Spiritual Renewal Through Birding
An Interview with Annie Aguirre
by Linda Lehman Thomas
Photos by Annie Aguirre
Black-throated Blue Warbler (Taken at Pathways Retreat)
The other week Steve and I were strolling along the main trail at Pathways and saw a dark-haired person with something around their neck walking towards us with their head turned upward, scanning the treetops. As we got closer, I recognized Annie Aguirre who was, indeed, heavily laden with a camera and binoculars.
Annie, who works as the marketing and events coordinator for Elkhart County parks, is an avid birder and graciously agreed to a conversation.
How and when did you become a birder?
I grew up in the Pacific Northwest where I met an ornithologist studying crow behavior, woke up every morning hearing Osprey breeding calls, and developed a love of nature. I migrated to Indiana in 2015 and soon found a small group of birders that took me “under their wing”.
What is your birding practice now?
It varies a lot. I am very fortunate to have a job where I can regularly lead bird walks and programs, such as the "Wednesday Bird Walks" (offered on the first Wednesday of every month). Outside of work, I make a habit of keeping tabs on my favorite birding spots. Citizen science research plays a fairly large role in modern birding, and by making these regular check-ins, in a small way, it helps provide a snapshot on the health and overall abundance of birds in our area.
Ovenbird (Taken at Boot Lake Nature Preserve)
Is Pathways a good place for bird walks? What birds have you seen here?
Absolutely! Pathways has some great diversity in habitat, which in turn, brings a great diversity in birds. So far, I've listed 81 species at Pathways (the entire list can be seen here), since I started in March 2016. A few memorable birds so far include Red-breasted Nuthatch (which I found just the other day), Wild Turkey, Ovenbird, and some incredible up-close encounters with a pair of Black-throated Blue Warblers.
Pathways Retreat's mission statement is to be a spiritual retreat center for rest, reflection and renewal. Does your practice of bird walking provide rest, reflection and renewal? If so, how?
Yes, birding definitely plays a large role in my spiritual renewal. When I first moved to Indiana from Oregon in the summer of 2015, things were tough. I was recovering from surgery, feeling isolated, homesick, and dealing with a lot of loss. On a whim, I went on a walk with a group of local birders, who showed me great kindness and quickly welcomed me. During those walks, I didn't really notice the pain from my surgery, and my feelings of loss were replaced by feelings of curiosity, as the group taught me all about the fascinating lives of birds. The birding community helped me find confidence again. As I began to go birding on my own, I let myself reflect and let go of things in my past. Things remain very much the same to this day–birding is a way for me to share a love of nature with friends and feel centered.
Red-Breasted Nuthatch (Taken at Reith Interpretive Center)
One of our values at Pathways is contemplation, our response of awe to the awareness that everything is sacred. Is bird walking contemplative for you?
I think nature has an incredible way of providing us with connection–to community, to ourselves, and to God. When I needed support, I found it through a group that shared a passion for nature. Birding has given me a great deal of spiritual and personal insight, as well.
One thing I realized as I started to bird regularly was that observing birds meant observing nature as a whole. The arrival of Dark-eyed Juncos meant that the first snow was close at hand. When I was looking for the last of the season's mulberries, Cedar Waxwings revealed the location of a sun-sweet patch. One time, by paying attention to the warning calls of the birds around me, it even helped me avoid a dangerously close encounter with an aggressive (likely infected) coyote. There's so much out there, and simply by being aware of the subtle things in nature, I feel connected in ways I never did before.
Birding has also helped me practice acceptance. There have been times I've wanted to find a specific bird and dedicated a fair amount of time looking, without success. There's been other times I've come really close, but the bird slipped away before I could say for sure. Being left with the mystery like that–of almost knowing–I think carries over to a lot of things in life. It can be frustrating, but also a blessing. Having these kinds of unanswered questions about nature gives me an ongoing passion to explore.
Wild Turkey (Taken at Pathways Retreat)
This was a really, REALLY lucky shot!
Annie is leading a bird walk at Pathways!
If you’ve ever wanted to learn to identify birds by their calls, that is Annie’s special passion.
The first bird walk at Pathways will be
Sunday October 29 at 3:00.
Consider bringing binoculars,
hiking boots, outdoor attire, hat, etc.
There is no registration or cost for this event, though donations to Pathways Retreat are gratefully received.
As the ministry of Pathways Retreat grows, this is a place for the directors to share their thoughts along the way. Enjoy!