by Glenn Belyea
LaRue “Tex” Wells of Ann Arbor, dean of Michigan birders and a Washtenaw Audubon member since 1973, passed away on August 16, 2018, just a few days shy of his 97th birthday. Tex, as he was always known in Michigan, was born in Rockport, Texas, but soon moved to Port Arthur, Texas where his father was a tugboat captain. After graduating from high school, he took flying lessons and obtained his pilot’s license. In July of 1942 he enlisted in the Army as an Aviation Cadet. Tex was sent to England as a C-47 (the military version of the Douglas DC-3 passenger plane) pilot where he transported troops and supplies into Europe and returned wounded soldiers to England.
Tex flew his C-47, towing a glider full of troops, on the night before the invasion of Normandy by the Allies, on D-Day, June 6, 1944, the start of the offensive that ultimately ended the war in Europe. Towards the end of the war in Europe, he returned to the US and began transporting soldiers from North Carolina to Texas and Minnesota for redeployment to the Pacific. Tex found Minnesota to his liking and after the war he enrolled in a fisheries program at the University of Minnesota. He earned a Master’s Degree in Fisheries Biology, and he was hired by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service at their office in Marquette, Michigan. After 15 months he transferred to the office in Ann Arbor where he spent the majority of his career conducting population studies of various fish species in Lake Michigan. He retired in 1988.
During his stay in Minnesota, Tex became an ardent grouse and woodcock hunter and continued this pursuit throughout most of his life. He was also an avid duck hunter, and when back in Texas harvested many of them as well as numerous doves and quail. In 1975 while visiting a researcher friend in Kenya, East Africa he took several African trophies including impala and zebra .
Although he was an avid hunter, he was an even more avid birdwatcher or “birder” as they are called today. It started in the late 1940s with an ornithology class at the U. of Minnesota and continued throughout his life. Tex has birded in 23 countries around the world and has a life list of nearly 4300 species, a truly major accomplishment. While his North American life list is an impressive 760, one of his most recognized accomplishments is seeing 400 species in Michigan alone. In many years his annual Michigan list was around 300 species, with his best year totaling 307, among the very best in the state. He is widely known and highly regarded throughout Michigan as one of its premier birders. He will be missed.
There will be no service. His ashes will be returned to his native Texas, where they will be scattered in Sabine Woods, his favorite birding spot.