Who was Connie Hagar?
By Hannah Hawes
History Center Intern
Friends of the History Center for Aransas County
If you live in Rockport - or for that matter, the Coastal Bend - you have heard of Connie Hagar, often referred to as “The Bird Lady” by Rockport natives. A self-taught ornithologist, Hagar should be credited as the catalyst for Rockport’s birding acclaim.
Long before the HummerBird Celebration, Connie Hagar documented Rockport’s diverse avifauna. Word spread about the tiny Texan lady who claimed to have spotted birds previously unheard of in the Rockport area.
Hagar’s seemingly-exaggerated observations attracted many doubting ornithologists. However upon arrival the “experts” soon realized Hagar’s sightings were, in fact, correct. Thus began Connie’s celebrated Rockport birding career.
This is the Connie Hagar most of us know. However, Hagar was many things before she was “The Bird Lady of Texas.”
In 1886 Martha Conger Neblett was born into the Corsicana “aristocracy” as the daughter of Robert Scott and Mattie Yeater Neblett. Bob Neblett was mayor of Corsicana during Connie’s youth and later a judge.
At an early age Connie was fascinated by the natural sciences, much to the chagrin of her genteel mother who wanted Connie to learn embroidery. Yet her father encouraged her to explore her interests and seek an education.
Her father would often take his daughter on excursions around the yard securely perched on his back. It was during one of these expeditions Connie spotted what would forever be her favorite bird. Bathing in one of the birdbaths was, as Bob described, “the scissortail, it is the Texas bird of paradise.” He introduced her to many birds including, “the Texas mockingbird, the greatest singer in the world,” “the mourning dove, [who] gets its name from its sad call,” and “the blue jay, [who} is a cocky fellow. Some people do not like his thieving, arrogant ways, but he wears a handsome coat.”
While these early experiences instilled an interest in bird watching, Connie did not seriously pursue this pastime until 1935.
As an accomplished student, the youthful Connie was defined by her love of music. During her time at Forest Park College in St. Louis, Missouri, she earned a degree in voice and piano. Her musical talents continued to shine during her time in Rockport where she was known to sing and play frequently.
She also was well versed in literature and poetry, and was known to recite snippets of poems and prose on the spot.
To all who met the small spark of a woman, she inspired awe. It’s little wonder her legacy endures. Soon Rockport will be brimming with all manner of birders gathered to observe the hummingbirds that migrate through the area every September.
Connie discovered this pattern years before the first HummerBird Celebration. Her dedication to the art of birdwatching led to the addition of more than 20 species to Texas’ avifauna list and the discovery of numerous migratory patterns previously unobserved.
Connie Hagar exhibit
The exhibit “Connie Hagar - First Lady of Texas Birders” will open Thursday, Aug. 28 at 6:30 p.m. It is the featured exhibit at the History Center for Aransas County. A members’ preview is set for 5:30 p.m. that day.
The display, which will remain open in September and October, will showcase Hagar’s early life and adolescence in East Texas as well as her fascination with nature.
The History Center for Aransas County at 801 Cedar Street will showcase regional history for visitors of all ages.