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Flight Lines: Hillsboro woman has a passion for birds

Hillsboro's Rosalie Anderson leafs through her treasured National Geograpic bird field guide recently in her apartment.

Rosalie Anderson isn't one to let setbacks quash her desire for more in life. Not even the tragic loss of her first husband when the couple's son was nine months old. After years working as a secretary for a Lutheran church in Golden Valley, Minn., she married again; this time to Herb Anderson of Hillsboro, where the couple carved out a productive life on a farm north of town. Later with children grown and gone, milder winters beckoned the couple like it does to so many on the northern plains.

About this time she took a shine to a weekly birding column - Always in Season - written by Grand Forks Herald publisher, Mike Jacobs. Inspired, Anderson began "looking at birds on purpose."

Serendipity stepped in when the retirees began wintering in McAllen, Texas. The Andersons could not have selected a more propitious destination for budding birders. The lower Rio Grande area is well known as one of the most productive zones on the continent for bird species of every stripe. "South Texas is wonderful. There are lots of places to bird down there," Rosalie said.

"I didn't start until after we had gone to Texas," said Anderson. "I went on a bird walk (with other "snowbirds") and was hooked." The Andersons became enthralled by the ways of birders. "I found it amazing that they could see a bird waaay over there with binoculars," she said. "We just kept going on these outings with a bunch of people and finally we bought binoculars, scope, the whole bit."

By 1993 she had purchased National Geographic's Field Guide to the Birds of North America, and began keeping meticulous records. The book - referred to as her "bible" - is now well-worn and full of hand-written notes including locations, dates, and even field trip leaders' names.

Herb - her husband and birding partner - died in 2001. Luckily, Rosalie's daughter Nancy is also a birder. Although Nancy lives in Denver, the two have paired up for several bird adventures. "We see something advertised and say, 'let's go,'" said Anderson. Far-flung destinations such as Hudson Bay, the Dry Tortugas, and Monterey Bay have been visited.

She smiles when speaking of a particular outing, one to Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado. "We drove up very high. We had chairs and we sat around on top of the mountain. It was just awesome, ethereal. We watched this big white moon move across the sky. Right before the sun came up the birds went crazy. They just started singing everywhere, it was like a symphony. And there we sat and just listened," she recalls.

Anderson, who still lives in Hillsboro, saw a local opportunity to make a difference a few years ago. She was well aware of the many benefits a prairie bestows upon its inhabitants and brought an idea to the Traill County Commission. She wanted to plant native grasses on a Hillsboro-area lot.

"When I first approached them about a prairie on this parcel of land they said 'she can have the whole thing' and 'good luck,'" she said. Teaming with Curt Zerface, a district conservationist with the U.S.D.A., eight acres eventually were seeded, most paid for out of Anderson's pocket.

"Once they complained about weeds in the prairie," she said. "I spent many days cutting Canada thistle, hauling them to a dumpster, and spraying each thistle with a weed killer. It worked. The prairie is doing very well."

"People call me the 'bird lady,'" says the 88-year-old Anderson. A recent dust-up with the park board underscores Anderson's passion. "They mowed down part of it and planted lawn grass," she said. But the issue appears to be settled. "They won't be harassing me anymore."

She doesn't get out to her prairie as much in winter. "I used to go out there and feed the birds but my children don't want me doing it anymore," she said.

She is looking forward to spring when bobolinks return to nest on her project. It's just one of many species she's seen during 20 years of enjoyment. "I have over 500 birds marked in here," she relates while carefully leafing through the weathered field guide. With a smile she adds, "This is my history book."