In any other context, saying that someone was “for the birds” would hardly be polite. But applied to Connie Hagar, it would be high praise. The diminutive birdwatcher nicknamed Connie was reared as Martha Conger Neblett in early twentieth-century Texas, where she led a genteel life of tea parties and music lessons. But at middle age she became fascinated with birds and resolved to learn everything she could about them. In 1935, she and her husband, Jack, moved to Rockport, on the Coastal Bend of Texas, to be at the center of one of the most abundant areas of bird life in the country. Her diligence in observation soon had her setting elite East Coast ornithologists on their ears, as she sighted more and more species the experts claimed she could not possibly have seen. (Repeatedly she proved them wrong.) She ultimately earned the respect and love of birders from the shores of New Jersey to the islands of the Pacific. Life Magazine pictured her in a tribute to the country’s premier amateur naturalists, and she received many awards from nature and birding societies.
Connie Hagar’s life history is more than just a bird book. Hers is a story of dedication to nature and the role she could play in promoting it to others, despite recurring threats of blindness and other health problems. The hundreds of species of birds that visited Rockport each year brought thousands of other birders, and Connie patiently hosted and assisted both the greenest beginners and the most magisterial experts. It was she, more than any other person, who made coastal Texas—and especially Rockport—a mecca for all serious birders.
Karen Harden McCracken and Connie Hagar’s Boswellian-Johnsonian relationship in the 1960s, Connie’s own “Nature Calendars” containing thirty-five years of observations, and interviews with those who knew the “birdwoman of Rockport” provide the basis for this simple but exhilarating narrative.