Jack and Ginger McCall have been bird-watching for more than 40 years, so it's impossible for them to pick a single highlight.
Perhaps it was spending a month in Australia with a professional guide and seeing kookaburras, the "laughing" birds made famous by the children's song.
Or taking a boat to an island in New Zealand at night and watching kiwis feeding on a beach by the light of a full moon.
Or going to Central Nebraska to witness the winter migration of 500,000 sandhill cranes along the Platte River.
"You get to the blind about 4:30 (in the morning)," said Ginger, 81, of Glen Carbon. "And then you just sit there and wait. It's really, really, really cold. And when the sun comes up, you hear a sound like a freight train, when all these cranes take off."
Jack, 88, can boast bird-watching in every state, including Hawaii and Alaska. A few states he only crossed by bus, but he always grabbed binoculars to look around at rest stops.
The McCalls have made several trips to Costa Rica, where Jack reached a milestone five years ago. He spotted an azure-headed jay, adding No. 1,000 to his "life list" of species.
Some of the couple's stories seem quaint in historical perspective. Jack remembers seeing three bald eagles along the Mississippi River south of St. Louis in the late '60s.
"It was a 'eureka' moment because the bald eagle had been expatriated from this area, and it was just beginning to make a comeback," he said. "It's a striking bird and a huge bird, so that added to the excitement."
Today, such sightings aren't as big a deal. Hundreds of eagles fly south from Canada and the Great Lakes each winter.
Birders and shakers
Jack McCall is a retired psychology professor at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. Ginger is a community volunteer and homemaker who reared three children.
They're two of the most respected bird-watchers in the region. Jack helped form the Illinois Audubon Society's Southwest Chapter (which later merged with Great Rivers) in 1968 and later served on the state board.
The couple have helped with annual bird counts for decades, taught bird-identification classes at Edwardsville YMCA and led bird walks at Watershed Nature Center in Edwardsville and The Nature Institute in Godfrey.
"They're very knowledgeable, and they really enjoy (bird-watching)," said Rose Gaertner, 64, of Wood River, a nurse practitioner at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. "They want to share that knowledge and pass the pleasure on to other people."
Rose was one of a dozen people who showed up for a Watershed bird walk on a recent Saturday morning. It started with a bang when the group spied a belted kingfisher in a tree across the lake.
Moments later, attention turned to a flock of ring-billed gulls. People got a better view by looking through a telescope on the visitors center deck.
The group eventually set out walking on a 1-mile loop, equipped with binoculars and field guides. They saw a smattering of house finches before their first big thrill: an Eastern bluebird, perched on a branch, right next to the trail.
"Oh my God, there he is, right there," said Peg Simmons, 66, a retired SIUE philosophy professor. "He's totally blue ... Well, except for the orange and white belly. Fantastic! I'm going to put this on my checklist."
Three hours later, the bird-watchers had identified 29 species, ranging from woodpeckers to ducks, finches to hawks. It was a good day.
Growing up in nature
Jack McCall developed a love of nature as a boy growing up in a North Carolina orphanage on about 1,500 acres with plenty of woods.
"As a 5-year-old, I saw a bird building a nest, and that interested me," he said. "But I grew up ignorant of how bird-watching worked. I couldn't afford binoculars."
Jack went on to attend college, serve in the Army Air Force and earn a doctorate at the University of Minnesota.
That's where he met Ginger, his wife of 59 years, who worked in the counseling office after earning a political science degree at Macalester College. The Minnesota native had grown up fishing and hiking.
The McCalls moved to Edwardsville in 1965 for Jack's job at SIUE. As a golfer, Ginger was more interested in birdies than birds, but she slowly warmed up to her husband's hobby.
"I figured that either I'd stay home all by myself or I'd go with him," she said. "And if I didn't care about the birds, there'd be flowers or butterflies or something else to look at."
The couple traveled and camped with their children and later took about 25 trips with the Road Scholar program, formerly known as Elderhostel, most related to bird-watching.
Jack tried photographing birds but found that it took too much time. He switched to flowers, which stood still for the camera.
Bird-watching became a form of environmental activism for the McCalls, who got involved with the Sierra Club's Piasa Palisades Group in the '70s and Watershed in the '90s. Both served on Watershed's board.
Jack pushed for steps to enhance bird life, ranging from installing nesting boxes to planting trees and bushes with fruits or berries.
Today, Ginger is president of Great Rivers. Jack maintains monthly lists of Watershed bird sightings with help from a handful of volunteer observers.
"I've learned so much from (the McCalls), not just about birds but also plants and animals and other wildlife," said observer David Yates, 54, of Edwardsville, a graphic artist. "Jack is able to identify the transient birds by their calls, rare types of warblers, birds that are only passing through. It's something that he's acquired over the years."
Serious bird-watching involves both sight and sound identification. The McCalls complement each other because Ginger has a hearing problem, but her vision is better than Jack's.
They don't get around as well as they used to, but they plan to keep volunteering, teaching and speaking up for birds as long as possible.
"We're trying to pass on to the next generation that in order for us to have diversity of life, and that includes diversity of bird life, we have to manage the habitat so that they can survive," Ginger said.
"In this world of urban sprawl, with every yard just the same, with mowed yards and no trees, and shrubs only up next to houses, then the only birds you're going to see are robins and cardinals and blue jays and starlings."
Bird-watching with the McCalls
Where: Watershed Nature Center, 1591 Tower Ave. in Edwardsville
When: 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. Feb. 9
Registration: Call 618-692-7578 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and give name and e-mail or phone number
Information: Visit www.watershednaturecenter.com
BIRDS SPOTTED ON LAST WALK
Great blue heron
American tree sparrow
TOOLS OF THE TRADE
Binoculars -- At least 7 power, 35 light admittance and 300-foot field of view
Field guide -- Photographs, notes on seasonal marks, gender and other features to help with identification
Bird checklist -- List of species one might expect to find in a particular area at that time of year
Telescope -- Expensive and not required, but great for seeing birds in the distance
Digital recordings -- CDs and computer apps that show photographs and play calls and songs