Book on a Wing

By Sneed B. Collard III

When my 13-year-old son Braden and I arrived at High Island in the spring of 2016, we quivered with anticipation. After two years of birding in our home state of Montana, we had finally decided to venture beyond our borders and attempt a modest ABA Big Year for ourselves. Our Number One priority? To catch spring migration at High Island, Texas. Our visit did not disappoint, but what I never foresaw is how many new writing ideas it would give me.

Basing ourselves in Winnie, we allocated three days for our visit. Following the advice of a more experienced birder, we reached High Island early on our first day, and were delighted to find a Rose-breasted Grosbeak perched outside of Boy Scout Woods to greet us. For the next several hours, we wandered the woods and Smith Oaks Rookery, thrilled and fascinated by a host of warblers, waders, and other birds that we’d only ever read about. That afternoon, we hit the Bolivar Peninsula with the guides from Tropical Birding and plunged into an entirely different group of birds. While I struggled with shorebird IDs, Braden quickly mastered the nuances of the many kinds of terns swirling around us—a pattern that would oft repeat itself in years to come.

On Day 2, we saw more songbirds in Sabine Woods before exploring Anahuac, and eagerly looked forward to a third day of returning to High Island. Alas, we woke to apocalyptic thunder and one of Texas’ annual “hundred year floods”, and were lucky to get through the day without getting swept away. Despite having our visit cut short, however, the writing wheels immediately began turning in my head.

Our Texas adventure would form several key chapters in my eventual humorous memoir Warblers & Woodpeckers: A Father-Son Big Year of Birding(Mountaineers Books, 2018). Within days of our visit, though, I also sat down to pen a picture book story I called Raining Down Warblers about the epic journey of a Cerulean Warbler across the Gulf of Mexico during a life-threatening storm—fallout conditions. I loved the story, but it went nowhere, and was rejected by half a dozen publishers before I shelved it. A couple years later, I sent it to Jonathan Eaton, a publisher I’d worked with at Tilbury House. He liked the story, but suggested I work in a parallel tale of a family waiting for the warblers to arrive. It was a great suggestion. Jon hired gifted artist Thomas Brooks to bring the story to life, and the result is my newest picture book, Waiting for a Warbler.

Waiting for a Warbler is particularly special to me both because of my personal connection to it and as a vehicle to introduce children and their adults to the magnificence of migrating songbirds and the urgent need for all of us to do our parts to protect them. Backmatter offers instructions on how to begin birding, further educational resources, and my favorite section—things people can do to protect birds and improve their backyard habitats. I hope that many of you enjoy the book and that it will serve as a valuable educational resource for years to come.

Sneed B. Collard III lives in Missoula, Montana, but joined Houston Audubon after birding here with his son. He is the author of more than 85 children’s books including Woodpeckers: Drilling Holes & Bagging Bugs and his newest picture book, Waiting for a Warbler. These and his other books can be ordered from your favorite independent bookstore or online. Sneed is a popular speaker at schools and conferences, and you can catch him in person at Houston Audubon's Avian Affair fundraising dinner on October 21. Learn more about Sneed at www.sneedbcollardiii.com and follow the birding adventures of him and his son at fathersonbirding.com.

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