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Happy birthday John James Audubon

Regular readers know that in our precious free time, the hubby and I go birding.

We started following birds recreationally when we lived in Maryland, and most of our vacations are a combination of attending some sporting event and visiting a bird habitat.

The Midatlantic was a great training ground, with the mountains to the west, the spectacular Chesapeake Bay and Maryland's great Eastern Shore to the east and a nice variety of birding spots in between and within easy driving distance. I'm talking about you, Hawk Mountain, Pa.

While Maryland residents, we also took frequent vacations to Florida for its spring training games and myriad wildlife refuges.

Then we lived in the Sunshine State for six years, where our backyard was adjacent to a canal that helped attract palm warblers, great egrets, great blue herons and, yes, alligators. The hubby still won't let me forget the time I locked him out of the house when I ran to the grocery store and his attempt to get in via the back door was stymied by a sunning gator.

We could see more of the toothy reptiles at Grassy Waters Preserve, along with snail kites, just up the road from our house. If we ventured a bit further east near Naples, Fla., we took in Corkscrew Swamp and its wood storks.

Back home in Texas, there are several wildlife areas near our Austin residence. Mostly, though, we're enjoying the goldfinches, sparrows, house finches, cardinals and occasional road runner that visit our backyard.

And oh yes, the annual flocks of migrating cedar waxwings that show up to feast on our pyracanthas' berries.

Waxwings pyracantha berry in mouth 040711-2

That bunch above was here just a couple of weeks ago. And I wish I could say I carefully planned the shot, notably the waxwing with the berry in his beak at the upper left, but it was just crazy camera snapping birder luck.

So we couldn't let today, the 226th anniversary of John James Audubon's birth, go by without a salute to the man whose passion for nature helped popularized bird watching.

Of course, in Audubon's day, ornithologists and biologists also were hunters. Most wildlife art back then was produced thanks to taxidermy models of the animals and birds. Luckily for the critters and those of us who like to catch a glimpse of them, most of today's recreational nature pursuits are less hazardous!

By 1820, Audubon decided to follow his love of the outdoors and headed out on a quest to find and paint all the birds of North America. The eventual result was the magnificent Birds of America, a collection of 435 hand-colored illustrations.

The roseate spoonbill painting below, which you can find along the Texas and Florida Gulf coasts, is a spectacular example of Audubon's work.

Audubon's roseate spoonbillClick on the spoonbill image for more Audubon art.

Last December, one of the Audbon books sold for $10.27 million.

But you can visit one of the thousands of wildlife areas in the United States, many owned and managed by the national Audubon Society and/or its many local chapters, for much less.

And remember, financial gifts to nature and environmentally focused nonprofits that are registered with the IRS are tax deductible as long as you itemize.

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