A Fun and Innovative New Site Guide for Texas
March 28, 2021
A review by Danielle Belleny
Parking Lot Birding: A Fun Guide to Discovering Birds in Texas, by Jennifer L. Bristol
Texas A&M University Press, 2020
244 pages, flexi-binding
Jennifer L. Bristol’s Parking Lot Birding gives birders of all experience levels a passport to birding anywhere. Initially, I was skeptical of the idea that “good” birding can be accomplished in a parking lot. Then, I remembered all the birding trips I spent unsuccessfully looking for a specialty species on trails only to find the bird in the parking lot as I was leaving. Bristol can sympathize with me and many other birders who continue to experience this same phenomenon. Readers are encouraged to ditch the dated notion that quality birding is only accomplished by spending hours searching confusing trail systems while wearing khaki head-to-toe and using top-shelf binoculars. Have birders been overthinking this hobby? Perhaps birding is much simpler than we have made it appear. Parking Lot Birding neatly summarizes a curated selection of destinations where simplicity, inclusivity, and birding coexist. The book gives a succinct and immersive tour of birding hotspots across Texas. As the title implies, Bristol has written a fun guide that will enchant readers into becoming more adventurous birders.
The book begins with a chapter of things to know before you go; beginner birders may find that especially helpful. There is useful information for those who are curious about the codes and ethics of birding, ways to identify birds by sound, tips on how to plan an outdoor adventure, and a few safety reminders. Additionally, information is included regarding Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accessible trails for those birding with limited mobility. The first chapter also details how the species list for each destination was collected. For those unfamiliar with the major distinctive ecosystems of Texas, a map of the 11 recognized Gould ecoregions is provided.
The birding destinations of the book are organized into nine areas, each including major cities that sit within one or more of the highly diverse ecological regions in The Lone Star State. Texas flaunts its expansive ecological diversity across deserts, wetlands, forests, beaches, prairies, and mountains. Parking Lot Birding guides readers through destinations within each of those habitats. Non-Texans are highly encouraged to use this book to quickly learn about the best birding destinations the state offers since the text includes well-known and lesser-known nature spots. I am a Texas native, and some of the places featured in Parking Lot Birding brought back fond memories of good birding. Other birding locations, some mere miles from the places I frequented while growing up, were newfound gems to me.
The book is loaded with must-see locations. There are up to 15 birding destinations to choose from in each of the nine chapters that cover sites. The guide provides a quick yet thorough glance at the best features of each destination. Each destination includes the name, address, number of species that have been recorded, which season is the best time to visit, and the birding amenities, including parking lots, birding blinds, driving tours, and ADA-friendly trails one may find there. The detailed descriptions of birding locations and their amenities make it easy to plan last-minute trips. In fact, Parking Lot Birding has dictated many of my weekend plans and has given me a new ability to go birding anywhere in Texas on a whim. The essays also contain the charming personal stories of Bristol’s birding travels with her family and their experiences while visiting destinations.
Because Parking Lot Birding reads like a book of short stories, readers can bounce around Texas’ birding spots as desired. The essays for each destination are usually a page in length. Each passage left me to wonder what species I could see at those very destinations. With some destinations having 300+ species reported, readers may find it difficult to finish reading the passage before planning their next trip.
In between the destinations’ descriptions are “Feather Facts” about regional charismatic bird species likely to be seen. The Feather Facts include a picture of the featured bird, population recovery stories, identification tips, bird biology facts, and more. For readers who can’t decide which Texas region to start with, I recommend flipping through the book and stopping on Feather Facts that catch your attention. I was filled with excitement even while reading the Feather Facts for birds that I have seen many times and in many places. Experiencing the birds in-person somehow seems even more magical after reading their Feather Facts. I like using the Feather Facts as a scavenger hunt list of birds that I hope to see when visiting regions.
My only criticism of the book is that it would have been useful to have included a complete map of Texas with all the destinations on one page. The regional maps found at the beginning of each chapter are zoomed tightly around the nearby major cities. If you are unfamiliar with the locations of major Texas cities, you need a supplemental map to follow along.
As a self-proclaimed “casual” birder, this book inspired me to become a “devoted” birder. I define casual birding as enjoying birds that may happen to pass by you but not exerting excessive time or energy while birding. Casual birders do not go out of their way to see a rarity, whereas devoted birders go the extra mile to see all the birds they desire, rare and common. Devoted birders spend hours joyously exploring every inch of the birding destination then double back, or even triple back, across an area just for the heck of it.
Parking Lot Birding put me and even my non-birder parents in the devoted birders category this past summer. In fact, my most recent birthday was planned around visiting the spots listed in Chapter 7: Corpus Christi and the Coastal Bend. My parents were very impressed by the various gull and egrets we watched while waiting in the parking lot of the seafood restaurant where we ordered lunch. I was having the time of my life, racking up 10 coastal bird species in our first parking lot birding tour. I pointed excitedly at all the wading bird Feather Facts, reinforcing the power of Parking Lot Birding. Whether you fall in the category of a casual birder, devoted birder, or birder in-between, Parking Lot Birding is a refreshing and easy-to-read guide. So, wherever you are, take it from Bristol’s guide and skip the frustration. The bird you’re looking for is probably in the parking lot.
Danielle Belleny is a wildlife biologist, science communicator, and avid birder from San Antonio, Texas. Her favorite part of her job is being able to share her knowledge of nature with others. She was a cofounder of #BlackBirdersWeek and the BlackAFinSTEM collective, an organization focused on sharing the experiences of Black conservationists and outdoor enthusiasts.