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Ormond Beach Observer Tuesday, Mar. 10, 2020 4 months ago

'A big scavenger hunt': Ormond Beach master naturalist leading spring bird walks

You'll hardly ever catch Joan Tague without her binoculars.
by: Jarleene Almenas Associate Editor

For Joan Tague, one of the hardest questions to answer is, "What's your favorite bird?"

As an avid bird-watcher for over three decades, her answer changes often. It depends on the hour, the day and the season, Tague said. Lately, she's been loving the swallow-tailed kites around town. 

They're like angels, Tague said, describing their white bellies and forked tails.

“They live high," Tague said. "They nest high. They almost never land on the ground.”

Currently, swallow-tailed kites are one of Tague's favorite birds. Photo courtesy of Joan Tague

Since the Environmental Discovery Center, located at 601 Division Ave., opened in 2016, the volunteer has dedicated her time to leading locals and visitors on tours to see birds like these. You'll hardly ever see Tague without her binoculars. She's always ready to catch a glimpse of something new and exciting. 

"The bird-watching business is like a big scavenger hunt," Tague said.

Joan Tague looks through her binoculars at the Environmental Discovery Center. Photo by Jarleene Almenas

Her involvement with the EDC predates the building's opening. When the city of Ormond Beach was developing the center, she and her late husband Chuck, both naturalists heavily involved with the Halifax River Audubon, were consulted. Her husband spoke at the EDC's groundbreaking. 

Unfortunately, he died before he could see it come to fruition. Their role in the EDC's inception was part of the reason Tague stayed involved.

“I felt attached to the place," she said. "I mean, our names are on the building and everything. I was definitely going to work here.”

'She was on her game'

EDC Coordinator Duane Price said he's always impressed by Tague's knowledge of birds, plants and other wildlife. What she brings to the center is critical, he expressed.

“It would be difficult for us to do some of our programming, especially some of the school field trips, without her help, because she is so knowledgeable," Price said.

She can answer almost every question people throw at her, and if she can't, Price said she's also honest about that. Tague likes people, and gets along well with all the age groups, he added. Her presentation to the Ormond Beach Elementary students during the city's Arbor Day celebration on Jan. 17 was an example of that.

Tague once had a camper call painted buntings "rainbow cardinals." Photo courtesy of Joan Tague

“She was on her game that day," Price said. "She typically is, but she really engaged those children and the importance of trees providing a habitat to all kinds of things. They paid attention.”

It's people's interest in the natural world that gives Tague gratification. Her favorite moments are when she witnesses somebody see something new for the first time. You can hear their breath almost being sucked out of them, Tague said. 

When that moment involves a bird, she often knows its coming. Tague can identify them by their song.

“Just seeing people see these birds for the first time, it recharges you.”

On a bird-watching mission

Tague was 19 years old when she first visited Ormond Beach. Her aunt and uncle had just moved here, and she remembers marveling at the big birds — vultures and storks. 

“I was taken with pelicans," said Tague, a Pennsylvania native. "Anything that was big and easy to see. I even went down to the beach and try to figure out what all those little things were running around on the beach.”

They're sanderlings. Immediately, Tague bought a crappy pair of binoculars, a camera and a book. She was on a bird-watching mission back then too. 

When Tague first visited Ormond, she went down to the beach and discovered sanderlings. Photo courtesy of Joan Tague

But it wasn't until 1988 that she really got into it. She started volunteering at the National Aviary in Pittsburgh. It's where she met Chuck. He was the education director, and a huge geek, she fondly recalls. 

So was she. Decades later in 2005, they started wintering in Ormond Beach. In 2011, they moved down here permanently. A screech owl box was donated to the EDC by the Halifax River Audubon in his memory; The Tagues used to rehab owls. 

“I wish I remembered half of what he knew," Tague said. "But, I’m picking it up.”

An informational sign about owls pays tribute to Chuck Tague. Photo by Jarleene Almenas

Sometimes, she worries that there won't be anything to see on the walks she leads around Central Park. 

“But the thing that absolutely wins it in the day, if you don’t see anything else — anything else at all — is an owl," Tague said. "So anytime I see an owl, is a good day.”

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