Foot injury steers avid birder to car tours
Kristine Rivers, well known to bird lovers in Galveston, Brazoria and Harris counties for her lively presentations and accessible approach to birding, began seriously considering birdwatching by car in 2012 when she broke three bones in her foot and spent eight months in a wheelchair.
“I learned a lot about limited mobility access to natural areas,” Rivers said on a recent January afternoon as she packed up teaching materials after a workshop at Galveston’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. “There are very few trails for people with disabilities.”
Since that time, Rivers became a Master Naturalist and launched the website www.birdingforfun.com, promoting her guided tours and sharing her unintimidating philosophy of birding.
Most recently, Rivers launched a series of itineraries for birding by car in the Galveston area for the Galveston Island Nature Tourism Council, posted on its website.
Guided tours of the Texas City Dike, Galveston’s near West End and far West End identify the best roads from which to see the largest variety of native and migrating birds, promising peeks at everything from majestic crested caracaras to roseate spoonbills and red-tailed hawks.
“The car becomes a mobile blind,” Rivers said. “It keeps the birds where they don’t see you and they won’t fly off. And, it’s air-conditioned in July and August.”
Anyone who lives on Galveston Island knows some of the recommended routes, such as 8 Mile Road and Sportsman Road where, on any given day, cars creep past open fields and marsh, hugging the shoulder and moving at a snail’s pace, a passenger with binoculars scouting out the window for herons, egrets and ibis.
Rivers came to birding as a young girl, growing up in the Manvel area where she still lives.
“I started paying attention to birds when I was really young, and my mom got me binoculars and a field guide,” she said.
The bird that sealed her passion was the yellow-bellied sapsucker, one of the first birds she was able to identify, she said.
“They leave holes in trees,” Rivers said. “That bird really sucked me in.”
She participated in her first Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count at age 14 and grew up to lead the Brazoria-Columbia Bottomlands Christmas Bird Count, one of the most prolific counts in Texas.
She attended the University of Oklahoma to study ornithology and realized how narrow an academic approach could be when she worked with a faculty member documenting sibling rivalry in egrets. She switched to studying art and worked in finance for much of her adult life, maintaining her love of birds and birding.
In 2016, she became a Master Naturalist and the next year was elected president of the Texas Master Naturalist Cradle of Texas Chapter in Brazoria County.
Her husband, whom she married in 2013, is a very good avian identifier, she said.
“I like to teach people basic observation skills like the shape and movement of a bird, their calls, their habitat,” she said.
She teaches adults how to use field guides and how to choose the right binoculars, all to prepare them for the kind of birding she feels is most beneficial — observing in nature, sometimes from the mobile blind of a car.
“The idea is to enjoy it and to spend time watching, not just check a bird off a list,” she said.
Visit www.birdingforfun.com to learn more about Kristine Rivers’ guided birding tours.
To see Kristine Rivers’ itineraries for birding by car, developed for the Galveston Nature Tourism Council, visit www.galvestonnaturetourism.org and click on Galveston Birding.
Visit www.utmb.edu/olli to learn about birding classes offered by the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.