Parking Lot Birding – the Journey

I’m crazy excited to announce that my very first book will be out this spring and pre-orders can already be made. Parking Lot Birding: A Fun Guide to Discovering Birds in Texas with A&M University Press was a blast to research and write. I had a lot of help while doing the field research as I was joined by my mother, Valarie Bristol, and amazing Husband, Thomas Nilles. Thomas also contributed many of the photos for the “Feather Facts.”

I was introduced to many of the locations and nature centers mentioned in the book while I was the coordinator for the Texas Children in Nature program with Texas Parks and Wildlife. I would try to arrive early or stay a little late after a meeting to walk the campus of the centers and get to know the habitat, trails, bird blinds and other points of interest. I wasn’t always birding, but was always looking for places to recommend to people who were interested in finding meaningful experiences in nature, but didn’t want to travel to some far away place. It’s important to me that people think about nature as the tree out their window, the park down their street or even the campus of their school instead of some far away place like the Rain Forest.

In my early days of birding I made a lot of rookie mistakes. I hiked a lot of miles loaded down with gear. On more than one occasion, I forgot my camera and binoculars at home.  I share my mistakes in Parking Lot Birding in hopes that other can learn from them and avoid unwanted blisters, sunburns, and the frustration of not having a camera ready to photograph the perfect bird.

The book lists ninety individual birding locations around the state that offer easy going birding opportunities for people with all abilities. Because of my past work, I have a special affinity for parents or grandparents who take their kids out birding or just to notice nature in general. It’s easy to get kids interested in birding if they can go somewhere the birds are easy to see, there’s a good variety of them, and they don’t have to travel too far.

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I try to weave in the history or other interesting facts about the location, while also summarizing what birds someone might find there and what season they occur in. At the closing of each location’s description, I include a Feather Fact that highlights a bird that might be found at that location. There are ninety Feather Facts and around forty other colorful photos to help folks identify and learn about our feathered friends.

For me, writing the book was the trifecta of what I love in life- Nature, Travel, History- all packaged up in my home state of Texas. Plus- I was lucky enough to research it with people I love- my husband, mother, friends, co-workers, and sometimes total strangers that dazzled me with their knowledge.

People ask me how long it took to write. From the time I started the manuscript to the time I turned in the first full draft was eighteen months. Then there was another eighteen months of editing copy and photos to get it ready for production. The team at A&M University Press has been amazingly kind to help me through the process and get to the better version. I will add that the research took several years. I was doing the research before I even had the book idea in mind.

The idea came to me when we were on one of the Great Texas Birding Classic competitions and started joking about how the birds always seemed to be located near the parking lot, nature center campus, bird blind, or boardwalk. Right then and there I pulled out my notebook and sketched out the idea at lunch with my husband and mother. We laughed our faces off about the concept, but my mind was already at work on how it could all flow together.

Once I started writing, I worked on it in the evenings after work, in hotel rooms after conferences, on airplanes, and even while camping. Actually, I spent a lot of time in the RV writing in between walks, swims, birding, and laughing around the campfire with Thomas and our five dogs.

All this is to say, if you’ve ever wanted to write a book- just do it. A wise woman at the Texas Writer’s League once said, “if you write a page a day, you’ll be done in a year.” I believed her and that became my goal even while working full-time and trying to keep up with everything else.

I’m excited that the book will be published this spring, just in time for the migration. I’m also grateful that Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods and Our Wild Calling, contributed the forward for the book. I think the hardest part was editing the manuscript, reading about the birds and not be out there birding. Luckly, my next book project is about birding as well and I’m having a blast doing the research.

Order your copy of Parking Lot Birding at https://www.tamupress.com/book/9781623498511/parking-lot-birding/

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