t know anything about birds, you know. I—I don’t
know how people can go so totally crazy. But anyhow, I did begin studying birds all the time and I began to talk to all the bird people and visit with—we went on Audubon field trips and so on. Red—Red and I together. Red became President of the Audubon Society in fact and so…
DT: The Travis Audubon Society?
MA: Yeah, uh huh. So we were very active in that so I—I got together. It—the common thing was to put together a thirteen week thing to make a presentation. And so I got together a thirteen week presentation and about that time, we went to Florida and, of course, that’s exactly what I wanted was to go and look at all the birds in Florida from the great white herons up or down and Red was very cooperative. He was—he—you see he loved the outdoors from the time he was born because he was born in the…
RA: I was born in the Big Thicket…
MA: ..he was born in the Big thicket and…
RA: About halfway between the Natchez and the Trinity River.
MA: So he—he—he’s began to hunt by the time he could drag a gun behind him. And he began to fish everywhere and he was all over the woods there from the time he was just knee-high to a duck. And so he loved the same things I did. So when we went to Florida why he was all for it, here we would go and, you know, see all the birds in Florida. So he had a little period in there where we could stay. Well I had gotten this little package together of Bird World and we ran into Alexander Sprunt—Sprunt, IV, known as Sandy Sprunt. And he was living in Tavernier, Florida there stationed, you might say, with Audubon Society, helping to try to protect the birds in the area because, of course, a great bird area—Florida is one of the great birding areas. And so when we visited with him he not only told us where there was a nest for the swallow tail kite, that beautiful, gorgeous, magnificent, amazing bird, but he agreed to look my columns over. And, you know, critique them, and—which was just the biggest boon in the world for me.
Well when he sent them back to me, which was very soon, he said they were good. He didn’t correct anything except he said that it might be better for me to say that there were more wild turkeys now than before the white man came. He—I had said it some other way, I don’t remember what, but that it was better maybe to say before the white man came there were—there are more turkeys now than then. And, of course, that was because of clearing the white man had done you see. But he gave me an A okay on my columns which just thrilled me to death but you see I had taken my books, I looked everything up, I studied everything. I was always on honor roll in school, I was one of those people that wanted to get the facts and wanted to do well, wanted to learn, wanted
to be right. And so it was an easy thing for me to do research. So I did back up my work with research. So anyhow, when we got home, I took this same little packet of my columns to Charlie Green down at the paper. And I—I was scared to death of him and I said, Mr. Green would you be so kind as to look at these things I’ve written and please give me some advice about them? I don’t—I want to do something with them and I don’t know what to do and what—how to go about it? He took them into his office and told me to sit down here and he went right to reading them right then, which astonished me. Well I sat there and I waited and I waited quite some time and he came out and I was waiting to hear what he had to say. And he said, Marjorie, I’ll buy these. Wow. It was just all I could do to keep from hugging him, you know. I’d just met him, I couldn’t hug him but I almost did. And I didn’t know what to—I really was amazed. So on the—on the basis of that, I got my stuff together and I got—in those days you had to mimeograph everything you know, there wasn’t such a thing as a Xerox. So I got my stuff all Xeroxed
and there was a myriad of copies and you had to collate them by hand. We spread them out on a big table and we just collated and collated and collated and got all this into packages and I sent them off to some of the major mo—a good many of the major newspapers in the country with a resume and how smart I was you know, all that. And it cost quite a bit of money and a lot of time and effort. And it was a total flop, just a total flop. They didn’t even—they didn’t even bother to send anything back or they didn’t bother to answer or anything. It just—it just boom—so—so I—I—but you know that it didn’t kill my spirit. I went ahead and began to call on other papers and I got into the Waco paper and (?) there, at first was just going to turn me down I think and I said, well you know Charlie Green is buying this and he said, Charlie’s buying this? He said, well I’ll give it a fling too and so I got a second paper. And so then Red took—took some
time off and we got us a twenty-two foot travel trailer, in fact, we were living in it now, we had sold our house and we were vagabonds but he would—he had a job. But anyhow, why he took some time off and we headed for California by way of Wit—Wichita Falls, you know, up that way around. Anyhow, we called on papers on the way up and went and called on a Wichita Falls paper I went in and I was absolutely dumbstruck to find out that the editor there, Ray Howard, loved birds and that was just unbelievable. So, in fact, he was so happy to meet someone to talk birds with and he had just gotten a letter from President Johnson and it was saying thank you for the bird feeder that you gave us when you came to the ranch the last time. And—and there was some sort of a note in there somewhere about well I don’t think I’m going to feed all those damn sparrows either.
Anyhow it turned—seemed that Ladybird was going ahead and keeping this feeder going but anyhow it—it turns out that Ray Howard was much impressed with the fact that I was writing and he wanted to help us out. And they gave us a big write up in the paper in Wichita Falls and we gave a program and so on and we got so much publicity. We—and so I arranged—we arranged to go on a fieldtrip there. In fact, I happened—I helped to get them started on a nature club. They had no—no thing like that and through the pap—through my column, I said if you will give me your name, write into the paper and give me your name and—and—and permission, I will—and I—I’ll—I’ll put you in touch with other people if they’ll all write to me and I’ll put you in touch with each other to where
you can go ahead and form a group. And so I helped them form their bird club up there called the Bird Nature Club I think it is, but North Texas, I believe some, Bird Nature Club. But anyhow, I’m still an honorary member I think. But I was astonished when we set up this field trip that people came from all ages and sizes. A woman came and carried her—her little tiny baby with a little three year old along by here her but she was going to tag along, she was going to make it regardless. We had a man that was in his business suit. He had come for all the time he could spare before he we—went to work. He just wanted to stay so bad but he had to go on and go to work but he came in his business suit to the field trip. And they were just wonderful to us and—and I was amazed at the birds they had there, very good birds in the Wichita Falls area. And when I—when we left after the field trip, this is when I had had my column there a while, you see, and—and a lady I had never seen before came up to me and said, I wanted to give you this. She gave me a beautiful wrapped gift and she says, I love you. And I said, well it’s worth it to write for the papers, I don’t care if I don’t get any money. Out of my three papers, I was going to make ninety-six dollars a month.
DT: So the three ones you started with were Austin, Wichita Falls, and Waco. Were there other papers as well as you went on?
MA: Yeah I gathered hither there, then I’d lose them and whatnot. It was the biggest struggle, you can’t imagine. I could walk into an editors office and—and they would say, I—I came to you to talk about birds. I said I—I have—I brought you a column about birds called Bird World, it’s about birds in the environment and we’re getting some success with it. This is a—it’s about a game, it’s about the bird and spo—the game and sport called birding which is what my column was about, the game and sport of birding which was just catching fire. It—it had been in the east and was slowly moving west like the original settlement of the country except that it went in a very fast rate to California. But I—they would look at me—here is this—here’s this woman, what’s she talking about? It must—she sounds silly to me. We just sometimes—they would nearly always be courteous but I’d say well, I’ll send you some samples and you see—see how they turn out. And I’d leave them a sample of this but it was just—there just wasn’t a market. And so eventually I got into the San Angelo paper and into the—let’s see, the Houston Post, the man there kept saying, I’m going to find space for you eventually Marjorie.
And he wrote me a letter one day and said, Marjorie your perseverance is amazing and he said, I would like to go ahead and give you space in the paper, take your column on space available. And so, of course, that was my best paper and I was very pleased to have it. But unless you go into the area again and work right straight with a lot of people there, if you don’t get enough mail, you’re out of luck. And then when I—we went to the—I—when I went into the Victoria paper and we later went down and visited with the editor, they got us a police escort to take us out to the park where we could stay for the night in our trailer. And they sounded the siren and took us through the town to get us out to the park and we set up out there. I can remember we heard the barn owls that night because
we don’t have those here but we were over there far enough east, you know, to get the barn owl and oh, that was so wonderful to hear them calling as we went to sleep there in the park. But the people turned out in droves there and we—I helped to start their Golden—their nature club there the same way I did it in Wichita Falls. I said write to the paper and we’ll get you in touch with each other. And then first thing you know and so we had quite a few of those people of that bird club to come up and visit us at our place in the country you see. So we—we—we made friends over and over with different people. It was amazing how many doctors are birders. It’s—it’s—it seems to give them a release or maybe they’re already interested in anatomy or something, I don’t know, but there are a good many doctors that become birders.
DT: Can you tell a little bit about the sort of typical profile of a birder and if you’re a reader, when you were sitting down to write who would you think of in your mind?
MA: Well I’ll tell you this, I was determined to start a beginners bird walk here in Austin. And so I think this would be a perfect example of who would be in that kind of thing. I—I—I’ve explored and we started at the bathhouse at—at Barton Springs and then we crossed over the dam and went to the other side of the creek. And I had arranged—I took a hoe and rake and went over and cut a trail enough to go on that side and go all the way down to the river from there. And so I promised them I—I don’t remember, maybe—maybe ten species of birds. I—I gave them—I said I’m going to guarantee you that you’ll have this many species of birds on this trip. Well I had an eight year old and I had and an eighty year old—an eight year old and an eight year old and
in—all in between and that’s the same way with the column. I got letters from a little boy twelve years old, you know, he—he’s lived out on a farm. And he—he saw a lot of birds and he would write me, you know. And then I—some old woman that’s maybe a widow. And she has a bird feeder out and she spends a lot of time watching the birds and all. I just have—and then, of course, we have the gung ho young men that were just, I—I got them, I wrote about them a lot because when—when you get into it as a sport, it is a sport. I mean, you can just wear yourself down to a nub working for birds.
DT: Can you describe some of the professional birders, the people who took it very seriously, what they were like, maybe some of the ones that you met?
MA: I interviewed all kinds of people from Roger Peterson. The first time I interviewed Rog—Roger, I was so in awe of him I could—I just—I—I—I—but do you know that he—he was the most natural person and—and very kind and—and very easy to talk to. And he was very worried about a friend, our mutual friend, Irby Davis who was a big birder in—in the valley and who, in fact, finally had a book club issued about the birds of Mexico. I think Peterson had gone with him maybe to Mexico, I don’t know that for sure, but he thought a great deal of Irby. Irby had recorded so many of the birds in Mexico for the ornithologist, oh now see when you get to be 84 you—it’s the name you forget, but it’s an ornithological—the—the main one in old—old days up there in the east. And so the—well I, in fact, I—when—when you asked me about Connie Hager, I
looked in my file and here was this wonderful interview I had with her, oh, way back there and she was taking in her own words and just the most straightforward way and just, she was so generous with her time and all. I thought, you couldn’t help but be influenced by her because she had just devoted her time to birds. She was very fortunate in that she didn’t have to worry about money I don’t think or…
[End Side A, Tape 1]
MA: …was very worried about a friend, our mutual friend, Irby Davis who was a big birder in—in the valley and who, in fact, finally had a book club issued about the birds of Mexico. I think Peterson had gone with him maybe to Mexico, I don’t know that for sure, but he thought a great deal of Irby. Irby had recorded so many of the birds in Mexico for the ornithologist, oh now see when you get to be 84 you—it’s the name you forget, but it’s an ornithological—the—the main one in old—old days up there in the east. And so the—well I, in fact, I—when—when you asked me about Connie Hager, I looked in my file and here was this wonderful interview I had with her, oh, way back there and she was taking in her own words and just the most straightforward way and
just, she was so generous with her time and all. I thought, you couldn’t help but be influenced by her because she had just devoted her time to birds. She was very fortunate in that she didn’t have to worry about money I don’t think or responsibility. She didn’t have any children. She had a loving husband that apparently took care of all the business affairs. And so she could spend her time with birds, which she did. And it’s amazing the discoveries and things. I’m sure you’ve heard about her, she’s just one of the miracle birders of the state. She—she described birds that had never even been suspected. She said, in fact, that she had told people how the warblers and that migrants would just come and walk around her feet, you know, and people thought that was the most ridiculous thing they ever heard. And she said when Roger Peterson came and he stood in my yard and the birds literally just walked around his feet, he almost died because they were so tired, you see, coming from across the gulf, they just wanted anything they could eat and they could—could hardly fly from you if you tried to chase them or anything. They’re just too worn out. So it—they are a—quite an experience. Well I’m just—I’m just taking off and I—you may want me to talk about some other things.
DT: Let’s talk about some of your cohorts in the nature writing business, both some of those that might have been journalists who wrote real regularly smaller pieces and maybe some who wrote longer pieces, novels and…
MA: Well, of course, I—I lost Bedichek, I was scared to death—I was always in awe of everybody that had—was the least bit well-known or famous or rich or whatever. I was always in awe of them. And so—but I just thought he was the most wonderful person and I was very fortunate that I got to visit with him a good many times and we—we became—I would say we became friends. But as far as bird people, when I was in my early writing, I just don’t remember any people like that. They all wrote about quail and doves and, you know, turkeys and things you could shoot. And, of course, I’m married to a hunter and I have eaten my share of quail and doves and turkeys and venison and I’ve—I haven’t stopped fussing at him yet for not getting a deer this past year. We always feel it’s our duty to kill a deer every year, you know, we’re getting over populated so bad and he didn’t kill a deer this last time. But anyhow—
MA: …no he did go and he didn’t get one. But anyhow, you know, you—you kept using the word conservation and that just wasn’t in the books. It’s—that’s—that was after the—that began—that began in the ‘60s and as far as our part of our life together.
DT: Could you tell me, I guess there were some groups that you help start that were concerned about conservation.
MA: Well we made—we did lots of programs, we did a lot of programs.
DT: What were the sort of problems that got them interested in the issue?
MA: Well people would get attracted to birds the way we were, you know, just because they’re beautiful and fun and—and, you know, that sort of thing and then they would begin to realize, I—I especially would always try to tell people that if you want the birds they’ve got to have a place to make a living, you know. The birds are out there and that’s where he makes his living. So that’s one of the things but it’s—we just didn’t have a lot of—a lot of groups in the earlier days. As I say, we had Audubon, then we got into the Texas Ornithological Society and there were—now, for instance, my editor at the San Antonio Express wrote—had the outdoor page so that was about everything outdoors (?). He always stuck up for me real well. Sometimes people had to stand up to the publisher to—to keep the story in there, you know, and he always stood up for me very well.
DT: Can you talk a little bit about that, some of the criticism that you got about some of your articles as being improper some way?
MA: No, it—the people that read me—I did have a woman in San Antonio to write and say, I wish you would write more about the birds here in San Antonio. Well see I was writing about the birds everywhere all over the state and in California and wherever else I went and—but I—I—I—that’s what—I guess that’s the only criticism I ever got in all the years I was writing. Except one of my editors kept telling me, one in Wichita Falls kept saying, Marjorie, I think you’ll do better if you write about the birds and not about the people. But, you know, people like to see their paint—their—their name mentioned in print, they love that very much. And he just didn’t seem to realize that that’s where—after all, the birds are not reading it, just like (inaudible) Golden Cheek Warbler. The warblers don’t vote and—and the birds are not reading it. It’s the people that are reading
it. So I did have real qualms sometimes about writing the environmental issues. The—I kept trying to go into the Beaumont Enterprise and when I would go down there and talk to the editor there, he’d say, Marjorie I read every single one of your columns, they’re great. And I’d say, why aren’t you publishing them then? Why aren’t you buying them? He says, they can never go in this paper. And it—it’s because of the—the readership there and the political climate and so on there, he just thought that it, you know, it would bring the wrath of the public down on the paper. So your—your column could never go there. And so I never got it there but anyhow.
DT: And the concern was that this was a sissy, unmanly kind of sport or too controversial, too political?
MA: It’s just too political a lot of it, you know, that you’re butting into the peo—the—the environment is not the newspaper’s business in other words, you know, that sort of thing. And when it came time for me to write about the Texas water plan, I suffered—I—I sweated blood, I mean, oh, I thought—I researched and researched, I thought and I thought, and I said well I just can’t write about this, I won’t have a paper left. And—but I said I have to write about it, I know I have to write about it because it’s too important.
DT: Can you explain a little bit about what the Texas water plan was.
MA: It was the biggest boondoggle that was ever created where they were going to take water out of the Mississippi River and pipe it over into west Texas through all kinds of channels and have all kinds of dams here and it was—you cannot imagine, it would have torn up—it would have been one of the biggest projects to tear up the earth that ever existed and made a lot of people rich I’m sure. And so I got it out and reread it after you said something about it because I had forgotten myself. And so I sat down and I had only the—you know, about a page and a half to write, that’s what I was limited to with space. And I took that and wrote about it and I mailed it and I said, well I guess I won’t have a paper left. When I talked to my editor there in Wichita Falls he said, Marjorie I never understood this plan until I read your article so…
RA: Never understood what baby?
MA: Never understood the Texas water plan until I read your article. And so it—it was well—it—it was well received after all. It did—it did a service.
DT: Let’s talk a little bit about the birds because that was really, I guess, your focus through thick and thin and one of your real expertise areas. One of the rarest birds nowadays is the Attwater’s greater prairie chicken and you reported back in 1968 I think about them booming in Eagle Lake which is one of the great shows of nature and…
MA: Yeah, I gave directions where to drive along the highway to look in to watch it, you know.
DT: Well tell me about that, tell me about the prairie chickens and their problems.
MA: Well I had no idea, I have not followed that through as a way I have the birds—the warbler – so much. Apparently there’s just been too much loss of habitat and if you get a population too small your—your gene pool gets smaller see. And that’s what’s so scary when they begin to get into smaller numbers because, you know, biodiversity is the absolute basis of—of nature, you just have to have biodiversity. So that’s probably one of the major reasons but—but also we’ve had a lot of pesticides and stuff. But I have not kept up with the prairie chicken. I know that when we went to the refuge or I—I went to the refuge while Red was goose hunting and I just took one of the wives with me and we drove into our truck over into the refuge for the prairie chicken. And we didn’t see or hear anything. And it was not—it was a pretty lonely place. And so I don’t know
whether they’re going to be able to save it or not. But we, of course, were living in the hill country so much and chasing for so—particular birds in certain areas, you know, you’ll go look for a special bird like, you know, that you have to go to that place to see it, like if you go to see the—what was then called Everglades (?), you went to the Everglades. And if you’re going to see a prairie chicken, you’d probably go to the prairie chicken refuge or somewhere like that. So you have to go—birds pick where they like to live and then—and you have to go where they are. So we—we would chase birds to different places for a particular reasons for our own (?). We—we’re playing a game all the time.
DT: Can we just take a little detour and talk about the game and chasing birds. You mentioned you lived in a trailer a good many months of the year. What was that like?
MA: Well it was our only home for a while. We had a four bedroom, two bath home overlooking Peace Park, thirteen blocks from the Capitol. And we raised the children there. And then I got—I—my parents both died close to each other and they had lived next door all these years. So my—if my kids didn’t like the way I was handling them, they could all run over to grandmother and granddaddy and—and they would tend to take sympathy for them and—and, you know. So when my parents died, we had lived there together so long and the children both married and were gone in a—in a year’s time, we had no responsibilities. And so we just decided to sell the house and we had the place in the country which is so beautiful and we—we did have a little tiny cabin on the place and, in fact, there’s a picture there of our place that I got out just especially to show to
you that’s, you see, this is—that’s what we call our swimming pool. This—it’s behind this—this is the diving rock here and the pool is back in there. And there’s a waterfall over that. And then there’s Red feeding the fish with a—with the photographer’s daughter. But it’s—it’s—it was called by the nature conservancy, one of the last great places. And they ran the picture of it in their—one of their advertisements, you know, in one of the magazines. So anyhow, have you gotten it? But anyhow, we’ve had that place since 19—we’ve been going to it since 1935 and we bought it in 1941. So that place is a spiritual home for our children and our family. And so we had that beautiful place and so we just said, well we’ll sell the house and we’ll have a travel trailer and we’ll come to town some of the time and we’ll go out there some of the time. And—and Red was selling insurance as an independent so that he could have his own time so that worked out all right.
DT: And this was a little aluminum trailer that you pulled behind a car?
MA: It was a—it was a—it was a fan trailer, twenty-two feet long. It had a living space on the inside of eighteen—about eight by eighteen feet, that—that’s what we lived in for six or seven years. We built a little ho—a little building up there at the place in country up on top of the bluff that we called the caboose. And we had a refrigerator—a big refrigerator in that and storage for this, that and the other, you know. And so we would just take the trailer and park close to that and we’d stay there some of the time. Then we had a place to live in a trailer park on—at Pecan Grove, we had a place there. We had a telephone connection there. And so we—we lived there some of the time and then some of the time we’d travel. So we just—we moved around quite a bit.
DT: Did you have….
RA: Can I tell one lie that fits into that general picture that you may want to hear and you may not. I was drying dishes, a little doe came trotting by about six, eight feet from the camper and I didn’t think much about it. About two or three dishes later, I looked up and there’s two little spotted bucks on the same trail just eight feet from the cabin door where I was drying dishes. And I called Marj’s attention to it and no more than turned around and looked up there was an eight-point buck following the same trail going toward the county road.
MA: All following the little doe.
DT: I see.
BA: All before I had time to dry two—two plates.
DT: So this let you live out in nature and be close to it.
MA: Oh it’s—oh my, yes.
RA: Well the little cabin just sits right out in the second bank of the bluff and it’s thick as the devil with big trees, little trees, brush and vines and everything else, you know. You can’t go that direction, this direction, you’ve got to go straight up or you’ve got to go this way to go down to the creek. It’s thick enough and rough enough and rocky enough that you kind of follow the contour of the countryside.
MA: what—what—the truth of it is, David, that it’s seventy-eight steps from the top of the bluff down to our cabin. And so everything is down in the ca—down in the canyon, it’s a box canyon and you can’t get out just anywhere and everywhere there so you have to go down—there’s very steep steps and a very steep trail to get down to the cabin and it’s on a little shelf there. It’s another thirty feet down to the—the creek.
DT: I often ask people what their favorite place is and I usually ask it towards the end, but can you tell me, it sounds like this may be one of them, this place you have out in the country, I guess Hamilton Pool area?
RA: [inaudible] You’ve got locked gates with…
MA: He—he may not be able to hear everything honey. We have a—excuse me—it’s a—I would say that we call it Adam’s Eden and it is that. People think it’s one of the most beautiful places on earth. When I broke my wrist last year and the people came down to help me, one of the fellows that was bringing the stretcher to carry me out, he looked around and said, my God, this is the prettiest place I ever saw in my life so…
DT: What’s it look like?
DT: What does it look like?
MA: Well it has a big waterfall coming over and it goes into a beautiful green pool that’s about, oh, fifteen feet deep I guess in places. And we have two waterfalls coming over this—these big rocks. And then it’s surrounded by other big rocks and the cypress trees are like this, you know, they are, oh, five, four, five feet in diameter. So it’s just one of the beauty spots, there’s no doubt of it. So, yes, that is one of our very favorite places and that’s where the golden cheek warbler nests you see, right on our property.
DT: Let’s talk a little bit about the golden cheek warbler.
RA: Let me ask a question of the two of you. We’re not advertising this place in any way at any time and I hope to hell something doesn’t come out where the crowd starts coming up there and we have to turn them back.
MA: Honey, the gate is locked and then our gate is locked so we have…
BA: Yeah, and my shotgun is loaded.
DT: Well that message comes across loud and clear.
BA: Well it’s right straight from the shoulder, David.
DT: Fair enough. Well let’s talk about some of your devoted guards, these golden cheek warblers that are protecting your place out there.
MA: Well do you know that it was the—it was emblem for the Travis Audubon Society for years and had been a long time, I guess, when we came in because, you know, it is the only bird that lives exclusively in Texas and that—and Austin is built in its—one—one of its best habitats, Austin is taking over its best habitats, some of them. So we—when we first started birding I was lo—I was looking at bird, I thought a hummingbird out there in the canyon. And, all of a sudden, instead of a hummingbird, I had this blue and this white and black and golden bird in my binoculars and I didn’t know what it was, I had just started birding. And I always said well the golden cheek—I didn’t have to find the golden cheek warbler, it came and found me. And we have felt like it’s a member of the family for years because it will come and sing over our picnic table while we’re sitting there having a picnic supper, it’ll come and sing up over the table sometimes so…
DT: What do they sing like?
MA: Oh it’s—it—it isn’t worth a darn, that song is just pitiful. It’s a little (making bird sounds) kind of a real wheezy, buzzy little call and you—Red—it does—also does chip-chip and Red can recognize that at long distance. She he ha—he’s very good at bird song and comparison.
RA: Hell I was born in the Big Thicket in East Texas.
MA: So anyhow, we—we ended up then studying the warbler and began making a movie about it. And you asked what got us into that, but you see he began to do—take movies where he got a second hand 16 mm camera. A friend had died and he left his camera and—and the wife sold it to Red very inexpensively. It was one of those you had to wind. And so he began taking pictures of birds and so on and other wildlife and he enjoyed it a lot. So our son had been in major film and television for a long time on the west coast. And when we went out to see him, I used his little thing that you run the film through to put of our film together and Lou said, well why don’t you take some of this film to some of the companies around here and see if you can’t sell some of your film. So while I was looking at it, why, we had taken quite a bit of footage of a little rock squirrel that is out here in the hill countries. It’s—it has a (?), has white furs in his—in the front part of it and then the back stuff is all black. And it has a kind of (?) fur and has a white eye ring and real cute, pretty little—you’ve probably seen them out there in the
hill country. But anyhow, we—we—I began to look at it and I said, well you know I believe I can make a little story out of this. So I began to put this together in a very rough fashion. And we took it down to one of the places and showed it to them. And they said, well we think we can make a film out of this. We’d like to make an arrangement with you to make—make a movie. And so we got into the movie business that way. They wanted me to write the script and so on. Well I had never written a movie script and so we worked back and forth with them and they decided we needed some more additional footage. One of the other people out there said, Marjorie go home, you and Red go home and get some more footage of the squirrel to fill in your—you have some gaps here that don’t work. And he said go buy you a little book called “How to Make Good Home Movies”, read that and—and see how to edit your stuff and put it together and then go
back and get some more footage of the little squirrel. So we did and the Bar Film Productions there put it together with our advice. And they—they made it into a little school film. It—it had only one word, one sentence of narration and that was, every living thing has a special place in—that—where it lives best and where the squirrel live, you know. So it taught adaptation at kindergarten level, the scientific principle of adaptation that everything has a special place that it has adapted to. And so it won some awards and made us some money. And so we came home and decided that we would make a film about the golden cheek warbler. And that’s how we got into the warbler
business. We took that back out there to our same producer, the same distributor and he said, oh we can’t do this at all. It’s entirely too local, we can’t do a thing with that, I’m sorry, with a golden cheek warbler, he said, we can’t do that, it’s too specialized, too local. So we were just killed—we were just killed, you know. Well—and that was before the bird was declared endangered, long before it. So we came—but anyhow why one of the fellows said go home and just make your own story and try to put it together the best you can to get your money back. And—and just use it for programs or things at home, you know, and—and that way, he said, that’s the only way you’ll get anything out of it. So we came home and began to put together this thing and we were so tied up—our hearts were so tied up with this bird, we had watched it so long and it was just—it was—we were kin to it. And I went down to Texas Education Agency and at that time they would
work with people producing films to try to help—to help guide them. And we talked to different teachers and we put this thing together and by jingle, it was named conservation film of the year for North America by the North American Wildlife and National Resources Council, whatever you call it, and it was in competition with two dozen other films, many of which were—had great big budgets and we—we won the number one place.
DT: Can you tell a little bit about what the title of it was and maybe the plot.
MA: Well, you know, everybody said, well why can’t we go ahead and cut down all the cedar trees? Why can’t we change the water course? Why can’t we put a dam here? What good is a warbler anyhow? Why—why should we care about it? And so there was the title, “What Good is a Warbler” and so the—the film ends with that question. Now can you answer the question, what good is a warbler? And so it has been used in the schools from Canada all across the United States and over into Australia. And it’s been used by the government in some of their agencies and in nature clubs and so on.
DT: So you tried to show the worth of the bird just for itself and to assign(?) the habitat around it..
MA: Yes, that they—the…
[End Side B, Tape 2]
MA: …and over into Australia and it’s been used by the government in some of their agencies and in nature clubs and so on.
DT: So you tried to show the worth of the bird just for itself and as a sign of the habitat around it…
MA: Yes, that the—the—the—the birds do many of the same things we do. They’re very much like us in many ways and that every—everything deserves some help, you know, and some place. And that we don’t have to have everything, humans don’t have to have everything, you know. We can leave some—some—some for the other wild things. In the first place, it’s good for us because unless we have a—a healthy environment, we’re not going to live. That was the main—main thrust of it that you would need to have a healthy environment.
DT: If somebody’s who’s crossed over, has worked both in print and in film, what are the differences between the two and what are the advantages and disadvantages of taking the message out there…
MA: I love to work—I love to work in film and I’m very good at picking out the locations and—and—and visualizing the scene I think we should have. And Red was very good about doing everything he humanly could to try to get that sort of effect, or get that sort of thing that we wanted. And so I found that—see having been an art major, I was very visually oriented to start with. And so I could just see things in my head that—that this ought to be this way or that way. And so I love to work with film but it’s tiring, you know, you have to do all that—a lot of hand thing like this and editing is hard and so on. But—but it—it requires very—you don’t need near so many words, you see. In fact, you can kill yourself with words in film, the film is supposed to tell it, most of it. But
neither of us are trained in photography or making films or anything and—but when I get this book finished that I’m working on, I think that I’ll go back to the films and try to—I have two or three others that are partly done and I think I could go back to the films and try to get some films done.
DT: Can you tip your hand a little bit about what the other films are about that you’ve been working on?
MA: Oh one of them is called “Waiting” and it’s about kids that they didn’t want to wait till Old Faithful would start to spurt. They had—they—it was going to be too long. So they had to go do something else and then while they were off doing something else well then, of course, Old Faithful did and they missed it. So it’s a very short one about—it’s called “Waiting” W-A-I-T-I-N-G. So and, you know, kids don’t want to wait. So I thought it might make a pretty little good school film. And let’s see, I can’t remember what the other one’s about. Oh, it’s puzzles outdoors and it was showing different things that you do outdoors. And the kids are supposed to guess ahead what it is you’re getting ready to do, you know, and what you’re doing.
DT: Can you give an example?
MA: Like—like—like build a campfire, you know, that sort of thing or you’re getting ready to cook, I don’t know. I don’t remember what all was in there but stuff like that.
DT: Let’s go back to some of your tales of birds, I don’t want to get you too distracted.
MA: I noted in here that you said the white-capped vireo and, with all of your research, that surprised me.
DT: I’m embarrassed, I’m sorry.
MA: Yeah, it’s the black capped. We have the white eyed vireo and we have the yellow throated vireo and the red eyed vireo and the on and on, and on and on, and on..
DT: My mistake. But tell us if you could a little bit about the black cap vireo because I guess that’s the other endangered species here in Austin.
MA: Well Red—Red worked hard to film the black capped vireo. And it seemed that every nest he found was infested with cow birds, cow bird eggs. And so the good news about that vireo is that they have been in say, for instance, of the news for the wildlife, the Kerr wildlife management area just recently was that they had a wonderful crop of black capped vireos because they had been trapping the cow birds, you see. And so you wanted to talk about some other birds, well I’ll just tell you a little bit about my opinion of cow birds.
MA: Red has wi—he was out with a veterinary friend hunting and they just decided that they would shoot into a bunch of black birds which happened to be a lot of them cow birds and this veterinarian is a very great cook of wildlife. He’s a—he love—loves to cook everything from bear to elk to whatever, you know. So he says, come on Red, we’re going to fix these cow birds to eat. And he would take out only the breast and he brought all the—they brought all the cow bird breasts home to eat. Well, of course, it’s against the law to kill a cowbird. And I cooked them in the pressure cooker and they—they turned out very good, they turned out to be very tasty. So when we were in a meeting of the, was it the American—let’s see—well I guess it was the Texas Ornithological Society meeting and we had some of the federal people there on the program. And so we had a question and answer period about—and we were talking about endangered birds and this and that and the other. And I said well, I got up and I started to say my peace. And I said, I think that we should have a cow bird hunting season every year. It could just be a one day or two days where people can go out and
just kill all the cow birds they want and ha—and have—publish all the different kinds of recipes for cow birds, how to dress them, how to fix them and so on, and have cow bird hunting day every year for people to benefit from the tremendous increase in the population because they’ve increased so because of our agriculture and because of cattle and so on. And—and they are just terrible on all of the birds. It’s—it’s—it’s just awful how they parasitize the passive and song birds.
DT: Can you explain how that happened? How a cow bird parasitizes…
MA: In fact, they even found a cow bird egg in a duck’s nest one time, I know that sounds impossible, but that cow bird sure wanted to get rid of that egg somewhere. But that’s the most preposterous thing in the world to find a cowbird egg in a ducks nest but they are just a terrible enemy of the little birds so…
DT: Well can you explain a little bit about how cowbirds parasitize and then we can go back to the hunting season.
MA: Well what they do is they are a member of the cuckoo fam—you know they’re—they act like a coo coo family. Cuckoos lay their eggs in other birds—that is over in the Eur—European country they lay their eggs in other birds’ nests. And so a cowbird does the same thing. And they just lay their eggs in other birds’ nests and let them raise the baby. Well a cow bird is a bigger bird usually to start with of the species that they’re parasitizing. So the cow bird baby grows a lot faster than the other babies in the nest. And so he gets big and he gets all the food and finally he’ll even push the other baby birds out of the nest. They actually will ta—get a hold of them and get under them and just push them right out of the nest. So the cowbird is the only one that’s left and here
are these two little birds. We had two white eyed vireo parents feeding these—this big old cow bird baby just squawking it’s head off to be fed. And these little tiny birds were just doing their best to keep him filled. And that’s the way it is that the cow bird comes along and the other birds are gone.
DT: What’s the connection with agriculture and cowbirds?
MA: Well they—they follow along behind cows especially because they like the insects and so on, you see. That’s what cattle egrets do too, they follow along behind the cattle or the buf—buffalo, whatever. See the cowbirds used to follow along behind buffalo but then they adapted to cows.
DT: So I got you off on a detour here, you were telling me about the hunting season on these cowbirds.
MA: Well I was—I was suggesting that we have—that we might have a legal hunting season year that Fish and Wildlife Service sets up a—a program for it so that we cut down the population and it does some good. When you—you don’t just take the birds and wring their necks and throw them away. People actually get a sport out of it and they—we hope will take the cow birds home and cook them. So I didn’t—I didn’t get too much response but I still think it’s a very good idea.
DT: I agree.
RA: I’d hit that lightly. There’s too many people that, to hell with that black bird. It eats cow manure.
DT: Well let’s talk a little bit about other cattle related birds, maybe the cattle egret. Can you tell a little bit about how it appeared here and why it seems to have done so well and maybe some note about exotics in general?
MA: Well the—the cattle egret, of course, they thought was brought—brought by the tropical storm. That’s how they think it got there and, of course, we have seen frigate birds in—way in—inland after a tropical storm, that sort of thing, so birds do get blown around very—very—they’re very light and—and fly anyhow so. You—you asked me also about ugly birds, you know. I think that every place—every bird has its place and the vulture certainly is one of them. And I have seen vultures take a bath, they do bathe, and their babies are real cute little things, little white fluffy little things. And—but you can get too many vultures. I’ve seen them in Mexico where they just come in by the droves into the edge of town and they can—I’m sure they can carry disease, you get too many of anything they’re—not too many of golden cheeks, you can’t get too many golden cheeks. And when we went to see the California Con—Condor years ago, that’s
before they took them all into captivity, you see. And a fellow calls himself—the fellow that was the Audubon man, called himself the buzzard inspector. He said, I’m the buzzard inspector and he took us in person, he had the proper kind of vehicle, he says I’ll drive. Why he accommodatingly took us out into the Sierra forest area where they were still wild. And we got to see the California condor in the wild which now, of course, is happening again we hope where they’ve turned them loose in Arizona now. And they’re hoping that they will go back to the wild and they will get the condor in the wild again so…
DT: Can you tell me a little bit about some of these restoration efforts, whether it’s with the condor or the prairie chicken where they’ve been doing some captive breeding.
MA: Well some of thems are doubtful. I remember in—I interviewed years ago, in fact, on our way home I believe from Florida, that early trip, we interviewed John Lynch who was with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service back then. I don’t remember his title, but he was working with the…
MA: Anyhow—anyhow, he was…
MA: …he was working with the program where they were trying to decide if they could take the—see they—the whooping crane would rai—maybe lay two eggs but only one would hatch. I mean, only one would survive and they were thinking about taking the extra egg out of the nest and then bringing them and putting them under something to—to hatch them themselves. And they—they ended up then putting some of them under the sand hill cranes out at, oh, in New Mexico, I can’t call the place right now, wildlife refuge there and—and so everybody now is still waiting to see. So far, the cranes are behaving—the whooping cranes are behaving more like sand hill cranes than they are whooping cranes. So far they have not had any pairs of whooping cranes out of that. But
they have gotten some of them to go back up to the north, well, in fact, they’re trying to get them to nest there on that refuge. So—but anyhow at that time John Lynch was trying to work with the sand hill cranes to figure out how they might be able to do that and there was a lot of pro and con, back and forth. Well now see now years have passed and they have done that. They also had taken the extra egg and—and hatched it at Tuxon wildlife area to raise them there in—in as natural a manner as they have because they fix their hand to look like a whooping crane head. I mean, you know, and all to be the parent and they freed the little baby that way. It never sees a human being because birds get imprinted on the first thing they see usually. And if that’s—and that’s usually the parent,
they get imprinted on the parent. And that’s how I’ve managed to get along with the little baby turkeys we raised because they got imprinted on me and they thought that I was their mother. So—anyhow to raise these whooping cranes, they fix up the thing so that they never see a human and they’re fed in a way that is—seems to be natural. And then they let them go around without seeing a human and then they fi—hope finally to turn them loose, you see. So there are all kinds of things that they work with and they have increased, population has oh I guess tripled. I haven’t—I don’t have the most recent numbers but the population certainly has tripled. And the thing is that they have learned so much about the chemistry, the biology. They’ve—they’ve learned hundreds of things out of all this stuff so it isn’t wasted no matter how successful the thing may finally be, it’s not wasted. So that’s..
DT: We just had a little break and we’re going to resume and talk a little bit about some of the great displays in nature, of some of these birds that do really extraordinary things. You were telling me about the California condor and about its beauty.
MA: It’s just a—it’s just an amazing thing to see such a big thing like that just—they’re like—he’s like a B-1 bomber, you know, up in the air. He’s just so pow—powerful looking in the air and, of course, they’re not pretty at all. But I wanted to talk about our worries about the fires and all for the golden cheek in Mexico. If—if—if you can imagine it, Red and I decided that we were going to try to revise our golden cheek warbler film to where it would include its winter life because see we’re just half of its life here. And so we were hoping to explore enough to where we might possibly do some sheeting—shooting, some film in Mexico. So we got a grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the 3M Corporation because 3M had been involved—he’s—had built their new compound out here west of Austin right in the middle of golden cheek habitat. So they had gone to the most detailed and ex—just amazing effort to not change the habitat and to keep the warbler there, you know. It—it’s amazing all the things they
did to try to make up for building that thing that they had out there. They donated land and just did so much. So they deserve a lot of credit, 3M Corporation deserves a lot of credit. So anyhow, we packed up, we had this old motor home about fifteen years old, twenty-three foot motor home and we packed that up and headed out south against the wishes of our children and everybody else. Everyone else thought we were crazy because, you see, we were already seventy something, I’ve forgotten, it’s been only—well I guess Red must have been about seventy-eight or nine and I’m not much younger.
Here we were these old people heading off down south. Well it was, I will say this, that they were justified in saying that it was not a very safe trip, it was just our luck that they had had one of the most heavy rainy seasons known ever and things were flooded everywhere. Bridges were washed out and I remember getting out at one point and asking a man—lady in a little store there, I said, can you please tell me where the highway is and she said, this is it right here, it’s just a mud puddle all, you know, going right in front. So it was not easy traveling there and then, of course, there were just potholes, bump, bump, bump, bump, bump, you couldn’t make any speed. But we got there finally and—down to Chiapas where the—the Smithsonian Institution has sent people there to census birds and Russell Greenberg was in charge of this project. It’s the Smithsonian Institution’s migratory bird program. And so they had two men down there
doing censuses and we—they had recorded sizeable numbers of golden cheeks there. Well see no one had known where they spend the winter. It’s always been a puzzle all these years. And also I had been introduced by letter to a man called Andre Sada in Monterey, he was a—a business industrialist there, a wealthy man, a great birder. And he had given me information about a refuge that—it was a private refuge called Laguna Bejeca which is out from San—San Cristobal de las Casas. And this woman had stayed there that lives in Arizona. She had done extensive censusing of birds there. And she said, if I had not known that they breed and live in Texas, I would have thought all the birds that ever were born in Texas came down here to this Laguna Bejeca refuge. So we said well we’ll go down there and see if we can’t find out where it is and see if it’s possible at all to film the bird in the—in the Mexican habitat where it spends the winter. So off we headed and we did have Andre Sada to give us a letter of introduction to the people at Pronatura in San Cristobal and that’s a—a private org—conservation organization that’s nonprofit that has protected land and so on.
DT: Well I think we left off where you had a letter of introduction to Pronatura and you were going to a preserve near San Cristobal de las Casas.
MA: Yes, and so we met the two men there. They were just wonderful folks and we still get communication from one of them. One—one of them was from Argentina and he was—spoke three languages. And so it was very good for him to be there because it turned out later that it was such a dangerous situation that he put—his life was threatened. He was kidnapped and—when—when we had that insurrection down there, you see, we were there just previous to that. And we did see one of the big demonstrations where they had—the entire highway was filled from as far as you could see in one direction to the other and from border to border with marching men because there was quite a bit of unrest at that time when we were there. So—but anyhow, they had found the warbler and we went to various places and did sight it at one place near San Cristobal but, of course, it’s like looking for a needle in a haystack, you know, because there’s so few of them and
the—and the habitat is so vast. So finally we got to Laguna Bejeca on our way home. They were—they thought it was not safe for us to go there earlier because there had been rains and I—we understood because we had—we saw so many trucks and things wrecked—we saw lots of wrecks on our trip to Mexico. And, at one time, the highway was blocked to where we had to spend the night off, you know, that sort of thing. It was—but, oh, the Mexican people are so good and they’re so kind and they were so wonderful to us. And so we—when we got to Laguna Bejeca we pulled the trai—the cam—the RV into the one little thing there, it’s very hilly country and that was one little level place there and we spent several days there and we saw the warbler there and—and…
DT: Did you film?
MA: Oh no, we weren’t—we weren’t prepared for that at all. We—no, our son was going to help us, see he’s a major film producer so he—he said if you get into this and get your warbler I will—I will help you. So that’s what we were trying to do was to…
DT: You kind of scout the location?
MA: To see if we could actually find the bird and—and maybe find a place where it was seen enough that we might be able to film it there and certainly get—learn the habitat and try to learn something about how it might be protected down there as well as here. So it was a tremendous adventure and I think that it was one of my great dreams of my life. And I would maybe get to see the golden cheek in its winter habitat after having lived with it so long here and having studied it and feel like it’s a member of the family and then to finally see it in its winter habitat. And so when we saw a male and a female flying up from down in the valley down here and coming up this incline and coming up over us, I said—I began talking baby talk to the bird. And I said, don’t you know you’re
too far from home to be here? Don’t you know you’re too little to fly this far? And it was just such a thrill to see that bird there so beautifully and it—they’d come to a flowering shrub there and are attracted to it very much when it’s blooming. And so we found that there’s an in—there’s an incline there to where you could get up above to where you could be on a level to look at it. And so there were some po—great possibilities there of getting the bird filmed in the wild in the winter habitat at that particular location. So we had hoped to do that but we’re just—it’s—it’s past our possibility now but I’m hoping that somebody will come along and try to do it. And I was—I was going to tie it in with other migratory birds so that it would not be just the golden cheek but the golden cheek would represent this great hoard of birds. It’s literally just hoards of birds that go back and forth, you know it’s unbelievable.
DT: Can you talk a little bit about migrations and neotropical migrants?
MA: Well it’s one of the great mysteries and one of the great marvels of science and they—they’re still working on how birds do it, how—how—how is it built into their system and how do they find their directions and so on. It’s—it’s an ongoing study that I have not kept up with all the latest of it and I know they’re learning now where the migrant traps are. In other words, there—the birds will come to certain areas that are favorable to rest. And so the—the government and different organizations are working together to try to preserve those resting places, so when the—because if you’re on the gulf coast and you see the birds come in as Connie Hager was saying, they’ll walk all over your feet, they can’t—you know they’re just—they’re just so tired that they’re desperate to get food and rest or they’re just not going to make it, you know, so…
DT: I think you mentioned some of those fall out sites on the Texas coast. Can you tell about going to Smith Woods, what it’s like there, the birders and the birds and…
MA: Yes. Uh huh. Well they have fixed it now where they have benches that you can sit and they have watering holes where the birds can bathe and they have mulberry trees that—that come in with mulberries at the proper time for the cat birds and other things to feed on, the grosbeaks and so on. And you go into that, when you have a fall out, it means that the birds, maybe a lot of them are lost in the gulf because the strong wind has come and they can’t move forward. They—they’re just lucky to get to the land. And they will come in—in—in…
[End Side A, Tape 2]
MA: …bathe and they have mulberry trees that—that come in with mulberries at the proper time for the cat birds and other things to feed on, the grosbeaks and so on. And you go into that, when you have a fall out, it means that the birds, maybe a lot of them are lost in the gulf because the strong wind has come and they can’t move forward. They—they’re just lucky to get to the land. And they will come in—in—in hoards, they’ll be like a Christmas tree decorated with birds, you know, just—you look around it’s unbelievable. You can’t look at them fast enough. And it’s just one of the glories of a birders life to just—and—and the birds will be close to you. They—they don’t want to fly far and if you get into a place that they feel safe like these sanctuaries, it’s just the most wonderful thing. We had a meeting there in—in Beaumont of the American Birding Association, which was founded, by the way, after I had already started my bird column. That was one of the things, I didn’t have an American Birding Association to fall back on when I started my column.
DT: Why don’t you tell us a little bit about the American Birding Association, how that began.
MA: Well it was a funny thing. We—Red and I had gotten enough together that we put—put together sort of a little scrappy film about the birding game itself. And they—they were still making a—you know, nobody had really gotten all the rules but we’re still making rules trying to decide how it’s going to be played and that sort of thing. So we were showing this program at the Travis Audubon Society here in town. And we showed—I had—I—I get a lot of mail, I do a lot of reading and I was in contact with a lot of different environmental organizations, that sort of thing. So I had gotten a copy of a book called “Combination List—combination Checklist of Birds of North America” and it was an ingenious little book that by having full pages and half pages, you could list a bird not only as a lifer but for different—all the different states and for a migration,
when it first appeared in migration and late migration, all that—all in one line all away across this little book. So we showed that in our film and it turns out after the program was over, Jim Tucker came up to us and he was the one who had devised this very ingenious book and he introduced himself. He had moved here to come to scho—to get his Ph.D. at the University of Texas, moved here from Florida. And so we began to visit with him and talk with him. And—and so when he—one day we got a little mimeographed thing that said at the suggestion of myself, I suggest that you become a member of the Am—American Birdwatchers Association and signed his name. Well I had always stood up from the very beginning, I said we are—we’re not birdwatchers, we’re birders. And—and I—I’m just getting myself killed when I was at a meeting of the Texas Outdoor Writer’s Association by standing up for that term. They—I—I was about the second woman I guess to be elected into the Texas Outdoor Writers Association. It was all men, fishers—fishermen and hunters and so on. And so one of the men was
talking at the beginning of the program, talking about bird watchers, they’re—they’re anti-hunting, that sort of thing, he was very down on bird watchers. I was sitting at the back of the room, this was my first convention with them and I didn’t think a word about what I was doing I just said, don’t call us bird watchers, call us birders. And every head turns around, where is this female, where did she come from and what is she talking about? You know, why is she opening her big mouth? And so I was standing up for the term birder and I did that all the way through. And so I think that if I had any influence on the game, that—that could have been some of it. It—it was used by other people elsewhere but…
DT: And your thought was that birders was more inclusive and wasn’t just watching but was understanding…
MA: Well it was active—it was active and it was new. It was—it was set apart from the past. We were—we were players, it’s like players, you know. So that’s—I think I may have had a little bit of influence there. So anyhow we became the American Birding Association and I’m sure other people had something to do with that besides myself.
DT: So what does the group do?
MA: Well it has a big educational activity now. And they’re in—in getting young people involved early in bird—birding and bird watching. And now we’ve just had this great big thing for the second year of the great Texas birding classic, which I’m sure you’ve seen in the papers and all and has been so widely publicized. So we have come into our own on a commercial basis. And, in fact, I asked at the meeting of the American Birding Association in McAllen in April at—at our ethics committee meeting I said, are we becoming a rich man’s club? You know, it takes money to go to these conventions in fancy hotels and all these field trips cost a lot and—and to go different places and—and the birders now have become world travelers, my goodness there’s so many birding tours you can’t believe. But now you see birds are business now—big business now and when
you start getting the dollar into it, then you start getting the money spent to preserve the bird. Birds mean dollars now. I didn’t ever think I would live to see that. But bir—birds can mean dollars now. And one of the miracles about it is that you can take the ugliest, drabbest little dinky bird that doesn’t amount to anything and yet people will come a long way to see that little seaside sparrow or whatever it is to get for their list and that bird now has a dollar value. That little ole, dinky bird has a dollar value because people will come and spend money in a hotel, the restaurant, the gift shop, the whatever, the gas—gas pump, you know, they’ll come here to see that bird.
DT: And I guess you think that that’s a good thing because the dollars can go into conserving the habitat of those birds. But you seem to have some hesitation because it sort of commercializes something that was a sport originally and brings in people who maybe don’t appreciate it as much.
MA: And of course—and of course football has never been commercial, you know. Yeah, but the thing is that this birding classic made fifty thousand dollars for environmental protection, that sort of thing. So it raises the money to preserve the habitat and without the habitat, the bird’s not going to be there.
DT: While we’re talking about birding’s ability to help conserve birds, can you talk a little bit about some of the threats you’ve seen to birds, pollution or habitat loss? What are some of the important things you’ve seen?
MA: Well a—a—bird—birders can be a threat and that’s why we have a big ethics lesson to teach ev—everywhere we go, people can love a bird to death, you know. For instance, the rose throated becard was found nesting at a certain road stop in Arizona—in southern Arizona. Well that is a very rare bird in the United States and in order to count that bird for your North American list—list it has to be seen north of Mexico. It has to be in the territory which is designated for North America which is United States, the forty-eight contiguous states, and Canada and some islands off the west coast, the French islands and that’s about it. That excludes Hawaii, Bermuda, and so on. But anyhow, it
has to be in see—in that territory. So we had a man that built a huge North American life list. He caught a plane to come down to Austin to see the green violet eared hummingbird here and saw the bird and flew back to New York because that could—he could see it nowhere else in North America except when it shows up like that. So people would go to this road side place in Arizona and look for this bird and—and call for it or whatever. And the first thing you knew, the bird no longer nested there. It moved somewhere else. So we have a strong ethical thing that we teach now that the bird comes first, that you always have to think of the bird first. And they have—well, for instance, we had the blue footed booby to come and land in Marshall, no—what’s the other lake up above, the little one, not Marshall, Lake—Lake LBJ I believe. It came and was tame as it could be and sat on a fishing pier there all the time. And hundreds of people came from
everywhere including off the continent, from other countries came to see that bird. And Red and I, we bought some minnows at the place and went up there and fed it some minnows. But it was a bird that could not be harmed by all these people coming because it was on—stayed on this fishing pier most of the time and people could stand thirty feet from it. It was tame enough that they—they didn’t disturb it and so on. But—they—I guess that I think—I think more than a thousand people easily came. They—they—they had a big—I wish I had recalled the number they finally counted that came, but it was in—more than—in the—in the thousands. So you see that’s fine. It didn’t harm a bird but to go into Ma—Madera Canyon or somewhere in the Chiricahua Mountains to look for the trogon if they call for the trogon and—with a tape recorder, why the first thing you know, you’ve gotten that bird thinking it has a rival, it’s trying to fight the rival, it disrupts its nesting time and so on. So now that they have very strict rules about tape recorders and that sort of thing and people are required to behave by a certain principle. And so it’s like anything else that people get so many people—the number of birders has increased so astronomically that they say it is the fastest growing sport in this nation. All you have to have is a pair of binoculars and a book so…
DT: What about some of the other threats that you’ve seen and tried to publicize? You talked about some of the habitat laws, some of the threats to wetlands for example? Can you talk a little bit about that?
MA: Well I have seen it here in this area more, of course, anywhere else and whoever would have thought that when Red and I began to go at our place on the Pedernales River back in 1935, and there was not a paved road outside of Austin to get there, we went on dirt road all the way, and when you got past Bee Cave and turned off the—the—the road was so narrow, the bushes hit your car on each side. You get into the ranch and the ranch road was so terrible that half the time you get stuck in the mud. Now we go out and there are houses all up and down this entire—part of it’s now six lane highway. It goes on and it has—has one subdivision after another. And you get to Bee Cave and they’re building a great big grocery—HEB Grocery mall. And they have torn down a whole hillside and rebuilt the world there and you just can’t believe your eyes. So we have seen the—where
we used to go just—just a few blocks—a few miles out here to Cat Mountain to show people from four or five different states at one time. We could get up there, there’d be people from several states on Cat Mountain to see the golden cheek warbler and the black capped vireo on the same mountain within a few hundred yards of each other. And we’ve gone from that to where there’s nothing. If we hadn’t had this wildlife refuge established, there wouldn’t be anything left. And I’ve talked to other people that, for instance, at the ABA meeting I interviewed Pete Dunn who is now a very popular and very fine bird person in charge of the Cape May Bird Observatory, he’s—for the Audubon Society in New Jersey. And he was saying that he thought we were maybe we were—we humans would finally get to where—we—we would get the world to where we change
the environment to where we can’t survive here. And I was talking to Andre Sada from Mexico and he says, I think our only hope is education but I don’t think we can get there fast enough. And I always said, in fact, every—it was always said, well the—the worst sin is to give up hope and I’m sinning, mightily. And I have great grandchildren and I wonder how is it going to be for them.
DT: Can you tell me a little bit about that how—you once quoted Hugh Downs about progress and I think a lot of people have seen the economy grow and people grow up wealthy and have more mobility and live a better material life but I guess there are costs to that. Can you talk a little bit about that?
MA: Yes, I sure can because the automobile I suppose had—has been saving of our country it—we’re so large, that if we hadn’t had some easy way of travel and communication, we probably would have split all up, you know. I—I don’t—I think we may have been more than one country. So the automobile probably kept up as one country but it has been one of the most destructive things that we have ever had on the face of the earth. And I sure won’t—I don’t want to give my car up. And if I go over to Maui to visit my daughter I said, I’m not going to be on the island of Maui without a car, if I have to rent one I will, if I have to buy one I will, but I’m going to have a car if I go to Maui to stay for some time during the cold weather, I’m going to have a car. I’m—I’m—you—you can’t bear to think of times you can’t drive, you know. But it still—we’re
grown all wrong. I don’t what—I don’t know how I—perhaps technology will fix it to where people don’t travel to work. That’s already happening with my granddaughter. She comes into her office twice a week from San Marcus to Austin. And then the rest of the time she’s working at home or else—else somewhere else but people—I think technology may save us but it’s going to have to hurry. I—I donate to Planned Parenthood whether I have a penny for anything else, I always donate to Planned Parenthood.
DT: Do you think the population is one of the big threats, is that something that you’ve been concerned about?
MA: It—the—the—the human species is getting to be, as they say, a planetary disease. Too many, too much of anything and too much ignorant of anything. We’re just not smart.
DT: How are we going to save ourselves from ourselves? What sort of advice do you offer people concerned about conservation and birds?
MA: I say—I say that you used to think that I don’t have to fool with the government, I’ll—I’ll just walk alone and I won’t, you know, we’ll be all right if I don’t pay attention. But I told my granddaughter just last week I said, you love your kids, you’re going to have to start paying attention to the government and see how it’s operating and work to get the good stuff going and keep the bad stuff from happening. You’re going to have to start working with the government, learning. It’s all education information.
DT: Well said. Thank you very much for your time.
MA: When I get up on my podium, I get up on my soapbox and I—I end up having plenty to say.
DT: Well I’m glad because there’d by no point in taping it.
MA: Do you know that—do you know that when I gave up—I began to teach my class—my first class for bird identification at community college, all these people had read my column for a long time and here they came to my class and the first thing I did was to apologize. I said I know I don’t look like you thought I would and I said, I know I will talk differently from the way you expected me to talk and just bear with me, I’ll do the best I can because, you know, that’s the way it is. You can read somebody and you have no idea, you—you—you meet them face to face then and it’s all different.
DT: Well I think you did your reputation great justice so thank you very much. I appreciate all your time.
MA: Oh, David, we’ve worn you out.
End of reel 1019
End of Interview with Marjorie Adams and Red Adams