Last year, Advancement Director Kristin Thompson chatted with board member Mary Hemshrot about the different life experiences that spark a person’s interest in conservation. Mary enthusiastically shared the tale of a cedar waxwing, and how her childhood encounter with it shaped a lifelong interest in birds and the habitats needed to sustain them. Read on to learn her story. 

Mary Hemshrot Birding

Mary Hemshrot Birding

How do you enjoy the outdoors? I bird. Yep – it’s a verb. Birders eschew the term birdwatching for we do much more than that. I bird for the sheer joy of seeing and hearing birds and expanding my understanding of them. Birding can start with a song. 

 Imagine a somewhat nerdy nine-year-old with her dad’s binoculars wandering her city neighborhood in search of a song – a bird song – that she desperately wanted to identify by finding the bird who made it. It was a blue jay, not a rare find for an adult, but a joy to the nine-year-old. A year later a bird she had never seen flew into the large picture window facing her backyard. This was no blue jay, and it was a marvel. With her mother’s help, she identified it using Great Aunt Rosemary’s ancient bird identification book – a cedar waxwing.  

I was that little girl, and I had a clever mother. She wrapped the bird in a paper towel and put it in the freezer, then called the Bell Museum of Natural History on the University of Minnesota campus and asked if they would be interested in having the bird. She received an affirmative, and the next day she packed all three kids in the ‘62 Impala and drove to the museum. We were ushered up to a part of the museum that visitors don’t see, the rows and rows of animal specimen drawers and the taxidermy room. The museum folks pulled open the Cedar Waxwing drawer to show me where my bird – my bird! – would be stored for future study.  

I was enthralled. A completely new world was unwrapped by an ill-fated bird. Birders call the bird that ignites one’s interest in birds a spark bird. For me, both the elusive blue jay and the cedar waxwing were my spark birds.   

As I matured, so did my understanding of birds. They are not isolated objects simply to be admired for their beauty, but, like all living things, are part of the web of interactions that define life on this earth. Where is their food? How do they shelter? How do they raise young? Why is one bird high in the trees and another on the ground? What happens when they migrate? Can their songs and calls be decoded? Why are some birds threatened with extinction, yet others flourish?  

Wow, a million questions. 

Cedar Waxwing on Branch

Cedar Waxwing

Birds face many challenges in our human-centered world. The greatest of which is habitat loss. Every acre that Landmark protects is a boon to our avian populations and affects associated animal and plant species. The web of life is not a cliché. We really are connected in innumerable ways. My husband and I worked with West Wisconsin Land Trust (now Landmark Conservancy) to place a conservation easement on 160 acres near our residence that now permanently protects habitat for such species as woodcocks, bald eagles, trumpeter swans, and golden-winged warblers among many others. Landmark recently helped protect Plover Beach in Douglas County, a half-mile of Lake Superior shoreline that is habitat for piping plovers, a nationally threatened species. 

No matter what your reasons are for supporting Landmark, birds will benefit. I hope you take time to enjoy them.  

Join Mary and other Landmark supporters on an international birding trip to Panama in April 2025. Only two spots remain! Learn more by clicking here and contact Kristin Thompson with questions.