Flying High

LSU BAE Professor Lima Details Birding Journey in New Book

June 18, 2019

Cover of Marybeth Lima's birding bookBATON ROUGE, LA – One wouldn’t think engineering and birding would have much in common, but LSU Biological and Agricultural Engineering Professor Marybeth Lima discovered inadvertent connections between her personal and professional life that she recounts in her new book, Adventures of a Louisiana Birder: 1 Year, 2 Wings, 300 Species, published by LSU Press.

Lima offers a sometimes humorous, sometimes heartfelt perspective on birding as she travels Louisiana to observe as many bird species as possible in one year, a common quest birders call “A Big Year.” Lima’s book details two such quests in Louisiana, as well as ways in which her beloved pursuit helped surmount personal issues like almost losing her spouse in an accident and the failing health of an in-law.

“A big part of the book is about how birding helped pull me through tough times,” Lima said. “For me, birding is an activity that puts me ‘in the moment’ and provides solace and a chance to regenerate and recharge my batteries. It helped me to stay at my best and gave me energy to keep persevering through expected and unexpected challenges.”

As a child, Lima loved nature and knew a little something about birds, but it wasn’t until adulthood that she became more interested in the flying feathered creatures.

“I think my passion for birds is rolled up into my lifelong love of nature, sense of wonder, my love of bird sounds, and the connections that birding has allowed me to make with people, communities, and the ecosystem,” she said.

When Lima began birding 20 years ago, though not “seriously” until 2010, she was surprised that the hobby reached a broad range of people. It’s estimated that one in six Americans is a birder, including those who simply watch birds in their own yard.

“Whether you are casual or completely consumed, that continuum is welcoming anywhere along the way,” Lima said. “Birders are a tribe. So many will share their time, talents, advice, and best birding spots. As I’ve moved across the continuum toward being a more serious birder, I have learned so much and find that there is still so very much to know.”

One of Lima’s favorite places to go birding is Cameron Parish, which has more than 400 bird species.

“There’s a coastal chenier there called Peveto Woods Sanctuary that is great to bird at any time of year, but especially during spring and fall migration when you can see a strong number and diversity of bird species,” she said.

The rarest bird Lima has ever seen is the Amazon Kingfisher at the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival in south Texas in 2013.

“That sighting was a really special moment for me, because I got to share it with my mother who also loves birds,” Lima said. “At the time, it was one of the first records of this bird in the U.S. We were able to watch this bird while it rotated between perching and fishing in a reedy, overgrown pond area right off a state highway. It felt like we were participating in a piece of natural history as it was happening.” 

While Lima sees birding as an invitation to connect with nature and to learn, it has also shown her just how delicate the state’s ecosystem is and why it’s worth protecting.

“Birding has taught me, and continues to teach me, that the natural world is complex, beautiful, and sometimes brutal,” she said. “Birding has made me more aware of how environmentally fragile Louisiana is and how those impacts are already being felt throughout our ecosystem. Addressing such impacts is a call to action that connects my personal and professional lives.”

Lima, who leads the LSU Community Playground Project, is also the author of Building Playgrounds, Engaging Communities: Creating Safe and Happy Places for Children and Service-Learning: Engineering in Your Community. Her latest book was positively reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.


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Contact: Libby Haydel

Communications Specialist