Birds have many characteristics we admire – we wouldn’t be birders if we didn’t admire something about the birds we seek – and while not all birds share all desirable traits, one of the most admired is the ability of flight. To rise above the ground and soar freely in the air has always been a mystical quality, and though we may come to understand the physics and mechanics of how birds fly, it still amazes us, from the sweeping wings of herons to the blurry wings of hummingbirds.
I have always loved flight, from my first airplane trip when I was five years old – ironically, it was a trip to Florida, though I had no idea then how much flight and Florida would come together in my life. Just four years later, I was enamored with another type of flight – the ability to cross out of the atmosphere and touch the edge of our existence – all I wanted to be was an astronaut. Those dreams fell to fragments in January 1986 with the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, and as I learned of my own physical limitations that would keep me tethered to the earth, I knew I’d never make that aspiration a reality.
Another eight years passed and I moved to Florida for the first time, renewing my love affair with space flight as I was able to visit what to me was hallowed ground – and hallowed air. I saw my first shuttle launch in person in the fall of 1994, skipping my college freshman chemistry class to do so, a trade I had no difficulty making. Unfortunately, that time period was only a brief flirtation with flight, and I had to move again. I would return to Florida – albeit a different area – in 1998, but during a time when my own wings were clipped by life’s demands. During the next several years, I was gradually discovering birds – including the spark bird that would encourage me to buy my first field guide.
In 2005, I flew far away from the flight I loved, moving to Utah and spending more than a decade beneath the western skies. While far from space flight, it was there that I discovered more about feathered wings rather than metallic ones, and I finally became a birder. This birder needed her space, however – space free of the invisible constraints Utah forced upon her, and space to connect with space once again.
In 2016, I returned to Florida, and since then, I’ve been amazed to discover that both feathered and metallic flight are deeply ingrained in the community I can finally call home. I am proud and privileged to live just a short drive from Kennedy Space Center and the once again active launch pads of its spaceport; I can see rocket launches (and landings!) from my yard. At the same time, I now have more yard birds visit me than ever before, and the local refuges are alive with feathers of all sizes, shapes, and colors. I’m amazed that both types of birds – those seen through binoculars and those launched into the heavens – can coexist so closely for me, and I hope to keep both in my life.